Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Jewish state's newest hero wasn't Jewish

Jeff Jacoby

BY THE THOUSANDS they streamed to Yanuh-Jat, Israelis of every description making their way on Wednesday to the remote northern Galilee district, where a fallen hero was to be buried with full honors. Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, was there to pay his respects; so were the minister of internal security and the nation's top police commissioner. From around the country, hundreds of black-hatted haredi ("ultra-Orthodox") Jews came on chartered buses, disembarking to join throngs of Arabic-speaking Druze in traditional white turbans, police officers in dress blues, and so many other mourners that even the roofs of nearby homes were crowded with onlookers.

They had come to bid farewell to Zidan Saif, the Druze police officer who was the first responder on the scene of Tuesday's massacre at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Saif had put himself between the terrorists and the worshipers, taking a bullet in the head and dying of his wounds that night. Befitting a defender who had died in the line of duty, his coffin was draped with Israel's flag, its blue Star of David prominently centered.

Like many of the Jewish state's loyal sons and heroes, Saif wasn't Jewish. That didn't make him any less an Israeli, just as Israel's sizeable Arab and non-Jewish minorities don't make it any less the sovereign Jewish homeland. Nor did it diminish even slightly the honor and gratitude Israelis across the spectrum expressed for the slain officer. In his eulogy, Israel's president extolled Saif as "one of the first guardians of Jerusalem." A rabbi from the Jerusalem synagogue where the bloodbath had occurred told residents of the village he had come "simply to be with you and to cry with you," and called the "devotion and the determination" of the 30-year-old patrolman "an example to us all."

There have always been pessimists convinced that Israel's multiethnic Jewish democracy is doomed to fail. For some, the horrific images from the Bnei Torah synagogue, where peaceful scholars were hacked to death as they prayed, their blood drenching phylacteries and turning prayer shawls crimson, only encourages such fatalism.

"The attack on the synagogue in Har Nof," wrote commentator Joel Pollak, sends the message that "Jews and Arabs may not be able to live together easily even in the same country." A New York Times analysis was bleakly headlined: "In Jerusalem's 'War of Neighbors,' the Differences Are Not Negotiable."

For all the savagery of the terrorism that has sent so many innocents over the years to early graves, though, the funeral of Saif is poignant evidence that peaceful coexistence is not only possible in the Jewish state, it's a daily reality, woven into the warp and woof of Israeli life.

Of course there are tensions, disputes, and resentments, just as there are in every imperfect democracy — and what democracy isn't imperfect? Yet Israel from the outset has risen to the challenge of building a society held together by centripetal forces stronger than the centrifugal differences pushing it apart. Indeed, the Jewish state's declaration of independence, proclaimed by David Ben Gurion in May 1948, explicitly implored the country's non-Jewish inhabitants to remain "and participate in the building-up of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship." A great number did remain — including many thousands of Arab Druze — and went on to share in the blessings of Israeli freedom, democracy, and equality.

It's still a work in progress, but largely a successful one. The small Jewish state with the notable Arab minority not only survives but thrives, the implacability of its worst enemies and the violent instability of its neighborhood notwithstanding. Yes, terrorism is a grim plague. Yes, the toxic Palestinian political culture that incites it is growing worse. All the same, Israel manages to stand out as an oasis of pluralism, respect, and tolerance in a part of the world not known for those qualities.

One of the strongest condemnations of the synagogue slaughter came from — of all people — Bahrain's foreign minister, who blasted the "killing [of] innocents in a house of prayer." Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa warned sharply that "those who will pay the price for the crime of killing innocents in a Jewish synagogue and for welcoming the crime are the Palestinian people."

It was startling to see such strong language from a senior Arab official, especially when many Palestinian officials were "welcoming the crime," quite exuberantly and openly. But as journalist Evelyn Gordon pointed out in Commentary, pragmatic Arab governments like Bahrain's know quite well that at a time when Muslims are being butchered and abused by fanatics across the Middle East, "mosques in Israel and the West Bank — including Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque — remain among the safest places in the Mideast for Muslims to pray."

That's no small achievement, even if the world does take it for granted. Terrorists may have killed Zidan Saif, but his memory will be a lasting blessing, for Jews and non-Jews alike.



Effects of Obamacare on Economic Productivity

By economist Casey Mulligan, University of Chicago

The topic of my talk today is the economic side effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sometimes referred to as Obamacare. Since most of the economy has to do with labor and work, that’s where I’ll start. But, first a caveat. I’m an economist, and I’m going to talk about some parts of this complex law that have an impact on the labor market. Other parts of it relate to health and medicine, and because I’m not a doctor or a biologist, I’m not going to speak to those parts. From an economic or labor-market perspective, I’m going to explain how the costs of the ACA outweigh its benefits. But I can’t measure or estimate its effects on health care. I leave that to others.

The key economic concept required to understand the labor market effects of the ACA is what economists call “tax distortions.” Tax distortions are changes in behavior on the part of businesses or households for the purpose of reducing their taxes or increasing their subsidies. We call them distortions because they don’t occur for real business or real personal reasons. They occur because of the tax code. A prime example of a tax policy that creates distortions is the ethanol subsidy—technically it is a credit, not a subsidy—whereby gasoline refiners are subsidized on the basis of how many gallons of gas they produce with ethanol. Because of this subsidy, businesses change the type of gas they produce and deliver, people change the type of gas they use—which affects engines—and corn is used for ethanol instead of as feed or food. Nor do the distortions stop there. Arguably, food prices are increased due to the reallocation of corn to different uses—and when food prices are higher, restaurants and households do things differently. There are distortions economy-wide, all for the chasing of a subsidy.

To be clear, just because taxes cause distortions doesn’t mean that we should never have taxes. It just means that in order to get the full picture when it comes to policies like an ethanol subsidy or laws such as the ACA, we need to take into account the tax distortions in order to ensure that the benefits we are seeking exceed the costs.

The Employer Mandate/Penalty/Tax

So what are the tax distortions that emanate from the ACA? Here let me simply focus on two aspects of the law: the employer mandate or employer penalty—the requirement that employers of a certain size either provide health insurance for full-time employees or pay a penalty for not doing so; and the exchanges—sometimes they’re called marketplaces—where people can purchase health insurance separate from their employer. The mandate or penalty is intended, of course, to encourage employers to provide health insurance.

And the exchanges are where the major government assistance is provided, since those who purchase insurance in an exchange typically receive a tax credit. As I’ll explain, taken together, the penalty on employers and the subsidies in the exchanges add up to a tax on full-time employment—a tax that you pay if you work full time but not if you work part time or don’t work at all. And the problem with that, of course, is that by taxing full-time work—which is the same as subsidizing part-time work and unemployment—you get less of the former and more of the latter two.

How does this full-time employment tax work with regard to the employer mandate? As I mentioned, the penalty applies only in the case of full-time employees and only to employers that don’t offer health coverage, and it applies only in those months during which those full-time employees are on the payroll. If an employee cuts back to part-time work, the employer no longer has to pay the penalty. The dollar amount of the penalty doesn’t depend on whether the employee is rich, poor, or middle class—if he works full time, the employer must either provide insurance or pay the penalty. And the penalty is indexed to health insurance costs, so every year those costs increase more than the economy and more than wages, the penalty will increase more than the economy and more than wages.

The current penalty is usually described as $2,000 per year per full-time employee. But it’s really more than that, because the penalty, unlike wages, is not deductible from business taxes. So in terms of a salary equivalent, the penalty is closer to $3,000 a head. Needless to say, this penalty reduces competition in the labor market: It discourages employers from competing for full-time employees—which, if you’re an employee, is a bad deal. Also there are a lot of employers who are not going to pay the penalty because they don’t meet the size threshold of 50 or more employees, and employees are going to suffer because these small employers won’t want to become large employers and therefore subject to the penalty.

Furthermore, this mandate or penalty—and by this time it should be clear that we can think of it as a tax on having a full-time employee—disproportionately harms low-skill workers. Think about it this way: How many hours does a worker have to work each week to produce the $3,000-per-year of value to justify keeping his job or being hired? For a minimum-wage worker, that comes to eight hours a week, all year round—one day of work a week for the government due to the ACA alone. Higher-skilled employees can obviously produce $3,000 worth of value in less time, so the penalty will have less of an impact on them.

Subsidized Health Insurance Exchanges

What of the tax distortions that come from the subsidized health insurance exchanges or marketplaces? To begin to think about this, imagine paying full price for your health care. How does full price work? Well, you pay the full price. The health care provider doesn’t look at your tax return and adjust the bill accordingly. So we would never call paying full price for health care an income tax of any kind. Or imagine there is a discount on the full price—for instance, 30 percent off for everybody, regardless of income.

In that case it’s still not an income tax. No matter how much you earn, you pay the same price. But what if the discount (or subsidy) is tied to your employment situation? Not to your income, but to your employment situation. That’s how the exchanges work. If you have a full-time job with an employer that offers coverage—which is the case for most employees in our economy—you don’t get the subsidy offered through the exchanges. If you want to get the subsidy, you need to become a part-time worker or spend time off the job.

In other words, this discount, too, is a tax on full-time employment. Of course, no politician ever calls it a tax. But when you are in a group of people that doesn’t receive a subsidy that people in another group receive, that’s a tax.



Why British Labour Party  leader's bid to parade his patriotism is SO unconvincing

There is one quality in a leader that Ed Miliband certainly does not lack: ruthlessness. The manner in which he destroyed the political career of his elder brother in order to gain control of the Labour Party told us that.

Now, he has sacked one of his earliest champions - and apparently a friend - Emily Thornberry.

The shadow attorney general had tweeted - without comment - a picture of a house in Rochester festooned with St George’s flags that had caught her attention while campaigning in the local by-election.

That was enough: in the brutal style of Alan Sugar, Miliband told her ‘you’re fired’. Yet this was not so much cruelty on Miliband’s part, as sheer panic.

For Thornberry’s terminal offence was to draw attention to the single biggest weakness of the modern Labour Party - the sense that it speaks for a rarified class of public sector officials and administrators, rather than the working people it was originally created to represent.

More particularly, the Labour leader felt obliged to ditch his friend because her de-haut-en-bas [from on high] tweet encapsulated exactly what many see as his own identity: a man who regards the patriotic working man driving a white van as at best an anthropological oddity, and as at worst a savage.

That the Labour leader still doesn’t quite get it was made clear when he insisted that when he sees a St George’s Flag, he feels ‘respect’ for the person displaying it.

Respect is what politicians say they accord to those whose views they can’t stand (‘with the greatest of respect’). Fellow-feeling is more what the public might want him to say that he experienced on seeing the national flag — but then that would be a lie and Miliband is too hopeless an actor to get away with a fib even if he wanted to.

We are all deeply influenced by our upbringing, for better or for worse. The Labour leader was brought up in a highly intellectual Marxist home, in which it would have been axiomatic that nationalism was only a bad thing.

That was entirely understandable: his father Ralph, born Adolphe, had escaped from a Holocaust created by the most toxic German nationalism. Many others in that Jewish family had not been so fortunate, being murdered in the Nazi death camps.

But the Marxist default position, that the only war worth fighting is the class war and that all expressions of national and cultural identity are delusional except in so far as they can be described as ‘anti-colonial’, has bedevilled the Left as a whole: the Miliband home was a salon for many influential figures who shared this world view and sought to propagate it through the educational system (at which they were quite successful.)

But, as applied to the wider Britain outside the academy, it has created nothing more than a blank space on the map. Robert Colls, the author of Identity of England, remarked of the Blair years: ‘To fill the historical vacuum, “diversity” became New Labour’s watchword. But diversity . . . left nothing to build on.’

Blair's first political campaign had been the Beaconsfield by-election of 1982. Between his adoption as the Labour candidate and the campaign’s start, the Falklands War broke out.

The young Blair campaigned on the basis that ‘the islanders cannot be allowed to determine the future of the Falklands’ — and was completely marginalised, losing his deposit.

As the socialist novelist and journalist George Orwell wrote in My Country Right Or Left, during the 1940s: ‘Patriotism is usually stronger than class hatred and always stronger than internationalism.’ Seventy years later, it still is.

Orwell was, in terms of the British Left, very isolated in holding such opinions. Yet unlike so many of them at the time — and certainly unlike the current generation of career politicians — he had deep first-hand knowledge of what he was writing and talking about.

This helps explain what he wrote about the peculiar out-of-touchness of the Left-wing intelligentsia, which bears repetition today: ‘England is perhaps the only country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.

In Left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings.

‘It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during “God Save The King” than of stealing from a poor box.’



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