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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Sad Truth

A sane person would say that the State of Israel cannot afford to pull out of Gaza. Forget the crime that's being committed against innocent Jews -- simply from a defense point of view, this will exacerbate terror horribly.

You'd think that with the Arabs frothing at the mouth, continuing attacks, and ranting about how this is such a huge victory for them and their methods of terror, the government would stop the process.

But they don't.

And the sad truth is that it's not because they don't want to. Had there been no protests against the expulsions, the process would have stopped weeks ago in light of the Arab attacks.
I am NOT saying that the protests were wrong. They were exactly right. But we have to realize that the ruling power in the State of Israel now is no less an oppressive regime than the British were. Or to use a better, and perhaps more appropriate comparison, they are no less an oppressor than King Yannai Alexander was. Yannai was a Jew. The great-grand-nephew of Judah Maccabee. But he was our enemy.

This government, which hates everything about being Jewish, knows that Torah true Jews are a far greater threat to its way of life than the Arabs. The Arabs only want to kill their bodies. We want to win their souls, and the souls of our nation.

If they win, it will hurt us. It will hurt us so badly. But we are the heirs of those who survived Yannai. We survived Pharaoh and we survived Hitler and we survived Titus, and we'll survive Sharon.

If we win, it will destroy them. They are fragile, these haters of Judaism. They are empty shells, and they have nothing to live for. And somewhere inside of them, they know this. And they hate and fear us because we are not empty. Because we have everything to live for.

They would rather encourage Arab terror than Jewish pride. To them, withdrawing under fire isn't the issue. It's a choice of who they give in to, and they have chosen the lesser threat to their worldview.

Regardless of how events transpire this week, we will have won an important battle. We will have exorcised the "medina uber alles" attitude that has been such a big part of some streams of religious Zionism. What was once something recognized only by a few is now realized by multitudes.

Eretz Yisrael belongs to Am Yisrael. Not to the State. There was no transfer of ownership in 1948 from the Jews to the Israelis. There never will be.

The only question is, as Moshe Feiglin wrote in his article about grandmas and wolves: will enough of us remember this lesson, and avoid slipping back into the Holy State mindset? Will we learn from what has happened and what is happening? No matter what happens this week, we must not forget the black-uniformed soldiers who are right now at the gates to Jewish towns and villages. We must not forget that our allegiance is -- and must always be -- to Hashem Yitborach, and not to an earthly king.

Anyone who votes for Binyamin Netanyahu in the upcoming primaries is merely voting for a more urbane version of Ariel Sharon. Even a vote for Uzi Landau is, with all due respect to him, just a vote for more of the same down the road. We must take control of our own destinies. We must have a leader with a Jewish soul.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Jumping on the FairTax bandwagon

I'm a skeptic. Also a bit of an absolutist.

("A bit!" Dozens of readers cry, outraged.)

Yeah, well... I don't think the government should be in the business of handing out goodies, however important those goodies may be. It should not fund art or science or social programs or universities or schools -- especially schools, but don't get me started on Dewey's Folly -- or space exploration or... really anything other than police, army and courts. Taxation to fund these things is incredibly immoral. "Taxation is theft" is a wild slogan, but in some cases, it's true.

And maybe when I was younger, I would have opposed any attempt to fix the insane tax system in this country, on the theory that the more a mess it is, the sooner it'll crash. But hey , you get older, and you start to be willing to make baby steps.

Which brings me to the FairTax. This is a proposal that has been around for about 10 years now, and I've been trying to poke holes in it for a while now, without much in the way of success. And I'm good at poking holes in things. I am a veritable Cassandra. If it's got a flaw, that's the first thing that jumps out at me. As you might imagine, it makes me pretty popular at parties.

But the FairTax looks like the genuine deal. It's revenue neutral, which is bad, in the sense that we need to stop the thievery, but good, in the sense that it will improve things immeasurably. You can see a sketch of the plan here, but let me give you the salient points:
  • The income tax and all payroll, personal, gift, estate, capital gains, Social Security, Medicare (etc., etc., ad nauseum) are eliminated, and the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which permitted the income tax, gets repealed.
  • These taxes are all replaced with a single national retail sales tax on new goods and services being purchased for personal consumption.
  • A "prebate" equal to the amount of the poverty level is given to every holder of a valid Social Security number, every month, to offset the sales tax for basic necessities.

No more Form 1040. No more IRS. April 15 becomes just another day. No more being taxed more and more just because you're more productive. You take home every penny you earn, and you only pay taxes if you buy new things.

This is not a VAT (Value Added Tax). With a VAT, taxes are charged and collected at every stage until and including your purchase. With a 15% VAT, you think you're paying 15% in tax, but every successive stage of production had to pay VAT, so they passed that on in higher prices to the next guy. You're really paying a lot more than just 15%.

The FairTax looks high. It's 30%. But eliminating corporate taxes as well means that they don't have to pass those tax expenses on in the price of things you buy. So if something costs $100 today, it's likely to cost $77 after the FairTax goes into effect. When you pay 30% tax on it, you're just back to the original price of 100%.

There's no filing with the FairTax. Storekeepers will have to collect it, but they do that now in most states anyway, and the FairTax allows for states to do the collecting. Do you know how much the income tax costs in this country? Every year, it costs $225 billion. That's "billion", with a "b". That's three times what the war in Iraq has cost the United States so far, and it's paid every single year.

The FairTax falls on everyone. Today, drug dealers and prostitutes and criminals don't pay income tax on what they earn. Anyone who can afford a good tax accountant can manage to get away with paying very, very little in the way of income tax. Once taxes are moved from income to consumption, everyone gets taxed on an equal basis. If a millionaire buys a yacht, he pays 30% on it. If a kid buys a candy bar, he pays 30% on it. If a poor person buys a bottle of milk, he pays 30% on it, but he's already received a grant for that at the beginning of the month.

Today, everyone is at risk of an audit from the IRS. They have their own courts, with rules that are very different from regular courts. It is virtually a government within the government, and its first rule is that we are guilty until proven innocent. Every time you file a tax return, you have to worry about whether you might have made an honest mistake that could bring the wrath of the IRS down on your head. With the FairTax, that can't happen. You only pay tax at the cash register.

I recommend that everyone check out http://www.fairtax.org, http://www.fairtaxvolunteer.org, and get yourself a copy of The FairTax Book. Call your senators and representatives and tell them to get moving on this. There is no downside.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Peace, as opposed to Peace

Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite authors, was kind enough to print this essay on his "The Ornery American" site a few years ago. But I think it's pretty timely just now, as well, so I'm reprinting it here.

Peace, as opposed to Peace
By Lisa Liel
January 24, 2002

In the wake of the September 11th bombings, President George W. Bush was quick to announce to Americans that "Islam is a religion of peace." He went out of his way to make this point, and it has been repeated over and over again since then. The message is: Islam is peaceful, and the Islamic fanatics who perpetrated this crime and the vast number of other terrorist acts over the past four decades are and have been acting outside the bounds of Islam.

I won't address the sheer zaniness of the American president making theological pronouncements as to what is and is not valid in Islam, but the issue of whether Islam is essentially peaceful or not is a critical one, and our understanding of this will affect our understanding, not only of the terrorist criminals who attacked American last September, but of every social and political context which includes Islam.

Islam is indeed, as President Bush said, a religion of peace. Even the name testifies to this fact: Islam comes from the same root as the Arabic word salaam, or peace. The question this begs, and it is a question that has been overlooked by both sides of the debate, is "what does peace mean in Islamic culture?" In some cultures, peace means an utter lack of conflict. Even a difference of opinion violates peace in a culture of that sort. To the western mind, peace means that conflicts are resolved before they erupt into bloody conflict.

In Arabic, peace means submission.

Peace in Islam and in all cultures which grew out of Arabic domination means the submission of the weak to the strong. Who is weak and who is strong? The answer is simple. The one who submits is weak and the one to whom he submits is strong. And it is the natural order of things that the weak should submit to the strong. Islam means submission to God, and this is the model they have for peace.

Is it a better view or a worse view than, say, the western one? The question is meaningless. To a western mind, the western view is better, and the Islamic view is worse, since it eliminates any possibility of a cooperative peace. To the Islamic mind, the Islamic view is better and the western view is worse, because it is unnatural, inherently unstable, and perhaps even unjust.

We can each make our own judgements about what peace should mean, but it is a matter of fact that it means different things in different contexts and different cultures. To Osama bin Laden, the United States had demonstrated weakness in ways that he felt his people were strong. Attacking us was the appropriate action from his point of view. Those Muslims who disgree with his actions do so because they see America as strong.

The conflict in Israel is a tragic result of Israel's inability to understand what peace means to their Arab foes. Throughout history, Jews have refused to submit. Over and over, and in the face of overwhelming strength on the part of their oppressors, they have stubbornly gone on being Jews. Being different, even at horrifying cost. When non-Jewish rulers banned the circumcision of Jewish boys, on pain of death, Jewish parents continued the practice and died for it. Even during the Holocaust, the Nazis needed to trick the Jews into submission.

The modern State of Israel was created with the idea that even that kind of submission would never happen again. It is ingrained in the Israeli mentality. And as a result, Israelis imagine that others will similarly refuse to submit. It is a tragic mistake on their part.

In the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab countries were beaten. The story is told of a single Israeli soldier with a single rifle watching over more than 200 Arabs on the Temple Mount the day Jerusalem was taken. They had been beaten, and they knew it. But the Israelis didn't know it. With their mindset of "never submit", they could not imagine the opportunity they had. The very next day, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave the keys of the Temple Mount, the single holiest site in the world for Jews, to the Waqf, the Islamic institution charged with care of Islamic holy places. With that act, he refused the submission of the Arabs, an act which led inexorably to the bombing of the Twin Towers.

But Dayan could have done nothing else. He anticipated the reactions of the Arabs based on his own worldview, and thought he would avoid future conflict by this action. He was tragically wrong, and his error has been repeated over and over by one Israeli government after another.

In 1999, at Camp David, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a plan which, had Arafat accepted, would have led to the demise of the Jewish state within a year. Israel's borders would have been utterly indefensible, and Arafat would have been able to take everything that was left. But just as Barak and Dayan were locked into their worldviews, so was Arafat locked into his. In western thought, when ones adversary offers concessions, the normal reaction, the sane reaction, is to appreciate them and offer concessions in return, in hopes that the two sides might find a peaceful resolution. But this kind of resolution is only "peaceful" in the western conception of peace. To Arafat, operating from the Arabic mindset, one side must win and one side must lose. And if Barak was offering so much, it would clearly only take a little more time until the Israelis submitted entirely. The conflict would have reached a state of peace at long last, with the Jews submitting to the Arabs.

In rejecting Barak's offer, Arafat may have committed a crime against the western conception of peace, but he had to do it for the Arabic idea of peace.

It may be hard to believe that the Arabs would ever be willing to submit in the century-long Arab-Jewish conflict, but it is the truth. They will fight, with no regard for western concepts of "rules of war", until one side or the other has submitted. If they submit, they will accept it as the way of the world. If the Jews submit, the Arabs will insist on absolute submission. No Jewish sovereign presence will be tolerated in Arab lands. The State of Israel will become a footnote in history. But even if the Israeli government gives in, the Jews in Israel will not submit, and so the conflict will continue.

Strangely enough, to a western mentality, the only possibility of ending the conflict in the Middle East is for Israel to stop pulling its punches and to bring the Arabs fighting it to their collective knees. Literally. Those who think this will merely cause the Arabs to fight harder simply fail to understand the Arab mindset. They are guilty of thinking that their view of peace is the only one that can be held by anyone. They are wrong, and the price of their error has been paid for far too long.