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Rick Santelli of CNBC said it aptly in his rant on Thursday morning — “The government is promoting bad behavior.” Yes…yes it is. Rick is absolutely correct in his derision of the idea of giving money to people who made bad decisions and bought houses for far in excess of what they could afford. It’s a good rant and I think it’s worthwhile to view it in full

It’s a very populist message and it certainly resonates as we continue to watch our economy crumble, our net worth drop, and face the spectre of unemployment or even foreclosure ourselves. Especially when those facing these problems did nothing wrong, played by the rules, and made reasonable and pragmatic decisions.

However, if we look at the counterpoint as presented by the New York Times columnist David Brooks in his opinion piece this morning titled “Money for Idiots” the government must do something. If we let the foreclosure rate continue at it’s current pace (or go higher) and do nothing than it won’t just be those who made bad decisions and bought houses that were more than they could afford who will suffer. It will be all homeowners — foreclosures drop property values in the surrounding area dramatically as banks look to offload them as quickly as possible. In addition abandoned houses can become havens for criminals or drug users. It affects us all.

In the same way that giving money to the banks when they are the ones who played a large role in creating this mess may seem to be a “bad idea” — if the banks go down the economic hit would be much more severe. And what about the “Big Three”? Detroit has made blunder after blunder and missed many opportunities to innovate and to take the lead in the global competitive marketplace. Why should they get money? Honestly…that’s a harder one to swallow as the demise of Detroit would probably not have as devastating an impact on the economy as we may think. But the economic repercussions (at least on a regional level) would be dramatic and have farther reaching effects given how intertwined the world’s economies are.

No, we must do something to alleviate this and we need to do it in a way that will save the “Losers” and the Idiots who brought us to the edge of this abyss. We are like an economic train…if the last few cars of the train slide off the edge of the cliff, it drags the rest of the train with it. If enough cars fall down then the entire train is lost. There’s a lot of sympathy for the populist sentiment that we should just let these people lose their homes. But what will be the broader and longer term implication if that happens? It’s the same feeling with regards to the bankers and the auto industry executives. The feeling of “You have no one to blame but yourselves” is appropriate and well-deserved but by letting them slide down the hill they will drag the rest of us with them. President Obama is doing the right thing…but he must make sure that the rest of us doing get the short end of the stick or that the “Loser” and Idiots come out ahead. They need to lose as well. And it wouldn’t hurt to “tar and feather America’s 100 leading bankers” as Nicholas Kristof suggests (Kristof, Nicholas, “Escaping the Bust Bowl”, The New York Times, February 11, 2009) but I’d throw in the auto industry executives just for good measure.

The New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof can’t find any fault with the Palestinians — with everyone else he can find faults but not Hamas and the Palestinians. He writes in his latest opinion piece, Obama’s Long Shot for Peace, from Davos, Switzerland where the World Economic Forum was recently held that the Obama administration is now faced with a historic opportunity to move the MidEast peace process forward. He blames President Bush for failing in this initiative, and rightly so. He noted that President Bush

embraced Israeli leaders even when they responded to provocations by killing more than 1,300 people in Gaza, according to Gaza health officials — in retaliation for shelling that had killed fewer than 30 Israelis since it began in 2001.

(Kristof, Nicholas D., “Obama’s Long Shot for Peace“, The New York Times, January 31, 2009)

Mr. Kristof completely ignores the impact and terror that the past 7 years of continual rocket fire have had on the population of Israel’s southern cities.

Only 30 Israelis have died because Israel has done all it can to harden the buildings in those cities against rocket strikes and has built an early warning system to give residents time to find shelter. In the nearly 4 years that the Palestinians have been in full control of Gaza they have done little to nothing to build the economy, to rebuild it’s infrastructure, to improve the lives of their citizens. Rather they have used it as a launching pad to strike at Israel.

In his opinion piece Mr. Kristof notes that the Obama administration needs to move the two major parties — Israel and the Palestinians — in two major ways. First,

it must push to reduce the misery in Palestinian territories. A peace deal with the Palestinians is not possible today, partly because the Palestinians themselves are bitterly divided between Fatah and Hamas. But nothing can be done anywhere as long as scenes of Gaza suffering are unfolding on television screens.

That means that Israel must lift the siege of Gaza, completely opening the crossings.

(Kristof, Nicholas D., “Obama’s Long Shot for Peace“, The New York Times, January 31, 2009)

Once again, according to Mr. Kristof, the onus is on Israel alone. Never mind the fact that this was tried and the results ended up being the recent conflict in Gaza. Never mind the fact that the Palestinians have used every opening and relaxation of security measures to send homicide bombers into Israel to attack the civilian population — mothers, brothers, fathers, children. Sure, let’s open up the borders with Gaza, let’s remove the checkpoints — hell, let’s take down the whole security fence and see what happens. I can easily predict what will happen. The Palestinian Authority (not them directly but one of the militias), Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and all the other terrorists will send a wave of homicide bombers into Israel that will result in the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Israeli civilians. Additionally, Hamas will likely resume it’s incessant rocket attacks against Israeli cities — perhaps hitting Tel-Aviv even. But, Mr. Kristof notes

If Hamas resumes its unconscionable rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, then bomb the tunnels or strike Hamas targets in a proportional way, but don’t escalate.

(Kristof, Nicholas D., “Obama’s Long Shot for Peace“, The New York Times, January 31, 2009)

Now if Israel, according to Mr. Kristof’s suggestion to the Obama administration, opens the crossings completely, what value is there in striking tunnels? With the crossings opened completely, Hamas will be able to bring in more and bigger rockets. Striking the tunnels when the crossings are open would achieve nothing. What about striking Hamas targets “in a proportional way”? Perhaps Israel should simply fire its own rockets back at Gaza just like Hamas does with their rockets against Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod. But then the world community would cry foul when Israeli rockets hit a house or a school and claim that Israel is committing war crimes. There would be calls for “restraint”.

Mr. Kristof suggests that Israel strike “Hamas targets” — what exactly are those targets? Police stations? Government buildings? According to the NGOs and the UN those targets are not “Hamas targets”. Hamas does not have military bases like any other army does. They use houses, schools, and other buildings as their staging and launching areas. In the video below the Al-Arabiya reporter laughs when she discovers that Hamas was launching rockets from directly underneath her news channel’s building during the latest conflict in Gaza.

Is that a legitimate Hamas target? Please Mr. Kristof, help the world define what is a legitimate “Hamas target”.

In addition to easing the Gaza seige by opening all the crossings, Mr. Kristof suggests that

Mr. Obama should also insist on a complete halt of settlement activity on the West Bank, and on an easing of the West Bank checkpoints that make life wretched for Palestinians. All that would also bolster moderates in the Palestinian Authority, making an eventual deal more likely.

(Kristof, Nicholas D., “Obama’s Long Shot for Peace“, The New York Times, January 31, 2009)

What Mr. Kristof appears to be advocating is a rollback to the Oslo Accord agreements state with Israel making all the concessions and no tangible responsibility on the part of the Palestinian Authority. I’ll grant him the idea that stopping the settlements and removing the roadblocks will be seen as a sign of good will on the part of Israel but during the time of the Oslo Accords such gestures usually resulted in increased terrorist attacks originating from the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

Mr. Kristof’s second suggestion to the Obama administration is to restart the Israeli-Syrian peace talks that have been going on for the past year mediated by Turkey. These talks have fallen apart because of the recent conflict in Gaza. However, this effort seems contradictory given that Mr. Kristof, earlier in his opinion piece, noted that “nothing can be done anywhere as long as scenes of Gaza suffering are unfolding on television screens” (Kristof, Nicholas D., “Obama’s Long Shot for Peace“, The New York Times, January 31, 2009).

It seems that according to Mr. Kristof Israel must again make all the concessions, take all the risks, and assume all of the responsibility in the MidEast peace process. In his calculus, Israelis must also assume any of the consequences and all of the blame should it fail. The Palestinians, in his opinion, are as innocent as babies. Tell that to the families of the 30 who died from Qassam attacks and the hundreds of others who died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists while Israel made great efforts to achieve peace with them.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times penned an op-ed yesterday titled “The Gaza Boomerang” in which he excoriates Israel for their incursion into Gaza. He notes that

Since the shelling from Gaza started in 2001, 20 Israeli civilians have been killed by rockets or mortars, according to a tabulation by Israeli human rights groups. That doesn’t justify an all-out ground invasion that has killed more than 660 people (it’s difficult to know how many are militants and how many are civilians)

(Kristof, Nicholas D., “The Gaza Boomerang“, The New York Times, January 8 2009)

Sitting in an office a few thousand miles away Mr. Kristof balances the lives of 20 people on the one hand and 660 people on the other (which is probably more now) and says that the 20 people are not worth the 660 people. He uses this balance to say make the old tired response that Israel’s response is “disproportionate.” Israel, as Mr. Kristof believes, should simply have bombed the tunnels which Hamas is using to smuggle weapons into the Gaza strip or, better yet, eased the blockade of the Gaza strip in the hopes that in would have created “an environment in which Hamas would have extended the cease-fire.”

Whether Hamas would have extended the cease-fire or not we will never know now. I’m betting that they wouldn’t. They would have used the easing of a blockade to arm themselves with probably even more deadlier rockets as well as unleased their legions of suicide bombers on Israel. This sort of thinking originates from the Munich Pact of 1938 in which France, Britain, and Germany met to discuss Hitler’s demands for the Sudetenland (at the time part of the country of Czechoslovakia). Hitler reassured Britain’s prime minister Neville Chamberlain that if Germany was given the Sudetenland than he (Hitler) would make no more claims on the territory of it’s neighbors. Chamberlain went back to Britain with the pact in hand and proclaimed that he had secured “peace for our time.” Not long after, in March of 1939, Hitler’s army invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia and we all know the rest of the story.

Mr. Kristof’s naive assertion that if only Israel had made “nice” with Hamas then Hamas would make “nice” with Israel is completely off. It smacks of Gollum‘s quote in the Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers, “We’ll be nice to them, if they’ll be nice to us” — well, we all now how that ended. Gollum betrayed Sam and Frodo, tried to kill them and managed, albeit only briefly, to capture the One Ring for himself. Israel cannot afford to make “nice” with an organization that continually professes that it’s sole aim is the destruction of Israel with the concomittant explusion or mass murder of all Jews from their land. And Mr. Kristof clearly doesn’t understand that – it doesn’t enter into his calculus.

Hamas can easily bring an end to the Gaza tragedy it it would stop raining rockets down on Israel (which, just before the current fighting was around 60 per day), stop sending suicide bombers into Israeli cafes, shops, synagoguges, and malls, and realizes that a two-state solution is the only way to end this festering, open sore of a conflict. Instead, they only wish to continue the cycle of violence (which leads to Israeli retaliation which, in itself also contributes to the cycle).

The 20 Israeli lives that have been lost to the Hamas rain of rockets over the past 8 years (it’s been going on since 2001) are just as meaningful and valid as the Palestinian lives lost over the past two weeks. Those 20 were someone mother, father, child, brother, and sister. This is not a game of numbers that defines how hard Israel is allowed to strike back against an organization that is determined to see its destruction. It’s a question of survival. Israel’s response has to be strong enough that Hamas will think twice in the future of whether they want to keep the count going up to 21, 22 or beyond. It has to be strong enough that Hamas will realize that true peace comes with being willing to live with your neighbors rather than sitting and waiting to cut their throats whenever they let their guard down.

March 2020

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