Israel’s Herzog vows to bridge Jewish divide
By ARON HELLER
Monday, July 30
JERUSALEM (AP) — Three years after he narrowly missed out on becoming prime minister of Israel, Isaac Herzog says he looks forward to becoming the “prime minister of the Jewish people” in his new role as chairman of the Jewish Agency.
The longtime Cabinet minister and outgoing opposition leader to Benjamin Netanyahu may be done with politics for now. But at a time of unprecedented strain between Israel and the more liberal Jewish Diaspora, the 57-year-old Herzog tells The Associated Press Monday he sees an even higher calling in heading the non-governmental organization devoted to bridging that gap.
“I was ready to be prime minister of Israel. I wanted to be prime minister of Israel. And yet now I am actually intrigued by this new challenge,” he said from his nearly vacated office in parliament, where he had just resigned after 15 years in the Knesset. “We live in an era where we can drift into an irreparable crisis, an irreparable rift.”
Most American Jews belong to the more liberal Reform and Conservative streams and feel alienated by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox authorities, who maintain a strict monopoly over daily Jewish life in the Holy Land and question their faith and practices. The ultra-Orthodox establishment views other strains as too lax, and is deeply opposed to interfaith marriage and the ordination of women and gays.
A government decision to scrap plans for a mixed-gender prayer area at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and insults hurled at those pushing for it, has led American Jewish leaders to warn that it could undermine their long-standing political, financial and emotional support for Israel.
The recent passing of a controversial law enshrining the state’s Jewish character, which critics at home and abroad say has undercut Israel’s traditional democratic values, has also irked American Jews, who increasingly find themselves at odds with the government’s nationalist, religious and pro-settlement bent.
Herzog promises to be the bridge and give a powerful voice domestically to the Jewish Diaspora. Ahead of taking office at the Jewish Agency on Wednesday, he said he met with all members of the country’s governing coalition to deliver a stern warning.
“I explained to them openly and I said it both publicly and privately: ‘Everything you say and hear in Israel hurts the hearts and gives a lot of pain to our Jewish brothers and sisters outside who love Israel, who respect Israel and who are part of its strength,’” he said. “There are enough elements who want to tear up this relationship, so calm down.”
Herzog, a former Labor Party leader, succeeds former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharansky as chairman of the Jewish Agency, where he will oversee an umbrella organization with a $362 million annual budget.
He brings with him a strong political legacy. His late father, Chaim Herzog, was president of Israel from 1983 to 1993 and was its ambassador to the United Nations. His uncle was legendary Foreign Minister Abba Eban.
Herzog was chosen over Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Though the appointment was seen as a defeat for Netanyahu, Herzog vowed to work closely with his political rival and said they had a good rapport despite a hotly contested 2015 race for prime minister than went down to the wire.
Even so, he warned of equating the Jewish state and all its diversity with its polarizing, longtime leader.
“Israel is way bigger than the immediate term of this person or that person,” he said. “Leaders come and go. We are a very vibrant democracy and sometime or another there will be a political change. I wasn’t far away from this a couple of years ago and I am convinced it is possible again.”
The Jewish Agency enjoys a legacy as the one-time government-in-waiting before Israel’s 1948 founding, and David Ben-Gurion was its chairman before becoming Israel’s first prime minister. It was then instrumental in orchestrating large waves of Jewish immigration to Israel. But some critics say that in the decades since it has become largely irrelevant.
“It portends to be the bridge, the connection between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, but there is not much behind that,” said Nahum Barnea, the country’s pre-eminent columnist for the Yediot Ahronot daily. “It really has very little influence.”
He said Herzog would be riding a “wooden horse” since Netanyahu already sees himself as the leader of the Jewish people and would do nothing to relinquish that role.
Herzog rejected the criticism that he was merely seeking a cushy job after losing his party’s leadership, saying the crisis at hand was too great to ignore. He insisted it was a two-way street and vowed to bring the world’s Jews closer to Israel as well.
“We have to be very careful. We can argue with Israel on many things, but we have to make sure that some of our haters and bashers will not be able to use it to undermine our right to exist,” he said. “It still feels like family on both sides of the ocean.”
Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap
Opinion: Regulations and Amazon Killed Toys ‘R’ Us
By Mike Wendy
No American tragedy is complete without some good old-fashioned pitchfork waving. Exhibit A: the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among the media and professional activist crowd over the downfall of Toys “R” Us.
Obviously, the situation is tragic, especially for the company’s hardworking employees. But the oh-so-predictable cries of “It’s all Wall Street’s fault!” ring hollow with even a cursory review of the facts.
Geoffrey the Giraffe wasn’t killed by the private equity firms that spent years trying to save Toys “R” Us. He was slowly strangled to death by a regulatory environment that is toxic for brick-and-mortar retailers and a ruthless horde of Amazonian online competitors eager to bend the rules in their favor.
Toys “R” Us has shuttered its stores for good, and while many of us are still processing our grief over the loss, e-commerce giant Amazon wasted no time in leveraging the market vacancy that it had a heavy role in creating. Not even a week after the store closings, news broke that Amazon was planning to capitalize on the demise of the beloved toy store by taking a page from its playbook and mailing millions of people a holiday toy catalog.
The 21st century has not been kind to traditional retail stores, and every year that goes by things seem to get worse, even when the larger economy is improving.
In 2017, more than 300 brick-and-mortar retailers filed for bankruptcy — an astounding 31 percent increase from the previous year — and nearly 7,000 stores closed up shop for good. No amount of Wall Street malfeasance or financial tomfoolery could create this kind of “extinction event” for traditional retail.
It took a combination of a sclerotic, anti-competition bureaucracy, systemic rot in our regulatory systems, Amazon’s corporate chicanery (and growing political influence), and a rapidly evolving retail environment to bring America’s once-great retail sector to its knees.
On the regulatory side, the sad fact is that many regulators, and indeed the system as a whole, is reflexively antagonistic to commerce in whatever form it takes. But it is traditional retailers that shoulder the vast majority of the burden imposed by federal, state and local governments simply because they have a physical presence and are more likely to have traditional employees. So environmental, labor and most other types of regulations hit them much harder than their online rivals, who tend to thrive in places (looking at you California) where running a brick-and-mortar business has become too expensive and complicated for even some of the heartiest entrepreneurs to stomach.
There is no better example of this than corporate mergers. For years, the government has pushed back against these often-necessary strategic business maneuvers. By doing so, regulators have effectively hamstrung larger brick-and-mortar businesses, making it impossible for them to take the steps necessary to remain competitive in a retail marketplace that is in near constant flux. And all the while, online retailers (led by the ever-aggressive Amazon) work to preserve their unfair advantages and tilt the playing field ever more in their favor, as evidenced by their long (and ultimately unsuccessful) fight against having to collect and remit state and local sales taxes.
Why such a long and hard fight? Because the status quo gave online merchants what amounted to a systemic pricing advantage over their offline rivals of somewhere between 4 percent and 11 percent — a gargantuan gap in a sector where margins are wafer thin. This will soon change — a recent Supreme Court decision effectively gives states the power to force online businesses to collect and remit sales taxes — but not before this regulatory imbalance helped to decimate malls and Main Streets across the United States.
These days, people talk about the whole “clicks vs. bricks” rivalry in retail. But it’s not really a rivalry when one side plays with most of the rules weighted in its favor. Online retailers aren’t natural bad actors in the marketplace, though Amazon’s business practices are often objectionable. And, as evidenced by the Supreme Court’s recent online sales tax decision, laws and regulations can and do change.
There is no reason we can’t have both a vibrant online retail sector and thriving brick-and-mortar retail stores. But for this to happen, governments at all levels need to both stop making it so hard to run a business, and set clear, fair rules that all businesses need to follow, whether they are on Main Street or online.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mike Wendy is president of Media Freedom. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
The Mind Reels
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
Equally enigmatic is how Mr. Trump went about representing the national interest of the United States at Helsinki. Until Mr. Mueller is ready to provide possible clarification, the fog around the president’s motivation persists: narcissistic ineptitude almost surely; perhaps also kompromat, collusion, and/or fear of money laundering becoming exposed.
All the confusion provides an object lesson in the plasticity of enemy-imaging. As someone old enough to remember the lame British-American interference in Iran in the fifties, the hysteria of McCarthyism, Hoover’s clandestine harassment of Martin Luther King Jr., and far greater debacles like the wanton destruction of Vietnam and Cambodia, I persist in my skepticism concerning the degree of competence we can expect from the bureaucrats and generals to whom we reluctantly entrust our safety.
But now, with the executive branch demonstrably willing to gallop bareback off the established foreign policy reservation, the knee-jerk adversary of progressives for decades, the so-called “deep state,” with its reflexive fear of Russian totalitarian infiltration and its perpetuation of military dominance in all earthly spheres, may at least be providing a sorely needed element of restraint and integrity.
The plot is further thickened by an interesting analysis in The Nation magazine by Stephen Cohen, a Princeton professor emeritus and lifetime Russia watcher. He asks us to take a deep breath in the midst of our anxiety about the president’s apparent capitulation to his authoritarian friend in power.
Cohen asserts that when the president states that “I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. … And I think we’re all to blame,” he is onto something:
Cohen continues: “For the past 15 years, the virtually unanimous American bipartisan establishment answer has been: Putin, or “Putin’s Russia,” is solely to blame. Washington’s decision to expand NATO to Russia’s border, bomb Russia’s traditional ally Serbia, withdraw unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, carry out military regime change in Iraq and Libya, provoke the Ukrainian crisis and back the coup against its legitimate president in 2014, and considerably more—none of these, only “Putin’s aggression,” led to the new Cold War. This explanation has long become a rigid bipartisan orthodoxy tolerating no dissent.”
Tragically, the president’s compulsive willingness to lie, his thin-skinned, possibly guilt-motivated defensiveness, his Kissinger lone-cowboy-riding-to-the-rescue style, along with the appallingly short-sighted withdrawal from both the Paris Accords and the Iran nuclear deal, has pretty much destroyed his credibility as a heretical and possibly creative anti-establishment actor. When he assigns blame equally between America and Russia for the new Cold War, all most of us can see is an echo of the false equivalence of his assigning blame equally to the neo-Nazis and the civil rights protesters in Charlottesville.
Where does a citizen go in all this craziness for an authoritative sense of context? One useful perspective is the long-term history of the nuclear arms race, out of which came a bracing truth from another apparent adversary of progressive thinking, Ronald Reagan: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” In spite of our finding ourselves, more than a half-century beyond the Cuban missile crisis, still building new nuclear weapons on all sides, we humans have not gotten the message: continuing the arms race on the basis of deterrence prophesies not greater security but only inevitable mass death through error, misinterpretation, or miscalculation.
The “establishment” is well aware of this. They are designing new nuclear weapons to be less powerful so that they become strategically more “flexible” and “useful,” and presumably can avoid fatal consequences like nuclear winter. But smaller weapons only make the nuclear threshold easier to cross, and once it is crossed, who will prevent escalation to the larger, world-ending weapons?
As Churchill said, the key to Russia is national self-interest. Planetary self-interest in the nuclear age provides a common-sense context for our contemporary circus. When Mr. Trump convenes an international conference of the military leaders of the nine nuclear powers to discuss joining the 122 nations who have outlawed nuclear weapons as self-destructive and unusable, I will be among the first to commend him as an anti-establishment hero. Meanwhile—the mind reels.
Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide” and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.
July 23, 2018
Attorney General Mike DeWine Statement on PBM Investigation
(COLUMBUS, OHIO)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today issued the following statement providing an update on his office’s investigation into the practices of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) who do business with Ohio agencies:
“Since the end of 2017, my office has been reviewing and investigating issues regarding PBMs and their contracts with Ohio agencies, such as the Ohio Department of Medicaid, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, and our numerous pension systems. It is clear that the conduct by PBMs in these areas remains a major concern, and we anticipate that our investigation will result in major litigation against PBMs.
“In recent months, my office began the process of hiring outside counsel to assist our continuing civil investigation and to oversee potential litigation that may arise from it. We are close to finalizing a selection and expect to announce that soon. We will also continue our efforts in court to defend the Department of Medicaid against PBM efforts to avoid transparency.
“Today, I am putting the PBMs on notice that their conduct is being heavily scrutinized, and any action that can be taken and proven in court will be filed to protect Ohio taxpayers and the millions of Ohioans who rely on the pharmacy benefits provided. Just as Ohio and other states have taken previous action against PBMs in other matters, Ohio will not hesitate to be the first state to demand accountability from PBMs for this pattern of conduct.”