Eric Fried

Eric Fried

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A SWING TOWARDS THE CENTRE


To me the most significant recent event of the week was the Israeli election. Candidly, I waited for the election results with a sense of dread: a further swing to the right which in turn would lead to Israel’s continuous isolation, strained relations with US, and the reinforcement of the general perception, especially on the campuses, that an organization such as Hamas, an undeniably terrorist entity, occupies higher moral ground than the Jewish state.  This did not happen. No matter what the right wing pundits say the electorate sent a clear and unambiguous message to Netanyahu: address the issue of an equitable distribution of service to the state and the issue of Israel’s standing in the international community. The first is clearly aimed at the religious segment of the population, which is exempt from compulsory military service; the second would necessitate a renewed commitment to the two state resolution of the conflict and a resumption of talks with the Palestinians.

I suspect that once the coalition has coalesced, we will begin noticing some encouraging trends.

Meanwhile, below is a table of political parties in the Knesset, their leadership and their place on the political spectrum.

Name of party
Leader
Position
18th
Knes-set
19th
Knes-set
COMMENTS
Likud-Beitenu
Netanyahu
Centre Right
42
31
Will lead the coalition.
Yesh Atid
Yair  Lapid
Centre left
0
19
Universal military service, resumption of talks. Dismantling of far flung settlements.
Labour
Shelley Yachimovich
Left of Centre
8
15
Favours resumption of peace talks; primary focus on economy and security
Habayit Hayehudi
(The Jewish Home)
Naftali Bennett
Extreme Right
Settlers’ party
3
12
Settlers’ Party;
Opposed to two state solution.
Shas
Reb Ovadia Yosef
(Sephardi)
Zionist religious party
11
11
Supports two state solution
United Torah Judaism
Haredi-Ashkenazi rabbis
Non Zionist
5
7
Not really a party; coalition of Hassidic groups. Not likely to be in the forthcoming government.
Hatnua
Tzipi Livni
Centre Left
-
6
Broke away from Kadema to form the new party.
Kadima
Shaul Mofaz

Centre Left
28
2
Favours resumption  of talks; unlikely to be influential.
Meretz
Zahava Gal-On
 Left
3
6
Roots in the hard left Mapam party. Committed to two state solution.
TA’AL
United Arab List
Ibrahim Sarsur, 

 
Represents the Islamic movement
 
4
Religious Muslim Party
Hadash
Mohammed Barakeh
Far Left. Former Communist party.
 
4
Two state solution and abandonment of Jewish state concept.
Balad
Jamal Zahalka
Pan Arab
3
3
Opposed to a Jewish State.
 
 
 
 
 120
 

 Coalition Partners in the previous, 18TH Knesset:  Likud-Beitenu,  Habayit Hayehudi, (The Jewish Home), Shas,  and United Torah Judaism. 
61 IN TOTAL 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

2013, THE ELECTION YEAR


I have no idea what Nostradamus predicted for the forthcoming year, but there are two events that are of some considerable interest to me personally: the first is that I am now very likely to reach my allocated time on earth, i.e. three score and ten; the other is that sometime in or before November of this year, Julia Gillard will have to call an election. To me both these events are thought provoking.

During most of the exciting times of Hawk and Keating Governments I have been away from Australia. On my return to this country I encountered John Howard’s tenure: competent, purposeful, annoying at times, and rather boring. Rudd was not in long enough to leave a real impact before he got stabbed through the toga. Julia took over and I must say that neither the way she came to power nor the way she wielded it, is either impressive or laudable; the last three years has been a litany of broken promises and underperformance. Her cabinet is painfully insipid and lack lustre. And this is the opinion of someone who, I hesitate to admit it, has always, without fail, even when overseas, voted Labor, albeit, partly out of fear that my children would disown me if I voted otherwise. Well, the time has come to reconsider. Perhaps.

Certainly, the Liberals, under Tony Abbott’s leadership, hold no appeal. In the seminary he was trained to be a mender of souls. Now he has ambitions to cobble together a government.
He is a misogynist, a bumbler and a stumbler, and a political light weight, who has done a wishy-washy job as Leader of the Opposition and, I think, is likely to perform even worse as Prime Minister.
The Greens give me indigestion. They remind me of the Temperance League of old; holier than thou, high moral ground, full of clich├ęs and moral platitudes. I rank them, God forgive me, below One Nation.  They benefited from the polarization of the voting public in the last elections; I suspect that this is not going to happen again. In any case, a party that accepted Lee Rhiannon, a failed communist and a racist, into its ranks, is unworthy of respect.

Finally there is the cross bench. And seldom has these benches been so well used, a phenomenon that must be a function of widespread discontent with the major political parties and disenchantment with the Greens. I suspect that their numbers will grow.  I also think that this is one section of the Parliament that is worthy of our attention.  And unlike the members of the major parties, they are COLOURFUL. Just look at Bob Katter, for example. Almost as entertaining as Paul Hogan!

Politically, this year promises to be interesting. Both leaders will be taking off their gloves and stealing themselves for a ten round bout, winner takes all; the loser banished to the “dust bin of history”.

Before signing off, I rather think that the following are likely to be the central issues facing the electorate:

·        Carbon tax

·        Boat People

·        Budget ( balancing thereof)

·        Economy

The last item on the above list is going to become of growing concerns to Australians. We have done well out of the mining boom. Australia has fuelled the economies of China, India, and Japan.  However, I fear that our well-being is much too dependent on the economies and the politics of the countries we supply. Moreover, we have assumed the traditional role reserved in the past for colonies:  i.e.   supplier of raw materials, without significant value adding.  

Not at all sure that I relish this role. Do you?

 

 

Monday, 24 December 2012

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY FATWA


A fatwa is an Islamic religious ruling, a scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law; it is not necessarily "binding" on the faithful. But it does carry weight.

On Friday night, Sheikh Yahya Safi, while delivering a sermon, warned the faithful that “participating in the festivals of non-Muslims is a kind of cooperation in the disobedience of Allah” and one of the  "falsehoods that a Muslim should avoid ... and therefore, a Muslim is neither allowed to celebrate the Christmas Day nor is he allowed to congratulate them (the infidels) ".

The Sheik is not a semi literate fanatic. He is an Islamic scholar with a higher degree in Sharia Law and the Imam of the largest mosque in Australia. His sermon was tailored to the audience and I see no evidence that anyone got up and left in disgust.  One can deduce therefore, that the congregation did not find his utterings too offensive. There is some evidence, though, that some found the content of the sermon unwise;  and the consequent public airing on Facebook of the fatwa, was deemed to be “irresponsible” by the Grand Mufti of Australia.
One should also point out that the Sheik was not breaking new grounds in his interpretation of the Sharia Laws:  in 2009, In Egypt, Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradawi, issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims to participate in Christmas celebrations or mark the holiday in any way. “Such appearances are prohibited by Islam,” he said. “Muslims participating in them are ignorant of Islamic teachings in this regard.” Al-Qaradawi, is head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), and a spiritual guide for many Islamist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Egyptian Christians saw this as part of the wider problem of Muslim persecution of Christians in Egypt.   The Australian Christians will no doubt draw their own conclusions.
 
The reaction of the Australian Muslim community is just as interesting and telling:
Samier Dandan, the head of the Lebanese Muslim Association, which oversees the mosque, said the fatwa was unsanctioned. He blamed a junior employee for airing the fatwa; he did not condemn the fatwa itself, merely the airing of it.  And he refused to apologise. Nor did he suggest that the Sheik may be happier elsewhere.
''Removing the post was the right thing to do,'' Mr Trad, a spokesman for a section of the Australian Muslim community and a controversial figure in his own right, said.  But was Mr. Trad referring to the removal of the fatwa from the Facebook or withdrawing the fatwa itself?

The fallout from this fatwa will be considerable. It may, perhaps, force our politicians to re-examine our immigration policies; it could become a major obstacle in progressing interfaith relations and understanding; it will add to the antipathy that many Australians feel for Muslims. Finally, it casts a shadow on multiculturalism in Australia.

Before signing off, I leave you with this thought: Sheik Yahya Safi came to this country in 1992. I assume that he became an Australian citizen several years later. If that is the case, instead of the Oath of Allegiance, he would have taken the Australian Citizenship Pledge.  It reads:
From this time forward, under God,
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.

I wonder which part of the Pledge did the Sheik had in mind when he was issuing the fatwa?

Monday, 17 December 2012

LIES, DAMN LIES, AND STATISTICS


On the 5 December the Reserve Bank of Australia announced that the interest rate will be reduced by 25 points, to 3%.  It took a few days for the effect to be felt but most major banks indicated, with various degree of bad grace, that some of the benefits will be passed on to the consumers; passing on the full reduction would have amounted to, as the chairman of the Westpac Bank put it  “.banks  ... subsidising the home buyers” (apparently,  the cost of borrowing offshore funds has gone up). It appears that the banks have no obligations to reduce the interest rates by the full amount or any part thereof.  They tend to do so, to be sure, because, well... because.. they are such good corporate citizens.

Even an economic ignoramus such as I am came to the conclusion that lower interest rates are good for the economy, good for the housing industry, and good for those who are paying off a mortgage.  Gail Kelly, Westpac Chief Executive, added to seasonal cheer by signalling that more good news can be expected early in the New Year.

It occurred to me that it would be interesting to look up what is happening in other parts of the world.  But before doing so, I felt a need to define some of the terminology used. So:

Cash Rate:  In Australia the Cash Rate is set by the Reserve Bank of Australia and applies to the interest paid by the banks to the RBA through the overnight money market. In the USA the Cash rate is set by the Federal Reserve Bank. Most countries have an analogous central banking authority to adjust and regulate the prevailing commercial interest rate in the country. Thus, the Cash rate presently in Australia, is 3%, as in Canada.

Prime Rate: The interest rate that commercial banks charge their most credit-worthy customers.

Variable Mortgage Rate:  Is the rate homeowners are charged. The interest rate is not locked in but “floats” depending on the prevailing rate.  The borrower has the option to pay off the loan at any time. The present variable rate in Australia is about 5.5%.

Term Deposit Rate: interest paid on maturity date for a specified amount of money deposited for a agreed period of time. Term Deposits generally carry a fixed rate of interest.

Real Rate of Interest:  Essentially, the variable rate adjusted for inflation.                                              

Bearing the above in mind, I put together a composite table, from various sources, none, I suspect, too reliable, such as the World Bank, others:  

Country
Federal or Reserve bank rate (where available)
Deposit rate
Average
Interest rate
Non-performing loans to total gross loans, %
Real Interest Rate, 2011
Adjusted for inflation. )
Australia
3%
4.2% (var) 5%> fixed
5.6%
2.2% *
1.3%
(current figure is expected to be slightly higher.)
Canada
1%
0.1%
4.75%
1.1%
-0.2%
China
6%
2.8%
 
 
 
 * (Euro. Central Bank)
0.75%
NA
4%
3%
N/A
Japan
0.1%
 
1.88%
 
3.7%
UK
0.5%
 
5.00%
 
1.4%
USA
0.25%
1%
3.6%
4.7%
3%

Further digging showed that our banks in Australia are paying considerably more interest than banks in other countries which has resulted in a substantial growth of foreign currency deposits, i.e. foreigners keeping their savings or investments in Australia. Although the upside is considerable, the downside, in particular adding strength to the Australian dollar, is problematic.

The default rate, is small in comparison to other developed countries. Nevertheless when the present 2.2%, is compared to the 2007 figure which stood at 0.7%, it is an increase of almost three fold and I would think it is a cause for concern.

Overall we seem to be doing well. Is this because or despite our government?

And of course there is always the nagging problem of lies, damn lies, and statistics.