Obama Proposes $3.4 Billion in Israel Aid for Fiscal Year 2014

An Iron Dome battery near Sderot

— by Jacob Miller

President Barack Obama has requested that American aid to Israel remain untouched for Fiscal Year 2014 despite budgetary belt tightening in other areas. Under the President’s proposed budget for the 2014 Fiscal Year, Israel would receive a total of $3.4 billion in military aid, including $220 million for the Iron Dome missile defense system. The Times of Israel noted:

For the first time, funding for the joint US-Israel missile defense system Iron Dome appears in the presidential budget request, which still must be approved by Congress. A senior source in a pro-Israel organization in Washington familiar with the issue called the earmark “significant.”

More after the jump.
Israel Hayom summarized the budget:

Israel would receive $3.4 billion in total military aid under the 2014 U.S. budget proposal sent to Congress by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, virtually unchanged from its current level of military aid from the U.S.

Obama’s proposal includes $3.1 billion in general military aid for Israel, similar to 2013, plus a separate request for $220 million to finance the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system….

Obama’s 2014 proposal also allocates $96 million for joint U.S.-Israel research and development projects, including the David’s Sling and Arrow missile defense systems.

The overall budget proposal that Obama submitted to Congress on Wednesday totalled $3.8 trillion.

A recent Bloomberg article outlined more specific terms of the missile defense funding for Israel:

The money, if approved during the annual defense budget process, would be on top of $486 million the White House and Congress have requested or added for the system in recent years after formal budgets were submitted. This includes $211 million added in the defense appropriations bill for this year, which President Barack Obama signed into law last month.

The $220 million request for fiscal 2014 “is new money, and it is the first time funding specifically for Iron Dome procurement has been requested in our budget submission,” Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner said in an e-mail.

The article from Bloomberg also outlined how the American Missile Defense Agency requested funds to continue collaborative programs the United States works on with Israel, specifically the David’s Sling and Arrow programs. David’s sling is a shorter range system, and Arrow is intended to intercept long and medium range ballistic missiles.  

10 States To Increase Minimum Wage On New Year’s Day

— by Keystone Research Center

HARRISBURG, PA – The minimum wage will increase in 10 states on Jan. 1, modestly boosting the incomes of nearly 1 million low-paid workers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

The minimum wage rates in those states will rise between 10 and 35 cents per hour, resulting in an extra $190 to $510 per year for the average directly-affected worker. Rhode Island’s minimum wage will rise as a result of a law signed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee in June; the remaining nine states will raise their minimum wages in accordance with state laws requiring automatic annual adjustments to keep pace with the rising cost of living.

More after the jump.

Pennsylvania minimum-wage workers haven’t seen a meaningful increase since 2007, during which time the buying power of the minimum wage has fallen 10%, said Dr. Stephen Herzenberg, an economist with the Keystone Research Center. A minimum wage increase that would boost consumer spending is especially needed because of Pennsylvania’s recent lagging job-growth performance. Pennsylvania also needs a minimum-wage hike because it is among the states with the fast-growing income inequality.

Herzenberg also recommended that the state’s minimum wage be set to increase automatically each year to offset the impact of inflation, as Pennsylvania legislator salaries already do.

In the 10 states with minimum wage increases already on the books, the hikes will boost consumer spending, hence GDP, by over $183 million, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. While weak consumer demand continues to hold back business expansion, raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of low-wage workers who often have no choice but to immediately spend their increased earnings on basic expenses.

We need policies that make sure workers earn wages that will at the very least support their basic needs, said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. But earning an income that meets basic needs shouldn’t depend on the state where a working family lives. We need to raise and index the federal minimum wage to help all of America’s workers.

The 10 state-level minimum wage increases scheduled for Jan. 1 will benefit a total of 995,000 low-paid workers: approximately 855,000 workers will be directly affected as the new minimum wage rates will exceed their current hourly pay, while another 140,000 workers will receive an indirect raise as pay scales are adjusted upward to reflect the new minimum wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Seventy-one percent of these low-wage workers are adults over the age of 20, and 69 percent work 20 hours per week or more.

As of Jan. 1, 2013, 19 states plus the District of Columbia will have minimum wage rates above the federal level of $7.25 per hour, which translates to just over $15,000 per year for a full-time minimum wage earner. Ten states also adjust their minimum wages annually to keep pace with the rising cost of living – a key policy reform known as “indexing” – to ensure that real wages for the lowest-paid workers do not fall even further behind: these states include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Nevada has not scheduled a cost-of-living adjustment to take effect this year.

Because the federal minimum wage is not indexed to rise automatically with inflation, its real value erodes every year unless Congress approves an increase. Without further action from Congress, the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour will lose nearly 20 percent of its real value over the next 10 years and have the purchasing power of only $5.99 in today’s dollars, according to a new data brief by the National Employment Law Project. The federal minimum wage would be $10.58 today if it had kept pace with the rising cost of living since its purchasing power peaked in 1968.

Rhode Island is this year’s greatest minimum wage raiser

The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, introduced in July by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller, would help recover much of this lost value by raising the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by 2014 and adjusting it annually to keep pace with the cost of living in subsequent years. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from its current rate of just $2.13 per hour, where it has been frozen since 1991, to $6.85 over five years. Thereafter, it would be fixed at 70 percent of the full minimum wage.

A large body of research shows that raising the minimum wage is an effective way to boost the incomes of low-paid workers without reducing employment. A groundbreaking 1994 study by David Card and Alan Krueger, current chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, found that an increase in New Jersey’s minimum wage did not reduce employment among fast-food restaurants. These findings have been confirmed by 15 years of economic research, including a 2010 study published in the Review of Economics and Statistics that analyzed data from more than 500 counties and found that minimum wage increases did not cost jobs. Another recent study published in April 2011 in the journal Industrial Relations found that even during times of high unemployment, minimum wage increases did not lead to job loss.

A recent report by the National Employment Law Project found that 66 percent of low-wage employees work for large companies, not small businesses, and that more than 70 percent of the biggest low-wage employers have fully recovered from the recession and are enjoying strong profits. An August NELP study showed that while the majority of jobs lost during the recession were in middle-wage occupations, 58 percent of those created in the post-recession recovery have been low-wage occupations. That shift towards low-wage jobs is a 30-year trend that is only accelerating, according to a recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Book Chat: The Chinese Way to Wealth and Prosperity

— by Hannah Lee

In the same way that I love cookbooks with a narrative — more memoir than instructional manual — I found reading The Chinese Way to Wealth and Prosperity pleasurable in that I learned much about the culture of my own people. The author is my brother, Michael Lee, and he sent me an early copy.  The fact that we grew up together does not preclude our separate areas of experiences, with him being an expert in finance, a world traveler, and a former student of martial arts.  This book is clearly and concisely written with the lay reader in mind.  Speaking as an elder sister, I’m finally realizing that there is much I can learn from my baby brother.

More after the jump.
In our economy, who would want to learn about getting rich slowly?  However, the financial crisis of this country is mostly attributable to the “get-rich-quick” mindset of many Americans.  Here’s Michael’s remedy for this malaise: utilize the human capital that is in each and every one of us and apply his eight time-tested strategies for achieving financial success.  There are no short cuts and you have to learn to defer gratification.

In the Introduction, Michael retells the allegory attributed to the founder of Temple University, the preacher Russell Conwell:

a prosperous farmer who desires diamonds so badly that he sells everything he owns and runs off to find his fortune.   After a lifetime of trying, he dies without having achieved his goal.  Meanwhile, the person who purchased his house discovered a rich diamond mine on the very property that was sold.  The searching man would have found his diamonds if, instead of seeking his fortune elsewhere, he had dug in his own backyard.  He would have found his “Acres of Diamonds,” as Russell Conwell entitled his work. [p.4]

Being a preacher, Conwell must have been familiar with the Bible, but I wonder if he knew about the parable that Jews tell about the Jew from Lublin who dreams of a treasure near the Imperial Palace in Prague and journeys to seek it.  He meets a soldier there who tells of his own dream of treasure under a humble Jew’s floor in Lublin and scoffed at his likelihood of success, whereupon the Jew returns home, digs under his floorboards, and unearths his treasure.  The point of both stories is to draw upon our inner resources, our innate human capital.  Michael wrote this book to show others that they too can apply these culturally based principles that have served the Chinese so well, both in their homeland as in the diaspora.

One illustrative chapter is the one on “Obtain “Kung Fu” in Education,” in which Michael extolls the Chinese value of education. In January 2011, Amy Chua published a provocative piece in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” (giving advance guard to her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) and sparked a public debate about parenting styles.  Around the same time, an international study was also  published, which is of far greater significance.

The OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a major nongovernment institution based in Paris, released the latest results in its influential Programme for International Student Assessment study.  This triennial study assessed the reading, science, and math skills of 15-year-olds from public schools in all 34 OECD member states, as well as in a host of other nations.  The results were not encouraging for U.S. taxpayers and must have been very disappointing for the U.S. Department of Education.

That’s because in these OECD rankings, the United States, the world’s most economically dynamic and prosperous country by far, could rank no higher than thirty-first in the world in mathematics.  This dismal showing for American mathematical skills has by now become repetitious and expected.  But to me, there was a slightly surprising outcome in the science rankings, in which the United States finished twenty-third.  Imagine, the powerful United States, home to the mightly MIT and Cal Tech, ranked essentially in the high minor leagues in the science scorecard.

…The list of the top 10 countries for all subject matters was striking in its composition.  The city of Shanghai took first place, while South Korea took second, Hong Kong fourth, Singapore fifth, and Japan eighth. [pp.10-12]

These places all owe a cultural legacy to Confucius (Kong Zi), the “Teacher of 10,000 generations.”  His teachings form a “complete moral philosophy for leading a proper life,” a belief system “in a right and wrong way to live and provides for the governance of human relations on earth.”  Furthermore, “Confucianism may be unique in its exclusive focus on becoming “good.”  In place of a deity, liturgy, or intrinsic forms of worship, there is the teaching of obtaining virtue, and only that.  This is known as Confucian moral self-cultivation.”  

The earth-shattering moment occurred to me when I read: “the main reason why education holds the esteemed position it does in the Chinese and Confucian societies is that education provides the very and sole means of becoming fully human.  Education for its own sake just doesn’t cut it.”  Equally compelling for me was when Michael calls for a return to civic education, for building an institutional movement toward the creation of “good” people.

Also interesting to me, Michael points out the common fallacy in equating kung fu with martial arts.  Kung fu actually means “mastery,” while wushu better describes what Americans think of as martial arts.  Furthermore,

some in martial arts circles believe the word shifu to be the equivalent of the word sensei in Japanese…But there’s a word of difference between the two words.  Sensei means simply “teacher”…shifu refers to one who has mastered something.  Almost anything would be included– art, painting, physics, engineering…To be linguistically correct, one does not know kung fu; one has kung fu. [pp.23-25]

I cannot give away the secrets of this tightly constructed book, so I urge you to get your own copy.  You’ll learn some crucial principles for financial health and you’ll have a ball learning about the Chinese people and its culture.

Regional Premiere of Microcrisis at Interact Theatre

Global Financial Crisis

If the bid for the Republican nomination has got you down, if spring time in February makes you wonder about global warming, if robo-calls during dinner time exasperate you, you might want to head to InterAct Theatre’s lively production of Microcrisis, a new satire written by Michael Lew and directed by Seth Rozin.   The play takes you from a Monaco casino to a Washington D.C racquetball court in a fast-paced 80 minute romp that follows characters through a corrupt microcredit investment scheme not unfamiliar to most Americans.    

More after the jump.
Microcrisis imagines a global lending scheme run amok when a hard-partying financial entrepreneur bites off more than he can chew.  Playwright Lew says,

When the financial first hit, I was shocked to see the global economy evaporating, and I wanted to look at the root causes of a quickly-evolving , complex manmade disaster.  While global finance might not seem like rife ground for comedy, the more I researched, the more the bankers’ behavior and government complicity struck me as being absurd.

Rozin’s direction is superb as is the acting and the sets, designed by Caitlin Lainoff. As the corrupt investment banker, Bennett, played by Kevin Bergen, is a character you love to hate.  The actor Frank X plays Acquah, a man in Ghana running a tiny mobile-phone leasing business – as well as Frankfurt, Bennett’s corrupt insider boss, who now has a cushy Washington job.  

Rozin says,

I knew when I first read Microcrisis that I wanted to produce and direct it.  The play was so funny, so smart, so theatrical and so incredibly timely.  We had no idea, however, that several months later the play would be so much timelier in the midst of Occupy Wall Street movement.  Current events have put Microcrisis in a whole new light.

The play premiered in New York City at the Ma-Yi Theater in Fall 2012.  

Following the second and third Tuesday and Wednesday performances of every production, patrons are invited to stay for Coffee Conversations, informal discussion with company artists.  During Microcrisis, Coffee Conversations are scheduled for Tuesday, February 7 and Wednesday, February 8.   A thought provoking play like Microcrisis would seem to welcome a some smart post-performance coffee talk.  

Individual Tickets for Microcrisis are on sale now.  Subscriptions and tickets may be purchased by calling InterAct’s box office at 215-568-8079 or by dropping by the theatre at The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia or by visiting InterAct’s website.

Loopholes in campaign finance law

By using loopholes in campaign finance law, the special interests have succeeded in denying the public important information about the funding sources of funding political discourse. An attempt to keep a group of fillings to the public in the dark, while coordinating their message with candidates for political comedy is doing well now, but will lead to tragedy if our elected officials begin to feel the pernicious influence of the full unlimited, silent Posts of companies.

In the final episode of Stephen Colbert, intrepid search for the absurdities of campaign finance to suspend non-regulation in the post-Citizens United, the actor has been trying recently launched a new super-PACs, some limitations remain to circumvent debate on its election activities. The Super PAC American Crossroads has recently submitted an application to the Federal Election Commission, asking permission for federal election candidates to appear in his so-called “independent” ads.

The group acknowledged that the ads with candidates would “fully coordinated with members of Congress before reelection in 2012” to be. After all, a great course, a PAC script would be to share and discuss the content of the advertisement appearing a candidate for it in her. However, Carrefour wants the U.S. FEC, an opinion stating that such ads do not qualify as “coordination” issue.