Posts on the topic of "Finances"
This week a Palestinian court in Ramallah sentenced Mohammed Rashid, the shadowy moneyman of Yasser Arafat, to 15 years in prison after convicting him of siphoning off $33.5 million of foreign donations.
In recent years, Palestinians have received billions of dollars of assistance – from the United States, European Union, United Nations (and an occasional token gift from Arab countries). Yet where has all this money gone? Where are all the Palestinian hospitals, schools, roads and bridges??
The answer is that the Palestinian Authority has taken billions of international aid dollars and squandered it on an array of guns, bombs and missiles, while lining the pockets of a successive stream of corrupt officials. Indeed, Yasser Arafat achieved the ignoble distinction of appearing on the Forbes' list of "Wealthiest Kings, Queens and Despots" – having embezzled hundreds of millions of international aid dollars from Palestinian coffers. (Arafat's widow, Suha, still receives a $22 million annual allowance from the PA, guaranteed for lifetime.)
This is not an Arafat-specific problem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is worth an estimated $100 million. Abbas's son Yasser – surprise! – enjoys a monopoly on the sale of U.S.-made cigarettes in the Palestinian areas, and owns an engineering company which got paid $1.89 million in U.S. taxpayer funds to build a sewage system in the West Bank town of Hebron.
Still other American funds go to finance terror activities. According to senior Palestinian security officer Abu Yousuf, American-run programs to train Palestinian security forces have been instrumental in the "success" of terror attacks: "I do not think that the operations of the Palestinian resistance would have been so successful, and would have killed more than one thousand Israelis since 2000, and defeated the Israelis in Gaza without these [American] trainings," he said.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – has tried to put a hold on $150 million of U.S. aid to Palestinians until some accounting is given as to where the money goes: "The U.S. has given $3 billion in aid to the Palestinians in the last five years alone, and what do we have to show for it?" she said. "Now the administration is sending even more. Where is the accountability for U.S. taxpayer dollars?"
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In the seminal film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko declared: "Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed… has marked the upward surge of mankind."
This week in a New York Times op-ed, an "anti-greed" crusader by the name of Greg Smith announced his resignation from the financial giant Goldman Sachs. Smith, whose clients had a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars, describes the firm's practice of "persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit." In other words, Goldman Sachs cares more about making money from its clients than making it for them.
Irrespective of whether the allegations are true or not, I don't know why we should find this surprising. When I hire a lawyer to represent me in a damage lawsuit, I am aware that he is primarily representing his own interests (profit, professional reputation, time constraints) than he is representing mine. In politics, too, the vast majority of elected officials are "looking out for number one," often at the expense of their constituencies.
Back to the financial sector. Capitalism is a wonderful institution. It improves the quality of life by fostering competition and yielding advances in many fields. Without competition we would be at the mercy of monopolists that would stifle progress and incentive for personal reward.
Yet let's be clear: The goal of capitalism is to make money. Period. Of course, many "capitalists" are caring, ethical human beings. But those values are distinct from the pure pursuit of wealth. And in a myriad of cases, the two goals will conflict.
That is why, if left unrestrained, many will choose the route of pure profit. The result, as we have tragically witnessed, is greed, corruption, and an erosion of trust that prevents the building of a fair and harmonious society.
The Jewish ideal ― built-in to Jewish law ― is that commerce must be balanced with genuine care for others. For example, the Torah (Deuteronomy 19:14) forbids a merchant from lowering his prices to the extent that it is not feasible for the competition to remain in business.
The Torah's goal is to create a just and compassionate society. Economic progress? Yes. Cutthroat competition and working against the interest of your own clients? No.
Maybe it's time to launch a Torah study revolution over on Wall Street.
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Aish.com contributor Yvette Alt Miller notes that with the release of Mitt Romney's income tax records, a spotlight has been thrown onto the whole concept of “tithing.” In a world where charitable giving is low (3.1% of people's income, on average, in the U.S.), Romney donating 10% of his income was big news.
Though donating 10% is also a widespread Jewish practice, it seems that nobody bothered to tell the media.
"Tithing is an ancient practice in the Hebrew Bible," the New York Times reported, "but is rarely observed now" outside of the Mormon community.
The Los Angeles Times went further, offering a pseudo-scientific overview of religious views of charity, and – at least in the case of Judaism – getting it utterly wrong. "Jews have no fixed amount of giving to charity, and usually make their major offerings to synagogues to buy seats for the High Holy Days," wrote the Times, suggesting that Jews pay to recite prayers in synagogue!
The view that Judaism doesn't emphasize charity is inside-out. The original concept of Ma'aser (literally "one tenth," hence the English word "tithe") comes straight from the Hebrew Bible, based on Leviticus 25:35, Deut. 14:22 and Deut. 15:7-8 which implores us to “Open your hand generously.”
The Bible is filled with examples: Abraham gave Malki-Tzedek one-tenth of all his possessions (Genesis 14:20); Jacob vowed to give one-tenth of all his future acquisitions (Genesis 29:22); and tithes are mandated to support the Levites (Numbers 18:21, 24) and the poor (Deut. 26:12).
These guidelines are practiced by Jews all over the world. Studies show that Jews have significantly higher rates of charitable giving than the general population, and rates of giving increase among those Jews who are more traditionally affiliated.
U.S. President Herbert Hoover said in 1923:
"I have frequently had cause to comment upon the extraordinary generosity and liberality of the American Jews in their charitable contributions. Indeed, their voluntary contributions exceed that of any other American group, and range from the stinted savings of the poorest workman to the full outpouring of those in more fortunate positions." (cited in Ada Sterling, The Jew and Civilization, 1924)
So the question remains: Who should we give to, and what’s the best way of doing so? For an excellent overview of the guidelines to Jewish charitable giving, see Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s “World Repairs” on Aish.com.
So you see, it's not only Mitt Romney who tithes. A little credit to the Jewish originators!