Summer is waning, the election is 102 days away, and I am back to (occasional) blogging !
Almost nothing from this administration surprises me, but even I was shocked by the latest mask slippage from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. He was asked by an unnamed reporter:
Reporter: What city does this Administration consider to be the capital of Israel? Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?
Jay Carney, White House press secretary: Um… I haven’t had that question in a while. Our position has not changed. Can we, uh…
He squirms for another minute or so, not answering the question:
Last I checked, Israel’s Parliament and President’s residence were still in Jerusalem.
But according to this administration, including the State Department spokesperson, either Jerusalem is in a separate country or something.
What a great trip ! We sang some great concerts, spent time in a dynamic city with lots of history, and met lots of Jewish choral singers from around the world. There were no major snafus and thanks to the wonders of the Internet, a bunch of us even got to see the New England Patriots game on Sunday !
I will have more to say about the trip and Berlin, but for now here are some videos from our performances. First, Cantor Louise Treitman does her Marlene Dietrich imitation at the concert we gave at the Jewish museum, singing “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt,” or “I am made for love from head to toe.” Louise is a wonderful soprano who can sing just about anything very well.
Second is a photo montage of the trip with our performance of Lewandowski’s setting of Psalm 36 . My old friend, Cantor Joel Caplan from Caldwell, NJ sings the solo. Joel is a friend of Zamir Chorale of Boston and has toured with the chorus in Italy and Eastern Europe. What can I say, good tenors are always hard to find !
Some of you may also want to check out photo albums from the trip on Facebook:
If anyone has other links to pictures from the trip that are accessible to the public, please send them and I’ll post them here.
I am having a great time on my Berlin trip, so far, for the Louis Lewandowski Festival. Thursday night, we sang a concert at the Krankenhauskirche im Wuhlgarten. A substantial audience (in a small church) seemed to really enjoy the concert, and it was both fun and meaningful to sing. Here is a link to a song from that performance:
Saturday night, we gave our second concert at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Not a huge audience, since all 8 choirs participating in the festival gave concerts in different venues, but we enjoyed it and the audience did, as well.
On Friday, we had a very interesting tour of Jewish Berlin. More precisely, it was a tour of formerly Jewish Berlin. Before the war, 170,000 Jews lived in the city of over 4 million. Today, 11,000 (?) Jews live in a city of 3.4 million.
We spent about an hour in the Jewish cemetery in Berlin, which survived the war unscathed. A documentary made about the cemetery, “In Heaven, Underground,” is reviewed here. I am looking forward to watching it, since a DVD was included in the package for all festival participants.
Here is the gravestone of the subject of our festival. The inscription is “Liebe macht das Lied unsterblich!” (Love makes the melody immortal!):
The prewar Jewish population was quite prominent and prosperous. We were impressed by the size of this memorial.
We happened upon the memorial to one of Berlin’s financially successful Jewish families. The Kempinski family owned a successful hotel. During our bus tour, we learned it was confiscated by the Nazis. That was sort of a running theme – here was a business, built by Jews, confiscated by the Nazis.
After our visit to the cemetery, we learned that the round metal plaque is actually hinged. If you open it, you can see a picture of Berthold Kempinski at his tomb. While images are discouraged or forbidden in Jewish cemeteries, Kempinski found a way around the prohibition!
More about Berlin, a fascinating city, in future posts.
After my recent post, My trip to Germany, a reader of the blog asked for details of my father’s exit from Germany. I don’t know if his story is any more than an interesting anecdote, but the story has some drama and gives a little insight into the world in 1939, so here it is.
Before it was too late, one of my father’s uncles realized it was time to leave Germany. In 1937, the family applied to immigrate to the United States. Just after the Depression, the US was not nearly as welcoming to immigrants as in previous years and there was a small quota of visas permitted. In March of 1939, my grandfather’s number came up and he got a visa to the US, but could not bring the entire family. After arriving, he was directed by the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish organization, to possible opportunities. He landed a job in Herrin, Illinois, a coal mining town in the southern part of the state. Members of the small Jewish community signed an affidavit pledging that his family would not become “wards of the state” and visas came through for the rest of the family.
So in October, 1939, after Poland had fallen, my father, 10, and his younger sister, 9, set out with their mother to sail from Holland to the US (an older sister was already attending high school in England, where she stayed for the duration of the war). The trio traveled from Stuttgart, in the south, to Düsseldorf, in northern Germany, where they stayed with relatives.
A week before their ship was due to sail, my grandmother and her two young children left for Holland. The Dutch would not let them enter, saying it was too soon before their voyage. The German border guard would not let them back into Germany, leaving them in no man’s land between the two countries. At this point, my grandmother, a customarily deferential woman who I never saw assert herself, told me that “she lost it,” not knowing what would happen to her and her children.
She berated the guard in a way that struck home. “This is how you treat the wife of a man who fought and was twice wounded for the Fatherland.” My grandfather had fought for the Kaiser in World War I and was left with a short leg and special boot resulting from one of his bullet wounds.
It was as if a switch was flipped inside the guard. His behavior went from mean to obsequious in an instant. He welcomed my grandmother and her children into the guard shack and said, “Here, Mutti [mother], sit down. Can I get you something to eat?” My grandmother answered him, “I wouldn’t touch your food if it was the last thing left on earth.”
The confrontation over, my father, his sister, and mother started back to Düsseldorf to wait out the week before leaving. But there was more drama. Returning late at night by train to Düsseldorf, they finally found a taxicab. A German officer said he was commandeering the taxicab and that they had to leave it. A Dutchman who arrived on the same train came to their aid. “So this is the vaunted chivalry of the German army?” He shamed the officer into letting the mother and her two young children take the taxi.
A week later, the trio traveled to Rotterdam, this time successfully. On Friday night, they ate Shabbat dinner in a boarding house with 100 or so other German Jewish refugees before they were all due to sail in the morning. Someone said they should say the Birkat Hamazon or Grace after Meals. As he knew it by heart, having attended a Jewish day school after Jews could no longer attend German schools, my grandmother volunteered my father and he led the group, their last Shabbat dinner before emigrating.
Some of my father’s relatives also made it to the US before or soon after the war broke out. Others secured visas to Chile, where some still live but most have emigrated to the US or to Israel. But not all were so fortunate. His hosts in Düsseldorf, Uncle Felix, Aunt Herta, and cousin Lutz, along with other relatives, perished in the Holocaust.
After arriving in the US, the trio stayed a few days with relatives in New York before reuniting with my grandfather in Herrin. In 1944, the family moved to Chicago, where my father grew up, raised a family, and still lives (in the suburbs). He has been back to Germany, once. In 2001, he returned to Stuttgart, the city of his birth, as a guest of the region, Württemberg, where he was born.
I am about to return to Germany for my 2nd visit this month. The first was a business trip, nothing special about the location other than the right facility for doing some testing happened to be in Essen, near Düsseldorf. The second is more exciting. I am traveling with the Zamir Chorale of Boston to participate in the Louis Lewandowski Festival commemorating a German Jewish composer of synagogue music from the 1800s. Amazingly, some of his melodies are the “traditional” ones used in Ashkenazi synagogues worldwide.
The choir I sing with is one of several from around the world coming to participate in the festival. We will give concerts in a church, the Krankenhauskirche im Wuhlgarten, at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and in the large Rykestrasse synagogue.
Germany makes many Jews uncomfortable. Germany was one of the first places where Jews could participate fully and excel in the culture of a Western nation state. Before World War II, there were many prominent Jewish musicians, philosophers, scientists and other professionals. Then came the Nazis and the Holocaust, something with personal resonance.
My father was born in Germany and left in October, 1939. For years, he spurned everything German and would not think of supporting their economy by buying anything German made. His only exception was when he picked up his childhood instrument again in his 40s. His instrument was the bassoon, and the only good bassons were German.
I was with him for a couple days on his only return trip, so far. The state of Württemberg and city of Stuttgart flew in and hosted a group Jews originally from that region, along with some family members. They were euphemistically called ehemalige Bewohner, or former residents. The group was received by the mayor of Stuttgart in city hall and welcomed with dignity and with formal speeches. I saw this act of bringing back the Jews who were forced to leave as a way for Germans to do Teshuvah, or repentance. In a strange quirk, the musical entertainment for the ceremony was a classical piece for Fagott-Trio, a bassoon trio !
I am inclined to consider modern Germany and its inhabitants as having a clean slate. After the war, modern Germany has been a better friend and support to the state of Israel than many other European nations. I do not have negative associations with present-day Germany due to the Holocaust, so I am looking forward to this trip. In fact, this trip gives me a chance to continue some family legacy. Until 1939, my grandfather sang in and conducted a synagogue choir. In Germany.
Bye bye Barney (Frank). Barney, the obnoxious hypocrite and my Congressman, is retiring.
I find it telling that shortly after the extremum of their political career (some call Dodd-Frank a crowning achievement, I call it an abysmal low point), both Dodd and Frank are history, legislatively speaking.
I do not yet have an opinion about Rick Perry, GOP candidate for President. On the minus side, his recent prayer rally included some Jews for Jesus types whose goal is to convert Jews to Christianity. On the plus side, he is a longtime and staunch friend of Israel, and some of his policies in Texas (like tort reform) have clearly contributed to the strong Texas economy.
But he has other things that commend him to Jewish voters. Kinky Friedman (of the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys) likes him. And Perry recently signed a law that requires condominiums to permit owners to attach religious objects up to 25 inches long on their doors. While it applies to mezuzahs, I imagine it also applies to Christmas wreaths, as well.
In recognition of signing that law, Mezuzahstore.com is selling a one-of-a-kind mezuzah that is 26 inches long, just beyond the limit of the law. It is called “The Rick Perry” mezuzah. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas !
In 2009, the Obama administration changed Pentagon policy to let the families decide if photography was permitted when remains of US servicemen arrive at Dover Air Force Base. Previously, policy prohibited any such photography. Although 19 of the 30 affected familes did not want media coverage, a White House photographer shot a somber, backlit photo of Obama saluting the arrival of the casualties from the Special Forces helicopter recently shot down in Afghanistan. That photo is available on the White House Photo of the Day webpage (#2 of 8).
So, is this a case of the man who railed against “politics as usual” being hypocritical or was he just honoring the 11 of 30 familes who were OK with media coverage ? Or do you buy Press Secretary Jay Carney’s explanation that, “in this case, the White House released the photo, in the interests of transparency, so that the American people could have as much insight as possible into this historic and sobering event.”
To their credit, none of the media covered the event or retransmitted the White House photo.
Reacting to the financial meltdown of 2008, the Obama administration enacted the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to provide regulation that would supposedly prevent this sort of financial crisis. The bill is 2,300 pages, with many details (the actual regulations) TBD (to be determined).
I have long been skeptical that it would improve anything, and Conrad Black has, in his usual fashion, provided a pithy, literate explanation. His words have helped me get my hands around what is wrong with Dodd-Frank:
The two most offensive aspects of Dodd-Frank are that it is part of the concerted bipartisan effort of the entire political class to pretend that the economic crisis was entirely the result of private-sector greed, and that it doesn’t address at all the main discernible causes of the economic crisis of 2008, which have not gone away. The housing bubble and imprudent lending into it were the principal problem, and the principal culprit is the United States government, for legislating a substantial percentage of private-sector commercial mortgages to be on a non-commercial basis; for issuing executive orders to the giant, pseudo-private-sector Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make the majority of their mortgage loans on that basis; and for keeping interest rates and mortgage equity requirements so low for so long. This was certain to lead to mountains of excess residential housing and worthless mortgages.
It was also the federal government that extended the permissible borrowing ratio of debt to equity for merchant banks to 30 to one, and required constant mark-to-market current valuation of the assets against which they were borrowing up to 30 times. A moron could see that if a bank became impetuous and put too many eggs in one basket, and the market value of the eggs declined, it would have to issue securities to hold its ratio, at steadily declining prices, encouraging and rewarding short sales and assuring a power-dive into insolvency, as was allowed to happen to Lehman Brothers.
So a monstrosity of government regulation is supposed to fix a problem caused by, government policy and regulation ? Acts of Congress cannot arbitrarily cancel the laws of economics or eliminate the human tendency to take unreasonable risks, as this one tries to do. But at the very least, a law to prevent financial meltdowns should have done something about Fannie and Freddie. This is what Dodd-Frank does about those two Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE): “nothing”.
A recurrent theme in this blog is that government regulation almost always has unintended (negative) consequences. The latest example is the shortage in generic cancer drugs. These drugs are off-patent, so they should be cheap. But lately, many have become unavailable.
The reason is government regulation, specifically Medicare price controls, according to Ezekiel Emanuel (Rahm’s brother). In a 2003 law, government agreed to pay oncology doctors the ‘average selling price’ of cancer drugs they prescribe, plus a 6% overhead, rather than allow a classic fee for service. As the rules are set out by law, prices can only rise 6% every 6 months.
I am guessing the rule was written to prevent ‘excess profits’ by evil drug companies jacking up the price of a successful drug. But in their infinite wisdom, our governmental overlords overlooked that when a drug goes off patent, its price drops a lot, as much as 90%. As other manufacturers start making the generic drug, the price often fluctuates a lot as the market finds its new balance as the original and generic manufacturers figure out whether they can make and sell it profitably. The regulators cannot keep up with real-time conditions in the marketplace and (apparently quite frequently) the price can get stuck at a point too low to incentivize enough production to meet demand.
Amazingly, Emanuel sees government regulation as the answer:
One solution would be to amend the 2003 act to increase the amount Medicare pays for generic cancer drugs to the average selling price plus, say, 30 percent, after the drugs have been generic for three years.
As if his proposed fix doesn’t have more unintended consequences lurking in possible scenarios that no one has yet imagined.
When will these folks lose their arrogance and realize that government regulations will never be smart enough to create the utopia they want to force upon us ?
Hat tip Megan McArdle.