Friday, December 26, 2008

Some hopeful signs for the new year

Happy Boxing Day. 

Well, Christmas is over, and with it those horrible Target ads with bad poetry and people gushing as if they swallowed too many happy pills. Target wasn't the only one with horrible ads urging people to give (read buy) for the holiday, but they were so frequent. I may boycott Target for a month or so.

It's part of what my friend The Rev calls the rank commercialism of a holiday meant to bring hope to the masses. 

The only hope we seem to read about is the hope by merchants that the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the year will bring in sufficient business to make up for a  lackluster year. Today, merchants are hoping that people will return gifts they didn't like, trade up for more expensive ones and buy things they had hoped to receive but did not. 

It looks as if those hopes will be dashed. In some cases, it's Darwinian -- extinction of those who are not fit to survive. Case in point: I was in a store buying a handmade gift for a Christian friend. I spotted something I didn't really need but would have liked to have. It was priced at $40...a bit rich for my purse, but within range. Three times, I mentioned that to the storekeeper...asking him how much the item cost. Now, this guy had a going-out-of-business sign in the back of his store. My wife and I were the only customers in the place.

In many societies, and in the minds of smart merchants, my bringing up the item and the price three times would have signaled a willingness to purchase the item, but for a lower price. It should have begun a bargaining process and likely would have resulted in a sale. But he didn't get it, and I didn't buy it. 

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In six days, it will be 2009. 2008 has been a horrible year for a lot of people, including those who were counting on investments to get them through their retirement years or enhancing their incomes. People with mortgages they could barely afford are finding that they can't afford them at all. People who had followed the rules, bought houses they could afford and who were struggling to keep up with their payments while paying $4-plus a gallon for gas, shelling out more for food and clothes and education for their families, are finding themselves left out of the freebie benefits pond. 

Money seems to be going to those who bought houses they knew or should have known they could not afford, or who took out the equity in their homes to buy cars, vacations or pay off credit cards with tax-deductible money, counting on the rocketing housing market to keep on going forever. 

But there is hope on the horizon. The election of Barack Obama should bring relief to those who don't own oil companies or know people who do. Fuel prices have come down, so you can now fill up your car for $20 (notice I didn't say SUV), heat your home without selling your eldest child and buy food at more reasonable prices (unless you need to eat kosher meat, then all bets are off.)

Among hopeful signs: The Lebanese Army found and dismantled eight Hisbollah rockets aimed at Israel. A couple of years ago, that would not have happened. One notices that the people at the nearby United Nations post did nothing. Useless United Nations -- that's a redundancy. 

Another very hopeful sign is the realization by banks and other mortgage holders that they need to be part of the solution after being a large part of the problem.

According to a friend who knows of these things, banks and others are taking the initiative to stave off foreclosures. In one example, a mortgage-holder lowered the interest rate on a trouble mortgage, lowered the payments and transferred the amount in arrears to the end of the mortgage period, bringing the loan current. That's not an isolated incident, my friend said. 

Congratulations to the banks involved. It's smart business. You should tell people you are doing's great public relations and corporate citizenship.

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I have stopped sending e-mails or letters to the editor to the New York Times. But if I did, it would read something like this:

In your well-reasoned editorial on immigration in the edition of Dec. 26, you used the kosher slaughterhouse at Postville, Iowa, as an example of how the current immigration strategy hurts immigrants. 

The people who ran that operation should suffer the worst fate that could be imagined. No thinking person could debate that.

But why is this one business singled out constantly? There are many, many other slaughterhouses that transport illegal immigrants into this country, but them to work in hellish conditions, offer attractive women better working condition in return for sexual favors, assign children to dangerous work. None of these nonkosher businesses are mentioned in stories or editorials. Why are Jews mentioned as the only examples of these travesties? 

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In a couple of days, Len'sLens will offer its second annual hopes for the new year list. Stay tuned and rest up. 

Have a great up from the shoveling, the caroling, the gift opening and the commercial-watching retching. And to those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos, and a happy Hanukkah .

Until next time...

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