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Category: Business (page 3 of 8)

Business and financial news in Israel and the Middle East

World Wide Suicide

Former Maccabi Tel Aviv manager Moni Fanan is not unique in his tragic suicide. The last year, characterized by the current recession, has been responsible for countless other suicides and tragic incidents.

Ronan Bell, a 35-year-old Venice man from Venice, California, killed himself last month at a beach pier, when his financial debts drove him insane.

On April 16, a pharmacist opened fire on the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, in California. He killed two co-workers before turning the gun on himself. An article in China View says about this particular incident, that Police cited the “tension going on in our society” as a contributing factor.

William Parente, a New York lawyer, who had lost roughly a collective 27 billion dollars for his clients, killed his wife and his two daughters, before killing himself in his Maryland Hotel Room on April 19.

David KellermanThe most famous suicide report in the last year was that of Freddie Mac CFO, David Kellerman, who was found hanging in the basement of his Washington home on April 22.

A report done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exposed that in Los Angeles alone the suicide count went from 695 in 2007 to 805 in 2008.

Americans have nothing to compare this era to except for the Great Depression, in which, suicide rates rose from 14 to 17 for every 100,000 Americans from 1929 to 1933, as unemployment rates soared from 3.2 per cent to 24.9% in the same period.

An article in China Views says that, “Based on previous experience, researchers predict that suicide rates will go higher if the economy continues to deteriorate.” We all pray that this will not be the case, as we all can realistically expect lay-offs and unemployment to increase yet slightly more, as the economy does begin to pick itself up off of the floor.

The chief of psychiatry at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Steven Garlow said, “There is very clearly a relationship between macroeconomic conditions and suicide…in times of financial hardship, financial distress, upheaval, there is an increase in suicide.”

Since the recession does not only hurt the United States, but the whole world, the suicide back lash is also being observed globally. France Telecom, a bankrupt, state-run, French company has already lost 25 employees to suicide. The company has laid-off 22,000 workers between 2006 and 2008.

Internet Justice Rewarded To Israeli Tech Master Mind

RefuahYou know when you surf the Web using your trusty Web 2.0 browser, Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, or whatever it is that you use; and you navigate your way around, by typing in the HTML address of the website, which you would like to visit? Not many know this, but the software which provides the address bar, was invented by an 18 year old Israeli, named Aviv Refuah. All of the Internet giants have been using this software to create their programs for the least ten years. Now, they just may have to start paying up, because the patenting license submitted by an 18 year old Refuah, has just been approved!

While neither Aviv, nor the 55 employees of his company, Netex, have received a penny in licensing proceeds, so far; the value of the company’s stock jumped 144% on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

The 18 year old Refuah submitted his brain child for patenting and really changed the face of web browsing, then went and joined the Israeli Army. Now 10 years later, the 28 year old Israeli is the CEO of a company that is worth $20,000,000. Currently the employees at Netex are working on an idea called, Springo.com. Springo is designed to make web browsing faster and easier, by providing instant links for the hottest social networking, online shopping, news, maps and email sites. The site’s ‘header’ reads: Springo beta/Shortcutting the Web.

We will look to Refuah as an example of Internet justice, now that his U.S. patent has been rightfully claimed. And we will look to Netex as a future spring board of big ideas; and a juicy baby tech company, undoubtedly causing the big corporations to lick their chops.

Israeli Researcher Close to Alzheimer’s Vaccine

MonsonegoThis man, Dr. Alon Monsonego of Ben Gurion University, could be the face put on a real, workable Alzheimer’s vaccine. Alzheimer’s being one of the scariest, most devastating mental diseases imaginable where you pretty much die before you die since your mind is practically erased, this is very encouraging news. That, and cases have increased by 33% since 2005, with over 36 million people expected to be diagnosed with the disease this coming year.

Alzheimer’s destroys the sufferer’s brain by building up plaque deposits in the brain tissue and replacing grey brain matter with chunks of amyloid-beta protein, which gathers like tartar on your teeth. Except it’s in your brain. It starts with memory loss and progresses all the way to total bodily breakdown as the brain literally melts away.

Monsonego determined that introducing A-beta protein into the brain, the very protein that causes the disease, triggers a natural immune response which can be detected in humans. “Stimulating an immune response to A-beta in these humanized mice not only resulted in a highly efficient clearance of A-beta (plaque) from the brain, but also in a markedly reduced inflammatory reaction,” he said.

More research will be needed to ensure that the vaccine is safe before it can be marketed. A few years ago, an Israeli company had received a patent on an Alzheimer’s vaccine, but the vaccine was determined to be too dangerous for human use. We’ll see if this one is safer.

The Biodegradable Plastic Bottle

It’s time for another installment of “Israel Invents Something Cool That the World Will Definitely Need.” This week’s feature is the biodegradable plastic bottle made out of corn starch. Most plastics are made from an oil base, which makes the molecules artificial and non-disintegrating, so then you need the mafia to recycle them and it doesn’t get pretty. Plastic made out of corn starch, once buried, gets eaten by bacteria and the nutrients redispersed into the earth once again. No need to recycle, assuming you dispose of it properly.

Plastic BottlesComing out of a manufacturing company based in Kibbutz Ashdot Yakov the Israeli version is believed to be the world’s first to produce disintegrating bottles with disintegrating labels as well.

The bottles are scheduled to be distributed to guests of next week’s Plasto Ispak plastics exhibition at the Israel Trade Fairs and Convention Center in Tel Aviv, a batch of the first 5,000.

The bottles, if placed in compost, disintegrate totally within 90 days. The only problem is, most Israelis don’t take their organic trash to a composting facility or bury it in the backyard. As a result, marketing will begin on a small scale. “There’s no point in flooding the market when anyway it won’t decompose since most Israelis still don’t compost their waste in the house or yard,” said Eco Joe Chairman Avner Inbar:

“We hope that Israel will start pushing advanced waste treatment methods which are more environmentally safe. Then we will be able to widely market the bottle.”

Africa Israel Can’t Pay its Debts

A second Israeli giant is on his way down. After Arkadi Gaydamak, the Russian billionaire, unceremoniously fled the country with his tail between his legs and renounced his Israel citizenship after a miserable failure of an attempt to run for mayor of Jerusalem by courting the Arab vote, Lev Leviev, another Russian billionaire and owner of Africa Israel, is suffering. The company lost over 1.3 billion shekels in the last quarter, and stock in his company has plummeted. He recently announced that the company will not be able to repay their debts starting in 2011. His biggest mistake? Investing in the US.

Leviev2009 debts are about 600 million, with 2010 being about one billion shekels, which they will be able to meet. After that, it all depends on where the global economy stands.

In big trouble from this crisis is Bank HaPoalim, which has significant investments in Leviev’s company, and if Africa Israel indeed can’t repay what they owe the bank, then the Israeli banking system could take quite a hit, as HaPoalim is the lead domino in what could be a continuous fall. Commission paid to banks in Israel is high as it is already, and HaPoalim has lost a lot of money in recent years. Just wait until Leviev’s drop comes around and then see what happens to bank fees. It’s not going to be pretty.

The encouraging news is that Israel is one of the first countries to officially exit the global recession, with economic growth small, but measured in the last quarter. Hopefully, it will be enough to offset this, and perhaps the giant can recover in time for the upswing. Until such is determined, it will be an interesting next few years. Is it ever not?

I wonder who the next Russian billionaire to get some stress will be. Leviev has admitted to flowing a billion shekels of his own money into the company to keep it afloat, and tells of working 20 hour days recently in a frantic frenzy to keep above water.

Israel Is Even More Gassy Than Before!

Gas in IsraelThe State of Israel now has 7.31 trillion cubic feet of natural gas at its disposal. Up until now they thought it was only 6.29 trillion, but they decided to add another trillion and change to the estimate today. That is an inordinate amount of fuel, enough to run the country independently for several decades. 36% of the gas field, found off the coast of Haifa, is owned by Noble Energy, an American company that operates the site on behalf of its other Israeli partners.

These are Isramco Negev 2, (29%) Delek Drilling (16%), Avner Oil Exploration (16%) and Dor Gas Exploration (4%). Of course, all those stocks went way up as a result of the announcement. The proven reserves are about 6 trillion, and the estimated and probable are a whopping 7.7 trillion. The latter number is the one being used to formulate the companies’ future plans regarding the site.

Israel will now not only be able to independently fuel its own electricity needs, but also export and make some good money. This will also affect energy bills, so if you live here, you’ll be paying less on those bimonthly bills you get in the mail.

Gideon Tadmor, CEO of Avner and Tzvi Greenfeld, CEO of Delek, said, “The professional and independent report that was received verifies the remarkable size and quality of the Tamar Field.”

Happy Days Here Again?

Unemployment center
“They certainly look happy, don’t they?”

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

Sung during the Great Depression, and composed by J. Yellen and M. Ager

Bank of Israel Chairman Stanley Fischer and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz appeared happy when it was announced that the numbers of unemployed Israelis had decreased to “only” 17.5 thousand new claims in Jun/July, as compared to 18.6 thousand during May, or a decrease of 5%. That, according to Steinitz, brings the total number of redundant workers down to “a more manageable level” of slightly less than a quarter million souls. Another statistic that appears to cause both Mr. Fischer and Steinitz to smile is that the number of people being fired from various jobs fell by 2.2.% as compared to previous months.

But if all this is supposed to be such great news, why are so many not smiling, or whistling modern versions of Happy Days are Here Again? And why did the Bank of Israel have to go out and purchase another 100 million dollars on top of the 250 million the bank bought a few days earlier to try to stem the continuing decline of the Greenback? Perhaps things aren’t as “happy” as Fischer and Steinitz want us to think?

During the summer months, unemployment figures always seem to drop a bit for a number of reasons, including many people finding temporary summer jobs, or taking a vacation due to their kids being out of school; or simply waiting for the job market to pick up again in the fall. This logic is particularly true for women who are now unemployed from high tech or similar higher paying positions, and have decided to be home with their children instead of having to pay for expensive day care; since the greatest day care “plans” around , school and pre-school, are both out on summer break.

Another factor deals with people who out of desperation have taken lower paying jobs as cashiers, security guards and even maintenance workers that pay only minimum wage or slightly higher; making them under employed as compared to their former status. All of this goes along with a statement made the other day by U.S. President Barack Obama, when he told a press meeting that “we are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel regarding the end of the current recession”. He almost broke in a version of the Happy Days song himself while making this statement, apparently giving himself the credit for any improvement in the still faltering U.S. economy.

But getting back to what’s happening on this side of the pond, it’s still far too early to whistle any happy tunes; especially when many people’s unemployment benefits are about to run dry and local banks are calling on credit card companies to return payments due to lack of funds. We must also bear in mind that when that Happy Days song came out in 1929, the Great Depression had not even begun yet.

So who’s whistling this song now? Maybe Yuval and Stanley are – but a lot of folks aren’t!

Who remembers Leonard Cohen?

Leonard CohenHis music is from the ’60’s and early ’70’s, and he definitely looks his age. But those who do remember this folk music icon of a bygone era, and have the NS 400 -600 needed to buy a ticket will be present in Ramat Gan Stadium on September 24, when Leonard Cohen saunters out on the stage and begins to sing the folk ballads that for a while made him almost as well known as another Jewish folk legend, Bob Dillon.

Cohen isn’t afraid to let the world know of his religious and cultural background, and has refused to sing at a concert for Palestinians in Ramallah for the simple reason that they had demanded he cancel his Israel gig. This fact, however, has not stopped Cohen from promising that all the proceeds from his concert will go towards Israeli and Palestinian organizations that are working towards reconciliation between the two peoples. In fact, he calls his September concert “A concert for reconciliation, tolerance and peace”.

Some of Leonard Cohen’s greatest hits, as were noted on a best selling album in 1975: Greatest Hits – The Best of Leonard Cohen, includes ones like Suzanne, Hallelujah, Bird on the Wire, and Dance Me Till the End of Love. His soulful, gravelly voice was popular with millions of fans who appreciated his lyrics and the timeless message they sent out; especially for people trying to recover from the traumas of Vietnam and the aftermath of what had been known as the “Hippie generation”.

More than twenty years after his greatest hits album, Cohen came out with another album entitled More Best, which includes some songs which were “updated” a bit to suit changing times. Some of these include ones like The Future, and Closing Time. His Greatest Hits album, has also been re-issued this year, and includes songs from both previous Best of Leonard Cohen albums.

Cohen’s first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, came out in 1967, when Americans were embroiled in the midst of the Vietnam War. But his messages of peace and love soon caught on in other countries, especially the UK, where he has performed a number of concerts over the years. His classic song, Hallelujah, was recently reintroduced in the London music charts, where it rose to the No. 1 position on the U.K. singles chart. Many people say this is his best song; but many others, including Suzanne and Bird on a Wire, are also claimed to be his best ones by his fans.

His Israel gig will come close to the time of Madonna’s scheduled September 1st concert. But obviously, those who get into Cohen’s type of music probably aren’t going to make the Madonna concert as the music of both artists just doesn’t have the same “vibes”. Nevertheless, Cohen’s performance should being back a lot of memories for a lot of us who dreamed different dreams and looked at the world in a different way than we do now.

WHY NOW???

Rabbi uner arrest
Last week’s arrest of more than 40 people in New York and New Jersey on a massive money laundering and corruption rap, could not have come at a worse time for both Israeli and American Jewry, especially with the 150 year sentencing of Ponzi scheme master Bernard Madoff still very prominent on peoples minds. The bust, which came after a long investigation by the FBI and other legal authorities, not only includes a number of prominent area Rabbis (including one aged 87) but several legal and political figures as well.

The various charges against these people include an extensive money laundering operation that involved underworld crime families and stretched from Mid-America to Tel Aviv and back. Money that was supposed to be contributions for various charity organizations is now said to have been actually monies for underworld sources and funneled though Swiss banks into Israel, and then out again, had been orchestred by a prominent member of the Syrian Jewish Community, Solomon Dwek, who later cooperated with the Feds and even helped to garnish the necessary evidence to nail many of the accused, including the spiritual leader New York’s Syrian Jewish community, Rabbi Saul Kassin, 87; who was later released after posting bail:

Dwek

Dwek, appears to have a history of being involved in shady dealings; despite the fact he has once a prominent member of the Shas political party in Israel. He decided to cooperate with the FBI after losing a considerable amount of money (other people’s) and passing several bad checks for considerable sums. Beside the other four Rabbis involved, including Rabbi Edmund Nachman of the Deal Synagogue, Mordechai Fishman of Congregation Sheves Achim, and Rabbi Ben-Haim of Congregation Ohel Yaacub, some well known non-Jewish personalities were also busted, including Hoboken N.J. Mayor Peter Cammarano III, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, state Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith and state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt.

One charge that apparently has enraged many people is the one involving Levy Yitzhak Rosenbaum who is being charged with dealing in human kidneys which were supposedly “donated” to him for around $10,000, and later sold to recipients for amounts ranging up to $160,000, with the “profits” going to hospitals and surgeons, after Rosenbaum’s “commission” was deducted.

The corruption side of the story, involving various politicians and legal persons, only further exposes the amount of corruption going on in states like New Jersey, made known during the six year successful television series, The Sopranos, which dealt with the activities of a fictional New Jersey Mafia family headed by a colorful character named Anthony (Tony) Soprano.

But anyone who hails from this neck of the woods is aware that these kinds of activities have been going on for a long, long time, despite New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine saying:

“The scale of corruption we’re seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated.”

Really now, Jon; are you saying you were totally unaware that these kinds of activities have been going on? Are you really so innocent and lily-white; as compared to such people as former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, now facing charges of racketeering, extortion, and fraud? Didn’t you yourself watch the exploits of Tony and the Gang during their 6 year TV stint. We bet you did!

But the fact that this big bust is happening now, presents a worrisome picture of what could be in store for Jewish communities in America in the coming months, as more efforts may be made by “zealous” US governmental agencies, under the ultimate control of the US Department of Justice – and of course the White House – to uncover activities which may have been even accepted as being commonplace among many communities; especially in cities like Hoboken and Trenton New Jersey. Notwithstanding that the area’s Muslim population, which is also quite large and has many Islamic charities and other organizations; has also been said to be involved in similar activities as well, including sending large sums of money to radical Muslim groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and even Al Qaeda.

But for the moment anyway, this subject appears to be under wraps, while the media and US legal authorities appear to be having a field day in “nailing the Jews”. The bottom line to this entire scenario is that things have changed for the American Jewish Community, and for Israel, since the new US Administration has taken over in Washington – and definitely not for the better.

Three Years Later – Dan Haloutz and Lebanon II

Sunday July 12, marked the third anniversary of the beginning of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. For a lot of people, especially those who lost loved ones in the 34 day conflict in which 121 Israeli soldiers and 44 civilians lost their lives, the day was marked by reflections and sad recollections of the event, which had begun following the Hezbollah led attack on an Israeli army patrol along Israel’s northern border in which several soldiers were killed and two were taken captive. The remains of the two taken captive, Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser were later returned in two black coffins, more than two years later.

Dan HaloutzOn this day, one particular individual, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, still appears to stand by the decisions he made during the war, and does not regret his actions during the conflict – actions that have been criticized by many since then.

“The government’s decision to take action (against the Hezbollah) was correct and justified” Halutz said, when interviewed by media reporters. “Sometimes these decisions must be made, even if they are not popular”, he continued. He did finish the interview by saying that the decisions were made by “a leader who was willing to accept responsibility for the outcome of those decisions – that is what leadership is all about”.

Since then, Halutz has left active duty and entered private life as a salesman of high line BMW automobiles for Kamor Motors, Israel’s main importer of the German higher priced auto line. In fact, Halutz appears to have done so well in his new profession that he was recently appointed CEO of Kamor Motors, and is reported to have received around 5% of the company’s stock, worth an estimated $1.99 million. Not bad for only being about two and a half years in the car business. And it doesn’t stop there, as he was also appointed as Chairman of the Board of Starling Advanced Communications; a start-up company jointly owned by Raphael, Elbit and Nochi Dankner’s IDB group, where he earns an estimated $7,500 a month.

Halutz even went so far as to say that if he were in the same position as he was in on July 12, 2006, he would make the same recommendations as he did then to the Defense Minister (you know who he was – that guy who was photographed trying to look through a pair of binoculars on which the lens caps were still on).

On top of all this, let’s not forget Halutz’s military pension, which considering his rank and length of military service must be an amount that a lot of corporate executives would like to be living on.

The war not only caused a considerable amount of damage in Israel, as well as incapacitating and uprooting at least a million Israelis. It also did considerable damage to Lebanon’s infrastructure as well as killing more than 1,000 civilians.

A number of Israeli officers who served under Halutz were not so upbeat in their opinions concerning the conflict, including outgoing Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Moshe Kaplansky; who noted a number of failures related to the war, particularly the decision to call up the reserves only in the last days of the conflict. He also said that IDF budget cuts and concentrating against fighting terrorism led to a state of being unprepared when the war broke out.

Bibi Folds

People power has apparently won concerning the Finance Ministry’s proposed plan to impose VAT on fruit and vegetables sold to Israeli consumers in open air markets as well as in regular supermarkets. After intense pressure from a number of groups, including fruit and vegetable vendors themselves (who staged wholesale dumping of their produce at open air souks around the country) and from coalition partner Shas (many of whose members are poor and have large families), Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu overrode Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz‘s to levy the now 16.5 VAT on farm produce, saying that “sometimes it’s necessary to listen to the will of the people”.

vegetable soukBut at the same time, however, the government is now formulating plans to increase the VAT on other items even further – to 17.5% – to make up for the 1.3 billion Shekel revenue short-fall that is expected to occur due to not imposing what is now known as the produce tax. Prior to the P.M.’s decision, many people were calling for Finance Minister Steinitz to resign. Those close to him say he is furious with the decision concerning the produce tax, and will not resign; even though opposition Kadima party members are calling this act “a sign of weakness” on the part of the present Likud party led government.

Raising the overall VAT another one percent will in the long run result in even more economic hardship than the VAT on fruits and veggies, as it will result in all other items, including staples like dairy items, bread, flour, cooking oil, and chickens being more expensive. Besides, it was argued that people would still find ways to circumvent paying VAT on produce purchases by buying from roadside stands and other black market fruit and veggie dealers. The idea to raise the VAT even more is something that had probably been in the Finance Ministry’s game plan since the new government assumed power in April, 2009. Despite a deep recession, the government has been desperately looking for ways to increase revenues without resorting to levying higher income taxes. Another thing that has become the new government’s problem is that the January Operation Cast Lead military operation left a big deficit in the previous government’s budget, which the new government inherited when assuming power. By gradually raising the VAT, the government is applying what is known as the salami technique in which they gradually raise the tax amount, bit by bit, like slicing a salami; until eventually they have the entire “salami” of increases with less protest from the general public.

As you can see, it’s obviously easier to get the entire salami, slice by slice, instead of trying to take the entire portion at once. The question now, however, is whether people are gullible enough to fall for this ploy; or whether they really can do anything about it, outside of outright rebellion.

Maybe Israelis will be more successful than the Iranians were at protesting government imposed policies. It all depends on how we like to eat our salami.

Bernie Madoff To Be Released in 2159

Bernie Madoff New YorkPonzi scheme artist and former NASDAQ head Bernie Madoff was sentenced Monday, June 29 to 150 years in prison for his role in defrauding thousands of people out of more than $65 billion during a more than 20 year period. The 72 year former Wall Street guru, had a sort of ironic look on his face, according to witnesses, as he was led into the NYC Federal Courthouse at 7 a.m. local time. So much public interest had resulted in a special barrier set up in front of the building, most likely to keep many of Madoff’s victims from having a go at him after he bilked many of them of their life’s savings. One small woman, who watched him go by, said he had taken all she had and that she planned to write a book about it. “I have lost everything”, the small blond woman said.

Those inside the courtroom said that Madoff seemed to even display an ironic smile as the sentence was read off to him by a female Federal Judge. Madoff’s attorney, in possibly a last ditched effort to receive some clemency for his client, told the court that Madoff’s wife “spent her own money to provide security for her husband while he was awaiting trial. That remark resulted in a momentary burst of laughter from the packed courtroom, due to its irony.

As Madoff was led away, most likely never to leave the prison where he will be confined, many people gave comments like: “it wasn’t enough – the money is still gone – my money is gone!”

Later on, Madoff’s wife Ruth finally broke the silence she had imposed on herself by issuing a statement in that she was not indifferent to what her husband did, and that “not a day goes by that my does not ache over stories I have read of people who lost so much”. That doesn’t appear to go far enough to placate her husband’s victims, many of whom are now virtually destitute as a result of Madoff’s actions. This also includes a number of high profile non-profit foundations, some of whom will have to close their doors due to lack of funds. Ruth Madoff was allowed to keep a sum of around 2.5 million dollars, in a cooperation agreement her husband made with Federal authorities. That amount may later be challenged, however, due to a number of further claims against the former financier.

Putting Madoff away forever isn’t going to bring back most of the money he stole, and lucky claimants may see a 5% return on their original investment. It might have been a better punishment for Madoff (and perhaps his entire family, including two sons and a daughter) to have literally stripped them of all assets, reducing them to the lowest level of penury. Seeing the former ponzi wheeler-dealer residing in a homeless shelter (if one might be found that was willing to accommodate him) might have been a better fate than sending him off to a federal prison where he will be fed, clothed, and attended to medically at the taxpayers’ expense.

Shari Arison: It’s time people knew who I really am

The wealthiest woman in Israel tries to change her image. She is coming out with a new book, and, in its honor, breaks from her usual solitude and agrees to an interview. On her divorce from Ofer Glazer: “I love him but we’ve closed the circle”. On Dankner: “They’ve hung a man in the village square without a trial”. And on her yacht and the rosy future she predicts for herself, after she predicted the economic crisis. (Mako, Emanuel Rosen)

Shari ArisonAt 51, Shari Arison appears to have it all. She has a bank, she has billions. She is the wealthiest woman in Israel and she works nonstop, contributing, active, and still, Arison feels she’s missing out on something. She doesn’t have our love. She wants us to know her as she really is, and not the image created of an estranged, yet glowing, satiated woman. Perhaps the new book she has written, Birth, will accomplish this for her.

“I think I simply felt the time has come for me to be heard, who I really am”, she explains her decision to publish the book. “My book speaks in my voice and people will get to know me.”

Arison writes in her book that she has wanted people to admire her all her life, and it hasn’t happened. She feels exploited, a victim who gives but does not receive. “I am a person who gives a lot of herself”, she says, “and at some point, when you give and give and give and don’t get any back, or the opposite – get back only cynicism and ill will – then you feel empty and used and unappreciated”.

She wishes to free herself from her famous yacht, perhaps the symbol of her wealth. “It’s not for me,” she tries to explain. “For a while I enjoyed it and then I went through a period of torment. I realized I didn’t enjoy all the fuss surrounding it”. The economic crisis created an opportune excuse for her to look for a buyer. The problem is that there aren’t any buyers right now.
Bank of Israel’s insistence on dismissing its Chairman of the Board (Bank HaPoalim), Dani Dankner, she still doesn’t understand. “I think Dani was a wonderful Chairman”, she says. “I didn’t see a justification for what they are doing to him, but besides that, I think the global economic crisis occurred largely due to a loss of values. I don’t think one can hang a person in the village square without a trial or without any reasons I can see”.

Arison tries to explain why she changed her custom of keeping herself far from the camera’s eye in this story. “I am a person and first and foremost I am true to myself,” she says. “I sat quietly while everyone had their say in the newspapers and on TV, whether it was truth or lies and I said: “That’s it, I have something to say and I’m going to come out and say it'”.

The wealthiest woman in Israel claims she foresaw the global economic crisis. “I’ve been receiving messages, call them spiritual communications, for many years”, she tries to explain. “I see things, many things, before they happen. Apparently I’ve been granted this gift, to see the future, not in order to run and buy and sell and make a lot of money, but in order to bring the world to another place”.

She receives these messages, she claims, in images or words, sometimes during sleep. “I received a message that there would be a global economic crisis, that people would begin to go crazy, and we have seen that”, she says. “More and more people are going crazy, it’s amazing”.

These messages also bring hope. “Things will be good afterwards,” she predicts. “I think we are nearing salvation. Right now, it seems like we are in the dark, but light will follow”.

She is also now willing to speak about her father, Ted Arison. “At first, my father didn’t want to leave his businesses to me”, she admits. “Today I understand that it was out of concern. My father’s view towards his daughter was very subjective; he felt that I should stay home with the children. I thought he thought I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t deserving enough, but I now understand that this wasn’t true”.

Along with these stormy times, Arison has also had to face the scandal of her divorce from Ofer Glazer a few weeks ago. It was the last stop in a stormy relationship that fueled the press, particularly embarrassing stories – the height of them – her husband’s conviction in two acts of indecent assault and his going to prison.

“We got along well together from the very first moment”, she testifies. “I loved him very much. I love him very much, it was great fun and I learned a lot. I learned to laugh with all my heart, to enjoy, to do major things that are against my nature.”

She describes Glazer as a great hedonist, who loves to travel and have fun. “He likes everything in extravagance”, she says and points out the difference that perhaps brought about the crisis. “I’m very modest, very shy, very introverted. It was good for me”.

So how did it end? “I went through a very important period with Ofer, but we eventually closed the circle”, she says. “I guess I got what I was meant to have, and he got what he was meant to have, and now both of us have to move on”.

She stands behind him regarding the sexual charges he was convicted of. “He was done an injustice”, she says. “I was at home, I was a witness. Nothing happened”.

So who is Shari Arison, besides the woman and her wealth? “I have a lot to offer, and it isn’t money”, she says. “Shari Arison is a business woman, Shari Arison is a philanthropist, Shari Arison has a generous heart. I have a lot to offer”.

GM’s muscle cars are not going “belly up”!

It finally happened; and the company personified with everything America and the UAW stands for, sought protection of the courts by filing Chapter 11, otherwise known as application for bankruptcy. General Motors, the company us baby boomers grew up with, and whose cars most of use owned at one time or another, finally faced reality and came to the sad conclusion that the cars it’s 5 divisions make (8 if you want to include Hummers, Swedish Saabs, and the mysterious Saturn) decided that it’s cars just couldn’t compete with better made and more reliable Japanese ones as well as luxury models like Lexus and Infinity (also hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun). Whether they be cheap Korean Daewoo made ones with Chevy logos on them, or 4 X 4’s with a Buick or Cadillac crest, stuff that either local or foreign GM plants slam together, just don’t cut the mustard besides Hondas, Toyotas, Nissans and even Mazda, for that matter.

GM muscle carsIt’s taken the American auto giant more than 35 years to realize that it’s present line of cars are not like the ones made in the late 1960’s when names like Chevy’s Z-28 Camaro, Pontiac’s GTO and Firebird, Oldsmobile’s Cutlass, and of course, the all fiberglass Corvette Stingray. Those were cars, and we “boomers” loved them – especially with premium gasoline only going for 36 cents a gallon. I remember my first Chevy, a 1956 Bel Aire that my mom had previously driven, and my dad let me buy for only $300. I had torn two transmissions out of that car; the second one I had to pay for. I later moved up to a ’66 Pontiac GTO with the Jan and Dean 389 engine but with a 4 barrel carburetor instead of “3 duces”. It also didn’t have a “4 speed stick shift” transmission, but still moved down the road well with a 3 speed, floor mounted automatic.

GM’s fall from grace began in the mid 1970’s; about the time a new kind of gas, unleaded, began to be used. The quality of the cars also underwent a lot of changes, and many people still remember horrible ones like the “X” frame ones, which were a bad dream; or the earlier models of the Pontiac Sunbird. While Detroit automakers built cars on the idea of “planned obsolescence” Japanese companies in Kyoto, Kobe and elsewhere built cars that needed leas maintenance and could be driven for more than five years (GM’s and other US automaker’s maximum car lifespan).

GM’s more recent decision to outsource some of it’s Chevrolet models to Korea hasn’t worked out that well either, as all they did was to take over a Korean car company that was in bankruptcy itself (Daewoo) and simply attach the ubiquitous Chevy) logo to the products, along with a few minor cosmetic changes. Daewoo itself had tried to produce it’s version of one of GM’s German products, the Opel Kadett, which although cheap was poorly put together. GM also enlisted the assistance of a Japanese automaker, Suzuki, to assist in GM’s GEO line, which also wasn’t a real success story.

Over here in Israel, people are buying a lot of these little Chevys, but only because they’re low priced compared with better made Hondas, Toyotas, and that standard bearer of many high tech company employees, the Mazda 3. A lot of older GM cars are available on used car lots too; including Chevy Cavaliers, a much inferior car to Japanese models, as well as plenty of Daewoo made Opel clones.

But one thing Detroit’s largest auto maker was good at (in former years anyway) was making muscle cars, like the “Vets” Z-28’s, Firebirds and GTO’s noted above. Maybe this might eventually be the company’s salvation; and not tiny, boxy little electric cars like it is now planning to produce (some are calling them “Obamabiles”), after undergoing a major “restructuring” that will involve closing numerous auto assembly plants and car dealerships, resulting in the laying off of thousands of employees. Why not bring some of these dreamboat cars back; albeit modernized a bit, and designed to run on bio-fuels make from corn and seaweed. We baby boomers will appreciate this gesture, and may even buy some of these cars to try to recapture memories of our lost youth.

If we have the money to buy one, that is.

Greenback bashed again as exchange slips below NIS 4

Shrinking Dollar
The U.S. Dollar, also known recently as “Obama Bucks” slipped below the NS 4 benchmark rate Friday for the first time in five months. The greenback’s international weakness, aggravated by the ongoing world recession and the immanent possible bankruptcy of giant U.S. automaker General Motors has resulted in the US currency falling against other major currencies, especially the Euro and Japanese Yen. The Shekel has continued to strengthen following the announcement by Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer that the BoI will discontinue purchasing dollars as it has recently to help maintain it’s exchange rate and assist Israeli exports with a lower Shekel rate.

Fischer had tried to prop up the sagging greenback due to fears that Israeli exports would suffer, especially those destined for American markets. Another reason for the BoI purchasing dollars was due to an already large foreign currency reserve by the bank in that currency which would mean a loss of profits if the currency went down to the rate it was at it’s low point of NS 3.30 about a year ago. All this news is a bit discouraging for many people who are receiving pensions and other incomes in US dollars and have to exchange them for Shekels. Apartment sales to Americans also suffer when the dollar rate falls as prices for properties in Israel become more expensive.

For people who remember the early to mid 1980’s, when inflation in Israel reached nearly 400% and the former “old Shekel” was depreciating daily against the dollar and other currencies, this business seems almost comical – unless one is living on dollar based investments and pensions that is. A Citibank economist was recently quoted a saying “we think the Israeli central bank could soon find itself in a position where it is neither necessary nor desirable to continue it’s policy of purchasing foreign exchange (dollars) at the rate of $100 million a day”. That’s obviously what has happened in that the BoI is simply flooded with dollars.

In the long run, however, it’s obvious that the economy of Israel is tied considerably to what is happening in America; and too strong a Shekel rate is counter productive

for Israel’s exporters, especially in the current recessionary economy.

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