An Effective Tool to Save on Estate Taxes

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil Daudi, Esq.

With the limited free-time you have outside of work, drafting a sound estate plan is usually not the first thing on your list of chores.  However, a simple overlook can cost you money. When discussing an estate plan, more and more people have begun to inquire about Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT). An ILIT is a unique estate planning tool utilized to help minimize taxes – estate or gift, by reducing the size of your estate.

This trusted tool has saved individuals hundreds, if not thousands of dollars by limiting the amount of taxes paid upon their death. Although commonly used to effectuate a goal, many still hesitate to implement this tool as part of their overall estate plan.

With the ever-changing demands of society, it has become essential for you to carry some form of life insurance to ensure your loved ones are taken care. The amount of coverage varies depending on your family and your current lifestyle. However, there is no dispute that carrying life insurance is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity.

Many are unaware that without proper planning life insurance proceeds become subject to federal estate taxes. This is something often overlooked until you realize the sizable amount of estate taxes you pay. The State of Michigan includes life insurance proceeds in your estate if you claim “incidents of ownership” over the policy; for example, being able to change your beneficiary; borrow from your policy; or exercise any other right that is usually possessed by an owner. By giving up these rights you are assured to have your proceeds excluded from your estate.

Another option is to list your spouse as the beneficiary. This too, reduces the value of your estate, as the proceeds will be excluded, but don’t be fooled into thinking the planning stops here. What happens when your spouse passes away? The amount your spouse inherited will be counted in his/her estate. Therefore, although you possibly avoided estate taxes upon your death, you have not completely solved the problem. This is where the effectiveness of an ILIT is best illustrated.

An ILIT is an extremely useful tool used to help minimize your estate taxes. With the estate tax exemption being widely speculated to hit pre-2001 figures, $1 million exemption at a 55% tax rate, ILITs are increasingly becoming the most popular estate planning tool. Remember, planning for today will serve you no protection for tomorrow; but planning for tomorrow will serve you protection for today.

Adil Daudi is an Attorney at Joseph, Kroll & Yagalla, P.C., focusing primarily on Asset Protection for Physicians, Physician Contracts, Estate Planning, Business Litigation, Corporate Formations, and Family Law. He can be contacted for any questions related to this article or other areas of law at adil@josephlaw.net or (517) 381-2663.

13-23

Senate Gives “Audit the Fed” a Unanimous Victory

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Nichols

“The Fed can no longer operate in virtual secrecy,” declared Vermont independent Bernie Sanders Tuesday after the Senate voted 96-0 to add his “Audit the Fed” amendment to the financial regulatory reform bill.

The Senate amendment is not as muscular as the bipartisan legislation backed by the House, which was sponsored by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, an aggressive progressive, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, an equally aggressive conservative with libertarian leanings. The Grayson-Paul bill authorizes audits by the Government Accountability Office of every item on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, including all credit facilities and all securities purchase programs; there would be exemption only for unreleased transcripts, minutes of closed-door meetings and the most recent decisions of the central bank. The Senate measure is narrower in its focus, but it would require the GAO to scrutinize some several trillion dollars in emergency lending that the Fed provided to big banks after the September 2008 economic meltdown.

The actual amount of public money that has been set aside for private banks is not known. That’s one reason why this audit is so important. But there can be no doubt that the figure is astronomical. The Center for Media and Democracy’s Wall Street Bailout Tally shows that since 2008, the U.S. government has flooded Wall Street banks and financial institutions with $4.7 trillion dollars in taxpayer money, mostly in the form of loans from the Fed reserve. The Fed has never told us which firms got these loans and what type of collateral American taxpayers got in return. This will now be revealed. We will also get an accounting of the Fed’s “stealth” bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Sanders tried to pass a broader amendment, but when he faced roadblocks — and the prospect that audit language might be excluded entirely from the final bill — he agreed to propose an amendment outlining the one-time audit of post-meltdown Fed activity.  That did not sit well with all senators. Even as Republicans such as New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg tried to prevent any demand for transparency, Louisiana Republican David Vitter proposed tougher language along the lines what Grayson and Paul pushed through the House. While most Democrats and a number of Republicans opposed the tougher language, Sanders joined the most serious reformers in the Democratic caucus — Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Washington’s Maria Cantwell, North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Virginia’s Jim Webb and Oregon’s Ron Wyden — in voting “yes.”

The Vitter amendment failed on a 62-37 vote and Feingold was especially disappointed.  “Unfortunately,” the Wisconsin progressive declared, “the defeat of the Vitter amendment means American taxpayers will still not have a complete picture of how one of the most powerful government agencies makes policy and spends their tax dollars.”

Still, Feingold acknowledged that, “Senator Sanders’ amendment will mean more transparency for the Federal Reserve, so the public will have a better idea of how it is spending taxpayer dollars.”

That transparency is consequential, noted Sanders. “Let’s be clear,” he explained, “when trillions of dollars of taxpayer money are being lent out to the largest financial institutions in this country, the American people have a right to know who received that money and what they did with it.  We also need to know what possible conflicts of interest exist involving the heads of large financial institutions who sat in the room helping to make those decisions.”

The “Audit the Fed” language that is included in the final legislation remains to be seen, as the differences between the House and Senate proposals will have to be reconciled by a conference committee. That will provide an opening for Grayson, Paul, Sanders and their allies to push for the broadest possible transparency. But, make no mistake, there will be pushback.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has repeatedly refused to respond to demands from Sanders and others for information about the banks that have been bailed out by the taxpayers — and that continue to pad their accounts with public dollars. President Obama, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and their aides are critics of the “Audit the Fed” push, as well.

So why, with so much official opposition, did the “Audit the Fed” movement win a 96-0 vote in the Senate? Campaigners on the left and right made the issue a high priority. A good deal of credit must go to Sanders and Paul — long-time critics of the Fed who opposed the 2008 Wall Street bailouts and then steered anger at those bailouts toward the “Audit the Fed” movement — which was boosted on the left by websites such as Jane Hamsher’s Firedoglake and on the right by the Paul-linked Campaign for Liberty, as well as by outspoken economists such a Dean Baker and watchdog operations such as CMD’s BanksterUSA project.

Ultimately, however, much of the credit must go to Grayson, who embraced Paul’s proposal — which had languished in the House — and led the campaign to get Democrats to sign on to the bill. As Hamsher says, “Tremendous credit goes to Alan Grayson. It was Grayson who decided to take up Ron Paul’s bill and bring Democratic support for it.

Sanders, who took some hits for compromising, also deserves credit at this point for making sure, even when he was forced to trim back on his amendment, that critical elements of the initial proposal by Paul — especially the defined role for the GAO — were retained. That will make it harder for the Obama White House and their allies in the congressional leadership to gut the audit language in the conference committee.

There will, as well, be additional fights:

“While passage of Senator Sanders’ amendment will provide some long overdue accountability and transparency for the Federal Reserve, the overall bill still needs a lot of work,” said Feingold. In particular, Feingold and other real reformers have focused on the need for the bill to restore the firewall between Main Street banks and Wall Street securities firms and insurance companies, which contributed to financial institutions growing “too big to fail.”

While the bipartisan support for auditing the Fed represents a step in the right direction, Feingold is right when he says it is only one step on a long road toward addressing the way in which bad decisions by Congress “led to deregulation and the increased concentration of economic power and economic decision-making.”

John Nichols is Washington DC correspondent for The Nation magazine.

12-20

Iraq’s Booming Funeral Market

May 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Afif Sarhan, IslamOnline.net

2010-05-11T080728Z_1227782277_GM1E65B18RJ01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-VIOLENCE

Residents carry a coffin of a victim who was killed in Monday’s bomb attack during a funeral in Basra, 420 km (260 miles) southeast of Baghdad, May 11, 2010. Bombers and gunmen officials linked to a battered but still lethal al Qaeda killed more than 100 people on Monday during a day-long wave of attacks on markets, a textile factory, checkpoints and other sites across Iraq.

REUTERS/Atef Hassan

BAGHDAD – With deadly attacks still claiming more lives in the war-torn country, the funeral market in Iraq has turned from a simple work into a booming business.
“Before US-led invasion, I had one ceremony to take care,” mourner Ali Abdel-Kareem al-Shuwafi, 48, told IslamOnline.net on Friday, October 30.

“But in the last four years, I had to hire 12 employees and other 15 who are used when we have many ceremonies to hold in the same day.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in violence plaguing Iraq since the US invaded the country in 2003 to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.

“Violence in Iraq changed my life. I know that it isn’t a nice sentence to say but it is the true,” said Shuwafi.

“The continuing killings in my country helped me become a wealthy man and able to give a very good life to my family who years ago were suffering with the need of everything.”

Before the US invasion, Shuwafi was hardly able to provide basics to his family.

But his life has totally changed after the US troops invaded the oil-rich country.

“I decided to open a shop in Baghdad two years ago which takes care of everything, the three days mourning process, the burying and other ceremonies asked by our clients,” he said.

Shuwafi had borrowed money from a friend of his to open his shop.

“After few months, I had enough to pay him back and open more two shops, one in Baghdad and one in Basra where my brother takes care,” he said.

“I know I’m successful today because of people suffering, however, I didn’t kill them and just made a way for families to be well supported in a so hard moment of their lives.

“The war changed my life for better but I sometimes I wish that things were like before and I would had been able to improve my living conditions under other ways offered by the government.”

Lucrative

Like Shuwafi, many mourning professionals have made a fortune from the deadly violence.

“There was periods where I had to refuse ceremonies because I didn’t have enough materials to organize it,” Kamal al-Jumeiri, a funeral business owner in Baghdad, told IOL.

“During 2006 and 2007 I was able to make enough money to send my family away to Jordan to protect them and I use to visit my kids and wife every three months.

“My family accuse me of taking advantage and making money from people who were victims but someone had to make it and I had enough conditions to offer my skills.”

Jumeiri recalls that he only owned two coffins to run his business before the US invasion.

“After violence in 2006, I had enough money to open two shops,” he said.

“By two trucks, I import supplies from outside with better quality, offer a proper burial with all stuff needed like chairs for the mourners, recorders, speakers, people to read Qur’anic verses, kitchen apparatus to cook food during the three days ceremony, generators, tents and other specific things that sometimes is asked by grieving families.”

According to Iraqi traditions, families rent tents for the three days of mourning and professional mourners to add emotions by crying while speaking verses of the Qur’an.

In addition, coffee, tea and cigarettes should be offered to visitors during the three days of mourning.

In the last day, food is cooked and offered to all people present, including poor people who usually get close to get free food.

“I moved from a simple mourning workers into a first-class business and most of my clients have wealthy living conditions and hire my work due to my excellent materials used,” said Jumeiri.

The booming funeral market is also sparking rivalry among mourning professionals.

“I suffered threats from other mourning professionals,” said Jumeiri.

“Many of them, not all, have organised gangs to prevent us from keeping work and leave all ceremonies to them but I insisted and have to pay a security guard to follow me.”

Prices for the funeral services have skyrocketed over the violence.

“I lost my father before invasion from heart disease and didn’t spend more than US $50 for all ceremony and coffin,” Haydar Muhammad Khalif, a government employee, told IOL.

“But two months ago, my uncle was killed and we had to pay US $300 for the same ceremony, without any changes.”

Coffins now cost about $80, from only $10 before the US invasion.

A complete ceremony would cost from $150 to $400, from only $60 before the invasion.

“Even to die in Iraq you have to have enough money or you will have to be buried without proper Iraqi Muslim traditions,” said Khalif.

12-20

Monem Salem of Peaceful Communications Addresses Important Financial Issues

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

P3068744

Rochester Hills-March 10–Religious people are forced to confront directly decisions about their financial practices. Where people without religion have the luxury of making financial and other decisions without resort to a regime of discipline other than whatever feels right to them, religious people and especially Muslims have a strong structure of discipline into which they must integrate their financial lives.

How much to give as sadaqa? Is it halal to save money? And what about contemporary financial issues like debt–let alone the highly charged subject of riba.

Mr. Salam spoke at length about these issues to the Saturday night monthly dinner at IAGD.

The monthly dinner began after maghrib with Qur`an recitation and some demonstrations by IAGD children including a brief Qur`an recitation and a mock debate on the issue of Valentine’s Day and whether it is acceptable for Muslims.

Salam explained that in the environment of an economy that is hemorrhaging jobs, with a government that is borrowing money hand over fist, where all people are confronted with serious concerns about their economic well being, it is appropriate to ask what financial practices on an individual level are healthy and Islamically correct.

He had several main points which he emphasized carefully.  First, he emphasized balance.  He quoted a saying of Sayyidina Ali (kw) who said “spend neither extravagantly nor miserly.” This middle way, Salam explained, is dependent on what your personal wealth is.  But a sign of extravagance is buying things to compete with one’s neighbors or friends.  And don’t forget sadaqa and charity, he emphasized, saying sadaqa earns a reward far beyond what a person gives.  Spend less than what you earn, Salam said.

Also, he gave clear and convincing evidence from ahadith that debt is a terrible burden that must be avoided, pointing out that the level of debt of an American person, for example with a mortgage, is orders of magnitude beyond the debt avoided by Companions.  And his arguments about the terrible burdens of debt were powerful without his even touching on the subject of interest or riba.

P3068745 He explained that the word for debt in Arabic has the same root as the words “submission” and “humiliation.”

Also, Mr. Salam explained again with convincing arguments that saving is necessary.  He emphasized examples of Companions including Sayyidina Abu Bakr as Siddiq (ra) who gave a large amount of money to free Sayyidina Bilal (ra) from slavery–Salam’s argument was that this example of generosity must have meant that Abu Bakr (ra) had been saving in order to have such a large sum of money available to him when he needed it.

He gave examples from Qur`an also, including from Surat Kahf, where Sayyidinal Khidr (as) and Sayyidina Musa (as) rebuilt a wall to protect the savings of a pious man for his inheritors–therefore this means the pious man had saved money and was not spending all of it for sadaqa.

Another example from Qur`an was Sayyidina Yusuf’s dream of seven fat years and seven lean years–the principle being to save from prosperous times for “rainy days.”

Salam emphasized saving a significant amount, whether enough to live on for one full year or enough to survive a significant personal tragedy or catastrophe.

Mr. Salam is Director and Vice President of Islamic Investing and Amana’s deputy portfolio manager.  He was raised in Texas and earned degrees from the University of Texas.  After working with other firms, he joined Saturna Capital in 2003 and manages many of Saturna’s Islamic private acccounts. 

Mr. Salam was the subject of a documentary about learning to pilot a plane as a Muslim subsequent to 9/11, “On a Wing and a Prayer,” a review of which movie was featured in this newspaper.

12-11

At What Cost?

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Steve Betts, www.thestockmarketbarometer.com

Whenever you embark on a significant activity, and it doesn’t matter whether its business or personal, you have to ask yourself two important questions: why and at what cost. In 1913 the United States adopted a central bank system and an income tax, both of which were and remain unconstitutional. At the time the United States was the richest creditor nation in the world and already had the best central banker in the world, gold! The US settled all transactions in gold and in order to spend more, it would need to have more gold. Gold could not be printed or created in some computer hard drive; it had to be dug out of the ground at great personal and financial sacrifice. Even more than this, gold represented real wealth and that’s why a 1913 dollar bought the same thing as an 1841 dollar, and that’s what a store of wealth is supposed to do. This begs the question why you change something that seemed to work almost to perfection. For the answer to that question, you need to go back a little further, to 1907 to be exact.

In 1907 the markets suffered the worst financial crisis in their history, but this crisis devastated Wall Street while leaving Main Street mostly intact. A lot of big name brokers and bankers went down the tubes as a result of the 1907 panic and that inspired the survivors to get together and create a plan that would prevent another such crisis. The group included Morgan, Vanderbilt, DuPont, and Rothschild, and they all ended up as shareholders in the new and private Federal Reserve System. The problem with gold during a crisis is that you can´t increase the supply overnight, so “bailouts” are not possible. Too big to fail banks and brokerages must therefore fail, and that was an unacceptable and intolerable situation for Wall Street. So they created the Federal Reserve and paper money “to facilitate business and the economy”, which would be backed by gold. In an emergency, you could always print paper and then drain liquidity once the crisis had passed. Additionally, they created the IRS with the mission to tax personal income, so the government would have funds to handle any emergency.

Now we get down to the meat of the issue, at what cost? Everything we do in life has a cost, but usually it’s so miniscule that it is seldom noticed. Going back before 1913 the United States had experienced an industrial revolution that led to the development of a strong middle class in America, and that middle class had as a group, accumulated wealth. That wealth served to make the US the richest creditor nation in the world, and it was decided that wealth would be better served if it were transferred to Wall Street for “safekeeping”. After all, they were in the money business. The private Federal Reserve was created with no assets, allowed to print money backed by gold the middle class had earned, and then charged interest and fees to distribute that money. In 1932 Roosevelt confiscated all the gold held by Americans and in 1973 Nixon eliminated the gold standard altogether. Any attempts to interfere with Fed business was dealt with harshly. 

So the idea was to transfer as much of the wealth as possible from Main Street to Wall Street and it would do so through taxation and the creation of a fiat currency, that would eat away at the purchasing power of the middle class. And that is the true cost of the Federal Reserve. The average American has gone from a saver to a debtor, while the US went from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation ever seen. The transition took a century and is now in the final phases and the massive bailouts that we’ve seen are nothing more than an attempt to drain the last cent from the last American before the whole thing goes under. For more than ten years the Federal Reserve has done everything possible to change the primary trend of the markets from bearish to bullish. Although I note the bull market as having topped in October 2007, the real top was back in 1999, but the Greenspan Fed delayed that with massive amounts of liquidity. Now the Bernanke Fed is trying to do the same thing. In modern history no one has every succeeded in changing the primary trend of a major market.

The result of this misguided policy is to postpone the inevitable, but at a cost. The cost is a series of unintended consequences that only now are beginning to float to the surface. Like icebergs, we see only a small portion of the problem until it’s too late. I contend that it is now too late. The ship of the economy is now run up against the iceberg, huge holes are being gashed into the hull, water is pouring in, and all the passengers are passed out in the bar. Any effort to put more punch into the bowl will prove to be futile and the resulting hangover will be debilitating to say the least. The morning after survivors will swear that famous oath of “never again”, form committees, assign blame, and then start the whole process all over again. For the few that will have any money left, and the courage required, stocks will become cheap and there will be a great buying opportunity. For the large majority there will only be misery.

Of course governments are obliged to throw the public a bone every once in a while, no meat, just a bone. Obama ran on the promise of change and then came in and bailed out Wall Street at the cost of US $2 trillion. He distracted the public’s attention with his proposed health care package that in the end no one wanted. Now he has a new mantra, job creation. He recently put forward the idea of a US $40 billion fund for job promotion and now he recommended the commencement of several nuclear plants that will mean more jobs. Unfortunately the President failed to say that most of the jobs for nuclear plants are high paying technical positions and there aren’t that many required. If you really want to create jobs it’s the small business owner that does it, and he has his back against the wall and it gets worse every month, as you can see in the chart posted above. The number of businesses with cash flow problems is on the rise, meaning they’ll reduce their labor costs instead of hiring new workers.

The question now is what can you do about it? I believe the only solution comes in the form of one ounce coins that contain gold. All markets are barometers of future activity and no market is more sensitive to the qualms and traumas of everyday life than gold. Also, I think it’s fair to say that it has never been this difficult to understand the gold market. The IMF comes out and announces the sale of 191 tons of gold, in an effort to manipulate the price lower, and gold falls, for about an hour. Then the Fed authors a surprise rate hike and gold falls for a couple of hours. One gold guru says the yellow metal is going to US $5,000 while Elliot Wave says it’s going to US $400.00. In one minute gold is up 15.00 and an hour later gold is down 20.00. What do you do and who do you believe? Years ago I took a simple, albeit difficult path, and decided that I would only follow the primary trend. The primary trend in gold turned up in 2001 and has been heading higher ever since. I took my initial position in 2002 and I’ve done my best to add on after significant dips. Sometimes I’ve timed it right and sometimes I haven’t, but the one thing I’ve never done is sell!

Below I’ve posted a monthly chart with respect to the gold bull market and I have some interesting observations. You can see that the current price is right about in the middle of the two ascending bands that define the primary trend. Also, I’ve divided the current bull market into the first and second phases, and I’ve given you a short explanation for each of the first two phases. The question now is whether or not gold has entered a new third phase with the breakout above 1,000.00 and we really won’t know until gold makes the next move. Incidentally, the third phase is highlighted by buying from the general public and there are certainly no signs of that. On the monthly chart gold’s price actually appears to be consolidating for the next move higher. It will continue to consolidate as long as it holds above support at 1,048.90. On the other hand it will require a close above 1,136.70 to bring gold to an upside breakout, and that hasn’t happened yet. On Friday the spot gold closed out the week at 1,117.00 and that’s about a sixteen dollar gain for the five sessions, although it felt like a loss due to the volatility.
So the primary trend for gold is up, it is completely intact and in no danger of being violated, and it appears that we could be close to a break out to the upside. So why is everybody so negative? Part of it has to do with ignorance. The large majority of people view gold as a commodity when in fact it is a store of wealth. These same people view fiat currency as money when in fact it is debt; a “promise to pay” can only be interpreted as debt. Gold on the other hand is the only real money and it says so in the US Constitution. It seems that our founding fathers were a lot smarter than we are!

Over the short run the panorama appears to be improving. Gold recently staged a minor breakout above the upper band of a descending trend line in an effort to move higher. That is a minor victory. The real victory will come when gold closes above the 50% retracement from the December high to the February low and that resistance comes in at 1,136.70.  Until we see a close above that mark, it’s all just a guessing game. Gold had a volatile week with announcements by the IMF and Fed designed to push the price lower and yet it finished higher. The dollar rallied as well and yet gold finished higher, so it would appear that the yellow metal is gaining strength. I have maintained for weeks that the dollar, commodities, and gold are all linked to the Dow over the short run, and I still believe that. Therefore, I won’t get overly excited until I see how gold reacts when the Dow begins to fall in earnest.

In conclusion the dollar, stocks and bonds must head lower over time. The dollar and the bond are debt, while stocks represent value in some company. That value is grossly overvalued as the excess water must be squeezed out. The Fed wants to prevent that and has been doing everything possible for years to stop it. The primary trends in all three are headed down and the Fed wants to change that. If they succeed it will be the first time anyone has ever done that. I suspect they’ll fail. The cost of that failure will be incalculable in terms of both money and social harmony. The standard of living for the average American will drop substantially. Repercussions will follow. The only way to protect yourselves is to buy gold, and physical is preferable to paper. Store it someplace safe and just wait for the storm to pass. I know you are tired of hearing this, and God knows I am tired of saying it, but you’ll come face to face with this reality before the year ends.

Steve Betts
Stock Market Barometer SA
February 21, 2010

12-9

America’s Credibility Takes Another Blow

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Rothkopf

court_front_med It’s ironic. At precisely the moment that Secretary of State Clinton was rightly striking out at the Chinese for their infringement of the rights of their own citizens to open Internet access, democracy was dying in America.

In fact now, following an era that might well be defined by America’s twin credibility crises of the past decade, another looms.

The first two blows — blows that have left America’s standing in the world weaker today than it has been at any time in the past half century, even with the many steps President Obama has taken to reverse the missteps of the Bush era — undercut two of what might be seen as the three pillars of American standing on the planet.

The initial credibility crisis was triggered by the Bush administration’s reckless disregard for the values upon which the republic was founded. >From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, from the illegal invasion of Iraq to the rendition and torture of prisoners, America’s role as a leader by virtue of our moral standing was called into question. The champions of the rule of law were now seen, rightfully, as one of its enemies, arguing as we were that there were two standards: that to which we held the rest of the world and that we chose for ourselves.

Next, America’s role as an economic model for the world, champion of free markets and opportunity for all came under fire. In the run up to the economic crisis of 2008-2009, growing inequality in the United States was leading many critics to question our “leave it to the markets” approach. But then came the crisis and once again, the United States demonstrated that the doctrine we had preached worldwide were not going to be applied at home and moreover, that our system was deeply and fundamentally flawed. Doubt about “American capitalism” were only amplified in the aftermath of the crisis, in which middle class victims of the crisis were hardly helped and many were hurt but in which Wall Street fat cats called the tune, reaped the rewards of government intervention and then flouted their power by shrugging off the government when it was no longer necessary to their business plans.

What was left for Americans to cling to? Our moral standing and our fundamental message to the world had been built on the ideas of respect for the rule of law and free markets. And now the world was left to wonder, if not America, then to whom do we turn? Should we embrace other models?

Admittedly, the Chinese model, which might have had a shot at greater influence given the damage done to the U.S. brand, wasn’t doing itself any favors with its attempt to deny its people both basic rights of all international citizens of the 21st Century … which would also have the effect of making Chinese workers less competitive in the global economy. Hillary Clinton’s speech attacking this was forceful and utterly appropriate. The Chinese whining in response to it was a sign of weakness and with some luck, the Obama administration will ignore it, shrug off the Chinese threats of consequences in other areas of the bilateral relationship, and continue to press home this essential point.

But the argument on behalf of the American way was made immeasurably harder recently by the Supreme Court’s devastating blow to several of the most fundamental precepts of American society — equal rights, for example, or truly free speech (which is to say the right speak and be heard, without having to pay for it).

By a 5-4 vote the justices of the court, with the Republican right in the majority, struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. Further building on the dangerous fiction in American law that corporations ought to have rights akin to those of individuals, the decision effectively unleashes the floodgates of corporate and union money into the political arena.

This is certainly a more powerful threat to democracy than terrorism. It may well be a more powerful threat to democracy than was the fatally-flawed Soviet Union. Because to the extent to which politicians depend on donations to remain in power, they are inevitably influenced by those who have the most money. Not surprisingly, corporate entities, representing many people and often vast economic enterprises, have vastly more financial resources than individuals. Arguing, as American right wingers do, that campaign donations are form of free speech and thus cannot be constrained, ignores the reality that by equating money with free speech we effectively say that those with more money have more free speech, are entitled to greater influence within our society.

The implications are stark. Should this decision go unreversed by subsequent action of the Congress, a future court or a future constitutional amendment, it tips the balance of power in the United States even farther away from average people and in the direction of elites. Since campaign donations do not flow from companies primarily for ideological reasons but rather to advance narrow self-interests, the business of U.S. political class will necessarily be driven by the politics of the business class.

In a nutshell, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision made it very likely that America will not be an effective leader in combating global warming or preserving global resources, it will not be able to effectively resolve the internal threats to its own society like a failing health care system, and it will pursue international policies that are driven less by the broad national interest and more by the agenda of companies that in fact, have increasingly little national identity.

In this respect, this compromise of the third and most important pillar of U.S. international leadership-democracy, may be the most damaging of all. We can repair, as the Obama administration has attempted to do, the abuses of the Bush years. But if the court’s action does in effect institutionalize Calvin Coolidge’s old idea that “the business of America is business” it will be impossible to either effectively redress the flaws in the American economic model or for us to continue to argue that the nation that was the most important pioneer of representative democracy will continue to be able to play that role.

12-5

Harun Yahya – Unawareness—A Sly Threat

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Characteristics of Unaware Individuals
Unaware individuals focus their attention on and pursue worldly desires and expectations as if they were in a trance. They direct all of their efforts toward achieving a higher rank or position and more possessions, and constantly imagine and talk about what they will do with the money they earn. They are so preoccupied with these things that they forget about Allah’s commands and prohibitions. Unable to conceive of Allah’s knowledge and power, they feel under no obligation to respect the limits He has established for humanity.
Remembering Allah stimulates the conscience of those who do not believe in the Hereafter and reminds them of their unawareness. But when they struggle with their egos as to whether they should fulfill their responsibilities to Him or not, they end up clinging to their unawareness. As a result, they feel great inner discomfort whenever Allah’s name is mentioned:
When Allah, the One and Only, is mentioned, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink back, shuddering. But when others apart from Him are mentioned, they jump for joy.
Az-Zumar: 45
Now, let’s examine the general character of these unaware individuals.
They do not remember Allah and the Hereafter and their hearts are filled with worldly ambitions.
Believers’ morality is so deep and sincere that nothing prevents them from remembering Allah and observing the obligatory prayers:
(There are people who are) not distracted by trade or commerce from remembering Allah, performing prayer, and giving alms, fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil.
Al-Nur: 37
But, unlike believers, unaware individuals have their hearts set on this world’s possessions. This makes them always want to have more and a better life, regardless of how they are currently living. They think money can buy them power and recognition and make them happy. First, they want to amass wealth, and then they want to store it and acquire even more. To make this appear legitimate, they make various excuses. By refusing to spend their money to earn Allah’s pleasure, they amass wealth and think only about satisfying their worldly desires. Their fate is described in the Qur’an:
On the Day it is heated up in the fire of Hell, and their foreheads, sides, and backs are branded with it. (They are told): “This is what you hoarded for yourselves, so taste what you were hoarding!”
At-Tawba: 35
… who has amassed wealth and hoarded it! He thinks his wealth will make him live forever. No indeed! He will be flung into the Shatterer.
Al-Humaza: 2-4
Blinded by their desire for worldly possessions, these people are unaware of the fate awaiting them. Having spent their lives obsessed with earning and spending money, they cannot remember Allah, perform their daily prayers, or give money to the poor. However, believers whose hearts are filled only with the desire to win His favor never forget that all of their possessions are no more than His gifts that are to be used to earn His pleasure. Believers, who think only of pleasing Allah and obtaining His mercy, work eagerly so that they may contribute to His religion. Since they cannot become caught up in any other passions, they will always remember Allah, approach Him in prayer, and understand that everything comes from and ultimately belongs to Him. As a result, they will regard their possessions as reminders to thank and praise Him.
Allah gives the example of Prophet Solomon (as) who, although he had great wealth, was neither distracted by it nor made it a focus of ambition; rather, he saw all of it as a reason to thank and praise Him:
When swift horses champing at the bit were displayed before him in the afternoon, he said: “Truly do I love the love of good, with a view to the glory of my Lord,” until the sun disappeared behind its veil.
Sad: 31-32
Until Prophet Solomon (as), Allah had never given anyone such power and wealth. He used these blessings to exalt Allah’s glory and proclaim His religion’s magnificence and honor. He always gave thanks to the true owner of his wealth and possessions.
Unaware people turn their backs on Allah, thinking that wealth, position, and fame can make them happy and content. They enjoy being among people who talk about these things, for in such an environment they can praise themselves and criticize others as well as spend hours watching useless and inane television talk shows:
(Unbelievers are) those whose eyes were blind to My remembrance and whose ears were unable to hear.
Al-Kahf: 101
But believers are not content with possessing worldly goods or participating in useless conversations; rather, they are content only when praising and remembering Him and reading the Qur’an:
… those who believe and whose hearts find peace in the remembrance of Allah. Only in the remembrance of Him can the heart find peace.
Ar-Ra’d: 28
Not using their intellects
In unbelieving societies, the phrase “lack of intelligence” denotes people with mental disabilities and those who behave in an abnormal manner. But in the Qur’an, this phrase refers to those individuals who reject Allah’s existence and that of the Hereafter, who live only to satisfy their own egos. According to this definition, people who lack intelligence are not only found in mental hospitals, but also make up a part of society as a whole.
The mind is one of Allah’s greatest gifts to humanity. Rational people always act according to their consciences; properly appreciate His knowledge and power; and love, fear, and respect Him. They do their best to please Him, to save themselves from Hell’s eternal punishment, and are eager to attain the Hereafter’s endless blessings. In addition, they ponder deeply on Allah’s creation and appreciate His endless power and greatness, In other words they are believers. Those irrational individuals who do not have this ability are described in the Qur’an:
Have they not traveled throughout the land, and do they not have with which hearts to understand or ears with which to hear? It is not their eyes that are blind, but the hearts in their breasts that are blind.
Al-Hajj: 46
The most distinguishing feature of these irrational people is their preference for the life of this world, to which they are so passionately devoted, over that of the Hereafter. And yet Allah warns such people to reflect on this world’s true nature:
The life of this world is nothing but a game and a diversion. The Hereafter is better for those who guard against evil. So will you not use your intellect?
Al-An‘am: 32
Anything you have been given is only the enjoyment of the life of this world and its finery. What is with Allah is better and longer lasting. So will you not use your intellect?
Al-Qasas: 60
We have sent down to you a Book containing a Reminder for you. So will you not use your intellect?
Al-Anbiya’: 10
The perfectly ordered systems and creatures that Allah has created, together with all that they teach us about reality, are beyond the vision of unaware people; they can only be appreciated by believers who use their intelligence. Intelligent, aware believers carefully observe everything in their vicinity and ponder deeply on what they see. In the Qur’an, Allah gives the examples of a mosquito, a honeybee, a spider, and many other creatures He has made to encourage people to think about and appreciate His knowledge, power, and artistry. However, only those believers with intelligence can know their qualities and understand the perfection of living things and their qualities based on what they produce. From these, they can appreciate His power and artistry.
As for unaware individuals, their irrationality causes them to imagine that the creatures they see around them every day are simple and ordinary. To them, a bee just buzzes around and lands on flowers, and a mosquito is just a blood-sucking pest:
The worst of beasts in Allah’ sight are the deaf and dumb (people) who have no intellect.
Al-Anfal: 22
Another important aspect of such people is that since they cannot discriminate between rationality and irrationality, they imagine that they are rational and that it is the rational people who are irrational:
When they are told: “Believe in the way that the people believe,” they exclaim: “What! Are we to believe in the way that fools believe?” No indeed! They are the fools, but they do not know it.
Al-Baqara: 13

Compassion Changed Robber’s Life

December 10, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Evan Buxbaum, CNN

Mohammad Sohail
Long Island Shopkeeper Mohammad Sohail

December 3, 2009 http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/12/03/convenience.store.compassion/index.html

Shopkeeper Mohammad Sohail says he recited an Islamic oath over the would-be robber after he broke into sobs.

New York (CNN) — Six months ago, a Long Island convenience store owner turned a would-be robbery into an act of compassion. On Wednesday, the shoplifter made amends with a $50 bill and a thank you letter for saving him from a life of crime.

The story began in May 2009, when Mohammad Sohail of Shirley, New York, was closing his Shirley Express convenience store one night. Security camera footage from that evening shows a man wielding a baseball bat barging into the store and demanding money.

Sohail had a rifle ready and quickly aimed it directly in the robber’s face, forcing the man to drop the bat and lay on the ground. Unbeknownst to the man, Sohail never loads his gun.

According to Sohail, the man immediately started to plead with him, tearfully saying, “I’m sorry, I have no food. I have no money. My whole family is hungry. Don’t call the police. Don’t shoot me.”

“When I see him starting crying [those] things, I really feel bad for him,” said Sohail. “I say, oh man, this is something different.”

Sohail made the man pledge never to rob anybody ever again, then gave the man $40 and a loaf bread. Sohail, who is from Pakistan, said the man then wanted to be a Muslim like him, so he recited an Islamic oath and gave the would-be robber the name Nawaz Sharif Zardari.

Sohail went to get some milk, but when he returned the man had fled with the money and food.

Both Mohammad Sohail and Suffolk County Police have no idea who the man is. After the May incident, Sohail explained that he will “absolutely not” be pressing charges, though police are still investigating the case.

Over the past six months, Sohail’s story of sympathy and kindness has inspired many across the country.

The Shirley Express store has received numerous letters of admiration. “No person has ever moved my spirit the way you did. From your biggest admirer,” one letter says. “Great men are capable of great acts. You are a great American,” another reads.

He has also received several checks with such messages for “a couple hundred dollars” in total, says Sohail. He has made a point to give this money “to the people” by offering free bagels, rolls and coffee in his store every night after 9 o’clock.

But the envelope that arrived on Wednesday came as a surprise. Postmarked November 11 without a return address, it enclosed a $50 bill and a note apparently from the would-be robber.

The typed letter begins, “You change My Life (sic),” and goes on to say that the man is sorry for his actions six months ago.

“At the time I had No money No food on my table No Job, and nothing for my family. I know that it was wrong, but I had know (sic) choice. I needed to feed My family. When You had That gun to my head I was 100% that I was going to die,” reads the letter.

The letter says Sohail’s acts inspired him to become a “True Muslim” and that his life has changed dramatically.

“I’m very happy that somebody got to change his life,” Sohail said. “If he is a maybe criminal, maybe is not anymore. So now he is a good person in this community and I’m very glad for that. He’s staying out of trouble, he’s not in a jail, he’s taking care of his family.”

But the letter-writer said he actually did convert, “decided to become a true Muslim,” and turned his life around after Sohail, 47, spared his life.

The letter was signed in type: “Your Muslim Brother.”

“That’s the same guy I gave $40 to,” said Sohail, 62, displaying the typewritten letter at his Shirley Express deli yesterday. There was no return address. It was mailed on Long Island the week before Thanksgiving.

“I’m really thrilled,” said Sohail. “I’m very happy for that guy, because he is now doing good for the community.

“He has a job and he is a good person. I really feel great. Thank God he’s doing good. He’s got a new baby and he’s not in jail,” said Sohail.

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The Arab Bailout

October 30, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

bank-op

Vans line up at Gulf Bank to deliver money to the bank branches.

Photo Courtesy www.248am.com.

When news of the U.S. bailout hit the Middle East newswire, the snickering could most likely have been heard halfway around the World. There is no love lost between the U.S. and most Gulf States as the mass majority of Gulf residents view the U.S. as an aggressor and not the liberator they claim to be. However, no one is laughing now as the very first casualty of the World economic crisis, stemming directly from the U.S. bailout, has fallen right in the State of Kuwait, which is sure to send shockwaves to neighboring GCC nations.

One of the most prestigious and trusted financial institutions in Kuwait, Gulf Bank, had to be bailed out by the Kuwaiti government this past week. As Kuwait’s second largest lender, Gulf Bank suffered losses as a result of trading in oil derivatives and its’ own investors refused to help settle those losses. The Central Bank of Kuwait (CBK) has stepped in and is quoted as saying it, “backs the bank and fully guarantees its deposits.” The CBK also halted trading by Gulf Bank in the Kuwait Stock Exchange and sent its’ own surpervisors to deal with risk management. Bank records will be closely scrutinized to determine the scale of the risks the bank took without the knowledge of the CBK.

From the moment the news broke in this tiny Gulf nation, jittery Gulf Bank customers raced to the nearest ATM’s, local branches and even online to immediately withdraw the full balances from their accounts. All of the branches were swarmed with panic-stricken customers and rioting nearly broke out at one of those branches. By the mid-morning of the first day it is estimated that over $100 million US dollars was withdrawn. By the second day, rumors were rife that the all the Gulf Bank branches were under lockdown and customers were being limited as to how much they could withdraw from the ATM machines.

However, to hear Gulf Banks version of the events over the past few days, one might feel like they’ve entered the ‘Twilight Zone’. According to General Manager for Board Affairs Fawzy Al-Thunayan the reason for so many customers descending on the branches of the bank is because, “It’s the time of salaries … It’s the end of the month.” Al-Thunayan also denied that money from CBK is being pumped into his bank despite reports of several armored vehicles being spotted lined up at many of the main branches. 

Weighing in on the turmoil facing Gulf Bank, an employee of one of their main rivals National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) had this to say, “Our bank has been in business since 1952 and we know how to handle our client’s money. If Gulf Bank is having problems, small investors have the right to withdraw their money and look for other banking options.” As the largest lender, by assets, its not surprising that former Gulf Bank customers have been flooding NBK to open up new accounts.

So far Gulf Bank is the first ever Kuwaiti bank to buckle under the pressure of an increasingly uncertain global economy. Other banks in Kuwait are discussing ways to safeguard themselves from falling into a similar situation. A local Arabic daily newspaper has reported that at least four proposals for mergers between Kuwaiti banks have been received by the CBK. By merging into a larger entity, banks can best weather the current economic firestorm.

While Kuwait is the first country to see the demise of one of its’ banks up close and personal, it is not the first country to guarantee bank deposits. The UAE took the preventative measure of calming down its’ investors and clients by guaranteeing all deposits in the first quarter of October 2008.

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