Before Vice President Biden’s ill-fated visit to Israel last month, the handwriting was already on the wall. Anyone watching day-to-day events would not have been surprised that U.S. hopes of reopening the Mideast peace talks during Mr. Biden’s visit would have been upended by the announcement of Israeli plans for the construction of 1,600 homes in Arab East Jerusalem. For many months the Israeli police have looked away as Jewish settlers expelled Arab residents and occupied their homes in East Jerusalem. Elsewhere on the West Bank the military has seized more land and demolished homes for expansion of Israel’s security wall. Once-shared religious shrines have been declared Jewish heritage sites; nonviolent protests have been suppressed; and Israeli human rights activists have been harassed by police.
Had the United States chosen to listen, it did have a prophet interpreting events. In January, General David M. Petraeus, chief of the U.S. Central Command, which includes most of the Middle East and Central Asia, had warned the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Israeli policies and its obduracy in the peace process were harming U.S. strategic interests. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes unresolved, the general counseled, Arab and Muslim governments across the region will distrust U.S. initiatives there.
The rift between the United States and Israel that occurred after the Biden snub now goes far deeper than diplomatic niceties over the timing of an unhelpful announcement. It is a seismic clash of strategic visions. American commitment to the Israeli people may be strong, but the alliance between the two nations is pulling apart.
Achieving Step One
Hurrah! The yearlong battle has been won, and the health care reform bill is now the law of the land. Most Americans will benefit from the legislation: the insured who could get sick or lose their job; those with Medicare/Medicaid coverage whose drug payments fall into “the doughnut hole” gap in coverage; and especially the 32 million Americans currently without insurance. But this historic achievement is only the first step in what must be a change of attitude among the body politic. Americans must abandon the notion that health care is a luxury for the privileged and a “fringe benefit” from employers but just a wish for the unlucky rest of the population. The truth is that not only should every American have health coverage, but that most actually can have it—thanks to this bill. Our government has completed a major exercise in “promoting the general welfare,” which the Constitution mandates it to do.
Part two of the required attitude shift will be more difficult to achieve. Having decided to provide nearly universal coverage, we Americans have to decide how to keep expensive health costs under control. The bill takes steps toward containing costs but does not go far enough. How the nation exercises fiscal responsibility matters. It ought not cut off some citizens’ coverage just to rein in costs, any more than a family facing hard times would let two or three members go without food while the rest eat up. Major cost-cutting choices lie ahead. But only a real shift in attitude, one that seeks to promote the common good, will ensure that the right choices are made.
The multigenerational household, long in decline in the United States, is staging a comeback. The number of U.S. families living together that include seniors, working parents and their adult-ish children has hit a 50-year high. During the first year of the current recession, 2007 to 2008, the number of Americans living in such multigenerational households rose by 2.6 million to 49 million people—a little over 16 percent of the total U.S. population.
The Pew Research Center report suggests that this increase continues a trend that began in 1980. Pew attributes the rise of such households to immigrant families moving into the United States and bringing the custom with them, but it reports, on a slightly less positive note, that our foreclosure-spackled economy has also had much to do with the upturn in multigenerational homesteading. With jobs harder to find and marriages delayed five years later than in 1970, children are moving back in with their parents after college even as their grandparents crowd in when their health or incomes require more assistance.
Such arrangements mean less loneliness and better health for older Americans. One can only hope that for the younger generation, they mean a chance to acquire some wisdom from their elders and enjoy economic breathing room to save a little cash.
They are going to need it. An unrelated study reports that the percentage of U.S. workers with virtually no retirement savings grew for the third straight year. According to a survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, workers who reported that they have less than $10,000 in savings grew to 43 percent in 2010, and confidence in their ability to save enough for a comfortable retirement declined to 16 percent of respondents, the second lowest point in the survey’s 20-year history.