What will the year 2014 hold in store?
In the past I’ve attributed the following quotation to Yogi Berra, the beloved former catcher for the New York Yankees: “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”
However, after a few minutes of intensive Web research (quoteinvestigator.com), it could be that an unknown Danish writer first coined the comical proverb, around 1948. However, the saying has been attributed variously to Yogi, Danish physicist Niels Bohr and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn.
Whatever its true provenance, the statement highlights the perils of the journalistic practice of divining what epochal events will take place in the coming (Gregorian) calendar year. The year-end recap is a better bet.
Which reminds me that Time magazine chose Pope Francis as its Person of the Year. I kind of like the new pope, but would have picked Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on the National Security Agency’s mass data collection practices. At substantial personal risk to his freedom, Snowden has showed us that we live in a heightened high-tech version of the surveillance state described in George Orwell’s 1984. We now know that the NSA has access to all of our e-mail and Web searches, and logs every phone call we make.
There have been attempts by our elected representatives to bring this creepy police state regime into the light of day. At a congressional hearing on March 12, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the son of Holocaust survivors from Germany, asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:
“Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No sir… not wittingly.”
In the aftermath of the release of NSA documents by Snowden, we know that this was a rather egregious lie.
Outside of the United States, there has been some negative feedback vis-à-vis the NSA surveillance regime from the leaders of Brazil and Germany, who were spied upon. (Regarding the NSA and Israel, the Guardian newspaper reported in September that details of an intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and “its Israeli counterpart that shows the U.S. government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and e-mails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.” So, Bibi Netanyahu also apparently has access to your Web surfing history. You don’t mind, do you?)
As I write at the tail end of 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived for his 10th visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, in the hopes of hammering out a peace deal. We are 20 years on from the Oslo Accords, and the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat on the South Lawn of the White House. There has been a lot of blood flowing under the bridge since 1993; and, although the warring parties agreed this past summer to resume negotiations, no one seems to be very happy about the proceedings.
Israelis I talked with this past June, during my seventh visit to Israel, were very skeptical that a deal would be reached within the nine-month window that closes in a few months. Only one individual, Gershon Baskin, a veteran of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the man who helped negotiate back channel talks between Israel and Hamas for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, had an upbeat view of peace breaking out in Israel and Palestine.
(By the way, Baskin will come to the States again in March for a lecture tour. His new book, The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas, is available in a new English language edition from The Toby Press. If you would like to help bring Baskin to the Twin Cities for a provocative discussion, please contact me.)
Beyond the domestic surveillance state and the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we will enjoy the spectacle of congressional and state elections in 2014. Always a fun time — especially when Jon Grunseth is running for governor.
This year, Minnesota will choose a governor and a U.S. senator, although no formidable Republican candidates have emerged to unseat the DFL incumbents, Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken. Also, Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, is running for Minnesota secretary of state, a post which has been filled admirably by Mark Ritchie for the past seven years. And on the state level, Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, is leaving his House post, and he deserves our gratitude for trying to reform Minnesota’s gun control laws in the aftermath of the tragic mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., and at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis.
It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future; but I confidently predict that the American Jewish World will have a lot of news to report in the coming year. And the editors and staff here wish all of our readers a happy and peaceful secular new year.
— Mordecai Specktor
(American Jewish World, 1.3.14)