Editorial | The Clock Is Ticking

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It seems to be culturally appropriate to welcome the secular New Year with revelry by night and hangover by day. Newspaper articles last Sunday, for instance, featured recipes and advice designed to cure the nausea and headaches induced by hours of frenetic partying.

But a hangover needn’t be a physical phenomenon. It can be a regional, national or global affair, occasioned by the reality of a new year of challenges sinking in. If 2016 was the year of political revolution, 2017, it seems, will be the year of making sense of all the chaos.

Moving from the International Date Line west, in keeping with the march of time that successively said good riddance to the previous year in its journey across the globe, events in the Far East will prove difficult to control, much less respond to appropriately, for not only President-elect Donald Trump but the entire international system.


China will continue to test norms of behavior as it seeks to solidify territorial claims to the Spratly Islands, while a Taiwan emboldened by overtures from the incoming U.S. administration might choose now as the proper time to challenge the One-China policy foisted upon it by its overbearing mainland neighbor.

On the subcontinent, continued conflict between India and Pakistan seems likely, but more worrisome for Americans, as well as the Jewish community and anyone concerned with events in Israel and the wider Middle East, is the continued development and exportation of terrorism along the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran axis first to Gaza and Syria and from there, on to western capitals like Paris and Berlin.

Mideast instability, in fact, does not appear to be making an exit anytime soon. New Year’s itself saw a terror attack on an Istanbul nightclub by a gunman inspired by the Islamic State and supposedly in response to Turkey’s actions in the Syrian civil war. But a ceasefire being guaranteed by Turkey and Russia between the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebel factions, even if it holds, will likely embolden a hegemonic Iran — newly enriched by 2015’s nuclear deal — that for years has financed the strongman.

And let’s not forget the tiny Jewish state, whose position among a sea of Arab neighbors was made more precarious by last month’s American-engineered U.N. Security Council condemnation of its presence in Judea and Samaria. The tentacles of yet another corruption investigation in Jerusalem is threatening to ensnare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the fallout from the U.N. vote alone might bring a new round of elections.

In Europe, far-right leaders appear poised to seize control across the continent, while in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May will begin the two-year process of extricating her country from the European Union. In Africa, unrest in South Sudan, Gambia and a host of other countries will likely further rob large swaths the continent of the progress that has been so long in coming, while across the Atlantic, upheaval in South America will continue to gut countries such as Brazil and Venezuela that in the not-so-distant past were rising powers.

Turning north, we come to the United States, where uncertainty might well become the buzzword of the year. No one really knows how the new president will govern, but Republicans in Congress have already provided a clue to how they’ll wield power in Washington: In a closed-door meeting on Monday, members of the majority caucus in the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to scrap the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics. While Trump has pledged to “drain the swamp” in the nation’s capital, those on Capitol Hill appear less eager to do the same.

But for those of us here in the commonwealth, international concerns and congressional shenanigans — though incredibly important — might not have the same impact on our day-to-day lives as the budget battle now shaping up in Harrisburg. Yet again, Pennsylvania faces a major shortfall and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican leaders in the legislature will again place their collective thumbs in the dike.

At issue is the classic battle between “tax and spend” on the one hand, “cut and cut” on the other, and any combination of the two. Pretty much everything is reasonably in the crosshairs, although no one has yet threatened to do away with the corporate tax breaks that have enabled private day school education to be more affordable for so many of our community’s families.

This much is sure, however: Whatever comes out of the state capital will not address the root problems facing the commonwealth, which — because of the continued exodus of jobs and people to the Sun Belt — stands to lose at least one seat in Congress after the results of the 2020 census.

How to answer and address the continued decay in the state’s economic and human capital base should be the No. 1 issue for decision makers. Education reform is part of it, although it’s going to take a lot more than universal pre-K funded by a 1.5 cents per ounce beverage tax — which took effect on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia — to provide the kind of opportunities children living in entrenched poverty need to succeed.

Are the problems too big for politicians along to solve? In a word, yes. Fundamentally what will be needed to make 2017 a year of optimism is finally retiring the idea that anything is someone else’s problem to solve. Decreased public spending — a necessity for any reasonable budget package in today’s environment — will put more pressure on nonprofit institutions. And the poverty that has rendered swaths of Philadelphia and pockets of surrounding areas locales of despair will require entire communities to fix it.

Such responsibilities can give anyone a headache. But with the first week of 2017 already done, we’re running out of time to turn things around.

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]

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