Taking Stock / What a wonderful view!
The protracted holiday season has provided many an opportunity for the papers to publish economic supplements. These, in turn, created an opportunity to see a broader picture not always evident in the bustle of the daily press. What did we learn?
* We learned that the Mossad, which had been the ultimate symbol of Israeli superiority, has - according to an investigative piece in Yedioth Ahronoth - turned into a rotten institution where most of its top employees engage mainly in low politics and in appointing cronies to key positions.
We learned that nobody really knows what's going on at the Mossad. It is not supervised and nobody has a clue whether it fulfills its goals.
After 3,000 words on the internal politics at the hallowed institution, in the very last sentence, we learned that the Mossad's budget has been substantially increased of late.
Great. We don't know how the money we pay in tax is being squandered, but at least we can be confident that the Mossad is milking us dry.
* We learned that there is no wastage in the defense budget, at least according to the outgoing director general of the Defense Ministry, Amos Yaron, in an interview ahead of his departure. He agrees that the eastern front has collapsed and that the geopolitical conditions have changed from top to bottom, but he doesn't see what that has to do with the defense budget. He is also convinced that no contractor or supplier is getting rich off the billions poured into building the separation fence, without any control.
* We learned that Dror Strum, the antitrust commissioner, is perfectly prepared to tackle tough questions on mergers in the retail and energy sectors, and is also willing to admit to mistakes. But one thing he makes crystal clear: He's no idealist. The provenance of his fear that he might be thought to harbor idealism is clear: By today's lights, idealism is pathetic. It is somewhat distasteful. It could be a real burden in a society that measures a man's worth by the rate at which he increases his power and wealth.
* We learned that the press doesn't only see the half-empty glass. Look! According to the Maariv ranking of the richest men in the land, published on Rosh Hashanah eve, the Nimrodi family, which controls Maariv, preserved its wealth in the passing year, dropping only one notch. Meanwhile, its arch-rival Noni Mozes, who publishes Yedioth Ahronoth, plummeted 30 places in the rating, to four ranks below the Nimrodis. True, Maariv posted both operating and net losses during the year, while Yedioth continued to mint money, but that is evidently irrelevant to the fortunes of their publishers, at least according to the Maariv ranking.
* We learned that instead of trying to function as investigative journalists, instead of delving deep into reports and peppering the rich and mighty of the land with tough questions, instead of trying to present the real complexity of reality, it's much nicer to give them a mic to regale us with tales of their successes. You will discover that one and all are modest, hard-working men who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and that the year 5765 smiled upon them.
* We learned that your business can be a dreadful flop for years but continue to make you a lot of money. For years, Housing & Construction has been floundering and presenting sorry results, while its subsidiary, Solel Boneh, continued to lose pots of money. Yet, at the end of last week, Shari Arison and Shlomo Nehama managed to sell their shares in it for four times the price at which they'd bought the shares in the first place.
How did they do it? Simple. They bought it very cheap. A decade back, Nehama sewed up an amazing deal, with the company's management and workers, and he and his group bought the controlling interest from the Histadrut labor federation (hereinafter, "the owners of the abandoned asset") for a company value of just NIS 300 million. That was maybe a third, or half, of its real value.
But the bizarre manner in which the deal had been done haunted the company. The management was afraid of confrontation with the workers, and avoided efficiency measures. The shareholders were afraid to replace the management.
The new investors, billionaires Beny Steinmetz and young financier Zvika Barinboim, were prepared to pay an enormous premium over the company's market cap because they know the company has been paralyzed for years, but it proffers tremendous potential.
* We learned that we have a marvelous country, a flourishing one, a rich one, and an advanced one too: We just have to look at it from the right perspective; that is, through the glasses of the 20 richest men in the land.