Wednesday, August 30, 2006

All Holocaust All the Time

Two recent articles point out how the press and the business/legal world is all Holocaust all the time. The Financial Times reports that Jews are suing the French railway SNCF for transporting Jews to concentration camps during World War II. Apparently one case has already been won Alain Lipietz.

The New York Times reports that a Jewish artist who painted Gypsies at Auschwitz wants her paintings back, which are currently on display at the prison camp museum in Poland. What is interesting about this is that Gypsies, whom she painted, went thought the same Holocaust, but have in general suffered much more since then than the Jews, who like Ms. Babbitt have become upper or middle class, while the Gypsies remain mired in poverty. (See, for example, this FT article on the Roma (Gypsies) of Slovakia.) Why should Ms. Babbitt profit more from painting these Gypsies than the Gypsies who served as her models under Dr. Mengele's orders. She cooperated with Dr. Mengele in portraying what was to Dr. Mengele the Gypsies' racial inferiority. Shouldn't the poor Gypsies get some kind of war reparations against her instead of her getting something from Poland?

Her position raises indirectly a question that bothers me: What did the Jews, who now scream "Holocaust!" at the top of their lungs do to stop it? What percentage of Jews fought in combat in Europe to free to prison camps. I have a cousin in Alabama (a Christian, redneck state) who took part in liberating a concentration camp in Germany. How many American Jews in the military liberated their brother Jews from these prisons? My impression is that many of them (e.g., Roosevelt's Treasury Secretary Morganthau) leaned on Roosevelt to send more Christian soldiers to die liberating Jews, while they stayed behind to profit from the war.

Certainly Israel would not have been created had it not been for the Holocaust, which Jews used as an argument for the state's creation. They had been trying for years to create Israel, and the Holocaust was what made their previous unsuccessful efforts, ultimately successful.

I'd like to know prominent Jews today asked their fathers, "What did you do in the war daddy to save Jews from the Holocaust?" What did Robert Rubin's father do? What did Stuart Eizenstat's father do? What did Sandy Weil's father do? What did Haim Saban's father do? What did Martin Indyk's father do? What did Sen. Schumer's father do? What did Raum Emanuel's father (or grandfather) do?

An exception, Sumner Redstone, worked breaking Japanese codes during WW II. Hooray for him! Sen. Spector's father served in WW I. Good for him!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Did Richard Armitage Leak Valerie Plame's Name?

Update: The NYT reports that Armitage has admitted that he was Novak's source.

It seems more and more likely that Colin Powell's deputy at State, Richard Armitage, leaked Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak, as Political Animal says. Richard Armitage seems to be a straight shooter, which would justify Novak's comment that his source was not a partisan gun slinger. However, if that's the case, why hasn't Armitage come forward? Novak called for his source to identify himself last week on "Meet the Press."

It's possible that Armitage did not leak Plame's name, but only mentioned something about Amb. Joe Wilson's wife. Then Novak may have looked up Joe Wilson in Who's Who, where I think Wilson's wife is listed as Valerie Plame.

It seems likely that Armitage is cooperating with Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald on the Plame case, and thus may be a witness when Scooter Libby's case comes to trial, but we may not know before then.

How Reliable Are Productivity Estimates?

Reporting on the Federal Reserve retreat in Jackson Hole, the Financial Times said:
Gene Grossman, a professor at Princeton, offered the central bankers a new way of thinking about the problem [of globalization's downward pressure on most wages], which paints offshoring in a more positive light. He argued that we should think about trade not as an exchange of good but an "exchange of tasks". If some tasks that used to be performed onshore are offshored to lower-cost locations, the result will be an increase in the productivity and wages of workers who perform related tasks that cannot easily be offshored.

Analysis of the US from 1997 to 2004 suggests this positive productivity effect could outweigh the negative labor supply effect on wages in sectors where there had been a lot of offshoring. But it does not appear large enough to offset the broader negative effect on low-skilled wages arising from the ongoing fall in the relative price of labour-intensive goods.
Although even this analysis concludes that offshoring is a mixed blessing, to me it indicates the difficulty in separating offshoring from productivity estimates. I am inclined to believe that much of ex-Fed chair Greenspan's touting of productivity increases to account for the lack of inflationary pressure is really due to offshoring. For example, because of the lower wages, businesses can hire several foreigners for the salary of one American. They will produce more work (be more productive) for the same cost to the business. Thus, if you look at an income statement, it looks as if you get more output for the same input, but the only difference is that more work is being done overseas. Automation, computers, networking, etc., do make American workers more productive, but can you separate out those factors from offshoring? I don't think so, at least not well. All of which means that the only people benefiting from the increase in "productivity" are those at the top of the pyramid, CEOs and a handful of senior executives. The average workers suffer, not only the "low-skilled" mentioned by Grossman.

Interestingly, the article below this one in the FT is "Flows that slip through statisticians' hands."

Monday, August 28, 2006

How Far Back Should Jewish Claims Go?

I am not a big fan of changing ownership of items after many years have passed. It's true that some people ended up with assets unjustly, but it's not clear to me that their heirs, or the people that they sold the assets to, should lose the items unless they themselves engaged in some dishonest behavior. There should be some kind of a statute of limitations, and now that World War II ended more than 60 years ago, the statute of limitations should have run. We should pick up from here and move on.

The main argument against this is the Holocaust, which arguably was so terrible, that it, like murder, should have no statute of limitations. If that's the case, then I would argue that you should go all the way back. Look at how some of these wealthy Jews who are recovering property lost in World War II acquired that property in the first place. Did they acquire it in a totally honest, legal, moral way? If so, let it go to their heirs. If not, then undo the illegal or immoral transactions, even if you have to go back to the 16th or 17th century, and give the title to the heirs of whoever was the last moral title holder.

This would not apply to payments to ordinary people who are getting a few thousand dollars decades after suffering in concentration camps. It would apply to multimillion dollar settlements that are being fought in court. If the fortune originally came from profits from the slave trade, or exploitation of colonial peoples, for example, then don't undo the last 50 years of transactions.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Pyrrhic Victory on Lebanon Truce

Washington (Condi Rice and John Bolton) succeeded in getting a UN resolution on ending the Lebanon war that was acceptable to the US and Israel. However, it is not acceptable to many other countries, hence the difficulty getting other countries (like France) to commit troops. If nobody will commit troops, then the peace agreement will fail. Maybe we want it to; that will let Israel try again to destroy Hezbollah. But if they didn't do it the first time, they may not do any better the second try.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Friedman Is Right on Iraq

Tom Friedman is exactly right in today's NYT: If Iraq is such an important war, as Cheney and company claim, why didn't they fight it like they meant it, instead of trying to do it on the cheap.

I agree with Tom Friedman frequently, as I do with a lot of Jews. The problem is Israel. For too many Jewish Americans, Israel is more important that America. Perhaps Friedman is not so caught up in that because he spent so much time in Lebanon earlier in his career. But there are others. I was not a fan of James Wolfensohn at the World Bank, but in retirement, he stood up for the Palestinians, despite being Jewish. He is like Amb. Martin Indyk, an immigrant from Australia, but I think Wolfensohn made his mark regardless of being Jewish, while Indyk was picked to be US Ambassador to Israel, and now senior honcho at Brookings, because he is Jewish. When I was in the Foreign Service, I always suspected people who specialized in their country of origin, whether Polish-Americans who went back to serve in Poland, Italian-Americans who went back to serve in Italy, Jews who went to Israel, or whatever. In some cases that nationality connection leads to hatred instead of love of the old fatherland; many of the Russian emigree Soviet experts in the old Cold War days were the most rabid anti-Soviets. Therefore, I don't think my problem is with Jews per se, but with Israel, and Jews who feels a very strong allegiance to Israel, in many cases surpassing their allegiance to the US.

Israel definitely needs to clean up its act, unless it wants to be regarded as just another third world country like Uganda or Paraguay.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fiasco - Tom Ricks on Iraq

Tom Ricks book Fiasco starts off with criticism of the politicians who started the Iraq war, but in the middle (which is as far as I have gotten) mainly focuses on the failures of the military, particularly the Army, to prosecute the war correctly. Despite my experience as draftee in the Vietnam war, I sympathize with the Army, which still does most of the real fighting, followed by the Marines. But Ricks focuses primarily on the failures of the senior generals, rather than the troops in the field. It sounds like Vietnam, where arguably we won all the battles but lost the war because of failures of the politicians and the senior military leadership.

A very odd parallel with Vietnam is that Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense McNamara went to head up the World Bank, and Iraq-era Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz followed in his footsteps. What does America have against the World Bank?

Anyway, some points in Fiasco that caught my attention:

p. 30: "Perle and Wolfowitz quickly began [after 9/11] to make the case that 9/11 was precipitated by a myopic and false realism that wrongly had sought accommodation with evil. 'The idea that we could live with another 20 years of stagnation in the Middle East that breeds ... terrorism is ... just unacceptable...,' Wolfowitz later told the Jerusalem Post." Interestingly, Perle was one of the owners/editors of the Jerusalem Post. Why should two "Americans" be talking about American policy to the Jerusalem Post? What's wrong with American papers. Americans should not be making policy through Israel.

p. 49: Cheney lies to the Veterans of Foreign Wars about WMD. He said, "'There is no doubt' that Iraq possessed ... WMD." "In retrospect, the speech was even more stunning than it appeared then, because it has become clear with the passage of time that it constructed a case that was largely false."

p. 50: One of Ricks' sources appears to be Gen. Zinni. He says that Zinni liked and thought he agreed with Cheney from Cheney's days as Defense Secretary during Gulf War I. Zinni was at Cheney's VFW speech. Ricks says of Zinni, "He couldn't figure out the change in Cheney.... 'When he [Cheney] sort of got tied up and embraced all this, it seemed out of character, it really confused me.' What he didn't know then was that Cheney had changed -- perhaps because he knew the Bush administration hadn't performed well in heeding warnings before 9/11, or perhaps because of his heart ailments, which can alter a person's personality." I would add the possibility that Cheney's job as CEO of Halliburton may have changed him, either the big money, or something in the water in Texas which seems to have corrupted many in the Bush administration. Cheney is now a Texan, despite some questionably legal device to claim he lived in Wyoming, so that he could run for Vice-President with Bush.

p. 53: "Richard Perle's influence in the events leading up to war likely has been overstated. At the time the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, he also seems to have wielded some influence with the office of Vice President Cheney. Perle's main role, at least in public, seems to have been the one willing to be quoted in the media, saying in public what his more discreet allies in the Bush administration, such as I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, would say to reporters only on background."

p. 64: "In October, the Atlantic Monthly, which would do an exemplary job in posing the right questions about Iraq both before and after the invasion, carried a clarion call by James Fallows titled 'The Fifty-first State?' Fallows began by explicitly rejecting the analogy to the 1930s on which Wolfowitz so relied. 'Nazi and Holocaust analogies have a trumping power in many arguments, and their effect in Washington was to make doubters seem weak -- Neville Chamberlains, versus the Winston Churchills [see recent David Brooks column in the NYT] who were ready to face the truth,' he wrote. But 'I ended up thinking that the Nazi analogy paralyzes the debate about Iraq rather than clarifying it.' Yes, Saddam was brutal. But Iraq was hardly a great power.... The US military had been confronting it and containing it successfully for over a decade. So, Fallows said,.... 'If we had to choose a single analogy to govern our thinking about Iraq, my candidate would be World War I.'" [My view is that WW I is also an apt analogy for the recent Israel-Lebanon war. In any case, the Holocaust connection shows that there is a uniquely Jewish component to the Iraq war.]

p. 73: Ricks has a low opinion of Jerry Bremer's job as American pro-consul in Iraq. Discussing the findings of a pre-war conference, Ricks says, "They specifically advised against the two major steps that Amb. Bremer would pursue in 2003.... The Iraqi army should be kept intact because it could serve as a unifying force in a country that could fall apart under US control.... They likewise were explicit in warning against the sort of top-down 'de-Baathification' that Bremer would mandate. Rather, they recommended following the example of the US authorities in post-World War II Germany."

p. 77: Ricks points out the strong role the Holocaust played in the thinking of the key characters, many of whom were Jewish. "For Feith, as for Wolfowitz, the Holocaust -- and the mistakes the West made appeasing Hitler in the 1930s, rather than stopping him -- became a keystone in thinking about policy. Like Wolfowitz, [Douglas] Feith came from a family devastated by the Holocaust. His father lost both parents, three brothers, and four sisters to the Nazis. 'My family got wiped out by Hitler, and ... all this stuff about working things out -- well talking to Hitler to resolve the problem didn't make any sense to me,' Feith later told Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker in discussing how World War II had shaped his views."

p. 89: I agree with Ricks that Rumsfeld's two choices to head up the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Generals Myers and Pace, have been real losers. About Myers, Ricks says, "Congress faced an unusually strong secretary of defense and an unusually weak chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Myers ... seemed an incurious man, and certainly not one to cross a superior.... Inside the military, he was widely regarded as the best kind of uniformed yes-man -- smart, hard working, but wary of independent thought. The vice chairman [now chairman], Pace was seen as even more pliable, especially by fellow Marines."

p. 99: Discussing Gen. Eric Shinseki's controversial testimony to Congress that hundreds of thousands of troops would be necessary to occupy Iraq, Ricks quotes Andrew Bacevich: "Shinseki was offering a last-ditch defense of military tradition that Wolfowitz was intent on destroying, a tradition that saw armies as fragile, that sought to husband military power, and that classified force as an option of last resort." "That subtext about the nature of military force and the wisdom of using it in Iraq may have been one reason the effects of the exchange between Shinseki and Wolfowitz were so far reaching." Ricks quotes an unnamed senior general as saying, "The people around the president were so, frankly, intellectually arrogant.... They knew that postwar Iraq would be easy and would be a catalyst for change in the Middle East. They were making simplistic assumptions and refused to put them to the test.... These are educated men, they are smart men. But they are not wise men."

p. 101: On February 21 and 22, 2003, the original nominee to be American pro-consul in Iraq, retired general Jay Garner, held a meeting on postwar Iraq. The attendants included "Abram Shulsky from Feith's policy office in the Pentagon, Elliot Abrams from the National Security Council, Eric Edelman and others from Cheney's office," in other words a good contingency of Jews. However, Ricks says, "Of all those speaking those two days, one person in particular caught Garner's attention.... 'There was this one guy who knew everything, everybody,a nd he kept on talking.'" The man was Tom Warrick from the State Department, where he headed a project called the Future of Iraq. Garner asked Warrick to come work for him, but Ricks continues, "Garner, a straightforward old soldier, didn't realize that he had walked into the middle of a running fued between the State Department and the Defense Department.... Apparently there was some sort of ideological test they [Warrick and other State employees] had failed, but it was all very mysterious to Garner, even to the extent of exactly who was administering the exam." Soon Rumsfeld told Garner he had to get rid of the State people. "Garner then had one of his staffers call around national security circles in the government to find out what was going on. 'He was told the word had come from Cheney.'"

p. 120: Ricks says that criticism of Iraq war deployments from senior military veterans got under JCS chairman Myers skin. "He was in the difficult position of being a career pilot and Air Force officer responding to the views of men who had been senior commanders in ground combat."

p. 136: I thought the looting that followed the Americans' arrival in Baghdad was awful, and that Rumsfeld's "Stuff happens!" remark was atrocious. I was glad to see that Ricks says it had consequences: "Rumsfeld's fundamental misunderstanding of the looting in Iraq, and the casual manner in which he expressed it, not only set back US forces tactically, but also damaged the strategic standing of the United States, commented Fred Ikle, who had been the Penatagon's policy chief during the Reagan administration.... He wrote, 'America lost most of its prestige and respect in that episode. To pacify a conquered country, the victor's prestige and dignity is absolutely critical.' This criticism was leveled by a man who not only had impeccable credentials in conservative national security circles, but actually had brought Wolfowitz to Washington from Yale during the Nixon administration."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Another Failed War Effort

The New Yorker magazine reports that the US was heavily involved in helping Israel plan its attacks on Hezbollah before the war started last month. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the US got frantically busy organizing the Mid-East ceasefire on the Israel-Lebanon border after it became clear that Israel was failing to remove Hezbollah from the border area. Therefore, it appears that the US plan to eliminate Hezbollah by airpower alone did not work, and even using significant numbers of Israeli ground troops did not work.

If Seymour Hersh is right and this border war was a preparatory war for a US invasion of Iran, it's good we found it did not work. In some ways the Spanish Civil War was a preparatory war for World War II. The question is, did the neo-cons who want to invade Iran -- Cheney and company -- learn from the Israel-Lebanon war, or not?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Cowardly Response to Terror

NBC reports that the US and Britain disagreed over the timing to arrest the plotters to blow up aircraft flying from the UK to the US. Britain wanted to wait for the plotters to take some overt action; the US wanted to act immediately. Britain wanted to catch the plotters in the act. The US was afraid to wait. The British judicial system requires real evidence; terrorist prosecutions in the US (or in Guantanamo) are star chamber persecutions, because the government is afraid to allow the guarantees to a fair trial provided in the Constitution. And the Bush administration is made up of cowards, who were afraid to confront the plotters. They are bullies who panicked when informed of the plot. Bush and Cheney were draft dodgers during Vietnam. The younger members of the administration are no better. It's a sad day for America!

Friday, August 11, 2006

How Should Israel Defend Itself?

Granted, Israel has a right to defend itself, a right that it has exercised many times since it was created after World War II. Israel has more or less won each of its battles for self preservation, the earlier ones more decisively than the later ones. Despite these victories, it still faces threats from without (Hezbollah) and within (Hamas). It might be in a much better position if it had been more magnanimous in victory as the US was after World War II, restoring both Germany and Japan to major power status. Israel seems doomed to repeat the West's mistakes in trying to keep Germany in subjection after World War I.

Israel might argue that it has recently tried to follow the WW II model by withdrawing from Gaza and Lebanon, and that this effort failed, as illustrated by the current war. I would argue that one or two years of positive effort may not be enough to offset fifty years of negative effort, and that the positive effort has not been enough. It has ignored the West Bank and Jerusalem, for example.

Some argue that Bush represents the Churchillian response to evil, exemplified in WW II by Nazi Germany. However, this view overlooks the possibility that Hitler would never have risen to power if the Allies had not imposed such strict terms on Germany after WW I. Arguably, since the Israelis have emulated the Versailles example, they are doomed to repeat their version of WW II. Maybe they have created their own mini-Hitlers in Muslim countries. If they have, unfortunately, these mini-Hitlers also target the US because of its unquestioning support of Israel. So, we will reap the whirlwind that Israel sowed, and that we fertilized in Iraq.

Pakistan Is Terrorist Hotbed

The recent arrests of some of the British skyjacking team in Pakistan points out the extent to which terrorists use Pakistan as a headquarters, not the least of whom is Osama bin Laden. If there is a connection to Al-Qaeda, as several reports suggest, then the US failure to capture bin Laden becomes a larger and larger failure. Bush needs to get on the stick and catch bin Laden before bin Laden strikes again. The Brits are doing a good job, but what is the US doing?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Brookings Saban Center Tax Cheat

The Brookings Institution "Saban Center" was named for Haim Saban, an Israeli-American who became a billionaire from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers cartoons. Former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, an Australian, is the head of the center. Now the New York Times reports that Saban is one of the most flagrant billionaire tax cheats identified by the IRS.

Mel Gibson would probably agree with me that the Saban Center does not have America's best interests at heart. Brookings should register as a representative of a foreign government (Israel) if it has not already done so. The Democrats, who send many temporarily out of office officials to Brookings between Democratic administrations, should beware that they do not compromise their value. Now, every time I see a Brookings flunky on the PBS "Newshour" or "Meet the Press," I'll question their motives and their loyalty to the US.

Article on Dual Loyalty of DOD's Jews

Until I read this article, it had not occurred to me that Steve Bryen was Jewish. But it figures. He was one of Richard Perle's hangers-on at the Pentagon.

I guess there is a large group of people, President Bush included, who believe that Israel's and America's interests are identical. I don't think this is necessarily the case; we may have some interests in common, but there are issues where our interests diverge. The best example is the US descent into some kind of hell in Iraq as a result of following policies espoused by Israel. It's odd that American politicians seem happy to send Christian soldiers to die for Israeli interests in Iraq, and even odder that the Christian soldiers seem happy to die for Israel. Interestingly there are very few black or Hispanic soldiers, nor are there many from middle and upper class families. They mostly come from lower class, white backgrounds, probably from evangelical Christian backgrounds who believe Armageddon is coming in Israel.

I have been distressed that the PBS Newshour, which I usually think tries to be unbiased by having participants from different sides of an issue, has had almost (?) exclusively Jews to talk about the current Israeli war in Lebanon. First, they had Robert Malley and Amb. Martin Indyk, more recently they have had Aaron Miller and Michael Ruben. Aaron Miller was part of Dennis Ross' Middle East negotiating team formed by Secretary of State Jim Baker. I didn't know and didn't care until after I left State that they were all Jewish. Similarly, Richard Haass, the new head of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served at State, is Jewish. These people cannot be unbiased when the issue is Israel, because Israel is a Jewish state.