Thursday, September 28, 2006

All Holocaust All the Time 5

The NYT Book Review had the Holocaust on the cover for The Lost, but it also figured prominently in the review of Supermob. Rich Cohen, who wrote the Supermob review, has my number. He wrote:

The Holocaust bought the Jews 60 years of protection, six decades in which it was taboo to suggest that a Jewish conspiracy, with its dirty tentacles everywhere, had the system in its grip. After news of the camps spread across America, the Ivy League colleges relaxed quotas, the white-shoe firms started hiring, the country clubs let Jews on the greens. People suddenly realized that if, in less than a decade, the Jewish members of the most sophisticated society in the world could be isolated, stripped of property and killed en masse, perhaps they had not been so powerful after all.
Well, 60 years are up.
So here we go!

Hey, this is what George Allen was banking on when he became Jewish to avoid being called a racist.

On the continuing omnipresence of the Holocaust itself, the review of The Lost has an interesting comment:
Consider, for example, his commentary on the commentaries on the story of Lot’s wife, who was warned not to look back on the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Of course she does turn around and is turned into a pillar of salt. Mendelsohn believes sages like Rashi and other commentators miss the emotional appeal and peril of the backward glance. But Mendelsohn sees the episode as a warning that “regret for what we have lost, for the pasts we have to abandon, often poisons any attempt to make a new life.” For those compelled to look “back at what has been, rather than forward into the future,” he writes, “the great danger is tears, the unstoppable weeping that the Greeks ... knew was not only a pain but a narcotic pleasure, too: a mournful contemplation so flawless so crystalline, that it can, in the end, immobilize you.”
It’s a sentiment that can seem like a challenge to his entire enterprise. But Mendelsohn also seems to suggest that we can’t look forward until we look back, until we know how we came to be who we are — until we know what we have lost. He tries to look back — to see the horror of annihilation — through the eyes of the single family he has brought back to life.
But maybe Genesis had it right. Maybe you should look forward instead of back. If so, then today's Jews risk being turned into a giant pillar of salt. The thrust of both of these comments is that some Jews are getting the message that it's time to move on from the Holocaust, but they are having a hard time doing it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

All Holocaust All the Time 4

When Senator George Allen got in trouble for calling an Asian Indian "macaca," his response was, "Holocaust! You can't accuse me of being racist because I'm a Jew!" According to the Washington Post, it turns out that Allen's mother is Jewish, making his half Jewish, or perhaps according to Jewish law fully Jewish. But he says he is still going to eat ham sandwiches. However, he is trying to insulate himself from charges of racism by instantly becoming a minority, and a persecuted one at that.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dostoevsky on Bush

In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky's lead character, Raskolnikov explains his theory of how some people are above the law. Apparently Bush and Cheney believe they are examples of Raskolnikov's "extraordinary" men to whom ordinary laws do not apply. Dostoevsky says:

There are certain persons who ... have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and ... the law is not for them....

Extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary....

I maintain in my [Raskolnikov's] article that all ... well legislators and leaders of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fact that, making a new law, they transgressed the ancient one, handed down from their ancestors and held sacred by the people, and they did not stop short at bloodshed either, if that bloodshed -- often of innocent persons fighting bravely in defense of ancient law -- were of use to their cause. It's remarkable, in fact, that the majority, indeed, of these benefactors and leaders of humanity were guilty of terrible carnage. (Barnes & Noble Collector's Library, p. 350)
George Bush certainly seems to claim membership in this league of extraordinary individuals who can shed blood with legal impunity.

The Pope would probably agree with Raskolnikov's comments about Mahomet, but if Dostoevsky were to write this today, he might set off riots throughout the Muslim world.

Incompetent Military

Asia Times has a good article about the decline in standards of the US military. This country is led by men who refused to fight and avoided the draft during Vietnam -- Bush, Cheney, and many Congressmen and Senators, excluding of course, McCain, Hegel, Warner, and a minority of others who did serve.

Without a draft and with a bunch of cowardly bullies leading the nation, enlistments in the military by high quality individuals has dropped to almost nothing. As a result, the new soldier is likely to be poorly educated, out of shape, prone to crime, etc. And although this article does not dwell on it, except to note a white supremacist tendency, largely white and Christian. The only counter to this tendency is the attempt to recruit aliens. Basically, it's the best military our trailer parks and slums can produce.

We need a draft quickly and one big enough to add significant manpower to the military, enabling it to increase the US presence in Iraq significantly.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Wolfowitz in Trouble at World Bank

The NYT reports that Paul Wolfowitz is coming under criticism for his leadership at the World Bank. The main gripe, according to the article, is his crusade against corruption, but underlying that gripe is also dislike of the fact that he was the leader of the Iraq war hawks and brought many of his Pentagon cronies with him to the World Bank.

I think Wolfowitz ought to get the boot from the World Bank, even if he appears to be following in the footsteps of his Vietnam war predecessor, Robert McNamara. If they can get rid of him because of this corruption campaign, great, as long as they get him. But they probably won't.

Herbert on "The Stranger in the Mirror"

Bob Herbert's NYT column on "The Stranger in the Mirror" captures well the moral black hole at the center of Bush's policies, which was picked up by Colin Powell in his letter to the Senate regarding treatment of prisoners. Among other things, Herbert says:
There was a time, I thought, when there was general agreement among Americans that torture was beyond the pale....

The character of the U.S. has changed. We’re in danger of being completely ruled by fear. Most Americans have not shared the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few Americans are aware, as the Center for Constitutional Rights tells us, that of the hundreds of men held by the U.S. in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, many “have never been charged and will never be charged because there is no evidence justifying their detention.”

Even fewer care.

Brooks On Bush Failures

David Brooks' column on "Ends without Means" cuts both ways on Bush's administration. He seems to say that W has the "vision thing" that his father, 41, lacked, but W doesn't have the means to carry out the vision, in Iraq in particular, but in other areas as well. On the PBS Newshour, Brooks seemed to be less supportive of Bush than he normally is. For example, he said:
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would say it's something about the political situation here, mostly on the Republican side. You have a lot of Republicans who believed in the war at the start and who have hung with Bush and with the war while growing increasingly depressed over these three years. And now you're beginning to see a lot of them say it's irreparably lost.

Friday, September 15, 2006

All Holocaust All the Time 3

Just another reminder of the omnipresence of the Holocaust. The Washington Post (and many others) report the ordination of the first rabbis in Germany since World War II. You'd think this would no longer be news, 60 years after the war. The war is no longer news, but the Holocaust is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

NYT on Income Inequality

The NYT editorializes that the latest 4.9% blip in labor costs was caused by increases in executives' fat bonuses and stock options, not increases in workers' wages and salaries. Meanwhile, letters to the editor comment on David Brooks' "Populist Myths on Income Inequality," one saying, " listen to Mr. Brooks and his 'let's get skills' message. Mr. Krugman's message of 'let's get 'em' will lead only to further social polarization."

The problem is that if income inequality is not related to education, more education won't help. Some good paying jobs do require education -- engineer, pilot, journalist, professor. But the jobs that pay the really big bucks -- corporate CEO, entrepreneur -- don't require that much education. Bill Gates never finished college. The big bucks jobs that are producing the income inequality require greed, not education. Better education, especially for high school dropouts, might keep some people from sinking below the poverty level, but it's not going to cure income inequality caused by corporate chieftans who keep the bulk of the profits for themselves and don't share with their employees. For that you need government policies like progressive taxation of income and estate taxes, forcing them to share the wealth.

When progressive tax rates were really high -- 75 to 90% -- people complained that there was no incentive to earn more money. Then I thought that was bad, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe we should encourage the fat cats to go spend their ill gotten gains and let someone else start to earn the big bucks.

Monday, September 11, 2006

FT Right on Torture & Globalization

The Financial Times for last Friday was right on the evils of Bush's torture and of globalization. The editorial condemning Bush's use of torture says:

Five years after launching a war on terror that has undermined America's moral authority abroad -- and proved spectacularly counter-productive in the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world -- Mr. Bush seems to have learnt few lessons about why torture and martial law will not win this war for him. For the benefits of intelligence gleaned, if any, are ultimately outweighed by the damage to America's standing at home and abroad
And the op-ed by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, entitled "We have become rich countries of poor people," says:

Unfettered globalization actually has the potential to make many people in advanced industrial countries worse off, even if economic growth increases....

In the US, tax policies have become less progressive; the bulk of recent tax cuts went to the winners, those who had already benefited both from globalization and changes in technology....

The Scandinavian countries have shown there is another way. Investment in education and research and a strong safety net can lead to a more productive and competitive economy.
I hope David Brooks reads this Stiglitz op-ed. Brooks is for education, but not for a strong safety net. Stiglitz also says:
While economic theory predicted there would be losers from globalization, it also said that the winners could compensate the losers. Well-managed globalization can make everyone, or at least most, better off. This has not happened.
This implies that for globalization to work humanely, business leaders, CEOs and others, should take some responsibility for their workers. In my earlier comment on Brooks' column, I said that after the depression and World War II, business leaders who had been through those trials tended to feel a responsibility toward their "troops." They had a shared experience that we no longer have. One downside of our diverse culture is that there is little that we share. While there are charitable impulses to help the downtrodden, there is not the shared feeling that we are all in this together, rich and poor. In business today, it's every man (or woman) for himself (or herself).

Get Wolfowitz Out of World Bank

The Financial Times has it right in criticizing Paul Wolfowitz' performance at the World Bank. It does not call for his removal, but I think that is the best way to improve the bank. Why should the US put a war criminal in to head it up? The FT says:
The Financial Times hoped that Mr Wolfowitz might pleasantly surprise his critics, but his first year at the World Bank was not a success. Surrounding himself with a coterie of advisers from his Pentagon days, he has failed to set a new direction for the bank. His obsessive anti-corruption drive is not a development strategy. The World Bank's complexity - and the complexity of its mission - demand that he now shows some leadership.
I think it is time for him to go. He should never have been there in the first place.

Iraq's Anbar Province Is Lost

The Washington Post reports that the Marines have concluded that Iraq's Anbar province is lost. Why have Bush and Cheney thrown our troops into this losing meatgrinder of a war? As Tom Friedman says, it they were going to fight this war, why didn't they commit enough resources to win?

Five Years after 9/11 & Six Years after the Presidental Debates

Are we better off five years after 9/11? Yes, airline security is better, not much, but a little. That's it. Maybe the LA Times is right, and we are worse off.

The war in Iraq has probably lessened our security, but as Bush says, most of the fighting is over there. Bush loves killing soldiers in Iraq. He wouldn't go to Vietnam, nor would Cheney, but they think it's great to order somebody else to die for America. I watched Cheney yesterday on "Meet the Press," and I believe he is either totally cynical or actually out of touch with reality. Perhaps all that matters to Bush and Cheney is helping out their rich friends. 9/11 interfered with that, but not much. Tax cuts for the rich went ahead as planned. Some of the rich people he helped will look after Bush in his old age. Cheney will gain enough from Halliburton's war profiteering to take care of him and his family in fine style for the rest of his life.

Look at what Bush said in his 2000 debate with Al Gore:
BUSH: Well, I think they ought to look at us as a country that understands freedom where it doesn't matter who you are or how you're raised or where you're from, that you can succeed. I don't think they'll look at us with envy. It really depends upon how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. And it's -- our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that's why we have to be humble. And yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom. So I don't think they ought to look at us in any way other than what we are. We're a freedom-loving nation and if we're an arrogant nation they'll view us that way, but if we're a humble nation they'll respect us.

Yet, Bush has been the most arrogant President in recent history. His arrogance has alienated almost all of America's traditional allies. He should listen to what he said six years ago. Although he did give hints of what was to come:
I want everybody to know should I be the president Israel's going to be our friend. I'm going to stand by Israel. Secondly, that I think it's important to reach out to moderate Arab nations, like Jordan and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It's important to be friends with people when you don't need each other so that when you do there's a strong bond of friendship. And that's going to be particularly important in dealing not only with situations such as now occurring in Israel, but with Saddam Hussein. The coalition against Saddam has fallen apart or it's unraveling, let's put it that way. The sanctions are being violated. We don't know whether he's developing weapons of mass destruction. He better not be or there's going to be a consequence should I be the president. But it's important to have credibility and credibility is formed by being strong with your friends and resoluting your determination. One of the reasons why I think it's important for this nation to develop an anti-ballistic missile system that we can share with our allies in the Middle East if need be to keep the peace is to be able to say to the Saddam Husseins of the world or the Iranians, don't dare threaten our friends. It's also important to keep strong ties in the Middle East, credible ties, because of the energy crisis we're now in. After all, a lot of the energy is produced from the Middle East, and so I appreciate what the administration is doing. I hope to get a sense of should I be fortunate to be the president how my administration will react to the Middle East.
So he warned us that Saddam Hussein was already at the top of his agenda, and that he was joined at the hip with Israel. But what about military commitments. Here's what Bush said:

MODERATOR: You said in the Boston debate, Governor, on this issue of nation building, that the United States military is overextended now. Where is it overextended? Where are there U.S. military that you would bring home if you become president?

BUSH: First let me just say one comment about what the vice president said. I think one of the lessons in between World War I and World War II is we let our military atrophy. And we can't do that. We've got to rebuild our military. But one of the problems we have in the military is we're in a lot of places around the world. And I mentioned one, and that's the Balkans. I would very much like to get our troops out of there. I recognize we can't do it now, nor do I advocate an immediate withdrawal. That would be an abrogation of our agreement with NATO. No one is suggesting that. But I think it ought to be one of our priorities to work with our European friends to convince them to put troops on the ground. And there is an example. Haiti is another example. Now there are some places where I think -- you know, I've supported the administration in Columbia. I think it's important for us to be training Columbians in that part of the world. The hemisphere is in our interest to have a peaceful Columbia. But --

MODERATOR: The use of the military, there -- some people are now suggesting that if you don't want to use the military to maintain the peace, to do the civil thing, is it time to consider a civil force of some kind that comes in after the military that builds nations or all of that? Is that on your radar screen?

BUSH: I don't think so. I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation building core from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war. That's what it's meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops. I strongly believe we need to have a military presence in the peninsula, not only to keep the peace in the peninsula, but to keep regional stability. And I strongly believe we need to keep a presence in NATO, but I'm going to be judicious as to how to use the military. It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the extra strategy obvious.

"When it [the military] gets overextended, morale drops." Did Bush really say this? Does he remember it? In the third debate, Bush was again asked about the military. He said:
BUSH: If this were a spending contest, I would come in second. I readily admit I'm not going to grow the size of the federal government like he is. Your question was deployment. It must be in the national interests, must be in our vital interests whether we ever send troops. The mission must be clear. Soldiers must understand why we're going. The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well-defined. I'm concerned that we're overdeployed around the world. See, I think the mission has somewhat become fuzzy. Should I be fortunate enough to earn your confidence, the mission of the United States military will be to be prepared and ready to fight and win war. And therefore prevent war from happening in the first place. There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not often. The Vice President mentioned my view of long-term for the military. I want to make sure the equipment for our military is the best it can possibly be, of course. But we have an opportunity -- we have an opportunity to use our research and development capacities, the great technology of the United States, to make our military lighter, harder to find, more lethal. We have an opportunity, really, if you think about it, if we're smart and have got a strategic vision and a leader who understands strategic planning, to make sure that we change the terms of the battlefield of the future so we can keep the peace. This is a peaceful nation, and I intend to keep the peace. Spending money is one thing. But spending money without a strategic plan can oftentimes be wasted. First thing I'm going to do is ask the Secretary of Defense to develop a plan so we are making sure we're not spending our money on political projects, but on projects to make sure our soldiers are well-paid, well-housed, and have the best equipment in the world.
Under Bush, the Federal Government has grown enormously, enough to shame the big-spending Democrats. And the military is bogged down in a meatgrinder of a counter-insurgency peace keeping mission in Iraq, just the thing that Bush promised to keep us out of.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

David Brooks on Our Wonderful Slave Economy

David Brooks writes today in the NYT that our economy properly rewards those with the best skills. What's missing from his analysis is any questioning of whether it is best for those who can earn so much more than others to do so.

I think the Depression and service in World War II may have been a great leveler. CEOs in the 50s might have been able to earn as big a differential over their workers as CEOs do today, but they didn't. They were concerned about their "troops." They were pressured by labor unions, which were much more powerful than they are today, but I think they also had some moral considerations. There was a feeling of having been through a lot together. They thought that if it was possible to provide it, workers should have decent health care, enough money to buy a home, to take care of their kids, etc.

Now it's every man (or woman) for themselves. There is no more concern about the troops. This uncaring attitude does work. The world had slavery for thousands of years, from Old Testament Bible days, through the Roman empire up to the American Civil War. A lot of people were very prosperous. Look at the remaining ante-bellum mansions in the South. It wasn't economics that ended slavery.

So, Brooks' argument that today's management bonanza is good economics ignores the issue of whether it is good social policy. It's the job of government to keep society from getting too out of whack. But today, "government" is largely in the employ of K Street, aka, big business. We may drift back to a society more akin to the old days of slave ownership, where illegal immigrants most closely approximate the slaves of old, but someday decency will prevail, either when CEOs become more moral, or when there is rebellion by the latter day slaves and serfs against their billionaire masters.

For the record, I am a hard liner on immigration. Business likes illegal immigrants because it can treat them like slaves. But the answer to me is not to grant liberal benefits to them; it is to make them come legally, and then grant liberal benefits, like health care and social security, to those who come legally. Don't let them in unless they come legally.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

All Holocaust All The Time 2

I just praised Sumner Redstone for working for the US against Japan by breaking Japanese codes during World War II. That's still good, but now, in his picture on the business page of the NYT, what does the background say? "Simon Wiesenthal Center."

I guess they should be grateful. Almost every rich Jew owes his money to Hitler. If it hadn't been for Hitler, there would have been no Holocaust. Without the Holocaust, there would have been no Israel. And Jews would not have benefited in other ways from the sympathy. Any time a Jew is accused of anything, the immediate cry is, "Holocaust! Anti-Semitism!" And the Anglos back down. Without Hitler, many Jews would still be living in rural Poland, Ukraine, or Belarus, if it hadn't been for Holocaust. So, Redstone and his fellow Jewish billionaires owe their billions to the poor Jews who died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the other death camps. But I do get tired of hearing about it.

When I grew up in Alabama, we used to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, which arguably is the same sort of thing -- a holiday remembering those who died for a lost cause. But it wasn't on the front page of the NYT every other day. It was more a family thing. Israel should thank the Holocaust for its existence, but why do we, the United States, have a Holocaust memorial on the National Mall when as far as I know, no American citizens died in the Holocaust. Have a memorial to Jewish war veterans? Sure. But the Holocaust museum is to some extent anti-American, because it criticizes Roosevelt (implicitly or explicitly) for not invading Europe sooner to shut down the concentration camps.

FT Supports Walt and Mearsheimer

Just to try to support my position as not being too racist, the Financial Times supports Walt and Mearsheimer's efforts to call attention to the influence of the Israeli lobby. The Israeli lobby plays a major role in many foreign policy issues and deserves to be examined.

Afghanistan Down the Tubes Too

The US appears to be foundering in Afghanistan almost at the same level it is foundering in Iraq. The New York Times ran a huge article about America's failures in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, while the Financial Times ran three separate articles on Tuesday about how badly the war (or the reconstruction) is going there, a front page article and two opinion pieces.

One of the main problems is that Afghanistan is reverting to its poppy growing heroin ways under Taliban influence. It's ironic that Afghanistan finally began to break its reliance on heroin under a Taliban government that ruthlessly punished heroin trafficking, but now that the Taliban is on the outside, it is encouraging opium production.

The other problem is the breakdown in security, as in Iraq. This is due mainly to the Bush administration's failure to commit enough military force to do the job, as in Iraq. Now NATO is taking over the military job, and is paying the price for the American failures.

Adding to the problems in Afghanistan, and to Bush's lack of credibility on terrorism issues, is Pakistan's decision to keep hands off Osama bin Laden, who presumably is in western Pakistan.

Monday, September 04, 2006

How Serious Is The Terrorist Threat?

USA Today reports that prosecutions for terrorist acts are down. Either there is not much of a terrorist threat, or the US Government is not finding it.

The first article in the current Foreign Affairs magazine argues that the terrorist threat to the US has been overblown. The summary of the article is:

Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable -- but rarely heard -- explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.
President Bush is probably truly scared. I think he is a coward. He was asleep at the switch and allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur. They could have been prevented by slightly better airport security. All this Homeland Security TSA nonsense is largely irrelevant. It has helped prevent hijackings, but so would have slightly beefed up security of the pre-9/11 variety.