Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bible Prophecies about Israel 1

Isaiah Chapter 8 verses 13-15

13 Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.

And Ezekiel Chapter 6
1  And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
2  Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them,
3  And say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God; Thus saith the Lord God to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys; Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.
4  And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and I will cast down your slain men before your idols.
5  And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.
6  In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished.
7  And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the Lord.
8  ¶ Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.
9  And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.
10  And they shall know that I am the Lord, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them.
11  ¶ Thus saith the Lord God; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.
12  He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them.
13  Then shall ye know that I am the Lord, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols.
14  So will I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath, in all their habitations: and they shall know that I am the Lord.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

America's Lost Greatness

As the debate about the fiscal cliff drags on, it is becoming clearer to me that the US has lost its greatness.  It is no longer the biblical city on a hill envisioned by Reagan.  Our leaders are no longer concerned about our nation, they are concerned about themselves -- their power, their wealth, their position,  No one puts their country first.

We are supposed to have a democracy that allows the people to choose good leaders, but they have chosen poorly.  Too many of our leaders are stupid, selfish, greedy, corrupt, or worse.  One of the worst things as been the capture of the political system by moneyed interests.  A few years in government are just preparation for making real money as a lobbyist, consultant, or businessman selling to the government.  Another real problem is gerrymandering, making congressional districts safe for incumbents.  The House of representatives should be the most in touch with the people's needs, but it has become less and less responsible to them.  Congressmen's main concern is keeping their donors happy, most of whom live outside of their districts.

So, it looks like we will either continue to run trillion dollar annual deficits, or we will fall off the fiscal cliff into a deep recession, neither of which would be necessary.  Economists have good ideas about how to avoid both disasters, but our leaders are not listening.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Obama Failed Me

I didn't want to vote for Obama, but between Obama and Romney, Obama was the better choice. I was going to vote for a third party candidate, but ironically thanks to some Wall Street Journal Internet test of political positions, I found that both of the third party candidates were too radical for me. I have voted for Ralph Nader in the past, because I thought he was a good, honest man, unlike the major party candidates. This year however, I didn't know anything about the Green Party or the Libertarian Party candidates, and according to the Wall Street Journal they both espoused extreme positions. I often agreed with the Green Party on economic issues, but not on social issues. Similarly I often agreed with the Libertarians on social issues, but not on economic/financial issues. I think the Fed has saved the US from a horrible financial debacle brought on by Wall Street, which seems to be run by some of the worst people on earth. I think they are evil, but they may just be grossly incompetent.

So I was stuck between Obama and Romney, both of whom held more moderate positions on both social and economic issues, but I was closer to Obama.  However, I am unhappy with a number of things Obama did or did not do during his first term.
- He did not end the war in Afghanistan, which everybody thought was the "good" war, but it turned out that everybody was wrong (except Joe Biden).
- He did not close the Guantanamo prison, leaving the US with its own "gulag" like the old Soviet Union. It's like having a billboard that says, "The US is no longer a free, democratic country ruled by law." No wonder foreign students are going home when they graduate.
- He continued the Bush tax cuts. These tax cuts have badly unbalanced the US economy, contributing to our running up a trillion dollar deficit every year. They are unsustainable, especially when they undercut financing for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's one of the main reasons Rumsfeld said that you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want. The Republicans were happy to pocket a few thousand dollars in tax savings, although it meant many more troops would die in those wars because they did not have the best equipment.
- He did not try hard enough to get Elizabeth Warren approved as the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She created the bureau, and she should have been allowed to get it started. She would have faced fierce opposition from the Republicans in Congress, but Obama should have taken them on. It's possible that the big banks hated her so much that the bribed Obama and Democrats to desert her, too. I'm glad she was elected Senator, but I would have preferred to see her take on the banks in the bureau she created. Hopefully she will be able to do some of the same things as Senator. It will be interesting to see whether she gets on any relevant committees, or whether the banks will bribe the Democratic leadership to stick her in the boondocks somewhere.
- Obama did not give us single payer health care, i.e., Medicare for everybody. He have us expanded health care based on a Republican model that is a gift to the health insurance companies and the medical community. It means much higher costs that a single payer system would have meant.
- He has continued the Bush Administration drone strikes, which in many cases have killed innocent civilians and in some cases US citizens. This is like Guantanamo. It shows the world that the US is not longer an honest, decent, just country of laws.
I am hoping that Obama will do better in his second term. His first task is to do something about the fiscal cliff in a way that will reduce the outrageous budget deficit. So far, I am not optimistic. They may reach some sort of a deal that will allow us to muddle through, but will do little or nothing to redress the fundamental problem of the debt that is destroying America.

Defense Contractors Suck Taxpayer Money

The Republicans complain about all the individual citizens who rely on taxpayer, government money, and there are a lot of them.  But what about the defense contractors, whom the Republicans want to protect from going off the fiscal cliff?  Lockheed Martin works almost entirely for the government, although it sells some weapons systems to other countries, and thus has some income from other sources, but not much.  Yahoo says Lockheed annual revenues are about $47 billion.  Some of its competitors, companies that also make money largely from government contracts funded by the taxpayers include Northrop Grumman with revenues of about $26 billion, Raytheon with revenues of about $24 billion, General Dynamics with revenues of about $32 billion, and Boeing which is only partially a defense contractor has total revenues of $79 billion, perhaps half of which are from defense sales to taxpayers, about $40 billion.  This amounts to an annual taxpayer expense of around $169 billion.  Although we are talking about budget overruns of about $1 trillion, this is a meaningful portion of that. 

These companies are very focused on lobbying.  They often succeed in getting Congress to authorize money for defense projects that the Pentagon wants to cancel.  When Republicans talk about preserving the military budget, many are mainly worried about keeping the money flowing to these companies, who have cleverly located factories and offices in many key congressional districts.  The service men and women stationed in Afghanistan and around the world are secondary to man of these congressmen and senators.  The servicemen are a drain on congressional resources, asking for better medical care, etc., while the defense contractors give the congressmen and senators lots of money for their campaigns, etc. 

One of the biggest concerns about the fiscal cliff is that it would mandate reducing payments to some of these welfare gluttons who suck up taxpayer money.  We'll see how clever their lobbyists are in keeping the money flowing. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SAC Insider Trading

It looks like insider trading is the rule rather than the exception on Wall Street, most recently illustrated by the SEC case against SAC involving its head, Steven Cohen.  It probably extends to anywhere there is insider information to trade on, the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, for example.  Charlie Gasparino of Fox Business News says that insider trading is a victimless crime.  But the victims are potentially every other stock trader, who because they don't have insider information sell or buy at a price that hurts them and benefits the person with insider information, who knows that the stock is going to go up or down.  In essence, the insider is stealing money from those without inside information.  It's like selling fake Rolex watches while claiming they are genuine and charging the full retail price of a real Rolex.  You think you are buying a good stock, based on all the information available to you, but it's not a good stock and the man selling it to you knows that it's not, because he has nonpublic, inside information. 

Martha Stewart went to jail for what seemed to be a common practice among high-level business people.  Another story in the Wall Street Journal about executives who routinely made money trading in their own companies' stock illustrates that problem. 

It only reinforces the terrible impression created by Wall Street in the great subprime housing derivative fiasco that created the worst recession since the depression.  These guys are crooks.  They are mafioso in suits who will destroy America for a buck.  And it all the big shots who run the financial industry, which Warren Buffet said on the Daily Show last night is responsible for about 20% of the US GDP.  This is basically the figure presented by the government Bureau of Economic Analysis.  And Michael Lewis says that one reason the Germans got suckered into the housing mess was that they thought the derivative salesmen from Goldman Sachs and the other big American banks were honest, when in fact the salemen were lying through their teeth. 

In a Vanity Fair article, Lewis says, quoting a German banker:
“For 40 years we didn’t lose a penny on anything with a triple-A rating,” he says. “We stopped building the portfolio in subprime in 2006. I had the idea that there was something wrong with your market.” He pauses. “I was in the belief that the best supervised of all banking systems was in New York. To me the Fed and the S.E.C. were second to none. I did not believe that there would be e-mail traffic between investment bankers saying that they were selling … ” He pauses and decides he shouldn’t say “shit.” “Dirt,” he says instead. “This is by far my biggest professional disappointment. I was in a much too positive way U.S.-biased. I had a set of beliefs about U.S. values.”
The global financial system may exist to bring borrowers and lenders together, but it has become over the past few decades something else too: a tool for maximizing the number of encounters between the strong and the weak, so that one might exploit the other. Extremely smart traders inside Wall Street investment banks devise deeply unfair, diabolically complicated bets, and then send their sales forces out to scour the world for some idiot who will take the other side of those bets. During the boom years a wildly disproportionate number of those idiots were in Germany. As a reporter for Bloomberg News in Frankfurt, named Aaron Kirchfeld, put it to me, “You’d talk to a New York investment banker, and they’d say, ‘No one is going to buy this crap. Oh. Wait. The Landesbanks will!’ ” When Morgan Stanley designed extremely complicated credit-default swaps all but certain to fail so that their own proprietary traders could bet against them, the main buyers were German. When Goldman Sachs helped the New York hedge-fund manager John Paulson design a bond to bet against—a bond that Paulson hoped would fail—the buyer on the other side was a German bank called IKB. IKB, along with another famous fool at the Wall Street poker table called WestLB, is based in Düsseldorf—which is why, when you asked a smart Wall Street bond trader who was buying all this crap during the boom, he might well say, simply, “Stupid Germans in Düsseldorf.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Zionism Is Racism

The recent dust up between Israel and Gaza reminds us that Israel is a racist state.  Although it allows some role for non-Jews in Israeli politics, for all practical purposes it is a Jewish state that discriminates against non-Jews, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in huge ways.  Israel may argue that its isolation of Gaza, for example, is necessary for security reasons, but the origin of the security problem is racism. 

Israel is justified in protecting itself from attack by Palestinians and other Arabs, but it should work seriously to reduce the oppression that produces those attacks.  The problem is that the Palestinian Arabs were in Palestine first.  After World War II, the British protectorate ended and the United Nations turned Palestine over to the Jews despite fierce opposition from those living there, mostly Arab Muslims. 

In some respects, it is not unlike what the United States did to the Indians when Europeans came to North America.  However, North America was mostly empty land, occupied by a relatively small population of Indians.  Palestine, on the other hand, was pretty much completely occupied by Arabs, who had to be displaced by the Jews to Jordan, the West Bank, and other neighboring countries.  The Jews have shown zero interest in granting the Palestinians land of their own, while the Palestinians, mainly from force of superior Israeli arms, have largely acquiesced in Israel's occupation of the majority of historical Palestine, although Jews were largely absent from Palestine for 2,000 years.  The Jews lost Palestine shortly after Jesus's time, apparently moving mainly to Europe in the diaspora, although the virtual absence of non-European Jews in Israel makes one wonder whether there is not a form of Israeli racism against non-Europeans.  Palestine was not a Jewish homeland in the 500s, the 1000s or the 1700s.  Jews did begin to return in the 1800s, but before the UN's creation of the state of Israel, they were a relatively small part of the population. 

A Huffington Post article discusses the racism in Israel directed by the European Ashkenazi Jews against the Middle Easrern Sephartic Jews.  It says that for many years Middle Eastern Jews Have lived as stigmatized citizens of Israel.   Although the populations of the two groups are about equal in Israel, the Ashkenazi rule the country.  Furthermore, many Sephartic Jews also come from Europe, but from Spain and Portugal, rather than Germany or Poland.

So, Palestinians have deep-seated, legitimate grievances that Israel refuses to acknowledge, and thanks to the enormous wealth and political influence of US Jews, the US has similarly refused to acknowledge the plight of the Palestinians.  It sometimes pays lip service to Palestinian claims, but meanwhile supplies Israel with hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid with which to kill Arabs. 

We Need Another George Marshall

An email from the George Marshall Foundation says:
In his new book The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, Tom Ricks says that accountability among our highest military leaders has gone missing. Generals are rarely fired today for poor performance, and he thinks the new standards for evaluating generalships have changed in a disturbing fashion. "During World War II, top officials expected some generals to fail in combat, and were prepared to remove them when they did. The personalities of these generals mattered enormously, and the Army's chief of staff, George C. Marshall, worked hard to find the right men for the jobs at hand," he writes. But not so today, he says.
Gen. Petraeus personal failures are a devastating blow to the American military.   The general officer/flag officer corps is hollow.  The military usually varies between peacetime generals and wartime generals.  In the past, when a war started, the peacetime generals who were good at pushing paper and politicking failed and were removed, replaced by generals who could fight wars.  Today because of the new structure of the military, that has not happened. The paper-pushing generals have gone on the lead troops in war, with poor results, documented by Tom Ricks. 

The American military suffered a similar decline after World War I.  Marshall was able to assemble a group of war-fighting generals, such as Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton, who were ready to step in and replace the peace-time generals when World War II came.  Petraeus appeared to be a possibility to fill the George Marshall role, but not now. 

Colin Powell has been the closest to following in Marshall's footsteps, including by serving as Secretary of State, but while he was able to serve President George H.W. Bush well during the first Iraq war, he was shabbily treated by George W. Bush during Iraq war II, especially by being sent to present a false report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the United Nations, as well as by Bush's ignoring Powell's advice on how to fight the second Iraq war. 

Powell and Gen. Schwarzkopf worked well together to fight the first Iraq war in a workmanlike way, but the bloodthirsty Republicans wanted to kill Saddam Hussein, and were upset that Bush I, Powell, and Schwarzkopf had not done so.  They got their bloodthirsty wish from Bush II, Rumsfeld, Tommy Franks, and company, but ended up strengthening the anti-American regime of the Iranian mullahs. 

Bush II not only failed to win the second Iraq war, he also destroyed the general officer/flag officer corps, leaving the US military in dire shape. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Petraeus and the Trouble with Generals

Tom Ricks has an article in the current Atlantic Magazine on the widespread failure of American generals.  I am surprised that there has not been more discussion of it along with all the gossip about General Petraeus's romantic peccadillo's.  Ricks does not list Petraeus as one of his failed generals; Petraeus does not come in for the same criticism as Generals Franks and Sanchez, but by pulling himself down, Petraeus undercuts the status of the whole general officer corps.  In addition to Ricks deep criticism that many generals are incompetent to lead troops and fight a war, others are pointing to the perks that generals enjoy. 

Petraeus became an intellectual darling because of the success of his counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq.  But yesterday on one of the Sunday talk shows, some revisionist historian pointed out that his surge in Iraq happened to coincide with a Sunni tribe's decision to ally with the US and oppose the more radical Sunnis, that may have done more to quell the violence than the surge.  See this article in the Washington Quarterly

If the leading American general has no clothes (referring to the emperor tale, not his personal conduct) or feet of clay, what does that say about the rest of the generals and the American military establishment? 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Republican Senate Is The Problem

It's not clear who is responsible for the gridlock in Washington.  No doubt there is blame for all involved -- House, Senate, President, Republicans, and Democrats.  From my point of view, however, the main culprit is the Republican minority in the Senate.  This is because they are thwarting the will of the Democratic majority.  They are using parliamentary tricks, mainly the filibuster, to block majority rule, which I think goes against the Constitution.  If the Constitution wanted to require a 60% majority to pass any legislation in the Senate, it would have said so.  It already says that it requires a two-thirds majority to start the process to amend the Constitution.  It could have spelled out other times when a super majority was required; the fact that it did not, indicates that the founding fathers did not intend to require a super majority for conducting the ordinary business of the Senate. 

The Senate has imposed this new super majority requirement on itself.  The Democrats and the Republicans have both used it, but the Republicans have used it much more than the Democrats. 

The Republican use of he filibuster super majority bodes ill for the "fiscal cliff."  The Republicans can block any attempt to resolve the crisis that they do not like.  In a recent "60 Minutes" interview, Mitch McConnell indicated that he was not inclined to compromise.  He said that what the Democrats were doing in terms of running up debt, etc., was bad, and he would try to stop it.  That may be, but the problem is that doing nothing may be worse than doing what the Democrats want.  McConnell can try to limit tax increases and expand budget cuts, but that requires some kind of compromise.  If he lets the nation slide off the fiscal cliff, very few will benefit.  His extremely wealthy friends and supporters will suffer less than most; some will probably figure out how to make money from the disaster, but most people will suffer.  He is very short sighted to destroy America just to enrich a few of his friends and supporters. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Private Equity Acquires the U.S.

I am somewhat worried that Romney's plan for America is similar to Bain Capital's private equity strategy.  He and his Republican partners will take over America, suck all the money out, and leave her a fragile, empty shell of what she used to be.  That's why Romney won't spell out his plan for how he will cut taxes 20% without reducing revenue.  He doesn't care about revenue to run the government; he just wants his money, along with that of his wealthy colleagues.  Big corporations benefit from government largess as much as, or maybe more than, the poor 47% that Romney despises as worthless, such as active duty soldiers who pay no taxes.  The rich get government subsidies both for their companies (e.g., government insurance for too-big-to-fail banks), and for themselves as executives (e.g., capital gains taxes), not to mention their companies that are almost entirely dependent on government funding (e.g., defense contractors). 

So Romney gets elected. cuts taxes, and privatizes everything now performed by the government, That's why he and the Republicans are so concerned about maintaining defense spending.  They don't care about the troops; it's the defense contractors that they are worried about.  They will privatize everything from air traffic control to diplomacy, and pay their fat-cat contractors much more than they pay government employees to provide the same services.  The government will go broke, but they will become richer in the bargain and move on to China or Africa, or wherever the next market victim is perceived to be. 

Since I am concerned about how influential Jews have become in the last 50 or so years, I anticipate that many will leave and go to Israel, taking their profits from America with them.  The Asians, another successful immigrant group, may do the same, taking their winnings back home to Asia. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Jewish Takeover of America

The New York Times article on Mayor Bloomberg's PAC names three personal PACs of billionaires that have been very active in this presidential campaign -- George Soros on the left, the Koch brothers on the right, and now Bloomberg in the middle.  The Koch brothers are not Jewish, but they could easily have been replaced on the list by Sheldon Adelson, who is Jewish, and who has been one of the major supporters of conservative Republicans.  So, you have three obscenely rich Jews who are driving this election. 

I don't know the ancestry of all of them, except that I know Soros was born in Hungary and immigrated to the US.  It looks like from Wikipedia that Bloomberg's grandparents came to the US from Europe well before World War II.  Adelson, like Bloomberg, was born in Boston; his mother had immigrated from the UK.  So, of the three, only Soros is a post-WW II emigre. 

Of course, the candidates they are are supporting -- Obama and Romney -- are not Jewish, which shows there may still be some racial barriers for Jews.  Joe Lieberman did not do well when he ran for Vice President.  However, as a black and a Mormon, Obama and Romney do not represent the old, traditional WASP power structure, as George W. Bush did.  Furterhmore, there is lots of gentile money in the political game, fromt he Koch brothers, for example.  Nevertheless, the fact that the New York Times cites

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Romney and Amb. Stevens

The father of Amb. Chris Stevens has asked that his son's death in Libya not be politicized in the presidential campaign, according to Bloomberg.  Romney and Ryan have latched on to Stevens' death like flies on honey, in an effort to make Obama responsible for it.  Romney is dancing on Stevens' grave because he thinks it will help him become President.  Stevens' death has been one of the best things that has happened for Romney in recent weeks. 

But it's unseemly.  Romney and the Republicans have no manners, no grace, no sympathy.  Romney's joy at Stevens' death is like his contempt for the 47% of the population he said were just worthless takers of government largess. 

The Republicans in general dislike the Foreign Service.  I think it's because in general Republicans don't like smart people, such as professors at good universities.  I had a professional run-in with Republican Senator Jesse Helms, when he tried to have HIV/AIDS declared a highly contagious disease for visa purposes, which would have meant that everyone with HIV/AIDS would have been denied a visa to the US.  My office in the State Department was responsible for international health policy.  The M.D. with whom I worked and I went to the doctors and scientists at HHS and other organizations to see if there was any scientific basis for that policy.  The scientific consensus was that there was not.  We got both assistant secretaries of State responsible for this policy, the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs and the Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science to sign off on a reply to the proposed regulation saying that it was wrong, but it had to go through Secretary of State James Baker, via his Under Secretary Bob Zoellick.  Zoellick sat on the memo forever.  He was probably justified.  Baker would probably have recognized that the Helms' position was incorrect and should not have been made HIV/AIDS an automatic bar to entry into the US.  However, if he had confronted Helms, Helms would probably have cut the State Department budget by millions of dollars, and would have made life miserable in many ways.  So, Zoellick protected him from having to make that decision. 

In a similar story, the New York Times reported that the new senior envoy to Libya, Laurence Pope, retired from the Foreign Service in 2000 when Jesse Helms' office blocked his nomination to be Ambassador to Kuwait, because Pope would not espouse the Republican party line regarding our need to attack Saddam Hussein in Iraq. 

So, Romney and Ryan carry on the Republican tradition, epitomized by Jesse Helms, of hatred of the Foreign Service.  They may even relish making political hay out of the death of a patriotic Foreign Service officer who gave his life for his country.  Romney has no conception of what it is like to give one's life for his country.  He spent the Vietnam War on the French Riviera, and none of his five sons has served in the military, according to the Huffington Post

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Follow-up Congressional Letter 2

Thank you for your letter.  I appreciate your support for continued American engagement in the Middle East. As the investigation into the attacks on American embassies continues, please keep in mind the importance of the State Department budget. I don’t know what factors influenced State’s decisions regarding security for its embassies and consulates, especially in Libya, but I would guess that budgetary considerations were near the top of the list. The fact the whole United States Government budget is unsettled, including State’s as part of that, has a terrible impact on the functioning of the government.

A major factor in my decision to retire from the Foreign Service years ago was the government shutdown under President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich. I ended up being stranded in transit between the US Embassy in Warsaw and the Embassy in Rome because of the shutdown. As a soldier in Vietnam, I had already had a bad experience with the US government failing to support its troops. I didn’t welcome it happening again as a Foreign Service officer. 

Once again, the US is failing to fully support its troops and its Foreign Service officers abroad. I saw on the news that Sen. Bennet is a member of an eight-member, bipartisan committee trying to resolve the current budget impasse in Congress. I hope that he and his colleagues will be able to work out some compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” There are actually American lives at stake, both at home and overseas. There will be a lot of finger pointing over Ambassador Stevens’ death, and some of those fingers should point at Congress.

Follow-up Congressional Letter 1

Thank you for your letter regarding US foreign assistance.  I welcome your support for continued US engagement in the Middle East.  However, as a retired Foreign Service officer, I am more concerned with the State Department’s operations budget than the foreign assistance budget

I think that lack of funds or uncertainty about funds was a major consideration in State’s decision not to provide more security to the consulate in Benghazi, resulting in the death of Ambassador Stevens.  The whole mess with the US budget and the “fiscal cliff” was a major factor leading to his death.  In all the investigations into his death and all the finger pointing, some of those fingers should point at Congress

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cheers for Angela Merkel

While the US is deciding whether Obama or Romney would be the best American leader for the next four years, I'd like to give a shout-out to someone who has served their country well for years -- Angela Merkel of Germany.  Today Germany is the strongman of Europe.  Merkel is taking a lot of criticism for how she is handling the Euro crisis, including today as she visits Greece, according to the NYT.  On the other hand, she gets criticized at home for being too lenient in handing out German cash to the poor countries of Europe.  She has become one of the most important politicians on the world stage, eclipsing to some extent Obama, Cameron, Hollande, even Putin and the Chinese.  She has helped make Germany prosperous at home in difficult circumstances.  Germany probably been the most exemplary country showing that it is possible to have good wages and full employment in a globally competitive world.  Good for her. 

Obama and the Bubble

Many of the commentators have been saying that the reason Obama did so poorly in the debate with Romney was that he has spent four years in the White House bubble, where everyone is a yes-man afraid to confront him.  This overlooks the fact that Obama meets with foreign leaders who are not afraid to talk back to him, to demand things from him, to say that he is wrong.  However, it was not a good sign when Obama refused to meet with any foreign leaders during the UN general assembly.  Did he know that he was not up to it? 

We usually don't see what actually happens when Obama meets with foreign leaders.  There are usually only a few high level aides present.  We got a glimpse when Obama and Netanyahu sparred during a photo session at the While House about a year ago.  The consensus seemed to be the Netanyahu took Obama to the woodshed.  That may be one reason Obama did not want to meet with Netanyahu again just before the debate. 

We don't know how Obama does in bilateral meetings with foreign leaders, but we know that the has them.  He may let Hillary Clinton take the lead.  But in any case he does not live inside the "no-drama" Obama bubble all the time. 

MTCR Terms Changed for South Korea

The reports that South Korea has been granted special permission to build missiles that exceed the guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime are confusing.  Reports in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal said that South Korea and the US had agreed to extend the range of missiles that South Korea would build.  However, the MTCR is not an arms control treaty that limits the range of South Korean missiles; it is a suppliers agreement that limits the US and other members, who agree not to supply Korea with missiles or technology or parts for missiles beyond the agreed range.  Thus, it appears that the violator of the MTCR is the United States, not Korea. 

I assume that the US has gotten the agreement of the other 33 supplier-country members of the MTCR to this extension of range and payload.  It should not be a bilateral decision when the US is a member of a suppliers' group. 

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Indian Nuclear Progam Was Bad Precedent for Iran

During the Bush administration, the US agreed to look the other way at India's development of nuclear weapons, despite the significant risk of a war between India and a nuclear-armed Pakistan.  India developed nuclear weapons years ago to defend itself against China, which already had them.  Then Pakistan developed nuclear weapons to defend itself against India.  While all that may make sense from a strategic perspective, it was terrible from a nonproliferation perspective.  We have basically said it is okay for India and Pakistan to have nuclear weapons to defend themselves against their enemies, or to have "mutual assured destruction," but we say that it is not okay for Iran to develop those same weapons to defend itself against its sworn enemy Israel, which already possesses nuclear weapons. 

In its original form, the Non-Proliferation Treaty granted special status to countries that possessed nuclear weapons when the treaty was negotiated, but many of the non-nuclear states objected to this dual status.  The NPT obligated the nuclear powers to disarm, but that has been a slow, almost non-existent process.  I recent years there has been a wider acceptance of the NPT by some countries, Brazil and Argentina for example, but not by others, Israel and Iran in particular.  Israel is in the position of forcing Iran to follow the NPT, which it adheres to, while Israel refuses to join it or follow it.  Israel insists that Iran obey an international treaty that Israel refuses to obey. 

Israel and India stand in somewhat similar positions, neither adhering to the NPT..  However, thanks to the US under Bush, India has been given a somewhat official pass, while everyone just agrees to look the other way regarding Israel's nuclear weapons.  The bottom line is that the NPT, which was under attack from its very inception for having a double standard, now has a variety of standards. 

As a result, although the NPT's verification mechanism, the International Atomic Energy Agency, monitors Iran's nuclear activities to some extent, since Iran is an NPT member, the IAEA is barred from Israel.  Because of the breakdown of the NPT's mechanism, Israel and the US cannot rely on it.  Thus, Iran's nuclear activities are removed the the UN's oversight and become the subject of bilateral threats to invade from Israel and the US.  The UN continues to try to work with Iran, but thanks to all the loosening of the NPT regime, the UN has little legal or moral authority.  By its past refusal to strictly enforce the NPT, the US has lost significant moral authority to restrict Iran's nuclear program.  Having lost its moral authority, it must fall back on its threats of military force. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Do Americans Have to Die for Israel?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's attempt to get President Obama to join him in drawing a "red line" for the Iranian nuclear program amounts to having Obama issue an ultimatum to Iran that the US will invade if Iran crosses it.  Netanyahu's idea is apparently that Iran nuclear facilities can be knocked out by an air strike, but how badly would an air strike damage Iran's nuclear program and how would Iran retaliate.  If an air strike failed to do serious damage to the program, would the US and Israel send in ground troops?  Iran appears to be a more formidable opponent than either Iraq or Afghanistan.  If the US invaded, it would be more expensive in lives and treasure than either of those two wars. 

Unlike Israel, America does not appear to be directly threatened in the short term by an Iranian nuclear bomb.  It would be much more difficult for Iran to hit the US with a nuclear warhead than Israel, which is much closer.  Therefore, a US attack on Iran would be almost entirely for Israel's benefit. 

Israel is a close ally, but a somewhat unusual one.  The closest comparison is probably to America and Great Britain in World War II, still sometimes referred to as a "special relationship."  In the 1940s, America was pretty much an Anglo, English-speaking nation, although there had been waves of immigrants, mainly from other European countries -- Germany, Italy, Poland, Scandinavia -- with lesser influxes from Asia. Our President, Franklin Roosevelt, was of Anglo background and clearly wanted to help England and Churchill as they came under attack from Germany,but he felt he could not do much because of a lack of public support for going to war.  Lend-lease was a start, but one that kept the US out of the conflict.  The decisive event was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought America into the war.  Arguably there was still no reason to go to war in Europe, since Germany had not attacked the US, but it suited Roosevelt, and most of the population of the US, to go to war in Europe, actually first in North Africa, while the US moved more gradually across the Pacific towards Japan.   Ironically, England had gone to war with Germany because of Germany's invasion of Poland, but Poland ended up being lost to the Soviet Union. 

Now we have Netanyahu trying to force the US into a war with Iran, by drawing a "red line," issuing an ultimatum to Iran that if it does X, e.g. produces 225 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 20%, then the US will attack it.  Should the US really do this for Israel?  The US does not like Iran; Iran held the staff of the US embassy there hostage for 444 days, until the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in to replace Jimmy Carter.  But if we really wanted to destroy the Iranian government, wouldn't we just invade Iran the way we invaded Iraq?  If it is in our national interest, we should do it.  In this case, the invasion called for by Netanyahu seems to be in Israel's interest, not necessarily ours.  An Iranian nuclear attack may be an existential threat for Israel, but not for the US.  It is a lot easier for Iran to reach Israel with a nuclear armed missile than the US, and the US is a lot bigger.  The explosion of one rudimentary nuclear weapon in the US would be terrible, but it would not be an existential threat to the nation. 

My concern is that American Jews and some American gentiles have divided loyalties.  They are more concerned about Israel than about the United States.  They are willing to sacrifice thousands of American lives to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb that poses little threat to the US.  Unlike Anglo Americans during World War II, Jews constitute a relatively small percentage of the US population, yet they are very influential politically and economically.  They may have the political power to force the US to go to war for Israel.  Many young, relatively poor, conservative redneck Americans would probably go willingly, although the majority of the US population probably would have serious reservations about going to war again in the Middle East, especially after the war in Iraq strengthened the hand of Iran. We would have fought the Iraq war to strengthen Iran by installing a Shiite regime, and then fought a new war with Iran to weaken Iran, to undo what we did in Iraq. 

If Roosevelt had difficulty coming to the aid of England during World War II, despite America's close ties with her, I hope that we will have at least as much difficulty going to war with Iran when there is a much smaller group of Israel-loving Jews pressing for it. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Netanyahu's Red Line

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's campaign to have President Obama draw a nuclear "red line" that Iran cannot cross, amounts to having Obama issue an ultimatum that the US will invade Iran under the conditions specified in the "red line."  From his UN speech it appears that Netanyahu sets his red line at Iran's production of an amount of uranium enriched to 20% that will produce enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb warhead, according to Reuters.   According to Wikipedia, the critical mass of U-235 metal needed for a warhead would be about 52 kilograms.  Arms Control Now says 225 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 20% would be about the amount needed to produce the uranium needed for a 90% highly enriched warhead.  Uranium hexafluoride is the gas that is run through the enrichment centrifuges.  Once weapons-grade enrichment level is reached, the uranium metal is separated from the fluorine to produce the warhead.  Wikipedia says weapons grade enrichment is usually more than 85% U-235.  (Natural uranium contains only about 0.7% of the U-235 isotope.)  However, Arms Control Now reports that according to the last two IAEA reports, Iran's stockpile of 20% enriched uranium went down because Iran is using it to fuel its research reactor which needs 20% enriched uranium fuel to operate.  The latest IAEA report for August 2012 said that Iran had only 91.4 kg of 20% enriched uranium, considerably less than the 225 kg it would need for a warhead, according to IPS News.   The IAEA report for the previous quarter said that Iran then had a 20% stockpile of 101 kg. 

According to IPS, the IAEA report also said the total amount of 20% uranium hexafluoride produced by Iran rose from 143 kg in May 2012 to 189.4 kg in August 2012, or about 15 kg per month.  At this rate, to go from 91.4 kg to about 225 kg would take about 8 or 9 months, if no enriched uranium was diverted to the research reactor or other uses.  In that case, Iran would reach Netanyahu's red line around June of 2013. 

Arms Control Now says that once Iran has 225 kg of 20% enriched uranium hexafluoride, it would take about one more month to increase the enrichment to 90%.  It would also take time to convert the uranium hexafluoride to uranium metal and then to fabricate the warhead. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

NYT Op-Eds

Two New York Times op-eds on Tuesday ended on very good points.  David Brooks lamented the Republican party's focus only on economic conservatism, to the neglect of more traditional conservative ideas.  He closed by saying:
Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.

On the same page, Joe Nocera commented on the Forbes 400 list of the richest individuals.  He supported my concern about the capital gains tax as welfare for billionaires.  He said:
The American dream exists not because of the capital gains differential but in spite of it. It is the tax break that most glaringly exists to benefit the wealthy. If you have any doubts about that, all you need to do is read the latest Forbes 400.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Romney's Taxes

Romney's release of 2011 taxes and an accountants' statement don't do him many favors.  They do show that he paid taxes in all previous years, contrary to Sen. Reid's claim.  Otherwise, he does not do much to support America.  He paid very low taxes.  Andrea Mitchell noted that the summary of 20 years of prior taxes look higher because the tax rates were higher in previous years.  I was surprised to find the best listing of prior year tax rates in Forbes

For much of that 20 year period the top tax rate for salaried income was over 40% and the maximum capital gains tax rate was over 20%.  For 2011 the rates were 37% and 15%.  The table shows how much taxes on rich taxpayers have gone down.  When you look at Federal payroll taxes (for Social Security and Medicare) and state income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes, the formerly "progressive" tax rates where rich pay higher taxes than the poor, have become "regressive" taxes that fall more heavily on the poor.  Romney's claim that 47% of potential taxpayers pay no taxes, ignores all taxes except federal income taxes. 

If Romney were a loyal, patriotic American earning as much as he does, he should pay something on the order of 30% of his income in federal taxes, not less than 15%. 

Romney and other Republican tax bashers say capital gains taxes have to be low, because they experience double taxation.  Their companies pay tax, and they get their investment income only after the companies are taxed.  But if the companies paid no taxes, workers salaries could be higher, too.  Why don't salaried workers get a double taxation break?  In addition, capital gains taxes are paid only after an asset is sold.  Therefore, many wealthy individuals have the earnings tax free for years. 

For example, if you buy some stock for $100, and it goes up $50 the first year.  You have made $50, but you pay no tax on it, because you don't sell it.  The next year, if the stock goes up another 50%, you make $75, but you pay no tax on that $75, plus you have made money on ALL of the profit you made the first year, because that profit was not taxed.  A salaried worker pays taxes on all of his income in the year he makes it; there is no benefit from compound interest, i.e., interest on the prior years' interest.  On the other hand, a rich person can hold a profitable asset for many years without paying any taxes on it, earning profit on the earlier profit that was not taxed.  Then when he sells it, he pays much lower taxes than someone who works for a living.  Basically the government gives him an interest free loan of the taxes due each year until he sells the asset.  Who's the "welfare queen" in this picture? 

It doesn't seem fair to me.  It's a good deal, but it's not fair. 

Year Top Regular Rates Max. Capital Gains Rate Capital Gains Taxation Notes
Wages & Other Earned Income Unearned Income Except Cap Gains Above Joint Taxable Income of
1916 15% 15% $2,000,000 15% Realized gains taxed same as other income
1917 67% 67% $2,000,000 67%
1918 77% 77% $1,000,000 77%
1919-21 73% 73% $1,000,000 73%
1922 58% 58% $200,000 12.50% Maximum rate
1923 43.50% 43.50% $200,000 12.50%
1924 46% 46% $500,000 12.50%
1925-28 25% 25% $100,000 12.50%
1929 24% 24% $100,000 12.50%
1930-31 25% 25% $100,000 12.50%
1932-33 63% 63% $1,000,000 12.50%
1934-35 63% 63% $1,000,000 31.50% Sliding exclusion of 70%>10yrs 0% <1 small="small" yr.="yr.">
1936-37 78% 78% $2,000,000 39%
1938-40 78% 78% $2,000,000 30% Excl. 50%>2yrs; 67% 18-24mo; 0%<18mo 30="30" ax="ax" small="small">
1941 80% 80% $2,000,000 30%
1942-43 88% 88% $200,000 25% Exclusion 50% > 6 months; 25% maximum

1944-45 94% 94% $200,000 25%
1946-47 86.50% 86.50% $200,000 25%
1948-49 82.10% 82.10% $200,000 25%
1950 84.40% 84.40% $200,000 25%
51-64 91% 91% $200,000 25%
64-67 70% 70% $200,000 25%
1968 75.30% 75.30% $200,000 26.90% Transition
1969 77% 77% $200,000 27.50%
1970 50% 70% $200,000 32.30%
1971 50% 70% $200,000 34.30%
1972-75 50% 70% $200,000 36.50% 50% exclusion - minimum tax effects
1976-77 50% 70% $203,200 39.90%
1978 50% 70% $203,200 39%
1979-80 50% 70% $215,400 28% 60% exclusion
1981 50% 70% $215,400 23.70% 50% or 60% exclusion
1982-86 50% 50% $215,400 20% 60% exclusion
1987 38.50% 38.50% $192,930 28% Maximum rate
1988-90* 28%/33% 28%/33% * 28%/33% Realized gains taxed same as other income
1991-92 31.90% 31.90% $82,150 28.90% Maximum rate
1993-96 43.70% 40.80% $250,000 29.20%
1997-2000 43.70% 40.80% $275,000 21.20%
2001 43.20% 40.30% $297,350 21.20%
2002 42.70% 39.80% $307,050 21.20% 18% top capital gains rate in rare cases
2003-05 39.00% 36.10% $311,950 16.10% Reduced maximum rate which also applied to dividends
2006-07 38.60% 35.70% $336,550 15.70%
2008-09 38.30% 35.40% $357,700 15.40%
2010-12 37.90% 35.00% $373,650 15%
2013-on 44.60% 44.60% $396,100 25% 21.2% income tax plus 3.8% Medicare tax; also on dividends