Saturday, December 14, 2013

Israelis from Texas and Alabama Attack Kerry

I just happened to flip on to C-SPAN's coverage of Secretary of State Kerry's testimony before the House on the nuclear agreement with Iran.  I was appalled at the questioning by Congressman Ted Poe from Texas' 2nd District and Congressman Mo Brooks from Alabama's 5th District.  They appeared to be representing Israel rather than America.  They appeared to be hired agents of a foreign power, not loyal Americans.  Texas 2nd District is famous as the seat of Charlie Wilson, of "Charlie Wilson's War" book and movie fame.  In the movie, Tom Hanks says as Charlie Wilson that he is supported by lots of Jewish money from New York; all he has to do is support Israel and make sure his constituents can keep their guns.  It looks to me like these congressmen have sold out to Jew money, like Judas did when he betrayed Jesus.  Israel may be a fine country, but it is not the United States of America.  These guys should be loyal to America and love this country. They should put America first.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Aparthied in Israel

The passing of Nelson Mandela reminds us of his fight against apartheid in South Africa.  Apartheid still exists in places around the world, one of which is Israel.  Israel legally imposes strict bias against non-Jewish people who live in or near Israel.  The most obvious, of course, is the Palestinian population that lives in Israel, but there are other affected populations.  How many blacks live in Israel?  There are groups of blacks who claim to be descended from Jews for hundreds or thousands of years, but they are not particularly welcome in Israel.  In general there is a huge Israeli bias against people who are not Jews.  There may be reasons for this, going back to the Holocaust or discrimination against Jews by gentiles for thousands of years, but that does not erase the fact that discrimination by Israelis exists.

There are many countries that engage in worse racial discrimination than Israel, but Israel claims to belong to the advanced group of civilized countries who were united in their opposition to South African apartheid.  Israel developed its nuclear bomb program in cooperation with the old, white, pre-Mandela South African government, with which it maintained close ties throughout its existence.  There is a legacy of discrimination that Israel needs to overcome.

Israel needs its own Nelson Mandela.

Income Inequality Forever

I am disappointed that the new budget deal did nothing about income taxes.  The budget deal a year ago carried over most of the Bush tax cuts.  One group said that it carried over 82% of the tax cuts.  These low taxes guarantee that income inequality will continue indefinitely.  While some rates went up a little a year ago, income taxes are still extremely low by historical standards.  That is certainly a major contributor income inequality.  There are a lot of other factors, including outsourcing and the displacement of human workers by computers, but the easiest way to rectify income inequality would be by implementing a more progressive tax structure which would tax higher incomes at a higher rate.  This would not affect many of the underlying issues favoring capital over labor in the financial market, as described in the book Race Against the Machine, but it would ameliorate the rate of destruction of the middle and lower classes in the US, ideally giving us time to address the more fundamental structural issues.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bush and the Iranian Nuclear Program

An op-ed today in the NYT on Bush's failure to invade Iran, by Ari Shavit misses the point.  Shavit has gotten lots of praise for not hiding Israel's flaws in his recent book, My Promised Land.  However, his article just says that Bush should have attacked Iran rather than Iraq.  It's an example of Jewish hatred of Iran that I cited in my previous post, despite Shavit's reputation as an enlightened Israeli.

Where Bush erred regarding Iran's nuclear program was in India.  India has flouted the nuclear non-proliferation regime, mainly embodied in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for decades.  It has had a clandestine nuclear weapons program ever since it started working on nuclear energy.  At the end of his administration, Bush basically said, "Never mind about the NPT, India can have its nuclear program, civilian and military."  He made India the example for other proliferating countries, like Iran.  He said you can break all the rules, and once you become a true nuclear weapons state like the US and Russia, you can keep your nuclear weapons.  This is clearly what Iran wants, if it develops nuclear weapons, and India shows that it is a possibility.

I am not convinced that Iran has made the decision to develop nuclear weapons, and there are many examples of countries that have decided not to.  Brazil was once in a position similar to Iran's, having a nuclear energy program that could facilitate the development of nuclear weapons, and Brazil abandoned it and joined the NPT.  That could still happen with Iran.  Of course, one difference is that Brazil's potential nuclear rival was Argentina.  Brazil and Argentina mutually agreed to give up their military programs.  Iran's rival is Israel, and maybe Saudi Arabia.  Israel is not likely to give up its nuclear weapons program.  Saudi Arabia does not have one, and this is not a serious rival, although it has the money to buy one.  By retaining its nuclear weapons program, Israel is probably the main factor encouraging Iran to pursue an Iranian bomb.

Another example of a nuclear rivalry is India and Pakistan.  India has gotten the US seal of approval on its program.  Pakistan has not, but it is so far along, that there is not much the US can do about it.  It is probably in America's interest to allow the more responsible Indians to vastly overpower the Pakistani nuclear arsenal as a way of decreasing the likelihood that the crazier Pakistanis might use theirs.  However, there should be a better way to accomplish the goal of lowering tensions on the subcontinent without undermining the non-proliferation regime for the whole world, including Iran.

Why Stay in Afghanistan?

I don't buy that we are planning to leave American troops in Afghanistan for ten more years because we are afraid of terrorist attacks originating there.  Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden set up operations there because it was a weak state out of the public spotlight.  Today there are many other countries in a similar situation -- Somalia, Mali, Libya, and others.  The Taliban pretty much hate Americans, but there are lots of others around the world who feel the same.

On the other hand, Afghanistan would be a useful base of operations for an invasion of Iran next door.  The decision to keep troops in Iran probably has more to do with American and Jewish hatred of Iran than it does with the security of Afghanistan.  It's not enough to appease Netanyahu for a US-Iranian nuclear agreement, but it's better than nothing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

JP Morgan and Dimon Guilty

During the 2008 financial meltdown, JP Morgan was often portrayed as the best big bank and the one most willing to work with the government to relieve the crisis.  That is probably true, although Wells Fargo seems to have been relatively safe, too, if less interested in helping the government.

The recent settlement between JP Morgan and the government indicates that even the best bank was not very good.  It was up to its ears in bad transactions for its customers and investors.  It was creating the selling the junk that led to the financial crisis and that destroyed the savings of many home buyers.  Jamie Dimon, the best of the big bank CEOs, turns out to have been pretty dirty.  Something is rotten on Wall Street.  During the recent stock market run-up to Dow 16,000 banks have been among those leading the way up, despite the fact that they seem to be corrupt.  This and the recent insider trading convictions/settlements, like SAC's, indicate that most of all of Wall Street is dirty, and thus likes their fellow dirty institutions, like the big banks.

This is not unusual; it happens in all countries where greed gets out of control, but it's unfortunate that it is happening to the US now.  It's just another sign of decline.  In a better country, the government would have reacted and reined in the miscreants.  In this huge fraud, the profits from these illegal trades are so big that even a multi-billion dollar settlement is just a slap on the wrist.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tom Friedman on Israel and the US

Tom Friedman's column in the November 13 NYT made many of the points that I worry about.  I worry that the US is inclined to worry more about Israel's security than America's security.  It's interesting that these points are made by someone who is Jewish -- certainly ethnically, maybe religiously, I don't know.  He says we (the United States) are not just lawyers hired to negotiate with Iran on behalf of Israel and the Sunni Arab states.  We have our own interests to protect.  It's ironic that he makes this point while many conservative, Republican politicians seem much more concerned about Israel than they do their own country. And these conservatives ignore the fact that the positions they represent are those of Arab countries that have been generous (unofficially) to terrorists and who are sponsoring some of the most objectionable factions in the Syria fighting.  It reminds me of the "Charlie Wilson's War" movie in which he says that he is kept in office in his quiet Texas Congressional district by Jewish money from New York.  All he has to do is support Israel and protect his constituents right to bear arms.  Otherwise, nobody cares how he votes.

I don't understand why many conservatives support Israeli interests over American interests.  It's like that book, What's the Matter with Kansas, looking at why Kansans typically vote against their own personal interests in favor to some political theory that generally works against them.  I am glad Friedman calls for Americans to look out for their own interests, but I'm not sure whether we will or not.

Meanwhile, Roger Cohen defends the French position at the Iran talks, in which they blocked an agreement to the delight of the Israelis and the Sunnis.  He argues that the French are pursuing a hard-line, aggressive foreign policy across the board, while the US in wimping out.  There may be some truth in this, but I am not convinced.  I still think that France was influenced by Jewish/Israeli pressure to block the agreement, like conservative, Republican, American legislators.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Insider Trading by SAC

The insider trading agreement with SAC (Steven A. Cohen's hedge fund) shows how common insider trading is on Wall Street.  These guys are not so smart; they are crooks.  The stock market is not a level playing field, and the SEC has fallen far behind in trying to make it level. To some extent the Republicans under Bush and Cheney tried to tie the SEC's hands, but the bankers and hedge fund managers have been successful in lobbying everybody, Republicans and Democrats, to let them run amok, except maybe Elizabeth Warren.  She is an honest woman who scares them to death.  

Of course that means it's hard for small investors to trade in this market, because the insiders can make it turn on a dime, leaving main street behind holding the bag.  The policemen are asleep.  There have been several successful insider trading prosecutions, but that only shows how widespread the problem is.  For every successful prosecution there are probably 10 or 100 traders who have not been caught.

Insider trading is only one aspect of the corruption on Wall Street.  The 2008 debacle caused by worthless securities based on morgages showed there is lots of dishonesty in the securities business.  Salesmen and traders for the biggest banks, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, etc. were dishonest about what they were selling.  In most cases they new they were selling junk, and they sold it anyway.  

60 Minutes Benghazi Retractions

60 Minutes' retraction of its Benghazi report shows what a mess Benghazi was.  This is months after the attack and CBS still got it wrong.  So, it's not surprising that Susan Rice might have gotten something wrong when she appeared on TV news shows just a day or so after the attack.    The Republicans no doubt blame the State Department for hiring low quality people to defend Benghazi, but I blame them for forcing the government to outsource almost everything, including security for embassies.  Of course, Benghazi was not an embassy; it was not even a consulate.  It was some kind of special purpose cover mission for some wild, crazy CIA activities in Libya, which were run not out of the mission building, but out of some safe house a few blocks from the embassy.  The CIA officers were clearly the Keystone Cops in this operation who let Ambassador Stevens die through cowardice or incompetence.  The CIA station chief in Libya should be censured and fired.  The head of Blue Mountain Security should be no longer be allowed to do business with the US government, since the lying security agent who spoke to 60 Minutes worked for Blue Mountain.  This is a scandal, but not for the State Department; it's a scandal for the CIA which failed to come the Ambassador's aid and for the Republicans who failed to fund adequate security for the Benghazi mission, forcing it to outsource its security to a bunch of unknown, worthless foreigners.  

Israelis at Iran Negotiations

I think it is likely that the French were acting on behalf of the Israelis when they blocked an agreement on Iran's nuclear program.  A newer NYT article puts some of the blame on the Iranians, which is no doubt partly true, but it is most likely that Jews -- French, American and Israeli -- threw a monkey wrench into the works.  Today's NYT article reports that US delegation head Wendy Sherman flew immediately to Israel to brief Israeli reporters, but refused to include US reporters stationed in Israel in her briefing.

I worry that the French delegation at the Geneva talks on Iran was representing the views of French Jews, who have a lot of political influence in France.  It indicates that in France, as in America, many Jews have divided allegiances between their home country and Israel.  Years ago, France was instrumental in helping Israel develop its atomic bomb program.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Education Failure

I'm disappointed that the education tax proposal, Amendment 66, did not pass yesterday.  It basically means that Colorado has thrown in the towel.  Coloradans have said that China won.  Our kids will work for your Chinese kids when they reach working age, because the Coloradans are so poorly prepared for life by their schools.  Today's adults will have a little more money in their pockets, while they borrow Chinese money and condemn their children to a life of poverty.  But it feels good now, especially if you smoke pot.  Colorado: home of stoners who hate school.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NSA Incompetence

Everyone is "shocked, shocked" that the US is spying on its allies.  Of course almost everyone does it, but almost everyone who does it keeps it a secret.  NSA's failure was not so much spying on Angela Merkel as it was not keeping the spying secret.  The failure is due to the same thing as the Benghazi debacle, contracting out everything, because the Republicans hate the American government.  It was outside-contractor Snowden who disclosed the spying, not a government employee, just as it was not American military who were disgraced in Benghazi.

NSA chief Gen. Alexander should be fired immediately, not for spying on Merkel, but for allowed the spying to be made public.  His security arrangements for protecting American intelligence were obviously too weak.  He never should have agreed to all of the outsourcing that is taking place.  NSA is a spy agency that can't keep a secret, which makes it worthless.

Fire Alexander now and take away one of his stars.  He is a failure.  He has let down his country.  He has been defeated in the battle for international leadership, a battle that should be led by intelligence, not hindered by it.

Republicans Don't Love America

The last 60 Minutes show on Benghazi reawakened my concern that Republicans are more concerned about shovelling money to their contractor friends than they are about protecting the United States.  According to 60 Minutes, the man responsible for protecting the Ambassador was not an American, but a retired British military man.  During the Iraq war, the Republicans did not trust American Marines to protect the the Embassy, but hired their buddies who ran Blackwater.  Blackwater turned out to be so corrupt and inept that its headquarters had to leave the United States.

Further muddying the waters in Benghazi was the fact that the post there was not a normal Foreign Service post.  It was not an embassy nor a consulate, but some kind of special mission, the main purpose of which was to provide cover for clandestine CIA activity which was being carried out in a much more secure "safe house" distant from the mission building.  Apparently the CIA was more concerned about itself than about the Ambassador at the mission.  The CIA officers apparently let Ambassador Stevens die in the mission building while they hunkered down in their safe house.  I think it is despicable that Congressman Issa has been attacking the State Department for what was the cowardice of CIA officers and outside-hire mercenaries.  Basically Amb. Stevens' security team locked him in a jail cell in a burning building and left him there while they took refuge in the CIA safe house.

The other thing that never gets discussed is why Libya was so unsafe.  Libya was supposed to be a victory for the new American approach to regime change in the Middle East, but instead it has turned into a quagmire where the American Ambassador is killed and al-Qaeda is strengthened by acquiring new recruits and a new base of operations.  What about all of Qaddafi's weapons that have gone missing, probably now in the hands of terrorists across Africa?  American interests were better served by Qaddafi, than by the new terrorist-linked government that the US installed.  Sen. John McCain and his fellow Republican hawks are as responsible for Amb. Stevens' death as anybody not directly involved in the fighting at the Benghazi mission.

This is a black page in the history of American diplomacy.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Fight Against ObamaCare

This NYT article about the money funding the fight against ObamaCare indicates to me that the fight is more than just against ObamaCare.  I think it is a coalition of white conservative groups who oppose Obama and the America he represents.  Part of it is whites against blacks.  Fox rounds up some black Tea Party hacks, but there are not many of them.  But the rebellion is not just whites against blacks, it is conservative, southern, rural men whose families have lived in America for many generations, and who used to lead America or have a large voice in running America, against the new darker hued, liberal, more recent immigrants to America who have become increasingly powerful, especially in the highly urbanized states on both coasts.  The less urbanized South, non-coastal West and Midwest are losing out.

It's ironic that the group representing the smaller population is making its stand in the House of Representatives, in which is representation is based on population.  It looks like they have just enough safe seats to be able to block legislation they oppose, although they don't have enough seats to pass legislation, which has brought the Congress to a deadlock. Part of the problem is gerrymandering, which has created too many safe seats, making Republican party primaries more important than the actual election.  However, many of these Congressmen and women come from states that are so Republican that redistricting would not make much difference, although more equitable redistricting would remove some of the obstreperous Republicans.

These are my guys.  I grew up in the South.  The first politician I ever supported enthusiastically was Barry Goldwater.  But the other side of the issue is, "What about the country."  These guys seem willing to destroy the country if they don't get their way.  I suppose Ted Cruz can go home to Canada or Cuba if he doesn't get his way, but a lot of the other leaders of the rebellion come from families who have lived in America for generations.  Do they think America is finished?  Are these the same guys who decided in Vietnam that they had to destroy the village to save it?  It didn't work in Vietnam, and I don't think it will work in America.

I think something needs to be done about government spending, and about ObamaCare.  The Republicans insisted on making ObamaCare into something like the plan proposed by the Heritage Foundation and enacted by Romney in Massachusetts.  It uses the existing insurance framework to expand the percentage of the population covered by healthcare.  By using that insurance framework, however, it gave up many opportunities to save money.  One of the main problems with American healthcare now is that it is not a marketplace.  The insurance industry massively overpays the medical industry because the insurance companies rake their profits off the top, and the bigger the pot is, the bigger their share is.  They have little incentive to hold down costs, and both the insurance executives and the medical executives paid Congress well to maintain the existing structure while expanding it to more people.  Most Democrats wanted a single payer system (the government) that would be something like Medicare for all.  In that case, the government could in theory reign in medical costs, and the HHS bureaucracy is probably more honest that either Congress or the health insurance industry.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Shutdown Is Bad

Just for the record, I'm am against a government shutdown.  I basically quit the government by retiring from the Foreign Service after the 1995-6 government shutdown.  I blame the Republicans.  I blamed Newt Gingrich and his Republican followers for the first shutdown, and I blame the Tea Party Republicans for this shutdown, if it happens.  The government should go about its business in a business-like way.  People say one test of a business is whether it can meet a payroll.  The Republicans can't do it.  For all of Boehner's talk about growing up as a small businessman in his father's bar, he is on the brink of being a failure as a businessman on a much bigger stage.

The government should honor its commitments.  If it is over committed, which it is, then it should have a debate about how to revise its commitments, but it should do that prospectively, not by refusing to pay people who have relied on it.  Presumably, the failure to raise the debt ceiling in about two weeks might be worse financially, but morally the two failures are more or less equivalent.  The US has lost its integrity.

I think that Newt consigned the US to the status of a second (or third) class country when he shut the government down.  These are not serious people, and if they run the government, this is not a serious government.  In the Foreign Service, I felt that the government abandoned me in Warsaw, Poland.  It seems possible that it may now abandon troops in the field.  In my opinion, the Republicans are largely unpatriotic cowards.  Most of them never served in the military, never fought for this country, although they are quick to send other people off to die for America.  John McCain is more or less the exception that proves the rule.

Right now, I hear former Republican Senator Fred Thomson selling reverse mortgages to old people on the TV.  What a disgrace!  He is typical of the low class of people who have become politicians in America, and who are now on the verge of shutting down the government and showing the world what a laughingstock America is.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Syria Did It

The UN report on the use of chemical weapons on Syria seems to pretty clearly link the weapons' use to Assad's Syrian government.  The rocket delivery system in particular seems to rule out the rebels.  While it might not clearly link the attack to Assad himself, if someone else initiated the attack, it is an even stronger argument for getting rid of all chemical weapons in Syria.

Bankers Are the Welfare Queens

It turns out that the big bankers are Reagan's real welfare queens driving their Cadillacs or more likely their BMWs or Mercedes.  When Larry Summers dropped out of the Fed Chair race, the stock market went up, because they thought that he would not be as likely to follow Bernanke's stimulative QE policies as Janet Yellen would.  I think that Bernanke is truly targeting high unemployment, which is being largely ignored by Congress (particularly Republicans) and the administration, which seems to have given up on any meaningful economic agenda.  The indirect effect of the Fed's trying to reduce unemployment, however, is low interest rates, essentially giving away money to the hanks and rich people on Wall Street.  This is partly because the Fed is an imperfect tool to reduce unemployment, especially when Congress is often working at cross purposes with it, which it is by enacting the sequester.

In addition, the banks have a huge, expensive lobbying effort to keep interest rates low and regulation to a minimum.  Corrupt Congressmen and Senators are happy to get their payoffs from the banks.  It's a dirty business, but the bankers are getting rich chowing down at the government table of free goodies.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Ecofund Did Its Job

While I was Science Counselor at the Amrican Embassy in Warsaw, we worked out a deal whereby Poland would pay part of its debt to the US to an enviornmental fund, Ecofund in English, Ekofundusz in Polish.  Just look around on a Polish newspaper web site, I found that the fund had endured until the debt payments ran out in 2010.  So at least one thing that I worked out appears to have done some good,  A Google translation of a Polish Ministry of Environment statement follows.


After more than 18 years of environmental activities EkoFundusz completes his mission. Almost 1500 for $ 8 billion investment zł (including EcoFund 2.5 billion zł) and strategic role in civilization leap that has been made in Poland in the environment after 89 on the shortest summary of the activities of the foundation. During the ceremony, Professor. Maciej Nowicki, a longtime president of the EcoFund, and two-time environment minister, received the Commander's Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Polish for outstanding achievements in the field of environmental protection. Congratulations and thanks for making the hands of Professor. Maciej Nowicki by Janusz Zaleski, Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Environment.
EkoFundusz managing funds from the conversion of the Polish foreign debt for investment in environmental protection, ceases to trade. In the 18 years of existence, the Foundation spent nearly 2.5 billion zł to finance projects related to environmental protection.
November 17 gala dinner on the occasion of termination EkoFundusz saying goodbye to the most significant for its business personalities, including former ministers Donald Tusk's government, including Waldemar Pawlak, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy. Among the guests were also prof. Leszek Balcerowicz and the representatives of the donor countries: USA, France, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and Norway. The Ministry of Environment was represented by Janusz Zaleski, Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Environment.
Minister Andrzej Kraszewski, commenting on the event emphasized:
- Eco-Fund is an initiative which was created thanks to the personal commitment of prof. Maciej Nowicki and during its operation significantly improved the state of the environment in Poland. It would not, however, without an understanding of the needs of the Polish governments of the donor countries, so we first need to thank them. The words of recognition and congratulations for making the Foundation for Polish environmental protection is filed in the hands of the former longtime president EcoFund, prof. Maciej Nowicki and current President of Stanislaus Sitnickiego. To all those who contributed to the success EcoFund - thank you very much.
President EcoFund Stanislaw Sitnicki thanking donors and colleagues emphasized:
- Eco-Fund participated in the financing of nearly 1,500 key projects for Polish output of ecological collapse. According to an independent evaluation of the program ecoconversion Foundation contribution to the improvement of the environment in Poland is far greater than its financial participation in the process. It would not, however, the chance of these projects or the staff were not magnanimous gesture of the donor, who took a risk and gave Poland the possibility of using part of the debt repayment from the 70's to invest in environmental protection.
During the ceremony, the Minister Jacek Michalowski, head of the President's Office on behalf of the President Bronislaw Komorowski gave prof. Maciej Nowicki Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta Polish for exceptional service to the environmental achievements undertaken for the benefit of the country and public work. This is the second highest civilian honor Polish state.
Minister Maciej Nowicki in a statement after ticking said:
- This high state award I receive as a culmination of my 47 - year career in the service of my homeland, as a scientist, minister, president EcoFund and an expert in international forums. I saw before my eyes changed Poland, and improving the state of the environment and was glad that his work could also contribute to this improvement. I am grateful to President Komorowski that recognizes the importance of protecting the environment for citizens and accept this order as a symbol of appreciation for the progress they have made in Poland in the last 20 years.
EkoFundusz was established in 1992 by the Minister of Finance, to administer foreign aid funds (so-called eco-conversion means). They were given to Poland on the basis of an agreement on debt reduction and reorganization of the Polish Republic, which concluded in 1991, representatives of the Polish Government and the 17 creditor countries grouped in the Paris Club.
The program ecoconversion joined the six countries: USA, France, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and Norway. Their total contribution to the Foundation for Eco-Fund amounted to $ 573 million. They formed the main source of revenue for the Foundation. For 18 years, the Minister of Finance on a quarterly basis were sent to the account EcoFund installments as debt repayment.
The Foundation's purpose was to finance projects in the field of environmental protection, which are not only important for the region or the country, but also affect the achievement of environmental objectives in a European or even world-recognized as a priority by the international community.
Statute EcoFund identified five sectors identified as priority areas. Applicants may receive grants for projects related to the protection of air, water protection, climate protection, nature conservation and waste management. Area of activity within each sector was narrowed according to the urgency of needs and the availability of mature project proposals.
President of the Foundation, 1992-2007 prof. Maciej Nowicki, Minister of the Environment twofold.
In 2010, the year of the Polish debt is repaid in full under an agreement with the Paris Club, is the date of cessation of EcoFund.

Friday, August 30, 2013

No Moral Authority

It seems pretty clear that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, behind their front man Colin Powell, have destroyed the moral authority of the United States by invading Iraq under false pretenses and fake intelligence.  Obama now pays the price because he has to rely on the same discredited intelligence agencies, who bowed to political pressure and issued intelligence analyses requested by the White House, rather than supported by facts.

Because we have no moral authority, Obama is wasting his time trying to marshal intelligence to support his invasion of Syria.  It's not clear what he will do, but it certainly appears that it will be a military strike of some kind that would constitute an act of war.  Syria seems unlikely to respond militarily, but would have a legal right to do so under international law.  Syria may have committed unspeakable offenses against its own people, but it has not attacked the United States.  And there is no provision under the Chemical Weapons Convention which makes the US the unilateral enforcer of the Convention.

Under the circumstances, Obama should just go ahead and do whatever he and his advisers think is appropriate "punishment" for Syria, without worrying about whether Syria really should be punished and if so, how.  Act and get it over with!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Don't Intervene in Syria

President Barak Obama is looking at two types of precedents for his intervention in Syria.  There is Bill Clinton who waited too long to intervene in the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda resulting in thousands of additional deaths.  And there is George W. Bush who jumped into Iraq and Afghanistan too soon, without adequate planning, resulting in wasted deaths of US soldiers and outcomes that probably will be detrimental to the US, rather than advantageous.  The Clinton example urges him to get in; the Bush example urges him to stay out.

For me, the Bush example urging him to stay out is more apposite than the Clinton example.  In both Bosnia and Rwanda there was a pretty clear villain carrying out the genocide.  That is less clear in Syria.

The first question is to be resolved is whether the Syrian government used chemical weapons.  It’s pretty clear that chemical weapons were used, but it’s less clear who used them.  Given Obama’s “red line” it would appear stupid for Assad to use chemical weapons; he would just be inviting the US to intervene.  But maybe Assad is stupid, or maybe he is counting on that appearance of stupidity to discourage retaliation.  On the other hand, the rebels have been pleading for the US to intervene against Assad.  Because of Obama’s “red line,” the rebels have a strong motivation to make it look like Assad used chemical weapons, but do they have access to chemical weapons?  It seems possible that they might, either brought from Syrian stockpiles by defectors to the rebels, or given to them by sympathizers in other countries.  However, I know of no evidence that the rebels to have such weapons, except for some suspect photos circulated by the Syrian government.

If the Syrian government did use the chemicals, then what were the circumstances?  Was it a top level government decision by Assad himself, someone lower but still senior, or were they used by a low level person without permission from the government.  The New York Times said that the intelligence it knew of did not show a “smoking gun” linking Assad to the weapons’ use, although it did link someone in the government to their use.  If the weapons were used by some low-level person, an American attack on Syria’s command and control network might actually increase the likelihood of CW use.  Because of defections, I would be leery of communications intelligence; defectors might have Syrian government radios, for example.  The intelligence would have to be good, in light of the disastrous intelligence presented to the UN to justify the US invasion of Iraq.

On balance, I think the US should stay out of the Syrian civil war at this time.  Condemn the use of CW, but don’t intervene militarily.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Recent Letter to Congerss

I am writing to you because of a program on the new Al Jazeera cable news network.  I turned it on just to see what it was like, and happened upon a David Frost interview of the Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta.  I knew nothing about Acosta, but the interview made me reflect on US-Cuban relations.  As a Vietnam veteran, I find it odd that after a hot, fighting war, we have become best friends with Vietnam, while because of a small guerrilla action in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, we are still consumed with virulent hatred of Cuba.  I think it is time to change this policy and develop a rapprochement with Cuba.

American policy toward Cuba is a legacy of Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.  The Helms-Burton Amendment restricting visas for people connected in almost any way with Cuba was one of the reasons I retired from the State Department Foreign Service.  I was serving as science officer in Rome where my job required me to attend a cocktail party celebrating the launching of an Italian satellite by the US.  I was chatting with an executive of the Italian telephone company, who said something like, “You Americans must really hate us.  My daughter was just denied a visa to go to Disneyland because I work for the telephone company.”   I was totally surprised, and the next day went to ask the Consul General, who oversaw visa issuance, about it.  She said it was true.  Because the Italian telephone company had some connection with the Mexican telephone company, which had some connection to the Cuban telephone company, they were prohibited by Helms-Burton from issuing visas to family members of people who worked for the Italian telephone company.

Many years ago, I had read Herman Wouk’s books on World War II: Winds of War, and War and Remembrance.  At some point somewhat late in the books, I think the Jewish heroine is trying to get to Israel from Rome.  The Germans who controlled the visas said they would give her a visa, but they would not give a visa to her daughter, in effect preventing her from leaving.  I realize that these books are fiction, but the idea of punishing parents through their children was one of the worst things Wouk could think of to tar the Nazis with.  I found abhorrent the idea of the United States doing the same thing to penalize Cubans rather than Jews.  Why should the Bay of Pigs make Americans act like Nazis?  We need to put this hatred of Cuba behind us.

This was only part of the reason I retired because of my disappointment with the US government.  The main reasons had to do with government funding, which promises to be an issue again in the next few months.  I hope that you will not shut down the government as I happened to be scheduled to transfer from the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, to the American Embassy in Rome on the day that Speaker Gingrich closed down the government.  I was saying goodbye to friends at the Warsaw Embassy and was in the military attaché’s office, when my Polish assistant (who could not enter that classified area) called and said Embassy Rome was on the line.  They said that because of the government shutdown I could not leave Warsaw for Rome.  We had left our house; our car was packed, including two dogs, and we had planned to leave as soon as the Embassy closed for the day.  The State Department had a few weeks earlier asked me to curtail my assignment in Warsaw, because Italy was about to assume the Presidency of the European Union, and as a result of some dustup with the State Department personnel system, the Science Counselor in Rome had just resigned or been fired.  When a country assumes the EU presidency the workload for the embassy more or less doubles, because it has to maintain a dialogue about EU-wide issues, as well as the usual dialogue about bilateral issues.

Most Foreign Service officers fight for an assignment in Rome, but in this case I was doing it because the State Department said it needed me.  I didn’t know it until I got that 5:00 pm call, but I found out that the Deputy Chief of Mission (deputy to the Ambassador) was a friend I had served with in Brazil.  He made arrangements for me to travel to Rome, so that my wife and I were not turned out on the streets of Warsaw by the US government.  This was a bitter reminder of a night during the Vietnam War at Firebase Barbara on a mountaintop west of Quang Tri.  We received intelligence that an enemy unit was forming at the base of the mountain.  Because of Vietnamization, we had no American infantry support; we had air defense “dusters,” vehicles with twin 40 mm cannons to protect us.  Our battalion headquarters radioed and said that the dusters were notoriously lazy and had not resupplied with gasoline, which was difficult to get to the mountaintop.  Headquarters said we were not to give any of our gasoline to the dusters.  Under the circumstances this could have been a death sentence.  Of course we made sure the dusters had gas; they fired hundreds or thousands of rounds into the area where the enemy was massing and the attack never materialized.  I was not happy to have the government say that I was expendable in Poland, as it had in Vietnam.

Once I arrived in Rome, part of my nuclear non-proliferation portfolio was the US-North Korea nuclear agreement overseen by KEDO, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization.  Under this agreement one of the US responsibilities was to supply North Korea with a certain amount of fuel oil to keep their electrical generators going until the nuclear reactors promised under the agreement came on line.  This cost the US about $2 million per year, as I recall.  However, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee refused to appropriate the money to pay for the fuel oil.  Thus, part of my job in Rome was to go hat in hand to the Italians (representing both Italy and the EU) asking them for money to pay for the fuel oil so that the US would not be in breach of the agreement.  Again, I was horrified at the immoral US position.  We had an agreement with the rouge state of North Korea, but we were about to be guilty of breaching it, rather than the North Koreans, unless the Europeans helped us out.  I don’t know how this issue was resolved; I left before it was, when Italy’s EU Presidency ended, and the battle for money was being fought in Washington as well as in Rome.  I do not think that we breached the agreement at that time because of financial constraints, but I was not happy that there was even a question that we might do so.  

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Israel Is Center of US Middle East Policy

A New York Times headline today sums of US Middle Eastern policy for the last 50 years, "Chaos in Middle East Grows as the U.S. Focuses on Israel."  US policy toward Arab states has always been subordinate to our policy toward Israel.  This started when early in its life the United Nations accepted the partition of Palestine, thus allowing the creation of the state of Israel.  One of the first countries to recognize the new state was the US.  (For a slightly different view of how this happened, see "The Myth of the U.N. Creation of Israel.")  In any case, the State Department, led by General George Marshall, strongly opposed President Truman's immediate recognition of Israel, motivated in part by Truman's desire for Jewish votes in the upcoming election.

The US relationship with Israel has evolved over the years, becoming closer and closer, as the US sided with Israel in the various wars that the Arabs waged because of what they saw as the Jewish usurpation of Arab land.  The Arab states joined in various degrees of enthusiasm with the resistance of their Palestinian brethren, placing the US more and more at odds with the overwhelming majority of the states and populace of the Middle East.  But for Israel, there may never have been on OPEC and an oil crisis in the US.  The twin towers of the World Trade Center might still be standing in New York.  The US might not have fought two wars in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.  The US might be many billions of dollars richer for not having supplied Israel with massive aid over the years, about $135 billion by one estimate, and $118 billion by another estimate.

Israel is truly the tail that wags the dog of US foreign policy.  There are many reasons for this, but I do not think that many of them are driven by the national interest of the United States; they are driven by the national interest of Israel, represented by the high number of Jewish politicians in America, the huge influence of Jewish money in national elections (e.g. Sheldon Adelson), and the religious beliefs of a number of conservative, evangelical Christians that Israel is essential to the endtime or rapture.  Clearly there is also the charitable motive of helping an oppressed minority that suffered terribly in World War II.  But it's not clear to me why the Arabs had to pay for Hitler's atrocities, except that it was more convenient for whites of European ancestry.  Part of the original UN settlement also must have been that Britain was exhausted by World War II and did not want to get involved in another war in the Middle East over its Palestine mandate.  It just wanted to get out of Palestine, and giving it to Israel was the easiest alternative at the time.  It was also in accord with Britain's 1917 Balfour Declaration.  But these "easy" decisions have a way of coming back to haunt us.

At the current time, I am not sure that I agree with the New York Times article whose title I quoted above.  Israel and Palestine are still the core of the troubles in the Middle East; so, I don't think Kerry should ignore them.  But the article is right that the fires in the Middle East are now in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Iran, Afghanistan, maybe Turkey and other countries.  However, the ember that stays hot and ignites these other conflicts is the Israel-Palestinian conflict and there will be no long-term solution to Arab-spring arc of crisis until there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.  

Monday, July 01, 2013

Bernanke stimulus v Congress sequester

The stock market was upset by Fed Chairman Bernanke's statement that he might let the Fed's quantitative easing bond purchases taper off as the economy improves.  The market's view was apparently that a good economy was worthless; all that mattered was the Fed-supplied QE stimulus.

While the Fed was supplying stimulus through its purchases, the Congress was applying austerity through the sequester, slowing the economy by reducing government spending on many programs. I would not blame Bernanke if he has gotten tired of trying to save the American economy single-handedly, while the idiots in Congress, especially the House, are trying to bring back the Great Depression.  The economy must be somewhat better, or Congress would have killed it, but it was not ready for Congress to start beating on it with a stick.  So, I would guess that Bernanke will be happy to walk away from this mess, but he may want to start to unwind QE so that he does not get blamed if his successor does not do it right.

 This may mean that he will have to start unwinding it a little earlier than he would like to.  If that is the case, then the market may be right that there will be some rough patches ahead, as Bernanke begins to withdraw his first aid while Congress continues to inflict harm on it.

Paula Deen

I think Paula Deen has gotten a bad deal from the press and social media.  Most of the criticism has been about political correctness, not about something terrible that she has physically done. There are currently two other celebrities -- George Zimmerman and Aaron Hernandez -- both of whom appear to have killed black men.  They have gotten more evenhanded treatment from the public than Paula Deen, who truthfully admitted to using the "N-word," but has not been shown to have mistreated blacks physically, much less to have murdered any.  Yet, judging from the public reaction, her crime was worse than Zimmerman's or Hernandez'.  Other football players, including O.J. Simpson and Ray Lewis, probably killed people, but get much less criticism than Deen.  I see a politically correct double standard.  A few people have been less quick to condemn her, including Bill Maher, who of course made his name by making fun of stupid political correctness.  He sees that Paula Deen's accusers are largely narrow minded slaves to political correctness.

People often condemn her for admitting that she has used the N-word.  In essence they condemn her honesty.  But I respect her honesty.  The fact that people don't commend her honesty illustrates the poor character of those who condemn her.  These are people who think it is okay for Wall Street to lie about mortgages and take America to the brink of bankruptcy.

I see the attack on Paula Deen as an attack on the American South.  They hate her Southern cooking, and now they have an excuse to hate her personally.  While what she did is wrong, it was not an unforgivable sin, and her pleas for forgiveness should not fall on deaf ears, as they have in the public media.  The South is not as bad as New York and Los Angeles try to portray it.  One Reconstruction is enough.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Money in America

I was saddened by two op-eds in the NYT on Friday.  David Brooks said that the only way to measure success in America is money.  Paul Krugman said that technology will mean that fewer and fewer people will have more and more of that money.

I don't disagree with Brooks that in today's America financial success is the main way to measure success, but I think there are still people, religious or not, who have other values, and who may value some form of personal goodness, loving your neighbor, or doing good for society in general as a higher value than financial success.  It's interesting that although Brooks column talks a lot about religion, it does not mention the "Protestant work ethic" which is probably the most well-known description of the moral system that he says is now dead.

By Brooks' measure, no doctor should aspire to be a family physician, keeping regular people well over time.  All doctors should aspire to be neurosurgeons, cardiac surgeons, or orthopedic surgeons, where the money is.  Everyone should be a specialist.  I suppose you could argue that the best doctors become specialists in high-paying fields, while the worse doctors have to settle for family practices.  But I think at least a few of those actually choose to be general practice doctors because they actually want to make people well and keep them that way, not just make money.

Similarly, no lawyer would ever become a judge.  Judges' salaries are nothing compared to corporate lawyers' or plaintiffs' lawyers.  But somebody has to make decisions that keep society functioning.  Many judges do it, because they feel that it is a higher calling than litigating or finding tax dodges for multi-billion dollar companies.  There are lots of claims that today judges are being bought or influenced by the enormous financial power of big corporations and super-rich individuals, but there are still some honest judges.

But Brooks is right that in today's society a good judge or family doctor no longer has the social status that he would have had a generation or two ago.  The military is another victim.  It's pinnacle was probably after World War II, because almost everybody served, the US won, and the US was relatively unscathed by the war, compared to Europe or Asia.  The nadir was probably post-Vietnam.  9-11 helped restore some luster to the military, but still no one from a "nice" family would serve.  We have developed something of a military caste, with an officer corps drawn from military families or families not connected to the American power structure, and enlisted men drawn from the under-classes of the country, again people who are somewhat alienated from "good" society before they enlist.  They get lots of thanks, but you don't get many people from good universities or wealthy families joining the military.  Because of the relatively small base from which to draw soldiers and the high volume and long duration of the wars they are called to fight, the military is constantly under stress.  In addition, it is now becoming a social experiment by integrating women and gays into the force.  Integration worked pretty well for blacks in the military, but that was a more democratic military with a broader cross-section of soldiers than today's.  We will see whether that makes the social experiment easier or harder.  But Brooks is right that the relatively low pay for the military reduces its stature in American society.  many people who sing the National Anthem or America the Beautiful at sporting events think they are doing just as much to show their love for America as soldiers facing bullets in Afghanistan or some other foreign war.

In the other column, Paul Krugman says that we are going through a change in the economy and the nature of work as great that of the industrial revolution.  It is changing the whole balance of power between labor and capital with capital far outstripping labor in importance.  Manual labor is no longer being outsourced to poorer countries, it is being eliminated by technology.  A CEO can almost run an industrial empire from a computer on his desk.  Thus he reaps almost all of the profit from his factories' production because there are no laborer with whom he has to share it.  For the last generation or so, the technological revolution created jobs in the tech industry, writing code for all the new computers, but Krugman adds that today even those jobs are disappearing.  Education is no longer a guarantee of a decent job.  Furthermore, he says we are duping our young people into going into huge debt to finance their education, which may turn out to be useless in the job market.

If they are both right, we doom the majority of Americans to a life of poverty and low self-esteem.  Neither of them addresses the issue of "celebrity," which is a relatively new American phenomenon.  It often includes people with no special or socially useful skills who make tons of money by playing themselves of some made-up version of themselves on television and the Internet.  If money is really the indicator of social value, we find these people with almost no real value given the highest social value under the new standards.

The histories of the Roman Empire and French Revolution show similar trends, as societies abandoned the values which made them great, in both cases yielding to corruption and income inequality that eventually destroyed them.  The demonstrations yesterday in Brazil, the day before in Turkey, and perhaps last year's Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab spring show that there may be a growing perception among the masses that the super-rich 1% is saying "Let them eat cake," while the masses want jobs and salaries that allow them to buy bread and veggies.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What Next for Syria?

It is odd that the administration has sort of anonymously announced that Syria has crossed the "red line" of using chemical weapons.  Nothing new has happened in the last few days, except that Susan Rice and Samantha Power have been named to new foreign policy positions.  Both of them are activists for using power to right humanitarian wrongs.  I think the new announcement is in some way linked to their joining the administration.

Apparently the finding is that the Assad regime used chemical weapons to kill 100-150 people.  No word on specifically when and where.  Why is it worse to kill 100 people with sarin, than to kill 93,000 (a recent estimate of deaths from the war) by conventional means?  Why would Syria purposefully cross Obama's red line by using sarin to kill 100 people, when the whole idea of WMD and the red line is mass casualties.  There is no "mass destruction" alleged.  It only makes sense if think Assad purposefully wanted to stick his finger in Obama's eye.  That's possible, but unlikely, unless it got Assad some reward from the Iranians or the Russians.

I would not discount the possibility that the rebels got some small quantity of sarin gas and used it to frame Assad.  Until we know more about when, where and how the sarin was used, I think that is a possibility.  I would not put is past the rebels to use sarin gas on a few of their own people if it meant that they would get Patriot missiles from the US.

So now we are going to arm the rebels.  The best justification I have heard was from David Ignatius on "Morning Joe," who said that we are not arming them for the fight against Assad, but for the war after Assad falls.  The rebels purportedly have some good guys interspersed with the al-Qaeda linked terrorists who are fighting Assad.  Presumably we would arm the non-terrorists to fight the terrorists after Assad falls.  However, most of the radical Sunni countries in the Middle East side with the terrorist-linked rebels, or at best don't care who they are as long as they fight the Shias and the Alawites.  The idea that that we can produce a good outcome from the Syrian civil war is preposterous.  You only have to look at the most successful of our recent interventions -- Libya -- to see that a good outcome is very unlikely.  The first thing that happened after we killed Qaddafi was that the Libyans killed our ambassador.  Libya is less of a mess that Iraq or Afghanistan, but it's still a mess.  Meanwhile, the Iraq war ended up strengthening our enemy in Iran, and the war in Afghanistan has failed to stop the Taliban, but has destabilized Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, possibly facilitating the transfer of nuclear weapons to terrorists around the world.

On this issue, as on most foreign policy issues, the two best commentators are Fareed Zakaria and Zbigniew Brzezinski, possibly joined by David Ignatius.  Meanwhile, the Republican lynch mob in Congress, led by John McCain, and now aided by Rice and Power, cries for more blood.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

NSA Spying on Americans

So far the biggest problem with NSA's collection of meta-data from various American phone companies is that it is spying on Americans.  NSA, Obama, and Congress argue that collecting just the phone numbers, locations, times, etc., in not an infringement of Fourth Amendment protection against searches and seizures.  However, it is collecting information about Americans that can be used for intelligence purposes, and the fact that it is stored by NSA means that it is already treated as intelligence data.  This data can be mined for many types of information by NSA, some legitimate and permitted under the Fourth Amendment, and some not.  It's sort of like saying that the government has the right to set up microphones and cameras in your house to record your every move, but it doesn't have the right to look at it, unless it gets a court order.  Maybe NSA is being law abiding, and maybe they are not.  Maybe they are being law abiding now, but won't be in ten years, but they will still have the data to mine for inappropriate information.

If the US faced a clear and present danger to its survival, then this program might be justifiable, but I don't think that it does.  The terrorism threats we face are low-level and usually amateurish.  If you weigh the threat against the loss of civil liberties, I think that loss of civil liberties far outweighs the threat.  The threat does not justify spying on Americans, even if this spying is just recorded and not looked at.  This is exactly the kind of thing that Hitler would have used against the Jews.  In today's world, he probably could have found out where Ann Frank was hiding within hours by collecting and analyzing the meta-data of the electronic footprint of the family hiding her.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Massive Intelligence Collection Threatens Liberty

The collection of metadata about the telephone calling habits of ordinary Americans is ust the sort of thing that an authoritarian government would need to keep its population under control.  By using location and numbers called, you can tell who is white, black, Hispanic, who is Muslim catholic, or Jewish, who is rich or poor, who is politically active as a liberal or conservative.  The information is all there in the big data that NSA is collecting, but NSA promises they won't mine the data for that information.  Maybe it won't today, but what about tomorrow.

Today the system targets Muslims who don't like America.  Tomorrow it could be Jews who belong to the ACLU, or Christians who belong to the NRA, depending on ho is in charge.  The information is all there in NSA's computers; it just depends on who is processing it, and what they do with the results.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Intelligence Leaks

All the talk about the administration's investigation of intelligence leaks reminds me of one of my experiences about 20 years ago while I was in the Foreign Service.  I was the chairman of a committee looking at violations of certain US export control laws. Occasionally we would get intelligence that somebody was trying to violate the laws, and we would debate whether we could take action on the intelligence, and if so, what kind of action.  The intelligence agencies were often resistant to taking action on intelligence, because they worried that it might reveal "sources and methods."  Occasionally I opposed taking action because I did not think the intelligence was good or reliable enough.  In that case, I would usually ask the intelligence agency involved to try and get better or confirming information.  Several times when I did not want to act on questionable intelligence, I got calls at home at 10:00 or 11:00 o'clock at night from Michael Gordon (I think) who had been told the intelligence information and wanted me to confirm it.  I would not confirm it; I fell back on the old saw, "neither confirm nor deny."  I don't even remember if the articles ran.  However, I was amazed that the leaks must have come from the conservative side of the people working on the issue, probably from the CIA or the Pentagon.  And the leaks were of very highly classified information.  Somehow, I expected that if anyone were going to violate the law in order to "do good," it would be some crazy liberal, not some conservative, who claimed to be super patriotic.  I never knew who did it, but I was appalled at the cavalier treatment of classified information.

I didn't have any personal connection to the Iraq war, but I was similarly surprised that Judith Miller wrote a number of New York Times articles on the war, particularly regarding weapons of mass destruction, that were false and planted by conservatives linked to Dick Cheney and company.  It's as if conservatives have no regard for the law or the truth.  I'm sure many do, but the moral standards on the right have in the past seemed to lower than on the left.  I will be interesting if we ever find out where the new set of leaks came from.

Despite my experience, I am not in favor of the way the Obama administration is going about its investigation of the recent leaks regarding Yemen and North Korea.  I don't think Obama should be pursuing journalists; he should limit his investigation to government employees.  If the FBI is too inept to figure out who is doing the leaking without looking a journalists' phone records, then they should give up.  The journalists are not violating the law (in most cases); the leakers are.  Let the journalists do their job, and just go after the government employees.

Friday, May 17, 2013

IRS Scandal Overblown

On its face, the IRS scandal involving the questioning of 501(c)(4) applications by conservative Tea Party groups looks bad, and it is, but it's not terrible.  David Brooks makes a good point in his NYT column on the issue, generally critical, but pointing out that most Tea Party groups hate the IRS, which is reviewing their applications, and would eliminate it or drastically limit it.  Brooks says, "It’s hard to tell now if the I.R.S. scandal is political thuggery or obliviousness. It would be one thing if the scandal is just a group of tax people targeting the most anti-tax groups in the country. That’s just normal, run-of-the-mill partisan antipathy."

In addition, the 501(c)(4) provision is bad policy, as Steve Rattner wrote in the NYT, and as Stephen Colbert illustrated when he created his bogus, but legal, Super PAC during the last election cycle.  Rattner points out the one of the biggest advantages of 501(c)(4) status is that the group does not have reveal the names of its donors.  Carl Rove has worked out a scheme where he collects money through his 501(c)(4) so that he does not have to reveal donors' names, and then transfers the money to his Super PAC.  In theory the 501(c)(4) group should not be overtly political, but the Super PAC can be.  So, the IRS was given the job of overseeing one of the most controversial  election financing provisions, something that should be overseen by the Federal Elections Commission, but the FEC is toothless and worthless, the IRS is probably a better organization to it, if you are interested in protecting the American people from election fraud.  Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has only strengthened the legal channels for political corruption in America.

So, the IRS made a little stand against political corruption, and it has been viciously attacked for doing so.  It is at fault, particularly if it routinely granted 501(c)(4) status to liberal groups while giving conservative groups a hard time.  However, the real problem is the corrupt politicians who passed section 501(c)(4) in the first place so that their campaigns could rake in millions of dollars in untraceable contributions.

Try Diplomacy with Syria

Here's an op-ed in the NYT by a real FSO in Colorado, Amb. Christopher Hill, arguing the case for diplomacy to solve the Syrian civil war.  I think it is worth a try.  We should be having meetings with the Russians, the Syrians, and anybody else signficantly affected by the war, like the Jordanians and Turks; however, I am not optimistic that anything will stop the bloodshed, including American boots on the ground, much less creating a no-fly zone, or other half-way measures.  It is becoming increasingly clear that the US intervention in Libya, which appeared to be relatively cost-free and successful, was not so successful.  The attack on the American mission in Benghazi, the attack on the Amenas oil facility in Algeria, and the al Qaida unrest in Mail all showed the remaining power of the Libyan rebels who do not like us.  So, the American intervention in the relatively manageable Libyan civil war, was less than completely successful.  Whether it turns out to be 25%, 50% or 75% successful, only history will tell, like the war in Iraq.  Hopefully Libya will turn out better than Iraq.  Unfortunately one of the best American strengths in Libya, the well-liked Ambassador Christopher Stevens, was killed by the anti-American group Ansar al Sharia, weakening America's future role there.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Too Much Benghazi

I have had enough of the Republicans' screaming about Benghazi.  They are overjoyed that Amb. Stevens was killed, and they are dancing on his grave, making political capital with his death.  They, of course, argue that it is the administration and the Democrats who are dishonoring his death by not saying that he was killed by terrorists.  If you compare Benghazi to the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, where the Bush administration actually lied to cover up the fact that he was killed by friendly fire, there is no doubt that the Obama administration was more honest and more concerned about the death of those serving this country.

Only recently has it become clear that Benghazi was neither an embassy nor a consulate; it was some kind of other diplomatic mission, which seems to have been devoted to the CIA.  There were relatively few State Department personnel there; the Ambassador and an IT specialist just happened to be visiting when the attack occurred.  It's not clear what the CIA was doing; they could have been advising local leaders on political and security issues, or they might have been planning drone attacks on the very people who attacked the mission.  If that's the case, they were just too slow.

I also think it's unbalanced to have a man of outstanding moral character arguing with a low-life like Issa.  Wikipedia says Issa was accused of several car thefts, although he apparently was never convicted, and collected on a large fire insurance policy on his company under suspicious circumstances.  He apparently served honorably in the military, although apparently without leaving the US or serving in combat.  Meanwhile, Ambassador Pickering is an honorable man who has served in many senior jobs in the State Department, as ambassador to several countries and as assistant secretary and under secretary in Washington.  While I was an intelligence analyst in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, I worked with Pickering when he was Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment, and Science, and had such a high opinion of him that he is one of the reasons I stayed in the Foreign Service.

Ambassador Pickering's report led to the firing of several State Department employees from their jobs dealing with security.  The Republicans are less interested in security; they are only interested in the talking points prepared for Ambassador Rice the Sunday after the Benghazi attacks, claiming that the talking points were modified for political reasons because of Obama's election campaign.

There seems to be some consensus that the attack was carried out by a group called Ansar al Sharia, although different from the group with the same name in Yemen. This group made a positive name for itself during the rebellion against Qaddafi, but it aroused hostility by its attack on the Benghazi mission, especially since Amb. Stevens was well known and loved by the Libyan people.  It does not appear that it has done anything of significance since 9/11/2012.  It seems to me that in a rational world the Republicans would be mad at Ansal al Sharia for killing the Americans, rather than at President Obama for allowing some watered-down talking points to be used while the US Government was still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Income Inequality Changes Housing Market

Income inequality is putting more and more houses into the hands of the wealthy 1 or 2 percent, raising prices and making it more difficult for regular people to buy a house.  Stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times document this phenomenon.  The big investors buying the homes are counting on regular people not being able to buy and having to rent the homes the investors are buying.  The New York Times says that the investors are taking a risk, because renting a large number of single family houses is a new undertaking that is difficult to manage.  The investors say that computer technology will allow them to keep up with the numerous records, repairs, etc., that have to be kept for each house.

The Washington Post says that in the formerly depressed Florida market, big investors are buying as much as 70% of the houses sold, perhaps inflating the figures indicating a revival of the housing market.  These are houses that had been owned by individuals until they were foreclosed.  Now they will be rental units being rented by the rich to regular people, who used to own their homes.  The Washington Post says the percentage of Americans owning their home has fallen from 69.2% to  65.4% since 2004.

The attraction for big investors is that very few assets these days pay any significant return.  Bond and stock yields are low and the risk is relatively high for the low return of 1 or 2%.  Buying cheap, foreclosed properties that can yield an 8% return quickly is inviting.

Both articles point out the risks for investors if there is another housing downturn, but the problem with income inequality is that for the rich, an investment that turns sour is not the end of the world, while for a regular person, losing his only home to foreclosure is something like the end of the world.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Foreign Service Losing Ground at State Department

The op-ed in the Washington Post about the State Department's Foreign Service losing ground even within the Department struck a nerve with me.  One of the authors was Susan Johnson, whose parents I knew in Washington; her father was a Foreign Service officer.  Another was Amb. Tom Pickering, whom I worked with as a junior officer and whom I looked up to during my whole career in the Foreign Service.

The issue is an old one, the fact that political appointees are taking over more and more jobs at the State Department.  It also highlights the Foreign Service's loss of prominence to the State Department's Civil Service employees.

When I was the Science Counselor at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, the State Department asked me if I would be willing to transfer to the American Embassy in Rome, because the Science Counselor in Rome was leaving, and Italy was taking over the Presidency of the European Union, which meant a big increase in the workload for Rome, since it would have to deal with the usual bilateral issues, plus EU-wide issues that came up to Italy as the EU President.  I agreed to go, since I thought the State Department needed me there.

When I arrived, however, I found that Embassy Rome had been fighting with the State Department personnel system for some time over this position.  The incumbent Science Counselor, who was being forced to leave was a political appointee, one of the problems pointed out in the op-ed.  He had come in with Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew, who was then the American Ambassador in Rome.  The political appointee had been in the State Department for eight years, which was the limit for "Schedule C" political appointments.  Bartholomew had tried to get the Science Officer accepted into the career Foreign Service, but for whatever reason, the Foreign Service personnel system had refused; so, he was had to leave.  Apparently Amb. Bartholomew was angry and the system, and was determined to get his own man, apparently someone other than a Foreign Service officer, if only the spite the system.  The odd thing to me was that I knew the Civil Service officer they wanted.  In a previous job, he had worked just across the hall from me.  His office was partly responsible for assigned science officers overseas, and had had a role in my assignment to Warsaw, but apparently not to Rome.  When I had worked with him, I thought he had been a nice enough guy, but under the circumstances I felt that I had been stabbed in the back.  My immediate boss, the Economic Minister in Rome, obviously wanted to replace me to please the Ambassador.  Since I was eligible to retire, I decided to retire rather than try to work for two people who did not want me there.

I was ready to retire anyway.  In Warsaw, the budget for the American-Polish science cooperation that my office supervised had been cut to zero by Newt Gingrich and the Republicans, although we had formally agreed to fund it for several more years.  Then, the day I was to transfer from Warsaw to Rome, Gingrich shut down the entire US Government.  My wife and I had moved out of our house in Warsaw, shipped all of our household effects to Rome, and just had a few suitcases in the car, ready to start to drive to Rome that night.  At about 5:00 pm, Rome called and said, "Don't come."  We had nowhere to live.  I finally got Rome to agree that we could leave and go to Rome, but the idea that the US Government would put my wife and me on the street in the winter in Warsaw was abhorrent to me.  It was like sending soldiers into battle and then abandoning them.  It soured forever my opinion of the US Government.

When I got to Rome, one of my jobs was working with the Italians on North Korea.  The US had agreed to supply North Korea with certain things if the North Koreans would give up their nuclear bomb building program.  However, as part of the budget cutting, the Republicans were refusing to appropriate the money necessary to meet America's obligations under the agreement.  Thus, one of my jobs was to go hat in hand to the Italians and ask them as Italians and as the European Union if they could put some money into the pot to pay for what we had to send to North Korea to meet our obligations.  After what had happened in Warsaw and during my transfer to Rome, I was very unhappy to be representing a government that refused to pay its bills.

So, between the Embassy's lobbying to replace me with a Civil Service officer, and the US Government asking me to plead for money from the EU that the US was obligated to pay, I decided that I had had enough and I retired.  It's sad that I left the Foreign Service feeling so bitter.  I suppose I could have stayed and fought the system.  I had tenure and good efficiency reports up to that assignment; I could have stayed for at least a few years, but I didn't really want to work for an Ambassador and immediate boss who wanted me gone.  It was unpleasant while I was there, and if I had fought the system, it would have become still more unpleasant.  I was replaced by the Civil Service officer, but I never heard how his assignment worked out.  I hope for America's sake that it went well.

It's interesting that the op-ed highlights today's problems particularly in "policy bureaus that deal with issues such as ... environment and disarmament."  Both of these fell in my area of responsibility in Warsaw and Rome, as well as in many of the assignments I had during my career.  Had I worked more on bilateral political and economic issues, perhaps my career would have gone better.

When I worked with Amb. Pickering, he was Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science (OES).  I gather that it would be unusual for a career Foreign Service officer like Amb. Pickering to have this job today.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fear of North Korea Overblown

Yesterday Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn disclosed a previously classified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) evaluation that North Korea could put a nuclear warhead on a missile, according to the New York Times.  When I worked at the State Department, including in its Bureau of Intelligence and Research, people uniformly thought that DIA's intelligence analysis was poor, except in areas such as particular tactical weapons evaluations.  In strategic areas, such as nuclear weapons development, DIA always tended to overplay the threat, presumable because it meant budget money.  The Pentagon needed dire threats to justify spending the huge amounts of money it wanted for its various weapons programs.  Thus, it needed to build up the threatening image of the enemy, whoever it was, the old Soviets, or the new terrorists, or North Korea. 

I think there probably was some collusion between Congressman Lamborn and the Pentagon.  It may not just be accidental that the sentence or paragraph that Lamborn quoted was unclassified, while the rest of the report was.  Somebody at DIA probably wanted to get that analysis out, and worked out a way to do it through Lamborn.  But the rest of the US Government has pretty much disavowed the statement as just the unfounded opinion some crazy DIA analysts. 

I don't think that even next door neighbor South Korea needs to worry about being hit by a nuclear tipped North Korean missile, although it might need to worry about a nuclear weapons delivered by some more conventional means, such as aircraft, truck or ship.  In addition, North Korea probably has few nuclear weapons.  Despite their flouting restrictions on their nuclear program, over the years the international pressure has slowed down their program, meaning that they have relatively little nuclear material, either plutonium or enriched uranium. Just recently they have threatened to restart the plutonium production reactor which has been shut down for years. 

Fear of North Korea Overblown

Yesterday Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn disclosed a previously classified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) evaluation that North Korea could put a nuclear warhead on a missile, according to the New York Times.  When I worked at the State Department, including in its Bureau of Intelligence and Research, people uniformly thought that DIA's intelligence analysis was poor, except in areas such as particular tactical weapons evaluations.  In strategic areas, such as nuclear weapons development, DIA always tended to overplay the threat, presumable because it meant budget money.  The Pentagon needed dire threats to justify spending the huge amounts of money it wanted for its various weapons programs.  Thus, it needed to build up the threatening image of the enemy, whoever it was, the old Soviets, or the new terrorists, or North Korea. 

I think there probably was some collusion between Congressman Lamborn and the Pentagon.  It may not just be accidental that the sentence or paragraph that Lamborn quoted was unclassified, while the rest of the report was.  Somebody at DIA probably wanted to get that analysis out, and worked out a way to do it through Lamborn.  But the rest of the US Government has pretty much disavowed the statement as just the unfounded opinion some crazy DIA analysts. 

I don't think that even next door neighbor South Korea needs to worry about being hit by a nuclear tipped North Korean missile, although it might need to worry about a nuclear weapons delivered by some more conventional means, such as aircraft, truck or ship.  In addition, North Korea probably has few nuclear weapons.  Despite their flouting restrictions on their nuclear program, over the years the international pressure has slowed down their program, meaning that they have relatively little nuclear material, either plutonium or enriched uranium.  Just recently they have threatened to restart the plutonium production reactor which has been shut down for years. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jury Duty

I had to report for jury duty on Monday for the first time in my life.  When I lived in Virginia, lawyers were automatically exempted, at least for part of the time that I lived there, plus I was overseas for much of my career and thus unavailable for jury duty.

I was one of the jurors initially selected for a misdemeanor trial.  The judge and the lawyers asked the potential jurors a number of questions, and my reply to one surprised me.  They asked how much faith we had in the American legal system on a scale from 1 to 10.  I decided on 6, which made me lower than most. I chose such a relatively low number because I am unhappy with the American legal system.

I think that we are approaching a double standard for justice before the law, one for the rich and famous and one for everybody else.  In particular, I'm unhappy that more people have not been brought to trial (and convicted) for the financial shenanigans that produced the banking crisis that created the "Great Recession."  In addition, insider trading seems to be the rule, rather than the exception, for the rich.  There have been a few trials, but I think it is only the tip of the iceberg.  More and more rich people don't even trade on the public market; they trade in dark pools, where who knows what they do.  They also come up with complex transactions, often through foreign markets, since much of their money is probably already in overseas tax havens.  Hollywood actors may go to trial, but they seldom get convicted, and if they do, they seldom serve any actual jail time.

In theory the jury system, providing a jury of regular people, should counter this favoritism for the rich and famous, but good, expensive lawyers manage to sway jurors, who may already be overawed by the fame of the people they are judging.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cheney's Military Service

I watched the Showtime movie "The World According to Dick Cheney," but was disappointed at its failure to challenge Cheney's views.  My first objection was that it did not say anything about Cheney's failure to serve in Vietnam.  It talks about how he was expelled from Yale and worked back in Wyoming as an electric lineman before resuming his education in Wyoming and then Wisconsin.  This was in the 1960s, prime time for the Vietnam draft.  His Wikipedia page and this Slate article describe how he weaseled out of the draft.  Normally a student deferment was for only four years; Cheney got more.  For his fifth deferment, he reportedly got a hardship deferment because his wife was pregnant.  Wikipedia says he told that Washington Post, "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service."

I don't think that everybody who avoided the draft was a coward, but it certainly raised questions about their patriotism.  I think that Cheney thought he was more important than America.  Maybe he thought he was destined to save America from itself.  If so, it didn't work out.  The wars have probably weakened the US militarily and damaged our image abroad.  The huge costs incurred without increasing taxes to pay for the wars damaged the US economy for years to come.

One new, unfavorable fact about Cheney that I learned from the movie was that toward the end of the Bush administration, he became seriously estranged from President Bush.  Bush thought that Cheney had led him astray on foreign policy and defense issues, and in particular had sandbagged him on the issue of illegal wiretapping by the government.

I think it is safe to say that Cheney has no regrets because he has no heart and no conscience.  While he avoided the draft as a young man, he let young men from Wyoming serve in the wasteful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although it looks like only 14 from Wyoming died in Iraq.

Dick Cheney: unpatriotic coward who undermined American greatness.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Government Funding Deja Vu

The sequester episode brings to mind very bad memories of my government service.  I basically quit the Foreign Service because of the government's refusal to fund things I thought it should have funded in the turmoil around the government shutdown in 1995 and 1996.

In the early years of the Clinton administration, before Newt Gingrich and the Republicans came to power in 1994, two years into the Clinton administration, the US had signed a agreement to provide funding for joint science projects between the US and Poland and other former eastern bloc countries for five years.  When I arrived in Warsaw, the US had already provided $2 million funding for one year, and it provided the same amount for the second year, which was the first year of my assignment in Poland.  But Congress refused to provide funding for what would have been the third year of the program.

A fairly senior Polish diplomat repeated called me into the Foreign Ministry to berate me on behalf of the United States for failing to live up to its obligations.  I told him that if wanted results, he should call in the Ambassador rather than me, but at that time Poland was not yet a member of NATO, much less of the EU, and it did not want to do anything that would damage its efforts to join those organizations.  So, he continued to tell me how upset Poland was at the US default.  Having been raised in the South with a heavy dose of lecturing on the importance of honesty, honor, integrity, etc., the fact that I was the representative of a country that failed to live up to those standards hurt me deeply.

About six months or so after the US decision to abrogate the cooperation agreement, the Ambassador decided that the embassy had no need of a science officer, because there was little scientific activity outside of the cooperation agreement.  He said that I could finish my tour, but I would not be replaced when I left.  A little while after that, the State Department in Washington asked if I would be willing to transfer from Warsaw to Rome to take the science job at the embassy there.  I agreed and was scheduled to leave in a few weeks.

It turned out that the day of my departure from Warsaw to Rome was the day the United States Government shut down, November 14, 1995, according to Wikipedia.   My wife and I had moved everything out of our government housing in Warsaw.  Most of our things had been shipped to Rome, but we had a car full  of clothes and two dogs that we planned to drive to Rome.  At about 4:00 pm, while I was saying farewell to some friends in the embassy, Rome called and said not to come because I had been furloughed and there was no funding for travel.  However, we had nowhere to live in Warsaw and everything we owned was either in transit or in the trunk of the car.

Unfortunately, this reminded me of an experience in the Army during the Vietnam War.  My artillery battery was stationed on a mountaintop at a base called Firebase Barbara, west of Quang Tri, near the Laotian border, where we were shelling the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Vietnamization had started; so, we had no American infantry to defend us.  Instead we had two "dusters," old anti-aircraft weapons systems that shot 40 mm rounds like a machine gun.  The duster crews were always stationed in isolated, dangerous places and had a reputation of having gone native and not being very professional.  One night we got an intelligence report that enemy troops were massing at the base of our mountain, apparently planning to attack us.  I got a radio call from our headquarters telling us not to give the dusters any gasoline, because they were famous for not having any, and it was too hard to get it out to us.  However, it looked like if the dusters could not shoot, we were all going to die.  We made sure the dusters had gas; they blew away the area at the base of the mountain where the enemy was supposed to be assembling, and the attack never materialized.

But that's how it struck me -- that the US Government would rather that my wife and I freeze to death in Poland than provide us shelter.  A government that sends troops into the field and then fails to provide them with ammunition and other necessities is a pretty worthless government, and that's what I thought of our government.  We weren't going to die, but for all the government cared, we could have.  Unfortunately, a similar attitude led to the deaths of the American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, a few months ago.

I tended to be just a soldier in the Foreign Service.  I was not an outstanding diplomat.  The assignment in Rome was a plum, but it had fallen into my lap.  Most people who go to nice places lobby hard for the assignment.  I didn't know much of anything about the personnel in Rome.  I was so mad that this time, rather than be the good soldier and camp out in some hotel in Warsaw, I called Rome to complain about being left on the street.  It turned out that the DCM, the deputy ambassador, was someone I knew from a previous assignment in Brazil.  He said to go ahead and travel to Rome and they would figure out the paperwork somehow.  I did, but that basically ended my desire to serve the US government.  I would not serve a government that abandons its troops in the field.

A diplomat is many things: a journalist reporting on the country where you are assigned, a mailman carrying messages from our government to theirs, but also a salesman, both for American products and for the American way of life.  When the government I was representing fell to some mean-spirited, dictatorial, third-world standard, I didn't want to represent it anymore.

I went to Rome.  One reason they wanted me there was that Italy was assuming the presidency of the European Union, which meant that most of the diplomats in the embassy did double duty, they had to deal with the Italian government on the usual bilateral issues, but also on European Union issues.  The presidency lasts for six months.  I stayed for six months to take care of the extra work, but then retired from the Foreign Service and left.

Hegel Confirmed

Chuck Hegel was confirmed today as Defense Secretary according to the Wall Street Journal.  The article cites Hegel's positions on Israel and Iran as obstacles to his nomination.  Iran is really a subset of the Israel issue, since Iran is much more of a military threat to Israel than to the US.  I have been upset that his nomination was being blocked by Jews who were more concerned about Israel than the US.  However, in the final vote, most of the Jews in the Senate are Democrats who vote for Hegel, while the good-old-boy,
Christian, conservative Republicans voted against him.  The one favor that some of them did was to vote against filibustering his nomination.  Many of these conservative, Christian Republicans were responding to urging by the Jewish lobby AIPAC, which represents the conservative wing of Israeli politics.