Friday, December 26, 2014

Jewish Spies in Cuba

As this Washington Post op-ed says, Alan Gross's involvement in the US rapprochement with Cuba is a subplot that will soon fade away.  To me, however, it illustrates the enormous power of Jews in America and the Jewish lobby in Washington.  The US embargo on Cuba and related sanctions, including the Helms-Burton Act which I find horrendous, has been in place for decades and attacked by various people and groups for decades, but it took the Cuban arrest of Alan Gross, an American Jew who was working on some sort of spy mission involving Cuban Jews, to break the back of the sanctions.  The fact that Alan Gross was exchanged for three high value Cuban spies illustrates his importance and the Jewish influence behind him.  The US claimed that the three Cubans were exchanged for an unidentified American spy, not Alan Gross, but the reason the other spy was never identified is because he did not exist.  There may have been another spy exchanged, but he was nothing compared to Alan Gross and his importance to the Jewish lobby.

It's not clear to me what Gross's spy mission was.  He was setting up a clandestine internet for Cuban Jews, but I don't know if this clandestine connection was for American Jews to use to support Cuban Jews, or was to get Cuban Jews to report information about Cuba to the CIA or some other American group collecting such information.  In one case, Cuban Jews stood to benefit from outside contact, in the other they became liable to arrest as spies working for America.  The Cubans seemed to view it in the latter light, no matter what the original intent was.

Interestingly, Raj Shah, the head of USAID, resigned shortly after Gross's release, although everyone claimed there was no connection between the two events.  Shah was also accused of being involved in two other clandestine activities in Cuba, some kind of hip-hop activity and some kind of twitter set up.  The Washington Post article noted above raises the question whether Gross was an unwitting civilian contractor manipulated by USAID.  Of course the other question is whether Gross was really a CIA agent operating under USAID cover, or perhaps under the additional cover or some Jewish organization.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cuban Relations

It sounds as if the US will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, according to news reports.  This is something that should have been done years ago.  The terrible Helms-Burton Act denying visas to children with even the slightest connection to Cuba was one of the reasons I left the Foreign Service.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed that it happened the way it has.  It gives the impression that Jews are in control of the United States Government.  The main emphasis of the announcement was the release of Alan Gross, an American Jew, from a Cuban prison, and his return to the United States.  According to the Jerusalem Post, Gross was sent to Cuba to set up a clandestine internet service for Cuban Jews.  Although he is an American, Gross was essentially an Israeli Mossad spy sent to Cuba under American USAID cover.  Interestingly, Gross was released while the US released three Cuban spies, but to cover the Mossad connection, the US said Gross was released on "humanitarian grounds, "not as part of a swap of spies.  Despite the denials, Gross was apparently worth three Cuban spies.

So, we see the Jewish lobby is more powerful than the Cuban lobby, and also more effective than clear-thinking, normal Americans (as opposed to Jewish-Americans, Cuban-Americans, or other hyphenated Americans).  It's sad that Jews and Cubans are both so racist, but in this case the result was the correct one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Congressional Torture Report

I think that to some extent the Congressional torture report is much ado about nothing.  I haven't read the report, but based on TV and press discussions of it, I don't think that there is much new in it.  It may just be official verification of allegations already made by journalists.  It does accuse the CIA of torture, but I think torture is a vague term.  When I was in Brazil, the military government used to do much worse things to Brazilian dissidents than waterboarding.  I had one American prisoner who was sort of my responsibility since he was a fellow Vietnam veteran, and I went to visit him frequently to discourage the Brazilians from doing anything bad to him.  He was held in the basement of an unmarked house in a very nice neighborhood with other "political prisoners."

But whether something is torture or not, it is probably good for the US to debate whether we want (or should) do it or not.  We are debating this for us, to maintain our integrity, not to coddle the prisoners.

One thing that seems to have come out is that career CIA officers did not want to do these things, waterboarding, etc.  So, the CIA hired some contractors to do it.  The fact that career officers did not want to do it seems to speak well of the CIA, and seems to call into question whether it should have been done.  The other question is whether these tactics worked, whether they got information.  There seems to be a split of opinion on whether they did or not.  It seems to me that this is a question that additional information should help clear up.  How did we learn about Osama bin Laden's courier?  Somebody must know the correct answer.  But it seems like all we get are political answers.

Constitutional Convention

The following are my thoughts on this article about calls for a Constitutional Convention.

When I grew up in the South, the standard justification for the Civil War was that it was not about slavery, it was about “states’ rights.”  That is what this constitutional convention is promoting.  I’m not worried that war is coming soon, but clearly discontent is building.  Much of this article is about the evils of money in the political system.  My view is that the Supreme Court’s conservative justices are largely responsible for that problem, in part by striking down their fellow Republican’s legislation, the McCain-Feingold Act, and of course the more recent decisions, such as Citizens United v. FEC.  This has basically turned Washington over to the billionaires and corporations and their lobbyists.

On term limits, I think their efficacy is debatable.  Sometimes it takes a while to learn how the system works.  In the old days, this meant that some old timers like Everett Dirksen, Bob Dole, Sam Nunn, etc., could get some good things done.  Now they use their expertise to block legislation rather than create it, but that could change.  Another big problem is gerrymandering.  Each party creates safe house districts that make it impossible for the opposing party to challenge the incumbent.  House elections are no longer genuinely democratic (small “d”); they are rigged by both parties to return the incumbent in every election.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Unfavorable Book on Gen. George Marshall

I was saddened to read the review of the new book on Gen, George Marshall, who is one of my heroes.  The New York Times Book Review of George Marshall by the Ungers and Hirshson is critical of Marshall and downplays his leadership.  The review by Mark Atwood Lawrence states:

Debi and Irwin Unger take exception to this [usual] heroic depiction [of Marshall] in their elegant and iconoclastic biography, which pokes innumerable holes in Marshall’s reputation for leadership and raises intriguing questions about how such reputations get made. Marshall emerges not as the incarnation of greatness but as an ordinary, indecisive, “less than awe-inspiring” man who achieved an unexceptional mix of success and failure.  

Looking up Debi and Irwin Unger and Stanley Hirshson on the Internet, Iwas not surprised to find that they appear to be Jewish.  Jews do not like Marshall because as Secretary of State he opposed Truman's immediate recognition of Israel when it was created.  Marshall thought it might create problems in the Middle East.  Jews also resent the fact that Allied leaders -- including FDR, Churchill, and Marshall -- delayed invading Europe until D-Day.  Jews feel that the Anglos allowed more Jews to die while they were preparing the assault.  Of course, more Anglos would have died, and the invasion might have failed, without that preparation.  Nevertheless, many Jews hate the Anglo leadership, including Marshall, for not trying to stop the Holocaust years earlier than they did.  Interestingly, the review states:

  They also laud Marshall’s determination, in the face of opposition from much of the American public, to prioritize the war in Europe over the fight against Japan and, over British objections, to make a major attack across the English Channel the focal point of Allied strategy rather than operations in the Mediterranean. 

Of course, these decisions helped speed up the rescue of Jews from the Holocaust, just not by enough to win more praise from the authors.

Thus, I find this biography to be flawed by the prejudices of the authors.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bad News

I can’t find an American news network that has worldwide coverage even close to matching Aljazeera’s.  I watched the main news summaries on several American morning shows – Morning Joe, Good Morning America, CBS Morning.  None of them mentioned the fact that VP Joe Biden is in Ukraine.  Even if he is not doing much, he presence is news, especially his helping President Poroshenko mark the one year anniversary of the protests that ousted Putin buddy President Yanukovych.  I thought that Charlie Rose was going to add some substance to the CBS morning show, but he hasn’t added much.  Nevertheless, I think it has somewhat better news coverage than ABC or NBC. 

Recently Aljazeera has had good environmental reports on the plight of elephants and rhinos in Africa.  I haven’t heard the US networks mention that, although the NYT has covered the environmental group’s report that was the basis of the elephant story. 

Aljazeera reporting on the Middle East is extensive, but probably questionable because of Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Muslim movements.  However, it seems to be making an effort to be balanced.  On its main nightly news show John Seigenthaler recently interviewed a Jewish correspondent about the situation in Jerusalem.  I worry that American newsrooms are dominated by Jews, who may skew their news coverage on the Middle East in an anti-Muslim direction. 

Mainly, the American networks no longer have correspondents stationed around the world as Aljazeera does.  The networks have a few foreign correspondents that they fly around to wherever the hotspots are, but they don’t have correspondents on the ground who have some personal information about the situation.  By and large, the American network guys and girls just stand in front of some local landmark and report what they have gotten from a recent press briefing.  Each American network has one or two correspondents who spend lots of time in the Middle East (e.g., Richard Engel), but Aljazeera appears to have dozens who go places the Americans never visit.  Martha Raddatz used to be very good on covering the military in the Iran and Afghan wars, but since the wars have wound down and she has lost her military contacts, she seems to be relegated to the same rote reports as the other correspondents. 

I don’t watch CNN much anymore because it just seems to have pundits and talking heads arguing about news that somebody else reports.  Aljazeera is what CNN used to be before it self-destructed. 

The American network morning shows always have lots of reports on the weather.  I think it is because weather is easy to do.  They just send some reporter to stand in the wind, the rain, or the snow, and talk about how bad it is.  If they are really lazy, they just use a local reporter rather than sending a national one.  They know Americans probably care more about the weather than about foreign affairs or the economy.  CNBC and Bloomberg do a fair job of reporting on the economy, but the evening and morning news tend to concentrate on easy topics, like the price of gas.

The one American news show that matches or exceeds Aljazeera is the PBS News Hour.  Although it does not have its own overseas correspondents, it uses ITN's.  It covers international and economic news much better than the commercial networks.  Margaret Warner's coverage of international issues is superb.  She travels frequently, and when she does, she interviews senior news makers, rather than just reporting press conferences.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Soviets and the Holocaust

Jewish screaming about the horrors of the Holocaust and the evil indifference of the Allies in not coming to their aid soon enough has obscured the important role of the Soviet Union in winning World War II.  If Hitler had not invaded the Soviet Union and brought them into the war, Hitler may have solidified his domination of Western Europe even if he had not been able to invade England or the US.  The result would have been that many more Jews would have died and the status of Jewry in the world would have been greatly diminished.  Israel would probably never have been created.

The Soviets suffered the most casualties of any nation in the War, about double what the Jews suffered in the Holocaust.  But the Jews spit on the Soviet sacrifices although they probably saved millions of Jewish lives by defeating the Germans.  It is unlikely that the US and UK alone could have invaded Western Europe on D-Day if the Soviets had not defeated a major part of the German army on the eastern front.

Even in America, we have a World War II memorial because the Jews made the war about the Holocaust.  American GIs thought their victory over Hitler would have ensured their legacy, but the Jews perverted it by accusing them of delaying the invasion of Europe while Jews died in German prison camps.  The Jews portray American leadership from FDR down as morally and militarily weak.  America had to create World War II memorials to offset the Jewish defamation of World War II veterans.  While Americans did fight valiantly and were probably a deciding factor in the defeat of Germany, the Soviets were also essential, but they get even more Jewish derision than American veterans.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Oligarchy versus Free Markets

            To function well, capitalism requires a free market.  Markets in America are becoming progressively less free as they become more oligopolistic.  Antitrust is basically dead.  Mergers and acquisitions are becoming more frequent and much larger, highlighted by this Wall Street Journal story.  A market dominated by a few huge players is not free.  It’s bad for customers, who cannot bargain with so few alternatives, and for employees, who are hugely overmatched by the power of management.  It tends to stifle innovation, because in many cases small companies cannot compete with the market giants, who will drive new competitors out of business by cutting prices or other punitive measures.   

            Outsourcing and automation have increased the power of the already powerful market giants.  .  Very little is manufactured in America, despite ABC TV’s efforts to find things made here.  Bank tellers are one of the latest entry level jobs to go the way of the dodo bird, replaced by on-line banking and ATMs.  Management of these large companies is furiously trying to bring labor costs to zero.  They have enlisted the Republican Party to help them break unions.  There are almost no unions left in the manufacturing sector; the most powerful ones are in the public sector, particularly teachers.  For lobbyists’ money, Republicans politicians have taken on the task of destroying the teachers’ union, which would probably be the death knell for unions across the country.  Republicans already dislike education; how many times did Republicans say, “I am not a scientist,” during this last election.  They are uneducated and proud of it, but they also have an economic agenda behind their efforts to destroy schools and teachers. 

            The heart of the matter is that Republicans love money and love people with money.  This is why they are willing to outsource the defense of the country to their friends who supply private armies for money.   That’s why they want to lower taxes, and end regulations that in any way hinder their patrons from making a quick buck.  That’s why we have even government healthcare like Medicaid run by private insurance companies, of which there are only a few giants who dominate the market. 

            The American people sense these dislocations.  They recognize that American business is not the same as it was a generation or two ago.  That is one reason they don’t have faith in the current economy.  They see, either objectively or subjectively, that the American economy is not a free market.  It is stacked in favor of the rich, who get their taxes lowered, their political influence strengthened.  At the moment, relatively few people are starving; we are not on the verge of a French Revolution, but we seem to be moving toward that sort of climax, rather than away from it. 

            The most recent episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom,” with federal agents swarming the newsroom floor, was no doubt intended to be reminiscent of France’s “Le Miserables” or perhaps even Nazi-era Germany.  As Thomas Jefferson said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Problems with 501(c)(4) Organizations

The recent elections point out how corrupting the influence of 501(C)(4) organizations is.  The organizations are the means of protecting the use of dark money in elections which cannot be traced to any individual or organization.  The IRS was right to investigate applications for 501(c)(4) organizations; almost everyone involved in them is corrupt and is corrupting the American elections process. 

To qualify under 501(c)(4), an organization must be a nonprofit organized exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.  It is not supposed to be a political advocacy organization, except to the extent that something like historical preservation or child welfare might get involved in the political process in order to further its social aims.  It may engage in lobbying for its cause as its primary activity; however, political activities may not be the organizations “primary activities.”  Presumably this means that political activities cannot constitute more than 50% of its activities, probably determined by how it spends its money. 

The web site list the following as the main 501(c)(4) spenders in the 2014 campaign:

Crossroads GPS
NRA Institute
Patriot Majority USA
League of Conservation Voters
American Action Network
Kentucky Opportunity Coalition
Carolina Rising
Americans for Prosperty

An Ohio State College of Law article on 501(c)(4)’s states that they must file a Form 990 with the IRS.  While the 990 includes information regarding contributors who give at least $5,000, that information is not made public.  In discussing the IRS controversy pursued by Congressman Issa, the article says: 

When Congress passed the disclosure provisions in § 527, it required disclosure by organizations that intervened in political campaigns. Some organizations that engage in significant political activity have claimed that their activities are not political but are social welfare activities. If organizations primarily engaged in political activity are classified as social welfare organizations, then Congressional intent regarding disclosure will be flouted. Determining the primary purpose of the organization, therefore, requires the IRS to examine the political activities of the organizations seeking status as a social welfare organization and to determine whether those organizations are social welfare organizations or political organizations.

In discussing the IRS investigation, the article goes on to say:

It is very difficult to determine the primary purpose of an organization. The questions asked of these organizations were clearly designed to try to examine the organizations’ activities. Obviously, an organization seeking status as a social welfare organization that is familiar with the legal rules in this area is not going to state that its primary activity is intervention in a political campaign. If it did so, it would be a § 527 political organization. The IRS needs to examine an organization that applies for recognition under § 501(c)(4) to determine its true purpose. To take an extreme example, if the organization spent $10,000 on social welfare activities but had 1,000 volunteers who engaged in campaign intervention activities, the primary purpose of the organization would likely be political, despite the fact that it spent more money on social welfare activities. It is understandable how an agent thinking about investigating an organization would ask these types of questions. It is also understandable that in the aggregate these questions were unduly intrusive. 

The law appears to be designed to facilitate misuse and thereby contribute to the corruption of elections.  My opinion is that anyone who uses a 501(c)(4) organization is probably undermining the American electoral system.  It is a bad law and should be repealed.  

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Chaos in the Middle East

I am disgusted by US policy in the Middle East.  It appears to be the US policy to overthrow every government and replace it with chaos.  We have created an enormous, fertile breeding ground for terrorism.  Afghanistan pre-9/11 was a relatively safe, orderly country compared to Syria today, and thanks to the US policy of destroying governments that might have helped contain the chaos in Syria things are getting worse. 

The most recent target of US destabilization is Turkey.  Whether rightly or wrongly, Turkey perceives the Kurds, particularly under the leadership of the PKK, as terrorists who want to form a greater Kurdistan that would take away part of Turkey, or ideally for the Kurds, overthrow the Turkish government.  The US is supporting the Kurds despite the protests of the Turkish government.  Because of Turkey’s fear of the PKK, the US came up with the idea of bringing Kurds from Iraq to fight in Kobani, because Turkey doesn’t care of the Kurds create a Kurdistan in Iraq; that is not their problem.  The US currently seems much more favorably disposed toward creating a Kurdistan from Iraq than it did when Biden first proposed it years ago. 

But Turkey is only the most recent target of US destabilization attempts.  We have already destabilized Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt (especially the Sinai), Libya, and Yemen.  While Tunisia looks better, having just completed fair elections, it is a big source of recruits for ISIS.  Regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, Iraq is already going down the tubes, and Afghanistan looks set to follow after we leave.  Several recent articles have compared the Iraq and Afghan wars to Vietnam, especially to the battle of Khe Sanh, positing the idea that American soldiers won every battle, but the political leadership lost the war. 

It’s still not clear which way the battle for Kobani will go, but today there are reports of the defeat of the American proxies, the Free Syrian Army around Idlib in Syria, with the bad guys, reportedly al-Nusra, capturing anti-tank weapons, after ISIS captured some of the supplies we dropped for the Kurds in Kobani.  The American news reports of this on TV tonight were particularly bad.  ABC’s Martha Radditz, who is usually good on military issues, looked like she didn’t know what she was reporting on.  Tom Friedman’s recent column in the NYT raised the pertinent issue that because of the threats to news reporters in these hot spots, we don’t have good information about what is going on.  We are often depending on propaganda posted on Twitter or Facebook, or on reports from ordinary people like refugees, who may not be reliable sources.  Hopefully our intelligence agencies with all the billions we spend on them have some humint, sigint and photint that the news people don’t have.  And hopefully they will leak some sanitized information to the news media that is not entirely spin supporting the administration’s policies.  But it’s hard to verify. 

I think that we are making things worse in the Middle East.  If we had let nature take its course in getting rid of Saddam, Mubarak, Kaddafi, Assad, etc., we might have more stability there and less terrorism.  I worry that the instability is a plus for Israel.  Certainly al-Sisi’s takeover in Egypt has been good for Israel.  If the Israelis believe this, then influential American Jews may be pushing America to pursue policies that are good for Israel, but not necessarily good for America.  

Monday, November 03, 2014

Is Jerusalem in Israel?

I have just learned of the Supreme Court case Zivotofsky v Kerry (see, which asks the State Department to list the country of birth as Israel for Americans born in Jerusalem.  Currently the State Department lists the country as Jerusalem because of international disputes over the legal status of Jerusalem.  The UN resolution creating Israel did not include Jerusalem as part of Israel.  In the years since, Israel has conquered most of East and West Jerusalem, but international law has not recognized the authority that Israel has claimed.  A number of UN resolutions have criticized Israel for its violation of international law.  See  

During the Bush II administration Congress passed a law requiring the State Department to list Israel as the place of birth for people born in Jerusalem it they want it so listed.  Bush signed the law but issued a signing statement saying he would not enforce this provision because it impinged on Presidential power.  

The US has resisted recognizing Jerusalem as part of Israel, because Israel took it in violation of international law.  Jews and Gentiles in Congress who are dependent on Jew money to get elected want the US to ignore international law and recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel. This Supreme Court case is another effort to reach the same result through another path. 

I don't think that the Supreme Court should have taken this case either the first time or the second time.  The District Court was correct.  This is a foreign policy issue, not a domestic legal issue.  To me it indicates that for all Jews, including those on the Supreme Court, Israel is the country that comes first, before the United States.  The expatriate American plaintiffs bringing this case live in Israel, not in America.  Former White House chief of staff Raum Emanuel served in the Israeli army rather than the American army.  Jews are racists at heart, and Supreme Court justices are no exception.  American GIs have largely gotten over Vietnam and gone on with their lives.  Jews are still consumed with World War II, the Holocaust and hatred of Germans, FDR (for not invading Europe sooner), and everything related to them.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Republicans Hate American Government

The Orbital Sciences launch failure illustrates to me the bankruptcy of the Republican effort to privatize everything that the US Government used to do.  Republicans claim that they love America, but hate the government.  They cite Reagan’s famous saying that “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  I would reply that closing down the government and contracting out all of its activities to the private sector is an even bigger problem.  Blackwater in Iraq and the absence of any manned space launch capability are only two of the most glaring examples.  Another unfortunate one is ObamaCare, which expanded the private sector insurance model of healthcare insurance rather than expanding government-administered Medicare, the Heritage Foundation and Mitt Romney plan.

You can’t say you love America but hate everything the American government does.  Private industry loves money, and Republicans love money, especially the campaign money that private industry gives Republican politicians to contract out government services to them.  It undermines the civil service act that was supposed to keep outside money away from government service.  In the old days, civil servants were proud of their jobs and did them well because they wanted to see their country succeed.  By abusing government workers and denigrating government service, Republicans have undermined the morale of the civil service.

The revolving door is another problem.  Private sector salaries and regressive income taxes make it impossible for government to compete with the private sector.  A young lawyer can work a year or two at the SEC and then go out and work for Wall Street quadrupling his salary.  A few people who have become obscenely rich will come back and work for government, but they consider their government work as pro bono, unpaid labor, although they are making the highest government salaries.

The result is that in addition to a dysfunctional Congress, we have an almost dysfunctional bureaucracy.  It means the government will do a worse job of enforcing its laws, collecting taxes, protecting the environment, even fighting its wars.  But Republicans like the fact that there is less de facto regulation, less strict enforcement of income tax laws, and they are by and large unwilling to fight in the military.  Even for our military services, they basically contract out the fighting to poor rednecks.  The wealthy don’t fight for America, they hire some else to do it.  Bill O’Reilly’s proposal for a mercenary army is only the most obvious expression of this lack of patriotism.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Roman Holiday 2

I remembered another incident connected with my Foreign Service transfer from Warsaw to Rome during the government shutdown.

When we unexpectedly transferred, my wife did not have a job in Rome.  The political minister of the embassy arrived about the same time as we did, and he offered her a job working as an assistant in the political section.  She was happy to have a job and started off learning the many combinations of the safes in the political section where classified material was stored.  A few days after she had started, the embassy security section informed her that she could not work there because her security clearance had lapsed.

It turned out that someone in Warsaw had forgotten to fill out some security forms that would have extended the security clearance that she had obtained before we left Washington for Warsaw.  As a result, not only did she lose her job, but the political section in Rome had to change all of its combinations because an uncleared person had had access to them.  She felt terrible for inconveniencing them.

Again, this was just another example of government bureaucracy at its worst, but I deeply resented the implication that my wife, and by association myself as well, were security risks.  The embassies in Warsaw and Rome were full of first generation Americans of Polish or Italian ancestry who had managed to get assigned to their family’s home country.  Even the Ambassador was an Italian-American.  It turned out that Amb. Reginald Bartholomew’s original family name was Bartolomeo before they anglicized it.   He remained in Rome after finishing his ambassadorship.  All these people with strong ties to the host government were not security risks, but my wife and I, who were third-, fourth-, fifth- or more generation Americans of British ancestry were risks.

My wife’s security clearance was eventually restored.  She ended up with a job in the embassy security office because she spent so much time there getting the situation straightened out.  By itself the incident would have been just a blip on the radar, but combined with the government shutdown, the failure to provide housing, and the downgrading of my diplomatic title, it created the impression that the State Department was not an honest, reliable employer for whom I wished to continue to work.

Roman Holiday

It’s stupid, but perhaps unavoidable, for me to dwell on the last serious job that I had, as the science officer at the American Embassy in Rome.  I am probably thinking about this because my stepson is currently visiting Rome.

First, I had no intention of going to Rome, but was asked to go by the State Department in Washington while I was still assigned to the embassy in Warsaw.  Second, when the day came for me to depart Warsaw for Rome, Newt Gingrich closed down the US Government, and I got a call from Rome telling me not to come.  Third, when I arrived in Rome, I was supposed to have an apartment waiting, either the one that my predecessor had vacated, or another comparable one, but the day before I arrived the embassy gave that apartment to a new DEA officer, leaving me to live in temporary housing for an indefinite period.  Fourth, after my predecessor left and before I arrived, the embassy office suite was redesigned so that anyone coming to see my assistant had to pass through my office, as if I were her receptionist.  Finally, the embassy did not want me; it had tried to have a civil service officer named to replace the departing officer, but the Foreign Service personnel system had tried to keep the job as a Foreign Service position by asking me to fill it.

Before I was assigned to Warsaw, the US had signed a science cooperation agreement with Poland that was to last five years.  Each side would fund the cooperation, which would consist of a number of small projects with at least one American and one Polish scientist working together.  When Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over Congress about two years into the agreement, they refused to appropriate funding for the remaining years, causing the US to withdraw from the agreement.  Since this was one of my main jobs of the embassy science officer, the Ambassador recommended that I not be replaced when my tour ended.  Around this time, I got the call from Washington asking if I would go to Rome as science officer.  I agreed since the job in Warsaw appeared to be turning into a dead-end.

On the day that I had been scheduled to depart several weeks or months previously, Newt shut the government down.  I got a call from Rome saying not to travel to Rome.  However, all of our clothes, household effects, etc., had already been packed and shipped to Rome.  Our car was in the parking lot packed with suitcases and two dogs, ready to start driving to Rome.  We had nowhere to live.  Although we could have stayed in a hotel, probably at our own expense, I was outraged that the government basically said, “We don’t care what happens to you and your wife.  You can freeze on the streets of Warsaw for all we care.”  I persuaded Rome to let us travel, but I felt that the US had broken faith with me and my family.  When a government sends troops into the field, it should not abandon them, and I felt that America had abandoned us.  I felt that this was a despicable, irresponsible thing to do, particularly in light of my thirty years of government service in the US Army in Vietnam, as an attorney for the Veterans Administration, and as a Foreign Service officer.  The American government acted in a dishonest, low-class, disreputable manner.  I left for Rome as a very unhappy camper.

As result of the combination of this experience and being a Vietnam veteran, I believe that this country does not stand behind those who serve it.  Most elites avoided service in Vietnam.  Some with a family tradition of national service did go to Vietnam: John Kerry, whose father was a Foreign Service officer, Al Gore, whose father was a Senator, John McCain, whose father was an admiral, but most did not: Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush (who stayed in the US in the National Guard), Mitch McConnell (who was discharged in the middle of basic training), etc.  The leaders who avoided service have some selfish, warped idea of what the relationship should be between the country and those who serve and defend it.  In my experience during my last assignment in Rome, I lost a great deal of respect for this country.  I certainly respect and love what it stands for, the Constitution, the service of great men over many generations, but sadly a lot has changed in the last twenty years.  In this election the only person I see defending my ideas and the values I hold dear is Elizabeth Warren.  Perhaps there are some others who are quieter.  I liked and respected Sen. Sam Nunn, and if his daughter will follow in his footsteps as a senator from Georgia, I would be pleased.  I admire President George H.W. Bush, although I think his son, George W., was a terrible president.  I like President Jimmy Carter, who I think was defeated in large part by the Iranian ayatollahs who captured the American embassy and held the staff hostage until Reagan was elected.  But I digress.

Upon arriving in Rome, I found that the apartment that the embassy had said it was holding for my wife and me had been given to a newly arrived DEA officer the day before I arrived.  This was my first indication that in addition to the government shutdown, something else was wrong at the embassy itself.  In most large embassies the State Department is a relatively small component, often less than 50% of the entire staffing.  There are officers from DEA, FBI, the military, Agriculture, Commerce, Treasury, almost every department of the government and many of the independent agencies, such as the FAA.  However, the State Department is in charge of the administration of the embassy – arranging housing, payroll, etc.  Therefore, the embassy could easily have held the apartment for me, simply saying that it had been assigned.  The fact that it did not and that it gave away my predecessor’s apartment indicated that it was not looking out for me as it normally would for a fellow Foreign Service officer.

Over time, I began to get some inkling of what had happened.  My predecessor had not been a Foreign Service officer.  He had been a Schedule C political appointee, who had come into the State Department as a special assistant to the then-Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew.  I had worked with him and Bartholomew when Bartholomew had been Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance in Washington.  Schedule C employees can usually only stay eight years (a double presidential term), unless they can work out some other way to stay.  Usually they try to convert to Foreign Service or Civil Service.  Apparently my predecessor had tried to do this and had been refused by the State Department personnel system, meaning that he had to leave when his eight years were up.  I gather than the embassy had lobbied hard to get him converted to Foreign Service, and thus was mad with the personnel system when it refused to do so.  When it turned out that he would have to go, the embassy apparently decided that it wanted a civil service officer at State whom they somehow knew.  I don’t know how or why they decided on him, or even who “they” were.  He worked in the office that oversaw the assignment of overseas science officers.  It may be that he helped the embassy lobby to keep my predecessor, and they wanted to reward him for his help, or he may have worked with the Ambassador or another senior embassy officer on some project earlier.  In any case, they had tried to get him assigned to Rome, but the Foreign Service personnel system resisted again, because overseas jobs are supposed to go to Foreign Service officers, not civil service officers.  The personnel system was probably mad that the embassy had twice tried to go around the “system,” first by trying to get my predecessor into the Foreign Service, and when that failed , by trying to get a civil service officer assigned to replace him.  I was the personnel system’s rebuke to the embassy, and I gather that the embassy did not like it, and for that reason, perhaps, did now like me.  Perhaps the embassy had other reasons not to want me, but I had only just arrived, and nobody except for the deputy chief of mission, with whom I had served in Brazil, knew me.

Another minor insult was that my predecessor had been given the diplomatic rank of Counselor, which had also been my rank in Warsaw.  When I arrived in Rome, it turned out that I had been downgraded to the diplomatic rank of First Secretary.  The diplomatic rank does not affect pay, but it does affect benefits, such as housing, entertainment budget, and of course your status with the Italian diplomats with whom you work.  In theory this was just part of the government cut-backs to save money, but combined with everything else, it looked like it was intended as an insult.

I suppose I could have fought the situation.  I had been promoted to my then rank, FO-1, more or less like a colonel or GS-15, only a few years earlier; so, I had lots of time in grade left before I would have to leave if I didn’t get promoted.  However, because I had gotten a number of awards that had increased my pay over the years, I was already at the top step of my pay grade.  I could not make any more money unless I got promoted.  The handwriting was on the wall that I was not going to get a good efficiency report or a promotion in that job in Rome.  It could have been an opportunity to enjoy living in Rome and not care what happened on the job.  However, I didn’t feel like I could do that. Furthermore, a diplomat is in many ways a salesman, sometimes selling US policies to the host government, sometimes actually selling goods, working with the Commerce Department, for example.  I was not in a mood to be a salesman for the US government, given what was happening at the embassy.  But I was too loyal to this country, if not the embassy and the Republican Party, to fail to do my best in my job on behalf of the country.  In addition, life seemed destined to be miserable if I was always going to be at odds with the Ambassador and my immediate boss, the Economic Minister, who wanted to please the Ambassador.  Rome might be nice, but not nice enough to be totally miserable on the job.  So, I retired.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rich Jew vs. Rich Jew

Two obscenely rich Jews are facing off in the New York Times over Hank Greenberg’s suit to recover millions of dollars for US Government actions regarding AIG during the financial crisis.  Greenberg says he was cheated by the government, although his old AIG insurance company was bankrupt and threatened to destroy the financial system unless it was rescued by the government.  Steven Rattner, who was the “car czar” during the meltdown attacks Greenberg for trying to profit from a situation that his company created by its poor business practices. 

Rattner, whom I really like on “Morning Joe,” is of course right.  I congratulate him for not standing by Greenberg in some kind of Jewish solidarity.  Rattner is correct in his closing statement that “Average Americans [me] already feel distaste for Wall Street and rich people; bringing these rapacious lawsuits can only unnecessarily exacerbate class tensions.” 

The most generous interpretation I can put on Greenberg’s action is that he is embarrassed by the fact that his company was so poorly managed that it made him and the people who worked for him look like incompetent fools.  Winning a lawsuit might bring him a little redemption.  But for now Greenberg remains a very rich, stupid, incompetent fool.  He is proof that you don’t need to be very smart to make lots of money; you just need to be very greedy, unfeeling, and probably somewhat dishonest.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Don't Soak the Rich, Let the Poor Help the Poor

The NYT has an interesting op-ed in defense of letting the filthy rich keep their money.  "Don't Soak the Rich" argues that it is not tax collection that fights income inequality, but how government income is spent.  It argues that Germany's regressive income tax structure is better at redistributing income that America's putative preogressive tax structure.  It begs the question of how and where the government is going to raise the money it redistributes without raising taxes on the rich.  It seems to argue that the government can help the poor by taxing them and then giving them their money back.  This is exactly what the Republicans rail against when arguing against tax increases for the rich.   They say you know better what to do with your own money than the government does.  It is arguable that if the government increased taxes on lower incomes significantly that they would be less able to buy beer and cigarettes and the government could use that money to build infrastructure, new roads and airports.  But I don't buy that argument.  If you need to raise money, you need to tax those who have the money, the rich.  Willie Sutton said he robbed banks, "Because that's where the money is."  It's the same thing with taxes.  If as the op-ed says, government redistributions of wealth help level inequality, then you need to raise some money to redistribute, and the rich people have it.

I think most Americans who have an opinion would say that the old days of Eisenhower and Kennedy were better in terms of income equality, when taxes on the rich were much higher than today.  Ronald Reagan cut taxes dramatically, and America has become much worse for it over the years.  In the short term, Reagan's tax cuts did not seem to pierce the soul of America, but in the decades since then, America has ceased to be a shining city on a hill, in large part because Reagan refused to pay the bill to keep the city's lights on.  He destroyed that wonderful, shining city.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

History Is History, Patriotic or Not

The WSJ op-ed by Donald Kagan says, "Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education." He cites Thomas Jefferson for support, not thinking that Thomas Jefferson was not a British patriot,  If he had been, the United States would probably not exist.  By his definition, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, and most of the leaders of the late 20th century were not patriots.  They refused to fight for their country (the U.S.) during the Vietnam War.  They rebelled against their government, which wanted to send troops to Vietnam; they didn't go.  They had excuses, but they did not do what the government wanted them to do.  By Kagan's definition, they were (are) not patriots.

Kagan rails against the intellectuals in universities who encouraged their students to examine reasons why the 9/11 terrorists may have done what they did.  He mistakes the conflict of intellectuals versus regular people for the actual conflict between generations.  The baby boomers who avoided war in the 1960s are the professors whom he denigrates as intellectuals.  They are just rationalizing their own refusal to fight for their country years ago.  The new, student generation which does not have the draft to contend with is less concerned about sending some poor rednecks to fight a war for them.  And, yes, some are patriots who will go and fight, just as many young men in the 1960s went and fought in Vietnam.  Fewer go today if you compare the number of individuals who fought in the Vietnam War and the number who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The proportion of the population that serves today is much smaller that it was during Vietnam.  But the elites did not fight then and will not fight now.

This is relevant in my neighborhood.  The school board of Jefferson County, Colorado, wants to throw out the curriculum for the high school AP history course, because it is not patriotic enough.  The school board wants to remove history about dissent and resistance to the government.  They want to teach history as they wished it had happened, not as it actually happened.  They wish the rebellion against the draft in the 1960s had never happened, along with civil rights protests, prohibition, the Civil War, and many other unpleasant episodes in US history, but they did happen, and if you ignore them, you are not teaching history, but you are just distributing some sort of propaganda.  Welcome to the old Soviet Union!  Will history be taught from little red books like those Mao distributed in China?    

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Is Ukraine Putin's Cuban Missile Crisis

To what extent does Putin see the crisis in Ukraine the same way that Kennedy saw the Cuban missile crisis: a foreign military threat to the national security of the country?  It is not clear what NATO is going to do vis-à-vis Ukraine.  Ukraine is not a NATO member; so, NATO has no treaty obligation to defend it, although it does have treaty obligations to Poland and the Baltic states.  Who knows what Putin thought, but it would be reasonable to see Ukraine (and Belarus) as a buffer between Russia and the NATO allies, a kind of a Finland, as many commentators have described it.  He counted on his puppet rulers in Ukraine to keep the lid on yearnings to join the West, but they failed him while he was busy with the Olympics.  While there is a lot of talk about Ukraine never joining NATO, who knows what might happen in ten or twenty years.

On the other hand, it is arguable that NATO is not a threat to Russia,as long as Russia behaves itself and does not engage in aggression.  In the past there was some talk that Russia itself might join NATO.

This may be where the sense of Russian greatness comes in. Russia has always been on the border of Europe, not quite European, but always interacting closely with Europe, whether under attack by Napoleon or Hitler, or engaged in a cold war, or in a trade dispute with the EU.  Russia has historical justification for distrust of Europe.   Now Russia’s first capital city, Kiev, is looking to the West to join the EU rather than to the East as an ally of Russia.

Despite the historical and military consequences for Russia, does Russia have any right to interfere in the self-determination of the Ukraining people?  If the US experience with the Cuban missile crisis is relevant, them the answer might be yes, if there are legitimate national security risks for Russia.  The West says, no, there is no national security risk, because NATO and the West will never be an aggressor against Russia.  For Russia, the question is whether that assurance is one on which it can stake its existence for the foreseeable future.

Another national security issue is the Russian warm water port in Crimea.  This was traditionally Russian territory until Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954.  Putin has already taken Crimea back for Russia, but it has no overland connection to Russia.  Contact with Russia must be over Ukrainian territory.  Putin may not find this acceptable, but so far it sounds as if there may be room for negotiation.  If the pro-Russian, eastern provinces of Ukraine were granted lots of autonomy by Ukraine, so that Putin felt he could rely on this for transport to and from Crimea, he might not feel that he has to annex them as part of Russia.  It remains to be seen what assurances Ukraine will give and whether Putin will accept them.  If not, he may feel that he has to take eastern Ukraine militarily. 

Discussing strategic access by Russia to Crimea avoids the issue of whether Russian has a special obligation to Russian speaking, Russia loving populations in surrounding countries.  This is the issue that brings fear to the Baltic republics.  They might prefer to see the Ukrainian issue resolved without getting into the question of what to do about ethnic Russians in countries bordering Russia. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Network News

After watching most of the network news shows, I think the PBS News Hour and Aljazeera’s John Seigenthaler are the best.  ABC, CBS and NBC are abysmal in covering foreign events.  They have two or three foreign correspondents that they stick on planes to report from some recognizable building near where the event occurred, often not in the same country, but maybe in the same continent, e.g., reporting about Greece from London or about Libya from Lebanon.  Aljazeera actually has some foreign correspondents who report from where the news is happening, e.g., from eastern Ukraine where fighting is going on.  No one can top Margaret Warner of PBS for her foreign reporting, often from dangerous places that the big networks appear afraid send correspondents to, or are unwilling to spend the money to send correspondents there.

Money appears to be a big issue.  ABC, NBC and CBS have clearly decided to cut spending on news coverage.  Scott Pelley, Brian Williams, and Diane Sawyer appear lazy or stupid.  Diane Sawyer has apparently embarrassed herself so badly that she is leaving ABC news to do something easier.  The morning news shows (Today, etc.) have almost no news; they are mainly extended weather reports and stories about celebrities, often just pulled straight off the Internet.  Charlie Rose was supposed to add gravitas to CBS, and he has helped, but the CBS news division appears to be so worthless that he has nothing to work with.

The networks would probably say that their flagship news shows can’t compete with the 24 hour coverage of the cable channels, but the Daily Show and Colbert Report frequently ridicule CNN and FOX for their terrible reporting.  The networks, particularly MSNBC, have decided that it’s a lot cheaper to pay some talking heads to argue about politics and what’s been reported the New York Times than it is to do actual reporting.  Cable news is just nonstop screaming at each other by the same mindless ideologues.  Here, Seigenthaler has again excelled by having some interesting guests who are not on all the other talk shows, including people like Khrushchev’s great-granddaughter.  Whether it is correct or not, she made the interesting point that today, as in World War II and may wars before that, the Russian people are willing to make great sacrifices, including giving their lives, for Russian greatness.  The lesson is: don’t be too optimistic that sanctions on Russia will work.

The other cable news exception is Fareed Zakaria on CNN.  His Sunday morning program is the best news show on television.  It shows what it is possible to do with a talk show.  He has interesting, intelligent guests and he asks them interesting, intelligent questions.  NBC finally realized that Zakaria made David Gregory of “Meet the Press” look uninformed and incurious, and got rid of him.  Brian Stelter of CNN’s Reliable Sources is another exception.  I had enjoyed the show under Howard Kurtz and was disappointed when he left, but the show has gotten even better under Stelter.  Meanwhile Kurtz at Fox has gone completely off the rails.  I tried to watch him for several weeks, but he has apparently swallowed the Fox line completely.  In addition he has the usual blond Fox minders to make sure he hews the party line.  What a disappointment!  I hope Kurtz is getting a lot of money because he has certainly embarrassed himself by becoming a whore for Fox News.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Return of the Neocons

I finally read Bret Stephens’ editorial in the WSJ that drove Joe on "Morning Joe" so crazy this morning --”The Neo-Neocons.”  Stephens says Obama’s decision to attack ISIS is proof that the old neocons -- Wolfowitz, Cheney, Libby and Perle -- were right all along.  Joe said that was a stupid argument and I agree.  ISIS is not Iraq, and Iraq in 2014 is not the Iraq that George W. Bush invaded.  One reason Obama may have to fight ISIS is because the Bush team botched the Iraq war so badly.

George H.W. Bush fought an excellent war against Iraq and won.  The right wing Republicans were not happy, however, because he did not kill Saddam Hussein.  The Republicans and the American public could not stomach a reasonable, victorious war, and they voted Bush I out of office, the only president since World War II who actually won a war.  Of course, they say it was because of the “No new taxes” pledge, but that’s just spin.  Bush raised taxes for the same reason he won the war: he was an intelligent, honest, honorable man, unlike his successors.  Bush II, Cheney and company could not wait to prove him wrong.  They proved themselves wrong, and did great damage to the country in the bargain.

The Stephens article is primarily an attack on the New Yorker magazine, as a mouthpiece of liberal Democrats.  It disturbs me that to some extent it comes down to Jews versus Jews.  I don’t know if George Packer, the author of the Iraq article that he attacks is Jewish, but David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker is.  Wikipedia says one of Packer’s parents was Jewish.  Stevens’ old neocons are predominately Jewish.  Wolfowitz, Libby, and Perle are; Cheney is not.  Wikipedia says Bret Stephens is Mexican, but since he used to be the editor of the Jerusalem Post, he must have some Jewish connection.

I just don’t believe that most Jews can be unbiased about the Middle East.  Israel is always uppermost in their thoughts.  For them any debate about the Middle East is at least as much about the security of Israel as it is about the security of the United States.  I am worried that whatever happens regarding ISIS will be significantly influenced by Israeli and Jewish parochial concerns, rather than the US national interest.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

American Assassins

I have about had it with the lust of the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the blood of Arab leaders.  America killed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Kaddafi.  It didn’t kill Egypt’s Mubarak, at least not yet, but it has gotten him locked up as a political prisoner.  Now they want to kill Syria’s Assad in the worst possible way, but the rise of ISIS has thrown a monkey-wrench into those plans.  Everywhere they depose a leader, they leave a horrendous mess of a political vacuum.  If they succeed in deposing Assad, they will most likely turn Syria over the wild men of ISIS.  We are still in Afghanistan, but the latest reports indicate that there really was significant electoral fraud in the presidential election and that after Karzai’s corrupt rule, Afghanistan will once again sink into feudal tribal warfare in which the Taliban will have the upper hand. 

Everywhere we intervene, it is the kiss of death for civil society.  These are wars led by fools, by idiotic, incompetent jerks.  They have fouled the reputation of the US military and the Foreign Service.  Monkeys in a barrel could do better.  The biggest incompetent jerk was George W. Bush, aided by his devilish buffoon of a sidekick, Dick Cheney.  General Tommy Franks, who failed to catch Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan and then utterly botched the “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq certainly takes the prize for being one of the most incompetent generals in American history.  It’s becoming more and more clear that David Petraeus’ surge was not a military victory, but just a victory for American money buying off corrupt Sunni sheiks.  It was a Potemkin village that has now collapsed.  In Syria, we claimed we only wanted to arm the Free Syrian Army to fight Assad, but the Free Syrian Army is too poor an army to win against Assad or ISIS.  What aid we have provided the Syrian rebels has probably had the principle effect of strengthening ISIS, just as we created Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan during its war with the Soviet Union. 

ISIS appears to be a terrible organization.  Let’s kill some of them, but don’t try to do any nation building.  In fact, it appears that Iraq is a lost cause.  The government in Baghdad will not represent all of the Iraqi people.  It’s worthless.  If the peshmerga can lead the fight against ISIS, let’s help them, without trying to get involved in Kurdish politics.  In their hearts, the Kurds still want a Kurdistan nation that would include parts of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, a NATO ally.  Let’s don’t encourage or arm the Kurds to start fighting Turkey.  Just kill some ISIS guys and get out.  Kill the guy who beheaded the journalist James Foley if you can.  But please don’t do any nation building, which has turned out to be nation destroying.  

Churchill and Zionism

Last week’s NYT review by Geoffrey Wheatcroft of Churchill and Empire gave the impression that the most important aspect of the British Empire to Churchill was the creation of Israel.  I can’t believe that Churchill cared more about Israel than India.  Discussing Churchill’s reaction to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the review says, “Although his own sympathies were with the Zionist settlers, he soon realized what a thankless burden this Palestine was, and toyed with the idea of handing it over to the United States, a teasing ‘what if’ of history….”  Later in the article, which devotes about a quarter of its discussion to Churchill’s Zionism, Wheatcroft states:
Churchill’s friend and colleague Lord Moyne, who was assassinated by Zionist extremists in 1944, was not a viscount; and the dinner in London for Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader, in June 1937 was at the house of Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Liberal leader, not that of the Labour leader Clement Attlee, as James says.
 That evening was memorably reported by Blanche (Baffy) Dugdale, niece of A. J. Balfour, a former prime minister and the signer of the declaration, who was herself an active gentile Zionist: “Winston in his most brilliant style, but very drunk.” And here’s something James might have made more of. Benjamin Netanyahu keeps a portrait in his office of his hero Churchill, who was certainly a Zionist and supporter of Israel, but Netanyahu should be careful. He is perhaps unaware that Churchill’s commitment to Zionism was based on his belief that the Jews were a “higher grade race” than the Arabs they were supplanting.
We are left with two great paradoxes. The man who, at one extraordinary moment, heroically defied the vilest racial tyranny in history was himself not only an intransigent imperialist but a racist, by the standards of his own age as well as ours.
The reviewer did not like the book.  I didn’t like the review.  Churchill’s greatest concern about the decline of the British Empires was certainly not what would happen to Palestine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Is Wrong with American Financial Policy?

Two interesting articles in the NYT point out some ideas that contradict the conventional wisdom about the US economy.  Robert Shiller writes that the stock market looks overvalued according to a stock index that he developed.  The CAPE index is at 25, a level it has reached only three times since 1881, each of those three just before a steep market drop.  Shiller looks for reason to say, “This time is different,” and says the answer could be low interest rates on bonds.  But he doesn’t entirely buy his own explanation.  He thinks the real reason may be psychology and what the common perception of the market is, rather than an economic explanation. 

I think another reason may be the disappearance of traditional company provided retirement plans.  People are under the gun to amass their own nest egg to support them during retirement.  To do this they are almost forced into risker, higher yielding investments.  In the old days, when interest rates were higher, companies would probably have invested in bonds.  Today there is a huge influx of money into the markets to pay for IRAs, 401(k)s, etc.  This new money is going to drive up stock prices.  But as Shiller says, if the psychology changes and people perceive that their stock investments are too risky, they may pull their money out.  You can lose money in the stock market; you won’t lose it if you hide it in your mattress, in government bonds, or some other very safe investment.  That happened to some extend after the 2008 Great Recession. 

The other article with an unconventional twist is AndrewSorkin’s reporting that actual corporate tax rates paid by US companies are not uncompetitive with corporate taxes levied by foreign countries.  Although the maximum tax rate is 35%, almost no company pays that rate.  There are so many loopholes and special tax breaks that the actual tax raid paid is about 12%, which is lower than the maximum rate that companies say are so appealing overseas.  Sorkin says the real reason for tax “inversions” in which companies reincorporate overseas is the piles of cash American companies are holding overseas that which they do not what to repatriate.  In any case, the screams of corporate CEOs about the high corporate tax rates are insincere and not based on facts.  Corporate CEOs love money and don’t care about America.  They are unwilling to pay taxes to support the military troops, the police, the firemen, or pave roads.  They just want their New York City penthouses, their Hamptons beach houses, and their Aspen ski chalets.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Letter to Sen. Bennet re Social Security

I received your email and signed your petition about Social Security, but it is a sore point for me.

I am retired from the State Department Foreign Service.  I also earned enough quarters working in the private sector to qualify for Social Security.

Because of my Foreign Service retirement, my Social Security is reduced from a normal benefit of over $400 per month to an actual $48 per month that I receive from Social Security.  This amounts to a tax of about 90% on my Social Security benefits because I served my country in the US Foreign Service.

I am willing to sacrifice for my country.  I am also a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army artillery on the DMZ from 1969-1970.  I know that Social Security is underfunded, and am willing to do my part to preserve it.

But it makes me mad that rich people pay only a small part of their income into Social Security.  Contributions are capped at the first $117,000 of earnings.  For many rich people, this means that the Social Security tax is negligible, while for poor people, the Social Security tax is much higher than their income tax.  Meanwhile, for many investors, such as hedge fund managers, even income tax is capped at 20%, which may be a lower rate than the Social Security tax on the working poor.  Wall Street investors would scream bloody murder if they were taxed at 90%, as my Social Security is.

This is an example of extreme income inequality legally established by the United States Government.  I am happy to do my part to help save Social Security, but why should I contribute to government welfare programs for billionaires on Wall Street?

Something is rotten in Washington!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Middle East Policy Failures

ISIS’ success against the Kurdish Peshmerga highlights the failure of US Middle Eastern policy.  Our actions may have been better than nothing, or in some cases worse than nothing, but in any case they were not worth the cost.  Iraq and Afghanistan, where we fought hot wars, are absolute disasters.  We destroyed Iraq when we killed Saddam Hussein and Paul Bremmer disbanded the Iraqi army and ordered the de-Baathification of the Iraqi government.  In our Congress, Republicans have been screaming to do the same thing to Syria’s Assad.  They want to kill Assad and give military aid to his ISIS enemy which is killing everyone it doesn’t like in Iraq.  The Republicans and Obama worked together with the Europeans to kill Kaddafi and shove Libya into a rapid descent into a chaotic hell, killing an American ambassador in the process.  We didn’t kill Egypt’s Mubarek, but we did get him deposed, putting Egypt through years of turmoil, first under the Muslim Brotherhood and now under al-Sisi.

We didn’t create all of this instability.  Saddam, Mubarek and Kaddafi were all getting old and were going to have to leave in a few years.  We moved up that transition, but in retrospect we did not provide for a good transition; they have all gotten worse rather than better.  If we had left these leaders to their own devices, they might have arranged for a more stable government succession, or maybe not.  But for us, trillions of dollars and thousands of lives have been largely wasted.    The country that has probably gone through its transition better than the others is Tunisia, where we have been the least active.

ISIS’ savage, inhuman conduct in Iraq and Syria illustrate how awful our opponents in the Middle East are, but maybe this is neither the time nor the place for us to intervene in what is a regional conflict.

Of course, while all this is going on, the Israelis and Gazans are still fighting each other.  The Israelis face the same moral dilemma that the US does in trying to deal with this Middle East problem.  The more children and non-combatants Israel kills, the more horrendous it , and Jews in general, appear to the world.  The real anti-Semites are the Israelis; they are besmirching the reputations of all Jews everywhere.  When Jews invoke the Holocaust on behalf of Israel, it is an insult to the Holocaust, and makes Israelis look like foul hypocrites.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Oren WSJ Op-Ed on Zionism

I am not convinced by the WSJ op-ed of former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren that Zionism is or was a good thing.  He has a lot to say about how wonderful Israel is economically and politically, but he ignores the most important aspect of Zionism, the creation of Israel.  He also glosses over the fact that Israel’s wonderful democracy treats a number of people very badly, starting with the Palestinians in Gaza.  Gaza is not a country, but most Gazans are not Israeli citizens.  This is a “democracy” with a heavy strain of apartheid or at least very poor treatment of second class residents.

The problem goes back to Israel’s founding.  It was one of the first acts of the new United Nations after World War II, but I think it has turned out to be one of the worst UN mistakes.  The Palestinians were living in Palestine, albeit under some kind of British protectorate, rather than as an independent nation.  Nevertheless, the Jews had not lived in Palestine as a nation for at least 1,000 years.  It is as if someone came to your house and said, “My great-grandfather used to live in this house 100 years ago; I’m taking it back.  Get out!”  The Jews claim they have title to the land because God gave it to them 4,000 years ago, but I’m not sure that non-Jews have to take this title at face value.  Jesus, Paul and Peter made the Jewish God available to Christians; so, it’s not clear that the Jews are still the only people chosen by God.  And what about other gods, the Muslim God for example?   I don’t think the Palestinians agree that the Jews are God’s only chosen people, even if the United Nations said they were.

If the Jews are God’s chosen people and the Palestinians (and everybody else) are not, they have God’s approval to slaughter non-Jews occupying the Promised Land, and that’s what they have been doing.  But if this is truly a racial thing, how many Jews today are blood descendants of Abraham?  Do converts also acquire God’s permission to slaughter infidels on the Promised Land?  Is the right to slaughter non-Jews in the Promised Land acquired by race or religion?  Or was it simply granted by the UN’s creation of the state of Israel?

Zionism predates the Holocaust, but Israel is inextricable tied to the Holocaust.  It’s unlikely that the UN would have created Israel if it had not been for the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust.  To some extent the UN said, “Let the Palestinians make reparations for what Hitler did to the Jews.”  Not surprisingly, the Palestinians were not too happy about being designated to pay Europe’s debt.

The bottom line: I’m not convinced that Zionism is/was a good thing.  Israel may be the most democratic country in the Middle East, but given the Jews history, it should be more  understanding and forgiving of the hardships of the countries surrounding it.  The Jews are criticized (with justification) for meekly walking into the death camps, with some exceptions, such as the Warsaw ghetto uprising.  In Israel they fought to preserve Israel from Arab attacks like they never did to defend themselves in Europe.  But now they begin to become the oppressors, appearing to be getting revenge for being oppressed in Europe.  Thus Zionism begins to look like a way to get revenge, not a way to establish a Jewish nation.  And as the Israeli Jews lose the high moral ground, Zionism loses the high moral ground and becomes just some kind of racist, oppressive regime like those under which the Jews suffered for centuries in Europe.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Putin, Obama, Reagan, Gorbachev and the INF Treaty

The US allegation that Russia is violating the INF Treaty limiting intermediate nuclear forces comes at a worrisome time with the unrest in Ukraine already roiling European waters.  From Russia, intermediate range weapons threaten Europe rather than the US, which can only be reached by longer range, strategic weapons.  It is probably to Putin’s advantage to make Western Europe think twice about whether he is really serious about building a new cruise missile that threatens them, and puts Obama in the position of possibly looking weak if he doesn’t react strongly.

No doubt the Republicans will wax nostalgic for Reagan who negotiated the INF agreement with Gorbachev.  However, in Putin, Obama has a much stronger and wilier opponent than Reagan had in Gorbachev.  Gorbachev was interested in bringing Russia in from the cold and warming up to the West.  He responded when Reagan taunted him with “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  Would Reagan have gotten the same response if he had said in earlier years, “Mr. Stalin, tear down this wall,” or today, “Mr. Putin, tear down this wall.”  Putin sees Gorbachev as a failed, wimpy leader who gave away Russia’s international position.  He doesn’t want to give away Ukraine, as Gorbachev gave away most Soviet satellite countries.  The losses of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are particularly grating to Putin.  If Putin thinks Gorbachev gave away the store, he may be strongly opposed to doing the same thing in Ukraine.

The desire of the majority of Ukrainians, and particularly those of western Ukraine to join the West and the EU is understandable and laudatory.  However, they may be victims of the history of Ukraine and Russia, just as are many Russians who desire stronger ties with the West than Putin does.  It is not irrelevant that the Russian nation was created in Kiev about 1,000 years ago, before the rise of Moscow and St. Petersburg.  While the loss of some former Soviet satellites, particularly some of the “stans” to the south is more like the UK’s loss of its colonies, the loss of Ukraine is more like the UK’s loss of Scotland.  The divorce may come, but not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth, in both cases.  Although a replay of “Braveheart” is unlikely in Scotland, war remains a possibility in Ukraine.  Putin would no doubt like to keep control of Kiev, the birthplace of mother Russia, but if he finds this too challenging, he try for a land corridor to Crimea by annexing some of eastern Ukraine which favors Russian over the West.  On one of the political talk shows this morning, New Yorker editor David Remnick pointed out that there is still a lot of old Soviet heavy industry left in eastern Ukraine, another incentive for Putin to try to hang on to it.  

In any case, Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” speech is largely irrelevant.  It was made to a weaker Russian leader at a time when Russia was in great turmoil.  Russia may have lost ground economically and industrially since Gorbachev’s time, but Putin wants to reverse that trend, and keeping at least part of Ukraine may be important to that objective.  Obama has a much more formidable opponent.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do Republicans Hate Children?

The hue and cry about the children entering the US from Central America has reinforced my impression that Republicans don’t like children.  It is hard to know what all the motivations are for their coming to the US, but at least part of the motivation is that their lives are threatened if they stay at home.  There is at least some chance that if they stay, they will die, or they will be drafted into drug gangs and be forced to kill other people.  To some extent they are escaping a culture of extreme violence.  The Republicans don’t seem to care about this; they seem perfectly willing to deport these children even if returning them to their homes means certain death.  When Ted Cruz was asked about this he avoided the issue of threats at home by talking about how dangerous the trip to the US is, and how the coyotes who transport them for thousands of dollars take advantage of them sexually and financially, and endanger or desert them on the trip.  He implied that he had no responsibility for what their life was like at home.  Yet, while they may not be political refugees, they appear to be refugees from fighting as much as Syrians, Palestinians, Ukrainians and others around the world.  You are just as dead if you or killed by a drug cartel or a rebel terrorist group.

This example of not caring about children is added to domestic attitudes, where they oppose abortion, forcing mothers to have unwanted children.  Then they cut off or reduce food stamps and other programs that would help the mothers take care of these children after they are born.  It’s almost as if they enjoy the screams of hungry children.  Perhaps it makes the Republicans feel better about their own coddled children who attend private schools and have everything they want.  They profess to be Christian but ignore the injunctions to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The government may not be the best institution to carry out these Biblical injunctions, they should at least recognize that, and say who or what will help take care of these endangered children, or at least make the case that we (our society) would like to do so, but cannot afford to.

If we cannot take these children into the US, could we at least help set up safe havens for them in their own countries where their lives would not be in danger?  Could we do more to reign in the drug gangs?  Could we do more to stop Americans from strengthening the drug cartels by paying them billions for the drugs?  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Israeli Ghettos

It is interesting that Israel has created a hellish ghetto in Gaza.  You would think that Jews would be sensitive about creating and ruling a ghetto after all the time that Jews spent living in ghettos in Europe.  I’m guessing that Gaza today is about as bad as the Warsaw ghetto was during World War II.  Of course it is not like Auschwitz and other death camps, but not that many people were actually killed in the ghetto except during the Warsaw ghetto uprising near the end of the war.  Jews were usually shipped from the ghetto to the death camps, not killed in the ghetto itself, although many were, just as many Palestinians are being killed today in Gaza by Israeli Jews.

Israel is a fairly modern, democratic country compared to most of its neighbors in the Middle East, but that moderate democracy mainly applies to Jews.  Even Arabs, who are citizens of Israel itself, rather than of Gaza or the West Bank, are pretty much second class citizens.  One of Israel’s main worries is that Jews will become a minority in Israel, and thus Israel will lose its identity as a Jewish state, unless Israel does something to reduce the number of Arabs in Israel by stuffing them into ghettos like Gaza, or something worse.  This is a significant concern of Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, and other powerful, politically conservative Jews in the Israeli government.  But in the process, Israel risks losing its reputation as a modern, democratic state.  It more and more becomes a repressive, apartheid state, allied with its repressive neighbors like Egypt.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Congressional Letter on Middled East

I am coming to believe that America’s whole involvement in the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, etc.) has been a mistake and/or handled very badly.  The most recent examples are President Obama’s decision to recommend $500 million to support “good” Syrian rebels, mainly the Free Syrian Army.  Ironically, Robert Ford just resigned a few weeks ago as US Ambassador to Syria because Obama had refused to do this.  Although I would like to support fellow Foreign Service Officer Ford, I agree with Obama’s previous position of not supporting the rebels.  The Free Syrian Army is caught between President Assad on one side and the terrorist rebels, including ISIS, on the other.  They are in an impossible position.  Obama’s flip-flop was obviously motivated by the ISIS invasion of Iraq, which I think is partially motivated by Assad’s success in defeating ISIS in Syria.  ISIS decided correctly that they could have more success in Iraq than Syria.  If we really wanted to defeat ISIS we should support Assad rather than the Free Syrian Army.  Of course, Assad is a murderous goon, but he’s winning.  Instead in Iraq, we have thrown our lot in with Iran, which is already supporting Assad (and Maliki).  No one seems to care that we have abandoned our long-term Sunni allies -- Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc.  Our interests may be diverging, but it’s hard to walk away and get nothing for the trillions of dollars we spent for Middle Eastern oil over the decades.

I think support for the Syrian rebels is a hopeless effort, illustrated in part by yesterday’s news from Benghazi, Libya, where somebody has murdered one of its leading human rights lawyers, Salwa Bugaighis, who was a leader of the rebellion against Qaddafi.  So far, our intervention in Libya has mainly created instability and violence.  Of course, Qaddafi was violent, but now we have other people doing the same sorts of things.  The recent elections seem unlikely to change that.  I am pleased that we have captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, who apparently led the attack on the US mission in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens.  I commend the President and the military for his capture.

Of course, Egypt is a mess, too.  I am disappointed at Egypt’s decision to imprison three Aljazeera journalists for seven years or longer.  I don’t understand the politics, but apparently Qatar, where Aljazeera is based, supports the Muslim Brotherhood.  Aljazeera Arabic has been outspoken in support to the Muslim Brotherhood, which new Egyptian President Sisi has sworn to destroy.  However, the three imprisoned journalists work for Aljazeera English, which has been evenhanded in its treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian politics.  The US should at least put some serious pressure on Egypt to release them.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't Get Involved In Syria

I would like to agree with Amb. Robert Ford's NYT op-ed, "Arm Syria's Opposition," about the need to support the Free Syrian Army in its rebellion against Syria’s Assad, but I don’t think it will work.  Assad and ISIS, which is trying to overthrow Assad, are both bad.  The Free Syrian Army is caught in the middle.  I can’t believe that it is strong enough to win against two enemies, even with US help.  The US has not successfully won long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Syrian rebels have not won against Assad; in fact, Assad appears to be winning against the Free Syrian Army, ISIS, and random other fighters, including Iranians, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups.  We don’t need to join another losing effort, especially if there is no good outcome.  If Assad wins, we are not happy.  If the rebels win, the Free Syrian Army will be a weak competitor for power with the terrorists.  It’s hard, but we should stay out of involvement in Syria.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Anne-Marie Slaughter on ISIS

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s op-ed in the NYT today strikes me as ridiculous.  She wants to fight ISIS in Syria as well as in Iraq.  I don’t think we should be fighting in either country.  She would have the “good” rebels in Syria fight ISIS on the one hand and Assad on the other.  This puts them in between two enemies, both of which are probably stronger than the “good” Syrian rebels are.  It’s a recipe for destruction of the “good” rebels.

If we had really wanted to destroy ISIS we should have supported Assad, who might have been able to destroy them with our help.  Of course, then you end up keeping Assad in power in Syria.  But you can’t have it both ways.  In Syria you have to choose between Assad and ISIS; choosing the “good” rebels is a recipe for defeat of the good rebels and their American patrons.

In part, the ISIS move into Iraq may be prompted by Assad’s success against them in Syria.  ISIS was losing in Syria, and decided maybe it would have better luck in Iraq.  If it had been more successful in Syria, it might have stayed there and taken over the Syrian government.  Creating a greater Sunni Iraq-Syria is a fallback position.  In Syria ISIS did okay in the Sunni areas, but the Assad government was Alawite allied with the Shiites, making it difficult for ISIS to take over important parts of the country, like Damascus.  They have been so successful in Iraq because they are taking over Sunni areas of the country, where they are to some extent welcomed, more so than America was after its invasion of Iraq.  However, ISIS will probably run into the same problem in Sunni areas of Iraq that it ran into in Syria, making it questionable whether they can take over Baghdad, for example, just as they could not take over Damascus.  As a result they will try to create a Sunni regime of some kind in the conjoined Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq, in the process probably freeing the Iraqi Kurds from Baghdad’s rule.

In any case, the solution to Iraq’s problems does not lie in Syria.  I also do not favor an alliance with Iran against the ISIS Sunnis.  The best thing we have done so far for Iran is kill Saddam Hussein.  Helping them destroy the Sunni insurgency would rank right up there with our earlier mistake.  If two of our enemies are fighting each other, the Sunni terrorists and the Iranian terrorists, let them kill each other; don’t stop them.  If one side ends up about to win a great victory, then we may want to intervene to maintain some kind of balance of power, but we are not there yet.

I want to blame George W. Bush and Republicans for this mess, because of their invasion of Iraq that had nothing to do with 9/11 or weapons of mass destruction.  However, it looks like the Middle East was a powder keg about to go off.  All of these religious and ethnic tensions, not to mention the Israeli-Arab conflict, were already hot, but it was stupid for Bush and company to light the fuse that set off the powder keg.  If it had gone off in some other way, we might have been better able to manage it, or maybe not.  But as it is, virtually every country in the Middle East is in turmoil or on edge.  Although everyone seems to prefer to use the ISIS acronym (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), the other acronym, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), more accurately shows the intentions of the terrorist group.  Their ambitions extend overthrowing to Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.  You can add those countries to the existing list of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and others that have already been destabilized.  And ISIS-ISIL has plenty of support, financial and otherwise, from the Sunni petro-states, starting with Saudi Arabia.