Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have.
-- Ronald Reagan
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
How I became an 'unconscious fascist' by Fiamma Nirenstein
Another meaningful episode: a group of Professors at Ca Foscari University, the prestigious Venetian institution, signed a petition calling for a boycott of Israeli professors and researchers. The content of the document is totally irrelevant, but the reaction it provoked among the Jewish community is very interesting.
One prominent Venetian Jew, when asked for his opinion, said: "They're making a serious mistake. Those professors don't realize that they are reinforcing Sharon's policy with their boycott."
Such an absurd reaction is the clear proof of the failure, within the Jewish world, to understand this totally new type of anti-Semitism that focuses on the State of Israel. Another document, this time a letter by a group of professors at the University of Bologna "to their Jewish friends", was published with a very large number of signatures.
Here is an excerpt: "We have always considered the Jewish people an intelligent and sensitive one because they have been selected (that's right, selected!) by the suffering of persecution and humiliation. We have school friends and some Jewish students whom we have helped and educated, taking them to high academic levels, and today many of them teach in Israeli universities. We are writing because we feel that our love and appreciation for you is being transformed into a burning rage… we think that many people, also outside the university, feel the same. You have to realize that what was done to you in the past, you are now doing to the Palestinians… if you continue on this path, hatred for you will grow throughout the world".
The letter is an excellent summary of all the characteristics of the new anti-Semitism. There is the pre-Zionist definition of the Jewish people as one that suffers, has to suffer by nature, a people bound to bear the worst persecutions without even lifting a finger, and is, therefore, worthy of compassion and solidarity.
And there is the well established, democratic, military powerful, and economically prospering state of Israel, which is the antithesis of this stereotype. The "new Jew" that tries not to suffer, and that, above all, can and wants to defend himself, immediately loses all his charm in the eyes of the Left.
But it was different before the map of Middle East was painted in red by the Cold War and Israel was declared the long hand of American Imperialism. The rising new born Israel, until the 1967 war, was built on an ideology that allowed and even obliged the left to be proud of the Jews and the Jews to be proud of the Left, even when Israelis were fighting and winning hard wars.
The Jews that survived Nazi-fascist persecution, the persecution of the Right, created a socialist state inspired by the values of the Left, work and collectivism, and by doing so, again sanctified the Left as the shelter of the victims.
In exchange for this, the Jews were granted legitimization. But in fact, the Jews were enormously important for the Left. The people of Israel were a living accusation of the anti-Semitism that marked the Holocaust, the Nazi-Fascist anti-Semitism; and now they were building collective farms and an omnipotent trade union! To some degree, this absolved Stalinist anti-Semitism, or gave it a much smaller importance than it really had. The Jews became indispensable for the left: look at the passionate and paternalistic tone of the Bologna professors, as they seem to plead: "Come back, our dear Jews. Be ours again. Let us curse Israel together and than take a trip together to the Holocaust memorials".
One of my favorite columnists. The article
Microsoft is contemplating a special dividend of $10 billion from it $46 billion cash hoard. This one puts the capital asset pricing model, a financial holy of holies, to a test. In theory, shareholder response should have been ho hum, it's already our money because we own Microsoft. Why should it matter to us if it's shifted from one pocket to another?
In practice, the result was a $10.2 billion jump in the company's market value after it was bruited that Microsoft might dip into shareholders' money to pay a special dividend to, ahem, shareholders. Evident message from investors to management: Our money is more valuable in our hands than in yours.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
Sowell on Hoffer part II
The whole thing is worth reading.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Sowell on Hoffer
What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause -- the "true believer," who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.
In a comment very relevant to the later disintegration of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe and the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union itself, he observed that totalitarian governments' "moment of greatest danger is when they begin to reform, that is to say, when they begin to show liberal tendencies."
Mikhail Gorbachev's place in history was secured by his failure to understand that and his willingness to believe that a decent and humane Communist society was possible. But, once the people in Eastern Europe no longer had to fear tanks or the gulags, the statues of Lenin and Stalin began being toppled from their pedestals, like the governments they represented.
Contrary to the prevailing assumptions of his time, Eric Hoffer did not believe that revolutionary movements were based on the sufferings of the downtrodden. "Where people toil from sunrise to sunset for a bare living, they nurse no grievances and dream no dreams," he said. He had spent years living among such people and being one of them.
Hoffer's insights may help explain something that many of us have found very puzzling -- the offspring of wealthy families spending their lives and their inherited money backing radical movements. He said: "Unlimited opportunities can be as potent a cause of frustration as a paucity or lack of opportunities."
What can people with inherited fortunes do that is at all commensurate with their unlimited opportunities, much less what their parents or grandparents did to create the fortune in the first place, starting from far fewer opportunities?
Like the frustrated artists and failed intellectuals who turn to mass movements for fulfillment, rich heirs cannot win the game of comparison of individual achievements. So they must change the game. As zealots for radical movements, they often attack the very things that made their own good fortune possible, as well as undermining the freedom and well-being of other people.
Speaking of Belgium, you may have read, and been sickened by, reports of slaughter in Congo. A French-led EU force is supposed to be preventing the murder there. In the Daily Telegraph, Adrian Blomfield wrote of a Congolese — Dieu Donne — who was to be executed along with his family and friends:
"They wanted to shoot us but were afraid they would be heard," Dieu Donne said. "They said, 'We are not going to waste our blitz on people without value like you. We are going to kill you with knives.'" The six were then forced to a former Ugandan army trench just outside the camp . . . and ordered to lie head-to-toe.
"There were other bodies in the hole covered with a little soil," he said. "We saw their feet sticking out." Dieu Donne was last in line, lying face down in the dirt. "There were ten soldiers. They took their bayonets and stabbed my father in every part of his body," he said. "Then they moved on to my neighbor, then the two boys, and then my friend."
As they went down the line, they mocked the prisoners, all members of the Bira tribe, until now not directly involved in Bunia's bloody war. "They were shouting, 'Call the French, tell them to set you free,'" he said.
So, "when they got to Dieu Donne, they stabbed him through his chin, throat, hands, chest, and torso, and he lost consciousness. But while the soldiers were away finding clothes to cover the bodies, he came to and managed to crawl into the nearby bushes, then fled."
Friends, I have no comment to make. I just think, I suppose, that this kind of thing ought to be known.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
The NYT has an article on newly-released prisoners from Gitmo who are upset about the conditions there.
According to accounts in the last three months from some of the 32 Afghans and three Pakistanis in the weeks since their release, it was above all the uncertainty of their fate, combined with confinement in very small cells, sometimes only with Arabic speakers, that caused inmates to attempt suicide. One Pakistani interviewed this month said he tried to kill himself four times in 18 months.
An Afghan prisoner who spent 14 months at the camp, at the American naval base at Guantánamo, described in April what he called the uncertainty and fear. "Some were saying this is a prison for 150 years," said Suleiman Shah, 30, a former Taliban fighter from Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.
This "uncertainity and fear" is the major complaint, along with confinement. It's repeated again and again:
"But it was the uncertainty and fear that they would be there forever that drove many of them to despair, prisoners said."
Jamie Fellner, director of the United States program for Human Rights Watch, said in an interview ... "These conditions of confinement by themselves over a prolonged period are enormously psychologically stressful," she said. "Added to that is the uncertainty as to the future."
So, here's my question. What the hell kind of certainty about the future did these guys have over in the caves of Afghanistan? What they had was religious zeal, not economic security, not promises of good health in their old age, and certainly not a secure food supply. They did have purpose
though, praying every day for Allah to smite the infidels and make Islam supreme. Well I'm glad we ripped away the false hopes they had, to be honest. I'm glad they saw that they were powerless and impotent. Welcome to planet Earth.
And at least when they go home, they can tell their friends and family that the great hope of the Islamic revolution, the sense of glorious purpose in the service of Allah's will, leads to a small cage in the hot sun.
Friday, June 13, 2003
The Fat Police
The main argument for government intervention in this area is that all of us pick up the tab for obesity-related disease when treatment is covered by taxpayer-funded health care programs. A recent study in the journal Health Affairs put the total medical cost at $93 billion a year, about half of it covered by Medicaid and Medicare.
But since overweight people tend to die earlier than slim people, they may not use as much health care in old age or draw on Social Security as much. Hence the net financial result could be a wash or, as in the case of smokers, taxpayer savings.
More important, the argument based on taxpayer-funded medical treatment proves too much. This rationale could be used to justify almost any interference in our personal lives, since nearly everything we do carries some risk of injury or disease. As University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein pointed out at the AEI conference, the public policy problem is the subsidy, not the behavior.
AT LONG LAST a Pulitzer Prize committee is looking into the possibility that the Pulitzer awarded to Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent whose dispatches covered up Stalin's infamies, might be revoked.
In order to assist in their researches, I am downloading here some of the lies contained in those dispatches, lies which the New York Times has never repudiated with the same splash as it accorded Jayson Blair's comparatively trivial lies:
"There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be."
--New York Times, Nov. 15, 1931, page 1
"Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda."
--New York Times, August 23, 1933
"Enemies and foreign critics can say what they please. Weaklings and despondents at home may groan under the burden, but the youth and strength of the Russian people is essentially at one with the Kremlin's program, believes it worthwhile and supports it, however hard be the sledding."
--New York Times, December 9, 1932, page 6
"You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."
--New York Times, May 14, 1933, page 18
"There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."
--New York Times, March 31, 1933, page 13
I would like to add another Duranty quote, not in his dispatches, which is reported in a memoir by Zara Witkin, a Los Angeles architect, who lived in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. ("An American Engineer in Stalin's Russia: The Memoirs of Zara Witkin, 1932-1934," University of California Press ). The memoirist describes an evening during which the Moscow correspondents were discussing how to get out the story about the Stalin-made Russian famine. To get around the censorship, the UP's Eugene Lyons was telephoning the dire news of the famine to his New York office but the was ordered to stop because it was antagonizing the Kremlin. Ralph Barnes, the New York Herald Tribune reporter, turned to Duranty and asked him what he was going to write. Duranty replied:
"Nothing. What are a few million dead Russians in a situation like this? Quite unimportant. This is just an incident in the sweeping historical changes here. I think the entire matter is exaggerated.
And this was at a time when peasants in Ukraine were dying of starvation at the rate of 25,000 a day.
In his masterwork about Stalin's imposed famine on Ukraine, "Harvest of Sorrow," Robert Conquest has written:
As one of the best known correspondents in the world for one of the best known newspapers in the world, Mr. Duranty's denial that there was a famine was accepted as gospel. Thus Mr. Duranty gulled not only the readers of the New York Times but because of the newspaper's prestige, he influenced the thinking of countless thousands of other readers about the character of Josef Stalin and the Soviet regime. And he certainly influenced the newly-elected President Roosevelt to recognize the Soviet Union.
What is so awful about Duranty is that Times top brass suspected that Duranty was writing Stalinist propaganda, but did nothing. In her exposé "Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty, the New York Times's man in Moscow," S.J. Taylor makes it clear that Carr Van Anda, the managing editor, Frederick T. Birchall, an assistant managing editor, and Edwin L. James, the later managing editor, were troubled with Duranty's Moscow reporting but did nothing about it. Birchall recommended that Duranty be replaced but, says Taylor, "the recommendation fell by the wayside."
When Duranty of his own volition decided to become a special correspondent on a retainer basis for the New York Times, the newspaper published an editorial reassuring its readers that his reputation as "the most outstanding correspondent of an American newspaper during all the years of his faithful and brilliant work at Moscow will remain unimpaired in the slightest degree by the change now made." This about a man whom Malcolm Muggeridge, the Manchester Guardian correspondent and Duranty's contemporary, described as "the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in fifty years of journalism."
Duranty was one of a gaggle of Stalin's intellectual admirers. Muggeridge, whose centennial we celebrate this summer, wrote about them in these lapidary words:
Wise old [Bernard]Shaw, high-minded old [Henri]Barbusse, the venerable [Sidney and Beatrice] Webbs, [Andre] Gide the pure in heart and [Pablo] Picasso the impure, down to poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, driveling dons and very special correspondents like Duranty, all resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook nothing, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal causes to which they had dedicated their lives. ("Chronicles of Wasted Time," pages 275- 276.)
Let's all give a great encouraging cheer to the Pulitzer committee for undertaking a task 70 years late. And perhaps the Times will now a look back at the Herbert L. Matthews coverage of Cuba and the man he so admired, Fidel Castro.
Friday, June 06, 2003
Goldberg on the DNC
Anyway, the DNC's official story is murky. According to the Post, DNC chief Terry McAuliffe said the DNC Ten would never have been actually fired, and other officials said this was all just a big misunderstanding. Numerous black Democrats told the press they were unsatisfied with McAuliffe's explanations.
Well, a prominent Democratic operative in a position to know tells me the real story. Each department head at the DNC was asked to suggest at least one person under their supervision to be laid off. The list was compiled by a senior consultant and submitted to the chief operating officer at the DNC, Josh Wachs.
It was only when they put the list together that it became clear everyone was black. In other words, each supervisor was asked to fire only a single person on merit. Race wasn't an issue or a problem until the statistics were compiled.
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
The Productivity Gap
There is worse. Europe's leaders see a productivity gap and feel called upon to develop government programs to eliminate it. Not for them Ronald Reagan's wise "Don't just do something, stand there." Not enough entrepreneurship? Let's have more tax credits. Entrepreneurs are unwilling to locate business in the regions in which the politicians want them to locate? Still more tax credits and some regional planning. Not enough research and development? Set up an international bureaucracy to encourage it. All of these programs, of course, favor those who can best navigate the sea of paper created by the tax code and the massive regulatory web spun by the eurocrats, while the heavy tax burden on the successful reduces their incentive to work and take risks, and encourages capital flight.
That's just not what American-style entrepreneurship is all about. It's about free spirits deciding what sort of business will meet consumers' needs. It's about businessmen, large and small, deciding where to locate their offices and factories, without the aid of a regional planning council. It's about getting rich, with "social justice" flowing from private philanthropy of the sort that all-invasive governments in Europe have virtually eliminated.
Most of all, it's about individual freedom. It is not possible to breed a nation of men and women who look to the state to fund their trips to the spa (as in Germany) or who are told that they are too ill-informed to choose their own doctors (as in Britain)--and then expect those same men and women to become risk-taking, innovating entrepreneurs.
Colonialism and Social Obligations
Theodore Dalyrymple has a good article in City Journal
. Read the whole thing.
This model of true liberation — into ordered freedom rather than chaos — was thus set. The Midrash, another ancient source of Jewish tradition, says it succinctly, "Whatever is written concerning Abraham is also written concerning his children" — his spiritual descendants, us.
Biblical tradition seeks to tell how the world works, elucidating history's patterns. The paradigm established by Abraham provides that liberation only results in genuine freedom when it is accompanied by a clear moral order — apparently absent in Iraq despite the country's professed religion. Without an ethical culture there can be only anarchy or tyranny.
For the Iraqis' sake, some such order will need to be planted and nourished from outside. That will be America's task, and not an easy one.
But there is no inadvertence in the ill-concealed hostility now coming from the antiwar camp--only a kind of awkward pretense to give credit to the American and British forces that won so swift a victory. And grudging credit it is, replete with arguments that, of course, everyone knew they would win overwhelmingly. That assurance did not, of course, keep this crowd from issuing their dire predictions the first day or two of the war, about the "quagmire" and new Vietnam.
The latest entry in the grudging acknowledgments department comes from Saturday's New York Times editorial that first pays tribute to the great skill of the American forces, credits Mr. Rumsfeld's push for a smaller more agile force, and then goes on to the main point: whether the victory could really be attributed to U.S. military excellence. The Iraqis, it notes, fought poorly and ineptly--perhaps this was simply "a lopsided fight."
The most noteworthy specimen to date, though, must be the lead Talk of the Town item in the April 14 New Yorker, in which Hendrick Hertzberg writes: "By the end of last week--even though American troops who, by all accounts, have fought honorably and without undue cruelty, were at the gates of Baghdad--it was too late for the rosy scenario of the cakewalk conservatives." We may take it, from that "undue cruelty" reference, that Mr. Hertzberg is willing to credit American troops mainly because they failed to perpetrate war crimes. It is a pronouncement worth remembering, and not for what it says about the troops.