Thursday, May 28, 2015

Frontline's "Obama at War:" The Trials and Tribulations of "Not Doing Stupid Stuff"

Frontline aired a tough to watch piece on May 26, 2015 entitled "Obama at War." It focuses on the 2011 uprising, U.S. Ambassador Robert S Ford's enthusiastic--and seemingly naive--embrace of the Syrian Arab Spring, and Obama's serial reluctance to get more deeply involved.

The main criticisms of Obama's inaction is his decisions to seek Congressional approval before bombing Syria after Assad used Sarin gas on civilians, and his decision not to act on a CIA/State Department plan in 2012 (supported by David Patreaus and Hillary Clinton) to covertly arm the "moderate opposition."

One friend who watched the program felt it leaned strongly pro-war: that the program leaves the impression Obama should have bombed without seeking Congressional approval, and that he should have moved forward with covert aide to opposition forces before the ascent of ISIS.

I don't see the program that way. The decision to seek Congressional approval was politically healthy for the U.S. and it opened the door for the Russian orchestrated peaceful handover of all chemical weapons by Assad; and it is not at all clear that covert aid of supplying weapons to vague opposition groups through Jordan would have prevented the rise of ISIS. It seems just as likely that those weapons would make ISIS stronger today as we experienced in Afghanistan. The Frontline program is difficult to watch primarily because Syria is a tragedy of epic proportions--with more than 200,000 dead, and millions of internal and external refugees, and the rise of ISIS in Syria/Iraq...and no resolution in sight. It's hard to watch and not get involved.

Here is a hypothesis for further study:

1. We want peace and quiet in the region so we can buy oil, trade, build, and invest in peace. We have accepted the fact that this peace has historically been supplied by dictators, as long as they didn't act too wild. Hussain was pushing the envelope on acting wild, but toppling him sure seems like a mistake in retrospect. Mubarak seems like a pussycat to El-Sisi.

2. We have limited control over how these events play out short of full scale occupation. Invading with shock and awe from the air, followed by a quick and dirty ground campaign does not give us control over the outcome. That seems clear in the wake of Iraq.

3. Control requires an Imperial occupation that is all in, like the Roman Empire was all in. Imperial rule is not compatible with civil rights or human rights. It means occupation with overwhelming force, an imperial administration, and the ruthless suppression of opposition.

4. The U.S. has neither the stomach, desire, nor resources for all-in imperial rule in the Middle East. We've tried imperial rule light with drone killings, limited troops on the ground for limited time in Afghanistan and Iraq, but really our heart is not in it for a real Pax Americana. Imperial rule light does not bring us control over events.

5. So when war hawks like John McCain and ex-ambasador Ford say Obama should have done more in Syria, they are fooling themselves. They are fooling themselves that pouring weapons into the hands of some opposition forces would bring us control over the outcome. We've tried this when we armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan (see "Charlie Wilson's War"). Asserting control and determining the outcome means full on imperial rule. That's the choice: assert Pax Americana or stay small and avoid doing stupid stuff. Invading Iraq in 2003 was stupid stuff.

If you watch this program, which I recommend, take note of the question to John McCain: who replaces Assad if we help topple him? McCain--who seems not to have thought about the question before--says "it's very difficult to predict." Not so much... Given the fact we--including John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio--are not ready for full out imperial rule in Syria, if/when Assad falls the replacement is ISIS or the Nusra Front. The control is not ours. The wise course, in the absence of full Imperial Rule is to avoid doing as much harm as possible and help where we clearly can.

Tragedy in Syria



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Anemic State of Our Economic Recovery and a 35-Year Republican College Prank


Brad DeLong takes the measure of our anemic economic recovery:

It's been six years since the near implosion of the U.S. financial markets, and (for example) a decline in construction  from 1.2 trillion to 800 billion/year, and a decline in the labor participation rates of 25-54 year old men--i.e. men in their prime working years--from 88% to 81%:


... and a decline in the labor participation rate of 25-54 year old women from 73% to 69%:


The employment of men and women in their prime working years has recovered somewhat, with lower paying jobs they say: back to 84% for men; and 70% for women. This means the recovery still is 4% shy of getting 25-54 year old men back to work, and 3% shy in getting 25-54 year old women back to work.

With an active work force of ~101 million 25-54 year olds, this represents a shortfall in the recovery of approximately 3.7 million workers--people who were working in 2008 but are without a job now.

DeLong shows us this graph:


.... and he asks, what is it that is supposed to drive a full recovery?

Looking at the four components of demand in the Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) above we see exports have recovered and moved ahead, and equipment purchases have recovered. The shortfall is attributable largely to a continued lackluster recovery in the housing market, .... but, above all, in the collapse in government purchases.

While interest rates have been at historic lows--essentially free for government borrowers--for the past six years, government purchases are still off 3.5% from their year 2000 levels. In the meantime there is a huge need to invest in deferred maintenance of infrastructure, and bringing infrastructure up to 21st century levels--so we can be competitive in world markets.

And whom do we have to thank for our government's inability to think clearly on these issues: Republicans ... mostly.  Over the past 35 years, the ideological blinders of the modern Republican party have put a straightjacket on political discussion; the Republican party, together with their boosters and cheerleaders in the popular press, and their sycophants in think tanks and universities, have managed to move the goalposts of discussion off the playing field. I look at candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and I think : it's quite the college prank.



Sepp Blatter's FIFA: Where Does the Buck Stop?

Seth Blatter, President of FIFA
picture alliance/Sven Simon photo

The governing body for world soccer (FIFA) is meeting in Zurich this week to elect its next President.  Sepp Blatter, a Swiss national is said to be favored for a fifth four year term despite some dramatic developments. The European soccer organization (UEFA), no friend of Blatter, is asking for a postponement.

The New York Times reports the blunt UEFA animus:
As long as Mr. Blatter remains in power, “FIFA will lack credibility and its image will be tarnished, and so it will lack authority,” Michel Platini, who heads UEFA, the European soccer confederation, told the French sports newspaper L’Équipe.
There have long been reports, allegations, and rumors of rampant corruption and bribery within FIFA,  from the macro level (e.g. influencing the location of events and media distribution rights) to the micro level (e.g. fixing the outcome of indivdual matches).  Blatter has not been caught up in any of this.  He has said that someone tried to bribe him once in 1986 and he returned the money after consulting with his accountant, and that thereafter no one ever tried to bribe him again.  Still, under Blatter's reign, FIFA has largely turned a blind eye and swept corruption scandals under the rug. 

Nevertheless, last November FIFA asked Swiss authorities to open an investigation relating to aspects of the Russia and Qatar world cup bids. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been investigating for three years. This Wednesday there were arrests. 

The New York Times has the play-by-play: 
Swiss authorities, working in conjunction with United States officials, conducted an extraordinary early-morning operation in Zurich on Wednesday to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges. 
As leaders of FIFA gathered for their annual meeting, more than a dozen plainclothes Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel, an elegant five-star property with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich. They went to the front desk to get room numbers and then proceeded upstairs.
Fourteen high ranking members were arrested, including current, outgoing, and former FIFA vice-presidents, executive committee members, sports marketing officials, and a broadcasting executive.  The press-release from the U.S. State Department can be found here.  The U.S. Attorney General has also unsealed four related guilty pleas.

Here is the Times:
"The Justice Department, F.B.I. and I.R.S. described soccer’s governing body in terms normally reserved for Mafia families and drug cartels, saying that top officials treated FIFA business decisions as chits to be traded for personal wealth. One soccer official took in more than $10 million in bribes, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said. 
"The schemes involving the fraud included the selection of South Africa as the host of the 2010 World Cup; the 2011 FIFA presidential elections; and several sports-marketing deals."
 Attorney General Lynch described the allegations, in part, as follows:
"[The indictment] spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. And it has profoundly harmed a multitude of victims, from the youth leagues and developing countries that should benefit from the revenue generated by the commercial rights these organizations hold, to the fans at home and throughout the world whose support for the game makes those rights valuable." 
The investigation will continue, raising the possibility that the award for the Russia World Cup (2018), and the Qatar World Cup (2022), both of which have raised eyebrows might be scrutinized.  The Russians are worried.

David Post, who has taught intellectual property and internet law at Georgetown University and Temple University, wonders about the jurisdictional aspects of the case:
"I would be delighted to see FIFA ... reconstituted as something a little less like the odious mass of corruption that it has become over the years .... But still, one has to wonder: is the (alleged) activity of its officials such that it subjects their conduct to US criminal law, and the jurisdiction of the US courts? 
"As the Times story notes: "United States law gives the Justice Department wide authority to bring cases against foreign nationals living abroad, an authority that prosecutors have used repeatedly in international terrorism cases. Those cases can hinge on the slightest connection to the United States, like the use of an American bank or Internet service provider."  
"But ask yourself: if you think that the “use of an American bank” is a sufficient basis for the exercise of US jurisdiction over foreign nationals residing and conducting business abroad, then presumably you’re OK with being hauled into court in Singapore because you have used, say, a Singaporean bank, or into a Mexican court because your money found its way to a Mexican mortgage broker, or into a Danish court because you have at times used a Danish Internet Service Provider. Yes? When you look at it that way it becomes a little more difficult to applaud wholeheartedly – shouldn’t we have been able to count on the Swiss, within whose jurisdiction FIFA undoubtedly lies, to do something?"
However, Post's jurisdictional concerns may be answered. The connection to the U.S. may be much deeper than use of a U.S. bank account or internet provider. According to Pix11.com
The reason why the United States brought charges against the suspects is because the plots were allegedly hatched on American soil. “According to U.S. request, these crimes were agreed and prepared in the U.S., and payments were carried out via U.S. banks,” the Swiss Office of Justice said.
As noted, a separate Swiss investigation is underway looking into the Russia and Qatar bids. The two governments are cooperating.

Wipe out corruption ... long live soccer!

Indicted FIFA execs, BBC News



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Professor David Bernstein Rejects the Jewish Values Obama Sees in Israel.

Professor David Bernstein of George Mason University ridicules the values Obama sees in Israel's founding vision: that the lessons learned from the hardships suffered by the Jewish people should inform how Israel treats the Palestinians. He disputes that Israel has any values to live up to.

Here is what he said in response to a commenter in the article linked above:
Funny, I went to five different Jewish days schools over 13 years of K to 12, and I never heard a word about Israel's "special mission in the world." Jews' mission to be essentially ambassadors for God, yes. Israel as a country, no, except to be a homeland for the Jewish people, which is itself a special mission, given 2,000 years of homelandless Jews. So I'm curious who told you that Israel has some other special mission in the world. .....
Bernstein's post responds to Obama's statement this past week that America supports Israel because we are impressed by its founding vision of equality and justice for all. That's naive, says Bernstein.  There is no such commitment by Israel. He implies that survival is all that matters when he says Israel's sole mission is to be the homeland for the Jewish people. As Al Davis, the late Oakland Raiders owner, used to say "Just win, baby. Win!" And Israel is winning, so what's the problem?

Israel is badly mistreating the Palestinians, that's the problem. Bernstein rightly points out that the Israeli democracy has made progress over the past sixty years with respect to the treatment of Mizrahi Jewish immigrants (from countries in North Africa and the Middle East), and that progress has been made in the treatment and advancement of ~20% of Palestinian Israelis.

Bernstein is pretty clearly correct that Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and the kibbutzim and Labor Zionism were not paragons of the Jewish virtues Obama points to. But then Obama made no such claim. Bernstein is knocking down a straw man to the extent he claims Obama failed to recognize the true character of Meir, Dayan, and the kibbutzim. He was invoking their idealism.

Bernstein rightly agrees that Netanyahu's recent race-baiting in advance of the March 17 election to encourage his voters to turn out is indefensible.... even if that seems to imply some values.

Bernstein concludes his article with the curious aside that "'The occupation' is another matter." But the occupation is not "another matter." It's the main matter. It's the corrosive forty-eight-year presence that is driving racist Jewish nationalism as evidenced at the 2014 Jerusalem Day parade:



It's the soul corrupting injustices that result from arbitrary detentions, arrest, and military injustice documented in the Ra'anan Alexandrovicz film The Law in These Parts.  It's depriving 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza of freedom of movement, adequate health care, water, employment, civic resources, building permits and a political franchise.

As reported in the May 15, 2015 World Health Organization report on health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories:
In 2014, the number of Palestinian fatalities and injuries resulting from violence associated with military occupation was the highest since 1967, amounting to 2333 deaths and 15 788 injuries – primarily occurring during the conflict in the Gaza Strip in July‒August 2014. The conflict had a significant impact on the daily life of Palestinians, with half a million people being displaced, of whom 100 000 remained homeless at the end of 2014, and some 22 000 homes being either totally destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.1 Widespread damage to infrastructure, including hospitals, clinics and ambulances,2 and educational, water and sanitation facilities,3 has limited access to basic services.
Professor Bernstein put scare quotes around the word "occupation," presumably because he's noting that Israel considers the West Bank not "occupied," but "disputed territory" and because Netanyahu has vowed there will be no Palestinian state to emerge on his watch, and that Israel will never give up any part of Jerusalem--whose borders have been vastly expanded since 1967--and the IDF will never leave the Jordan Valley. With 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank territory conquered by Israel in 1967, and settlement efforts ongoing and accelerating, Israel has effectively annexed the West Bank. By completely blockading the Gaza strip and depriving 1.7 million people living there from sufficient food, goods, and materials to thrive Israel has turned the Gaza strip into an open air prison where Israeli soldiers periodically shoot at civilians who wander too close to the prison walls and kill them (here is an example). All of which is to say Israel is depriving 4.5 million people of citizenship and the right to vote within its de facto borders for the past 48 years. 

Bernstein calls Obama's connection between Labor Zionism and the values of Tikkun Olam a stretch. One might also say that after 48 years of occupation and ongoing settlement in the West Bank, it is a stretch to call Israel a democracy. Unless Israel rededicates itself to those values that Obama has championed this past week, and adopts them as its North Star, the country will indeed begin to blend into the background examples of Lebanon and Syria. That is where a repudiation of values leads. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Two States with Equality and Justice for All: Obama Outlines his Vision on Israel/Palestine and the American Jewish Community

This past week President Obama sat down for another interview with Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine, and on Friday morning he delivered a speech at the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington D.C. to mark Jewish American Heritage month

You can find the transcript of the Goldberg interview at the end of the Atlantic article here; and you can find the President's address to Adas Israel here (transcript here).

"Whatever that is," quipped Jeffrey Goldberg, referring to Jewish American Heritage month in his Atlantic article.  It's a curious befuddlement. A Jewish American Heritage month was declared by president George Bush in 2006, at the urging of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Florida) and senator Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania). It joined Black history month (February), Irish Heritage month (March), Scandinavian American Heritage month (May), Caribbean American Heritage month (June),  Italian American Heritage month (October), Filipino American History month (October), National Hispanic Heritage month (October-November), and Polish American Heritage month (October).  And, of course, we know exactly what these honorific months signify: America is a land of immigrants who brought their diverse cultures with them; each of these cultures has made, and continues to make significant contributions to America's culture, palate, and traditions, and like a fine dish, what makes America great is that we can detect the distinct spices and flavors of the ingredients that make up our "melting pot."

So what is Goldberg saying with his fake puzzlement? Is he alluding to the Netanyahu meme that Jews are ultimately not Jewish Americans, they are Jews whose real home is in Eretz Israel? [For a general background on this position see here] If so, it is something President Obama strongly disagrees with.

Here is what I hear Obama saying in this interview and speech:

1.  America is not a way station on the Diaspora trail. Jewish Americans are Americans exactly like Irish Americans and Polish Americans. They bring their heritage to this land, they are fully part of this land, and we have all benefitted from it. Jewish Americans are of this land, not Eretz Israel.

2.  America has benefitted from Jewish American values. Jewish American values speak for equality and justice for all. Jewish Americans have contributed righteously to the civil rights struggle in this country. Obama says he was personally influenced by these values in his formative years, and that his policies are infused with these values today.

3.  America supports Israel because of these shared values.  America was and is not always true to our ideals. But our founding vision and documents have provided us with a guiding North star that has and is seeing us through. Jewish Americans and their values are helping us in this work. Similarly, Israel's founding vision, as expressed in its declaration of independence is a vision America shares.  Israel's declaration of independence states, in part:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will ... foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
This commitment to a democracy that will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex ... and that will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations... this is our common bond, says Obama. That is what unites us. And just as Jewish Americans have helped the United States in its struggle to live up to its founding vision, Jewish Americans--and the United States as a whole--must assist Israel to live up to its values.

4. "Implementing shared values is hard; that's why we study," says Obama. "It's not just a formula you can apply," he says.  It allows for differences of views. Obama believes the current Israeli government is not pursuing these shared values; the occupation is not living up to these values; and discrimination against Palestinian Israeli citizens is not living up to these values. We must be able to be critical, and we must be able to be critical in the open. And we must recognize that such criticism is not anti-Israel and is not anti-Semitic.

5. We must recognize the unique history that brought Israel about, and that Israel has the right to exist as a majority Jewish state in light of this history.  Israel has a right not only to exist, says Obama, but to thrive and prosper, and to be secure. This implies no right of return for Palestinians.

6. Everybody has rights and everybody is a child of God, says Obama. We must take the rights of  Palestinian children in Ramallah, Jenin, Jericho, Nabulus, Hebron, and in Gaza (to well-being, education, and opportunities) just as seriously as those of children in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa, Kiryat Shmona, and Be'er Sheva. The preservation of a democracy in a Jewish homeland requires a two-state-solution. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be free on their land as well, says Obama.  It is required for Israel to be what it was intended to be.

What Obama outlines in this interview and speech is a principled defense of the liberal Zionist two-state-solution that the United States has endorsed and has been advocating for the past 22 years.

In the meantime, everybody recognizes that the current Israeli polity is not on board with a two-state-solution or the founding vision that Obama champions. Here is Chemi Shalev, the Haaretz Washington correspondent:
Obama’s speech accentuated ... the growing gap between the [American liberal community and the Israeli Jewish community]: One is from Venus, the other from Mars. In the eyes of most members of Netanyahu’s new coalition, American lefties, be they Jewish or African American or presidents of the United States, are even worse than Israeli lefties, and we know what they think about them. 
Obama realizes this.  By clearly outlining his commitment to the Jewish state, but anchoring this support in a tradition of shared values, Obama is continuing to lay the groundwork for perhaps supporting (soon?) a United Nations resolution to force a two-state solution.

Obama repeated that Netanyahu's open rejection of the two state-solution, and his race-baiting during the election will have consequences. What those consequences are remains to be seen.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Eichmann in Jerusalem: Hannah Arendt, Corey Robin, and Jewish Criticism of Israel

Corey Robin has a deeply interesting article in the June 1, 2015 edition of The Nation wherein he wrestles with the issues first raised 52 years ago by the publication of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. I've been chewing on it like a dog on a bone the last few days.

What is it about Arendt's reportage of the Eichmann trial that still draws fireworks today?

Eichmann and the Holocaust

Adolf Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, on March 19, 1906. During World War I his family moved to Linz, Austria. Hitler, too, had spent student years in Linz; as had Wittgenstein. Adolf Eichmann was the only one of five sibilings who failed to complete high school or vocational school.

Eichmann joined the Austrian Nazi Party in April 1932, and by that November he joined Himmler's SS, providing security at Nazi meetings and rallies in Linz. Having lost his salesman job for an American oil company in early 1933, and the Nazi Party being banned in Austria, Eichmann left for Germany. There he attended a several week SS training camp.

The first anti-Jewish laws were passed in Germany in 1933 amidst escalating violence: Jews were barred from the Civil Service and all government employment.  Extra-judicial arrest powers of the state, first instituted after World War I, were expanded and appropriated by the Nazi party, permitting the Party to arbitrarily arrest anyone and detain them in concentration camps with no court oversight. Hannah Arendt, who was gathering evidence of Nazi anti-Semitism, was also briefly arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1933. She was later detained a second time in occupied France as an enemy alien by the Vichy regime, before managing to make her way to New York.

At the Sixth Party Congress in 1934 Hitler proclaimed that from the beginning, the goal of National Socialism was to be the sole political force in Germany.  "The aim must be [for] all Germans [to] become National Socialists," he said.  Rudolf Hess, the deputy party leader put it this way: "Thanks to your leadership," he said, addressing Hitler, "Germany will achieve its goal, to be a Homeland ...  for all Germans of the world." [See Reifenstahl's Will to Power  @24:00]  A Nazi ruled homeland for racially pure Germans .... and no others.

In a police state, they say, the worst elements rise to the top. Eichmann proved to be a successful striver in this system.  Between 1933 and 1939, through violence, economic pressure, deprivation of citizenship, and discriminatory laws, Germany encouraged Jews to emigrate voluntarily.  The Nuremberg Race Laws were enacted in September 1935, depriving Jews of German citizenship.  Of the approximately 437,000-522,000 German Jews in Germany in 1933, approximately 250,000 had left by the outbreak of war. [160,000 to 180,000 German Jews were killed during the war; by 1950 approximately 37,000 Jews remained in Germany]

In 1937 Eichmann travelled with a delegation to British Mandatory Palestine to assess Palestine as a possible destination for Jewish emigration from Western Europe. Nothing came of this. After the Anschluss of Austria by Germany in March 1938, Eichmann was posted in Vienna to encourage and facilitate Jewish emigration from Austria. In 18 months, Eichmann's organization processed 180,000 emigrating Jews from Austria.  My wife's family was touched by this.  My mother-in-law, who lived in Vienna with her family, was expelled from school and subsequently sent to live with a family in Britain. The brother was sent to Holland in preparation to go to Palestine, but found his way to New York instead; the father was humiliated and forced to clean the sidewalk with a toothbrush by SA thugs--he emigrated to Shanghai by boat from Italy; and the mother flew to New York from Belgium shortly before the outbreak of war.

With the outbreak of war all emigration stopped. By late 1941 the Nazi policy shifted from forced deportation to extermination. On January 20, 1942 the head of the SS secret service, Reinhard Heydrich, assembled the heads of the various German civil and war departments at Wannsee in Berlin  to discuss implementation of the Final Solution. In the Mandel/Pierson film dramatization of the conference starring Ken Branagh (favorably reviewed by historians), Eichmann sits to Heydrich's right.  Eichmann issued a memorandum memorializing the meeting in euphemistic, but unmistakable language. [Unfortunately the film is now under a paywall, but you can get the gist of it here] At the Wannsee conference Auschwitz is identified as the primary killing center for the Holocaust in Western Europe. Construction on the gas chambers and crematorium began in October 1941. By March 1942, a never ending stream of trains transported victims from all over Europe .
In March 1942 trains began arriving daily. 
Between 1.3 to 1.5 million were murdered at Auschwitz. More than 90% of the victims were Jews. Throughout the war, Eichmann was in charge of logistics for coordinating and transporting Jews to concentration camps. In addition to Auschwitz, 450,000+ were killed at Belzec, 200,000 at Sobibor, 700,000 to 900,000 at Treblinka, 60,000 in Minsk, and 152,000 in Chelmno. These Polish camps accounted for approximately 50% of the Holocaust, with the rest taking place in the killing fields further East (outside Eichmann's jurisdiction).

After the war, Eichmann lived under two assumed names in Germany until 1950, at which point he was helped by sympathizers to obtain a Red Cross humanitarian passport and entry papers to Argentina. His family joined him in Buenos Aires in 1952, and Eichmann found employment at Mercedes-Benz, rising to department head. In May 1960 Eichmann was captured by Israeli Mossad agents and brought to Jerusalem for his reckoning.

Eichmann in Jerusalem

Eichmann's trial began on April 11, 1961 and presentation of all evidence was concluded by August 14, 1961. The prosecution presented 112 witnesses, including many survivors of the Holocaust. The goal of the prosecution was not just to focus on Eichmann and his actions, but to paint a comprehensive picture of the Holocaust. Eichmann testified in his own defense. 

The facts of the trial were not in dispute. The prosecution proved that Eichmann had visited Chelmo extermination camp, Auschwitz, and Minsk, and that he witnessed a mass shooting of Jews at Minsk, and that he was therefore aware of the fate that awaited his deportees. It was undisputed that he did not himself kill any Jews.  

Here is how the Wikipedia entry characterizes Eichmann's defense:
In his testimony throughout the trial, Eichmann insisted he had no choice but to follow orders, as he was bound by an oath of loyalty—the same superior orders defence used by some defendants in the 1945–1946 Nuremberg trials. Eichmann asserted that the decisions had been made not by him, but by Müller, Heydrich, Himmler, and ultimately Hitler. Servatius [Eichmann's German attorney, paid for by Israel] also proposed that decisions of the Nazi government were acts of state and therefore not subject to normal judicial proceedings.  Regarding the Wannsee Conference, Eichmann stated that he felt a sense of satisfaction and relief at its conclusion. As a clear decision to exterminate had been made by his superiors, the matter was out of his hands; he felt absolved of any guilt. On the last day of the examination, he stated that he was guilty of arranging the transports, but he did not feel guilty for the consequences.  
The judges reached a verdict on December 12, 1961.  They entered findings that Eichmann did not personally kill anyone, that he was responsible for the dreadful conditions on board the deportation trains, and that he was instrumental in obtaining Jews to fill those trains.  The Judgment found him guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes against Poles, Slovenes and Gypsies.  He was also found guilty of membership in three organisations that had been deemed criminal at the Nuremberg trials: the Gestapo, the SD, and the SS.

The judges also concluded that Eichmann had not merely been following orders, but believed in the Nazi cause wholeheartedly and had been a key perpetrator of the genocide. Three days later, on December 15, 1961 the judges found that, although they were no required to impose the death penalty in light of their findings and verdict, they believed death was the appropriate penalty.  

Eichmann was executed by hanging in the early hours of June 1, 1962 in a prison in Ramla.

Arendt's Coverage of the Trial and Jewish Reaction

Hannah Arendt was a popular and first rate philosopher, political scientist, and Jewish intellectual. She had studied with Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers in Germany. In 1951 she had published an important work on the emergence of Nazism and Stalinism: The Origins of Totalitarianism. In 1958 she followed up with The Human Condition, a powerful investigation (influenced by her phenomenological mentors) into our political being-in-the-world as a distinct mode of human experience. 

She was beloved, respected, and admired in the Jewish community. 

When Eichmann was captured she approached the New Yorker magazine to cover the trial. They agreed to send her to Jerusalem to write about the trial for the magazine. Her coverage, published as a series of five articles did not appear until February and March of 1963.  The five New Yorker articles were then collected into a book, published as Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil later in 1963.  

The articles and the book hit a raw nerve in the Jewish community. Reaction was harsh and swift, and "a half-century later [it] shows no signs of abating," says Corey Robin. Arendt was no longer beloved, respected, and admired by the Jewish community.

There have been two main criticisms of Eichmann in Jerusalem. First, there was criticism that Arendt unfairly (and unkindly) criticized Jewish leaders who coordinated and cooperated with Eichmann and his machinery. The outcome would have been better had the Jews been leaderless, said Arendt.  As Norman Podhoretz put it, as paraphrased by Robin: "The Nazis destroyed a third of the Jewish people. In the name of all that is humane, will the remnant never let up on itself? Exhausted from their wanderings, were the Jews not at last entitled to their Zion in ease?" [internal quotation marks omitted] This criticism of the Jewish elders lost its sting over time and faded as the elders of the Holocaust generation faded away. 

The second criticism, that Arendt underestimated Eichmann's extreme anti-Semitic hatred, and that she was wrong to call Eichmann's evil "banal," remains very active to this day. I direct you to Corey Robin's comprehensive article for the details. 

A trial, Arendt reminded us, is about what the accused did.  Eichmann felt no remorse because he did not consider himself to have acted from base motives. In his view he followed orders and did not act from hatred, and that absolved him of moral and legal responsibility. The man was unclear on the concept of moral and legal culpability according to Arendt.  Eichmann was guilty, and deserved to hang, precisely because his actions in shipping millions of men, women, and children to their deaths was a crime against humanity and constituted war crimes. And this was because of what he did, not because he did it with a base conscience. He is guilty because the entire Holocaust project was a crime that implicates everyone who participated in it, whether they gave the orders or followed the orders. The shading of individual responsibility must lie in individual actions.

That seems correct. The trial was about the actions of Eichmann in knowingly shipping millions to be gassed and incinerated, it was not about the depravity of his heart. The depravity of his heart was irrelevant. More importantly, Arendt felt that Eichmann's actions could not be explained by an insane hatred of Jews, by Eichmann's fanatical anti-Semitism. That too seems right: Eichmann would have been just as zealous and enthusiastic to ship the Jews of Europe for resettlement in Madagascar (considered as late as 1941) if that policy had worked out. 

So why all the fuss? We can see the importance that Israeli leaders continue to attach to the presence and palpability of anti-Semitism in Netanyahu's obsession with Iran and its anti-Semitic pronouncements. Down-playing the role of anti-Semitism presents "a dire and existential threat to Jewish well-being," says Deborah Lipstadt (according to Robin). We can see the same obsession in Ari Shavit's book My Promised Land: the world hates the Jews, and always will; that's why we need a Jewish state. 

Robin: 
If it can be shown that anti-Semitism was not present at the nadir of Jewish history, what justification can there be for a Jewish state today? Hence attacks on Arendt for a claim she never made.
That's a provocative question, and Robin does not develop it: does the justification of a Jewish state require the existence of anti-Semitism?

There is, of course, considerable attachment to the notion of the existence of anti-Semitism in the Jewish community. Netanyahu uses it to convince French Jews to move to Israel; American philanthropic and political organizations use it to raise money. Netanyahu uses it to fight any lifting of sanctions on Iran. Israel uses it ("the Arabs all hate us and want to push us into the sea") in order to maintain the occupation. All of these are tainted with motive. A claim of anti-Semitism is convenient for these causes.

Which is not to say that anti-Semitism does not exist. But if anti-Semitism is not an existential threat to Israel or Jews in the Diaspora today, or ceases to become an existential threat in future, does this undermine the justification for a Jewish state? Is an ethnic state by and for Jews, with a sizable Palestinian minority, a viable thing in a world without anti-Semitism?

Which brings Corey Robin to the religious heart of his article.  Eichmann's real moral failing, which is beside the point for his guilt or innocence, but which made him such a dangerous man, said Arendt, was his inability to empathize, to imagine himself in the shoes of the other and to take that into account--really take it into account as he goes about his actions.

People objected because they did not want to be judged. They did not want to be judged for their actions during the Holocaust, and they instinctively feel that a virulent anti-Semitism inoculates Israel against criticism for its actions.

What would it mean for Netanyahu and his government to empathize with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank: to really put themselves into their shoes. Evil is thought defying, wrote Arendt in a letter, because "it can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like fungus on the surface." In other words, says Robin, Arendt was raising old Jewish demands of mindfulness about life--the knowledge that it is our smallest actions of which heaven and hell are forged.

What she was really being criticized for, suggests Robin, is "The intransigence of her ethic of everyday life, her insistence that every action matters, that we tend to the minutes of our practice--not the purity of our souls but the justness of our conduct and how it will affect things; if not now, when all is hopeless, then in future, when all will be remembered."

Robin quotes from Arendt's famous letter to Sholem:
Let me tell you of a conversation [with Golda Meir] about the disastrous non-separation of church and state in Israel. [She] said: "As a socialist, I, of course, do not believe in God; I believe in the Jewish people." I found this a shocking statement and, being too shocked, I did not reply at the time. But I could have answered: The greatness of this people was once that it believed in God, and believed in him in such a way that its trust and love towards Him was greater than its fear. And now this people believes only in itself? What good can come of that? 
What good indeed.



Monday, May 18, 2015

Pareto Efficiency and Social Policy

Here is a term bandied about by economists: Pareto efficiency

The term is named after Vilfredo Pareto an Italian engineer, economist, and social scientist. Pareto was born in 1848 as the Italian revolution got underway in typical Italian fashion (people stopped smoking and playing the lottery!) and he died in 1923 right after Benito Mussolini assumed power in Italy. 

A pareto improvement is when a change in allocation makes at least one individual better off without making any other individual worse off. An allocation is defined as "Pareto efficient" or "Pareto optimal" when no further Pareto improvements can be made, i.e. you can't improve anyone's position without making at least some person worse off.  


The term is most usefully applied in the production of goods, as in "guns vs. butter."  Same amount of butter and more guns is a Pareto improvement; so is same amount of guns and more butter; so is more guns and more butter. Trading off guns for butter (fewer guns in order to make more butter) is not a Pareto improvement.


The concept, of course, has nothing to do with a just or sensible distribution of resources and goods. An economy can be run in a way so there is more and more inequality without making anyone at the bottom worse off. As productivity increases we have Pareto improvements, we don't have an increase in justice or an equitable or sensible distribution of wealth.

And here is where Brad DeLong comes in with two very Brad DeLong sentences from this morning: 
I have often wondered and never manage to get completely straight in my mind how economics lost its utilitarian roots–how it went from saying “this is a good policy because it advances the greater good of the greater number” to “competitive free-market allocations are good because they are Pareto-optimal, and we do not prefer any particular Pareto-optimal allocation because that would be a question not of science but of values and politics, and non-Pareto-optimal allocations are bad.” It has puzzled me particularly because the claim that we cannot say X is better than Y because they are not Pareto-ranked is not, in general, raised when the policy at issue is a GDP-increasing and either distributionally-neutral or inequality-increasing policy like tariff reductions or cuts in capital taxation…
And, by all means, read John Quiggin's The Political is Personal too.