Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Arlen Specter Jumps Sinking Republican Ship

That's the bottom-line on Specter's move from (R) to (D). The discredited and morally bankrupt (though personally enriched) Republican Party has nothing to offer the Pennsylvania Solon but tsuris anymore. Specter actually voted for much of the Republican agenda over the years, despite reports to the contrary. His defection hurts, in the same way Lieberman's defection hurt the Democrats a few years back. IMHO, it's a matter of "tipping points," for the party and the country. We'll see if the left-wing of the Democratic party is any nicer to Specter (remember Anita Hill?) than it has been to Lieberman (who suffered for his support for the Iraq war). If Specter is challenged in the 2010 Pennsylvania primary, he may be forced to go independent to keep his position, following Lieberman and Vermont's Bernie Sanders (who once called himself a Socialist)...though after listening to Senator Bob Casey's press conference, I think Pennsylvania Democrats might be smarter than the Connecticut hedge fund managers who gave the world Ned Lamont....

President Barack Obama: Happy Birthday, Israel!

This blog joins the President of the United States in congratulating the Jewish State on her 61st birthday. Here's the President's Statement on the 61st Anniversary of Israel’s Independence:
On behalf of the people of the United States, President Obama congratulates the people and government of Israel on the 61st anniversary of Israel’s independence. The United States was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948, minutes after its declaration of independence, and the deep bonds of friendship between the U.S. and Israel remain as strong and unshakeable as ever. The President looks forward to working with Israel to advance our common interests, including the realization of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, ensuring Israel’s security, and strengthening the bilateral relationship, over the months and years to come.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog

Found this while googling information about Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three. Personal responses to classic films, from a 20-something in publishing:

Mark McKeon: Prosecute American Torturers in US Courts

In today's Washington Post:
I hope that the United States has turned the page on those times and is returning to the values that sustained our country for so many years. But we cannot expect to regain our position of leadership in the world unless we hold ourselves to the same standards that we expect of others. That means punishing the most senior government officials responsible for these crimes. We have demanded this from other countries that have returned from walking on the dark side; we should expect no less from ourselves.

To say that we should hold ourselves to the same standards of justice that we applied to Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein is not to say that the level of our leaders' crimes approached theirs. Thankfully, there is no evidence of that. And yet, torture and cruel treatment are as much violations of international humanitarian law as are murder and genocide. They demand a judicial response. We cannot expect the rest of humanity to live in a world that we ourselves are not willing to inhabit.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Arianna Huffington on Obama's 100-Day Minuses

After listing the pluses, Arianna draws attention to these minuses in Obama's 100 Days:
*The bank bailout. In his appointments at almost every agency, Obama has demonstrated a desire to receive a wide range of opinion. But the exception is a doozy: at Treasury, the range of opinion goes all the way from Goldman to Sachs. Several hundred billion dollars later, the banks still aren't lending, the zombies are still on their feet, preferred shareholders are still being catered to, the knowledge of where our money has gone is spotty at best, and oversight and transparency remain unfulfilled promises. The Obama White House's vision for the rescue remains startlingly myopic. The result is the continued funneling of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the very people who got us into the mess we are in -- with very little accountability demanded in return. The biggest black mark on Obama's first 100 days is his head-scratching reliance on the bank-centric beliefs of Larry Summers and Tim Geithner.

*Afghanistan. Obama has committed 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan but as many, including Obama himself, have noted, there is no exclusively military solution to Afghanistan. What's more, unlike with Guantanamo, Obama has adopted Bush's policies regarding the enemy prisoners being held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

*Torture accountability. Obama has said he wants to look forward and not back, and it's reasonable for him to not want his agenda sidetracked by torture commissions and investigations. But the way we respond to the revelations about the Bush administration's use of torture isn't merely a question of policy; it a question of morality. The minute the president starts framing the issue as a matter of right vs wrong, his choices will be clear. Because if there is one thing Obama cannot afford to abandon it's the moral high ground. And he can trust the American public to walk and chew gum at the same time -- to be able to support a national health care plan, a new energy plan, the reforming of our education system, and at the same time support accountability for those who undercut our fundamental values.

*Sensible gun control. Despite a recent run of deadly gun rampages and an appeal from the president of Mexico, whose country is paying a heavy price for bought-in-America guns, Obama has chosen the path of political expediency and turned his back on his campaign promise to reinstate a ban on assault weapons.

Swine Flu, Deja Vu...

Someone I know and I were reminiscing about the time we were innoculated for Swine Flu at college, during an epidemic in 1976, the handling of which had apparently been botched, at least according to this 2002 Washington Post account on the UCLA School of Public Health website:
Events began with the death, on Feb. 4, 1976, of an Army recruit at Fort Dix, N.J., during an outbreak of respiratory infections following the holidays. Throat washings were taken from 19 ill soldiers, and a majority tested positive for that winter's dominant strain of the influenza virus, which was called A/Victoria. But four samples were different, and New Jersey public health officials sent them to the CDC to be identified.

On Feb. 12, the CDC delivered a chilling report. The four samples -- which included one from the dead soldier -- were swine flu. As the name suggests, swine flu was endemic to pigs. However, the devastating pandemic of the Spanish flu in 1918 and 1919 is believed to have been caused by a strain of swine flu that, through mutation, gained the ability to infect people.

In 1927, a scholar put the Spanish flu's global mortality at 21.5 million. In 1991, a systematic recalculation raised it to 30 million. The latest estimate, published in the current Bulletin of the History of Medicine, sets the minimum mortality at 50 million, with an upper limit of 100 million.

The possibility that the Spanish flu had reemerged was a matter whose importance is hard to overstate -- and wasn't missed by anyone in 1976. Within days of identifying the strain, federal health officials were meeting at the CDC to discuss what to do.

According to various accounts, the idea that a swine flu epidemic was quite unlikely never received a full airing or a fair hearing, although numerous experts apparently held that view. Instead, the notion that an epidemic was likely enough to warrant population-wide vaccination grew from dominant opinion to unquestioned gospel.

At the same time, the rhetoric of risk suffered steady inflation as the topic moved from the mouths of scientists to the mouths of government officials. In a memo prepared for his superiors at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), David Sencer, head of the CDC, talked about the "strong possibility" of a swine flu epidemic. Later, HEW's general counsel commented that "the chances seem to be 1 in 2." A memo from the HEW secretary to the head of the Office of Management and Budget noted that "the projections are that this virus will kill one million Americans in 1976."

A few experts suggested the vaccine be made and stockpiled but used only if there was more evidence of an epidemic. This was considered but rejected early on. The argument was that the influenza vaccine had few, if any, serious side effects, and that it would be far easier (and more defensible) to get it into people's bodies before people started dying.

On March 24, President Gerald Ford announced on television that he was asking Congress for $135 million "to inoculate every man, woman and child in the United States" against swine flu.

Over the next nine months, very little went right -- or as planned.

Pharmaceutical companies undertook crash programs to make enough of the vaccine by the start of flu season in October. But it turned out the Fort Dix bug grew poorly in chicken eggs, the growth medium for the influenza virus. This meant that yields were going to be about half of what was planned. In addition, one company used the wrong virus and had to start over.

The insurance industry announced it wouldn't insure manufacturers against liability arising from the vaccine. An act of Congress shifted most of the liability to the government.

Studies of Fort Dix's soldiers showed that about 500 had been infected with swine flu. But with only one death, this called into question the deadliness of the strain. In addition, swine flu didn't appear that summer in the Southern Hemisphere, as would be expected if a pandemic were starting.

Tests showed that single injections of some vaccine formulations didn't protect children. This required time-consuming studies of a two-shot regimen.

Albert Sabin, the father of the oral polio vaccine and a high-profile advocate, broke with the party line and called for stockpiling, but not immediate use, of the vaccine.

Three elderly people in Pittsburgh died on the same day within hours of getting swine flu shots. It was a chance event, but just the sort of guilt by association that arises whenever a public health intervention is done on a mass scale.

What killed the program, though, was the observation in early December that people given the swine flu vaccine had an increased risk of developing Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare, usually reversible but occasionally fatal form of paralysis. Research showed that while the actual risk for Guillain-Barre was only about 1 in 1,000 among people who had received the vaccine, that was about seven times higher than for people who didn't get the shot.

On Dec. 16, the swine flu vaccine campaign was halted. About 45 million people had been immunized. The federal government eventually paid out $90 million in damages to people who developed Guillain-Barre. The total bill for the program was more than $400 million.

There are a lot of lessons to draw, said Harvey Fineberg, a former dean of Harvard's School of Public Health, who co-authored an analysis of the "swine flu affair" for Joseph A. Califano, HEW secretary under President Jimmy Carter, who succeeded Ford in January 1977.

Among them: Don't over-promise; think carefully about what needs to be decided when; don't expect the consensus of experts to hold in the face of changing events. The biggest, he said recently, was perhaps the most obvious: Expect the unexpected at all times.

Coming This Wednesday...

To the Arts Club of Washington, DC, Wednesday, April 29, 2009, from 5:30pm - 8:30pm:

Arts Club Cinematography chair Larry Jarvik will moderate a panel devoted to the life, work and creative legacy of producer-directors Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, and Otto Preminger. Towson University professor Peter Lev will discuss “Otto Preminger’s Fatal Women.” Prof. Lev is co-editor of The Literature/Film Reader: Issues of Adaptation and author of History of the American Cinema: The Fifties. Dr. Lawrence Suid will focus on “The Search for Fred Zinnemann.” Dr. Suid, author of Guts & Glory: The Making of the American Military Image on Film, is now writing Zinnemann’s biography. Jarvik’s topic is “One, Two, Three: Billy Wilder’s Coca-Cola Comedy.” The evening will feature clips from a number of the Viennese auteurs’ best films, as well as an opportunity for audience participation.

Cost of the program is $20, including wine and hors d’oeuvres; reserve at 202-331-7282, ext. 16, by 3 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28th. Free validated parking is available at the Nation Parking garage on 20th Street NW (located between Eye and K Streets, NW).

Location: Arts Club of Washington
2017 Eye St NW
Washington, DC
(Please forgive the self-promotion...)

Rabbi David Golinkin on the Bergson Group in Israeli History

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israeli Independence Day, Dr. Rafael Medoff sent me last week's interview in the Jerusalem Post with Rabbi David Golinkin, who stars as Rabbi Stephen Wise in the Jerusalem production of Bernard Weinraub's The Accomplices. An excerpt:
Your father, Noah Golinkin, was a young rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in those days. He and his classmates Jerry Lipnick and Buddy Sachs fashioned their own unique response to the news about Europe's Jews. Why?

After Stephen Wise snubbed them, my father and his fellow-students felt they had no choice but to create their own activist group, called the European Committee. No budget, no staff, no office, just some 20-somethings in their dorm rooms with a rickety typewriter. They organized an amazing conference in February 1943, bringing Christian and Jewish students from 11 theological seminaries together to learn what was happening to Europe's Jews and to discuss ways to help. My father and his friends also managed to persuade the Synagogue Council of America to launch a nationwide campaign to get synagogues to hold memorial rallies in May 1943, to insert special passages about Europe's Jews - written by my father - in their prayers, to wear black ribbons and more.

This was all a very important part of making the Jewish public aware of what was happening and of putting rescue at the top of the Jewish community's agenda. It's really remarkable to think that a handful of college students could make that happen.

Your father had just recently escaped from the Nazis and reached America. Usually one thinks of immigrants as being afraid to "make waves" in their new country. What made your father different?

He only arrived in the US in 1938. Through intensive lobbying in Congress, he managed to get his parents out in 1939 and his sisters out in 1942. This proved to him that lobbying did work. The second reason was simply his personality - he was a doer. If he saw a problem, he tried to solve it. When he saw the Jewish leaders staying quiet, he prodded them to act before it would be too late.

The controversy over president Roosevelt and the Holocaust continues to provoke debate, more than 60 years after the fact. Now it's coming to the Jerusalem stage. How do you think Israelis will respond to it?

Israelis care deeply about these issues, and they should. The Allies' response to the Holocaust has affected so many issues, from the creation of Israel, to the nature of America-Israel relations, to the influence of American Jews on US foreign policy. Also, many Israelis will naturally see Peter Bergson [Hillel Kook] as "one of ours" - he and the other leaders of the Bergson Group came to America from Mandatory Palestine, and after their work was done, they went back to Eretz Yisrael. Bergson and two of his colleagues even served in the first Knesset. The story of the Bergson Group is not only part of American Jewish history, it's a very important part of Israeli and Zionist history as well.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chris Buckley's "Mummy Dearest"

In today's New York Times Magazine, a memoir of growing up as the Crown Prince of Conservatism. It's the first thing written by Chris Buckley that I enjoyed reading, perhaps because it reminded me of my one and only dinner with Bill and Pat Buckley more than a decade at which she barely said a word, except to the servants, whom she called on what looked like a TV remote control, while wearing dark sunglasses at the dinner table. Odd, and memorable. Like Chris Buckley's memoir. A sample:
I remember the time I first caught Mum in some preposterous untruth, as she called it. It, too, featured British aristos. She grew up a debutante in a grand house in Vancouver, British Columbia, the kind of house that even has a name: Shannon. Grand, but Vancouver-grand, which is to say, provincial.

So one night, when I was 6 or so, sitting with the grown-ups at the dinner table, I heard Mum announce that “the king and queen always stayed with us when they were in Vancouver.” By “king and queen” she meant the parents of the current queen of England. My little antennae went twing? I’d never heard my grandparents refer to a royal visit, which is a pretty big deal. I looked at Mum and realized — twang! — that she was telling an untruth. A big untruth. And I remember thinking in that instant how thrilling and grown-up it must be to say something so completely untrue — as opposed to the little amateur fibs I was already practiced at, horrid little apprentice sinner that I was, like the ones about how you’d already said your prayers or washed under the fingernails. Yes, I was impressed. This was my introduction to a lifetime of mendacity. I, too, must learn to say these gorgeous untruths. Imaginary kings and queens will be my houseguests when I am older!

When Mum was in full prevarication, Pup would assume an expression somewhere between a Jack Benny stare and the stoic grimace of a 13th-century saint being burned at the stake. He knew very well that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth did not routinely decamp at Shannon. The funny thing was that he rarely challenged her when she was in the midst of one of her glorious confections. For that matter, no one did. They wouldn’t have dared. Mum had a regal way about her that did not brook contradiction. The only time she ever threatened to spank me was when I told her, in front of others, following one of her more absurd claims, “Oh, come off it!” Her fluent mendacity, combined with adamantine confidence, made her really indomitable. As awful as it often was, thinking back on it now, I’m filled with a sort of perverse pride in her. She was really, really good at it. She would have made a fantastic spy. Really, she would have made a fantastic anything. She was beautiful, theatrical, bright as a diamond, the wittiest woman I have ever known. (Whatever talent I possess as a “humorist” — dreadful word — I owe to her.) She could have done anything; instead, she devoted herself, heart, soul and body, to being Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr. (A full-time job.)

At any rate, I hadn’t written to rebuke her over the Cat and Kate dinner, so that was one letter from me Mum never had to not open. What, really, would have been the point of writing?

I forgive you. I was glad to have the chance to say that to her at the hospital, holding her hand, tears streaming down my face. I can hear her saying, Are you quite finished, or shall I fetch my Stradivarius?
Howard Kurtz's Washington Post story on Buckley's memoir at this link. You can buy the book from here:

Judith Miller On Obama's 100 Days

The formerly jailed New York Times correspondent writes that she likes what she has seen so far:
How's he doing? Very well, given the mess he inherited. He has implemented key campaign pledges, at least rhetorically, while leaving himself considerable wiggle room. On his first day in office, for instance, he announced that he would close Guantanamo and end "enhanced interrogation techniques," known to most English speakers as torture. But he pushed Gitmo's closure off by a year and created a task force to decide whether, where, and how the "worst of the worst" and future detainees are to be held. While he abolished torture, he formed another group to study which techniques are legitimate and devise a broader framework for their use. Wisely, Obama has usually created a trap door for himself, in case a decision or policy turns out to be unrealistic or unwise.

Despite his inspirational rhetoric, he is remarkably pragmatic, centrist, and in some instances, quite steely. In Iraq, for instance, he set a compromise deadline for withdrawing, but made clear that a deterioration in security might prompt him to reevaluate the pace of withdrawal. In Afghanistan, while he vowed to limit the war to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and its allies," he effectively embraced nation-building by pledging to train Afghan security forces, fight the drug trade, restructure the agricultural sector, reduce corruption, and do what is needed to prevent the Taliban from returning. Under President Obama, the war in Afghanistan has officially become his Af-Pak war. He has "surged" forces while eschewing the word. The number of combat, training, and support troops in Afghanistan is scheduled to increase from the 31,000 deployed at the end of President Bush's term in December, 2008 to some 68,000 this fall.

Several top appointees have military backgrounds or are veterans of the Bush era so despised by the left-wing of his party – Pentagon chief Robert Gates, for instance, General Jim Jones, his national security adviser, and Admiral Dennis Blair, his director of national intelligence. For his secretary of state, he chose former rival Hillary Clinton, whose foreign policy/national security views – having supported the war in Iraq, for one — are much to the right of his own. While he has endorsed greater effort to cooperate with such multilateral institutions as the United Nations, he refused to attend its despicable racism conference in Durban. President Obama clearly knows how to say no.

Harman Warned CIA Not To Destroy Torture Tapes

From the Council on Foreign Relations website (ht The Moderate Voice):
Representative Jane Harman, Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, released this letter to then CIA General Counsel Scott Muller on January 3, 2008. It is dated February 10, 2003 and exhorts the CIA to not destroy evidence from the interrogation of al Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah. The interrogation videotapes were destroyed in December 2007; Harman then requested that her letter and the subsequent response be declassified.

Mr. Scott Muller
General Counsel
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, DC 20505

Dear Mr. Muller:

Last week’s briefing brought home to me the difficult challenges faced by the Central Intelligence Agency in the current threat environment. I realize we are at a time when the balance between security and liberty must be constantly evaluated and recalibrated in order to protect our nation and its people from catastrophic terrorist attack and I thus appreciate the obvious effort that you and your Office have made to address the tough questions. At the briefing you assured us that the [redacted] approved by the Attorney General have been subject to an extensive review by lawyers at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Justice and the National Security Council and found to be within the law.

It is also the case, however, that what was described raises profound policy questions and I am concerned about whether these have been as rigorously examined as the legal questions. I would like to know what kind of policy review took place and what questions were examined. In particular, I would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States. Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?

You discussed the fact that there is videotape of Abu Zubaydah following his capture that will be destroyed after the Inspector General finishes his inquiry. I would urge the Agency to reconsider that plan. Even if the videotape does not constitute an official record that must be preserved under the law, the videotape would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future. The fact of destruction would reflect badly on the Agency.

I look forward to your response.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Is America the New France?

Apparently, this is the idee du jour in Washington, DC...and subject of a symposium at the Brookings Institution next Tuesday, according to an announcement I received today:
Is America the New France? How President Obama’s Policies Are Transforming the United States

When President Barack Obama unveiled his budget proposal in February, many observers described it as a radical departure for the American experiment, one that put the United States on a path to become like a European social democracy. One columnist lamented that "one France is enough,” and a political opponent derided the budget as "a blueprint for the France-ification of America.” The new administration bears more than a passing resemblance to its European counterparts in setting aside funding for universal health care and high-speed trains, increasing federal intervention in the markets and embracing green industrial policy and greater social equality. But, is the Obama administration really taking the American model in the direction of European social democracies? If so, would that be such a bad thing?

On April 28, the Brookings Institution will host a discussion to assess the scope and meaning of the "Obama revolution,” possible reactions by the American public and an apparent narrowing of U.S.-Europe differences. Panelists include Brookings Senior Fellows William Galston and Pietro Nivola; Guest Scholar Jonathan Rauch, a senior writer for National Journal and The Atlantic Monthly; and Clive Crook of the Financial Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and National Journal. Senior Fellow Justin Vaisse will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion. After the program, panelists will take audience questions.

When Will the Obama Administration Release Congresswoman Harman's Wiretap Transcripts?

Cong. Jane Harman asked that her NSA phone call transcripts be released on April 21st. So far, I haven't seen any answer...or any reason given why they should not be made public. Here's a copy of Harman's letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, from her official website:
April 21, 2009

The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General
Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530

Dear General Holder:

I am outraged to learn from reports leaked to the media over the last several days that the FBI or NSA secretly wiretapped my conversations in 2005 or 2006 while I was Ranking Member on the House Intelligence Committee.

This abuse of power is outrageous and I call on your Department to release all transcripts and other investigative material involving me in an unredacted form. It is my intention to make this material available to the public.

I also urge you to take appropriate steps to investigate possible wiretapping of other Members of Congress and selective leaks of investigative material which can be used for political purposes. As you know, it is entirely appropriate to converse with advocacy organizations and constituent groups, and I am concerned about a chilling effect on other elected officials who may find themselves in my situation.

Let me be absolutely clear: I never contacted the Department of Justice, the White House or anyone else to seek favorable treatment regarding the national security cases on which I was briefed, or any other cases. You may be aware that David Szady, the FBI's former top counterintelligence official, is quoted in the media saying of me "…in all my dealings with her, she was always professional and never tried to intervene or get in the way of any investigation."


BTW, John Loftus's book The Secret War Against the Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed The Jewish People
provides interesting background reading that may be related to this case:
UPDATE: House Intelligence Chair Silvestre Reyes has announced an investigation into the Harman wiretap. Let's hope the public is able to see what results from this inquiry...I see from a Google search that Chairman Reyes stood up to the PBS bureaucracy in the case of Ken Burns' WWII film, acting as a supporter of the Defend the Honor Campaign. Let's hope he can stand up the the so-called Intelligence Community's version of Dickens' "Circumlocution Office" as well...He may have a hard time getting NSA to turn over the name of the culprit, especially since unauthorized release of wiretap information is a felony offense, according to the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News:
Ironically, the single identifiable crime in this whole story is the unauthorized disclosure of the classified contents of an intelligence intercept to CQ, and then to the New York Times. While there is no categorical legal prohibition against all classified leaks, several specific categories of classified information are protected by statute and their release is a felony offense. Under 18 U.S.C. 798, one of those is the unauthorized disclosure of communications intelligence, like that gathered by NSA.

Obama is Right to Oppose "Truth Commission"

IMHO, Allegations of torture are a matter for the Justice Department and Congress to investigate...any more "commissions" would be a sign that it is "business as usual" in Washington. The 9/11 Commission was a double-cover-up, that allowed serious questions to be papered over and resulted in a war strategy that left the US bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan some eight years after the destruction of the World Trade Center. Any so-called "Truth Commission" would be as unsatisfactory as the Warren Commission in clearing up public doubts (remember LBJ's resignation in disgrace?). It would end up as nothing more than a "Cover-Up Commission," whatever the intentions of its supporters, as anyone who has lived in Washington for more than a few months knows.

Yes, the Democrats were briefed and failed to stop torture under Bush. So what? Two wrongs don't make a right. President Bush didn't pardon Dick Cheney or his cronies, and that leaves the door open for criminal prosecutions and congressional investigations.

The time for cover-ups is over, there really needs to be some actual house-cleaning. When I worked at the Heritage Foundation, they were fond of quoting Richard Weaver's motto: "Ideas have consequences."

So should advocating and approving torture.

New Film Documents Plight of French Jewry

A friend from New York City forwarded this press release about Being Jewish in France:
MEDIA CONTACT: Gabriele Caroti at 212.875.5625 or
April 23, 2009

May 13 – 19. North American Theatrical Premiere.
Winner of the Jewish Experience Award, Jerusalem Film Festival.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is proud to present The North American Theatrical Premiere of Yves Jeuland’s Being Jewish in France showing at the Walter Reade Theater from Wednesday, May 13 through Tuesday, May 19. This sweeping documentary explores 100 years of the rich and complex history of Jews in France, the first nation to grant them full citizenship. The undisputed sensation of this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival, the film examines the explosive Dreyfus Affair, the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Nazis, the absorption of Sephardic Jews from Arab countries in the decades after WWII, and continues all the way through contemporary times.

Being Jewish in France offers a multifaceted and thoughtful approach to a subject that continues to spark controversy. In recent years, despite the fact that France continues to have the largest Jewish community in Western Europe, a number of anti-Semitic attacks have once again raised questions about French-Jewish identity.

Director Jeuland masterfully gives a vibrant human dimension to this examination of Jewish life in France by bringing together an extraordinary constellation of French-Jewish voices and experiences, from leading politicians, intellectuals, and artists. Being Jewish in France is primed to become the quintessential film on the subject.

Press Screening (held at the Walter Reade Theater)
Thursday, April 30 at 10:30am
Please note that this film is in two parts – there will be a 5 minute intermission.
To RSVP, please email

France | 2007 | 185 min. (Part I: 73 min. Part II: 112 min.) | In French with English subtitles
Directed and Written by Yves Jeuland. Produced by Michal Rotman. Narrated by Mathieu Almaric.
A National Center for Jewish Film release.
Press releases and hi-res images may be downloaded from
Password: press
Being Jewish in France will be shown daily from Wed, May 13 – Tue, May 19.
Wednesday, May 13/Thursday, May 14/Tuesday, May 19: 3pm 7pm
Saturday, May 16 Sunday, May 17: 1pm, 4:45pm 8:15pm
Friday, May 15: 7pm
Monday, May 18: 1pm

Single screening tickets for Being Jewish in France are $11; $7 for Film Society members, students and children (6-12, accompanied by an adult); and $8 for seniors (62+). They are available at both the Walter Reade Theater box office and online at For more information, call (212) 875-5601.

The work of The Film Society of Lincoln Center is made possible by the generous support of the Irene Diamond Fund, 42 Below, Stella Artois , Illy, and public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center, under the leadership of Executive Director Mara Manus and Program Director Richard Peña, was founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, to recognize and support new directors, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility and understanding of film. Advancing this mandate today, The Film Society hosts two distinguished festivals—The New York Film Festival and New Directors/New Films—as well as the annual Gala Tribute, and a year-round calendar of programming at its Walter Reade Theater. It also offers definitive examinations of essential films and artists to a worldwide audience through Film Comment magazine.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater is located at 165 West 65th St. between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bernard Weinraub's "The Accomplices" Premieres in Jerusalem

Judy Lash Balint was there, and writes about the play's Israeli premiere at
These days, I no longer go to the official ceremonies. Fewer and fewer survivors are there too, since not many have the stamina to endure the lengthy security procedures, the wait for the president and prime minister to arrive and the hour-long ceremony itself. Besides, how many times can we listen to the pronouncements of the politicians and watch the endless laying of wreaths ?

This Yom Hashoah, as dusk descended and the somber memorial day unfolded, I found myself at the Israeli premiere of a powerful play by Bernard Weinraub called 'The Accomplices,' that dealt with the failure of the US government and the organized Jewish community to intervene in the Holocaust.

On the way home, it's easy to sense the heaviness that descends on the city. Flags fly at half mast; all cafes and places of entertainment are closed; only somber music plays on the radio.

On the morning of Yom Hashoah, the country comes to a standstill at precisely 10 a.m as the sirens wail marking the only ritualistic aspect of the day. I'm standing on Rachel Imeynu Street during the two minute call to attention. It's a moment of solidarity and comfort as the nation joins together in remembrance and resolve. In Musrara, on Jerusalem's seam between the eastern and western parts of the city, Israel's schizophrenia is exhibited for all to see. My son who lives in that neighborhood reports that the Arab commercial area doesn't miss a beat even as the Jews bring traffic to a halt just a few yards away.

My teacher and mentor, Rabbi Avi Weiss, has written extensively about the need for ritual in assuring Holocaust memory:

"I am concerned about how the Shoah will be remembered. Survivors are growing older. Neither can Shoah memory be entrusted to the museums. While they are of importance for memory, there are those controlled by universalists who take their orders from non-Jewish institutions. We dare not allow the Shoah to be politicized. Nor will the camps where the horror took place tell the story. Too many have already been Christianized and the emphasis on financial restitution has raised other serious challenges. No doubt assets should be recovered. Still, our community should be concerned that as this effort continues, the Holocaust will be remembered for stolen money rather than for stolen souls. The only way to ensure the Shoah will be remembered is through Jewish ritual; by speaking and re-enacting what our people endured sixty years ago, much in the same way as we do for yetziat Mitzraim (the Exodus from Egypt)."

Rabbi Weiss goes on to suggest various meaningful rituals that would go a long way to effectively preserve memory.

Here in Israel, along with the need to appropriately memorialize the Shoah, there's a rising awareness of the urgent need to take care of the remaining survivors. It's estimated that more than 80,000 of the 240,000 survivors in Israel live in dire poverty. The meager monthly compensation allowance from the Finance Ministry stands at 1,040NIS (about $250), but even this is only paid to those who arrived before 1953. Recent Knesset legislation has provided more assistance, but to date only 2,000 out of 8,000 survivors eligible have actually received any payments. As one radio talk show noted in his Yom Hashoah morning broadcast, "When Yom Hashoah is over, almost all our politicians will go back to their petty squabbles and fights over their own pensions and their budgets that pay for phones and newspapers for life."

All afternoon, despite the bright sunshine outside, I can't help but stay glued to the TV, watching documentary after documentary of almost unfathomable tales of every facet of the human experience that took place during and after the Shoah. I long ago found it impossible to read any more Holocaust memoirs, but there's something compelling about hearing the incredible stories of those who survived and made it to Israel; seeing on film how second generation Israelis are trying to unearth the truth about their parent's experiences.

At the end of the day, as the memorial candle on my window-sill burns down, after all the talk and ceremony, there are, of course, no new answers to the greatest tragedy to befall the Jewish people in the modern era. What remains is a sense of protracted shiva. We get up and resume our lives, internalizing our collective memories.
Her blog is called JerusalemDiaries.

ACLU Petitions to Investigate Torture Allegations

I thought I'd share today's email with my readers, and I'm signing the petition, myself:
Dear ACLU Supporter,

Since the ACLU forced the release of four critical Bush torture memos, the demand for an independent investigation has been growing louder and louder. Even President Obama said it's up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether to prosecute the memos' authors.

Tomorrow, the ACLU and a number of partner organizations will raise the stakes.

We’ll deliver hundreds of thousands of petitions to Attorney General Holder as he testifies before the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon -- his first public testimony since the memos were released.

Sign the ACLU petition calling on Attorney General Holder to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate high-level involvement in torture.

The more disclosure there is about deep, high-level involvement in torture and detainee abuse, the more indefensible it becomes to avoid investigating and prosecuting those responsible.

Involvement in torture is among the most severe violations of the law imaginable. And that should make it one of the last things we would ever think about overlooking. This isn’t about retribution or recrimination. It’s about standing up for what we believe in and restoring our country to an America we can be proud of again.

Make the midnight deadline. Add your name to the ACLU’s anti-torture petition now.

Tomorrow, people from all across the country will demand that the Attorney General takes action. Count yourself among them. Act now.


Caroline Fredrickson
Director, Washington Legislative Office

P.S. It took five years of hard work for the ACLU to force the Justice Department to release the Bush torture memos.

Please support our ongoing efforts to hold those who ordered, authorized, and carried out these horrible crimes accountable. Make a donation to the ACLU today.

© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004

Hilary Clinton Blasts Pakistan

In today's Congressional testimony, according to Reuters:
The Pakistani government is "basically abdicating to the Taliban" in agreeing to the imposition of Islamic law in part of the nuclear-armed country, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

"I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists," Clinton told lawmakers when asked about the introduction of Islamic law in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley under a deal to end Taliban violence.
Hello? Didn't anyone think of this possible outcome when the US gave a green light to the overthrow of General Pervez Musharraf? What's the contingency plan?

If there isn't one, I'd suggest that the Secretary of State begin reading Professor James Kurth's article, "Coming to Order" in the Winter, 2007 edition of The American Interest, in which he advocates returning Pakistan to India:
While there were particular ethnic communities that served as loyal allies of imperial powers in imposing order upon disorderly cities and turbulent frontiers, there were also particular ethnic communities that always seemed to be in opposition to the imperial order, or, indeed, to any order other than their own peculiar one. The British called these “unruly peoples.” The most notorious of these unruly peoples—indeed, the British called them “ungovernable”—were the Pashtuns (then called the Pathans), who inhabited both the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier Province of British India. And so the Pashtuns have remained, right down to the present day. We might now call them a rogue people.

They have been a rogue people at great cost to the rest of the world. The Pashtuns are virtually the only ethnic community in Afghanistan that supports the Taliban, and indeed virtually everyone in the Taliban is a Pashtun. It was, of course, the Taliban regime and therefore the Pashtun community that hosted and protected al-Qaeda before the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and it is the Pashtun community in the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan that hosts and protects al-Qaeda there today.

Like many close-knit ethnic or tribal communities, the Pashtuns have an intense sense of communal identity and almost no sense of an individual one. They also naturally have an intense sense of their enemies’ communal identities, including their collective guilt. It is impossible to deal with the Pashtuns as individuals, responding to calculations of individual benefits and costs. This is why, after more than five years, no one has stepped forward to turn in Osama bin Laden or Mullah Mohammed Omar (the leader of the Taliban), even though the United States has offered a $25 million reward for each. The only way to deal with the Pashtuns is the way they deal with themselves and with everyone else, as a community that is capable of both collective honor and guilt...

...With its vast Muslim population of 130 million, India has had ample and generally successful experience with the problem of maintaining law and order invoving an internal Muslim community. In its ongoing Islamist insurgency in Kashmir, India has also had ample and often painful experience with this problem—a sort of Indian “near abroad.” India certainly is a willing ally in a grand coalition against Islamist terrorists, so long as we do not insist on formally calling them an ally.

India’s biggest contribution could issue from any future disintegration of Pakistan. This state has always been an artificial and brittle one, and in many areas—most obviously, in the Northwest Frontier Province, the autonomous tribal areas, and, increasingly, in Baluchistan, as well—it is a failing one. With a strong Islamist presence in the country and even in the military, Pakistan could one day become an Islamist state already possessing nuclear weapons. An Islamist Pakistan, perhaps with al-Qaeda operating on its territory, would probably be the most dangerous state in the world, a rogue state in the fullest sense of the term.

If the United States should ever determine that this state had to be put to an end, India would be the best ally to help do it—to “crack the Paks”, as it were. The ruins of this artificial country would produce four or five separate ethnic provinces, each of which could be reconstructed and ordered by a new Indian Raj with a mixture of direct and indirect rule—in a way not unlike the British Raj that once ruled these very same provinces.

Freddie Mac CFO Found Dead

Obviously, something is still seriously wrong in the financial sector, otherwise, why would 41-year old David Kellermann, 16-year veteran Freddie Mac employee appear to have hanged himself?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Arianna Huffington: Stay Outraged Over Financial Crisis!

Arianna just published a list of things to be outraged about. Example number four:
The three big credit rating agencies -- Moody's, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch -- stand to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in the government's latest plan to ease the credit markets.

You may remember these three as primary cast members in the ensemble production that's practically destroyed our economy. Without the AAA rating these three agencies gave to billions of dollars worth of junk, we might not be where we are today.

But fear not. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says he has looked at the models the three are using now and is "comfortable."

Not exactly the word I'd use. Especially since, as the Wall Street Journal notes, the ratings agencies are still paid by the companies whose products they're supposedly giving disinterested ratings to for the benefit of investors.

"Until the rating firms bite the bullet and develop forward-looking signals and methods," says former credit-rating analyst, Ann Rutledge, "it's going to be same old, same old, and their models can be gamed."

After all, them's the rules. And Ben Bernanke is "comfortable" with them.

I'm not. And you shouldn't be either. I know from personal experience that it's easy to become worn down by the steady drip, drip, drip of scandal after scandal after scandal. But our weariness plays perfectly into the hands of those who got us into the mess we are in (the same people, by the way, who remain in charge of Wall Street). They welcome our outrage fatigue. They are counting on it. Their future depends on it.

Which is why we need to stay outraged. Even if it means losing out on a good night's sleep. And you know how much that means to me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Is Rahm Emanuel the New Stuart Eizenstat?

Articles about Obama chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel and Israel like this one from the Jerusalem Post remind me of all the fussing over Stuart Eizenstat during the Carter administration. Eizenstat was Carter's Chief Domestic Policy Adviser and Executive Director of the White House Domestic Policy Staff. He went on to a number of jobs in the Clinton administration. But in the end, he was eclipsed by NSC adviser Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, whose gross incompetence brought us Ronald Reagan (not such a bad thing). Likewise, for all the talk about Rahm Emanuel, I'd say Obama NSC Adviser General James Logan Jones' and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's views may carry more weight with the President at the end of the day.

Let's hope they do a better job than Brzezinski or Vance...

Los Angeles Remembers Peter Bergson

A phone call from a friend just brought this development to my attention. At this Yom HaShoah season, Los Angeles is paying tribute to Peter Bergson, protagonist of my documentary film. What do you think? asked my friend.

Better late than never.

Oh, Jim!

The other night at Politics & Prose bookstore, The Newshour's Jim Lehrer was kind enough to sign a copy of his new novel, Oh, Johnny, with a dedication "To Bettye," the mother of someone I know. The heroine of his story is named "Betsy," so I had to spell it out for him. He got it right. He signed books after reading a passage from the story about a Marine suffering from shell shock that caused him to choke up...A different side of the normally low-key onscreen TV news anchor.

Oh, Johnny is about Marines, baseball, and buses--three of Lehrer's long-term interests. Lehrer mentioned his USA Today interview about the book during his talk and the Q & A (to an audience with Marines and journalists, not too many bus drivers or baseball player could be discovered), so here's a link.

Oh, yes. Lehrer did do one of his famous bus calls for the audience, recreating the first time he was paid to speak into a microphone in Victoria, Texas...

Summit of the Americas--Direct

Here's a link to the official website of the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

To End Piracy, Stop Shippers Using "Flags of Convenience"

Today's Huffington Post reports that NATO defended a ship registered in the Marshall Islands against Somali pirates, freeing some 20 hostages. Which raises the question, why are NATO forces protecting non-NATO-flagged ships? It may be cheaper for the industry, but it is bad for global stability. Shippers should be forced to register their ships under the flags which can protect them at sea--and yes, pay for more expensive Western crews if need be. There is no reason for the profits of shipping to go to places like the Marshall Islands or Liberia, while the costs of protecting the fleets are borne by the US Navy and/or NATO. It means, simply, denying protection to ships from nations that are not protecting the ships--no more "free rides" until piracy is stamped out. In addition to denying shipping companies offshore registration in places like the Cayman Islands. Insurers would be instructed to pass the full cost of insurance to the non-Western shippers.

Bottom line: It is a national security issue to rebuild the American merchant navy at this time and give preference to US-Flag carriers in government policy. Bye-bye tax havens, bye-bye union- and regulation-busting foreign registration.

I'd hope that organized labor make this an issue, ASAP...

Russia Celebrates Orthodox Easter With Cultural Festival

From the Moscow Times:
Among the events on Sunday in celebration of the Russian Orthodox Easter will be the opening concert of the eighth annual Moscow Easter Festival.

Continuing until Victory Day on May 9, this year's festival will include the usual mix of symphonic and choral concerts and afternoon bell ringing from the towers of churches throughout the city.

In addition to its local program, the Easter Festival again reaches far beyond Moscow, bringing music to some 26 Russian cities and, for the first time in its history, going outside of the country for a pair of concerts in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

The artistic director of the festival since its founding in 2002 has been conductor Valery Gergiev, and dominating its agenda have been performances by the orchestra of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, of which Gergiev is also artistic director. Once again, it seems fair to ask whether any other city in the world blessed with musical talent comparable to Moscow's would almost exclusively enlist musicians from elsewhere for the central element of a festival bearing its name. Rather by way of exception this year, a single slot in the festival's symphonic program has been allotted to a Moscow-based ensemble, the Novaya Rossiya Orchestra.
Happy Easter to our Russian (and all our Eastern Rite) readers!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Good Friday II

It's Orthodox Good Friday, and they are celebrating it in the Holy City of Jerusalem, according to the Jerusalem Post:
Orthodox Christian clergymen and pilgrims marked Good Friday in Jerusalem's Old City, at the site where they believe Jesus was crucified on this date two millennia ago.

Protestants and Roman Catholics marked Good Friday last week, but members of Orthodox Christian churches follow a different calendar.

Black-robed Greek Orthodox clergymen held wooden crosses as they entered the courtyard outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Armenian priests also held Good Friday prayers at the ancient church, which is shared by different sects.

CQ: CIA Torture Memo Release Shows Congressional Oversight Failed

According to Congressional Quarterly:
Steven Aftergood, an expert in government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says Obama's decision to release the information in response to the ACLU's [FOIA] suit points to a breakdown in relations between the branches.

"Congressional oversight did not get the job done," Aftergood said. "This reflects a significant and dangerous weakness on the part of Congress."

Aftergood noted former CIA Director Michael Hayden told MSNBC that the interrogation program "began life as a covert action." According to that reasoning, Aftergood says, Bush should have issued a presidential "finding" or some other official declaration authorizing the program. Instead, the interrogations were a covert action, increasing the potential for deception, Aftergood notes.

All of which means the release of the memos will probably provide fodder for future congressional hearings, as lawmakers try to play catch-up.
No "truth commission" would be required if Congress would do it its job here, IMHO...

Maersk Alabama Crew Goes to Washington

Buried in the inside pages of the Metro section of today's Washington Post, a tale of heroism on the high seas, as the crew of the Maersk Alabama faced down Somali pirates, recalled by Reza Zahid:
ATM Zahid Reza, an able-bodied seaman aboard the Alabama, and William Rios, the ship's boatswain, were among those who stole the show. After sneaking outside to drink a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette, the two were quickly spotted by cameramen, who rushed outside to hear their stories.

Reza said he lured one of the Somali pirates to the darkened engine room by saying he would turn over the crew members who were hiding. He and the Alabama's chief engineer then attacked the pirate and took him hostage, Reza said.

"I told him: 'Trust me. You are Muslim. I am Muslim,' " Reza said.

The crew's visit to the Gaylord was arranged so quickly that it surprised many of those staying there. Linda Fitzpatrick, who was in town from Atlanta for a digital software conference, said she found out about the celebrity guests only yesterday morning, when her husband called her to say: "Guess what? Your hotel is on TV." She said she was able to snap some photos of the crew even as dozens of reporters charged past her to do the same thing.

"It was very active," she said with a laugh.

The 19 members of the Alabama landed at Andrews Air Force Base just before 1 a.m. yesterday, meeting up with family members before departing for the Gaylord. When they arrived at the hotel after 2 a.m., they were greeted by an open bar and a candlelit buffet.

The Alabama's captain, Richard Phillips, was not there, his trip home delayed while the destroyer he was on responded to another pirate attack on a U.S.-flagged ship, the Liberty Sun. The crew foiled that attack, and Phillips was delivered to the Kenyan port city of Mombasa yesterday. He was expected to return to the United States from there.

About 2 p.m., the Alabama's crew members departed without ceremony. Some evaded reporters as they left; others left with a wave and a smile.

Kevin Mousaw, 53, stood outside the hotel with his 16-year-old son, Joshua, trying to snap a picture of the crew members. A police officer in Canton, N.Y., and in town because his wife was attending a conference, Mousaw said he wanted proof for his colleagues that he crossed paths with the suddenly famous crew.

"It'd be nice to take home. My guys at my station won't believe it."

Daniel Henninger: Pirates v The Rest of Us

From yesterday's Wall Street Journal:
But that pirate assault on an American-flagged ship, its captain's bravery, and his rescue by one U.S. Navy ship should be seen for what it is: A metaphor of the world as it is today. It is a world awash in pirates.

Some are small pirates like the Somalis, but many others are big pirates. They live in North Korea, Iran and in al Qaeda's hideouts along Pakistan's northwest frontier. They are Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Janjaweed in Darfur. Pirates strap themselves with dynamite to smash the routines of daily life in crowded town squares. Hugo Chavez is the pirate king of Latin America. There are others.

Each wants to replace our system of laws, rules, institutions and sovereignty with their disorder. Then disorder becomes normal.

Extending Mr. Obama's idea, all of these should be "held accountable" for their acts against the civilized world. But they are not held accountable. Sunday was the exception, not the rule. In consequence, the organized world has shown itself willing to dance along the edge of anarchy.

Somalia's pirates are back in the water, but so are the others. On Tuesday, the pirates in North Korea, a week after flouting the U.N.'s prohibitions on its programs to build missiles and nuclear weapons, mocked these authoritative powers by announcing they would resume production of nuclear weapons. The North Koreans have one step remaining in their nuclear program -- to successfully affix a warhead to a launchable missile.

The pirates of Iran this past week told the world they are running 7,000 centrifuges at their Natanz uranium enrichment plant. When North Korea launched its long-range Taepodong-2 missile April 5, specialists from Iran were there.

Iran and North Korea are crossing the nuclear threshold, anarchy's doorstep. Standing on the other side are the great powers, seeking negotiations. No serious person would think of attempting a strategy of negotiation-only with Somalia's pirates, and that is rational. With the nuclear pirates we are insistently irrational.

In between lies Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that after achieving a "peace agreement" with the established authorities in Islamabad, the pirates of the Taliban are pouring into Pakistan's Swat Valley. Swat once was the jewel of Pakistan. A town square there is now called "Slaughter Square," piled with executed bodies. Swat's hostage residents have dropped off the narrowing edge of the civilized world.

Return to Sunday's metaphor. When the pirates holding Capt. Phillips began to point their guns at his back, someone in authority on the USS Bainbridge concluded that the risks to him had become too high and told the three Seals it was time to shoot. The civilized world, at risk, needs more concrete acts of pirate defeat, not containment alone.

Just as those pirates were finally shot, shooting down North Korea's next launched missile or striking Iran's nuclear plant at Natanz has to become at least thinkable -- rather than unthinkable, as now.

Days after North Korea launched, Mr. Obama announced he wants to reduce our nuclear arms inventory so as to "give us a greater moral authority to say to Iran, don't develop a nuclear weapon; to say to North Korea, don't proliferate nuclear weapons." Who would ever invoke "moral authority" with Somalia's pirates? So why North Korea or the others?

We need to understand that these are not just security threats but a systemic threat. Each weakly answered pirate affront erodes the public's confidence in the West's promise of an ordered world.

The erosion is persistent and cumulative. A crack sometimes falls apart. The world's foreign ministries and foreign policy intellectuals, secure in the calm sun that rises each morning where they live, try to make all this seem complex and very difficult. What we saw in the floodtide of jubilation over the rescue of Capt. Phillips is that eventually it's not complicated.
IMHO, I'd add Wall Street bankers and insurers benefitting from the US Government bailout to Henninger's list of pirates...

Mackubin Thomas Owens: How to Stop Piracy

From the Foreign Policy Research Institute:
In the 19th century, the United States also played a role in ending the piratical forays of the Barbary States of North Africa. This is one of the reasons why it has been nearly two centuries since pirates last attempted to seize a vessel flying the American flag.

After losing the protection of Great Britain as a result of America’s Declaration of Independence, American ships were preyed upon by the Barbary States—Algiers, Tunis, Morocco, and Tripoli (today's Libya). Like the Europeans during the same period (and most maritime states today), the Americans deemed the cost of military action too high and opted to pay “tribute” to the Barbary States. But the demands for these bribes kept growing while the seizure of U.S. ships only increased.

Congress authorized the construction of several frigates and President Thomas Jefferson dispatched them in 1801 for “policing actions” in the Mediterranean after the pasha of Tripoli declared war on the United States. During the next several years, the fledgling American Navy bombarded the harbors of Algiers, Morocco, and Tunis or threatened them with bombardment. As a result of these actions, these states agreed to cease cooperating with Tripoli. But the pasha remained defiant.

In 1804, a naval force under Captain Stephen Decatur boldly sailed into Tripoli harbor, where he set fire to the captured USS Philadelphia, later rescuing its crew, bombarding the fortified town, and boarding the pasha's own fleet where it lay at anchor. In April 1805, Captain William Eaton led an expedition consisting of U.S. Marines, mercenaries, and Arab rebels across many miles of desert to take Tripoli's second city, Derna, by surprise, largely ending the depredations of the Barbary pirates against U.S. ships in the Mediterranean.

To adopt such an approach to piracy today, however, would require a return to a distinction in the traditional understanding of international law, one that did not extend legal protections to individuals who do not deserve them. This distinction was first made by the Romans and subsequently incorporated into international law by way of medieval and early modern European jurisprudence, e.g. writings on the law of nations by such authors as Hugo Grotius and Emer de Vattel.

The Romans distinguished between bellum, war against legitimus hostis, a legitimate enemy, and guerra, war against latrunculi—pirates, robbers, brigands, and outlaws—“the common enemies of mankind.” The former, bellum, became the standard for interstate conflict, and it is here that the Geneva Conventions and other legal protections were meant to apply. They do not apply to the latter, Guerra—indeed, punishment for latrunculi traditionally has been summary execution, although the extreme punishment was not always exacted. The point is that until recently, no international code has extended legal protection to pirates.

As Grotius wrote in Mare Librum (The Free Sea), “all peoples or their princes in common can punish pirates and others, who commit derelicts on the sea against the law of nations.” And more forcefully, Vattel wrote in his 1738 treatise, The Law of Nations, that “legitimate and formal warfare must be carefully distinguished from those illegitimate or informal wars, or rather predatory expeditions, undertaken, either without lawful authority, or without apparent cause, as likewise without the usual formalities, and solely with a view to plunder.”

Once this distinction is revived, it opens the way for the only real way to stamp out piracy, as was done in the 19th century: the use of force to wipe out the pirate lairs. Under the old understanding of international law, a sovereign state has the right to strike the territory of another if that state is not able to curtail the activities of latrunculi.

As John Locke understood, pirates are in a “state of nature” relative to political society. And political society has the right to defend itself against such individuals:

“That, he who has suffered the damage has a right to demand in his own name, and he alone can remit: the damnified person has this power of appropriating to himself the goods or service of the offender, by right of self-preservation, as every man has a power to punish the crime, to prevent its being committed again, by the right he has of preserving all mankind, and doing all reasonable things he can in order to that end: and thus it is, that every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of the punishment that attends it from everybody, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lyon or a tyger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can have no society nor security: and upon this is grounded that great law of nature, Who so sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

The United States acted in accord with this understanding in the early 19th century. In response to raids from Spanish Florida by Creeks, Seminoles, and escaped slaves, General Andrew Jackson, acting on the basis of questionable authority, invaded Florida, not only attacking and burning Seminole villages but also capturing a Spanish fort at St. Marks. He also executed two British citizens whom he accused of aiding the marauders.

Most of President James Monroe’s cabinet, especially Secretary of War John Calhoun, wanted Jackson’s head, but Secretary of State John Quincy Adams came to Jackson’s defense. He contended that the United States should not apologize for Jackson’s preemptive expedition but should insist that Spain either garrison Florida with enough forces to prevent marauders from entering the United States or “cede to the United States a province, which is in fact a derelict, open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them.” As Adams had written earlier, it was his opinion “that the marauding parties ought to be broken up immediately.” As John Gaddis has observed, Adams believed that the United States “could no more entrust [its] security to the cooperation of enfeebled neighboring states than to the restraint of agents controlled, as a result, by no state.”

Unfortunately, we have permitted legalism and moralism to twist our understanding of the “rule of law” into something that Grotius, Vattel, Locke, or the Founders would no longer recognize. For instance, European navies have been advised to avoid capturing Somali pirates since under the European Human Rights Act, any pirate taken into custody would be entitled to claim refugee status in a European state, with attendant legal rights and protections.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Simon Johnson: American Bankers Have Become Oligarchs

From The Atlantic Online (ht Drudge via FT):
To paraphrase Joseph Schumpeter, the early-20th-century economist, everyone has elites; the important thing is to change them from time to time. If the U.S. were just another country, coming to the IMF with hat in hand, I might be fairly optimistic about its future. Most of the emerging-market crises that I’ve mentioned ended relatively quickly, and gave way, for the most part, to relatively strong recoveries. But this, alas, brings us to the limit of the analogy between the U.S. and emerging markets.

Emerging-market countries have only a precarious hold on wealth, and are weaklings globally. When they get into trouble, they quite literally run out of money—or at least out of foreign currency, without which they cannot survive. They must make difficult decisions; ultimately, aggressive action is baked into the cake. But the U.S., of course, is the world’s most powerful nation, rich beyond measure, and blessed with the exorbitant privilege of paying its foreign debts in its own currency, which it can print. As a result, it could very well stumble along for years—as Japan did during its lost decade—never summoning the courage to do what it needs to do, and never really recovering. A clean break with the past—involving the takeover and cleanup of major banks—hardly looks like a sure thing right now. Certainly no one at the IMF can force it.

In my view, the U.S. faces two plausible scenarios. The first involves complicated bank-by-bank deals and a continual drumbeat of (repeated) bailouts, like the ones we saw in February with Citigroup and AIG. The administration will try to muddle through, and confusion will reign.

Boris Fyodorov, the late finance minister of Russia, struggled for much of the past 20 years against oligarchs, corruption, and abuse of authority in all its forms. He liked to say that confusion and chaos were very much in the interests of the powerful—letting them take things, legally and illegally, with impunity. When inflation is high, who can say what a piece of property is really worth? When the credit system is supported by byzantine government arrangements and backroom deals, how do you know that you aren’t being fleeced?

Our future could be one in which continued tumult feeds the looting of the financial system, and we talk more and more about exactly how our oligarchs became bandits and how the economy just can’t seem to get into gear.

The second scenario begins more bleakly, and might end that way too. But it does provide at least some hope that we’ll be shaken out of our torpor. It goes like this: the global economy continues to deteriorate, the banking system in east-central Europe collapses, and—because eastern Europe’s banks are mostly owned by western European banks—justifiable fears of government insolvency spread throughout the Continent. Creditors take further hits and confidence falls further. The Asian economies that export manufactured goods are devastated, and the commodity producers in Latin America and Africa are not much better off. A dramatic worsening of the global environment forces the U.S. economy, already staggering, down onto both knees. The baseline growth rates used in the administration’s current budget are increasingly seen as unrealistic, and the rosy “stress scenario” that the U.S. Treasury is currently using to evaluate banks’ balance sheets becomes a source of great embarrassment.

Under this kind of pressure, and faced with the prospect of a national and global collapse, minds may become more concentrated.

Simon Johnson's blog is called BaselineScenario.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy 100th Birthday, Tel Aviv!

From Haaretz:
The beauty of Tel Aviv
By Haaretz Editorial

The Festival of Spring, Passover, will find Tel Aviv celebrating its 100th birthday. Although the events will take place in the city's avenues and street, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that marking the establishment of the first Hebrew city is a national holiday of sorts.

Ever since its beginnings as Ahuzat Bayit on the coastal sands, the city has been a symbol of modernity, openness and freedom. That is how it's seen by tourists and locals alike.

There's a good reason it's called "the nonstop city." Tel Aviv breathes, shakes and buzzes 24 hours of every day of the year. Even its name has become synonymous with an informal, easygoing atmosphere.

Over the years, Tel Aviv has been lucky enough to have some gifted planners and successful mayors who shaped some impressive features into the city. It is considered the capital of the Bauhaus style and the traces of the quaint beauty of the "garden city" concept are still visible in how it integrates community parks with low buildings. And Tel Aviv's beach boasts a pleasant and broad boardwalk.

Preservation efforts have restored prestige and glamour to once-beautiful buildings and whole streets have been renovated to become more beautiful than ever. The neglected boulevards of yesteryear have been renovated as well, and are now inviting and brimming with life.

Museums, galleries, concert halls and theaters, a university campus and private and public colleges, a large central park and sports centers - all provide culture, entertainment and education to the city's residents, attracting people from across the land.

But Israel's main city - a radical antithesis to Jerusalem and its increasingly ultra-Orthodox trends and penury - which has developed into a metropolis resembling its Western counterparts, has two notable strikes against it: an inadequate public transport system and filth.

Public transport is Tel Aviv's weak point. Since the 1970s, governments have deliberated on and passed resolutions to create an advanced public transport system such as a subway or light rail, with ample capacity and a ready bus network. Anything to free up the ever-inflating congestion that clogs the city's exit and entrance points and paralyzes the traffic inside.

All the plans have been delayed, owing to various excuses and through a tiresome chain of events, as pollution, overcrowding and financial burdens have gradually intensified.

Tel Aviv's blossoming as Israel's business and employment center is especially striking against the backdrop of Israel's other cities and their gradual decline. Effective transport to create a rapid link between the north and south of the country will also ease this socioeconomic hardship.

Filth on the street also plagues the city like a grim shadow. No mayor has been able to eradicate it. But despite all this, and even though many of its neighborhoods are still spectacularly ugly, it seems the words of one Tel Aviv poet fit the city very well. "There are prettier ones," Nathan Alterman wrote, "but none share its beauty."

Even the derogatory nickname which has been applied to Tel Aviv, "the bubble," need not offend the city. Bubbles too are sometimes necessary for countries in search of a normal life.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Michael Knud Ross, Norwegian-American Painter

Just one more day to see a lovely exhibition of paintings called "Spring," by Michael Knud Ross, a Norwegian-American painter, at the Dumbarton Concert Gallery in Georgetown's Historic Dumbarton Church. The closing reception is tomorrow night, from 4-7 pm. A friend of someone I know invited us to the opening reception, and I had meant to blog about the show for some time. Ross is an interesting realistic painter. I liked his paintings, so did someone I know, and so did the friend of someone I know. So, here is what the Norwegian embassy website has to say:
Spring is rebirth, vitality, promise. It is a time when birds fly north to nest, buds turn to leaves, people smile more, new beginnings seem possible, fears subside, hope emerges. The paintings in this exhibition stand on the threshold of spring: they are lively snapshots of nature blooming and of the people and little creatures that inhabit its skies and fields and waters. Colorful birds share their little, vibrant personalities. Figures touch and feel as they walk through landscapes of sunshine. Seas churn, fields glow, the senses awaken."

Ross recently returned from a three-month trek across west-Africa; several paintings in the exhibition come out of this experience.

Michael Knud Ross was born in Oslo, grew up in Scandinavia and Washington DC, and currently resides in San Francisco. In 2004 and 2005 he produced twelve public sculptures for disused emergency-call boxes in Washington, D.C. that are still on view. Recent exhibitions include a solo show at Geras-Tousignant Gallery in San Francisco in 2008, a solo show at Terrence Rogers Fine Art in 2007, and curating a survey of contemporary Scandinavian realism at Hillyer Art Space in Washington DC in 2007. His work is represented by Geras-Tousignant Gallery in San Francisco.

When: April 4 through April 14 (by appointment). Opening Reception on Saturday, April 4, 6-8 pm. Closing Reception on Tuesday, April 14, 4-7 pm.

Where: Dumbarton Concert Gallery, Georgetown's Historic Dumbarton Church, 3133 Dumbarton Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20007


Obama's Easter Surprise: 3 Dead Somali Pirates & One Live American Captain

As President Obama took communion at Easter Service in St. John's Church in Washington, DC, the US Navy did the right thing, saving America's truly heroic Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates who had taken him hostage...

IMHO, This action may be a game-changer in quite a few ways:

First, it helped President Obama differentiate himself from President Jimmy Carter, who saw his administration destroyed by a hostage crisis;

Second, it put an end to the Bush administration's tolerance for piracy;

Third, it has enraged the Somali pirates and their supporters, who have threatened to attack the US again--adding a new dimension to the war against Al Qaeda, which drove America from Somalia in the Clinton administration;

Fourth, it has demonstrated that Obama is willing to use force when necessary;

Finally, it showed the US Navy can do something right, that not every operation bogs down into a quagmire...restoring a modicum of deterrence to a world that may have wanted to see the US as Chairman Mao once called us: "a pitiful, helpless giant."

Not so pitiful, not so helpless, after all.

Well done, Mr. President! We salute you!

BTW, I'm glad you finally got a dog for the girls, too...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pirate Hostage-Taking Followed Bow to Saudi King

IMHO, there's a direct connection between the fate of Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips and President Obama's stunt at the G-20... Here's my thinking about how the pirates were thinking:

If the US bows to King Abdulla, why wouldn't the US bow to Somali pirates? After all, other countries routinely pay ransom nowadays, after all...

From the Khaleej Times:
The pirates, armed with AK-47s, pursued for several hours before finally catching Alabama. They climbed over the side and briefly overpowered the 20 crew members, all Americans. It was the first successful hijacking of an American-crewed vessel in memory, but only the latest in a long string of ship captures by Somali pirates. The violent takeover made Alabama the 67th vessel attacked since the beginning of 2009, according to the International Maritime Bureau, and approximately the 200th since 2008. Captured vessels netted some $20m in ransom last year. Today some dozen vessels and 200 seafarers are still being held in rowdy pirate towns in lawless northern Somalia.
IMHO, The saddest thing about Bush's botched Global War on Terror--which claimed to follow Benjamin Netanyahu's analysis that stamping out terrorism is analogous to stamping out piracy--is that instead of eliminating terrorism, the Bush administration ended up reviving piracy.

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday, a fast day for observant Catholics. More information from
Good Friday is the Friday within Holy Week, and is traditionally a time of fasting and penance, commemorating the anniversary of Christ's crucifixion and death. For Christians, Good Friday commemorates not just a historical event, but the sacrificial death of Christ, which with the resurrection, comprises the heart of the Christian faith. The Catholic Catechism states this succinctly:

Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men (CCC 1992).

This is based on the words of St. Paul: "[Believers] are justified freely by God's grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood... (Romans 3:24-25, NAB). The customs and prayers associated with Good Friday typically focus on the theme of Christ's sacrificial death for our sins.

The evening (at sunset) of Good Friday begins the second day of the Paschal Triduum. The major Good Friday worship services begin in the afternoon at 3:00 (the time Jesus likely died). Various traditions and customs are associated with the Western celebration of Good Friday. The singing (or preaching) of the Passion of St. John's gospel consists of reading or singing parts of John's gospel (currently John 18:1-19:42 in the Catholic Church). The Veneration of the Cross is also common in the Western Church. This is when Christians approach a wooden cross and venerate it, often by kneeling before it, or kissing part of it. In addition to these traditions, Holy Communion with the reserved host is practiced. In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, no Masses are said on Good Friday or Holy Saturday, therefore the reserved host from the Holy (Maundy) Thursday Mass is used. This is called the "Mass of the Pre-Sanctified." Many Churches also offer the Stations of the Cross, also called the "Way of the Cross," on Good Friday. This is a devotion in which fourteen events surrounding the death of Jesus are commemorated. Most Catholic Churches have fourteen images of Jesus' final days displayed throughout the parish, for use in public Stations of the Cross services. Another service started by the Jesuit Alphonso Messia in 1732, now less common, the Tre Ore or "Three Hours," is often held from noon until 3:00 PM, and consists of seven sermons on the seven last words of Christ. This service has been popular in many Protestant churches. Good Friday, along with Ash Wednesday, is an official fast day of the Catholic Church.

The Eastern Churches have different customs for the day they call "the Great Friday." The Orthodox Church begins the day with Matins (Morning Prayer), where the "Twelve Gospels" is chanted, which consists of 12 passages drawn from the Passion narratives. In the morning, the "Little Hours" follow one after the other, consisting of Gospel, Epistle, and Prophet readings. Vespers (Evening Prayer) ends with a solemn veneration of the epitaphion, an embroidered veil containing scenes of Christ's burial. Compline (Night Prayer) includes a lamentation placed on the Virgin Mary's lips. On Good Friday night, a symbolic burial of Christ is performed. Traditionally, Chaldean and Syrian Christians cease using their customary Shlama greeting ("peace be with you") on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, because Judas greeted Christ this way. They use the phrase "The light of God be with your departed ones" instead. In Russia, the tradition is to bring out a silver coffin, bearing a cross, and surrounded with candles and flowers. The faithful creep on their knees and kiss and venerate the image of Christ's body painted on the "winding sheet" (shroud). For more information see The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and The Catholic Source Book.

A Scene from the White House Seder

The White House Blog recently posted this photograph of what is reported to the be first Seder hosted by a sitting US President, perhaps intended to soothe some feathers that may have been ruffled by President Obama's reported (and clumsily denied) bow in front of Saudi Arabia's King Abdulla...

Guest list on the Huffington Post. Didn't see the Israeli Ambassador's name on it...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Huffington Post: Passover Traditions From Around the World...

Hag Sameach! From today's Huffington Post:
GIBRALTAR: In the British territory of Gibraltar, the tiny island off the coast of Spain, Jews actually mix the dust of bricks into their charoset dish, a symbol of the mortar used to hold together the brick walls the Jews built in Egypt, according to Hillel....

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Arianna Huffington on Larry Summers' Ptolemaic Economics

From today's Huffington Post:
Of course, it's less of a surprise that Geithner and Summers believe in bank-centrism -- they're both creatures of it. Which is why it wasn't a shock when it was reported this weekend that Summers had received $5.2 million for advising a hedge fund last year, or that he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from some of the very banks -- including J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs -- that have been on the receiving end of billions in taxpayers money. Billions that have come with very few strings attached -- and almost no transparency.

I am in no way suggesting there is anything corrupt about this or any quid pro quo involved. It's just that in a bank-centric universe, funneling no-strings-attached money to too-big-to-fail banks is the logical thing to do.

So is arguing that the banking crisis is just a liquidity problem rather than an insolvency one, as Geithner continues to do (and if the stress tests come back declaring Citi solvent, it will be high time to start stress testing the stress testers).

In a bank-centric universe, it's also no surprise that "mark-to-market" accounting rules, in which banks have to calculate and report their assets based on what those assets are actually worth, instead of what they'd like them to be worth, are being abandoned. A good name for the reworked accounting standards would be mark-to-fantasy, because that's basically what balance sheets will be under these new rules. Of course, to a true believer in bank-centrism, the problem with mark-to-market is that it's not good for the banks. It's the accounting equivalent of Galileo's telescope.

Last week at the G-20 meeting, Gordon Brown proclaimed that "the old Washington consensus is over." But when it comes to attacking the financial crisis, the zombie Wall Street/Washington consensus that has everything in America orbiting around the banks is still the order of the day.

The longer bank-centrism is the dominant cosmology in the Obama administration -- and the longer it takes to switch to a plan that reflects a cosmology in which the American people are the center of the universe and are deemed too-big-to-fail -- the greater the risk that the economic crisis will be more prolonged than necessary. And the greater the suffering the crisis will continue to cause.

There is an enormous human cost to this bank-centric dogma. Unemployment, already at levels not seen since 1983, is skyrocketing. In many places in the country, it's approaching 20 percent (and in Detroit it's 22 percent).

Writing about the "grand book" that is the universe, Galileo declared that it "cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written... without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth."

That's where we find ourselves today, wandering about in a dark financial labyrinth -- being led by good men blinded by an obsolete view of the world.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Huffington Post: Larry Summers "Best White House Aide Money Can Buy"

According to David Sirota's analysis of the G-20 meeting:
Was there a quid pro quo whereby Summers took cash from Wall Street and then entered the administration and did Wall Street's bidding? Not explicitly, no. Bribery in our country most often operates in the world of the implicit - Summers got the cash because he was a solid Wall Street investment, a guy who could be counted on to continue championing deregulation in crucial government and public policy spheres. It was likely both a reward for his longtime deregulation advocacy, and an encouragement for him to continue in that advocacy - a signal that he will continue to be rewarded for his extremism.

And we now see the consequences. With the global community ready to embrace very strong financial regulations, our government - whose economic policy is steered by Summers - worked to water down those regulations. Indeed, a $7 million investment got Wall Street a huge return - perhaps it's best investment in the lat few years.

Put another way, there's a cause and effect there - it may not be overt, it may be subtle, the news media may be more interested in reporting on the trivialities of Barack and Michelle's European travels, and the Summers case may be a microcosm of a larger systemic probem, but it's there. You can avert your eyes from it, stomp your feet and pretend beyond a reasonable doubt that it's not true, but it's right there.

Richard Posner on Rationality and Economics

Someone I know told me to read Richard Posner's review of Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism, by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, in The New Republic. An excerpt:
There is a simpler explanation for unemployment in depressions, one that dispenses with irrationality. A worker who, rather than being paid a flat wage, is paid a percentage of his firm's income would be unlikely to complain when his wage dropped in a depression; he would know that his wage was variable, and he would plan his life accordingly. But if paid a fixed wage, he is likely to count on it as a steady source of income. Since depressions are rare and have unpredictable consequences, he will not have been able to protect himself from the consequences of a depression-induced cut in his wage. He is going to be upset to find that he is working as hard or harder but being paid less, and he will not be reassured by being given a lecture on deflation and purchasing power, because he will not understand or believe it. And whereas wage cuts make the entire work force unhappy, layoffs make just the laid-off workers unhappy, and since they are no longer on the premises they do not demoralize the remaining work force by their unhappy presence. The employer, for this and other reasons--such as wanting to economize on benefits and overhead and induce the remaining workers to work harder lest they be laid off too--is likely to prefer laying off workers to cutting wages. (Unemployment insurance is a factor as well.)

This explanation for unemployment in depressions is consistent with Akerlof and Shiller in giving weight to cognitive and emotional factors (workers do not understand deflation, unhappy workers can demoralize the workplace), but it avoids jargon and condescension and the fascination with irrationality. Yet it may be too simple to please an academic economist. One reason why Keynes fell into disfavor among academic economists, and why Akerlof and Shiller want to dress him in the garb of a behavioral economist, is that although he was a brilliant economist and remains a hero of liberal economists, he was not a formal or systematic thinker. He belonged to the era before economists insisted on mathematizing the discipline. The General Theory is beautifully written--and full of loose ends and puzzling omissions. Keynes was a self-taught economist and a part-time academic. He had a rich and varied non-academic life as a government official and adviser, journalist, speculator, academic administrator, and member of the Cambridge Apostles and the Bloomsbury group. Having observed how people, including himself, behaved in the real world, he was unself-conscious about incorporating into economic theory such unsystematized and untheorized concepts as "animal spirits" (and its opposite, "liquidity preference"--the desire to hoard cash rather than spend or invest it).

The complexity of a modern economy has defeated efforts to create mathematical models that would enable depressions to be predicted and would provide guidance on how to prevent them or, failing that, to recover from them. The insights of behavioral economics have not done the trick, either. Shiller is to be commended for spotting bubbles, but few if any other behavioral economists noticed them; and he and Akerlof offer no concrete proposals for how we might recover from the current depression and prevent a future one. They want credit loosened, but so does everyone else--so did Keynes, who criticized our government for tightening credit in the early stages of the Great Depression.

We will discover soon enough whether the measures taken by the Obama administration are reviving the animal spirits of producers and consumers. The intentions are good. But the lack of focus, the partisan squabbling, the dizzying policy oscillations, the delays in execution, and the harassment of bankers are bad. By increasing the uncertainty of the business environment, these things are dampening the animal spirits--the courage to reason and act in the face of an uncertain future. Seventy-three years after the publication of The General Theory, it may still be our best guide to recovery from our present distress, not least because of its common-sense psychology.There is a simpler explanation for unemployment in depressions, one that dispenses with irrationality. A worker who, rather than being paid a flat wage, is paid a percentage of his firm's income would be unlikely to complain when his wage dropped in a depression; he would know that his wage was variable, and he would plan his life accordingly. But if paid a fixed wage, he is likely to count on it as a steady source of income. Since depressions are rare and have unpredictable consequences, he will not have been able to protect himself from the consequences of a depression-induced cut in his wage. He is going to be upset to find that he is working as hard or harder but being paid less, and he will not be reassured by being given a lecture on deflation and purchasing power, because he will not understand or believe it. And whereas wage cuts make the entire work force unhappy, layoffs make just the laid-off workers unhappy, and since they are no longer on the premises they do not demoralize the remaining work force by their unhappy presence. The employer, for this and other reasons--such as wanting to economize on benefits and overhead and induce the remaining workers to work harder lest they be laid off too--is likely to prefer laying off workers to cutting wages. (Unemployment insurance is a factor as well.)

This explanation for unemployment in depressions is consistent with Akerlof and Shiller in giving weight to cognitive and emotional factors (workers do not understand deflation, unhappy workers can demoralize the workplace), but it avoids jargon and condescension and the fascination with irrationality. Yet it may be too simple to please an academic economist. One reason why Keynes fell into disfavor among academic economists, and why Akerlof and Shiller want to dress him in the garb of a behavioral economist, is that although he was a brilliant economist and remains a hero of liberal economists, he was not a formal or systematic thinker. He belonged to the era before economists insisted on mathematizing the discipline. The General Theory is beautifully written--and full of loose ends and puzzling omissions. Keynes was a self-taught economist and a part-time academic. He had a rich and varied non-academic life as a government official and adviser, journalist, speculator, academic administrator, and member of the Cambridge Apostles and the Bloomsbury group. Having observed how people, including himself, behaved in the real world, he was unself-conscious about incorporating into economic theory such unsystematized and untheorized concepts as "animal spirits" (and its opposite, "liquidity preference"--the desire to hoard cash rather than spend or invest it).

The complexity of a modern economy has defeated efforts to create mathematical models that would enable depressions to be predicted and would provide guidance on how to prevent them or, failing that, to recover from them. The insights of behavioral economics have not done the trick, either. Shiller is to be commended for spotting bubbles, but few if any other behavioral economists noticed them; and he and Akerlof offer no concrete proposals for how we might recover from the current depression and prevent a future one. They want credit loosened, but so does everyone else--so did Keynes, who criticized our government for tightening credit in the early stages of the Great Depression.

We will discover soon enough whether the measures taken by the Obama administration are reviving the animal spirits of producers and consumers. The intentions are good. But the lack of focus, the partisan squabbling, the dizzying policy oscillations, the delays in execution, and the harassment of bankers are bad. By increasing the uncertainty of the business environment, these things are dampening the animal spirits--the courage to reason and act in the face of an uncertain future. Seventy-three years after the publication of The General Theory, it may still be our best guide to recovery from our present distress, not least because of its common-sense psychology.