Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Genocide by Any Other Name….



Raphael Lemkin coined the term in 1944:

Genocide is the systematic destruction of all or a significant part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group.

The UN defines genocide as:

…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

                               (a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Lemkin was asked how he came to be interested in the crime of genocide. He replied:

I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action.

April 24 is the date Armenians commemorate their genocide.  This year will mark 100 years.

The Armenian Genocide…was the Ottoman government's systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland which lies within the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey. The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople.

In addition to the historic tragedy, a review of this episode offers the opportunity to witness in real-time the impact of realpolitik on the writing and interpretation of history – a peek behind the curtains of the development of myth and the obfuscation of truth.  

Therefore, I will first review the tragic history, followed by a review of the current dialogue – greatly in the news now due to the aforementioned 100 year anniversary.

The History


I have this book on my shelf, to be read.  The end of the Great War saw the end of several European empires; I have yet to do much work regarding the Ottoman.  I am not ready to start through the book, however, given the upcoming commemoration of the Armenian Genocide – as well as my recent posts on the Ukrainian Famines and Jewish Holocaust, putting me in the mood, I guess – I decided to take it off of the shelf and read (and comment on) chapter 7, “The Annihilation of the Armenians.”

I offer the following high-level and superficial summary leading up to this period: By 1915, the Ottoman Empire was a fraction of its former self – most of the European portion now independent or under authority of the Austro-Hungarians, central Asia either to Russia or Persia, much of the Middle East and North Africa under control of primarily either the British or Italians, the French are in there somewhere.  Meanwhile, some factions of the Armenian minorities in what remained of Ottoman-controlled lands were agitating for more control, looking to European powers to aid in the quest for independence.

In other words, things weren’t going well for any Ottoman concerned with hanging on to any portion of past glories.  It is worth keeping in mind while considering subsequent events: the Armenians were seen by the Turks as an existential threat to what little remained of the Ottoman state – a meaningless “threat” unless one views the state as a god. 

And then, the Great War as practiced in the Near East:

By the spring of 1915, the Ottomans faced invasion on three fronts.  Since their conquest of the Basra region of southern Iraq in the final months of 1914, Anglo-Indian troops had poised a grave threat at the southern gates of the Ottoman Empire.  In the east, the Ottoman Third Army was in total disarray in the aftermath of Enver Pasha’s ill-conceived Sarakamiş campaign against the Russians in December 1914 and January 1915.  To the west, British and French fleets had mounted sustained attacks against the Dardanelles, and Allied infantry had managed to secure several beachheads on both sides of the straits.

What remained of the empire was under threat:

There were good grounds for the panic that swept the imperial capital in March 1915.  The empire’s collapse appeared eminent.

The Armenians were located primarily in what today is eastern Turkey (“Western Armenia” to some Armenians; a loaded term for Turks) – right on the lines of the failed battles with the Russians.  There were also Armenians in Russia (“Eastern Armenia” to some Armenians).  Armenians from Russia fought against the Turks, and some portion of Armenians from eastern Turkey joined their further-eastern brethren, or at least supported them.

The divided loyalties of some Armenians had turned all Armenians in the eyes of many Turks.  The Young Turk leadership began to contemplate permanent solutions to the “Armenian problem.”

…when, in the spring of 1915, the Young Turks declared the entire Ottoman Armenian population a dangerous fifth column, the Unionists even mobilized average citizens to assist in their annihilation.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bennie and the Debts



I read John Mauldin’s weekly missives; he excels at providing information from many influential economists, analysts and policy makers.  I don’t often agree with much of what I read, but I have found it worth reading – it helps to know what the movers and shakers think, and it is always good to gather different views.

This week, his Outside the Box is entitled “Germany’s Trade Surplus Is a Problem.”  After his introduction, he offers a selection from Ben Bernanke’s new blog.  It is Bernanke who has written about Germany’s problematic trade surplus.

As I always must when commenting on macro-economic subjects, I offer the caveat: the entire concept of macro-economics as practiced in the mainstream is farcical. 

In this specific case, what is so special about a national trade balance?  Why not a county trade balance, or a city trade balance, or a neighborhood trade balance?  Individuals buy and sell; every moment some will be in surplus and others will be in deficit.  Yet every trade adds value to both parties; this can’t even be measured.

If I, as an individual, am constantly in surplus (meaning a positive net worth or net income), many would consider this a good thing; I produce more than I consume – and what I save is available for the investment necessary to increase productivity, hence increase the standard of living.  If I constantly run a deficit, a wise counselor would suggest I am the one with a problem, and should change my ways.

But not at the national level, where life is viewed through the looking glass.  It requires a Ph.D., apparently, to achieve the sophistication of Mongo: surplus bad, deficit good. 

First, I start with Mauldin’s introduction (emphasis added):

In Code Red I wrote a great deal about trade imbalances among the various European countries, which were at the heart of the European sovereign debt problem. As the peripheral countries have tried to rebalance their trade deficits with Northern Europe and especially with Germany, they have seen their relative wages fall and deflation become a problem. Greece is the poster child.

Please keep that italicized part in mind.

…Woody Brock met me over at Ocean Prime for some fish and wisdom. Woody is simply one of the smartest economists on the planet and knows the gamut of the literature as well as anyone. “It’s the incentive structure that is the driver,” he told me… (emphasis added)

Please keep that italicized part in mind.  I will just say for now, he should have listened to Woody.

Everyone responds to incentives, no matter what the country or type of government. Setting incentives to maximize entrepreneurial activity will produce the most growth and jobs. (emphasis added)

Please keep that italicized part…oh, never mind.  You get the idea by now.

Of course, it is always a balancing act.

What balancing act?  When it comes to “setting” (who will do the setting?) incentive structures, what balancing act?

You have to produce to consume: you have to work to eat.  Isn’t this the ultimate incentive structure?  How much more balanced do you want?  Can there be more?  For those who want to do the setting, I have a suggestion: butt out.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jews



In the world of alternative history, there seems to be one topic above all topics sure to raise the blood pressure.  I do not mean the world where a revisionist interpretation is raised in a mainstream venue – say something regarding the criminality of Lincoln or FDR, and prepare for incoming.  No, I mean when the revisionists are gathered together; you know, just amongst us girls.

Jews. 

There are two main themes of controversy of this topic:

1)      The Jews did it: everything bad that has happened in the history of the world is one big Jewish plot.  Of course I exaggerate the alternative narrative, but not very much.
2)      The Jews didn’t have it done to them: the holocaust never happened.  On this, I don’t exaggerate the alternative narrative; well, maybe a smidge.

This post is a review of the section from Snyder’s book regarding the treatment of Jews in Europe during the Second World War.  Therefore, it presents a version of history on the topic of the second point above.  It is a long post; I want to deal with this can of worms only once – at least for this go-round.

I cannot begin this review without first addressing this issue: is the generally accepted narrative of the holocaust accurate – six million Jews purposely murdered by the Nazis specifically because they were Jews, many in gas chambers? 

My short answer?  I don’t know.  I have never studied this question in detail.  On my list of topics to study, this has not yet risen to the top; it might someday, but not today – I am here today only because of my interest in the horrendous time and place that was Central and Eastern Europe during the intersection of two tyrants: i.e. Snyder’s book.  You want a can of worms?  Take a look at this.  Or this, with an examination of many of the revisionist / denialist claims.  Where to start?

My long answer?  Bear with me.

I am quite confident in stating that millions of Jews died in Europe during the war years.  There was something like 9 – 10 million Jews living in Europe, and most of these in the regions most devastated by war.  Unless Jews were miraculously spared bullets, bombs, starvation, rape, forced marches, forced labor, etc., I suspect Jews died – and died in the millions.

Beyond this, were Jews specifically targeted because they were Jews?  Not a situation of Jews targeted because they were bankers, or Bolsheviks, or partisans, or Poles, or Belarusians.  But Jews targeted because they were Jews.  There seems to be sufficient evidence of this – statements by Hitler and many in the Nazi hierarchy offer not only intent, but results; they certainly had the means and opportunity.  In my limited reading, there appears to be sufficient witness testimony. 

I am open to being educated on this, but given what I have read, it seems to me that Jews were killed because they were Jews.

Were they gassed?  Were they shot?  Were they starved?  Does it matter?  Not to me.

After this, all that is left is a debate about numbers.  One murder is criminal enough; once you get to numbers that could populate a small city, it is horrific and, if aimed at a particular ethnic group, genocidal.  That the mainstream narrative suggests the numbers are significantly higher doesn’t change the nature of the crime.  In my limited reading, I am comfortable with the notion that the number purposely targeted and murdered was sufficient to be meaningful.

This summarizes my practical-logical analysis of the topic.  What of the history?  For this, I will offer my earlier reply to being questioned on this topic:

-----------------------------------------


The only meaningful comment I can make is based on the following two cites. First, from “1939 – The War That Had Many Fathers,” by Gerd Schultze-Rhonhof:

“In the Transition Treaty (Überleitungsvertrag) of 1954, Article 7 (1), it is bindingly laid down that “all judgments (Urteile) from the Nuremberg Trials “remain valid and effective in every regard according to German law and are to be treated accordingly by German courts and authorities.” Included, as an integral part, in the text of the judgments of the main Nuremberg Trial of 1946 is an exactly 200 pages long account of the German war and pre-war history from the perspective of the Soviets, the Americans, the British and the French….this account of “German history” from the victors’ perspective was recognized by the (German) Federal Government as “in all respects valid and effective” (rechtswirksam und rechtskräftig) and thus binding for German courts and authorities.”

When the telling of history is dictated by law, it is certain to be a false history. Truth does not need law to protect it.

Second, from “Advance to Barbarism,” by FJP Veale:

The subject is the Nuremberg Trials – the source of German-history-dictated-by-law. I cannot offer a simple summary – if you are interested, read the piece. To make a long story short, the trials were set up for political expediency, with no intent to reach justice, only the intent to minimize friction amongst Stalin (who would have preferred to simply put bullets in the heads of 50,000 German officers, with no more formality than that done during the Great Terror) and Churchill (who felt the British people would never stand for Stalin’s barbaric solution).

I put these two together and conclude: it is safe to hold as a starting point that every “fact” we have been taught about this history is false. This might not be always a good assumption, but I am learning it is right more than not.

-----------------------------------------

But just how false a history is protected by law (or political correctness, a more significant restraint on many)?  My conclusion, putting together my practical-logical view and my understanding of the history:  Jews were killed for being Jews; this likely happened in large, even meaningful numbers.  Beyond this, the details – the methods, the numbers – are up for grabs in this mosquito brain.

My personal caution: I will be quite certain before coming to a conclusion that denies this history; treading on this memory without certainty is a step I will never take. 

Therefore, I present the story as Snyder presents it.  There may be debate about the numbers; there may be debate about the methods.  However, unless I find something definitive and convincing to the contrary, it seems to me to be certain that large numbers of Jews were killed by the Nazis because they were Jews.

Now that I have alienated both the believers and the deniers, let’s move forward…

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Festival of All the Freedom Government Will Allow



If it is approaching summer, it is time once again for Pseudo-Freedom Fest – the annual festival organized by Mark Skousen. 

There is no doubt that Skousen plays a part – the allowable boundary for the one “extreme” called freedom.  I have written enough about Skousen’s role and views in the past – I will not repeat any of this here.  For those interested, my first commentary on Skousen’s views can be found here; and this on last year’s Freedom Fest (including a nice little back and forth with Daily Bell, in this case unable to avoid running into a conflict of interest that hindered journalistic integrity).

So I will not repeat any of this.  I have not, however, looked specifically into Skousen himself – his background, training, etc.  I have heard he is an Austrian economist, and has written a textbook on this subject.  Maybe I am wrong on this (a search at LvMI turns up several items).  But, what else?

Skousen was an economic analyst for the CIA from 1972 to 1975.

Oh.

Skousen served as president of the free market nonprofit Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2001 to 2002.

Skousen's brief tenure as president of FEE ended on a controversial note when he resigned in late 2002 at the request of the organization's Board of Trustees. This move followed Skousen's decision to invite, as keynote speaker for FEE's annual Liberty Banquet, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani proved to be an extremely unpopular choice among many of the organization's board members as well as several prominent libertarians.

Oh.


An almost idealistic proponent of liberty and political freedom…

Idealistic?  Not based on anything I have seen or read. 

Back to the upcoming festival; I only want to point to the headline draw, the first item mentioned in promotion of this event of freedom (emphasis in original):

DREAM DEBATE OF THE CENTURY

We’ve just confirmed the Dream Debate of the Century — Paul Krugman, #1 Keynesian and top New York Times columnist, will face off Heritage’s chief economist Steve Moore, #1 supply sider and Wall Street Journal columnist.

 A Keynesian vs. a supply-sider: I am unable to identify which of these two debaters, in this “Dream Debate of the Century” is debating on the side of freedom.  I will assume you all know Krugman.  What about Steve Moore?

Moore spent ten years as a fellow of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Moore was the senior economist of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee under Chairman Dick Armey of Texas, where Moore "was instrumental in creating the FairTax proposal.

Cato, Fair Tax, Dick Armey – nothing indicating freedom.  He is currently with Heritage – conservative, yes; freedom?

Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institution—a think tank—whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

No freedom here.  Standard “make government efficient” rhetoric (we see how well that’s played out over the years) along with a bomb-them-all foreign policy.

So, I guess Krugman will represent the pro-freedom viewpoint in this debate.

Back to the “Dream Debate of the Century”:

Krugman and Moore have been taking shots at each other for years, and now they will finally meet on stage, one on one, to battle it out on the hot issues of the day:  Red States vs. Blue States (especially California)….Flat Tax vs. Progressive Tax….Austerity vs Stimulus….Inequality vs. Growth… ….Market Healthcare vs. ObamaCare….Inflation vs. Deflation….Easy Money vs. Deficit Spending…Market Capitalism (USA) vs. State Capitalism (China)….and many more topics vital to our theme “How Can We Best Restore the American Dream?

Note that Skousen is telling you the limits of the acceptable dialogue:

·        Red States vs. Blue States: you must buy into one or the other.
·        Flat Tax vs. Progressive Tax: what about no tax?
·        Easy Money vs. Deficit Spending: I don’t even know what to make of this.
·        Market Capitalism (USA) vs. State Capitalism (China): Because having markets any more free than you might find in one of these two places in not possible.

Finally, to the theme of the entire festival: “How Can We Best Restore the American Dream?”  I don’t know about the American Dream.  I do have some understanding about freedom.  I am certain one will never restore freedom if freedom is never discussed.

Skousen’s role with Freedom Fest is to ensure that actual freedom is not discussed; that the term is so muddied that any consideration of the concept is not possible as there will be no word for it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Lamentations of Lawrence Summers



Once again, Lawrence Summers is openly lamenting the failures of the United States government in engendering trust and demonstrating leadership.  I have written about a previous such episode, in which he focused on the domestic situation.  This time, he is concerned about US standing in the global economy:

This past month may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.

One can only hope.

There is so much that can be written even about this one sentence: by what authority has the US taken on this role?  Who benefits from this position?  Who loses?  All of these questions can be examined in detail, and even after all of that the answer can be simply stated: one can only hope.

…I can think of no event since Bretton Woods comparable to the combination of China’s effort to establish a major new institution and the failure of the US to persuade dozens of its traditional allies, starting with Britain, to stay out of it.

It seems to me that the roots of these events might be a) US military and economic actions taken after September 11, and b) the financial events of 2008.  These, of course, have roots in the abandonment of the international gold standard in 1971 (which Summers does touch on), which has its roots in the US abusing its position coming out of Bretton Woods, which, of course, has its roots in the nature of power.

Largely because of resistance from the right, the US stands alone in the world in failing to approve the International Monetary Fund governance reforms that Washington itself pushed for in 2009….Meanwhile, pressures from the left have led to pervasive restrictions on infrastructure projects financed through existing development banks…

With US commitments unhonoured and US-backed policies blocking the kinds of finance other countries want to provide or receive through the existing institutions, the way was clear for China to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Summers sees this all as a result of partisan politics in the US – as if there has been any fundamental disagreement between the parties in the last forty years. 

Where has there been fundamental disagreement between the left and the right in terms of central banking, warfare, and welfare? 

Where has there been fundamental disagreement about deficit spending and the role of the Fed in supporting this? 

Where has there been fundamental disagreement regarding the draconian role the US has played in extending its regulatory regime over the entire globe?

Summers points to irrelevant details, when the reality is that on the issues that have caused the rest of the world to slowly and methodically move away from US hegemony there has been no meaningful political disagreement within the US.

He then offers three “precepts that US leaders should keep in mind” now that the AIIB is a reality:

First, American leadership must have a bipartisan foundation at home, be free from gross hypocrisy and be restrained in the pursuit of self-interest.

Let’s examine these one by one:

Friday, April 3, 2015

Bionic Mosquito Revealed!!!



Bionic Mosquito, first of all I would like to see your real name.

This comes up every once in a while.  Who is this bionic mosquito?  Where does he come from? 

Some want to know because they appreciate my work.  Most, because (like Mr. Seman), they think I am an idiot.

Well, after 5 years of blogging behind a mask, a pen name, a nom de plume, today is the day. 

Once you see the name, you will understand why I have had to stay quiet all of these years.  When you see the occupation, you will understand why I sometimes will go days or even a week or more at a time without posting anything – the travel can be difficult, and there are always demands on my time.

Go ahead; take a look behind the curtain:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Frenemies



Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin made and executed an agreement to divide Poland and other regions of Europe between them.  Hitler and Stalin were also making plans to attack each other.  To Stalin’s surprise, Hitler went first.

This is not a story of military battles or political intrigue.  In Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder continues his examination of the catastrophe that was life in Central and Eastern Europe during the time of Hitler and Stalin, now focusing on this period first of cooperation, then battle.

Friends

German bombs started falling on September 1, 1939.  They fell on Wieluń, Poland, a militarily insignificant city.  According to Snyder, the purpose of choosing this target was to test the possibility of terrorizing a civilian population via a campaign of bombing.

The lessons learned were put into practice, against Warsaw:

The tenth of September 1939 marked the first time a major European city was bombed systematically by an enemy air force.  There were seventeen German raids on Warsaw that day.

Within a few days, the Polish army was defeated; yet, Warsaw continued to defend itself.  Hitler wanted the surrender of the city, and dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on the city toward this end:

In all, some twenty-five thousand civilians (and six thousand soldiers) were killed, as a major population center and historic European capital was bombed at the beginning of an undeclared war.

The Germans killed prisoners, captured by the thousands in the invasion.  In August, before the invasion, Hitler instructed his commanders to “close your hearts to pity.”  Per the chief of staff, it was “the intention of the Leader to destroy and exterminate the Polish people.”  Prisoners gunned down, thrown into pits, executions, firing on barns occupied with wounded, killing the men of the town.

Hostilities came to an end in early October.  Yet the executions did not cease.  Hundreds gunned down in reprisal for an unrelated murder of a German soldier; 255 Jews in Warsaw shot for failing to turn over another person mistakenly believed to be a Jew.

In Poland, the Germans encountered what was not normally seen in Germany – large communities of religious Jews, almost ten percent of the population in Poland.  Of the approximately forty-five thousand civilian Poles murdered by the end of 1939, about seven thousand were Jews – somewhat more than the percentage of Jews in the total population.

A sign of the futility of living in this place at this time: refugees streamed east, away from the war but toward you-know-who.  Stalin did not simultaneously invade (he would not for slightly more than two weeks), so there was at least temporary relief for the refugees.  When the Soviets invaded, on September 17, many Poles – confusingly – believed they found an ally.

Half-a-million men of the Soviet Red army invaded.  Stalin’s public justification for invading was as a peacekeeping mission – Poland ceased to exist, and there were Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities that needed protecting. 

The Germans and Soviets demarcated the border.  Polish soldiers living near the border faced an impossible decision – to which army should they surrender?  Nikita Khrushchev, accompanying the Soviet soldiers, repeated the assurance of the Soviet military: those who surrendered would be given safe passage home after a brief interview.  They were then taken to the train station and placed on a train, headed…east.

As they crossed the Soviet border they had the feeling of entering…“another world.”  [They] shook their heads in distress at the disorder and neglect they saw.

Altogether, about 15,000 Polish officers were transported.  In addition to the disorder of Ukraine, they also saw saddened Ukrainians, sad to see the Polish officers held captive on a Soviet train; they believed it would be the Polish Army that would liberate Ukraine from Stalin’s grip.

Next came, in Snyder’s words, a “decapitation of Polish society”: many of the transported officers were reservists, representing the educated and intellectual classes of Polish society – doctors, lawyers, scientists.  Non-officers were left in Poland; prisons were emptied, with political prisoners – usually communists – put in charge of local government.

Then the NKVD: in the next twenty-one months, they made more arrests in occupied eastern Poland than in all of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, all was not quiet on the German side of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line.  With the luxury of an alien population, the methods of the SS could be turned loose.  The tool of this persecution was the Einsatzgruppe; their mission was to pacify the rear areas after military advancement.  “Pacify” meant death squad.  It is estimated that they killed about 50,000 Poles.