These are all the Blogs posted on Friday, 20, 2012.
Friday, 20 July 2012
The Dilution of Self-Restraint
Banks are like governments, you can’t altogether do without them, however often you wish that you could. So when I read that one of the banks of which I am a small and unimportant customer had been engaged in the fraudulent manipulation of interest rates, fined accordingly, and denuded of its top management by involuntary resignation, I can’t say that I was altogether surprised.
Not that I am completely without cognitive dissonance when I think of this bank. It is clear to me that the friendly and helpful tellers in the branch just round the corner from my house in England would go to the stake rather than commit a dishonest act. It is only on dealing with higher levels of the bank’s administration that I experience the kind of fury that drove Hitler to chew carpets.
However, I now recall with the detachment and even amusement that time imparts to memories the bank’s explanation of why it cost so much for me to pay a US cheque into my US dollar account at the bank, for small cheques (as most of mine, alas, are) often amounting to 10 per cent of their value. The charge, said the bank, was interest.
‘Interest!’ I exclaimed. ‘But I am paying money into the bank.’
‘Ah yes,’ replied the bank, with the calm of the practiced swindler. ‘But you see, we credit your account immediately and it can take up to six weeks for us to get the money from the States.’
‘In that case, I don’t mind if you don’t credit my account immediately. I’ll wait the six weeks.’
‘Yes,’ replied the bank, ‘you can do it that way. But then there’s a charge.’
And the charge, by happy coincidence, was almost exactly the same as the interest.
It is as well to recognise defeat when it stares you in the face, especially when you are tiny and your opponent is vast. Still, I came away from the bank with several questions buzzing in my mind:
a) Does it really take six weeks in the electronic age for money to be transferred from one country to another?
b) Why did the bank charge interest before it knew how long it would take for the money to arrive from America, and why would it not refund me if the money came earlier than anticipated?
c) Why was the rate of interest it charged, in an era of low interest rates, so stratospherically high?
d) Why did the bank lie to me?
e) Why did the bank think that it could lie to me?
I will not enumerate further the high crimes and misdemeanours of my various banks, except perhaps to mention one, in order to raise an interesting metaphysical question. I transferred what for me was a large sum from an English to a French bank, in order to buy a house in France. The money disappeared instantaneously from my English account, at the mere touch of a computer key; but it did not reach my French account for ten days. Where was the money, in what ethereal sphere did it exist, in the meantime? It is as much a mystery of that of Agatha Christie’s disappearance in the 1920s.
Whenever, over a glass or two of wine, I discuss the matter with my friends, who are as ignorant as I of matters of high finance, the name James Burnham comes up. He it was who first pointed out, at least for a general audience, that the owners of companies, that is to say the shareholders, are no longer the controllers of companies. Where ownership is dilute, the owners have unknowingly and inevitably ceded power to a managerial class that, like all classes, seeks its own advantage. It appropriates to itself shareholders’ funds: and thus the expropriators are expropriated, but not by the proletarians. (Not for nothing was Burnham an ex-Marxist). This was all said nearly three quarters of a century ago.
The expropriation takes place under cover of legality. It is all above board and according to prescribed form. And there is always the argument that top executives have to be paid so much because if they were not they would take their invaluable services elsewhere. In the case of more than a few banks, however, these services turn out not have been so very valuable, at least not to the institutions to which they were lent. In the case of the first-mentioned bank, the man in charge appeared to think that he was paid tens of millions of dollars a year in order to hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil.
It is true, of course, that a man cannot reasonably be expected to know what each of the tens of thousands of employees under his supposed direction are doing. As Mr Bumble said when told that the law supposes that a man’s wife is under his control, ‘If the law supposes that, the law is an ass – a idiot!’
This being the case, however, it is a reasonable question as to why anyone should be paid so astronomically, at least if he is not the actual owner of the company.
In our slightly alcoholic reflections upon James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution, my friends and I raise another question: why now? After all, the dilution of ownership has been a fact for many years. The scandals, however, are coming to light only relatively recently, at least in such numbers.
It might be, perhaps, that nothing has changed except our awareness of what is going on. But I think the statistics are against this. And if, after an extra glass of wine or two, I were forced to answer the question Why now? I would answer two things.
First there has been a profound cultural shift in the direction of the abandonment of self-control as a virtue. Thanks to the cultural revolution of the 50s and 60s (of which I am a product), people have fewer self-patrolled boundaries than they once would have had. Managers who once would have felt ashamed to deprive shareholders of their funds no longer do so. One sees this loss of self-control in all walks of life. In the public sector, for example, in which I have spent much of my adult life, the public purse is now shamelessly looted by those who work in it in a way that was inconceivable when I started my career (inefficiency is another question entirely). I could give many other examples, from obesity to gambling to drug-taking and binge-drinking.
A second factor that I think has been much underestimated in the promotion of the most naked self-seeking is the now more-or-less permanent unsoundness of money as a store of value. No one can trust a dollar – or any other currency – to hold its value, bearing in mind that asset inflation is inflation like any other. Therefore, in order to secure ourselves against future impoverishment, we need to accumulate vastly more than we should if money were a real store of value. We must all speculate if we do not want to condemn ourselves to poverty. The unsoundness of money shifts the bell-curve of greed to the right, so that more people become what would formerly have been thought of as extremely greedy; while even the other-worldly now fall into the category of speculator.
When bell-curves shift to the right (I assume greed is distributed normally in a population, admittedly quite an assumption), extreme behavior becomes more common. As the French say, Voila!
First published in the Library of Law and Liberty
Posted on 07/20/2012 9:38 AM by Theodore Dalrymple
Friday, 20 July 2012
Dore Gold On The Levy Report
From the Jerusalem Post:
July 20, 2012
The Levy Report and the 'occupation' narrative
Looking back over the last two weeks, what appeared to hit a raw nerve with critics of the report of Justice Edmond Levy's committee was not what it had to say about the specific issues for which it was appointed, like zoning and planning in the West Bank, but rather with how it dealt with the broader narrative for describing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This became evident in how the reaction focused on the report's conclusion that "the classical laws of 'occupation' as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to … Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria."
How did Justice Levy, who recently retired from Israel's Supreme Court, reach this conclusion along with his two colleagues? They argued that the Israeli presence in the West Bank was unique, sui generis, because there was no previously recognized sovereign there when it was captured by the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War in 1967. The Jordanian declaration of sovereignty in 1950 had been rejected by the Arab states and the international community, as a whole, except for Britain and Pakistan.
Moreover, as the Levy Report points out, the Jewish people still had residual historical and legal rights in the West Bank emanating from the British Mandate that were never cancelled, but rather were preserved by the U.N. Charter, under Article 80 — the famous “Palestine Clause” that was drafted, in part, to guarantee continuity with respect to Jewish rights from the League of Nations.
There were other issues that made the Israeli presence in the West Bank unique. With the advent of the Oslo Agreements in the 1990s, there was no longer an Israeli military government over the Palestinian population. Indeed, the famous 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on occupied territories stipulates that an Occupying Power is bound to its terms “to the extent that such a Power exercises the function of government in such territory (Article 6).”
Yet the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, also made the situation complex: as a result, some functions of government were retained by the IDF, other functions were exercised by the Palestinians, and there were also shared powers. In other words, the situation on the ground in the West Bank was not black and white, which allowed moral judgments to be easily made about a continuing Israeli occupation. True, the Palestinians did not have an independent state, but they could not be considered to be under "occupation" when at the same time they were being ruled first by Yasser Arafat and then by his successor, Mahmoud Abbas.
The idea that the West Bank could not be simply characterized as "occupied" also did not diverge from traditional Israeli legal opinions. Israel's former ambassador to the U.N., Chaim Herzog (who would later become Israel's president), appeared in the General Assembly on October 26, 1977, and laid out Israel's legal status in the territories with respect to the Fourth Geneva Convention on occupied territories. He stated: "In other words, Israel cannot be considered an 'Occupying Power' within the meaning of the Convention in any part of the former Palestine Mandate, including Judea and Samaria."
It is instructive to see how the international community looks at far clearer cases of territories that came under military control of foreign forces as a result of armed conflict. On July 20, 1974, the Turkish Army invaded Cyprus, which had been an independent state since 1960, taking over 37 percent of the island. The Turkish zone declared its independence in 1983, but no state, except Turkey, recognized the new government.
How does most of the international community refer to the territory of Northern Cyprus? The fact of the matter is that they don't label it an "occupation." When the EU accepted Cyprus as a new member state in 2004, it prepared a memorandum explaining that the accession to the EU was suspended "in the area of the Republic of Cyprus in which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control."
There is also the example of Western Sahara, which was taken over completely by the Moroccan Army in 1979. After Spain withdrew from the territory and a joint administration with Mauritania failed to emerge, Morocco viewed Western Sahara as Moroccan territory. Morocco's claim was challenged by the Polisario, backed by Algeria. The International Court of Justice in The Hague formally rejected the Moroccan claim of sovereignty, recognizing the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination. In repeated resolutions in the U.N. over the future of Western Sahara, it was not called "occupied territory," even though the Moroccan Army has been sitting on land beyond the borders of Morocco.
At the end of World War II, the Soviet Army invaded Japan and occupied the Kuril Islands, which had been previously Japanese territory. Here again, the Japanese Foreign Ministry's recent paper on the Kuril Islands doesn't even speak about ending the Russian occupation, but rather about the need to "reach a settlement of this unresolved issue of the Northern Territories."
All three cases, Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, and the Kuril Islands, are open and shut cases of foreign occupation under international law and yet in the diplomatic arena the term "occupation" is not formally applied to them. Ironically, in the case of the West Bank, where the Israeli presence is a far more complex legal issue, the term "occupation" has been uncritically applied, even by Israelis.
Thus the decision to use the term "occupation" appears to emanate as much from political considerations as it does from any legal analysis. For "occupation" is a term of opprobrium. In much of Europe, the term still invokes memories of the Nazi occupation of France. Those being constantly bombarded by the term "occupation" in Europe undoubtedly make subconscious links between Israeli behavior in the territories and the events of the Second World War. Indeed that is the intention, in many cases, of those adopting this language, despite the fact that such analogies are repulsive to anyone with the least bit of Jewish historical memory.
Nonetheless, pro-Palestinian groups, and their allies on the far left, use the charge of "occupation" as part of their rhetorical arsenal, along with "colonialist, apartheid state," for waging political warfare against Israel. The charge of "occupation" has evolved into one of the most potent weapons in the delegitimization campaign against Israel.
It is noteworthy that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva published a study on the subject of occupation in April 2012 that concluded that the term had unquestionably acquired a "pejorative connotation." Experts attending the meetings of the ICRC recommended replacing the term with new legal nomenclature to get wider adherence to international humanitarian law by those who were occupying foreign territory but wanted to avoid the occupation label.
There are also well-meaning Israelis who call for an "end to the occupation" to build internal political support for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, by appealing to the conscience of Israelis who do not want to think of themselves as occupiers nor have the world community see them this way. But in making this call, its advocates take away from Israel the rights it acquired in U.N. Security Council 242 that did not require it to pull back to the pre-1967 lines, which have been regarded by most Israeli leaders from Rabin to Netanyahu as indefensible.
Levy's committee has restored Israel's legal narrative about its rights in the West Bank. There are those who charged that in rejecting the application of the term "occupation" to the Israeli presence in the West Bank, the Levy committee's report will set the stage for eventual Israeli annexation of the territories. Of course these concerns are baseless. The report of the Levy committee says absolutely nothing about what political solution for the future of the West Bank is desirable.
Israel is not going to persuade its international critics to change their views on the status of the territories. Nonetheless its conclusions are still important for one diplomatic scenario, in particular: a negotiated end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the future. For at the end of the day, there is a huge difference in how a compromise will look if Israel's negotiating team comes to the peace table as "foreign occupiers," who took someone else's land, or if they come as a party that also has just territorial claims. The Levy Report is first of all for Israelis who need to understand their rights which unfortunately have been forgotten since the days of Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog.
Levy's discourse is relevant for the Palestinian side in one important respect. If the Palestinians are constantly fed by the international community the "occupation" narrative, their propensity to consider making a real compromise, which is critical for any future agreement, will be close to nil. In fact, this false narrative only reinforces their mistaken belief in the delegitimization campaign against Israel as an alternative to seeking a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Rather than creating a setting for diplomacy to succeed, it only makes a real Middle Eastern peace more remote than ever.
Posted on 07/20/2012 11:10 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 20 July 2012
Fitzgerald: Occupation? What Occupation?
[Re-posted from Oct. 21, 2005]
A commenter recently recommended that readers here acquire “knowledge of the day to day lives of the Palestinians and their experience under occupation."
"Occupation"? What "occupation"? All the territories the Israelis now possess are theirs by legal right -- the right conferred by the League of Nations Mandates Commission, when it carefully defined the territory which would be set aside, from the vast territories in the Middle East that had formerly been in the control of the Ottoman Turks as part of their empire, and which had been won by the Allies. An Arab State, a Kurdish State, and a Jewish state were all promised. The Arabs got their state -- no, in the end, they got far more than their state but rather, in 2005, 22 members of the Arab League, the most richly endowed with natural resources of any states on earth, enjoying the fruits of the greatest transfer of wealth in human history The Kurds did not get their state, because by the time things had settled, Kemal Ataturk was driving a hard bargain and would not permit it. The Jews got the Mandate for Palestine set up for the express purpose of establishing the Jewish National Home, which would inexorably become, all parties realized, in time a Jewish state. It did not seem wrong then, and does not seem wrong now, that the Jews should have a state of their own. They asked only for the right to have no barriers put up to their immigration, and no barriers put in the way of their buying land. That was it. That was the sum total of what they demanded. Until the 1948 war, when five Arab armies attacked, not a single dunam of Arab-owned land (and remember that nearly 90% of the land, in any case, remained the possession of the state or the ruling authority, as in the Mandatory period) was appropriated. No one should dare to write about this subject without having done the research on demography, land ownership, and law.
The Israeli claim to the West Bank (as Judea and Samaria were carefully renamed by Jordan after 1948, in precisely the same way, and for the same reason, that the Romans, nearly two thousand years before, had renamed Judea as "Palestine" and Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina) is not that of a military occupier, though it is also that. The main legal and historic claim is that based on the League of Nations Mandate, which in turn, was based on a considerable historic and moral claim recognized by the educated leaders of the then-civilized world, who actually knew something of the history of the area, and were not nearly as misinformed as so many have been by the mass media, and the laziness and prejudice of journalists today.
The notion of "occupation" of course evokes imagines of Occupied Paris, or Occupied Berlin, after the war. It implies no justification for the claims of the power with the military presence. But the claim of Israel to the lands it took in 1967 are based, for the Sinai, on the standard rules of post-war settlement, the rules which have obtained for centuries, whereby a victor in a war of defense keeps what he has won. If the Israelis chose not to, or were forced not to exercise that right, it does not mean that the right did not exist. It did, and it applies even more forcefully to Gaza and the West Bank. But the claim there is not based merely on the successful conquest of territory to which otherwise Israel had no claim. It did have a claim, a claim based clearly on the Mandate for Palestine -- and like all the other League of Nations Mandates, was formally accepted, taken over as it were, by the United Nations when it came into being. This is a matter of record. It cannot be undone.
Whatever else one wishes to say about the West Bank or Gaza, the word "occupation" is a tendentious, and cruel, misnomer. What it seeks to imply, what it seeks to implant in the minds of men, is clear: Israel has no rights here. This is nonsense. This is the very reverse of the truth. Read the Mandate, and the Preamble to the Mandate, for Palestine. Then read the records of the Mandates Commission -- and especially how they reacted when the British unilaterally announced that the terms of the mandate would not be applied to Eastern Palestine -- that is, the consolation prize given to Abdullah of the Emirate of Transjordan.
Read it, and understand it.
Posted on 07/20/2012 11:11 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 20 July 2012
Would This PBS Documentary About The Arab Wars Against Israel Be Shown On PBS Today?
Posted on 07/20/2012 11:29 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 20 July 2012
A Musical Interlude: Nessuno Mi PuÃ² Giudicare (Caterina Caselli)
Posted on 07/20/2012 11:33 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 20 July 2012
"I feel that there is so much energy in this room."
"A writer of such energy and fierce urgency."
And other craparola to that effect.
The use of the word "energy" should now be limited.
You may use the word if discussing oil, coal, solar, wind, nuclear energy.
You may use the word in reporting on health, such as fessing up about your new, no-longer-illicit romance with the Cybex machines at the gym, machines which have boosted your self-esteem and given you more energy. You can use the word if you want, in similar fashion, to inform the world about how reducing your caloric intake has increased your energy level.
But other than that, at least until things settle down, try not to use it.
Don't argue. Do what I say. If you don't know now why you should, you'll eventually figure it out.
Posted on 07/20/2012 11:39 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 20 July 2012
Ex Ungue Leonem, Or, How You Can Save Yourself Time By Reading The Odd Interview
From an interview with a writer named Dave Eggers in The New York Times Book Review, July 15, 2012:
Take a moment to champion unheralded writers. Who do you think is egregiously overlooked or underrated?
I don’t know if he’s unheralded, but there’s a writer named J. Malcolm Garcia who continually astounds me with his energy and empathy. He writes powerful and lyrical nonfiction from Afghanistan, from Buenos Aires, from Mississippi, all of it urgent and provocative. I’ve been following him wherever he goes.
Posted on 07/20/2012 12:07 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald