Those Stupid European Parliaments; or, Jonathan Gruber Goes to Brussels

Good thing you members are so stupid, said Greek finance minister Varoufakis; if we’d told you the truth you’d never have given us your money.  The attentive reader will recall this is more or less precisely what Jonathan Gruber bragged about — carelessly, and on video — in respect of passing the “Affordable” Care Act.

The Greeks needed to get approval for an extension of the current bail-out agreement, which was set to expire today.  Part of getting that approval was the presentation of a list of reforms which the newly-elected Greek government (elected by an overwhelming margin, by the way; there’s no room to dispute that this is the government that the Greeks want) would undertake to implement.  In fact they produced a list, and obediently all those Europeans — remember they’re supposed to be so much smarter than us hillbilly Americans — obediently voted to approve handing over more money to a government that among its very first acts rejected its predecessor’s prior commitments to gets its affairs squared away.  Those would be, just to remind Gentle Reader, the commitments which induced the rest of the Euro zone to bail them out in the first place.  Even the Germans, the ones who as a practical matters are going to be expected to pay the bill eventually (everyone else is too broke anyway), voted to do it.

Now, after the horse is out of the barn (always, always after when they’re spending their taxpayers’ money; never before), people are actually, you know, looking at what the Greeks in fact said.  And they’re figuring out, just now (remember, Best Beloved, how much smarter the Europeans are than us roob Americans), that the Greeks really didn’t promise much of anything at all.  This was quite intentional, according to the Greek finance minister.  In conversations with the Euro wallahs in Brussels — notice how that city, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, is getting to be the ubiquitous  venue for pervasive chicanery — Varoufakis was told (he won’t say by whom) that the existing stated goal of achieving a budget surplus of 4.5% of GDP was “unrealistic,” but that if a lower number was stated, the chances of getting the Europeans Germans to unbelt were roughly zero.  The suggestion (which Varoufakis claims came from the finance ministers of the other Euro countries) was, well, why don’t you just vaguely describe it?  Said and done, and boy it worked like a charm.

Did the Greeks promise to make people work past their current ridiculously early retirement age?  Well, not really.  Did the Greeks promise to keep trimming their bloated public sector employment?  Why no, in fact the government has promised to re-hire all the government drones previously let go.  Did the Greeks promise to continue cutting their expenditures?  No, they made some vague promises to collect more taxes from their famously fraudulent population.  This is despite the fact that in January alone, €27 billion was sent by Greeks out of the country.  This is merely continuing a trend, and now the predictable calls for capital transfer restrictions are to be heard.  Yeah, let’s throw up some capital barriers, because that’s what the whole Euro project was about, wasn’t it:  making it harder for people, goods, and capital to transfer freely around the European continent.  That’s how you create a unified economy to compete with China, India, and the U.S.

What it all comes down to, of course, is the simple demand to write off the money that the rest of Europe pumped into a corrupt, broken Greek economy.  Prime minister Tsipras has now joined his finance minister in letting the cat out of the bag:  “We have achieved the goals we set for ourselves in this first round of discussions,” the prime minister has disclosed (which is to say, those wonderfully brilliant — in comparison to us drooling Americans — European parliaments have agreed to keep pouring sand down a rat hole on the off chance that this time the Greeks will actually do as they promise), and now the government will be able to “speak with honesty [from a Greek official?!?] and without extortion about the substance of the credit agreement.”  “We will put on the table our request for the reduction of Greek debt.”  So that’s it:  Hand us your money and agree never to see it again.  So that we can continue to retire at age 52 or whatever it is.  So that we can continue not to pay our own taxes.  So that we can continue to employ everyone and his cousin on the public teat.

Even The Economist has less than fulsome praise for the Greeks, although it can’t resist a side-swipe at the one major economy in Europe that makes a point of living within its means:

 “The real Greek tragedy is that, with a bit more statesmanship, Mr Tsipras could have nudged Europe on to a happier path. The euro zone desperately needs a counter-narrative to its failed German-inspired policy of austerity. As leader of the hardest-hit economy, armed with a strong democratic mandate, Mr Tsipras was well placed to offer one. He could have sought allies against excessive austerity and for looser fiscal and monetary policy in places like Italy and France—and even inside the ECB. Yet by quibbling over his debt extension and backtracking so ostentatiously on sensible reform he has alienated more or less everyone. That is quite some achievement.”

“Failed”?  As it turns out, the economies that were bailed out that have done best since then are precisely the ones that have stuck with the “austerity” plans forced on them.  The one that conspicuously hasn’t — Italy — is also the one that pissed backward.  The program of getting your affairs in order and at least making a stab at living within your means has only “failed” from the perspective of those whose livelihoods consist of feeding on the European taxpayer.  Oh, and by the way, the Greek economy has tanked since Syriza was elected, quite apart from the billions of Euros being hidden abroad by its own citizens.

Why the title of this post?  It may be a coincidence that the Greek finance minister is an academic economist, just like Jno. Gruber (Varoufakis’s first government gig is finance minister of the entire country; now that’s a recipe for success).  And it may be purely happenstance that they both think it’s just hilarious to lie to democratically elected assemblies in order to get passage of legislation that would stand no chance at all if the truth were told about it.  And it could be of no significance at all that both seem to relish the experience of pulling a fast on one all those stupid voters and their stupid representatives.  And it might be nothing more than random odds that both appear to believe that indefinitely spending other people’s money on economic arrangements that are demonstrably non-sustainable is a wonderful idea.

I am reluctant to ascribe such a remarkable area of overlap to pure chance, though.  Given the monolithically hard-left tinge of academia these days, I am much more inclined to view such goings-on and such policies as being the natural result of putting someone in charge who has not had the educational experience of making payroll from his own pocket, a person for whom being disastrously, consistently wrong means nothing more than a sharp rebuttal in an academic journal no one reads anyway.

These Greeks aren’t even bearing gifts.  They’re just presenting a demand for a license to steal.

Following the Money — Part of the Way

The Washington Post reports on the foreign governments that gave millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton’s family “charitable foundation” during her tenure as Secretary of State, during times when those foreign governments were actively engaged in various negotiations or transactions with various agencies and instrumentalities of the U.S. government, including some dealings that involved, at least on a collateral level, the Department of State headed by one Hillary R. Clinton.

Quite apart from the brazen effort to buy influence through private benefits provided to a high official’s affiliated entity, there is the question of just where all this money ended up.

You see, the Clintons’ foundation doesn’t just sit on the money it rakes in.  It spends it.  Some of it, I’m quite comfortable, is honestly spent doing Good Work here, there, and elsewhere, and spent actually doing stuff like buying bricks to build schools in sub-Saharan Africa, or actually buying crates of vaccine against whatever disease.  Bully for them.  But where else does the foundation spend money?  Who are its employees?  Who are its “consultants”?  To what other “charitable” organizations does it transfer money, and where do those organizations spend their own money.  These questions are necessary to ask because the “charitable” organization racket is unusually susceptible to use for political money laundering.

Let’s say that Company X is given to understand that a $10 million donation to the — he’s dead, and was undoubtedly a crook while alive (he was under active investigation by the FBI when he died), so we’ll just slime him — Murtha Family Foundation (my apologies if any such entity actually exists; I’m just using this as a hypothetical illustration) would be well-received, at a time when Company X is trying to sell Product Y or Program Z to the federal government.  The size of the contract is $750 million over the course of five or six years.  Get this contract, in other words, and the future of your company for that period of time is assured.  You might even be able to sell it for a couple hundred million dollars, cashing out and going to do whatever.  So Company X fades $10 million to the foundation.  The foundation then takes some portion of that — let’s be really optimistic and just say 60% of it — and actually goes out and buys textbooks for rural school districts or whatever.  That still leaves $4 million, however.  Now, private foundations are restricted on what they can pay insiders and their relations, so maybe John Murtha’s nephews, grandchildren, and cousins can’t realistically be paid more than $175,000 per year or so . . . each.  What do they do?  Well, they have titles like “marketing director,” or “community development coordinator,” and so forth.  But what do they physically, personally, do on a day-to-day basis?  Well, Grasshopper, you’d have a hard time answering that question, because other than occasionally standing up after a Rotary lunch to gas on to a bunch of somnolent businessmen quietly belching and wondering if they’re going to make their 1:30 meeting back at the office, you can’t really tell they’re doing much of anything other than cashing a paycheck twice a month.

But hist!  What’s this?  Why, the foundation has a $300,000 per year “consulting” agreement with, let’s call it Coalfield Strategies, LLC, to provide hazily-defined “services” to the Murtha Family Foundation.  But who is “Coalfield Strategies, LLC,” anyway?  Why, it turns out when we look at the secretary of state’s filings that “Coalfield Strategies, LLC” shows a principal place of business in the same building as one Fred Q. Zimmelfritz.  And lo! when we examine the campaign financial disclosures of John Murtha and his affiliated political organizations, we find that Fred Q. Zimmelfritz is a major donor to all of them, to the extent of around $200,000 per year.  And if you do a little digging here and there, you find that companies with business in front of John Murtha’s Congressional committees seem to have a pressing need for services of the nature provided by Coalfield Strategies, LLC.

When we look closer at the Murtha Family Foundation’s other vendors, we find that “Steamtown Industrial Services, Inc.” is providing cleaning services to the foundation under an annual contract which, when you look at how much office space actually needs cleaning and how long it ought to take to clean it, works out to something like $250 per hour.  Really?  That kind of money to empty the trash can, dust the window frames, and vacuum 800 square feet of floor?  All of which is performed twice a week by someone getting paid $13.25 per hour?  And when we look a bit closer at “Steamtown Industrial Services, Inc.” we find the name of Thaddeus R. Golatznik; returning to those same campaign financial disclosures we find that name as well high on the list of donors.

And so forth.

Don’t think stuff like this actually happens?  Gentle Reader will recall that before he became Governor Lothario, Elliot Spit-hole Spitzer was Attorney General Lothario of the State of New York.  While in that office he made a name for himself for “investigating” various publicly-traded companies in different industries.  The insurance industry was a favorite target.  But Lothario’s office gained a reputation for leaking that they were “investigating” Company X or Industry Y . . . even though as things not at all infrequently turned out, no charges or civil proceedings were ever initiated against Company X or anyone in Industry Y.

So what?

Company X was invariably a publicly-traded company, and Industry Y was invariably populated by publicly-traded companies.  When word leaks out that the New York state attorney general is “investigating” Company X, with vague (always vague) hints at massive exposure to fines and penalties (and of course defense costs), what happens to Company X’s stock?  Right:  It drops by 15%, or however much.  And then what happens?  Company X gets served a complaint filed by Major Securities Class Action Litigation Firm, asserting all manner of Rule 10b-5 violations for failure to disclose that Company X was engaging in Behaviors A, B, and C, thereby failing to make a material disclosure necessary to make the other disclosures made not misleading under the circumstances.

What are Company X’s options at that point?  They’ve now got bet-the-company choices to make.  Even if they’re really comfortable that they did nothing illegal and can beat any proceeding actually brought by Lothario’s office, the illegality of the undisclosed behavior is not an element of a Rule 10b-5 action, and a judgment entered in that action can easily drive them to a choice between bankruptcy or forced sale.  They have to settle that class-action suit.  So they settle.  By the time the expenses of the suit are paid out of the recovery, each shareholder gets $0.28539 or some other piffling amount per share.  The law firm, however, is awarded several million in fees.  Company X  is now out from under the securities litigation.  And a couple of months later, Lothario’s office quietly lets it be known that there doesn’t appear to be any basis for further proceedings, and Company X’s stock goes back up.  Everyone’s happy at that point, right?

Well of course they are, because the partners at Major Securities Class Action Litigation Firm, several of whom just happen to be major campaign contributors to Lothario, can now count their money, and begin writing checks to the campaign coffers of . . . wait for it! Attorney General Lothario.

So while interesting in its own way, that WaPo article stops well short of asking all the questions that need to be asked and answered.  If in politics the ultimate question is always cui bono? then until we know who is feeding at the Clinton foundation’s trough we do not know to what extent this trail of foreign money does or does not taint the woman who wants to be our next president.  We do not know to what extent the political operations and operatives of the would-be president are effectively on the payroll of some very, very unsavory foreign governments.

“Inappropriate”? Really?

Since when is it “inappropriate” to question anything about an American president?  Especially about an American president whose political mentor, and one of the very, very few people he’s never thrown under the bus even by implication (this is in contrast to his grandmother, his preacher, and countless others), is a man who “declared war” on the United States and actually, genuinely blew places up and killed people in the course of following through on that, and who had himself photographed within the past decade grinning like a jackass, standing on an American flag, bragging on how he got away with it?  Especially about an American president who, not only while in office, but among his first acts in office, went gallivanting all over the world apologizing for his country, including in places which are explicitly hostile to the United States and teach that we are the Great Satan?

If someone can show me a single data to suggest that Dear Leader genuinely does love his country, in that he prefers it over all other national or ethnic polities, and that he is prepared to engage in some act of personal sacrifice (whether physical, financial, political, emotional . . . or anything at all) in order to accomplish something which is demonstrably for the betterment of the country as a whole, and not just some pet constituency or donor base . . . well, then I’ll accept that maybe he does love his country.

But not until someone can show me that data point, because everything else he’s done in his entire life not only suggests, but screams from the high hills, that Giuliani was exactly, precisely correct in all material respects.

Well Now . . . This is a Surprise, Isn’t It?

Members of the U.S. Congress are by and large prohibited from engaging in outside employment for third parties while in office.  Sometimes this has really, really perverse effects, such as Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, who is a licensed surgeon, wanting to do just enough paid work to afford to keep himself insured while he maintains his license, and not being able to do so.  Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist (which is, let’s point out, a medical degree, in contrast to a degree in optometry), has the same issue.  They fall afoul of the law of unintended consequences.  Having members of Congress be on someone else’s payroll while in office — as Daniel Webster was, by the way; he was thoroughly on the take (as outlined in some detail in The Great Triumvirate) for interests with matters in front of the very committees Webster sat on — is just a bad idea, and so it’s prohibited.  That’s not to say it doesn’t happen anyway, with congresscritters and others — Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas was on the mafia payroll while on the court.

Nor does the prohibition apply to the general making of money.  Newt Gingrich got himself in the soup for taking a book advance, but — at least as I understand it — he would not have been prohibited from writing a book and receiving royalties from it.  It was the advance bit that crossed the line.  And of course, there are at least some members of Congress who, despite a lifetime in “public service” seem to have got extraordinarily wealthy while in office, notwithstanding the very real financial demands arising from shuttling back and forth between one’s constituency and Washington, as well as living in one of the most expensive cities in the country while on the job.  Henry Reid of Nevada is one such; he’s never really held a job, and yet his financial disclosures show he has done himself handsomely well.

Suffice it to say the system isn’t perfect.  Every rule you can think up can be circumvented, somehow, by someone sufficiently devious who has enough people willing to assist him.  About all you can do is expose the crooks and vote against them . . . rinse and repeat.

On the other hand, it seems the British Parliament does not prohibit outside employment by third parties for MPs.  How does that system work?

This is how it works.  There are, it seems, MPs making up to £1,600 per hour (as of today’s exchange rate of $1.5436 per pound, that’s $2,469.76 per hour) working for someone other than the British taxpayer.  Is either the fact of that employment or its rate of compensation inherently improper?  Well, no.  In fact, there is a legitimate argument to be made that denying members of the legislature actual, real-world, pay-it-out-of-your-own-pocket experience outside the bubble of national politics results in worse decision-making in the legislative chamber:

“To answer this we need to ask what we want our MPs to be: a professional cadre of career politicians with no outside interests; or people with jobs and connections in the real world beyond Westminster. To that end, is getting well-paid for joining a board of directors primarily on account of past ministerial experience the same as continuing to follow a career as a doctor, dentist or barrister once in the House? Both constitute outside interests but are clearly very different. * * * In the modern world, voters expect their elected representatives to be full-time parliamentarians, assiduously working on their constituency caseload, for which they are paid some £67,000 a year plus expenses. But this risks turning Parliament into a glorified council rather than the cockpit of debate on issues of national importance.”

For a specific example from history, about the only way Churchill was able to remain in Parliament during his wilderness years, from 1932 through September, 1939, was his prolific writing, for which he was paid.  Is anyone going to argue that having him vanish from public life would have been a preferable outcome?  And I suppose it’s possible to be worth $2,469.76 per hour to someone.  But we may legitimately ask precisely what a Member might possibly be doing for someone who is able to pay that kind of money per hour, and why that person thinks those services are worth that sort of money.  That is a much-less-settling thought.

Because, you see, some of those MPs at least are not just working, they’re selling themselves in their capacities as MPs.  Both are former members of the cabinet, foreign ministers.  One is Labour, the other Conservative.  Both were caught on camera offering a Chinese company to use their status and stature as senior politicians to provide privileged access to the power-brokers of their worlds for fees of at least £5,000 per day.  The “Chinese company” of course turned out to be nothing of the sort; they got caught by a sting run by The Daily Telegraph and Channel 4 news.  Both are now resigning from Parliament.  Neither appears to be terribly apologetic about it.

Whatever the theoretical arguments on both sides of the outside-compensation issue, it’s hard to suggest that this whoring of one’s office does not cross any line you can draw anywhere.  I’m not sure I which I find more objectionable — that they were so brazen about what they were doing, or that they were willing to do it for the Chinese.  Because make no mistake: If you’re doing business with any Chinese company outside China, you’re actually doing business with the Chinese government.  Anyone who thinks that the Chinese government is some sort of morally neutral actor who’s only in it to make a dollar and go home peacefully to enjoy the fruits of his labor is just nuts.

At least, however, the British are up in arms about this.  We, on the other hand, patiently await the shrieks of protest from the palace guard lamestream media about Hillary Clinton’s foundation opening wide the floodgates to foreign donations, in advance of her putative run for the White House.  This from the political machine that gave us “no controlling precedent” in accepting campaign contributions from Red China.

Once upon a time, when Billy Carter, the then-president’s brother, went to work for the Libyans, it was a major scandal here.  As Inspector Clouseau would say, “Not any more.”  I guess it remains to be seen how Britain, with a very different tradition regarding MPs and their “regular jobs,” deals with this, or not.

But how surprised can we really be, no matter from which side of the pond we look at it?

Of Course, I am not in This, Anywhere

I was supposed to have been here, this past Monday.

Instead, I cancelled my plans because on 3 February I had a jury trial set to start.  It was going to run every bit of all week and maybe longer.  My travel plans would have had me leaving the following Tuesday, 10 February.  I’d have been leaving then because I wanted to be in Dresden for the 70th anniversary of the bombing.  Every year on the anniversary everyone turns out in downtown holding candles, and at 10:14 p.m., when the first bombs began to fall, every church bell in town lights off.  I’ve seen video clips of it, and it’s extremely impressive and moving, even on a small screen.  I’d wanted to be there, and I’d wanted to take my older two boys with me.

We’d have got to Frankfurt on Wednesday morning and spent that day getting to Dresden.  Thursday and Friday I’d have showed them around the city.  Friday night would have been the memorial, and then Saturday in the train over to Freiburg.  Sunday I would have showed them daddy’s old stomping grounds, then Rosenmontag on Monday.  I have a standing invitation to crash with a law skool classmate who currently lives outside Stuttgart (his boy is my godson), so we’d have done that Tuesday and Wednesday, then fly back Thursday morning.

But I had no reasonable assurance that damned trial would finish in time.  I couldn’t ask for a continuance, either.  I’m the plaintiff and this was already the third setting of a suit we filed in January, 2006.  It was first set in June, 2013, and twice at the defendants’ request got continued.  Another continuance and my clients would hang me from a lamp post.  Justifiably.

So I cancelled my plans, on the one year when Rosenmontag and February 13 were going to fall in the right order and close enough together.  Next year Rosenmontag will be February 8, meaning February 13 will be the following Saturday.  So I’d have to fly out the preceding Thursday, February 4 (flying on a Friday is extortionately expensive; ditto Monday), and stay until February 16.  I don’t know I’ll be able to take that kind of time off.  I don’t know if my children will be able to take that kind of time off.

But at least I’ve got that damned trial out of the way, right?

Wrong.  The morning before we were to start picking a jury, the judge conference-called all the lawyers and announced she was continuing it until June.  Because.

So I am nowhere to be seen in that video, and I have lawyering to thank for it.  What a grand thing it is to be a lawyer.  Get to screw up what might turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for you and your children, and for what?  I guess I can comfort myself that at least the poor judge didn’t have to hear a case unwillingly.

With Apologies to Dr. Johnson, No. 2 in a Series

Dr. Johnson famously responded to the philosophical claim of the insubstantiality of matter by turning and kicking a rock so hard his foot rebounded off it, saying, “I refute it thus.”  I’ve already once used an allusion to that episode in a post title, and it looks as though I must do so once again.

The battlespace preparation of the lamestream media for the 2016 presidential elections has already begun.  The same organizations who literally camped out overlooking Sarah Palin’s backyard and went combing through Mitt Romney’s junior high school records (but have been strangely silent on the complete lack of information about Dear Leader’s alleged academic achievements) are going to be informing us — breathlessly — that Gov. Christie chalked the word “fart” on the side of a Sav-A-Lot when he was nine, or Rick Perry lifted a Snickers bar from the check-out aisle at 22 months, when mommy was looking away.  At the moment they’re all worked into a lather that Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, dropped out of college and never completed his degree.

The Blogfather, guest-columnist over at USA Today, describes this break from a dreary succession of Ivy League goof-ballery (and he’s Yale Law, by the way), as a potential “breath of fresh air.”  At his home Instapundit, Reynolds has raised the flag of “credentialed, not educated.”  Here’s the nub of his observation:  “All this credentialism means that we should have the best, most efficiently and intelligently run government ever, right? Well, just look around. Anyone who has ever attended a faculty meeting should recognize that more education doesn’t produce better decision makers, and our educated mandarinate doesn’t seem to have done much for the country.”

I’d like to suggest another thought.  Twice in the past hundred years, Western Civilization found itself confronted with ruthless, blood-thirsty and bloody, ideologies which recognized no limits — none at all — to the demands they made on humanity, neither their own adherents nor any other.  Both viewed the extermination of a large part of the species as being not merely a regrettable circumstance of their self-actualization, but in fact part and parcel of their entire package of aspirations.  We refer, of course, to national socialism as practiced by Hitler’s Germany, and to communism as practiced everywhere.

Both ideologies found not merely apologists in the West (and invariably among the highly-credentialed), but outright and active supporters.  Think Kim Philby and his ilk; the world he moved in and betrayed is laid out its touching naïvete in A Spy Among Friends.  Like it or not, Joe McCarthy was right on the money when he claimed that the senior reaches of the United States government were thoroughly penetrated by active Soviet agents (as lately revealed by the Venona transcripts), many of them the products of the best that America could offer, especially in respect of formal education.  Franklin Roosevelt’s people actively admired Stalin and Hitler and sought templates for their own policies in those countries.  In Britain it was the “sophisticated” people, the Oxbridge cultural elite, the new information moguls, who relentlessly cheer-lead for Hitler.  The Times even went so far as to suppress its own reporters’ information flowing back from Germany, lest “Herr Hitler” be offended to see his deeds in newsprint.

What was needed to face down these monstrosities was not nuanced “critical thinking,” but rather the character to recognize evil and accept the battle to the death which is the only prophylactic that has ever proven effective against it.  Fortunately for all of us, in both the United States and in Great Britain, there were men who fought their way to the top who had that character.  Winston Churchill spent years shouting in the wilderness against the menace of Nazism.  He was laughed at by all the Deep Thinkers.  Nancy Astor, the American who was elected to the House of Commons, famously sneered (to Joe Stalin in person, no less) of Churchill:  “Churchill?  He’s finished.”  In America, grimly setting his face against the gale of One Worlders and fellow-travelers inherited from Roosevelt, Harry Truman announced that it was American policy to contain the poison of communism to its current areas of infection.  He then had the good sense to appoint a soldier, Geo. C. Marshall, as his secretary of state to ensure that policy grew teeth, and backed him in what became known as the Marshall Plan.

It was a close-run thing in both countries.  Britain didn’t turn to Churchill until May, 1940 as its only ally, France, was being ground to a pulp beneath Hitler’s tank treads.  Even then the king wanted Lord Halifax as prime minister, the same lord who had been among the most prominent appeasers before the war.  The Labour Party, in what may have been its last patriotic act, communicated to the other parties that it would serve under no man but Churchill.  And the rest is history.  Truman had to fight bitterly against those who wanted the Soviet Union to be handed what it wanted.  Both Churchill and Truman were men of extraordinarily strong character.  Both had ground their way up through adversity that would have daunted most others.  Churchill spent seven-plus years in the Wilderness, scorned by his own party, muzzled by the BBC (lest he offend “Herr Hitler”), a figure of contempt.  Truman had spent years in back-breaking work on the family farm, a bright, passionate auto-didact shackled to a plow.  Had World War I not come along to tear him from the field he would have doubtless have grown old and sour, his talents and energies wasted on making sure the rows of corn were correctly planted.

Oh, and one more thing:  Neither Churchill nor Truman attended so much as a day of “college.”  Neither was a man of subtlety, but the challenges of their day did not require subtlety.  Those challenges required men who were equally ready to kill as to die in defense of all that was best of Western Civilization.

What is also not recognized is that both Churchill and Truman exercised power in a world the very fundaments of which were shifting beneath their feet as they moved forward.  There was no guarantee what the post-war world was going to look like when Churchill vowed that Britain would fight on, “if necessary for years . . . if necessary alone.”  As he correctly pointed out when handed the news of the Alamogordo tests, the nuclear bomb was “the Second Coming in Wrath.”  This was the world dumped in Harry Truman’s lap to deal with.  Neither had a road map to the future; neither could count on the signposts from the past as a reliable guide to the future.  Almost every major decision they had to make had to be made in the context of a novel, unstable, rapidly morphing world.

And both acquitted themselves remarkably well, all things considered.

Despite what Dear Leader may say about the Religion of Peace, we are at war.  We are at war with a religion which utterly rejects almost every value we know as “Western.”  That includes pretty much anything that falls within the rubric of “sanctity of life.”  This religion, well-funded and absolutely without scruple, is bent upon subjugation of the entire world to the thrall of its death cult.  It has no intention of stopping.  Lining up 21 men and simultaneously sawing their heads off, for no fact other than their Christianity, is all in a day’s work for the Religion of Peace.  And all we have to counter them is someone who thinks that faculty-lounge debates are reality (I say this ignoring the equally plausible explanation, at least based upon his observable actions: he’s on their side).  We desperately need a Truman or a Churchill, and all we’ve got is a fellow-travelling disciple of Saul Alinsky.

We are in a world war in which we cannot know what the back-side of this war will look like.  How do you fight a war against an entire widely dispersed religion and not grasp the expedients of a Holocaust?  How do you suppress in public life a faith the central article of which is the duty to slaughter all who do not espouse that faith?  How do you deal with the millions of adherents (however far they may stray from their faith’s strictures on the point) of that faith who in fact do not wish material destruction upon us?  How do we do all of that and not sacrifice our very nature as a Judeo-Christian civilization?  How do we deal with the enemy in our homelands, whom we invited in, in a way which does not make a mockery of centuries of Anglo-American recognition of due process of law?  [I can tell you very much how the continental European tradition would deal with them:  Can you say “St. Bartholomew’s Day”?]  The answers to those questions, if there are answers at all, are not to be found in learned treatises, or in theoretical babble, or “critical thought,” or in any of the nostrums of “community organizing.”  They must arise and be formed from the character of the men and women who will make the decisions that determine those answers.  We need leaders of a strength of character which has within it the ability to answer, plainly and irrevocably, the challenges to our existence.

This need is inconsistent with the politics or philosophy of the American leftists.

Scott Walker fought and won not one, not two, but three elections for governor within the space of four years.  He faced down millions upon millions of dollars of highly coordinated political and legal attacks and three times won, handily, in a state which is not known as welcoming to his end of the political spectrum.  And he’s done so with a certain amount of dash, and completely without apology.  He gives off, at least at this point, a decided whiff of moxie, of character.  He must therefore be destroyed.

And so we are going to hear, relentlessly, about his dropping out of college, as if that is a disqualifier in and of itself.  Referring to Churchill and Truman, I refute it thus.

[Update: 20 Feb 15]  And right on cue, we have an administration spokes-drone claiming that her strategy of fighting people who are willing to saw off another person’s head because of where he goes to church, not by killing the hewer-of-heads, but by offering them all (presumably government) jobs, “might be too nuanced” for people who realize how asinine that statement is.  I can’t say that it was this same goof-ball who said it, because I wasn’t watching the segment, but it was reported to me that someone on a CNN discussion panel seriously claimed that, among other inducements (including, we must assume, lack of government jobs), insufficient “art” was an impetus to American terrorists flocking overseas to join their ideological brethren.  Really?  If readily available “art” were sufficient to calm these savages, how do you explain the 7,000 French Muslims who have gone to fight with ISIS?  Whatever other deficiencies life under dirigisme may exhibit, a lack of access to top-flight art, no matter of what kind, ain’t one of them.

Platerack: 13 February 1945

Today marks a somber anniversary. Seventy years ago this evening, at just around 10:14 p.m. local time, the bombardiers of RAF Bomber Command pressed the release keys and several hundred tons of thermite and high explosive bombs began to rain down on a medieval city in the far east of Germany.

Dresden – the name Drežd´any originates in the Old Sorbian tongue, and means “forest swamp dwellers” – had not been visited by the war thus far, or at least not much. As the capital city of Saxony (Bach had visited and played there from time to time) it was a major traffic center, a place where the Elbe, still navigable year-round that far inland, was crossed by major rail and road lines. The traffic that was crossing at Dresden in February, 1945 was to a large measure decidedly non-commercial, and in fact not even military. Because by then what Dresden mostly trafficked in was what the U.S. came to label “DPs,” or displaced persons.  In February, 1945 they were streaming through the east of Germany by the hundreds of thousands.

From Prussia, West and East, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Saxony, what had once been Poland (and before that Prussia and before that Poland and . . . well hell, you get the point) they came. On foot, in ox-carts, pushing prams, hand-carts, kids’ wagons, anything with wheels, in trucks scrounging rides from sympathetic soldiers, and by train. Any way they could, in fact, manage to escape the Red Army and its vengeance. I have an aunt (by marriage). Her home town is so far in East Prussia it ended up in the Soviet Union after the war. Their father had already been killed on the Eastern Front. He commanded an anti-tank squad, armed with what we called a bazooka and they knew as the Panzerfaust (“armored fist”). In a – successful – effort to avoid a friendly fire incident he deflected the launcher at the moment of launch, and the back blast blew his guts out. Or at least that’s what the family was told. That left their mother and four daughters, the youngest only three or so. To make a long story short, they escaped their town on the last plane to make it out of the airfield, on the way to catch which they were strafed by a Soviet fighter.  During the ride there the oldest sister looked through the rear window of the staff car they were in, and as she described it to me years later, the entire horizon was lined with nearly biblical pillars of smoke and flame from burning farms and villages. A friend of their mother’s didn’t escape. When the Soviets came, she was raped up to 20 times. Per night.

Of course, as the Germans themselves had discovered and exploited wherever they went, a terrorized population getting underway en masse, with no idea of where it’s going or how to get there, plugging the roads and bridges with swarms of desperate humanity, makes a marvelous tool of strategy. Plays all kinds of hell with troop movements, food supply, demands on medical care (just because you’re eight months pregnant doesn’t mean the Red Army is going to slow up by a single pace), lodging (hint: this was in 1945, before George Bush invented global warming, and it got not just cold, but colder than it had in generations . . . and the next winter it got worse), in short, with everything.

The Western allies were concerned with the Soviets’ progress for any number of reasons, not the least of which was the suspicion, already entertained by Churchill in the form of dead certainty, and more-or-less with understanding by at least those who weren’t Stalin’s dupes (e.g., Roosevelt, who to his death thought Stalin was just another ward boss from New Jersey whom he could wheel-deal out of what his soldiers had won and were prepared to defend to the death), that wherever the Red Army stood on the day Germany surrendered was where the borders were going to be drawn. Stalin knew exactly what his military was capable of doing, and thanks to sundry American traitors he had a real good idea of what the Americans were shortly to be capable of.

But of especially the British Stalin would have nurtured scarce other than contempt. A tired, clapped-out, proudly imperialist power, only enjoying the position it did because it drew (“sucked” is the verb Joe would have used) on the manpower and wealth of a good portion of the human population? Stalin could do sums as well as anyone (like how many Ukrainians he could starve to death in any single year), and he would have known precisely how bankrupt Britain was and how negligible a factor it would be in the post-war carving-up of the world (a carving-up Stalin had every intention of seeing happen, no matter what nonsense about One World his acolytes surrounding Roosevelt might think). This was an understanding communicated pretty plainly to Churchill at Yalta. All of which is to say that for the British at least the question of demonstrating itself still to be a puissant world power was very much an issue by early 1945. This realization by the British should not be dismissed as an influence on their decision-making. It was the same reason that in 1914 Austria-Hungary reacted as it did to Franz Ferdinand’s assassination – the convenient removal of someone whom virtually no one in any position of influence in the empire was the least sorry to see laid out on a slab was seized upon as a pretext to “crush the Serbian viper” and prove to the world that a crumbling, imploding, clapped-out, bankrupt, once-glorious empire was still a Player.

So what does all this have to do with Dresden? By early 1945 the Allies had bombed to rubble almost every significant center of manufacturing that could be reached by air, which is to say pretty much all of it. We’d destroyed about as thoroughly as you can with dumb bombs (interesting to contemplate what might have been done with smart ordnance). On the other hand, as Albert Speer showed, unless you hit an industrial machine directly, it’s not all that hard to get it back up and running. Running electrical cable, steam lines, and hydraulic lines isn’t hard. Even re-building rail lines isn’t hard, as long as you’ve got milled rail (which is why Sherman took care to heat and twist them on his marches – “Sherman’s neckties” they called them, and they made the rails useless without being re-milled). Filling holes in roads is something you can do with the rubble of the buildings beside the road. You can bomb the factory until the rubble bounces and unless you destroy the machines – or kill the men who operate them – you’ve not really made all that much a dent on your enemy’s productive capacity. And in fact in Exhibit A, Essen and the Gußstahlfabrik of Krupp, which first the British and then the Americans and then both together, as often as they could gas up the planes and load the bombs to do it, production increased steadily until the last months of the war. What finally ground Krupp to a halt was not the “precision” bombing of the 8th Army Air Force or the carpet-bombing of Bomber Command, but rather that the Ruhr choked on its own production. We destroyed enough dams, canals, bridges, and tunnels that they couldn’t move – physically move – their output any more. William Manchester tells the story brilliantly (and movingly; the book is dedicated to Krupp’s smallest victims, the infants buried in Buschmannshof, in Voerde-bei-Dinslaken, who until after his book “no other memorial”) in The Arms of Krupp.

What about Dresden, though? As you might suspect, as capital of Saxony Dresden did have some manufacturing capacity, mostly what we’d describe as light industry – optics and so forth. But it was all located in the suburbs. The core of Dresden had not been changed all that much since the 18th Century, and in quite a number of neighborhoods even longer. It had been a Residenzstadt, the official seat of the Electors of Saxony (and later, when August the Strong was elected to the job in 1697, the King of Poland), and as such most of the downtown area was given over to the kinds of activities that monarchy and its hangers-on generate. Nowadays we’d call it a service economy, with cottage industry (luxury smithing, tailoring, and so forth) mixed in. The key thing to remember is that with two exceptions there were more or less zero military targets in downtown Dresden. There were no factories to speak of, no barracks, no facilities for what we could call “C-3” – command, control, and communications – no major political nodes like in central Berlin.

The two exceptions were the bridges over the Elbe, rail and road, and the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. Destroy those and you really put a crimp in the Wehrmacht’s ability to move troops and supplies to the front, and to get those damned civilians (and casualties) to the rear. Leave those operational and you’ve done no more than create a large garbage-disposal job for prisoners of war carrying shovels, brooms, and crowbars.

Let’s summarize through date: We have a largely untouched city, built of wood and stone (and that wood would have been centuries dried, wouldn’t it?), with no targets of any military value in the urban core, but with two sets of targets of great value, both easily identified from the air. And in February, 1945 it was — and was known to be — choked with civilian refugees, unfamiliar with the city and its environs, not knowing where the air raid shelters were (to the extent there were any . . . the local Gauleiter wasn’t among the more competent, and for most of the city the only air raid protection was the cellar of the building that was being bombed over its head), hungry, sick, stricken with frostbite, and above all numbed by shock and misery. And the Western Allies had a point to prove to Stalin.

In the end, the temptation proved too great.

Let us now take a brief digression to contemplate the mechanics of destruction. Ordnance can generically be categorized as being suited either to soft targets or hard targets. “Hard” targets are of course things that are specifically armored, such as tanks, battleships, bunkers, pillboxes, and other things that are built of materials which resist penetration. Like concrete, stone, and metal. “Soft” targets are everything else. Wood, glass, and so forth. Flesh. Clothing. Ordnance for use against hard targets has to be larger, carry a greater explosive charge, and be itself constructed of materials able to penetrate the target. I’m 6’4″ tall, and somewhere I have a picture of myself standing beside a 16″ shell as administered by USS Alabama during the war. That shell comes up to my eye socket. The “tall boy” bombs which finally sank Tirpitz in 1944 were 21 feet long, tipped the scales at 12,000 pounds, and carried a charge of 5,200 pounds of Torpex. Her sister Bismarck had absorbed 14″ and 16″ armor-piercing rounds by the fistful in 1941 but was finally sunk when her own crew opened the seacocks; two tall boy hits capsized Tirpitz. Ordnance for soft targets can be much smaller (so its deployment systems can be smaller, faster, more mobile, and cheaper to build; think “Saturday night special”) and the projectile can carry a far greater proportion of its own weight in explosive payload. Anti-personnel rounds have thin walls and are packed with explosive and shrapnel.

Among the more common civilian hard targets are railroad facilities and stone, concrete, or steel bridges. Why are they “hard”? Well, because unless you actually strike and obliterate the substance of their construction, it’s really easy to get them back up and fulfilling their function. You can vaporize the ticket booths, the train sheds, the platforms, the benches, the arrival and departure boards, the restaurants and restrooms, but unless you actually so damage the rails, ties, and switches as to render them impossible of further use, you really haven’t done any meaningful harm to a railroad station. As long as trains can arrive, load, unload, and depart in the desired sequence, you’ve still got a working railroad station, even though you have to shovel the dead bodies out of the way to do it. By like token, you can blow the bridge deck to hell and gone, but unless you sever the supports from which the deck is suspended, or destroy the piers on which those supports rest, a few hours with some cutting torches, welders, lumber, and basic steel frame members will have the bridge able to accept normal traffic in a day or two. In contrast, a hospital that is blown apart cannot be used as a hospital any more. It must be completely re-built, which is to say replaced. An apartment building once burned out – with as little as a can of kerosene and a single match – is useless.

You can tell what any mission is targetting by the kind of ordnance that is loaded. If you are carrying ordnance which physically cannot destroy a specific sort of target, then you may not ask me to accept that you were really aiming for that kind of target. Kindly do not insult my intelligence.

Which is why, when we ponder the data point that the bomb load which Bomber Command carried on its two missions over Dresden on February 13-14, 1945, consisted of overwhelmingly (by number of bombs) thermite bombs weighing right at 30 pounds, we are not obliged to accept at face value the statement that the attack on Dresden was intended to take out the few military targets in that city.  In the first wave of the attack there were roughly 500 tons of high explosive dropped, in bombs weighing from 500 to 2,000 pounds each.  If you go with the light end that’s 1,000 bombs.  That first wave also dropped 375 tons of incendiaries; at 30 pounds each that comes to 25,000 bombs, more or less.

We are even less obliged to accept the suggestion that something other than the civilians of Dresden were the specific target of the mission when we observe where the Mosquitoes (very light, built of plywood, extremely fast planes whose mission was to drop marker lights on the target aim point for Bomber Command missions — the British did not go in for daylight bombing; that was a fatuity of the USAAF) were ordered to drop their markers: directly over the center of the old city. The train station was (and is today) well outside the central downtown district; the bridges are over the river.

No, the attack on Dresden was planned and executed to see how many civilians we could kill in the course of an evening.  The RAF even admitted as much, at the time.  In its briefing memo to the aircrew on the night of the attack, it pointed out, “In the midst of winter with refugees pouring westward and troops to be rested, roofs are at a premium, not only to give shelter to workers, refugees, and troops alike, but to house the administrative services displaced from other areas.”  The answer to the question of how many can be bagged at once has never been entirely established. So many of them had just got to the city that day or in the preceding few days. They weren’t registered anywhere; no one even would have known their names, or the fact that they were there. Their relatives would at most have known that they’d left their homes in the east, and sometime around mid-February they vanished, somewhere. Maybe buried in a shallow grave hacked into the frozen ground beside a road somewhere. Maybe reduced to ash in a cellar in Dresden. Maybe shot out of hand by the Soviets and just left for the crows and other wild animals to pick clean. Once they were here; now they are not. I’ve seen guesses – and that’s all they can be – from 25,000 on the low end to upwards of 200,000 at the high end. That upper end number is commonly accepted as bunk now, put about by, among others, the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving (who wrote one of the earlier books about the bombing of Dresden; I have a copy of it, in German, at home). But that 25,000 figure also seems suspect, too low.

Why? Can’t you just count the corpses, after all? Well, after your usual conventional air raid you might be able to do that. Count the skulls you find; one skull per body produces the total dead. But what if you can’t get an accurate count of the skulls? In a nuclear attack you have victims who are simply vaporized; there’s nothing left to gather up.

Dresden was a conventional attack, not a nuclear one. But in Dresden Bomber Command managed to hit a sweet spot which was something of a technical feat. They produced a “firestorm.” Now, “firestorm” is a word that remains in common currency today. When some idiot like an NBC newsreader claims to have been in a Chinook which was shot down, but was really nowhere near it, showing up only an hour or so after the crew had succeeded in landing it, we say his dishonesty and his employer’s defense of that dishonesty is producing a “firestorm of criticism.” By that we mean that a lot of people are more or less simultaneously expressing outrage that an organization supposedly in the very business of propagating the truth about observable facts would knowingly harbor as the face it presents to the world a man who is a serial fabulist about his news-gathering activities.

But O! Gentle Reader, a “firestorm” is a very specific physical manifestation. It occurs when you ignite a highly dense concentration of very combustible facilities – apartment buildings, stores, and offices will do very nicely – over a wide area and within an extremely compressed space of time. When you do that the heat of the conflagration develops massive up-drafts which generate tornado-force winds, winds which will pick a streetcar train up and hurl it the length of a boulevard. The winds also propagate the flames horizontally, not only by blowing them – say, across 100 feet of main thoroughfare – but by fanning their own flames to an intensity which will spontaneously combust nearby fuel sources that haven’t themselves been hit. Remember that the heat of a fire is a function of how much energy is released and over what period of time. High-energy fuels like coal or petroleum will generate good heat even at fairly low rates of fuel consumption because they are so energy-dense. Wood (and human flesh) is much less energy-dense and so at normal rates of combustion simply won’t generate heat that is much more sufficient than to keep the fire itself burning. But when you produce a firestorm, Gentle Reader, you turn an entire city’s downtown into a blast furnace, and then you can generate heat and destruction of an entirely different order. Think of a firestorm as being a non-volcanic pyroclastic flow and you won’t be too far wide of the mark.

The first modern firestorm was produced over Hamburg in 1943, during the course of several nights’ consecutive missions. We managed to take out something like 46,000 civilians, which is pretty stout. In fact, even producing a firestorm in Hamburg was something of a technical achievement, given how much of that city is water. Not even Bomber Harris could light off water (and he would have given it a try if he’d thought he could). As I recall, we managed another over Braunschweig. Wikipedia lists some other attacks which may have generated firestorms (the deadliest being Tokyo, with something like 100,000 dead, although it’s not confirmed to what extent it was a “genuine” firestorm . . . as if that mattered to the dead).

Dresden was Bomber Command’s masterpiece. Everything came together just perfectly. The weather over Central Europe, which sucks at that time of year, produced a gap in cloud cover just over the city, just at the right time of night. The city’s defenses had long since been stripped to bare minimum, to free 88mm batteries for the Eastern Front. The city was full to bursting with ignorant civilian refugees. And it was very densely built and tinder-dry. The RAF’s tactics, honed to perfection over the rest of Germany, worked like a finely-tuned machine.

First came the Pathfinders, dropping the strings of colored flares which the Germans knew as “Christmas trees” over the old town, the Altstadt.  Then came the Mosquitoes to drop specific marker bombs.  Within minutes the Lancasters were overhead, decanting tons upon tons of thermite bombs down onto the city. There was some high explosive mixed in, to break water pipes and so forth, the better to hinder firefighting, but the big thing was to get the fires started. Because then, roughly three hours later, came the topping: a second wave of Lancasters. Why the delay? Why not a steady stream of aircraft? Because, Gentle Reader, you have to give time for the organic firefighting forces to deploy, and for the resources of the surrounding district to arrive and get into the fight. So that your second wave not only fully blooms your firestorm, but also kills as many as possible of the people trying to put the thing out.

And so it came to pass. The fires of Dresden so lit the night sky that the bomber crews could read by their glow . . . over 100 miles away. I forget how many corpses they gathered together over the ensuing days, but on the Altmarkt, the old market square, there’s an outline in red paving stone, several yards long and several wide. There’s melted metal drizzled between some of the stones inside the outline, with the inscription that over 6,800 corpses were burned on that spot alone. There were many such places throughout the city. And with the heat generated by a firestorm, human bodies vanish, reduced to ash. So we’ll never get a reliable body count from Dresden.

The next morning the 8th Air Force, not to be outdone, showed up to make the rubble bounce. By that time in the war it went on missions escorted by phalanxes of P-51 Mustangs, among the very best propeller-driven combat planes ever built. While the B-17s added of their plenty, the fighters dropped down low to strafe.

At this link the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has an article, with some pictures, of what Dresden looked like by February 15, 1945.

I first visited Dresden in February, 1986. They’d re-built the Zwinger and a few other of the baroque jewels of the city. Whatever other sins must be taxed to the commies of East Germany, when they went to re-build a place like Dresden they did it right. The Hofkirche was still, if memory serves, a shell, and several of the other major landmarks were likewise as they’d been left in 1945. The Frauenkirche was still a pile of rubble with a couple of chunks of blackened wall protruding.

I next went there in 2011, by which time the Hofkirche, the Semperoper, the Schloß, and the Kreuzkirche had been re-built, the latter only to a limited extent. What I’d really gone to see, however, was the Frauenkirche, re-built from 1993 to 2005, in painstaking exactitude, and with something like 35-40% original stones. I’d not realized it when I first saw it in 1986, but it was the largest dome structure north of the Alps, and exceeded anywhere only by very few buildings (such as St. Peter’s in Rome).

So what to make of the attack today? Was it “unnecessary” in either a tactical or strategic sense? Was it a “war crime”? The first question is much the easier to answer. It did close to nothing at all to hasten the war’s end or alter the circumstances of its ending, or to facilitate any other significant military operation, or to avoid any knowable casualties to the Allies. If Bomber Command and the USAAF had dropped their payloads into the North Sea and flown home they would have done precisely as much good for the Allied war effort. If it was meant to impress Joe Stalin it couldn’t have fallen more flat. This was, after all, a man who slaughtered his own people by the million, and who had observed what the Germans themselves had done to his country on their advance and on their retreat.

The second question is one which I confess I can’t answer. You’ve got so many imponderables to factor in, from the civilians who shouted and rejoiced and voted the Nazis into power, who managed not to notice as their Jewish neighbors disappeared, family by family (except when several thousand at once were rounded up and marched through downtown to the train station), who congratulated each other as their soldiers marched across a continent, one harmless nation at a time. On the other hand it’s hard to tar the children with that brush. You’ve got the feedback loop of total war, where every blow is its own purpose, its own justification; it’s no easier to explain than why climb a mountain. You are enemy; your homes are enemy; your churches are enemy; your fields and forests are enemy; your land itself is enemy. Whether I can put a number to it or not, all that harms you — however it harms you — is by definition part and parcel of my objective.

Maybe the best way to frame the questions to oneself, all in a lump, is to ask whether, knowing then what we know now, one would be willing to accept a bomb-for-bomb repetition of the attack, under the circumstances that existed and with the government in power that Germany had then.  Remember that cultural recollections of events like Dresden is a large part of why Germany so thoroughly abandoned the militarism and aggressive nationalism that had characterized it since Friedrich Wilhelm proclaimed himself King of Prusssia in the early 18th Century.  And this is where contemplation gets uncomfortable for me. As much as thinking about the city’s destruction, and all the dead civilians, and the horror of their deaths, and the wanton destruction of beauty can move me to tears (and it can, literally), if the price of destroying Nazi Germany, or any of its analogues of today, or even inducing another would-be conqueror to think twice, is the annihilation of a Dresden, then I have to confess to myself that I would more likely than not give the launch order. All over again.

Maybe that’s why we need to remember what happened in the skies over Dresden, 70 years ago today. It reminds us what we are capable of doing to each other, and why, and those are truths that are never reassuring to confront.  We can “promise” ourselves “never again,” but that’s not really a promise, is it?  It’s more in the nature of a hope, a prayer, the pronouncement of a totemic name — actually it’s a paraphrastic — by the speaking of which that primitive part of our brains which seems to run an awful lot of how we behave to each other somehow expects to exorcise the demon.  To borrow a line from Lincoln, fondly to we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war will never again visit us.

Realizing that hope, that prayer, must start within each of us.  Therefore we remember Dresden.

I’m Rinso-White, Herr Bundespräsident

“I’m Rinso-white”; that’s a line from one of the scenes in Hair, specifically the lead-in to “Ain’t Got No.”  The expression is actually older than that, and comes from the laundry detergent’s old advertising campaigns.  Rinso-white apparently was the thing to be.  In Europe the equivalent was and remains Persil.  John Mortimer uses the brand-name as a nickname for a notoriously “bent copper,” D.I. “Persil” White.  In the late 1940s and 1950s the product’s name acquired a more sinister overtone, at least in central Europe, and among a very definable group.

It’s very much true that success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan.  And seldom has there ever been a more orphaned orphan in that respect than the Nazi state.  After May, 1945 all those tens of thousands — hell, millions — of Germans who cheered themselves hoarse as Hitler and his jack-booted thugs, his legions of soldiers, fleets of tanks, and swarms of aircraft marched, rumbled, and screamed past mysteriously vanished into the ground, as if they’d never been there.  Whatever else they may have said among themselves, publicly at least you couldn’t find a True Believer with a search warrant.  It’s sort of the flip side of the phenomenon that after the war the entire population of France turned out to have been active in the Resistance (makes you wonder how they managed so effectively to round up and ship off their Jewish population . . . perhaps the Jews self-deported?).

[In that connection I’ll observe that when my father served in Army counterintelligence, stationed in Germany from 1964-65, he was alerted to listen very carefully to what the slightly older Germans, the ones who would be in their mid-40s by that point, got to saying when you’d poured enough beer down them.  Sure enough, it was even so.  Paul Fussell may have noticed a reluctance to speak — while sober and with an American present — about just exactly what one was doing during those twelve years from 1933 to 1945, but maybe that’s because he didn’t get drunk enough with enough Germans of the right ages and backgrounds.  The expression “the good old days” meant something very specific to Germans of a certain age range, and it was an expression they used not infrequently among themselves.]

The inability to find anyone who’d ever agreed with the Nazis, either as a philosophical proposition or just from the standpoint of practical politics — by which I mean taking over Europe and subjecting it to direct rule by or effective subordination to Germany — was nowhere more pronounced than among precisely those groups who had been the most effective at implementing the take-over.  The very senior officials of Nazi Germany were unredeemable, by and large.  Too many corpses about the place and all.  Too bad, that; for them the “good old days” would never come again.  Oh sure, there were exceptions — Field Marshal Erich von Manstein (who point-blank refused to join the anti-Hitler conspiracy with the statement that “Prussian field marshals do not mutiny”) comes to mind — who managed to pick back up their old Nazi careers under the federal German banner, but by and large they were, officially at least, tainted goods.  It was in the next level down, among the faceless bureaucracy, still pretty senior and able not only to implement policy but to have had a direct hand in formulating it, in steering the “right” — by which is meant the wrong — people to the right places, that post-war Germany presented a conundrum.  There were way too many of them for the networks of mutual support to keep up outside active employment; they had no skills other than being government bureaucrats; and they couldn’t all run to the welcoming arms of South America.

These were the people at the level of Adolf Eichmann.  His defense, if you recall, was that he was just a functionary implementing decisions his superiors had made, that he was bound to follow at peril literally of his life.  Except he wasn’t any such thing.  He was, in fact, the Holocaust’s johnny-on-the-spot for rounding up hundreds of thousands of Jews and shipping them off to be exterminated.  He was not just an executive but rather also a decision-maker.  And in the end he was convicted as such and danced at the end of a noose for it.

Eichmann’s central difficulty in defending himself may well have been his institutional affiliation.  He was SS, an organization which started out as Hitler’s personal bodyguard and by the end of the war had metastasized into nearly a state within the state.  Nowadays people associate the concept of “Auschwitz” with extermination.  What isn’t as well-known, at least not in the Anglosphere, is that the extermination camp was Auschwitz-Birkenau, or “Auschwitz II,” and that camp only came into its own as an industrialized killing facility towards 1943-44, by which time three-quarters of all the Jews who would die in the Holocaust had already been killed.  There was, however, more to Auschwitz than just Birkenau; there were extensive industrial facilities, owned and operated by the SS and manned with the inmates who had not been killed upon arrival.  The SS owned other industrial facilities all over Germany and the occupied territories.  By the end of the war the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), or the Reich Main Security Office, an SS sub-organization, had encompassed the SD, the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service), a secret police principally employed outside Germany in the East, and the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, or secret state police), which was the principal secret and political police within Germany and in the West.  Then there was the Waffen-SS, the separate army run by the SS, and numerous other unsavory organizations.  The SS managed to liquidate and absorb the competencies of the Abwehr, the military counterintelligence department (in April, 1945 they hanged its former head, Admiral Canaris, and his assistant, Hans Oster, the latter among the most committed and vociferous anti-Nazis; it was Oster who went to the Dutch embassy on the evening of May 9, 1940, and told them, “Tomorrow morning at 4:00.”)  The entire SS and all its works were damned by the Allies after the war as a criminal enterprise.  No one wanted to know anything about it, to have had anything to do with it, even to admit that it had once existed.

Other organizations did not have the public relations problems the SS did.  One agency in particular managed for decades to maintain the fiction that it not only had never willingly cooperated with Nazism but had been a hot-house of active opposition conspirators.  We refer to the Auswärtiges Amt, the Foreign Office.  Internally it referred (and still refers) to itself as “das Amt.”  Its politico-cultural antecedents were the old nobility of Prussia and the Empire.  Commoners, the recently-ennobled, and of course Jews needn’t apply, in those days.  The Prussian foreign service was the preserve of people like Otto von Bismarck, who while still a junior diplomat simply took off, without formal leave, for several months to pursue an affair with another man’s wife.  When someone back at home office observed he might as well get back to the job he was being paid to do, Bismarck huffed that he had no intent of giving an account of his domestic arrangements to anyone, and carried on as before.  He suffered no career repercussions.  In 1862 King Wilhelm I called him to Berlin to become minister-president of Prussia and steam-roll the Prussian Landtag on the issue of army appropriations.  It was the place where the “mediatized” nobility, who had lost their sovereign powers and territories in the Napoleonic invasions and the subsequent pan-European settlement of 1814 but who were still considered marriageable by the remaining sovereign houses, found a home if they absolutely had to earn some income.  Not a few of them could — and doubtless did — sniff with Bismarck that the Hohenzollerns were no more than a “Swabian family no better than mine.”

After the Great War — a war, by the way, which the Amt played no small part in bringing about with its combination of ham-fisted confrontationalism towards France and Britain (e.g. the Agadir incident in 1911) and its crawling subservience to Wilhelm II — it remained to a large extent what it had been.  It did, a tiny bit, open its ranks up to a few Jews and the classes who formerly would have become officers in the army or navy.  But as the major national institution which survived intact (Versailles annihilated the army and navy, flat prohibited an air force, confiscated most of the merchant marine, and laid crippling indemnities on the economy which had to be satisfied from the major industries) it was able to preserve to a large degree its internal culture.

Then came 1933.  If you buy the official line from the post-1949 Amt, for the next twelve years its officials and functionaries seldom let a chance go by to pour sand in the gears, shove wrenches in the spokes, and generally gum up the works of the Nazi enterprise.  This was when they weren’t outright conspiring to bring down that horrid regime.  And so forth.  In truth there were senior members of the Amt who actively joined the opposition, or who publicly opposed the regime in the years after it seized power.  The latter group were mostly forced out well before the war started.  Of the former group, after the July 20 Plot failed most of them were executed. Hans Bernd Gisevius went into hiding in Switzerland and survived.  Ulrich von Hassell (irony alert:  Admiral Tirpitz’s son-in-law), who had been ambassador to Italy, didn’t.  Hans Bernd von Haeften was among the first group hanged at Plötzensee in August, 1944.  Friedrich Warner Graf von der Schulenberg had been ambassador to the Soviet Union; he too was executed.

Diplomats are schooled in sniffing out tiny hand-holds on sheer cliffs.  It’s their stock-in-trade, really.  Does Country X really demand thus-and-such, or might it be willing to accept so-and-so with a hint of this-and-that, which is pretty damned close to such-and-such but not quite, or not quite yet.  Sure enough, the (former and soon-to-be once-again) diplomats of the Wilhelmstraße realized that with so many of their actual anti-Nazis dead, there was no one to deny their own affiliation with the dead heroes.  And the myth of the Amt’s nobility and purity was born.

I say “myth” because you see, the Amt was in it up its well-bred shoulders.  Their senior officials voluntarily joined the party and its organizations in droves, even beyond the extent of politely obtaining a party card.  In the occupied countries they actively collaborated with the SD, the Gestapo, the SS, the Arbeitsfront (the slave-labor outfit headed by Robert Ley, who killed himself before he could be tried at Nuremberg; we got Fritz Sauckel, though, Goering’s field agent in the four-year plan program and the Nazis’ chief slaver in occupied Europe), and the entire rest of the Nazi machinery of death and oppression.  In fact, in several countries it was the Amt who took the lead in locating Jews and other candidates for deportation and who made suggestions to the SS/SD/Gestapo about how better to implement the Final Solution and the rest of the program of oppression.

How is this now known, what was for decades successfully hidden?  Because the German government a number of years ago commissioned a study to tell the actual, full story.  Granted, it was long after anyone personally implicated was available to have his pension revoked or — heaven forfend! — go to prison, but at least it was set as its task the puncturing of the thick web of lies.  And it did exactly that, publishing in 2004 an enormous door-stop of a book:  Das Amt und die Vergangenheit: Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik (The Office and the Past: German Diplomats in the Third Reich and the Federal Republic ), a copy of which I picked up in 2011.  They actually sat down and paged through the archives, finding who joined the party under what circumstances and when; who was pressed into early retirement when he wouldn’t join; who joined not only the party but specific party organizations . . . like the SS, for example; who was responsible for making precisely which decisions about specific actions and policies, who communicated with whom about what and when.

And most importantly, the book lays out in sordid detail who was involved after the war in the wholesale production of what became known as “Persilscheine,” or “Persil certificates.”  That’s what they called the official certifications of non-culpability that were the magic ticket to getting back on the government payroll, specifically in the new Auswärtiges Amt of the Federal Republic of Germany beginning in 1949.  Very briefly summarized, what happened was that the old Amt officials attested to each other’s anti-Nazi bona fides; the anchor points were tied to the now-dead, and therefore unable to contradict, actual anti-Nazis.  It was a mutual-exoneration society, in short.

At the center of it was Ernst von Weizsäcker, who’d joined the Weimar Auswärtiges Amt in 1920, after serving in the Kaiserliche Marine during the war (he’d been Admiral Scheer’s flag lieutenant at Jutland in 1916).  He became a bureaucrat’s bureaucrat, deeply embedded in the power structure of the Amt instead of out in the field for most of his career.  He was the go-to guy who made or broke careers by steering friends and stifling opponents.  And at various times he was also involved in the Amt’s policy-making process.  In short, he had pretty much full knowledge of what was going on in occupied Europe, and why, and what was happening to the victims.  And he sat at his desk for most of the war, working the levers, willingly in service to the regime.  There’s no credible indication at all that he was anything other than a willing servant of Hitler’s, although he from time to time did disagree on things like whether liquidating Czechoslovakia just in 1938 was a good idea . . . or whether they maybe ought to wait a bit before liquidating it . . . so as to be better able to fend off Britain and France while feeding on the corpse of Czechoslovakian independence.

We hanged his ultimate boss, Ribbentropp, at Nuremberg.  Ol’ Joachim was an outsider, though, a “Quereinsteiger,” whose first job in the Amt was as foreign minister.  He brought a bunch of his people with him, and they were of course thoroughly resented by the lifers (such as Weizsäcker).  When it came time to try the functionaries at what became known as the Ministries Trial, Weizsäcker was the lead defendant.  That trial was the next-to-last trial of the major Nazi war criminals, and by that point the resources, time, and patience of the prosecuting powers was nearing its end.  The lead prosecutor, Telford Taylor (who’d been chief assistant to Robert Jackson at the first, big International Military Tribunal trial at Nuremberg), had seen his case slowly sift through his fingers as he progressively lost the behind-the-scenes administrative battles to bring the full weight of the evidence to bear on the defendants.  By the time the trials started in January, 1948 he was down to a passel of figure-head defendants, including Weizsäcker.  He convicted almost all of them, but in the case of ol’ Ernst, the conviction was the object of an almost immediate and highly coordinated public relations campaign, which in 1950 succeeded.  He’d been sentenced to seven years in 1949 (inclusive of time served; he’d been arrested on his return from the Vatican, where he’d been ambassador since 1943, only in 1946); that was reduced to five years in 1950, and that same year they let him out.  He died the next year.

A key player in coordinating the exoneration efforts from the outside was his son, Richard von Weizsäcker, who in 1948 had been a law student and an active member of his defense team.  When daddy was convicted he became a central point of organization for the effort to have his father’s conviction set aside, either legally or effectively in fact (as the latter indeed happened).  Doing so also necessarily closely involved Richard in white-washing the war-time deeds of other Amt insiders, because of course their testimony in support of his father was only as useful as their own purity.  All of which is to say that Richard von Weizsäcker was as closely involved as was possible in sweeping under the rug the institutional guilt, the willing collaboration, of his father’s ministry in the butchery that was Nazi Germany abroad.

Over the rest of the 1950s the new Amt absorbed more and more of its former officials, each one holding (proudly? we can hope not) his Persilschein, attesting that he was untainted by his past.  Towards the 1970s and early 1980s these people began to retire, and almost without exception they receded into the twilight accompanied by fulsome official praise, and with full and generous state pensions.

And Richard von Weizsäcker?  Dutiful son, defender of his Nazi father, fetched up as Bundespräsident in 1984, an office he kept until 1994.  In Germany the Bundespräsident is the official head of state; the Kanzler is merely the head of government.  He is chosen by the Bundestag, and occupies a public position that is theoretically supposed to be above politics.  He is, to the extent a nation can be said to have a political conscience, supposedly the conscience of the country.  If there are unpalatable truths to be spoken, it is expected that the Bundespräsident will speak them.  Richard was Bundespräsident while I was spending my second junior year in Germany in the mid-1980s, and he was viewed, both then and later, as something of a secular saint.

He died last week, and yesterday Germany said good-bye to him in a state funeral.  At the risk of understatement, the parade of speakers somehow failed to mention his efforts in the concealment of war crimes, and the critical nature of his efforts in ensuring that war criminals and collaborators in war crimes not only were not punished, but returned to power in the same roles they had filled during the war.  Specifically mentioned was his address to the nation on May 8, 1985, the 40th anniversary of the surrender; he characterized that as a “day of liberation,” by which of course he meant that it was a liberation for Germany as well.  Which is true enough, but one has to ponder how much credit a prisoner is entitled to who viciously fights, to the death, those who would strike the fetters from his arms and legs.  His Christian faith was also praised as a center-point for his effectiveness as a politician and human (he served from 1964-7, and then again from 1979-81 as president of the Lutheran Council in Germany).  I’m sure he was a good Christian boy, as we say around here.

He also was a key figure in the white-washing of an entire institution’s active participation in the crimes against humanity of the regime his father so diligently served.  And in ensuring that the men on whose skirts, if not on whose hands, the blood of millions glared in bright red walked freely the halls of power in the reconstituted Germany.

For those who will never read Das Amt und die Vergangenheit (it’s not available in translation, more’s the pity), I guess that Richard von Weizsäcker is once and forevermore Rinso-white.

Bucket List Item

This past weekend I found myself in Paoli, Indiana, with nothing much to do.  I’d been roped into a large outing to Paoli Peaks, the ski slopes just outside town (yes, you can ski in southern Indiana, believe it or not; the slope is down what appears to be an enormous glacial moraine), but was able to escape being expected to hang out with everyone and his cousin.

I’d had the foresight to check ahead of time and found that Springs Valley High School was having a boys’ home varsity basketball game that evening.

Springs Valley High was organized in the late 1950s as a consolidation of three even tinier high schools.  By a good margin its most famous alumnus is a feller y’all might have heard tell about:  Larry Bird.

I was in junior high school the year that Larry Bird took Indiana State to the NCAA final.  He wasn’t much to look at, but boy he could play the game.  He was a hero to every awkward-looking, slow, skinny, small-town white kid in the country.  And not only could he play the game like few before or since, but he was just a classy guy.  In a world of flash and bang and strut and mouthing off, he satisfied himself with quietly making it rain buckets and passing the ball like a magician.  I don’t recall ever hearing a single instance of his having behaved — either on the court or off — with anything other than dignity, integrity, and a recollection of where he came from.  As successful as he’s been, and few who’ve played the game have ever been more so, he’s never got above his raisin’, as we say around here.

In any event, it’s long been a bucket-list item to go to a game at Larry Bird’s home gymnasium.  It’s still the original gym from when the school was built.  According to the fire marshal’s sign it seats 2,700.  The seating is arranged around all four sides of the court, which I’ve not seen in a high school before.  There aren’t all that many rows, either, maybe ten or fifteen, so it produces a very intimate feel; you’re not that far above floor-level even at the very back.  The walls are covered in team photos, mostly of teams which went various distances in the state tournament (Larry’s 1974 team won their sectional tournament . . . anyone want to bet that the guys who eventually beat that team still remember the night they took one off Larry Bird?).  As you would expect, there’s a very large picture of Larry right over the main entrance, in his Springs Valley jersey.

The crowd wasn’t either all that huge or all that raucous.  It was full, of course, but I’d half expected standing room only for Indiana basketball (I have a copy of Where the Game Matters Most, the story of Indiana’s last — in 1996-97 — single-class state basketball season, and I remember the pictures of entire towns driving to away games).  It was remarkably quiet, though, well-mannered; even around here, where basketball ain’t the religion it is in small-town Indiana, the crowd at schools no bigger than Springs Valley is something reminiscent of the night Bryan gave his Cross of Gold speech.  But these folks were there to watch some ball, visit with the neighbors, and generally enjoy an evening of remarkably clement weather for early February.

I’m no aficionado of basketball, and I not infrequently have to have a friend of mine who is (and to whom I gave my ticket stub yesterday; he and I shot many a basket back in the day, and Larry Bird was there for every one of them) explain the finer points of the game to me.  But I could, and did, pick up on a few things.  For starts, both teams were much more reluctant to fire off the 3-pointer than around here.  This was even though several were scored; in fact, although I don’t have the game stats in front of me, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that both teams shot better than 50% from the 3-point lines.  I also noticed that the shooters seemed to put a lot more wrist action on the ball when they shot, and put a higher trajectory on it, than what I’m used to seeing.  Both teams also seemed very generous with the ball, in that four- and five-pass possessions weren’t at all unusual.

Inside the game was mismatched.  The visitors had a center — No. 45 he was — who took up sea room like a Nimitz-class carrier.  Springs Valley couldn’t shoot over him, they couldn’t rebound over him, they couldn’t block his shots, and they didn’t seem to be able to maneuver around him underneath the basket.  When he was in the game it was an entirely different game.  That notwithstanding, the game was only 21:19 at the half.  Beginning in the third period the visitors started to pull away.  Springs Valley kept trying to take it down inside and they kept getting stymied, with blocked shots, missed passes, or shooters who lost the ball on the way up.  At one point they were down by 15; at the end (and no small thanks to two consecutive 3-pointers late) they lost by 9.

Was it some sort of quasi-religious experience?  Of course not.  It was just an enjoyable evening of high school basketball in front of a crowd that really likes its basketball, and to whom high school basketball is important, and in a room which has known the tread of greatness.  I’m glad I went.

Go Blackhawks!

Not a Bug, Rather a Feature

The monstrosity commonly referred to as Dodd-Frank was the parting gift to the enormous financial institutions of America — we can call them “Big Money,” just like there’s “Big Oil” and “Big Data” — from two of the least savory characters in recent Congressional history.  I’ll remind Gentle Reader that the competition along that scale is ferocious.

Specifically Barney Frank of Massachusetts — who claimed not to know his lover-boy was running a homosexual prostitution ring out of his apartment — and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, better known as a “Friend of Angelo” — who took a large below-market mortgage from Countrywide Home Loans at the same time that company was in the process of becoming the largest single purveyor of the toxic loans which later tanked the entire U.S. economy — gave to their patrons in Big Money the statute which bears their names.

Among its many objectionable features are many which do either or both of two things, namely vastly increase the cost of doing business to banks, or alternatively require banks to engage in what is essentially bad business.  Just as an example of the latter, you cannot even send a notice of your intent to foreclose (let along actually start the foreclosure process) a residential mortgage until the borrower has been in continuous default for 120 days.  I’ve studied the hell out of the statute and the regulations in question, and there’s no definition of “default.”  But the Consumer Financial Protection Board’s policy is that “default” applies only to failure to pay principal or interest on the actual loan.  If you’ve ever read through your own home loan or security documents, you’ll realize you as the borrower have many more obligations than just that.  Like maintaining the property, or paying the real property taxes on it, or keeping it insured, or (for VA, FHA, and similar loans) occupying it as your principal place of residence.  All of those obligations have very specific purposes, and are not just cooked up from thin air to oppress Joe Home Owner.  Thanks to the CFPB, though, a bank now has to watch its borrower let the insurance on its collateral lapse, let the taxes go delinquent, and see the windows broken out, and its only option is to pay itself to protect its collateral.

So what Dodd-Frank has done in that specific instance boils down to requiring banks to give their borrowers four months of free principal and interest payments, as well as provide them insurance coverage, and pay their taxes.

And so forth.  At any rate, as Todd Zywicki reports in The Washington Post, the entirely predictable effects of Dodd-Frank are now becoming measurable.  Here’s a link to the article he’s referring to.  When you artificially increase the costs of doing business across an entire industry, the smaller players in the industry have a harder time accommodating those increased costs, especially if the extent of the increase is not scaled to the size of the particular business.  Regulatory compliance is among the classic examples of how this happens, and it is also the classic example of large industry players using government to squeeze out their smaller competitors.

In short, Dodd-Frank was no accident.  A motivation for its provisions was certainly the Robin Hood desire to steal from “the rich” and give to “the poor,” as if you, from the perspective of Washington, can have any realistic notion of telling who is which.  But another motivation was the desire of the two principal authors to bestow a gift on their patrons in Big Money.  How seriously did Big Money take the threat of community banking?  Well, over the 15 or so years preceding its enactment, our tiny little semi-rural county saw three community bank more or less run out of town several large regional banks.  How could this be?  Because the community banks knew their customers, knew whose family paid its bills, knew where the business growth was, which local businessmen knew their stuff and had a track record of making things work.  And they could make their decisions locally, instead of having every penny-ante home improvement loan be referred for approval to Charlotte, North Carolina, or Jacksonville, Florida, or somewhere else hundreds of miles and a universe of economy away.  In short, the community banks could leverage their superior knowledge in order to survive.  Now, those same community banks have to comply with the same regulations that CitiGroup and Chase and Bank of America.  Anyone want to speculate on who’s better able to absorb those costs?

Is community banking dying in the United States?  It could be.  Will that be a boon to local borrowers?  For some, perhaps.  But for many, many others, the borrowers whom Big Money is leery of, precisely because Big Money cannot know its customers as well as the community banks once did?  They’ll simply be frozen out of the credit market.  Which means that homes will not be built, businesses will not be started or expanded, jobs will not be created.  Someone explain to me how this is a good thing for the country overall.