Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Berlin and Nuremberg: Museums For A Ghostly Past

I've written the past few tourism blogs in a thematic manner overlooking the chronology of when I visited those places. Also I've not delved into the anecdotes of what I 'experienced' as a traveler in those cities about food, commute, people etc. I'll get to the tourist aspect in the coming days.

Subsequent post-war generations of Germany have confronted their parents with the question of "how did Nazism happen", "how did we allow holocaust to happen" etc. Ever since the unification Germany and Germans have taken it upon themselves to answer all that forthrightly. This is also possible only after the unification for several reasons. The historical sites in Berlin are now accessible giving an authenticity that was not possible earlier for a museum constructed anywhere. For instance the museum 'Topography of Terror' which details the repressive Gestapo regime during the Nazi era stands in Berlin in the same spot where Gestapo headquarters used to be. The Berlin Wall used to pass right next to it hence after the fall of the wall it is now possible for the museum to exist. Another reason is now Germany tries to view the Soviet repression and Nazi era in a connected manner of how they mutilated the soul of Germany.

Several erstwhile Nazi places that are now museums in Germany are often referred to as 'Documentation Center'. The 'Topography of Terror Museum'  constructs in artistic and painfully detailed manner the emergence of a repressive thuggish state apparatus. Running along the remnants of Berlin Wall is a series of very nice display of glass panels that are hung from steel frames detailing in chronological manner aspects of the rise of Nazism (check the picture at the right of this page Every Siemens factory that utilized slave labor is mapped out. An artistic display tells us by using pull-outs on a calendar how holidays were declared based on Nazi festivals. Unflinching accounting of how many Nazis managed into slip into civilian life and even become judges in West Berlin is recounted in full. USSR wanted to embarrass West Germany and released a list of judges who were known to have been Nazis. While some of who lost property under Nazis some like condom manufacturer Julius Fromm, a Jew, were branded as 'Jewish proprietor of the capitalist kind' and refused restitution. Nazism which gifted the word 'Goebbelsian propaganda' was all about propaganda. A poster depicting a muscular healthy man carrying on his shoulders 'hereditary sick people' informed school students of the 'cost' of such an effort.

The inside of the museum is breathtaking. The colors are not too bright in the room, the expansive hallwith chronologically arranged labrynthine looking hanging displays with surrounding glass walls conveys a surreal feeling of openness in discussing a shameful chapter of German history (see the pics in the link ).

Himmler talking of extermination, interrogation records of Jews stamped with 'J', transport lists, pictures of Jews having their beards snipped by smiling Nazis, details of camps and so much more is laid out for anyone wishing to study and learn. I'd say come to this museum not just to learn of Nazism or of how Jews were persecuted. Come to this museum to learn how hatred manifests human soul. Come here to learn what a set of human beings man did to their fellow human beings. Victims and perpetrators may change but the theme is sickeningly continuous. 

The holocaust museum in Berlin is situated, intentionally, I was told, right next to the notorious Fuhrer bunker were Hitler committed suicide. This museum is uniquely constructed with large cement blocks with grid like cobbled stone pathway that rises and falls in an undulating manner. The museum architecture evokes a sombre dark mood albeit not too depressing. The use of steel and glass is deftly combined to give a sense of openness and grimness. A room details stories of families, again with very well researched documents to trace the families path through holocaust. The room itself is imposing with mammoth cement blocks hanging from the roof inlaid with backlit glass panels of photos and documents.

The Fuhrer bunker was razed to the ground and filled up with mud by invading Red army in order to prevent any future 'shrine'. Today the place is a car park. This bunker was identified only recently. Sadly I saw some hooligan had scribbled 'holocaust ist luge' in a cycle stand nearby (and hence opposite to the holocaust museum). I jotted it down and used google to translate, it read 'holocaust is a lie'.

Nuremberg is an hour away from Munich by train. This city was the cradle of Nazism. There are no good English speaking hop on hop off tours. I just went to the 'documentation center' which is next to the large grounds where Nazi rallies took place. The taxi driver who dropped me said "look at that steel arrow like structure piercing the colosseum style building. This colosseum was left unfinished by the Nazis and the arrow like structure is there to signify an arrow into the heart of Nazism". Here we learn how Nazis used mega rallies as a method to project power and popularity. A room had displays of front pages from world newspapers that spoke of the rise of Hitler. It is sad to note how much the world knew and indeed feared Nazism and yet allowed it all to happen until an unspeakable price in human lives was paid to undo it. 

Nuremberg is not just any city. It was the center of German culture. It is here that Nazism took its shape and it is from the notorious Nuremberg rallies, so often pictured in Hollywood movies of that era, that Hitler mesmerized a nation and plunged it into untold misery. I could not visit the famous Albrecht Durer home. 

Coming a full circle Nazism faced the long arm of justice in Nuremberg. It was in Nuremberg the famous trials that convicted and executed many top Nazis took places. Those trials form the basis of today's war crimes trials. Ironically USSR which killed thousand of Polish officers in Katyn sat as part of the judges. During the trials none of the Nazis could even say a word of the conduct of Red Army which could easily be accused of war crimes that are only less severe in relation to what the Nazis did. Red army plundered and raped German villages. Allies punished Germany by obliterating most of the nation in punitive bombing raids. Dresden was flattened. The British who had their boot on India's throat and the French who plundered North Africa too were the judges.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Berlin: City Of Museums

A German colleague once told me that I'd need ten days to tour Berlin's museum. He was right. The country which had the birth of printing press, the Reformation movement, cradle of Western Classical music, more Nobel laureates than US and UK combined until 1931, country of Goethe, Schilling and Nietzsche, Nazism, Communism, Holocaust has museums for all and it would very well take ten days to satiate a curious mind.

On the day I arrived in Berlin I trekked to Checkpoint Charlie which was 15 minute walk from the Marriott I stayed in. Only when I stood there in a street could I envisage what a brutal gash through a city the Berlin Wall was. Imagine any city you grew up in and then imagine a wall bisecting it abruptly in the middle. A private museum displays all artifacts from that era including a sub-compact car in which a fully grown adult would stuff himself/herself in the trunk to escape from East Berlin. Before I went to Berlin I browsed through Tina Rosenberg's , Pulitzer and National Book Award winner, 'Haunted Lands'. Rosenberg details the devastation of Eastern Europe by USSR. She details how unified Germany is now prosecuting erstwhile soldiers of East Germany who would shoot at fleeing East Berliners.

The Berlin Wall museum details how Peter Fechter was shot on 17th Aug 1962 by East Berlin soldiers when Fechter attempted a futile escape. The US soldiers on West Berlin stood helpless and watched Fechter bleed to death. The soldiers who shot Fechter were prosecuted in the 90's. Note that it is a contentious prosecution because the soldiers did what was legal in that country at that time.

That architecture plays an integral role to a building and particularly to a museum as thematic as Jewish museum was evident when I went to the Daniel Libeskind designed Jewish Museum in Berlin. Given the shadow of a grotesque tragedy it is natural that the architect tries to evoke a poignant gloom but balance is maintained such that the tragic sense is not overwhelming making the visitor run out in despair. The museum has geometrical alleys and narrow rectangular slices for windows with a cement pathway all intended to evoke a concentration camp feeling. A holocaust tower which has large iron doors and absolute darkness transports the visitor to a grim era.

The genius of Jewish Museum's curator is in ensuring that the museum is not only a tribute to an unspeakable tragedy but in also ensuring that a visitor gets an idea that Jews in Germany lived a culturally rich life contributing to the rich tapestry of the country. That the German Jewish community was an intellectually vibrant community and every inch German citizens is clearly brought out by unique exhibits like the glass mannequins that represent German Jews who fought on behalf of Germany in World War I.

The museum traces artfully the history of persecution of Jews in the centuries before holocaust across Christian Europe. 'Salomon bar Simson', a narrative Hebrew history, recounts the persecution of jews in Germany during the first Crusade 1096 AD. Details of how jews were stereotyped and prohibited from various professions are vivid to learn how hatred seeps into minds. Many Jews would change their last names such as 'Cohn' to 'Coen' to escape persecution. Amongst the many geniuses celebrated was Karl Marx too. Marx was of jewish lineage but his father had converted to Christianity. Marx himself wrote very harshly of Jews that he was accused of anti-semitism.

The most interestingly curious display was a collection of 'detective reports'. A prospective groom was investigated in detail by a detective from the bride's side. The notes include whether the groom had a good job, his salary and even about his mother. This museum is a must visit for any one desirous of learning Jewish cultural contribution to Germany and the world in general.

The DDR museum showcases life in East German days. Every house needed to maintain a 'house book' to record guests staying over 3 days. In libraries supposedly subversive works would be kept separately and labeled 'Poison of thought'. One needed a 'poison pass' to read any of those books. School children practiced throwing grenades and girls had to undergo 'Lehre' or compulsory apprenticeship. Oh by the way East Germans hated abortion more than today's GOP in USA, there was only one 'no' vote against a March 1972 law regulating abortion. Communist economy fixed a professional Engineer's salary at 1470 Marks (1988) and a Bricklayer's salary at 1370 Marks (1988). A chemist earned 1300DM whereas a mineworker earned 1444DM (1988).

The German history museum is breathtaking in scope and could very well take one full day by itself. Indians always haughtily talk of what they 'taught' the world. One exhibit in this museum spoke of what Germans 'learned' from technologically advanced Orient. The city of Augsburg in 1526 regulated aid for poor ensuring they are not dependent on charity by the church. Interesting exhibits on Luther and Reformation impress the vast scope of how the world was changed. Modern day unions have their roots in professional guilds that were established centuries ago for the same purposes. The guilds regulated who practiced a profession in order to stifle competition. Workers guilds practiced pretty much what todays trade unions do.

One very little known museum is the 'Medical History Museum' named after the father of Pathology 'Rudolph Virchow'. This museum has very little exhibits that have an English note. Students of medicine can benefit from a visit. Here too the German's unflinchingly face up to the the dark chapter of medical experimentation in the Nazi era. Twisted beliefs in Darwinism and eugenics led doctors to kill disabled and the mentally challenged in addition to evil experiments on children in Auschwitz and elsewhere.

I'll cover Hitler's last bunker, Holocaust museum and Topography of terror in my next post for the sake of readability.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Leipzig: Music, Repression and Rebellion

I'd like to take a detour from the grim topic of holocaust to an interesting visit that could be called a quintessential German city that reflected Germany's genius and its travails under Stalin's jackboot. Leipzig is little over an hour away from Berlin by train. This city is where Bach, Wagner and Mendelssohn lived and worked. Goethe studied in Leipzig. Leibniz discovered calculus there. It is in Leipzig that the Stasi, the East German Secret Police, unleashed a regime of terror leaving behind 180,000 kilometers of documents. The grass roots movement that finally brought down the Berlin Wall came to a boil in Leipzig.

The recurrent theme of Germany seems to document and face up to its past ghosts whether they be of its own creation like Nazism or imposed from without like Communism. Though Berlin has a STASI museum too it is the Leipzig museum that's more famous.

If we think Orwell predicted the repressive nature of communism we are wrong. Orwell did not even scratch the surface. Here is East Germany the state controlled every aspect of a citizen's life. A spouse or boyfriend could very well be an informer. Children were encouraged to tell on their parents. Here in this museum one comes face to face with an array of exhibits that were the tools of Big Brother. Most exhibits do not have English descriptions but the handheld audio guide comes handy.

The movie 'Lives of others' depicts the STASI vividly. A STASI interrogator would describe the art of interrogation. The suspect is made to sit on a chair upon an yellow cloth and questioned for hours together. After completion of questioning the yellow cloth, suffused with the suspect's body odor, would be sealed in a glass container and indexed clearly. When a subversive pamphlet turns up a police dog sniffs that paper. Depending on where the paper was apprehended bottles of yellow cloth collected from suspects in that area would be given to the dog to sniff and match a cloth. Here at the museum I saw such original glass containers with yellow cloth. At the GDR Museum in Berlin I saw notebooks that East German households had to maintain to register guests staying for more than 3 days.

The taping system was pretty extensive and thousands of phones were bugged. The tapes, the transcription system, vaults for safekeeping of tapes were all on display. The Stasi had elaborate equipment for breaking into houses that included counterfeit machines to duplicate eye, bugs, portable copiers to copy incriminating documents, polaroid cameras. As the movie 'Lives of others' depicts how mail was opened and read the steaming equipment used to steam and open envelopes was show cased here. Just 2 weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall a Stasi official wrote on Oct 31st 1989 to monitor a suspect.

After nearly 2 hours of a depressing peek into the nature of communism I then headed for Johann Sebastian Bach's museum next to St.Thomas church (Thomas Kirche).

Bach symbolizes the Baroque era of western classical music. He lived in Leipzig between 1723-50 where he taught at the Thomasschule, St.Thomas church. The museum is a gem for music lovers. The visitor starts of by getting acquainted with the Bach family tree of musicians stretching back into the 16th century. Music is played softly over the display and as each piece plays the respective composer on the genealogy tree is highlighted. Another room has a map on the floor with markings of what Bach composed in each location. Stunning. A virtual orchestra helps us understand orchestration in Bach's period. An instruction manual for the boys in the dorm tells them not to urinate from windows. At a suitably lit room original scoring sheets by Bach are displayed. Bach was contracted to compose for weekly church services. No church in history ever had in its employ such a prolific composer whose music spoke across ages. What is a Bach museum without a piano? We see how Bach enjoyed learning and playing different instruments. The cafe adjacent to the museum served delicious thin pancake layered with warm crisp thinly sliced apples dusted with nice sweet sugar.

From Bach's home I headed towards Mendelssohn's home. Mendelssohn's 'wedding march' is the most played bridal march. A map tells us of Mendelssohn's travels hither and thither in Germany and even to Edinburgh. In an earlier blog I had wondered about the impact of traveling wide and imbibing wider learning on Bach's music compared to the provincial life led by Thyagaraja, the patron saint of carnatic music.

Architecture is a key aspect of museums in Germany. The museum for East German life is dark and evokes the repressive nature of that era. Unfortunately not a single exhibit had English descriptions.

Recently Wall Street Journal had an article that said the fall of Berlin Wall could possibly be due to a miscommunication amongst the police and rulers. Many who are unfamiliar with the communist history think that some strange catalytic event crystallized in the fall of the evil empire. No. Not at all. Come to Leipzig to understand how a people's movement brought a regime to its fall.

Leipzig city of Bach, Wagner and Goethe was enslaved for four decades. I wondered how could a people with such intellectual history be enslaved. How long could any machinery, even the one as brutally repressive as the communist machinery was, hold down a people? In US we often read about Reagan and Pope John Paul II combined forces to combat the Red terror. In Leipzig I learned of how the church played a central role in anti-communist protests.

St.Nikolai church in Leipzig was the womb of many protests including the string of protests starting in the fall of 1989. Tens of thousands milled around the church and challenged the might of the Soviet empire.

Just before I decided to head to the train station for return I figured out that mathematician Liebniz is honored with a statue at the University of Leipzig. Leibniz invented Calculus but was cheated from being recognized by Isaac Newton. Newton also had invented the calculus but as head of Royal Society Newton indulged in pettiness to rob Leibniz of due credit. Today historians recognize both as having independently inventing calculus and changing how we live for centuries to come. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jeyamohan and Holocaust: The poisonous edge of skepticism

I just returned from a history tour in Germany centered mostly around Third Reich and Holocaust. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dachau concentration camps along with visits to Berlin's fabled Jewish history museum and holocaust museum. As an avid reader of Jewish history and holocaust a tour like this was long desired. Did I learn anything new beyond what I know through reading books by survivors and historians?

Crematorium Ovens at Dachau, Near Munich in Germany

Contemporary Tamil fiction writer Jeyamohan visited USA in 2009 and toured Boston for a day. He happened to visit a small holocaust memorial in Boston and in his role as public intellectual he sought to raise some questions. The 'proof' for holocaust appears to be based more on hearsay and memoirs of victims and we do not know if they were subject to historical analysis. Holocaust deniers like David Irving have not been answered decisively. Is American government promoting talk of holocaust in order to not discuss America's own nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Jeyamohan is not an anti-semite though these questions have been all posed by deeply anti-semitic haters. I'll assume he was posing as a skeptic seeking to appear as an intellectual who is disapassionately questioning deeply held ideas. I'll seek to answer Jeyamohan's question only because they give a framework.

We all think we know holocaust simply because we watched 'Schindler's List' or 'The Reader' or 'The Pianist'. A few discerning readers might add Elie Wiesel's book 'Night' or even fewer might refer Primo Levi's 'Survival in Auschwitz'. Some may have watched one or two documentaries even. All of those give only a glimpse into a horror that remains, fortunately, unparalleled in human history. Of course some also ask 'why is holocaust unique? should the word 'holocaust' be used only to refer to those killed Jews?'.

Author of the book 'German genius' points to a historical anomaly with regard to holocaust. Every historical event is usually much talked about in the immediately succeeding years and slowly fades from memory. Holocaust on the other hand was talked very little in the immediate years after the end of the war but has seen a phenomenal amount of talk in recent decades. This is an inversion of historical process. There are several reasons for this.

In the immediate years after the end of the war the world, particularly the two emergent super powers, were more intent on carving up Germany and Eastern Europe and locking themselves in a deadly ideological battle. While the Nuremberg trials progressed and several Nazi leaders were executed as punishment for war crimes many more escaped and resettled in African or Latin American countries. A vast majority of the Nazi death camps, especially the ones in Poland like Auschwitz-Birkenau etc, fell behind the iron curtain.

USSR was more keen on talking about how communists were killed by Hitler and downplaying the rest of the victims, most notably the jews. USSR, after all, was a deeply anti-semitic country that donated to the world the word 'pogrom'.

What of Israel itself? A nation for the jews did not come about for another 3 years until 1948. In those days the Jewish community did not have the time to sit and mourn its losses but had to lobby for a nation. The UN vote only promised a nation to Israel alongside Palestine. Nobody, not even the US, guaranteed a secure Israel let alone any means to survive. The grand Mufti of Jerusalem declared 'we will push you into the red sea'. Armies from Jordan, Syria and Egypt raced towards Israel to snuff it out at its very birth. In this context Israel itself hesitated to talk of holocaust and the millions  of Jews killed only because they were afraid that it would be seen as a sign of weakness and a lack of man power. Accepting that nearly 2/3rd of entire Jewish population perished without any resistance was too apalling to even accept in the face of an onslaught.

Further complications arose from talking about a little known aspect of holocaust that is not talked about much even today. The Jewish councils in the ghettos that were in charge of selecting people for trains to Auschwitz and the 'sonderkommandos' that worked in gas chambers cleaning out the dead were only barely mentioned and that too as 'collaborators'. Today they are looked at as much a victim as those who died. Memoirs by sonderkommandos detail what emotional scars such duties leave. Those memoirs, Mr Jeyamohan, are not vacuous exaggerated tales but cries of tormented hearts that have lived through an inhuman tragedy that words cannot capture.

We think seeing Amon Goeth in 'Schindler's List' shoot people at random in the midst of having sex somehow captures the horror. No. He was more evil. He was more deliberate. A documentary details the meeting of a girl who worked at Goeth's home with Goeth's own daughter in Plaszow, Poland where Goeth ran the camp. Death was not a random careless accident. It was deliberate and it stalked every inmate. Some critics have demurred that Spielberg simplified the horror by depicting Goeth as an impulsive, careless murderer.

There are parts of holocaust that Hollywood would not even dare to touch. The medical experiments on children and women by Dr Joseph Mengele are too horrendous to even recount. I visited the Medical history Museum in Berlin. There they have recounted unflinchingly how the medical community sold its soul to the devil. At Dachau there is a photo that depicts the 'high altitude experiment'. In order to find out the odds of a survival of a Luftwaffe pilot who ejects from his aircraft at high altitudes a prisoner was sent into a pressurized room and, with doctors observing, the pressure was lowered to the point where the prisoner died in front of their eyes. The photo was amongst the thousands taken by the SS themselves. Experiments were conducted to see how TB spread in human body, how human body reacted to extreme cold, lamp shades were made of human skin, twin children were killed for eugenics study.

Jeyamohan wonders if such tales were scrutinized by historians. Every museum in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany and in Auschwitz functions under the highest standards. Jews know very well that even at the slightest whiff of exaggeration there are heartless people waiting to white wash the entire horror. The letters displayed, the admission cards at Auschwitz, the train tickets, invoices for poison gas Zyklon B, remnants of gas chambers, intact crematoriums, mobile gassing vans, the death registers, population census of jews before and after the war in each neighborhood all tell a grim story.

A recent documentary by BBC tells the story of 'Kindertrains'. Jewish children were sent by the hundreds from France to Britain to escape oncoming horror. A book based on that documentary is not a he-says-she-says type but a heart rending historical document. A million jewish children died in the holocaust.

Evil holocaust deniers like David Irving have played mischief with conspiracies like 'where is Hitler's order for Final solution?'. While some were implied some orders were not. At the 'Topography of terror' museum, erected at the very spot in Berlin where the Gestapo headquarters once stood, an audio recording of the chilling words of Himmler calling for extermination is available for willing ears to listen. To cite Irving as source for intellectual skepticism is a shame. It only shows the danger of what happens when Jeyamohan wades into territories beyond his expertise. Irving's book on World War II does not even have entry for 'holocaust' in the index instead it only has an entry "Jewish Problem".

Rudolph Hoss, commandant of Auschwitz, has written his own memoirs titled 'Commandant'. If Jeyamohan thinks tales by survivors are just tales let him read that. A doctor who aided Mengele has written "Eye witness at Auschwitz". The doctor details in graphic manner of how he once saved a small girl who happened to survive inside a gas chamber. Hoss details how mothers, fully aware of what was coming, used to play with children before stepping into gas chambers. What else can they do?

Photos by the thousands are in archives. Every photo displayed in museums is credentialed and authenticated. At the 'Topography of terror' museum I was astounded to see a photograph picked for a unique depiction. Amongst hundreds of people giving the Hitler salute just one man would stand defiantly with folded arms. The museum had a note that the man's identity was not known for sure. Imagine sifting through thousands of photo to exhibit just that one very unique photo and what professionalism in saying that the identity is not known. The museum also had originals of Gestapo interrogation transcripts in binders for interested visitors to read and understand the regime of terror. Is this what Jeyamohan calls 'hearsay'?

While top Nazis were investigated and executed at Nuremberg notorious ones like Josef Mengele and Adolph Eichmann had escaped capture. Eichmann was later abducted by Israel is a movie like operation and arraigned at an Israeli court. Writer Hannah Arendt's 'Banality of evil' recounts that trial. Interestingly the road adjacent to where Hitlers last bunker once stood is named 'Hannah Arendt'. Mengele was never captured. Many nations who sheltered these Nazis were anti-semitic so Israel and international law never reached them.

Many lesser Nazis slipped into public lives too. In an embarrassing incident Soviet run Eastern Germany released a list of 16 judges in West Germany who were known to be Nazis. Later they were dismissed. Only after 20 years was a trial conducted in Frankfurt to bring to justice the killers at Auschwitz. Most were only awarded 5-7 years imprisonment. In a very unique display at the museum of Terror we are shown how only in 1972 just 16 officers of Reich Security officers were investigated by the prosecutor in Berlin . Of that only two were sentenced.

The fall of Soviet empire, opening up of Poland and the Nazi death camps in Poland like Auschwitz and Treblinka have spurred further scholarship in holocaust. That is why as recently as 2008 a book on holocaust, 'The years of extermination' by Saul Friedlander, was considered fresh with details that it was awarded the Pulitzer. Elie Wiesel's novel, Primo Levi's memoir, Anne Frank's diary are all not just memoirs but historical documents. At Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam there are originals of their parents admission cards to Auschwitz. At Bergen-Belsen Anne Frank met her friend who later survived  the war to corroborate the tales. Anne Frank's own father, Otto Frank, was the sole survivor in that family. 140,000 Jews lived in Netherlands before the war. Only 30,000 survived. At Lvov out of 120,000 Jews just a few less than 1000 survived the war. Prior to war Jews were nearly 5% of the population in Hungary. Nearly 400,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in Auschwitz alone bringing their survivors percentage down to 1.4%.

The Nazi regime organized death on an industrial scale using methods of industry to achieve mass killing by the thousands at an instant. Dachau alone had more than 50 sub camps. Prisoners from far off Italy and interior Russia were carted into Auschwitz. Auschwitz was a camp established for only one purpose, to exterminate, at the heart of Europe.

1.3 Million People were killed in Auschwitz. 1.1 Million were Jews.
In a letter I wrote I objected to Jeyamohan that it is a grave mistake to equate Holocaust with the bombing of Hiroshima. One is memorial to the murder of unarmed women and children by a country where they lived as citizens for no other sin than being Jews. The other was an act of war against a country that initiated war. Japan was a cruel, very cruel, imperial power that refused to end the war even after Hitler was defeated. It is good to ask questions that provoke in order to illuminate lesser known dark angles but Jeyamohan seems to ask these questions only to provoke. Skepticism towards anything that comes to be seen as 'common knowledge' is good. It is not a sin to ask "did 6 million die". An intellectual skeptic would take it further to understand and study. Just to ask a question and smugly leaving it at that only betrays an ulterior motive of seeking to appear dispassionate and intellectual. By the way why does no one ask "could it have been more". In any riot, any genocide anybody wonders 'could it have been more'. Only when it comes to holocaust do people ask "was it really that much"? Unlike Jeyamohan most of those who ask that are sheer anti-semites.

The worst part was where Jeyamohan says he has watched hundreds of movies regarding holocaust. The horrors like the medical experiments are not captured in any movie. Rudolph Hoss lived with his family just outside the Auschwitz camp. He spends time with his children and came to the camp to kill children. Educated Nazi officer would fling a child into a wall and watch the brains splatter across. A group of Nazi officers once played football with a one year child and made its mother wipe the blood of their boots. Can any art form, words or painting or movies, capture such a horror? Is there any explanation in any psychology or philosophy for any of that? Nazis would advertise why killing the disabled was good for the economy. What movie has even depicted that?

What were my ideas when I ended the tour? What is the impact of Holocaust on Israel today? What have the Jews taught the world by talking about holocaust? All that and more later.


Interested readers can see my photographs with notes at

History of the Jews in hungary
Lvov Ghetto

Links from Jeyamohan:
Jemo in Boston

Monday, November 5, 2012

Obama's Second Coming: Learn Humility and Leadership

Things fall apart; The center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

                                                  ----- "The Second Coming" by W.B.Yeats

Just a month back who would have thought that come election day Obama would be in a dead heat with Mitt Romney? The race is statistically tied. Opinion polls are all over the map. Barring an Obama win by a whisker any other outcome, including an Obama landslide, would grab the headlines and rewrite US political history. 

It is political campaign principle to try and define one's opponent before he/she has had a chance to define himself/herself to the public at large. Bill Clinton used it to great effect in 1996 to define Bob Dole before Dole could define himself for the electorate. Bush repeated it in 2004 defining Kerry as 'flip-flopper'. Romney had to take a very rough beating all through spring and summer when Obama pummeled him on airwaves as a corporate raider, a leech on the poor, called his economic philosophy 'Romneyhood: Reverse Robinhood" and more. All that worked as expected until the first debate.

I belong to a distinctive minority who do not think that Obama is a great orator and not an articulate person when it comes to explaining policy. On October 6th at the first presidential debate the world came crashing on Obama worshippers, especially those who think that words were invented to be spoken by Obama's tongue. Just 30 minutes into a 90 minute debate the twitter verse exploded with anger and disappointment at the pathetic listless performance of Obama. Overnight Romney became a viable President. Obama had spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince people that Romney was a rapacious get-rich-by-looting guy who was completely heartless. All that came undone. Obama never recovered his commanding lead after that.

70 million Americans tuned in to discover that Romney is not a fire breathing monster with two horns. Probably Obama's caricature of Romney went too far that seeing a semblance of normality in Romney an electorate hungry for change got converted by the thousands. Even if Romney loses this election the debate and how it changed a race will go down in history books along side the fabled Kennedy-Nixon debate. 

Romney will lose Ohio and thereby the presidency due to the notorious oped he wrote for New York Times titled, so ominously, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt'. Incidentally oped writers do not choose the title, the title was given by New York Times. If an oped sunk a Presidential candidacy it would be that. 

Economist magazine endorsed Obama outlining their deep misgiving about the protean shape shifting character of Romney. The editorial praised Romney's tenure as governor and wondered if he is capable of being that common sense pragmatic person or would he be controlled by the right wing in GOP. In what is the most counter argument for an endorsement Economist said they preferred Obama as he is a 'known devil'. Literally. In 2004 the same Economist overlooked Kerry's far left flip flops as part of campaign to gin up the base and endorsed him.

In its very back handed endorsement Economist voiced deep concerns about Obama. In the 104 rounds of golf that Obama played just one was with a Republican. Obama's aloofness is legendary and the fat that he does not foster any long lasting relationship with anyone beyond the close knit coterie from his Chicago days is the stuff of parlor gossip in DC. 

Obama is famously aloof even with congressional leaders from his own party. As senator he was highly impatient with the arcane procedures of the senate and did not form any real friendship.  He visited his alma mater Columbia University to deliver a commencement address and surprised many by not spending a minute more than necessary in a college that shaped him. He did not visit any old haunts, the dorm or the neighborhood as any college student would have done going back to deliver a commencement address. He had no lasting friendships from even his college days. Bill Clinton on the other hand formed last relationships at Yale and Oxford. Clinton fell in love at Yale, his classmate Robert Reich was later Secretary of labor, Strobe Talbot from Oxford was later Ambassador to Russia. In an interview Obama confessed that he would rather spend time with his children than hobnobbing with Congressmen. 

Even Obama's left wing fellow travelers have noted with frustration his aloofness. Gail Collins, columnist for New York Times and therefore an Obama supporter, noted that the "President goes to a country, gives a speech and gets out". Given the adulation he receives for his oratory Obama does hold his ability to sway audiences by speaking in very high esteem. Unfortunately for him speeches rarely sway anybody let alone a country or an opposition party. Clinton and Blair formed a great friendship. Obama has not developed any real relationship with any foreign leader. 

The famously non-partisan Bob Woodward chided the President for not showing 'leadership' during the debt deal negotiations. Woodward detailed how Obama could not even convince his own party leadership. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, both democrats, showed scant respect toward the President. 

According to current projections it appears that the lower house will remain in the hands of the GOP and the senate will have a threadbare democratic majority. That makes working 'with' congress an imperative. A second term Obama needs to address that. For that he needs to learn from Clinton, his new found best supporter and advocate.

Obama has a tendency to be arrogant and dismissive towards the GOP that he often tells them "elections have consequences and I won". Yes he won a massive landslide victory in 2008 but he won only 53% vote. 47% voters rejected him. Amidst the excitement over the historic election most lost sight of the fact that he won lesser states than Bill Clinton. Obama came to his inauguration like a Caesar riding a crest of euphoria. When Roman generals take a victory lap, according to legend, a slave would often ride along side whispering in their ears "remember you are a mortal". Unfortunately Obama's coterie keep whispering in his ears that he is 'messiah'. 

Obama's win tomorrow by all means will be a very narrow one and he needs to remember that nearly half the country rejected him. Injecting that humility into his perspective will restrain him from running amok with ideology. Else voters will deliver another rebuke like they did in 2010. In a deeply divided nation the winner would do well to remember that the victory was only eked out. 

Above all one expects the US President to be serious about his job. It is all very well to play partisan politics to win an election but to govern in a partisan way will be disaster. US has serious problems that need serious answers. Pandering to unions with rhetoric about taxing 'millionaires and billionaires' is childish. If puerile talk becomes policy it would not serve the country. Obama's tax fetish will yield revenue that can only fund 72 hours of US federal spending. Between reforming entitlement spending and killing Osama Bin Laden the latter needs lesser political courage and leadership. For the sake of the nation let us hope that he gets serious and honest.

If Obama's second term is to be unlike George W's second term then he needs to learn to be humble, learn to be more inclusive of ideas from opponents, learn to lead. I am, however pessimistic of Obama's ability to learn. I worry like Yeats and wonder what kind of candidate will 'slouch' towards DC.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Is Barack Obama An Intellectual?

Barack Obama was the first black President of Harvard Law Review, the 5th black senator, the first black president of US in 275 years. He also has the dubious honor of becoming US president with the least governing experience in modern history and had mostly voted 'present' (not even 'abstaining') as state senator in Illinois legislature.

Is it even fair to ask, an Ivy league graduate and a man so many historical firsts, whether Obama is an intellectual? A legendary political strategist confided in a private conversation that "whoever becomes the US President, irrespective of the party, deserves to be there". Obama's candidacy for US presidency is a tale of ambition and strategy unparalleled even by Reagan and Clinton, both of whom were very experienced Governors who sought national office and had to fight their way to it within the party and nationwide.

Taking advantage of opportunities is a talent by itself. In the aftermath of the drubbing that GOP recieved in 2006 mid-term elections Bill Clinton is supposed to have told Hillary "unless the Democratic party nominates a felon we can win the presidency". Obama, in many ways, was like what Carlyle said, "the moment produces the man". Let us not forget that Obama started as an outlier candidate. Until his Iowa victory even within Afro-American community he was seen as sure to lose possibly gain experience now and run a better campaign at a later date. It is easy to talk of how he coasted to the Presidency from gaining popularity since his much lauded address at the 2004 Democratic convention.

It would be gross injustice to Obama's campaign to harp only on how the press treated him with kid gloves and was lost in blind adulation. Bill Clinton was the first Democrat to be re-elected since FDR. Democrats and Republicans thought Hillary was a shoo-in given that she would be supported by the political genius of Bill Clinton. Those were lonely dog days for Obama. When he romped home in Iowa (37% vote) and Hillary finished a poor third Obama became an overnight national sensation. But how he won Iowa is the question on which I intend to discuss what kind of an intellectual Obama is.

Beyond 'hope' and 'change' the only tangible thing Obama did in Iowa was pandering. He pandered to Iowa's notorious farm lobby for tarriffs against Brazil's sugarcane based ethanol. John McCain, later to become Obama's opponent, bluntly opposed the Iowa corn lobby on the tarriff against Brazil. Sugarcane based ethanol is more fuel efficient than Iowa's corn based ethanol. Economists continue to warn against using corn for ethanol in an artifical attempt to lower fuel imports. Corn diverted to brew ethanol to fuel American cars robs the world of corn based food driving up food scarcity. Pandering to sections of voters will be a recurrent pattern of the next four years.

Obama has never challenged conventional wisdom or populism. In midst of a world seething with fury against Wall street it does not take any courage to scold bankers or to call them 'fat cats'. What would have taken courage is to call for better and more capitalism. Wall Street's undoing was not capitalism but insufficient capitalism. It was Bush who, risking unpopularity and the wrath of his own party, bailed out Wall Street under terms that eventually benefiited the tax payer. It was also Bush who bailed out Detroit. Obama turned it to a reckless bailout to reward the unions and resulted in continued tax payer losses.

Withdrawing from Iraq was no brainer. The American taxpayer was exhausted, the war was controversial from the word go. What would have been intellectual was to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2009. The VP and many others counseled Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan too citing weak economy and the intractable mess the war was. Afraid of GOP backlash and with his eye on 2012 Obama tried to replicate Bush's Iraq 'surge' strategy. It is a grand failure today. If Obama had leveled with American people and refused a 'surge' for Afghanistan and vowed that pursuit of Bin Laden is still afoot that would have been a moment of leadership.

Unlike Bill Clinton's crusade in 1992 to reform health care in 2008 it was commonly agreed by all candidates and the American tax payer that the health care cost Leviathan needs to be hooked. The only contention was how to do it. Battle scarred Hillary Clinton presented a plan that included mandates. Obama cried foul and pontificated that his plan does not levy a 'tax', as he referred to mandate. Hillary and other experts disagreed that health care reform without mandate was not possible or cost effective. During Ohio primary Hillary exploded 'shame on you Barack Obama' for mischaracterizing her mandate as tax. As president Obama instituted mandate in his Affordable care act and the US Supreme Court later ruled that that was consitutional but called it a 'tax'

As President has Obama ever delivered bad news to a constituency that he depends on for re-election? Never. Not once. Standing before a gathering of hundreds of doctors Obama lobbied for his health care reform but started off with a stern message "I cannnot give you what you want" referring to doctors demand to reform malpractice lawsuits and institute caps on awards. Tort lawyers are a very influential democratic base and prodigious fund raisers too. It is easy to offend doctors than to risk offending his own fund raising base.This is not about opportunism. An intellectual articulates a difficult to swallow position and shepherds his constituency with logic and reason about a required change of course given new paradigms. Failing to do that is a signal failure of an intellectual.

America has a debt burden of $16 Trillion which is almost 100% of UD GDP. Entitlement programs are expanding exponentially beyond any fiscal sustenance. Obama's simplistic prescription is to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires under the pretext of asking them to pay 'their fair share'. Without going into the debate of whether millionaires and billionaires are paying their fair share lets look at the 'what-if' scenario of Obama getting his wish. The revenue thus raised will pay for only 72 hours of US Government expenses. This, to be polite, is intellectually dishonest shorn of any shred of intellectual integrity. A serious problem needs a serious answer not dishonesty.

That Obama, an Afro-American, became a President is justifiably characterized as a watershed moment, even a redemption. Many black commentators wrote that seeing a black first family inspires many afro-american kids. True. But within the Afro-American community there is widespread resentment against Obama administration, despite the immense pride that is there on the surface. Seeking to be seen as "president of all America" Obama, even where he could or should, has actively distanced himself from being seen as doing something targeted for Afro-Americans.

Jodi Kantor writes in New York Times, "At the first meeting of his top campaign donors last year, some black donors were dismayed when officials handed out cards with talking points on the administration’s achievements for various groups — women, Jews, gays and lesbians — and there was no card for African-Americans". Referring to Obama's quote that he is not only "President of Black America" Afro-American activist and scholar Cornel West said that statement “makes me want to vomit. Did you say that to the business round table?” he asked rhetorically. “Do you say that to Aipac?” (referring to a pro-Israel lobbying group).

Unemployment rages at 15%, twice the national average, for Afro-Americans. Appearing before the Congressional Black Caucus that was anxious to hear what President Obama can do. Obama borrowed a much revered Civil Rights era slogan and lectured "put on your marching shoes". That implied, for astute observers, that Afro-American community was sitting idle and not doing enough to lift itself. That was not Obama's intention. It was a speech delivered without much thought or sensitivity. Black Congresswoman Maxine Waters erupted "who was he talking to, we are hurting already". 

Even more shameful was the Shirley Sherrod episode. Shirley Sherrod, an Afro-American State Director of Rural Agriculture in Georgia, was falsely accused of being racist in refusing to help a white farmer. The whole incident was based on dishonest editing of a portion of her speech at a NAACP function. Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart broke that story. White House went into panic mode and was instrumental in making Shirley Sherrod resign. Sherrod is blistering in her recently released memoirs of how betrayed she felt that this happened in an Afro-American Presidency. Sherrod, as the full speech showed, had actually went out of her way to help the white farmer retain his land. When the full truth emerged the administration still did not offer her old job back, they only offered an 'equivalent'  position. Obama later called her and spoke telling her that he understands her and has written about her kind of experiences in his book. Sherrod simply told him that he could not have had her experiences. Sherrod grew up in racially charged in Georgia unlike Obama. Obama promised her to visit Georgia. Sherrod notes Obama is yet to keep his promise. If Bush had treated Shirley Sherrod like that the GOP would be called 'racist'.

In the aftermath of a rash of shootings that included hurting a congresswoman much was written about America's fetish for guns and the second amendment. The GOP, beholden as it is to the gun lobby, was shamefully, but understandably, silent on talking about gun controls. The acute disappointment was Obama's silence. The last President to sign a ban on assault weapons, A.K. 47's, was Bill Clinton. That ban lapsed in Bush's period and was not renewed. Obama, keen to be re-elected, completely ignored the gun control issue. This was a moment for a supposedly intellectual president to seize the issue and shape public opinion. Instead we only got more soaring rhetoric.

Obama is undoubtedly a very intelligent and very talented politician. But the more and more one looks at his record we only realise that this President is interested in only one thing, his political ambitions and success.

Eisenhower defined an intellectual as "one who takes more words than necessary to say more than what he knows". On that score Barack Obama is the most intellectual to ever occupy the Oval Office.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bush, The Intellectual President

I never thought a day would come when I would argue that George W Bush was an intellectual.I came to USA in 1998 when the economy was booming and Clinton was widely praised for it. The GOP and Bush were repulsive to me especially with their accent on religion. During a republican presidential debate all candidates were asked to name a political philosopher who influenced them most. Bush said "Jesus Christ" and just looked away into the distant sky (or roof). I was angry at such an answer. Today I do not think so and with that a lot of my perceptions changed about Bush thanks in large measure due to Barack Obama.I used to be virulently anti-Bush and today I am not so. I still have criticisms of Bush's Iraq war and the deficits. I've not changed my views of Bush only because I have a visceral hatred of Obama's policies. I am not doing a volte face either. My views have changed simply because I've become far better informed than I used to be as a new immigrant in the early years of Bush. Second, my animosity towards religion is mellowed down as I see religion as a more constructive force, especially as it is used in USA compared to how Advani used it in India. Third, my understanding of economics has deepened considerably since I came to USA and of course it took some time to really shake off some decades old truisms that were beaten into an Indian's conscience (some of which apply to Americans too).

To define who is an 'intellectual' is a very difficult task. It surely should not be restricted to academic achievements or books that a person digests. It is not even just the ability to formulate ideas. Its more. One should be able to stand up for one's ideas and convince a skeptical audience of those ideas. One should be able to transcend the stereotypical image of the collective group of which one is a member of. And, yes, it includes willingness to change one's ideas in the face of new evidence. Bush has a stellar record on some of those benchmarks and a mixed record on some. How does he measure as an intellectual on balance? Let's see.

Bush campaigned on a humble foreign policy. He declared America will not be a "911 to the world" (referring to the number Americans dial for emergencies). A Republican candidate was arguing for a less muscular foreign policy harking back to the original isolationist tendencies of the GOP. Yet 9/11 prompted an immediate change and Bush realized that, for good or bad, America has to plunge headlong into tackling a global menace. It's like how an aging Godfather feels "just when I want to get out they pull me back right in".

Bush was lauded from the left and right for the moral clarity he brought to combating Al Qaeda. Lance Morrow writing for Time said this is a moment for 'purple rage' and told Americans not to allow themselves to be counseled. Only the far left naysayers like Noam Chomsky writhed in agony. It took a Romney candidacy for New York Times to find something redeeming in the Bush actions immediately after 9/11. NYT columnist wrote of a little spoken about visit by George Bush to a mosque after 9/11 to clearly signal that America is at war only with Al Qaeda and not with Islam. When a Muslim Secret service member was asked to get off a plane Bush, visibly angry, took to the bully pulpit with that agent standing next to him and declared that it was 'un-American' to treat his agent like that. Bush also recognized the need to revamp America's laws and re-organize America's security agencies. To Bush's credit his successor has not changed much of those laws and has only taken them further. Imitation is the best form of flattery.

It is GOP orthodoxy that Federal government should stay away from education which rightly belongs to states to legislate and manage. America's school system, unlike its Universities, suffers from deep malaise. Students not being tested and just moved from one class to another is a common sickness of American education. The man whom liberals love to deride as least intellectual and practically a dumb guy was the one who put education on the table to reform. Bush worked with arch ideological nemesis Ted Kennedy to create 'No Child Left Behind' law. Suddenly all of America was abuzz with talk of 'standardised testing' and 'teacher performance'. Bush stood up to his own party's orthodoxy and crafted a bi-partisan legislation working with Ted Kennedy of all people. Sure, the bill has its flaws and it can be improved. That applies to all legislation. The credit should go to the fact that Bush took an important issue head on and shaped public opinion and in the process led his party against its deeply held beliefs.

Bush's faith based initiatives were widely criticized when he formulated them. Given my experience of seeing politicians use religion to get votes in India I was appalled. I've mellowed since then after realizing how religion has a central and enriching role in the American society. Bush was seeking to use religious institutions, not just churches, as vital organs of society. Mac Arthur genius awardee and Afro-American scientist John Dabiri's interview in NPR was a catalyst in making me understand how churches play an integral role in many blighted neighborhoods in America. To characterise Bush's faith based initiative as theocracy does gross injustice to the program and only betrays the leaden thinking of liberals who wield their atheism as a badge of honor. The answer about Christ as political philosopher is very credible and not laughable I'd concede now. Christ's teachings have influenced many world leaders and it is not an answer to ridicule if one understands the role of religious texts in influencing many a world leader across history. If MLK Jr and Gandhi can draw succor from religion so can George Bush.

Bush's handling of stem cell funding came in for lot of criticism from many, including Nobel Laureate and former member of President's Council on Science, under Clinton, Harold Varmus. Bush, in his first nationally televised address, said he would not allow federal funding to stem cell studies that used embryonic stem cell EXCEPT the then current 2 lines that were being researched. Academics and liberals were in an uproar that the President sacrificed scientific progress at the altar of religious belief and party orthodoxy. I too thought so until I read Bush's detailed analysis in his book 'Decision Points'.

Embryonic stem cells are a tricky issue in the frontier of science where very disturbing questions do get thrown up. To be succinct, those stem cells were harvested from embryos that are often discarded after fertility treatments as either surplus or as useless. Bush, as pro-life GOP President, saw that as disturbing. Some of those embryos did hold a promise of life, babies born from such embryos are called 'snow flakes'. Bush was surrounded by 'snow flake babies' when he signed that order banning 'further' federal funds to such stem cells. Note, he only banned federal funds not private funds. Bush had consulted widely with scientists, bio-ethicists and religious people. He arrived at a careful thought out decision. Many cried that this was the end of stem cell research. It was not. Today such embryonic stem cells have been deemed unnecessary. I'd identify this as a key intellectual moment for which the liberal academics have been loath to recognize the president for. Let us also bear in mind that scientists have often egged on Presidents to recklessly pursue courses, like the arms race, in the name of science.

The nuclear deal signed with India was another intellectual moment. Bush nurtured India as a strategic partner and with the weight of the US Presidency he brought India onto the exclusive nuclear club while snubbing Pakistan. Today that deal is in the doldrums thanks to lack of leadership in both countries.

The day after his re-election Bush declared "I've earned political capital and I intend to spend it". He wanted to reform Social Security and Health care. Both proposals had merit to at least be considered. But the downward spiral of Iraq war stopped that.

Iraq is where Bush deserves much scolding. To be brief, no nation at that time could say with certainty that Saddam had no WMD's. All agreed Saddam was gaming the UN inspectors. Where the rest of the world disagreed was on what to do about it. Bush saw Iraq as unfinished job. He squandered US taxpayer money and lives in both countries. It was not a war for oil as Iraq later showed by NOT giving US many oil contracts. Lost in this din is also the fact that Iraq remains the only Islamic middle eastern country where women voted in elections and free elections were held. Bush ignored the Iraq study group recommendation to cut and run. Instead he fashioned the surge that his predecessor later copied for Afghanistan albeit without the political will. Iraq is still far from a liberal democracy but the Iraq that is today is entirely due to Bush. It is up to Iraqis to live up to their historic opportunities.

Bush would ask invitees as to why he is hated overseas, 'is it me or is the US Presidency'. Bush haters reveled that it was Bush who gave US a bad name. Nay. Irrespective of who occupies the White House  they will be hated by a large swath of people simply because its America. This was amply borne out when Obama was no more loved than Bush in the middle east. Bush was very respected in Eastern European nations though for standing up to Russia. Interestingly a Pew global survey indicated Bush was popular in India. Hindu majority population disgusted with the squeamishness of their own leaders in standing up to radical Islamism saw a ray of hope in Bush.

Obama has pulled of a propaganda victory in tying the 2008 financial crises to the Bush era. Bush cried hoarse about the need to rein in the reckless lending by Fannie and Freddie. As I pointed out earlier it was during the Clinton years that Wall Street was deregulated and given a free ride. Bush sacrificed populism to do the unthinkable for a GOP President. He bailed out both Wall Street and Detroit.

The dot-com bust of 2001 started under the Clinton watch and was entirely due to the 'irrational exuberance' of Clinton era yet I did not hear, by hindsight, Bush blame his predecessor as much as Obama whines and groans about his predecessor's 'failed economic policies'. Clinton often brags about the surplus he left behind which supposedly Bush squandered. Clinton's surplus evaporated in the dot-com bust and was totally gone immediately after 9/11.

One of the inflection points in how I viewed Bush was his conduct during the 2008 election season. As the country rapidly slid into a financial morass Bush refused to play favorites. He instructed all departments to keep both Obama and McCain equally informed of what is being done. Aware of how unprepared his new administration was on national security, taking over from Clinton, Bush worked to avoid it. He instructed his homeland security team to work with Obama's transition team on dry runs. Obama team, allegedly, balked thinking "hey what if something happens in the early days of our administration we cannot blame Bush then".

I've never understood how Kennedy, Clinton, LBJ, FDR are all revered as 'intellectuals' but not Reagan or Bush. All those that the liberals love have committed serious acts of omission or racism or plain recklessness and yet we are told to look at them as intellectuals. LBJ would personally pick bombing areas in Vietnam. Kennedy administration dropped orange gas in Vietnam. FDR interned Japanese Americans and embarked on a failed New Deal. Clinton threw away his second term simply because his pants had no zipper.

Bush had his share of omissions. Most notably Iraq but he found his stride on that. Towards the last days of Bush administration many in his circle thought that history will be kinder to Bush as it is towards Harry Truman. I think history will be kinder to Bush and harsher on Obama.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Clinton's Economy: Myths and Realities.

During the 2000 Presidential campaign Al Gore, trying to define himself as his 'own man', distanced from Bill Clinton and rarely invited Clinton to the campaign trail. Time columnist Lance Morrow wrote, "while Salieri campaigns, the Mozart sits in the Oval office". Obama after sparring with both Clintons in 2008 vowing a new era and basking in his own new found rock star status had no need of the fabled campaigner. What a difference 4 years makes. 

In 2012 the Mozart was called out by this year's Salieri to campaign. Clinton, the party soldier, appeared on prime time at the Democratic National Convention and showed the world why he still is the only Mozart in town. A day after accepting the nomination Obama gushed, at a campaign stop, "I got an email suggesting that I appoint Bill Clinton as the Secretary of 'explaining stuff'". The crowd roared in approval seeing the supposedly silver tongued orator realize that giving a speech littered with pabulums and rhetoric is no match for the master-explainer.

Bill Clinton laid out the case for Obama often reminding America about the sunny years of the Clinton era. Like any politician Clinton took credit for the years that are still referred to as the longest economic expansion in US history. If somebody can make the word 'arithmetic' become a punch-line only Clinton could. Clinton detailed his years of balancing the budget, working across the aisle, delivering prosperity, surplus budgets and more. 

Amidst campaign rhetoric as always truth is the first casualty. Clinton roared into office on a landslide coasting on the mantra "its the economy, stupid". Unemployment was at 7.5% in 1992 (today it is 7.8% and Clinton wants a second term to the guy at the helm unlike what he said in 1992!!!). When Clinton left office unemployment was at 4.7%, up 0.7% during the same year, 2000, as the nation was sliding into recession. Clinton often boasts about the 20 million jobs created in his tenure and the budget surplus that he left. Both are true, but only on the surface.

Economist Raghuram Rajan taught me, in his book 'Fault Lines' on the 2008 financial crises, an important principle about any analysis of an event. He said it is important to look at not just the event but its associated events. He said look for 'in ceteris paribus", i.e. 'all things remaining same'. Clinton made it a virtue that he raised taxes on the so called wealthy that helped address deficit and the rest followed. Can Obama do the same 'in ceteris paribus'?

Clinton's 1992 budget deal, recounted in detail by Bob Woodward in 'Agenda', is remarkable for how much the debate remains the same. Clinton's address of Feb 17th 1992 is classic Obama. But the similarity is only on the rhetoric. By the time the address was turned into a bill and voted Clinton had moved to the center. Clinton abandoned the middle class tax cut he campaigned on. The price he extracted for that was taxing the rich. The movement to the center abandoned spending the revenue raised by that tax on pet liberal causes. This is where Obama fails. Obama can never be Bill Clinton. Woodward acknowledges that Clinton's tax helped address the deficit.

But is that all? No. Look at the world in 1992. USSR had imploded. Eastern Europe was redrawn. Germany, Europe's powerhouse of production, was spending billions of dollars in the unification and was also dealing with the political turmoil arising out of that. India and China were not yet BRIC. India, in 1991, had been compelled to reform its pathetic economy due to a balance of payment crises. It took Deng Xio Ping well into 90's to reform China's economy. Add to the above the 1997 Asian crises that America managed to dodge making Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers as 'Person's of the year" by Time. 

Into that picture try to fit in the internet revolution. Today there is a hue and cry over raising taxes on dividend income. Time, in it's cover story of 1982 titled 'America's risk takers' with Steve Jobs on the cover.
The TIME cover story is telling in details:

                 In 1969 Congress increased from 25% to 49% :he maximum tax on long-term capital gains—the profit made by an investor on the sale of stocks, real estate and other property.
The effect was devastating. The amount of money that Americans were willing to gamble on a long-shot business dropped sharply. In 1969, $171 million was amassed in venture capital. By 1975 the amount had fallen to just $10 million.
                In 1978, however, Congress rolled back the capital gains tax rate to 28%. With the potential payoff increased, investors were again willing to take a risk. Last year $1.3 billion in venture funds was accumulated, more than 100 times the amount of only six years earlier.
Add on the Y2K economy. America was importing talent by allowing H1B's by the thousands and unemployment was still going down. At its lowest, unemployment would be 4%. A full 1% below what is considered full employment. Talk about an over heated economy.

The Dow was soaring with everyone asking 'how high is high'. The one really great achievement by Clinton in this period was signing NAFTA. Much of the work for NAFTA was done by the previous Bush administration. Clinton enlisted Bush to campaign for NAFTA with Congress. Obama rattled Canada by vowing to re-negotiate NAFTA and scolded both Clintons on the campaign trail for NAFTA. Again, Obama is no Bill Clinton. Yes, Obama has signed a free trade pact with Mexico and South Korea but the work for that was done by George W Bush administration.

Into this heady cocktail lets add the surging housing market. Alan Greenspan battling unemployment early on kept interest rates too low for too long. The housing market just exploded beyond belief. Clinton and subsequently Bush campaigned for the 'American dream'. Clinton ignored calls to rein in Fannie and Freddie. Bush Jr's attempt to rein them in was rebuffed by a Democratic congress. Many economists later would point to the low interest regime during Greenspan era as sowing the seeds for a crises that brought American economy to its knees. 

Clinton took credit for an economy that was starting to get better even during the days of George H.W.Bush. Of course Clinton did make some hard choices like the tax bill he passed. However Clinton's signature achievement, 'ending welfare as we know it' was largely the result of a republican congress.

Bush Jr inherited a recession that was entirely due to Clinton era policies. The dot com bust was due to what Alan Greenspan memorably labeled 'irrational exuberance'. Bush, unlike Obama, did not blame his predecessor at every speech. 

Liberals love to talk about de-regulation as the sinister evil that created the 2008 financial crises. Most point to the repeal of Glass-Steagall act that separated investment banks from commercial banks. It was Bill Clinton who signed that repeal. (Never mind that Bear Sterns and Lehman bankruptcies had nothing to do with that repeal). It was Clinton's economic tag team of Larry Summers and Robert Rubin that warned off Brooksley Born who wanted to regulate the burgeoning derivatives market. The implosion of the derivatives market would be at the center of the financial crises a decade later. 

Oh, about that working across the aisle. Clinton's economic plan in 1992 recieved zero republican votes. The GOP's intransigence was only part of the story. Woodward recounts that Democratic legislators were warned 'not to work' with GOP to craft any compromise. And who would forget the infamous Newt Gingrich led government shutdown. Clinton made it habit to co-opt GOP ideas and do what came to be called 'Clinton's triangulation'. Obama derided that triangulation in 2008 proving that he can never be Bill Clinton. 

Clinton, to sum, takes too much credit for unique circumstances where US was the unassailed economic super power by a mile. At the same time Clinton and his admirers turn a complete blind eye to the fact that it was Clinton's administration that has much to answer for the financial crises. 

America and the world in 2012 are only faintly similar to 1992. The Euro area is collapsing, China and India are having challenges. It may not be 1992, but if only Obama was Clinton, at least the good sides, America would roar ahead, again. Alas, that will not be the case.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Brooklyn Book Festival: The Far-Left Exposes The Left On Obama

I attended the just concluded Brooklyn book festival. The festival was a complete domination of authors in the left and far-left with not even a nod to accommodating any opinion from the center-right let alone the conservative right. The book stalls and the audience were firmly in the radical camp. A conservative would be an endangered species there. The most interesting part of the day was the interplay between Obama loving authors and leading critics from the far left

Far left Marxist author Tariq Ali scolded the liberals "if a Republican president had killed an American citizen (referring to Anwar Al Awlaki) without due process using drones would you be quiet". He asked why liberals are silent about Obama's use of drones abroad and at home. Mr Ali wondered what moral authority liberals would have to scold a republican president in case Romney gets elected and pursues what are commonly thought of as republican policies of national security. To rub it in Mr Ali added, for effect, Obama acts like what one would expect of Putin. OUCH.

The discussion featuring Gail Collins, from NYT, Jodie Kantor, author of widely praised and very Obama sympathetic bestseller 'Obamas' and John A MacArthur was the most revealing for sheer fireworks.

The discussion opened with a question about what good does a long election season do for the people with regard to knowing the candidates. Gail Collins, working for New York Times and therefore a confirmed Obama sympathiser dived right into the video of the season. A surreptititously taped Romney talking to fundraisers that 47% of voters do not pay taxes and therefore will vote only for Obama as Romney's message on tax cuts has no relevance for them.Romney is right and that too only partially. It was a bad statement and one that might cost him the election. The Brooklyn audience tittered in agreement.

John MacArthur expressed disappointment that Obama broke his promises on renegotiating NAFTA and raising dividend taxes to 25%. MacArthur chided the liberals for focusing on Romney's much debated 15% tax rate on $22 million income but giving Obama a pass on his failure to raise the taxes on dividends when he had the majority control to do so. MacArthur also added that Obama was told sternly not to do so by Democratic party big-wigs because that tax increase would alienate their rich donors. He also flung the gauntlet to Gail Collins asking her to write a column on that. When Obama launched his attack ads on Romey's private equity career many Democrats distanced themselves from attacking an industry that was a rich source of donations. MacArthur alleged that the famously foul mouthed and self-confessedly vindictive Rahm Emmanuel was the 'enforcer to sideline the more radical elements within the party. He asked "where is Howard Dean today? why do we not hear a protest at redistricting Kucinich's constituency?"

Jodi Kantor then opened a can of worms with what she thought was a profound observation. Kantor said "Obama came into office with no experience, no foreign policy experience, no senate experience, no governing experience and yet he is very reluctant to talk about his 'learning curve' in the Presidency. Obama does not open up on talking about what he learned as President". I was stunned to see a columnist and author basically say that Obama had no experience and stumbled into office. Her naivete in expecting a sitting president to talk about 'learning curve' during campaign season is simply breathtaking.

All three talked of the debt ceiling fight last summer. None mentioned the fact that Obama, as senator, happily voted against Bush's request to increase the debt ceiling. He reasoned "the President had the requisite votes so I felt free to cast a 'no'". Bob Woodward in his book "Price of politics" and his interviews thereafter chided both sides for the brinkmanship. Woodward had tougher words for Obama though for failing to lead and to use the office of the presidency to lead. None mentioned any of that.

MacArthur spoke of how much Obama was ready to cut in entitlements. True, but MacArthur did not add that Obama was ready to cut until he discovered that his own party will not go with him. MacArthur then added how Obama cold shouldered a Dennis Kucinich sponsored bill to raise minimum wage, a pet cause for leftists. Never mind that even liberal economists have debunked the theory of minimum wage. That a democratic President fails to even mention it in campaign speeches was MacArthur's point. He finished with a sting "Obama is not there for working people".

Kantor felt compelled to join issue and opined "I disagree with that". She narrated how Obama grew up in poverty (so did speaker and GOP rep John Boehner). Kantor then trotted out the famous excuse of liberals "he is not good at communicating to people and translating policy into a speech that people can relate to". Liberals want to have to have the cake and eat it too. On one side they are breathless about his eloquence and in the same breath add that he is not good at explaining policy to people. So, is eloquence to be defined as stringing empty rhetoric and unconnected to articulating ideas to a skeptical audience?

Not satisfied with excusing Obama's unpopularity to a simple messaging issue Kantor continued that Obama loves dealing with 'intellectual complex issues' where there are no clear options and any course of action come fraught with political problems. She cited the auto-bailout and killing of Osama. Basically she echoed Vice President Biden's famous bumper sticker phrase 'General motors is alive, Osama is dead". The implication being that the other non-complex issues do not interest the President. The president hates 'retail politics' we were informed. Collins added 'he looks down on retail politics'.

MacArthur sliced that excuse "if he dislikes politics so much and dislikes working with congress, including his own party, why is he the President?". Kantor jumped in to say "I spoke to Robert Gibbs, he said if you ask 'Michelle Obama a hundred times if he should run for the Presidency she would reply a 100 times 'No'". MacArthur sneered "Robert Gibbs was the White House spokesman and you would expect him to talk like that". No self-respecting journalist would take a spokesman's word as character witness.

I don't know what was intellectual and complex about bailing out Detroit which has hundreds of thousands of votes for Obama. The process of the bailout was nothing but a write off of Detroit to his union buddies. Wall Street bailout returned money to tax payers. Detroit bailout has tax payers still on the hook. Ask Ford and Alan Mulally over how the bailout was a giveaway to the unions.The killing of Osama was a brave gambit. But it was more tactical than a question of policy. Any American president would have gambled that. Kantor basically said that talking about jobs, deficit etc are 'unintellectual' for this supposedly intellectual president.

Both Kantor and Collins spoke of how Obama tried to be bi-partisan and failed. MacArthur sizzled in response "McCain sponsored a truly bi-partisan bill with a democrat to re-instate Glass-Steagall act and Mr bi-partisan refused to sign or lobby for that bill". I wish MacArthur had drawn a contrast citing how Bush worked with his ideological nemesis, Ted Kennedy, to reshape how America educates its children. Bush, a Republican, signed into law the bipartisan Mcain-Feingold bill that attempted to reform campaign finance.

Collins then imitated Harry Reid and said how this Congress was stymied by 380 filibusters compared to just one during Johnson's presidency. She also added that Obama hated working in the Senate. MacArthur shredded that excuse asking Collins to "read Caro's biography 'Master of the senate' to learn how LBJ worked with the senate to achieve his goals. That is why he could get things done". During 2008 campaign Hillary Clinton said "you campaign in poetry but you have govern in prose" and cited how LBJ shepherded the civil rights bill through the congress. She was right as Robert Caro detailed in his magisterial yet to complete 4 volume biography.

Jodi Kantor joined saying "Obama prefers being community organizer" and that "he does not belong to the  political machinery". MacArthur became livid and demolished that detailing how Obama was very much a part of Chicago's Democratic political machinery especially the much feared Daley's political machine. Obama broke with his controversial pastor only when the pastor committed the unforgivable sin of calling Obama "just another politician" in a widely telecast national TV press conference. Obama guards his "I am no politician" image with a zeal.

I will never agree with MacArthur or Tariq Ali, especially on their tirade against free trade and capitalism. Do I cheer their criticisms of Obama just because I disagree with Obama? No. Those are all criticisms I've articulated too. When it comes from the far-left camp it carries a heavy stamp. What is noteworthy is MacArthur is tearing down the image building by two journalists who are more intent on giving excuses for Obama instead of holding him accountable. Mr Ali is shining an inconvenient spotlight on the hypocrisies of the left and it carries a moral weight when he utters those words instead of coming from Obama's habitual ideological opponents.

I congratulated MacArthur for holding Jodi Kantor and Gail Collins to account. With Kantor, in ear shot, I told MacArthur that she was a disgrace to journalism. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

GOP And Romney Will Defeat Romney.

In the aftermath of 2008 presidential election the Republican party lay in complete disarray and in tatters. George Bush bears a lot of responsibility for destroying the GOP brand. McCain drove the last nail into the coffin of GOP's image as the party of ideas with his selection of Sarah Palin. For nearly 4 years thereafter until the day she announced that she will not be a presidential candidate Sarah Palin remained as a poster-girl for populism run amuck and her shadow on the GOP completely destroyed any semblance of intellectual rigor in the party of ideas. Seeing Obama demolish the Clinton dynasty, 'without raising his voice', many republicans resigned themselves to writing off 2012 and only talked of 2016. There was no hope for a GOP nominee in 2012 seen from 2008. But things changed.

In the heat of healthcare reform debate the tea-party insurrection breathed new vigor into the GOP. The bail out of Detroit and Wall Street added flavor to the debate on the role of government in the economy and lives of citizenry. The tea-party led GOP delivered a crushing blow to Obama in the mid-term elections. Under Obama the Democrats lost more seats in the Congress than the previous rout in 1993 under Bill Clinton. The tea-party also cleaned house in the GOP. Some of it was not pretty and sowed the seeds for Obama's own resurrection for 2012.

Sarah Palin and the tea party are largely responsible for the caricature of air-heads that the GOP became. With the fight for controlling the senate in balance the tea party defeated GOP's establishment favorite and veteran Mike Castle in an upset primary in Delaware that launched Christine O'Donnell into limelight. O'Donnell had confessed to having indulged in witchcraft in her youth, wondered if church-state separation was in the constitution, released an ad that declared 'I am not a witch, I am you". She was trounced and GOP was left with a stigma.

When Michelle Obama campaigned against obesity, an epidemic that costs the US economy billions of dollars, Sarah Palin asked school kids to eat cookies and resist 'government intervention in their lives'. Libertarianism was tarnished by the fathomless depths of Palin's vacuity . When Palin spoke of Obama's death panels in the health care reform bill Krauthammer wrote "let's have a serious discussion and lets begin by asking Sarah Palin to get out of the room". Explaining how GOP would stop Obama's agenda Palin crowed "we are not the party of no. We are the party of 'Hell!! NO!" The tea-party congressmen wore it as a badge of honor that they were elected to be uncompromising. When US faced the debt ceiling many tea-partiers went on TV to announce pompously "a US default will not be catastrophic". Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann proclaimed that it will be a good idea to 'default'. Blogger and talking head Erik Erikson counseled GOP on CNN to 'hold the line'. Bob Woodward in his latest book chides both the President and GOP speaker John Boehner for not leading in debt ceiling talks. Obama came in for a rare direct rebuke from Mr Woodward. But the idea of uncompromising, devil may care attitude of GOP is stuck in the minds of the voters.

The GOP candidates for presidency were an exercise of how low can the party really go.

A former Federal reserve member Mr Herman Cain made a caricature of himself with his 9-9-9 plan that he parroted even for a question like if the sun was too hot. Cain was swept out in a barrage of rumors of sexual affairs

Michelle Bachmann was in a league of herself.She used to crow 'I want to make Barack Obama a one-term-president' in all debates. She bowed out after the Iowa primary after tarnishing GOP as the anti-science party by expounding her loony theory that vaccines cause autism.

Then there was the 'oops' heard around the world from one-time favorite Texas governor Rick Perry who forgot what departments that he wanted to abolish and said 'oops'. Rick Perry flamed out after it became known he had 'mandated' HPV for girls in school and more importantly he had allowed illegal aliens who came to USA as kids to study in Texas universities paying the much lower in-state tuition fee if they had gone to school there. Latino's had loved that but in a republican primary that humane gesture became apostasy.

Rick Santorum, with degrees in Law, declared Obama to be a 'snob' for wanting kids to get a degree and for good measured reminded voters of the cave man with his harping on social values. Rick Santorum stepped down after it looked like he would lose in his home state PA to Romney.

Newt Gingrich won South Carolina only because he skewered John King of CNN who asked Gingrich at a debate before the primary about the charges Gingrich's wife made on ABC that he wanted an 'open marriage'. When Newt Gingrich appeared to demolish Romney, after a victory at South Carolina, the GOP establishment watched in horror. Former GOP nominee Bob Dole wrote a stinging op-ed on why Gingrich as nominee will be disaster.Then there was the pseudo revolutionary Ron Paul who attracted a Obama like following amongst the youth with his outlandish ideas of ending the Federal reserve and having an isolationist foreign policy. Ron Paul's use of libertarianism was often a fig leaf for either muddled outdated ideas or plain racism. Each month saw the rise and later, fall of a that month's not-Romney candidate.

Finally Romney became the nominee by default.

Mitt Romney is not an instinctive politician, much less a conservative in his bones. Romney remains Romney's first nemesis. When Rick Perry needled him about illegal aliens working in his home once upon a time, Romney blurted "we had sub contracted the work. When we found out that illegals were employed we told the contractor 'for Pete's sake I am running for office I cannot have illegals working on my property". At another debate Romney challenged Perry to a $10,000 bet. When asked whether he, like his father, would release ten years of tax returns Romney gave the most awkward guffaw to say "maybe". Romney threw the kitchen sink at Gingrich to win Florida and having won he told America the next morning "I am not concerned about the poor they have a safety net, the rich are doing just fine its the middle class I am worried about". The impish anchor pressed him if he did not care about the poor and Romney said "if the net has holes I will fix it". Conservative commentators went into a fit of rage. That no-one but the very weakest should rely on any safety net but be productive individuals is the conservative orthodoxy.

Romney is a very successful businessman but his success rate as politician is pathetic. Reacting to Romney's claims about not spending his life in the government Gingrich snarled "that not just baloney but pious baloney". Romney had chosen not to run for re-election as governor but instead run for president in 2008 because his ratings were falling in MA. Previously Romney had lost a senate race. His 2008 bid ended very quickly.

Life is unfair. Obama learned that fundraising conference calls, supposed to be private and with supposedly friendly people, need not be so. An attendee recorded Obama saying that people sometimes vote against their economic interests because they 'cling to their guns and religion'. When the tape surfaced Obama had by then become the darling of the media and had an unassailable lead in the delegate count in the primaries. Romney, like an GOP candidate, is not the darling of any media save Fox news. A surreptitiously recorded video of Romney at a fund raiser is dominating the news now.

Analyzing how he can win the election Romney told a group of very rich fund raisers that 47% of Americans who pay no tax (actually they pay payroll tax but just not Federal income tax) are 'dependent' on the government and feel 'victimized' and 'entitled' and that his message of 'tax cuts' will not resonate with them and therefore he would not pay attention to courting them. The complete put down of a large swathe of America left everyone speechless and many seething with rage. Peggy Noonan, speech writer to Reagan, wrote a stinging op-ed in Wall Street Journal. Romney, to be fair, was sizing up the problem of how he can win the election. The CEO was looking to see how he can reach 51% vote. He was looking at a problem and was presenting possible solutions. That an American Presidential candidate is looking to win just 1% above the 50% mark is itself pathetic and it is beyond speechless to see him write of 47% of the electorate. Ironically amongst that 47% are a large percentage of seniors who live on Social security and mostly vote GOP!!!! The guy does not even  know who his voters are.

A man running for the Presidency is politically dimwitted to have offshore accounts in Sweden. Its not illegal but it clearly shows that he is running for the presidency as an after thought and is not running with his heart and soul in it. Responding to a heckler at a rally Romney yelled back "if you want free stuff go vote for the other guy". In a GOP primary that sounded good but it showed a deeply flawed candidate.

Romney is a very, very rich man. Despite both Obama's and his GOP opponents's propagandaAmericans, by and large, do not begrudge him that. It is Romney's utter failure to convince Americans that he will be President of all Americans that will defeat him.

When Romney harps on his credentials as problem solver and as CEO it often comes across as "I'll fix the problem and if it requires patchwork solution I'll take it". It also translates into "I've no core belief that I'll go to mattresses for". When Obama repeatedly scolded the Clinton era for the acrimonious debates Bill Clinton responded "we fought the fights that had to be fought". No CEO does that. And thats why CEO's do not become politicians. The Presidency is much larger than anything anybody could cite as experience. Romney's total silence on how he governed as governor of MA and perpetual harping on his ability as CEO can only carry him so far. Romney actually governed more from the center than this right wing version of Romney that he is presenting himself to be. Romney became the laughing stock of conservatives when he said that he was 'severely conservative' as governor. 'Severely conservative. What's that?" chortled conservative talking heads.

The GOP convention also highlighted another problem. The GOP does not have a Bill Clinton they only keep talking of Ronald Reagan who left office 24 years back. There is no elder statesman in GOP who can rally the base and make the case for the incumbent to the undecided.

When the camera panned across the audience in Tampa the GOP crowd was almost exclusively caucasian though they paraded a popular woman Hispanic governor, a wildly popular Hispanic senators, two Indian-American governors, an Afro-American congressman etc the crowd did not reflect that diversity. The GOP has a demography problem that was accentuated by Romney's strident rhetoric against Hispanics who form the largest group of illegal aliens in USA. Susannah Martinez, Hispanic republican governor of New Mexico mocked Romney's 'self deportation' idea 'self-deportation? what's that?" Jeb Bush warned against such rhetoric and cautioned that the nominee cannot win unless they can match George Bush's the Latino vote share. Romney pretended he never heard it. The only way Romney could get the nomination in 2012 was by rooting for some extreme right wing positions in order to convince primary voters of his 'conservatism'.

While Obama was giving away free contraceptives for women (paid by the much hated insurance companies) Rush Limbaugh smeared a university girl student, Sandra Fluke, with an obscene epithet. Whatever her policies might be she did not deserve that. Romney, afraid to antagonize Rush Limbaugh, soft pedaled his condemnation saying "I would not choose those words". To be fair Obama is equally silent when his supporter Bill Maher heaps despicable caricatures of Sarah Palin but then the media, his lap dogs, give Obama a pass. The democrats unleashed a propaganda about GOP's 'war on women'. Adding fuel to that was GOP senate candidate Todd Akin's comment that in a 'legitimate rape' the woman's body has 'ways to shut that whole thing off'. The GOP became apoplectic and asked Akin to withdraw. Akin is still staying in the race. Making matters worse is Paul Ryan's sponsoring of an anti-abortion bill with Akin that refused the three most common exceptions to abortion, 'rape, incest and life of mother'. Virginia state legislature considered passing a bill, encouraged by its GOP governor, to compel women to undergo a physical probe examination to see and hear a heartbeat prior to going in for abortion. All of this snow balled making the GOP look like a party of old caucasian misogynists.

In a week when US embassies were attacked, in what is now called a 'planned attack', and an ambassador was killed in an embassy that was not protected very well despite being in war ravaged Bengazhi we find that Obama is doing no explaining but it is Romney who is being pilloried for his rush to blame Obama. When Romney scolded the Obama administration the attacks were still underway and it would be a few hours before ambassador Richard Stevens would be killed. Romney could have exercised restraint and appeared 'presidential' by not seeking to upstage the commander in chief. But he acted like a schoolboy. That said, again the national media ignores the more important issues to focus on Romney. Then came the 47% talk and now nobody talks of Obama's foreign policy that is in tatters. Killing Osama bin laden is not foreign policy.

I've donated to Mitt Romney and I'll vote for him. But I do not see him winning and actually I am beginning to wonder if he can be a better president. So why should I not vote for Obama? Just yesterday an old taping of Obama was unearthed where Obama declared unambiguously ''I believe in redistribution". I'd any day take Mitt Romney over Karl Marx. By the way Andrea Mitchell of NBC said that the reason NBC is not airing that clip of Obama is because they have not authenticated it. I bet if it was a Romney video NBC would have it on a day long loop.

Romney is not Bill Clinton to get elected despite a string of women claiming, and proving, that he is an adulterer.There is still slim hope for Romney though. The upcoming debates are his last chance. Today the topics for the first debate were announced, they are, healthcare, role of government and governing. If Romney does not ace it then its all over. And the reasons for his defeat will be the GOP and himself. The gods are smiling on Obama now.