Henk Zanoli 91, helped save a 12 year old child from the Nazis

Yad Vashem and the Israeli government gave him a “Righteous among the Nations” medal. And then Israeli forces went ahead and killed six members of his extended family in Gaza by bombing their home.

So he gave the medal back along with this heart-breaking letter explaining his reasons. He concludes by saying:

If your state would be willing and able to transform itself along the lines of that set out above and there would still be an interest at that time in granting an honor to my family for the actions of my mother during the second world war, be sure to contact me or my descendants.

For most, this would be the appropriate moment to reflect on whether Netanyahu and Likud are alienating Israel’s best friends. But that must be because you don’t have the mindset of our friends on the right and you’re not with us on everything, so you must be against us.

This is how various newspapers are covering the story:

The Economist does a really good job of summarizing the story:

HENK ZANOLI (pictured) is a 91-year-old retired Dutch lawyer whose personal history encapsulates the reasons why the Netherlands and Israel have had such friendly relations since the foundation of the Jewish state in the wake of the second world war. Mr Zanoli’s family was, as the Dutch put it, “right in the war”—i.e. members of the resistance. In 1943, Mr Zanoli escorted an 11-year-old Jewish boy from Amsterdam, Elchanan Pinto, back to the family home in the village of Eemnes, where he and his mother Johanna hid him for the rest of the war. (His father, Henk Senior, had already been sent to a concentration camp for his resistance activities; he would die at Mauthausen.) Mr Pinto subsequently emigrated to Israel. Three years ago, the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem awarded its “Righteous Among the Nations” medal, given to non-Jews who rescued Jews from the Nazis, to Mr Zanoli and (posthumously) his mother.

On August 11th, Haaretz’s Amira Hass reports, Mr Zanoli sent Yad Vashem its medal back. Mr Zanoli’s great-niece, Angelique Eijpe, is a Dutch diplomat, deputy head of the country’s mission in Oman, and her husband, Ismail Zi’adah, is a Palestinian economist who was born in Gaza’s al-Bureij refugee camp. On July 20, the Zi’adah family house in al-Bureij was hit by an Israeli bomb, killing six members of the extended family, including the family matriarch, three of her sons, and a 12-year-old grandson. In an elegant and sorrowful letter to Israel’s ambassador in The Hague, Mr Zanoli explained that he could not in good conscience keep the Israeli medal.

Even the ultra-right-wing Settler Movement newspaper Arutz Sheva can’t spin this. This the best they can manage:

Zanoli apparently buys into the misnomer that Israel’s actions in Gaza violated international law, claiming that the operation has “already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

It has not been confirmed, however, whether the deaths Zanoli’s relatives spoke of actually happened – as Hamas in Gaza has been shown again and again to falsify deaths for the media in order to win the “PR war” against Israel.

Of course, if you’re on the American right, this isn’t good enough.There’s no need to pause and self-reflect. No reason to  worry along with Zeev Sternhell that there is a collapse of Israeli democracy, and that the current atmosphere might mirror that  of 1940s’ France. No reason to worry for Israeli democracy when senior members of the government openly call for apartheid and ethnically cleansing Gaza and the West Bank among other “solutions”.

There is definitely no need to recognize that the killing of over 400 children in three weeks or a 50 year occupation which tramples on Palestinian rights every day in ways big and small, which grants settlers impunity for stealing land and closes inquiries without actions years after soldiers have shoot children in the back might perhaps be losing Israel fast friends.  No, of course not, that would be straying off message.

Here’s what Breitbart has to say:

He could have spoken out against Israeli policies, and his status as a Righteous Gentile would have given his criticism unique weight in Israel. Instead, he chose to return the award he received for saving a Jewish child.

The implication is that doing so was a mistake–that Israel’s latest crimes, in effect, justify Nazi murder.

Of course Zanoli  says no such thing, he says it burns his conscience to accept an honor from the Israeli state when “The great-great-grandchildren of my mother have lost their grandmother, three uncles, an aunt and a cousin at the hands of the Israeli army.”But there’s no way the Frank Luntz patented talking points, beloved of Dick Cheney and Benjamin Netanyahu alike, would permit straightforward human decency to go unmolested. Since outright character assassination would probably play poorly, Breitbart tries another tack, maybe Zanoli is just senile, or just plain naive.

Along with the medal, Zanoli wrote a letter to the embassy, accusing the State of Israel of “murder,” apparently rejecting any notion that the deaths were accidental, or that Hamas might be to blame for starting the war and waging war from civilian areas. He included several other strange claims, such as that the founding of Israel meant “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians and that Israel was “racist” for building a state “exclusively for Jews.”

I guess all 430 children and the dozens of homes bombed while families were sleeping or having dinner are all “accidents”, sad, but excusable. It’s all Hamas’ fault though they’ve managed to kill a grand total of two Israelis civilians (and one Thai citizen) while the IDF has killed over a 1,000 civilians and over 400 children. It’s their fault, they made us drop the bombs on the kids, on families having dinner, we had no choice but to make a half million people homeless.But why talk about consequences of actions when it’s so much more gratifying to speculate, so Breitbart continues:

One is tempted to speculate about the influences to which Zanoli may have been exposed: the relentless anti-Israel bias of European media, perhaps–or, just as likely, the steady pressure of younger, Muslim members of his extended family who could not tolerate that their relative had once accepted an Israeli honor.

Regardless, Zanoli is wrong on the facts, and the fact that he would use the Holocaust to add weight to a hateful attack that denies the legitimacy of Israeli statehood is an insult to the victims of the Nazis, as well as to those who are suffering the constant terror of the Nazis’ would-be successors. If Zanoli had taken the time to study the Hamas charter, he would have found a hatred and madness equal to that of the Third Reich he once resisted.

In fact, Zanoli’s act sheds light on the sad state of mind of Europe and the Arab world, which can even poison the soul of a man such as he.

The fact-free, outrage machine of American right-wing nuts would rather question the motives, intelligence and good will of a ninety year old who lost his father and brother-in-law to Nazi execution and concentration camps, and whose family sheltered a Jewish child. They would rather insult his intelligence and good-will than admit Likud/Shas/Netanyahu’s policies, which are a continuation of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon might be wrong.”Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

That’s all.

Why was Lehman allowed to fail? Conspiracy alert

As most people now know, Lehman declared bankruptcy on September 15, 2008.  Lehman was a primary dealer, with the ability to bid directly at Treasury auctions.  The firm’s failure ushered in immense turmoil in the markets, destroyed trust, and ignited an explosion in perceived default risk which eventually brought down AIG and called into question the business models of both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, and forced the merger of Wachovia with Citi and then Wells Fargo.  And that’s before we tally up the effect on the real economy as credit tightened, spending evaporated and global trade suffered.

Amongst all this, the turmoil doomed John McCain’s presidential campaign, and likely affected numerous Republican races in 2008.

So, the question is whether there was a political reason behind the decision to let Lehman fail.  After all, what morning’s complete without a conspiracy theory?

Here’s one bit of speculation that has not been aired.  President George Bush’s second cousin George Walker was a senior managing director at Lehman Brothers.  His unit (Asset Management) emerge relatively unscathed, but. Imagine the outcry and political fallout if the Fed had bailed out a firm with taxpayer support where the president’s close relative was a senior executive.  And of course George Walker wasn’t really hurt too much in the implosion since the Asset Management unit is a relatively steady business that could be (and was) spun-off.  He’s now the chief executive of Neuberger Investment Management.

There are a number of other reasonable explanations:

  • Lehman had become a target right after the failure of Bear Stearns and as the smallest of the surviving investment banks, it was the easiest target.
  • Lehman was negotiating a merger with both Bank of America and Barclays prior to the weekend of Sep 15.  BoA backed way because a more interesting merger opportunity (with Merrill Lynch) appeared.  But Barclays specifically backed away because there was no government support (unlike the deal struck between JP Morgan and Bear Stearns backed by the Fed and the creation of Maiden Lane LLC.  It was clear that there was no political support for any sort of government support.
  • The Fed and Treasury had repeatedly stated they were concerned about moral hazard and the impact on future behavior if they kept rescuing failing firms.
  • The Fed and Treasury may have felt Lehman had enjoyed a 6 month period where it could have cut a deal, but hadn’t because various senior executives did not wish to lose control.

But still, the question remains, why was Lehman allowed to fail?

In retrospect, the decision to allow a primary dealer to declare bankruptcy was very damaging and may have forced the government to put far more taxpayer dollars at risk than would have been required to rescue Lehman.  It has almost certainly made the current recession far worse.

That said, it’s clear that the system survived, or rather was resuscitated, after Lehman’s failure.  All CDS contracts on Lehman cleared, and we now know that an orderly unwinding of a large financial institution can happen without destroying our financial system, but that it comes at an extreme cost. Lehman’s bankruptcy may also have been a blessing in a very good disguise, it made everyone wake up and take notice (if they’d managed to ignore Fannie/Freddie being pushed into the bear-hug of conservatorship).  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn something from this, like leverage weakens you during stressful times.

So, the question remains, are we bearing that cost partly because Lehman had the misfortune of employing the president’s cousin? And if so, is the administration now kicking itself?

Chief Joseph’s dream

Hinmaton-Yalaktit (Nez Perce: Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain) more commonly known as Chief Joseph (March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904) was chief of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce Indians during General Oliver O. Howard’s attempt to forcibly remove his band and the other “non-treaty” Indians to a reservation in Idaho.

What does he have to do with this election?

Barack Obama’s victory means a great deal to African-Americans. But it also has enormous significance to every other group who’s dream of complete inclusion in American society has been advanced. Amongst the many injustices that have stained the legend of America’s rise is the story of its native peoples.  Their disposession is not unique in the world’s history, or indeed in that of the Americas.  But it is particularly heartbreaking since it was so recent and such a contrast with the ideals professed by newer settlers and their constitution.

On Sunday, I made some calls for the Obama campaign in New York at a phonebank, one of the volunteers at the event was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Chief Joseph and a quote.  I began to choke up, as I always do when I am reminded of his remarkable story.  If you haven’t already, you may want to watch the PBS/Ken Burn’s documentary The West, a moving and lyrical account of the American West’s settlement.

Chief Joseph had a simple dream, best expressed in his own words.

Do not misunderstand me, but understand fully with reference to my affection for the land. I never said the land was mine to do with as I choose. The one who has a right to dispose of it is the one who has created it. I claim a right to live on my land and accord you the privilege to return to yours.

What he wanted, for himself and for the people he represented or led were the most basic of rights.

Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself — and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.

Now, I’m well aware that we have not in one fell swoop eradicated all bigotry from this land, it has always existed and in some form will always exist.  But I do think one of Chief Joseph’s hopes is closer to realization today than it was yesterday:

Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we shall have no more wars. We shall be all alike — brothers of one father and mother, with one sky above us and one country around us and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers’ hands upon the face of the earth. For this time the Indian race is waiting and praying. I hope no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above, and that all people may be one people.

And I hope that in the spirit of reconciliation and advance, President Obama and Senator McCain will work together to further the advance of Native Americans including the substantial population in Senator McCain’s home state.  Their’s has been a story of neglect and exploitation, and they hold out great hope for change under an Obama administration.

Too many misinterpretations have been made; too many misunderstandings have come up between the white men and the Indians. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect all rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.

Hinmaton-Yalaktit was an eloquent speaker, and enjoyed the benefit of good translators.

As the republican party and its supporters mull over their defeat, they will be thinking many thoughts.  And there is a “nativist” wing of the party that seethes with rage, in my view without reason or cause.  They might wish to remember that on October 5, 1877 after suffering far more pain, loss, disposession, disappointment and heartbreak than they can begin to imagine, Chief Joseph had the grace to wish for peace, even if it was an unjust peace, and said:

I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the Sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.

Why we will win, and win HUGE (390 electoral votes).

I’ve heard way too much worry and doubt from friends and colleagues who lean the right way but fear the election will be lost due to hidden racism or just plain stolen.  So, in the hope of calming some nerves and avoiding some ulcers, here goes…

 Here’s why we’ll win and win 390 electoral votes (big picture):
  • The mood in the country is to throw the rascals (republicans) out.
  • The republicans made a huge mistake forcing McCain hard right, pairing him with Rove’s underlings, and making him pick Palin. Not to mention changing the message every other day. I feel sorry for McCain, especially since I supported him in 2000, he didn’t deserve this.
  • The Obama campaign is very enthusiastic and extremely well-run. I volunteered for Kerry and that was amateur hour compared to this one.
  • The polls are underestimating two things, young voter turnout (since many pollsters don’t call cellphones) and many of them are using 2004 stats to figure out how many newly registered voters will vote. Newly registered voters are extremely motivated this year, with high percentages having voted early.
  • The army of lawyers and camera enabled volunteers that has been dispatched by the campaign will protect voters from disenfranchisement.
  • The vast majority of Americans are not mean and will vote for the most hopeful candidate.

A few words about how I get to 390:

  • The media’s claimed Pennsylvania, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada are battlegrounds to look fair. Anyone who’s looked closely at the polls knows Obama will win big here.
  • Florida and North Carolina will break for Obama, the early voting seems to confirm that, people in Florida are worried abou the bad housing bubble there and their investments, Obama is much clearer on these issues.
  • I think Ohio and West Virginia will break for Obama, economics trumps everything else. Obama and McCain both like clean coal, Fox fails!
  • In Missouri folks will vote with their better selves in mind, and vote against the divisiveness of the McCain-Palin campaign.
  • Georgia has seen record early-voting, and record African-American turnout. This will be a surprise and good riddance to Chambliss who ran those despicable ads against Max Cleland.
  • Montana voted for Bill Clinton and will come home. Go Tester! Go Schweitzer!
  • North Dakota, just to round things out.  They’re too close to Canada not to have the good sense to vote for Obama-Biden!

Oh and hey Lou.  Here’s why we’ll win Montana

Why you don’t want McCain for a neighbor.

John McCain wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today with a revealing line:

I have a plan to protect the value of homes and get them rising again by refinancing mortgages so your neighbor won’t default and further drag down the value of your house.

I find it amazing that the first thought to come to McCain when he thinks of his neighbor facing foreclosure is how it affect the price of his own home.  I certainly wouldn’t want to have him for a neighbor.

 Many Americans are worried about the value of their homes, but when their neighbors face foreclosure I believe they’re thinking of a number of other things before they worry about their own home’s value.
  • We care about our neighbors and don’t want this worst of financial stresses on them and their families.
  • We don’t want our kids to worry about whether their friends on the block are going to move away or go hungry.
  • We don’t want the communities we live in, small or large, and our country to be full of people forced to make desperate decisions.
  • We wish our neighbors the best and want to help them if we can.

Thankfully, most Americans will think about these things first and their home values second.  They know that in the long-run retaining strong, livable communities is what will help rebuild the value lost in our homes.  I think this appeal to selfishness, is what has destroyed the McCain campaign and turned off most of the electorate.  I find it utterly distasteful that the campaign has been pitting Americans against each other with the pro and anti-American rhetoric.  The promotion of divisiveness at every level, amongst states, amongst races, amongst age groups, amongst gender, amongst faiths is shameful given the circumstances we are confronting.

The biggest risks I see to our economy are people losing trust in the person on the other side of the table or  making desperate decisions out of fear.  All business is about trust, and a lot of it has been shattered recently.  And I know that in the long-run our prosperity is furthered by helping those hurt by this crisis survive it.  Not because it’ll preserve the value of my house tomorrow, but because eventually it will create better opportunities for all of us.

I can’t say it as well as Obama did:

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this economic crisis, it’s that we are all in this together. From CEOs to shareholders, from financiers to factory workers, we all have a stake in each other’s success because the more Americans prosper, the more America prospers.

There is a piece in McCain’s op-ed I like and I thought I’d point that out too:

I have devoted my life to safeguarding America. Former Secretary of State George Shultz compares diplomacy to tending a garden — if you want to see relationships flourish, you have to tend them. I have done that, by traveling the world and establishing ties with everyone from dissidents to heads of state. There is great need for American leadership in the world, and I understand that only by exercising that leadership with grace and wisdom can we be successful in safeguarding our interests.

and I think there’s something here that the Obama campaign should also pay attention to.  The thing that worries me the most about the Obama campaign is the occassional anti-trade, protectionist rhetoric.  One of the civilizing acts we engage in every day is the free exchange of an everyday purchase.  This works on the global level as well.  I know there is a portion of the left that is adamantly against globalization and I don’t deny that there is exploitation of workers and resources in many parts of the world.  But in sum, trade is a civilizing influence for the community of countries, and one of the best way to build trust.  Trade and capitalism within the institutional context of strong individual rights have done more to lift people out of poverty than all the well-meaning protectionism in the world.  I think Obama recognizes that.

On a personal note, I’m a libertarian, because I believe in the justness and dignity of individual liberty.  But that does not mean I am a selfish or self-centered person, I just don’t think anyone else has the standing, contextual information or ability to make good decisions on my behalf.  But that doesn’t mean I’m selfish and incapable of empathizing with someone else’s pain.  And it certainly does not mean I’m blind to the fact that my life will be miserable if a significant portion of the country begins to suffer from deep insecurity.

Obama’s op-ed published in the WSJ is here.  I’ll end with another quote:

You can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo. If you give me your vote, we won’t just win this election — together, we will change this country and change the world.

I hope his presidency lives up to our expectations.

Is Meg Whitman the entrepreneur behind eBay like McCain says?

During last night’s debate, when asked whom he would pick as Treasury secretary, John McCain said he might consider Meg Whitman and said she had turned eBay into a livelihood for 1.3 million people in America.  But there are a few things he left out and glossed over…

During last night’s debate, when asked whom he would pick as Treasury secretary, John McCain said “Meg Whitman was CEO of a company that started with 12 people and is now 1.3 million people in America make their living off eBay.”  Whitman is current co-chair of McCain’s national committee, though she originally supported Romeny (she used to work at Bain & Co.).  Apparently, she’s also thinking of running for governor of California in 2010.

By most accounts, Whitman is a competent, hardworking executive.  The marketing skills and experience she brought to eBay certainly helped the company navigate the tech-wreck successfully.

The thing is, McCain made it sound like she founded eBay and was single-handedly responsible for kick-starting 1.3 million careers, and that’s a bit misleading.

Whitman started at eBay in 1998.  By then, eBay had been going for three years and had 500,000 customers, 30 employees, over $100 million in sales, $4.7 million in revenue and was well on its way to becoming one of the bigger e-commerce players.  eBay went public the same year Whitman was hired.  Other Silicon Valley companies brought in experienced executives from outside the firm to serve as CEO when contemplating a public-offering (in some cases, VCs demanded this).

The person who founded eBay is Pierre Omidyar.  He was the creative mind behind eBay’s birth and the entrepreneur whose vision built it into what it is.

By the way, Pierre currently runs Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm and has endowed a microfinance fund at Tufts.  He’s also reputed to be a nice guy.

You know what’s coming…

Pierre Omidyar endorsed Barack Obama back in March and it’s worth reading why.

In fact, there are a lot of creative capitalists rooting for Obama. Enjoy the rest of your day!