Saturday, September 15, 2007
Shades of 1929
A British bank, Northern Rock, was hit yesterday and today by a run of savings withdrawals the likes of which haven't been seen since the failure of the American S&Ls in the 1980s. The Times Online reported it this way—
The jitters plaguing financial markets spread to the high street [main street] for the first time yesterday as thousands of panicking savers queued to withdraw millions of pounds from Northern Rock, Britain’s eighth-biggest bank.
The rush to pull out savings followed the revelation that Northern Rock had been forced to ask the Bank of England for a rescue injection of finance.
The Bank of England pledged to provide unspecified liquidity support to see Northern Rock through the turbulence while it worked on an orderly resolution to its problems. The bank is braced for a fresh surge of withdrawals from its 76 branches to-day and last night was planning to extend its opening hours.
The nerves were exacerbated yesterday when Northern Rock’s computer system collapsed under the weight of online customers scrambling to transfer money out of the bank. Savers were blocked from seeing details of their accounts, including statements, when they tried to log in. A spokesman said accusations that the bank had shut down its system to prevent a drain on its finances were ridiculous.
Ministers, regulators and bankers tried to calm the panic by issuing reassuring statements that customers’ deposits were safe....
Have you been listening to Fed Chairman Bernanke's assurances lately on the limited fallout from the subprime mortgage collapse? You shouldn't. Just remain calm and walk to the nearest exit.
.... It is the first time that the “lender of last resort” facility has been used since the Bank of England set up the present system in 1998. Other banks, including Barclays, have called on the Bank of England for overnight funding in recent weeks, but using the lender-of-last-resort facility is regarded as a much more serious step.
Many financial institutions have been hit by a sudden shortage of cash and other liquid assets as banks hoard money in anticipation of having to provide finance to complex investment vehicles. Triggered initally by defaults by poor Americans struggling to meet increased mortgage bills, the problem has spread.
Around 85 per cent, or £24.7 billion, of Northern Rock’s business comes through mortgage brokers.
Meanwhile, asking prices for British homes were reported to have fallen 2.6% in the month of August.
The BBC reports that the rush on the bank continued today—
On Saturday, queues outside branches such as Sheffield and Golders Green in north London grew so large that police officers were deployed for crowd control.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Must-Read of the Day
Something is wrong here. Either the data indicating productivity and GDP growth are wrong or Karl Marx was right that capitalism works to concentrate income in the hands of the few capitalists. A case can be made for both explanations.
Actually it isn't a case of "either-or," it's both.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Israel and domestic terrorism on the eve of 9/11
Regular readers may wonder how I choose my topics. I certainly do. I'll confess up front that there's a certain serendipity at work. The universe of Simply Appalling is unbounded. The events we consider here are appalling not only in substance but in number. That said, I have a few rules—or if not rules, at least inclinations.
For one, I generally avoid "hot" topics unless I feel there's something to say that no one else is saying. I trust that this blog is not my readers' only source of news and opinion. In fact, I assume that many of you read widely and that I'm fortunate to have you stop by at all. Certainly you don't need me to rehash what is being discussed all over the internet.
Because of this it happens occasionally (I hope more often than not) that I'm able to find a topic that's been ignored—or at least unconsidered. Sadly, most of these topics continue to languish in the dark where I found them. Call them "obscure."
But sometimes a Simply Appalling topic will make it into the light—sort of. Weeks, months or even years afterward, the mainstream media (MSM) will pounce upon the matter and drag it out for an airing. Then you may call the post "prescient."
It's rare indeed that a topic emerges thanks to a reporter. More typically it's because some real event or government-sponsored pseudo-event has forced the topic into the news. Correspondingly, the coverage comes because either (1) the event is so momentous that the MSM can't avoid it, or (2) the pseudo-event is such a perfect piece of propaganda that the media must serve as an outlet.
When the MSM hit upon a topic I've previously covered, I get an alert: My readership statistics take a leap that lasts as long as the public's attention span, which is about two or three days or until the media forget about it.
Such was the case over the past few days. The event? The "discovery" of a "cell" of neo-Nazis in Israel. And the relation to Simply Appalling? A post I wrote in 2005, "Russian neo-Nazis on the prowl in Israel," which covered a similar pseudo-event.
The extent of the MSM coverage
At the time of writing, for the query "Neo-Nazis Israel" Google News is showing 298 links with a subsidiary group of 514 additional links. Coverage extends from Bismarck, ND to Kuwait; from Guatemala to New Zealand and all points east. The story is on all the wire services: AP, AFP, Reuters and their little brothers. The major American newspapers have run or are running stories. CNN was advertising a "special report."
Here's a sampling of the headlines—
- Jerusalem Post: Police: Israel has dozens of neo-Nazis
- Arutz Sheva (Israel): Neo-Nazi Gangs A Malignant Growth in the Jewish State
- Spiegel Online (Germany): Israeli Police Arrest a Homegrown Skinhead Gang
- Toronto Star (Canada): Neo-Nazi cell's savagery throws Israel into shock
- Times of India: Israel shocked after police bust Neo-Nazi ring
- Radio New Zealand: Neo-Nazi gang arrested in Israel
- The Telegraph (UK): Israeli neo-Nazi gang filmed attacking Jews
- Belfast Telegraph (N. Ireland): Israelis shocked as first neo-Nazi cell arrested
You get the drift.
What's the story?
The "event" that triggered this media outpouring was a police announcement. Israeli Police had been investigating vandalism of synagogues and muggings in the area of Petah Tikva1 for over a year. Their investigation led them to a group of "disaffected Russian immigrants" (juvenile delinquents) ranging in age from 16 to 21. Their "leader" is 19.
The group declared themselves to be "neo-Nazi," had decorated themselves with Nazi tattoos and collected Nazi memorabilia. They had garnered some small collection of weaponry, the exact nature of which is unclear from news accounts but which would surely have gotten them laughed out of the clubhouse by the boys of East L.A. Some of them visited neo-Nazi sites on the internet, thus establishing "international links." At least one of them made videos of some of their assaults, which provided excellent footage for TV news.
Though most media accounts fail to report the fact, they were not "rounded up" but were arrested over a period that extended from July 23 through September 6 (NY Times).
What purpose did the story serve?
This was a story produced by the Israeli police. Its timing was arbitrary; the characterization of the suspects was sensationalistic; and the description of what they discovered was murky.
The police spokesman told at least one lie, if we believe Aron Heller's account for the AP—
While Israel has experienced isolated incidents of anti-Semitism in the past, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the arrests were the first time an organized cell has been discovered.
It is doubtful that the terms "organized" or "cell" can be appropriately used to describe this organization. But if they can, this is definitely not the "first" such "cell" to be discovered.
In my post of 2005—when the Israeli police had made another such sensational discovery of Neo-Nazis—I surmised that the announcement was to bring pressure for a change in Israel's Law of Return, which defines who is Jewish and therefore eligible for Israeli citizenship. Since that writing the immigration law remains unamended. It fails in the minds of some to ensure sufficient Jewishness on the part of Israeli immigrants. (The Russian thugs were raised to be Russian Orthodox.)
The pressure for a change in the law is quite overt this time. The police spokesman says on camera—
We are asking that the actual Law [of Return] itself should be changed—not the denial of the Holocaust that took place—but a law which is involved in Neo-Nazism both being active as well as ideologically taking place here in Israel. [a Simply Appalling transcription]
On whose behalf the police were acting I do not know. But it seems unlikely that the decision to create this sensational news was made at the local gendarmerie.
The Law of Return is administered by the Interior Ministry (IM), which contains the Jewish Agency, "which works with the government to encourage immigration to Israel." Though I don't keep current on Israel's internal politics in these matters, it appears that the Jewish Agency as well as other sections of the IM support the Law of Return as written. It certainly makes the task of populating the land of Israel with anybody but Palestinians much easier.
The police, on other hand, fall under the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS).
Two, three or even four for the price of one
Manipulators of the media, if they have any smarts about them, choose their timing for maximum effect. And if they can arrange to have their efforts serve more than one purpose, all the better. It appears that has happened here.
Promoting Israeli-American security ties
The theme of the police announcement is of the growing menace of internal terrorism—also known fondly as "domestic terrorism with international links." In the United States we know well the uses to which such a conjury can be put. Why, it's the very same theme used by the Bush administration to quash civil liberties and enhance police powers!
The date of the announcement came just two days before America's own great anniversay of domestic terrorism—9/11. Was the Israeli calendar off? Should they have waited? Not really. It was important to get the message into the news just before 9/11 when it might be obscured by American absorption with its own problems of terrorism.
Also, the whiff of Israeli "domestic terrorism" must have provided a welcoming fragrance for an important visitor from the U.S. I mentioned above that the police are a part of the Ministry of Public Security. And the news on the MOPS website for this auspicious date is this—
The Director General of the Ministry of Public Security, Rani Falk, met today, September 11, with Michael Balboni, the Deputy Secretary for Public Safety in the State of New York.
Mr. Balboni is visiting Israel as a guest speaker at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism's International Conference on "Terrorism's Global Impact". Prior to meeting with the Director General, Mr. Balboni visited the city of Shderot which is under constant rocket attack and heard a survey on the security forces and activities in the area from the Commander of the Southern District in the Israel Police, Major General Uri Bar-Lev.
Mr. Balboni and Director Falk met privately before taking part in a professional discussion with Major General Shahar Ayalon, the Deputy Commissioner of the Israel Police and Brigadier General Shaikeh Horowitz, the Israel Police representative to the National Security Council.
Brig. Gen. Horowitz gave a presentation on the Israel Police, its organizational structure, goals and activities. The presentation highlighted the phenomenon of suicide bomber, the importance of intelligence in Israel's homeland security and the international cooperation and work relations the Israel Police have with other agencies across the globe.
Mr. Balboni showed vast interest in Israel's homeland security system, particularly in the security of the education system in Israel. "It is amazing what the Israeli citizens have to live with" Mr. Balboni said when referring to his visit to Shderot, "I have heard many people in the United States speak about Israel's lack of patience and respect for the Palestinian people. After seeing the astounding situation Shderot is in, being attacked every single day, I couldn't help to notice the patience Israel has".
"Israel has another voice in the United States" Mr. Balboni stated while visiting Shderot.
Director Falk thanked his guest for making time to meet with him during his visit and said that he is now positive that the two have a lot of work to do together and that he looks forward to being in touch in the future.
It was a quite a love fest.
Remembering Israel at this critical moment
I could go on.
It just so happened that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs was meeting this morning with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, John Scott Redd who directs the National Counterterrorism Center, Director of the Office of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, and our very own Israeli agent in the Senate Joe Lieberman.
You can see that at moments such as this sympathy for Israel must be assured. The Jewish Holocaust must not be forgotten. And thanks to a well-timed police announcement, it hasn't been.
Is the threat of neo-Nazis in Israel real?
Well, yes. In the sense that the threat of vandals and muggers is real. Even many news accounts concede—though you must read down to the final paragraphs—that the threat is "marginal."
But if we are going to think of these guys as "domestic terrorists," we must also conclude that the gangs of L.A., New York and Chicago are domestic terrorists on a much grander scale. Some of our own "domestic terrorists" are entering the military—some to escape street life, others to acquire skills that will be useful once they're back on the streets.
When it comes to true fascists we must look elsewhere.
Russian neo-Nazis on the prowl in Israel (6/3/05)
Form Letter of the Day (12/12/05)
Monday, September 10, 2007
While I'm away at my typewriter . . .
If you've come by and are disappointed to find me still at work (I know I am!), please read a post from June 2005: Russian neo-Nazis on the prowl in Israel. You'll find it relevant to one of the weekend's big stories. It also provides the background to today's post.