Friday, June 22, 2012

Disturbing News from Hungary

Hungary, a landlocked country of just over 10 million is frequently ignored by the media.  Some recent developments suggest attention must be paid in light of a rise of right wing extremism that has led to a public square in Budapest being named after infamous leader Admiral Horthy.  

As the European Jewish Press pointed out,  Elie Weisel has returned his medal in protest at the country’s recent “whitewashing” of its WWII Nazi collusion. In a letter to Hungary’s Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover, the 83-year old wrote:

“It has become increasingly clear that Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past, namely the wartime Hungarian government’s involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens.”
Other incidents include "the Hungarian government ministers’ decision to participate in a ceremony last month to honour controversial wartime Hungarian MP Jozsef Nyiro, as well as a rise in anti-Semitic activity in the country, which saw the former Hungarian Chief Rabbi verbally abused, in addition to reports that renowned Hungarian actor Jozsef Szekhelyi was described as a “filthy Jew” in the official minutes of a local cultural board meeting in the northern town of Eger."
Greece has seen a rise too in anti-semitism as both Hungary and Greece suffer skyrocketing unemployment and bleak economic outlooks.   
We cannot ignore and stand by as the outrageous cruelty that was inflicted on Europe's Jews begins again in the 21st century. Letters must be written to the Prime Minister and to other leading Hungarians to warn them that the world is watching and will not allow history to be repeated either as tragedy or farce.  Hungary, as Randolph Braham, a Hungarian and specialist on the Holocaust in Hungary (whose lecture I attended the the other night at the Holocaust Museum) has still not come to terms with the Holocaust.  As Braham pointed out unlike in Germany where serious attention was given to countering Nazi ideology, the Holocaust has not been taught in the schools and has a long way to go to properly educate and inform its public about the role Hungary played in the destruction of its Jewish population.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Correcting The Harm Global Elites Do

In a brilliantly perceptive piece Chris Hayes wonders why elites are so incompetent. Why they always seemed to create messes of sometimes global proportions behind them. It is due to the tendency of all those in power whether they be left or right wing to leave the mechanics of governing to others.

 Hayes credits Robert Michels,a German social theorist for putting his finger on the mechanism involved.

"At first, he joined the Social Democratic Party, but he ultimately came to view it as too bureaucratic to achieve its stated aims. “Our workers’ organization has become an end in itself,” Michels declared, “a machine which is perfected for its own sake and not for the tasks which it could have performed.”
Any organization must delegate to the few professionals who must run the machine. Sooner or later the professionals become so expert in the machine they cut off conversation with the rest of us and believe that they have the magic solutions to solve complex problems. Meanwhile we cannot understand what they are talking about.

“Without wishing it,” Michels says, there grows up a great “gulf which divides the leaders from the masses.” The leaders now control the tools with which to manipulate the opinion of the masses and subvert the organization’s democratic process. “Thus the leaders, who were at first no more than the executive organs of the collective, will soon emancipate themselves from the mass and become independent of its control.”All this flows inexorably from the nature of organization itself, Michels concludes, and he calls it “The Iron Law of Oligarchy”: “It is organization which gives birth to the dominion of the elected over the electors, of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization says oligarchy.”

Within these governing organizations--elite financial, legal and other groups find ways to maintain their power and justify entrance through succeeding in the meritocracy. Intelligence becomes " a vitally necessary characteristic for those with powerful positions. But it isn’t just a celebration of smartness that characterizes the culture of meritocracy. It’s something more pernicious: a Cult of Smartness in which intelligence is the chief virtue, along with a conviction that smartness is rankable and that the hierarchy of intelligence, like the hierarchy of wealth, never plateaus. In a society as stratified as our own, this is a seductive conclusion to reach. Since there are people who make $500,000, $5 million and $5 billion all within the same elite, perhaps there are leaps equal to such orders of magnitude in cognitive ability as well."

Hayes focuses on the way that this cult of intelligence becomes divorced from morality through the example of the one man who was "behind many of the Bush administration’s most disastrous and destructive decisions"  David Addington, counsel and then chief of staff to Dick Cheney.

"Addington was called “Cheney’s Cheney” and “the most powerful man you’ve never heard of.” A former Bush White House lawyer told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer that the administration’s legal framework for the “war on terror”—from indefinite detention, to torture, to rejection of the 1949 Geneva Accords, to denial of habeas corpus—was “all Addington.” Addington’s defining trait, as portrayed in numerous profiles, is his hard-edged, ideologically focused intelligence. “The boy seemed terribly, terribly bright,” Addington’s high school history teacher told Mayer. “He was scornful of anyone who said anything that was na├»ve, or less than bright. His sneers were almost palpable.”

And Hayes gives other examples of how the "cult of smartness" ruined the financial industry with such serious consequences for the rest of the world. How to avoid the cult of smartness? How about, as a first step having ordinary people, at the table to ask that simple questions have intelligible answers. Additionally, how about clearer conflict of interest regulations that prevent all the elites thinking that important institutions like government and banks are there for career advantage rather than for a public good. Hayes refers to Janine Wedel's book, the Shadow Elite, about the new global ruling class, who "recalls visiting Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and finding the elites she met there—those at the center of building the new capitalist societies—toting an array of business cards that represented their various roles: one for their job as a member of parliament, another for the start-up business they were running (which was making its money off government contracts), and yet another for the NGO on the board of which they sat. Wedel writes that those “who adapted to the new environment with the most agility and creativity, who tried out novel ways of operating and got away with them, and sometimes were the most ethically challenged, were most rewarded with influence.”