Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Israel, Pope Pius XII, and the Holocaust

There is currently a controversy, or renewal of a controversy, about the role of Pope Pius XII and the Jews in during World War II. It is usually posed by mainstream accounts as: did Pius XII do all he could to save the Jews from the Holocaust? Since the current Pope, Benedict XVI, was a member of the Nazi youth organization and is trying to get Pius XII qualified as a saint, now is a good time to get the facts about Pius XII.

"Politics makes strange bedfellows." Here I find myself siding with the State of Israel, whereas I am usually pro-Palestinian (the Palestinians have nothing to do with this particular controversy). Israel, and doubtless many Jewish organizations, don't want Pius XII canonized.

Pius XII, before he became Pope, was the Vatican Secretary of State. Born Eugenio Pacelli, as Cardinal Pacelli he was the right-hand man to Pius XI. To understand Pius XII you have to understand Pius XI, who chose to promote Pacelli to the second highest rank in the Roman Catholic Church.

I think it is fair to say that Pius XI, who became pope in 1922, was the architect of fascism. Of course this is a controversial hypothesis, and can be argued against on a number of fronts. Benito Mussolini would be the other candidate for the title. But it was Pius XI who made anti-Communism the first priority of the Catholic Church. Under the banner of Anti-Communism (and the Church was also openly against democratic forms of socialism, and even capitalist forms of democratic government), Pius helped first Mussolini, then other fascist leaders come to power. I know that is a shocking assertion to most people, but it is not difficult to paint that picture once the facts are at hand. First, however, I want to relate this to antisemitism and thus the Holocaust.

Adolf Hitler is usually portrayed as the architect of the Holocaust. His own antisemitism, in the consensus histories, is attributed to anti-semitic cults that he encountered as a young man living in Vienna. However, this does not hold up under analysis.

Hitler was born a Catholic (See Hitler's Catholicism) and was raised as a Catholic in a Catholic state, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Antisemitism in Austria was rooted in the Catholic Church. There was a close alliance between the Hapsburg emperors and the Church, which ran the education system under the tender mercies of the Jesuits. When modern ideas began to penetrate the empire in the 19th century and some representative government was allowed, an Austrian Catholic Party (Later the Christian Social Party) was formed, with the Church's blessing. Because the Church itself was be abandoned by so many citizens in the empire, the party's leader, Karl Lueger, hit upon antisemitism as the primary selling point.

The antisemitism of the Holocaust grew out of the antisemitism promoted by the Catholic Church throughout its history. It became enshrined as a principle of fascist government because the Church wanted its prejudices to be backed by the power of the state.

To consider the idea that Pius XI was the architect of modern fascism, see the following essays (they are in linear order):

Pius XI and the Rise of Benito Mussolini
Pius XI and the Rise of Adolph Hitler
Pius XI and the Rise of General Franco
Pius XI, the Rise of Petain, and Fascist Vichy France

Pius XI and his Secretary of State were deeply involved in promoting fascism in other nations, notably Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria as well.

So when Cardinal Pacelli became Pope on March 2, 1939, he had been part of setting up a series of fascist regimes in Europe. Fascist movements, mostly but not exclusively Catholic, existed in many more nations of the world, including in the United States. He was a gung-ho anti-communist who believed that fascist dictators were the best bulwark against atheist communism, and against all rival creeds. Better still, except for Hitler, who had a large Protestant Christian population to deal with, all the dictators made the Catholic Church their exclusive religious partner. Cardinal Pacelli had never spoken out against anti-Semitism. He did not even speak out against mass-murder of non-Catholics, which had just been carried out by the Spanish fascists under General Francisco Franco. Here's what he said:

"With great joy we address you, dearest sons of Catholic Spain, to express our paternal congratulations for the gift of peace and victory, with which God has chosen to crown the Christian heroism of your faith and charity ... As a pledge of the bountiful grace which you will receive from the Immaculate Virgin and the Apostle James, patrons of Spain ... we give to you, our dear sons of Catholic Spain, to the Head of State and his illustrious Government, to the zealous Episcopate and its self-denying clergy, to the heroic combatants and to all the faithful, our apostolic benediction."

That said, I don't think that Pius XII agreed with the technical details of Hitler's extermination of the Jews. Hitler saw the Jews as not just a religion, but as a race of people. Pius XII and the Catholic Church had a long history of giving Jews (and other non-Catholics) the choice of conversion or death. I believe that if Pius XII had run Hitler's concentration camps for Jews he would have gone to great lengths to convert them to Catholicism. Hitler did not give the Jews that opportunity.

You might say that Pius XII does not sound like much of a saint, but you are using your own definition of a Saint, not that of the Roman Catholic Church. There are many Saints who were mass murderers. As long as they killed non-Catholics, with the idea in mind of converting the survivors to Catholicism, they are considered to be heroes of the church.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

You Are Getting Warmer

Have you begun to suspect that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party is going to take steps significant enough to halt global warming?

You are getting warmer.

Have you begun to suspect that trading one war crimes organization, the Republican Party, for another, the Democratic Party, is not going to prevent war?

You are getting warmer.

Has the economic crisis got you wondering just how much stupidity and cupidity human beings are capable of?

You are getting warmer.

Do you live in one of the many areas of the United States that has suffered through a drought since the year 2000?

You are getting warmer.

Has the increased cost of food and gas, combined with your boss telling you not to expect a raise this year, made you suspect that the system is rigged against people like you?

You are getting warmer.

Have you heard that La Jolla California, one of the most beautiful places on earth, is having all of its vegetation eaten by a "stick insect" that originated in India? Have you noticed similar changes in your area on those rare occasions when you closely observed the local flora and fauna?

You are getting warmer.

Do you suspect that there is no humanoid God, just the Natural Universe?

You are getting warmer.

Are you beginning to suspect that in order to save yourself, your friends, and your family, drastic action, maybe even rebellion, has become a necessity?

You are getting warmer.

Maybe it is time to start thinking about Natural Liberation.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Strange Securities Auctions

I have written in the past, mostly at Dissecting The Bull, about the problem with pretending markets are efficient pricers of goods when prices are set by auctions. The recent financial meltdown has given many real world examples of this, but they are difficult to explain to people who are not familiar with stock and bond pricing, much less derivative pricing. So I have made up an imaginary example that encapsulates, in a dramatic way, a particular type of auction malfunction (if by malfunction we mean pricing that veers from free market ideals). I'll walk you through the example, then relate that understanding to selected current economic and financial events.

You hear about an auction and it sounds like you might want some of items in it, if the prices are right. The auctioneers will take only cash, so you put together what you have, say $55. You get stuck in traffic, so you arrive late. Outside people are already boasting of what great bargains they won. You hurry in.

The auctioneer, "the next item is a bundle of $1 bills, 100 of them." You think it is a strange item to auction: it is clearly worth $100 [assume these are not bills of value to collectors, or counterfeits, just ordinary $1 bills]. No one makes an offer at first, because everyone says assumes that it will be bid up to just short of $100, so bidding is a waste of time. But the tension builds and you decide why not, and open at $10. At that point the bidding goes quickly up to $29, then stalls. You offer $30. No one else bids against you. You win the $100. You pay $30 for the $100 and have $70 at the end. Meanwhile the auction has ended.

How could that happen (aside from the fact no one would auction off actual money like that)? Everyone else had run out of money. The next richest bidder in the room only had $29. It is your lucky day.

Translating this imaginary excursion closer to reality, now suppose that the item you bid $30 on and won was a mortgage bond worth $100. It really is worth $100, because the mortgage backing the bond is sound and will pay $100 over time. You win the auction not because the bond is worth $30, but because there is not enough cash to efficiently price the auction. Free market ideals have broken down.

Lately, almost no one has wanted to participate in auctions of at least two types of securities, mortgage-related bonds derivative securities and auction-rate securities.

There are two basic reasons there has been little bidding for weeks now: fear and lack of cash to bid with. The kind of institutions that can play this sort of game were all suddenly short of cash, and wanting to auction off what they could for cash, rather than using their precious cash to buy more securities. But no one else knows how to price the securities. For instance, it is difficult to find out which particular houses correspond to which particular mortgage bonds; linking the houses to derivatives is even more complex. So it is not exactly like buying a bag of $1 bills, if you just start buying a bunch of bags without looking in them. It is like buying an unopened bag of $1 bills and moths. It might have $100 of usable bills in it, or it might be all moths, or anywhere in between.

This is a problem for the government bail-out program; is the government going to look in each bag before it uses taxpayer money to buy it, or is it going to guess about the value of huge groups of bags using sampling techniques.

In free market theory prices are supposed to emerge in an efficient manner and result in efficient allocations of resources. Putting aside that there may be (in fact, are) problems with free market economics even when pricing of commodities is efficient, in the real world the conditions necessary for efficient pricing often don't exist.

For an auction to price items efficiently, there need to be a reasonable number of bidders and a reasonable number of items to bid on. If anyone has the power to set prices, prices will be set by that person, not by the market.

Even when there are reasonable numbers of buyers and sellers, because of human nature, prices can get out of whack, as in both bubbles and Depressions. The housing market is an auction market. Two years ago there were relatively few houses compared to bidders, resulting in unrealistic, high pricing. Now the same houses are in abundance compared to bidders, so in many cases sales are either not made (because in effect the people auctioning off their houses have set a minimum bid that no one will meet) or made at well below the real value of the house. The actual cost of construction being a good surrogate for real value for new homes, and that cost adjusted for inflation and physical deterioration being a good surrogate for used homes.

The Federal Reserve has been tasked with making sure their are neither too many nor too few dollars in circulation. When there are too many dollars, they are used freely to create inflation and asset bubbles. When there are too few dollars, people are forced to sell assets at less than their real values. Free market theories pretend that the only real value is the selling price, and it a very real sense that is true. But when selling prices depend on the whim of the Federal Reserve, you might want to ask yourself: what really is true, and what is bull?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fascism, Catholicism, and Vichy France

It is just a coincidence that I am writing more articles on the relationship between fascism and the Roman Catholic Church at a time when Joe Biden, a Catholic, looks likely to be elected Vice-President of the United States of America. Joe Biden does not strike me as religious. I am more worried that his record as a Senator seems to be mainly acting as a servant for Mastercard/Visa. He also helped broker the deals that allowed banks to combine with stock brokerage houses during the Clinton administration, a key ingredient in much of today's troubles.

I have been writing and gathering notes on the thesis that Fascism is closely bound up with the Catholic Church for decades. Then I found a used book, The Vatican In World Politics, by Avro Manhattan. I recently finished reading the book, and am now adding essays to using information from the book supplemented or fact-checked with more standard histories, for instance Alfred Cobban's A History of Modern France, volume 2.

Yesterday I posted Pius XI, Petain and the Rise of Fascist Vichy France. This outlines the Catholic influence on French fascism, and that means the influence of Pius XI. It adds another nail to the thesis that Pius XI was the architect of modern fascism. He and his Secretary of State (later Pius XII) and other representatives worked closely with each of the major fascist leaders (Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco, Philippe Petain) and many minor ones. While not all fascists were Catholics, all of the fascists who became dictators were.

Again, coincidentally, the old disputes about Pius XII failing to do much to save the Jews in fascist Europe from the Holocaust is in play because the current Pope, Hitler-youth graduate Benedict XVI, is trying to make Pius XII a saint. The mainstream coverage of the dispute is typically shallow. Pius XII was not some well-intended religious figure overwhelmed by those terrible Nazis. He was an engineer of the Holocaust, at least in the sense that he worked tirelessly during the 1930's to bring fascists to power.

It is often argued that Mussolini was not such a bad fascist, and that Hitler's persecution of the Jews went against the wishes of the Catholic Church. This is why a look at Petain and fascist Vichy France is so important. Fascism in France was an almost exclusively Catholic phenomena. Vichy France policy and practice therefore reflects the wishes of the Catholic hierarchy and Pius XII. In Vichy France the Catholic Church was the state Church. And Vichy France persecuted Jews, and everyone who was not Catholic, including non-Catholic Christians. If Vichy France did not put Jews in ovens, that had more to do with timing than with intent. Before Petain and crew could get around to doing it, the Russians were rolling the German army back towards Poland and the Allies were kicking Axis armies in North Africa and then Italy. Petain's thugs were too busy trying to kill Resistance fighters (many of whom were Jews) to build ovens.

If you want to learn more about fascism, I have gathered my essays on the topic on my Fascism main age. I'll be adding more essays there as I have time to write them. Did you know that Poland had a fascist regime before Hitler attacked it? It was also Catholic, but Pius XII decided to sacrifice it for the greater good: Hitler's promise to exterminate the atheist communists of Russia.

Where is this going? President George W. Bush accused militant Islam of being "Islamic Fascism." Leftists have accused George W. Bush of being a fascist. In this name game fascism just means "bad." There is little or real analysis added by the word. Fascism has something in common with all governments, and would-be governors: the use of force. Comparisons of any government or political groups to the fascism of Pius XI, Mussolini, Hitler, or Franco can be enlightening, but only if we know what that old fashioned fascism really stood for.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

George W. Bush, Herbert Hoover, and the Great Depression

George W. Bush has not been a very popular President. Many Republican Party members believe he has not done enough to push their religious agenda, or believe he has run up too big of a national deficit. Democratic Party members hate him because he is a Republican.

Now, on top of all that, there is the distinct possibility that George W. Bush will be tarred with an economic recession serious enough to be called a Depression. A serious recession may still be averted, but it is not unreasonable to contemplate Herbert Hoover at this time.

Hoover was Secretary of Commerce in the early 1920's and was elected President in 1928 by a landslide. He was an impressive guy. His background was humble. He became an engineer. Then while working in that capacity in China he was fated to deal with a humanitarian situation. After that he was frequently tapped to deal with large scale humanitarian food crises. He was probably the best-known humanitarian of his times. Because the Republican Party had become synonymous with economic prosperity in the 1920's and because he was personally popular, in the 1928 election Herbert Hoover carried every state in the Union except Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and 6 states in the Democrat-dominated racist Deep South.

When the stock market "crashed" in October 1929, no one thought that much about it. I once went back and read Wall Street Journal from that era, and no one said "Hey, this could be the start of a Great Depression." It was a market correction; everyone knew that stock prices were in a bubble, just like the Internet bubble that burst in 2001. Herbert Hoover did not burst the stock market bubble of 1929. George W. Bush did not burst the Internet bubble; he just happened to be President when enough people realized the party was over.

1930 was not a particularly bad year for the economy, just an ordinary recession year. So neither Hoover nor Congress did anything extraordinary. In the Congressional elections in the Fall of 1930 the Democratic Party did well, partly because of the recession and partly because the Republican Party had been in power for such a long time. The Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives, but the Republicans held on to the U. S. Senate.

As the economy worsened in 1931, Hoover tried to do more, including various kinds of aid for the unemployed and new public works projects, but Congress was not cooperating. Remember that they still did not know they were in anything but an ordinary recession. The Democrats in Congress were not New Deal Democrats. Many were segregationists from the South; many represented conservative business interests. The Democrats had little reason to cooperate with Hoover, and the most conservative Republicans, who saw Hoover as a flaming liberal, did not want to spend any taxpayer money on relief for those suffering from the recession.

In early 1932 the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was formed, but Congress underfunded it. It would later become the cornerstone of the New Deal.

In simplistic histories, especially those written by liberal academics, Hoover is said to have been a conservative, do nothing President. Certainly in the Presidential election of 1932 the Democrats and Franklin Delano Roosevelt blamed the nation's economic troubles on the Republicans and Herbert Hoover. That is what partisan politicians do.

Will we see history repeat itself this year? Apparently the public at large is really mad about the plan to restore the credit markets. The Press and certain politicians have characterized it as a bailout of Wall Street. I am not for giving money to the rich, but I don't see restoring credit markets as a giveaway program.

Many institutions are in place now that were not there when the Great Depression got underway in late 1932. We have Social Security and Unemployment Insurance, both of which allow many people to spend money during recessions.

The main negative difference, and where the danger lies, is that in 1928 the U.S. had almost no national debt. Right now we have a national debt that makes me wonder at the folly of people who are buying U.S. Treasury bonds as if they are a truly safe haven in times of distress. Failure of the U.S. government to pay its obligations is no longer unthinkable.

So let's not go there. The crisis should be a lesson to all of us (and businesses in particular): don't get into debt you can't do without. We have seen again that the adage, "A banker is a guy who will lend you an umbrella when it is sunny and ask for it back when it is raining," is just the nature of things.

Like him or not (I don't) George W. Bush is President, and that means his administration is charged with dealing with the crisis. Sabotaging Bush in this situation, because he is disliked for other reasons, is appallingly stupid. In a few months he's history. Let's hope when a new President takes office the economy is still functioning.

If there is a serious recession getting underway, it will be interesting to watch the blame game. It is funny to see House Republicans pretend they are suddenly all against Wall Street, but then I guess that, too, is what politicians do.