Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 22, 2012

Not One Moment to Remember Munich

In spite of the growing calls for a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the head of the International Olympic Committee said yesterday that he would not alter his determination to refuse to allow the issue to intrude upon the opening ceremonies of the London Games this Friday. Jacques Rogge said yesterday that it “was not fit” for a commemoration of Munich to be included in the gala start to the global athletic extravaganza.

This week, President Obama added his voice to those already calling for a moment of silence at the ceremony. Perhaps even more importantly, Bob Costas, NBC television’s Olympic host, has said that he will impose his own moment of silence on the coverage of the event when the Israeli team enters the stadium:

“I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” Costas said. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

Costas deserves great deal of credit for not allowing the IOC’s desire to keep the memory of Munich out of sight during the games (Rogge said he will attend a ceremony honoring the Munich victims in Germany next week). But while he finds the refusal to simply devote one minute to remembrance “puzzling,” there is no mystery about it. Rogge has called requests for such a memorial “political.” While there is nothing political about recalling the terrorist attack, by that he means that many of the participating nations are not comfortable highlighting a crime committed by Palestinians or honoring the memory of Israeli Jews. As historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote this past week, the controversy is more proof that in the eyes of the world, spilled Jewish blood remains a cheap commodity.

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In spite of the growing calls for a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the head of the International Olympic Committee said yesterday that he would not alter his determination to refuse to allow the issue to intrude upon the opening ceremonies of the London Games this Friday. Jacques Rogge said yesterday that it “was not fit” for a commemoration of Munich to be included in the gala start to the global athletic extravaganza.

This week, President Obama added his voice to those already calling for a moment of silence at the ceremony. Perhaps even more importantly, Bob Costas, NBC television’s Olympic host, has said that he will impose his own moment of silence on the coverage of the event when the Israeli team enters the stadium:

“I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” Costas said. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

Costas deserves great deal of credit for not allowing the IOC’s desire to keep the memory of Munich out of sight during the games (Rogge said he will attend a ceremony honoring the Munich victims in Germany next week). But while he finds the refusal to simply devote one minute to remembrance “puzzling,” there is no mystery about it. Rogge has called requests for such a memorial “political.” While there is nothing political about recalling the terrorist attack, by that he means that many of the participating nations are not comfortable highlighting a crime committed by Palestinians or honoring the memory of Israeli Jews. As historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote this past week, the controversy is more proof that in the eyes of the world, spilled Jewish blood remains a cheap commodity.

The symbolism of a moment of silence for the victims of the Munich crime is important because it again reminds us that the rhetoric about brotherhood and peace that is endlessly spouted during the two-week-long Olympics show is empty talk. As Lipstadt notes, no one could possibly doubt that if there were ever an assault on Western or Third World athletes and coaches at the Olympics, the tragedy would always be prominently remembered at opening ceremonies. The only thing preventing Rogge from acquiescing to what would seem to be a simple and easily satisfied request is that doing so would confer legitimacy on Israel’s presence at the Olympics that most of the world would rather not acknowledge. Nor are many of the nations whose flags will be paraded on Friday night happy about even a second being spent about Jewish victims of Palestinian terror. After all, doing so would be implicitly remind the world that Israel remains the one nation on the planet that is marked for extinction by the hatred of many of its neighbors.

While we think Costas’ stand on the moment of silence has added another reason to consider him one of the most thoughtful voices on television, the IOC’s ongoing refusal ought to give the rest of us a reason to skip the globaloney fest altogether.

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Exemptions Are the Rule on Iran Sanctions

President Obama’s apologists continue to trumpet the notion that his reliance on diplomacy and sanctions is the best route to stopping Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons. Though the partial oil embargo is making the lives of ordinary Iranians a bit more difficult, the sanctions are so riddled with holes that they are not proving much of a deterrent to the Iranian oil industry’s plans for foreign ventures let alone being enough to force Tehran to give up its nuclear ambition. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, the West’s “crippling sanctions” are not stopping an Iranian energy company from making a bid on a French oil refinery.

Iran’s Tadbir Energy is being allowed to bid on the Petit-Couronne refinery, which supplies fuel to Paris. According to the Journal it refines approximately ten percent of the country’s energy. But since Tadbir is not owned by the Iranian government it may wind up taking control of the refinery whose previous Swiss owner has gone belly up. The Imam Khomeini Foundation controls Tadbir, one of Iran’s biggest philanthropies whose close ties with the Islamist regime can easily be imagined. Though the financial restrictions on dealing with Iran and its central bank will complicate Tadbir’s administration of the plant, France’s government, which has been an ardent advocate of sanctions, is not blocking the bid. While this potential transaction is not as significant as the exemptions granted by the Obama administration to China and India to go on purchasing Iranian oil, it is one more sign not only of the widespread evasion of the sanctions but that the Iranians believe they can be waited out.

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President Obama’s apologists continue to trumpet the notion that his reliance on diplomacy and sanctions is the best route to stopping Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons. Though the partial oil embargo is making the lives of ordinary Iranians a bit more difficult, the sanctions are so riddled with holes that they are not proving much of a deterrent to the Iranian oil industry’s plans for foreign ventures let alone being enough to force Tehran to give up its nuclear ambition. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, the West’s “crippling sanctions” are not stopping an Iranian energy company from making a bid on a French oil refinery.

Iran’s Tadbir Energy is being allowed to bid on the Petit-Couronne refinery, which supplies fuel to Paris. According to the Journal it refines approximately ten percent of the country’s energy. But since Tadbir is not owned by the Iranian government it may wind up taking control of the refinery whose previous Swiss owner has gone belly up. The Imam Khomeini Foundation controls Tadbir, one of Iran’s biggest philanthropies whose close ties with the Islamist regime can easily be imagined. Though the financial restrictions on dealing with Iran and its central bank will complicate Tadbir’s administration of the plant, France’s government, which has been an ardent advocate of sanctions, is not blocking the bid. While this potential transaction is not as significant as the exemptions granted by the Obama administration to China and India to go on purchasing Iranian oil, it is one more sign not only of the widespread evasion of the sanctions but that the Iranians believe they can be waited out.

As the Journal points out, the interesting thing about the bid is not so much the ability of a major Iranian financial player to acquire such an important Western asset in the midst of the international community’s allegedly fearsome sanctions plan but that they believe the restrictions will soon be dropped. Tadbir and its Islamist owners are not just betting that they’ll be allowed to become the source of the fuel that makes the city of light twinkle but that the sanctions will be dropped before they have to worry about dealing with the details.

That’s a calculation based on a belief that both the Obama administration and the European nations that pushed for sanctions will tire of the effort and that the booming business between Iran and the West will soon be back on track. Given the fact that the Treasury Department has already issued thousands of exemptions to companies that wish to deal with Iran and that President Obama has assured China and India that the U.S. will not prevent their ongoing oil trading with Tehran, why shouldn’t the ayatollahs think that after the presidential election they may be dealing with a president who thinks he has the “flexibility” to make their problems disappear. That may not be an accurate reading of President Obama’s intentions but at this point there is little doubt that the Iranians believe it is so.

All of this illustrates that diplomacy and sanctions are proving to be a dead end that will do nothing to stop Iran. Though the administration is determined to kick the can down the road until after November — and is even applauded by some purveyors of mainstream opinion for doing so — if the United States is serious about dealing with this threat, either the loopholes in sanctions must be sealed up or Washington is going to have to start talking more about the use of force.

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Value: $0, Taxes: $40 Million

This week’s winner of the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up contest is undoubtedly a front-page story in this morning’s New York Times. When New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend died in 2007, she left her children a fabulous collection of modern art valued at $1 billion. Her children have already paid $471 million in estate taxes on the collection, being forced to sell off most of it to meet the bill. (This is a beautiful example, by the way, of why estate taxes should be abolished and replaced with a capital gains tax on inherited assets—the collection, an artistic whole in itself, had to be destroyed to pay the taxes due.)

But there is one item in the collection, a work by Robert Rauschenberg that cannot be sold. It contains a stuffed bald eagle and under the terms of the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Act, it is a felony to “possess, sell, purchase, barter, transport, import or export any bald eagle — alive or dead.” The estate, advised by three experts, including one from Christie’s, therefore, valued the work at zero. The IRS decided it was worth $65 million, and is demanding $29.2 million in taxes and $11 million in penalties because the heirs “inaccurately” stated its value.

The trouble, of course, is that the heirs didn’t inaccurately state its value. Anything that cannot, for whatever reason, be sold, is worth zero by economic definition. The value of anything is only what someone else is willing to pay for it. And to pay a dime for this particular artwork would be to commit a federal felony. To sell it for a dime would be to commit a federal felony.

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This week’s winner of the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up contest is undoubtedly a front-page story in this morning’s New York Times. When New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend died in 2007, she left her children a fabulous collection of modern art valued at $1 billion. Her children have already paid $471 million in estate taxes on the collection, being forced to sell off most of it to meet the bill. (This is a beautiful example, by the way, of why estate taxes should be abolished and replaced with a capital gains tax on inherited assets—the collection, an artistic whole in itself, had to be destroyed to pay the taxes due.)

But there is one item in the collection, a work by Robert Rauschenberg that cannot be sold. It contains a stuffed bald eagle and under the terms of the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Act, it is a felony to “possess, sell, purchase, barter, transport, import or export any bald eagle — alive or dead.” The estate, advised by three experts, including one from Christie’s, therefore, valued the work at zero. The IRS decided it was worth $65 million, and is demanding $29.2 million in taxes and $11 million in penalties because the heirs “inaccurately” stated its value.

The trouble, of course, is that the heirs didn’t inaccurately state its value. Anything that cannot, for whatever reason, be sold, is worth zero by economic definition. The value of anything is only what someone else is willing to pay for it. And to pay a dime for this particular artwork would be to commit a federal felony. To sell it for a dime would be to commit a federal felony.

The IRS has an “Art Advisory Panel,” that provides expert advice on the value of art works involved in estates. It was the panel that decided it was worth $65 million. Stephanie Barron, a member of the panel and an art curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said that, “It’s a stunning work of art and we all just cringed at the idea of saying that this had zero value. It just didn’t make any sense.”

It makes perfect sense and Ms. Barron’s statement is a classic example of the fallacy of the just price, that things have inherent value independent of the marketplace. They may have artistic value, emotional value, religious value, etc. But if they cannot be sold then they have no monetary value because they cannot be converted into money.

The IRS Art Advisory Board, I assume, is made up of art experts. It should add an economist to give the other board members a lesson in economics 101 when necessary. And the IRS should have someone empowered to tell the Bureau, “Are you crazy? This will make us look like idiots, and vindictive idiots at that.”

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Why Nothing Can Be Done About Shootings

When Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous speculated about the possibility that the tragedy was the work of a Tea Party member on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday they were probably saying aloud what most of the mainstream liberal media was thinking at the time. ABC has apologized for this irresponsible comment but now that it’s become clear that a mentally disturbed person with no apparent political agenda committed the tragedy, many on the left have fallen back on the trope that more gun control measures might have prevented the crime and are venting their frustration about the fact that the American people have little interest in more gun laws.

It is an article of faith on the left that banning certain types of weapons and making it more difficult to obtain all firearms will deter or prevent crime. The best we can say of this belief is that it is an unproven assumption. True or not, it’s clear the majority of Americans believe that government interference with gun rights scares them more than random acts of violence by the insane. But it is interesting that few seem to be speaking about a far more obvious conclusion that could be drawn from Aurora: the need to focus more attention on treating and preventing mental illness. But the problem with promoting that far more germane and productive line of inquiry is that it serves no one’s political interest.

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When Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous speculated about the possibility that the tragedy was the work of a Tea Party member on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday they were probably saying aloud what most of the mainstream liberal media was thinking at the time. ABC has apologized for this irresponsible comment but now that it’s become clear that a mentally disturbed person with no apparent political agenda committed the tragedy, many on the left have fallen back on the trope that more gun control measures might have prevented the crime and are venting their frustration about the fact that the American people have little interest in more gun laws.

It is an article of faith on the left that banning certain types of weapons and making it more difficult to obtain all firearms will deter or prevent crime. The best we can say of this belief is that it is an unproven assumption. True or not, it’s clear the majority of Americans believe that government interference with gun rights scares them more than random acts of violence by the insane. But it is interesting that few seem to be speaking about a far more obvious conclusion that could be drawn from Aurora: the need to focus more attention on treating and preventing mental illness. But the problem with promoting that far more germane and productive line of inquiry is that it serves no one’s political interest.

The impulse to politicize the non-political is not limited to the left. Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert said the tragedy was the product of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” No doubt that is something that many who worry about the direction of the country think whenever anything bad happens. Indeed, Gohmert’s statement recalls Newt Gingrich’s belief that Susan Smith’s murder of her two children in 1994 was the result of a sick society that could be cured by more people voting Republican. Liberals rightly mock such claims but that doesn’t stop them from riding their own favorite hobbyhorses when tragedy strikes.

If, as Politico rightly pointed out on Friday, that “nothing can be done” about such events, it is not really because of the power of the National Rifle Association but because the assumption that there is a political answer to every question is a fallacy. Many liberals may believe that it is only the evil gun lobby that enables the insane to do insane things while some conservatives may think it is the breakdown of civilization caused by liberalism. Politics and government are not the solution to everything. Senseless violence is just that. But discussing mental illness does not advance the cause of neither the left nor the right. So we are left after anything terrible happens listening to the same tired clichés about guns and liberals. The best that can be said about all of this is that the American people are far too sensible to be influenced by the sort of vapid commentary that we have been subjected to in the aftermath of Aurora.

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