Here's a quote that has gotten little play in the press over the last week. (I was going to say "remarkably little play," but then I realized there's nothing remarkable about it.) From the website of the Israel Policy Forum (via Philip Weiss who read about it via Richard Silverstein):
On Thursday, November 6, IPF National Scholar Steven L. Spiegel moderated a discussion with Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent of The Atlantic and Alon Pinkas, President of the U.S.-Israel Institute at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel-Aviv. The following is a summary of their remarks.
What effect did the election rumors about President-elect Barak Obama have on the Jewish vote? What may the impact be of the Chief of Staff appointment of Rahm Emanuel, whose parents are Israeli?
Jeffrey Goldberg: The rumor about Obama’s “Jewish problem” was one of the non-stories of the campaign. Approximately 78 percent of the Jews who voted went for Obama. Obviously, they didn’t buy it. It is interesting, however, that if you had been able to tell people that “the guy who will be running the White House is essentially an Israeli,” it may have quieted some people down.
Rahm Emanuel’s appointment might be proof that Obama is going to come out of the gate to try and work on Middle East peace issues almost immediately. Emanuel is emotionally tied to Israel in ways that very few politicians are, and is unyielding on Israel’s right to exist. However, his low tolerance for nonsense and his willingness to get into people’s faces should give caution to those who think he will be some sort of “rubber stamp” to all of Israel’s policies. At the same time, it is going to be hard for people to argue that he is anti-Israel.
I have a hard time getting very interested in Israeli-Palestinian disputes, but let me mention something more general: You keep hearing about how Barack Obama's election has raised America's image abroad (apparently on the theory that the Chinese, the Indians, the Russians, the Japanese, and the Arabs are extremely pro-black, which, I must admit, I haven't ever noticed much evidence for). What nobody has mentioned is that much of the anti-Americanism around the world is related to the view that America and Israel are too closely linked. How Obama's appointing Emanuel as Chief of Staff will solve that problem is unclear, to say the least.
Now, let me change the subject to my own country:
Something nobody has thought much about yet is whether or not this kind of obeisance to Jewish political power that Barack Obama displayed by making Rahm Emanuel his first appointment after his election is so pre-financial catastrophe. Has the political donor landscape shifted in the last month with the collapse of so many speculative financial institutions?
The biggest single reason, for example, that the American Enterprise Institute was both so influential and so extreme in the run-up to the Iraq Attaq was not that its idea were so hot but that its chairman of the board, commodity trader Bruce Kovner, was #106 on the Forbes 500.
As a glance at the names on the Forbes 400 shows, Jewish people tend to have a lot of money. And they are famous for being much more likely than anybody else to donate it to politicians and public policy organizations.
But, is this kind of discretionary wealth drying up?
For example, a year ago, there was much speculation about how many hundreds of millions of dollars would Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands casino owner who was ranked as the 3rd richest man in America, was going to funnel through his new Freedom Watch organization to buy ads for neocon Republican candidates in 2008. Well, John McCain got the nomination, but Freedom Watch just remained a shell, not spending much of anything for McCain. Now we know why. From Bloomberg yesterday:
During this period [2004-2007], Adelson got rich faster than anyone in history, “making just under $1 million an hour,” said Peter W. Bernstein, co-author of “All the Money in the World,” a study of billionaires on the Forbes list out in paperback next month.
Forbes recalculated its rich list for the Oct. 27 issue and found Adelson’s fortune dropped $4 billion from Aug. 29 to Oct. 1, the steepest decline for any American who lost at least $1 billion. At his present pace, the one-year loss may rank as the largest ever for a U.S. billionaire in percentage terms, according to Bernstein.
Since Las Vegas Sands stock peaked, Adelson lost about $3.5 million an hour, counting just the value of his stake. [The stock is down 95% from its peak.]
Adelson expanded at “the worst possible time,” said Travis Sell, a consumer-industry analyst at Minneapolis-based Thrivent Asset Management, which doesn’t own shares in Las Vegas Sands.
Gaming revenue for Las Vegas Strip casinos fell for the eighth straight month in August from a year earlier, the longest streak of declines since records began in 1983, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board in Carson City. Macau felt the contraction as the number of visitors was off 10 percent in September.
Adelson bet more heavily on Macau than any other U.S. casino, pledging $12 billion for new hotels, casinos and condominiums to create a mass-market tourist destination like Las Vegas. The Sands Macao was the first Vegas-style casino to open there in 2004, followed three years later by the Venetian Macao. Work has started on five other developments, among them a tower called the Shangri-La.
His decisions went against the grain of other casino operators, who were pulling back. As the subprime credit crisis worsened, Adelson was opening a 50-floor tower called the Palazzo adjacent to the Venetian in Las Vegas, making the 7,093- room complex the largest hotel and resort in the world.
Steve Wynn, chief executive of Wynn Resorts Ltd., delayed expansion of the Wynn Macau after the Chinese government began restricting visas in April 2007. Adelson called Wynn’s decision “wrong” in August 2007.
“If Steve Wynn is so smart, why isn’t he richer than I am?” Adelson said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “I’ve proven it over 50 times in my life: You change the status quo, then you’re going to win.”
Wynn Resorts has withstood the dip in gambling revenue better than the Las Vegas Sands and replaced it as the largest casino operator by market value last month. Adelson’s hotel slipped to third place, behind Wynn and MGM Mirage.Adelson’s company said Nov. 10 it would leave the Macau developments half-finished as it focuses on completing a new casino in Singapore.
But don't worry too much over poor Sheldon:
“If the world came to an end, there would be cockroaches and Sheldon,” said David Kaminer, 64, a former vice president at an Adelson operation that ran the Comdex computer trade show in Las Vegas. “And Sheldon would immediately be smart enough to open a pest-control company.”
The big kahuna in terms of political throw-weight, however, is not Las Vegas but Wall Street. If the total wealth of financial industry figures contracts by, say, 50%, that will make bankrolling political activism harder to justify.
On the other hand, maybe the opposite is true. With the government quasi-nationalizing much of the financial industry (and who knows how much else), maybe investing in think tanks and public intellectuals offers a higher return on investment than ever. I've long felt that the real question is not why wealthy Jewish people contribute so much to public policy institutions but why everybody else who is rich doesn't contribute much at all.
Lots of people have been donating money to Harvard in the hopes of getting their kid into Harvard so he can then get a job at an investment bank and get rich. Well, guess what? There aren't any investment banks now! So, why not invest in a think tank that will come up with ideas for what the government should do with all the trillions it's printing up and handing out. As I wrote in 2007, Harvard has an endowment of $35 billion, while the American Enterprise Institute has an endowment of $76 million. You get more bang for the buck donating to public intellectuals than to universities (literally in the case of AEI):
So, $76 million is just a little over 1/500th of Harvard's $35 billion. Now Harvard has lots of things that AEI doesn't have, but, let me ask you this: Does it have its own war?