Follow by Email

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gail Collins, "Meet Me at the Fair": What a 2014 New York World's Fair Might Resemble

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

- John Fitzgerald Kennedy, June 26, 1963


"That's some good sushi right there"

- Barack Hussein Obama, April 23, 2014


Can you imagine President Obama traveling to the Ukraine tomorrow and declaring "I am a Kiever"? I didn't think so.

But as long as we're on the subject of things past, are you old enough to remember visiting the 1964 New York World’s Fair? I am. I remember stopping at the AT&T pavilion, where the difference in dialing time between a standard rotary dial telephone and a new touch tone phone was demonstrated. I also remember at the time how my grandfather expressed the wish to wake up again in another 50 years and see how technology had changed.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Meet Me at the Fair" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/opinion/collins-meet-me-at-the-fair.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), Gail Collins also dredges up recollections of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Collins concludes:

"Just this week, The Times reported that Canada may have outstripped the United States when it comes to middle-class wealth. That seemed like a double-whammy. First, it was still more evidence of growing income inequality. Second, the Canadians didn’t even seem all that excited. Trish Hennessy, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said besting the American middle was 'like comparing ourselves to a sinking stone.' Ouch.

It’d be nice to go back to the old utopian futures. Dream you fell asleep in 2014 and woke up 50 years down the line. What do you want to see? Re-imagine the schools and the housing and the public enterprises. Don’t concentrate on computers. The computers will take care of themselves. Also, no more highways. If we’re going to talk transportation, let’s work on those transporters they have in 'Star Trek.'

Think positive, or move to Toronto."

Query: Can you even begin to imagine a 2014 New York World's Fair with parents walking around with children on leashes for fear that their little ones will be kidnapped? And then there would be the snipers on the roofs, seeking to avert a terrorist bombing, all behind a backdrop of fiscal anxiety regarding what cost overruns could do to the budgets of the state and city.

But more to the point, as I near the age of my grandfather at the time of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, I have no interest in being placed in suspended animation and waking up in another 50 years to witness technological change. I don't like the direction in which the world is going.

Move to Toronto? I don't think so. Too cold. More to the point, I'm tired of being singled out for questioning by their immigration authority:

"Why are you here?"

"Well, I've come to discuss human clinical trials with your hospital system of a new retinal device intended to restore vision."

Although fast approaching the age of 60, I still appear suspicious. As indicated earlier, I did not inherit my grandfather's optimistic outlook, and perhaps I need to write in my will: "Do not resuscitate under any circumstances."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Maureen Dowd, "A Saint, He Ain’t": Kicking the Vatican Where It Counts

Maureen Dowd never gets tired of kicking the Vatican where it counts.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "A Saint, He Ain’t" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/opinion/dowd-a-saint-he-aint.html?ref=opinion), Maureen Dowd recalls how she nearly rolled off the alter during her christening, then rips into the forthcoming canonization of Pope John Paul II, whom, she says, ignored child molestation within the Catholic Church. Dowd's conclusion:

"The church is giving its biggest prize to the person who could have fixed the spreading stain and did nothing. The buck, or in this case, the Communion wafer, doesn’t stop here. There is something wounding and ugly about the church signaling that those thousands of betrayed, damaged victims are now taken for granted as a slowly fading asterisk.

John Paul may be a revolutionary figure in the history of the church, but a man who looked away in a moral crisis cannot be described as a saint.

When the church elevates him, it is winking at the hell it caused for so many children and young people in its care.

A big holy wink."

The war against child molestation? I spent some five years of my life trying to fight it, and I watched with revulsion as as many people I knew looked the other way.

Expect the church to actively combat this plague? Sorry, but I have no expectations from organized religion of any kind.

Saints? There have been a few in my lifetime. Irena Sendler (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2010/04/irena-sendler-catholic-woman-of.html) certainly deserves to be canonized. But heck, she was only a Polish nurse who saved thousands of Jewish children during World War II and not a pope.

Thomas Friedman, "It’s All About May 25": From the North Pole to Kiev, Tom Has Answers

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again
No, no!

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss


- "Won't Get Fooled Again," The Who

Do you remember how Thomas Friedman gushed over nascent Egyptian democracy and the Arab Spring from Cairo's Tahrir Square? Well, fresh from a submarine trip to the North Pole, Tom is back with more drivel enlightenment from the Ukraine. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "It’s All About May 25" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/opinion/friedman-its-all-about-may-25.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), Friedman strolls around Kiev's Independence Square and declares (my emphasis in red):

"It would have been nice if we could have forged a compromise with President Vladimir Putin of Russia that would have allowed Ukraine to gradually join the European Union and not threaten him.

. . . .

Our job is to back Putin off so the elections can happen."

Excuse me, but who is this "we" to whom Friedman so blithely refers? Is it Barack Obama, who so blithely promised "flexibility" during his second term to Vladimir Putin?

Elections will back Putin into a corner? Yeah, right.

Friedman's conclusion:

"In sum, it was courageous Ukrainians who gave birth to their own clean democracy movement, because they were fed up. But Putin can’t live with a successful, Westward-looking democracy here, and young Ukrainians can’t live without it. So, for it to thrive, we have to make sure Putin doesn’t kill it in the crib, and they have to make sure their old-line politicians don’t kill it before it learns to walk."

Ah yes, "courageous Ukrainians," "clean democracy movement," "young Ukrainians" who "can't live" without "Westward-looking democracy." Kind of makes you want to vomit.

Does anyone, other than Friedman, place value on this stream of "thought" (after all, if he thinks it, surely it must be important)? Unfortunately, the answer is yes: Obama still reads this windbag.

Monday, April 21, 2014

David Brooks, "The Leadership Emotions": Obama, the Anti-Leader, Who Leads From Behind

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Leadership Emotions" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/22/opinion/brooks-the-leadership-emotions.html?ref=davidbrooks&_r=0), David Brooks analyzes the battle between "amateur decision making," based upon "experience, intuition, affection, moral sentiments, imagination and genuineness," and "professional tactics and strategy," deriving from "public opinion analysis, message control, media management and self-conscious positioning." Examining how Obama only came around to backing gay marriage after Biden inadvertently took the lead, Brooks concludes:

"In every White House, and in many private offices, there seems to be a tug of war between those who want to express this messy amateur humanism and those calculators who emphasize message discipline, preventing leaks and maximum control. In most of the offices, there’s a fear of natural messiness, a fear of uncertainty, a distrust of that which is not scientific. The calculators are given too much control.

The leadership emotions, which should propel things, get amputated. The shrewd tacticians end up timidly and defensively running the expedition."

In every White House this "tug of war" exists? This is probably true, but there have been few, if any, administrations whose decision-making has been more attuned to catering to majority sentiments than that of Barack Obama. This, in turn, has given rise to a peculiarity: Notwithstanding the fact that Obama's foreign policy has provided a majority of Americans with exactly what they seemed to want, the president's foreign policy is also held in contempt by a majority of Americans. As observed by Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "President Obama’s foreign policy paradox" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/president-obamas-foreign-policy-paradox/2014/03/26/c5284c2e-b4f8-11e3-8cb6-284052554d74_story.html):

"Whether one likes President Obama’s conduct of foreign policy or not, the common assumption is that the administration is at least giving the American people the foreign policy they want. The majority of Americans have opposed any meaningful U.S. role in Syria, have wanted to lessen U.S. involvement in the Middle East generally, are eager to see the 'tide of war' recede and would like to focus on 'nation-building at home.' Until now, the president generally has catered to and encouraged this public mood, so one presumes that he has succeeded, if nothing else, in gaining the public’s approval.

Yet, surprisingly, he hasn’t. The president’s approval ratings on foreign policy are dismal. According to the most recent CBS News poll, only 36 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing on foreign policy, while 49 percent disapprove.

. . . .

Presidents are not always rewarded for doing what the public says it wants. Sometimes they are rewarded for doing just the opposite. Bill Clinton enjoyed higher approval ratings after intervening in Bosnia and Kosovo, even though majorities of Americans had opposed both interventions before he launched them."

Bill Clinton taking the lead in Bosnia and Kosovo? How about Franklin Roosevelt assisting the UK against the Nazis even prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, notwithstanding strong American isolationist sentiments?

Yesterday, Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor of The Washington Post, took the position that Obama's dependence upon public polling has also determined his domestic policy. Hiatt observed how the president "cold-shouldered the bipartisan [Simpson-Bowles commission] he had appointed to right the nation’s finances for the long term" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-obama-needs-to-lead-not-follow-polls/2014/04/20/72fdb36c-c73b-11e3-9f37-7ce307c56815_story.html).

But back to the Brooks op-ed: Is David correct in labeling presidential decision-making based upon "experience, intuition, affection, moral sentiments, imagination and genuineness" as "amateur"? Doesn't leadership entail the occasional willingness to buck majority sentiment and steer the public onto the moral high-road?

However, with only two and a half years left to his presidency, don't be expecting a teleprompter-reading president, who promised "Change," to change course. Obama is destined to be remembered as the "anti-leader" who led from behind.

Moreover, unless he is soon able to change course, he will leave the Oval Office with a stagnant economy, an unwieldy national debt, and a foreign policy most kindly described as wishy-washy.

It remains to be seen how Hillary will seek to distance herself from this "legacy."







Sunday, April 20, 2014

Paul Krugman, "Sweden Turns Japanese": What'chu talkin' 'bout, Paul?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Sweden Turns Japanese" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/opinion/krugman-sweden-turns-japanese.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Paul Krugman sounds an alarm regarding the Swedish economy. Krugman writes:

"Three years ago Sweden was widely regarded as a role model in how to deal with a global crisis. The nation’s exports were hit hard by slumping world trade but snapped back; its well-regulated banks rode out the financial storm; its strong social insurance programs supported consumer demand; and unlike much of Europe, it still had its own currency, giving it much-needed flexibility. By mid-2010 output was surging, and unemployment was falling fast. Sweden, declared The Washington Post, was 'the rock star of the recovery.'

Then the sadomonetarists moved in.

The story so far: In 2010 Sweden’s economy was doing much better than those of most other advanced countries. But unemployment was still high, and inflation was low. Nonetheless, the Riksbank — Sweden’s equivalent of the Federal Reserve — decided to start raising interest rates.

. . . .

Sure enough, Swedish unemployment stopped falling soon after the rate hikes began. Deflation took a little longer, but it eventually arrived. The rock star of the recovery has turned itself into Japan."

An economic disaster in Sweden? What'chu talkin' 'bout, Paul?

According to the European Commission (http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-02-25/sweden-to-grow-fastest-in-nordic-region-eu-commission-says):

"Swedish gross domestic product will grow 2.5 percent this year and 3.3 percent in 2015, the commission said in a report published today. The 2015 expansion rate would be the fastest in the Nordic region and only surpassed in the European Union by the growth rates in the three Baltic states, according to the commission.

'The Swedish economy now follows a more robust growth track and economic activity is expected to gradually accelerate,' the Brussels-based commission said. 'Gross fixed capital formation is expected to rebound sharply in the coming years, adding a new engine to economic growth.'"

The unemployment rate in Sweden? Stable at 8.1% in February 2014, compared with 6.7% in the US, up from 6.6% in January 2014, notwithstanding rock bottom interest rates in America, which have not succeeded in fomenting employment, particularly among the long-term unemployed (see: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/3-01042014-AP/EN/3-01042014-AP-EN.PDF and http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/long-term-unemployed-struggle-to-find--and-keep--jobs/2014/04/18/134c48f6-c4ad-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html).

So why is unemployment higher in Sweden than in the US? Time to acknowledge what is often deemed politically incorrect: As reported in an Economist article entitled "The ins and the outs" (http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21570836-immigration-and-growing-inequality-are-making-nordics-less-homogeneous-ins-and):

"In Sweden 26% of all prisoners, and 50% of prisoners serving more than five years, are foreigners. Some 46% of the jobless are non-Europeans, and 40% of non-Europeans are classified as poor, compared with only 10% of native Swedes."

These dismal numbers are not susceptible to meaningful improvement by tweaking interest rates downward, as suggested by Krugman.

Remarkably, a mere week ago, CNNMoney published an article entitled "Long-term unemployment: What the U.S. can learn from Sweden" (http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2014/04/14/us-long-term-unemployment-sweden/), suggesting that the US emulate Sweden's wage subsidy program.

An economic disaster in the making in Sweden? Sorry, Paul, not yet, and certainly not owing to higher interest rates.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2": Why You Wouldn't Want a Job at Google, Part 2

Yes, I know you're only 20 years old, but what do you want out of life? A job that's a way station, or are you already hungry for more?

In a prior New York Times op-ed entitled "How to Get a Job at Google" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-to-get-a-job-at-google.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Thomas Friedman sought to provide advice for youngsters considering college and careers. After describing a meeting with Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president responsible for hiring at Google, Friedman concluded:

"Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work."

In response to Friedman's opinion piece (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/02/thomas-friedman-how-to-get-job-at.html), I agreed with Mr. Bock that "people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world . . . are exceptional human beings." I also observed that my years in college and law school were a waste of time, which did not teach me anything of value.

Today, in his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-to-get-a-job-at-google-part-2.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Friedman tells us that he returned to Mr. Bock in search of more advice for job hunters. Friedman concludes this opinion piece by asking him "What’s your best advice for job interviews?" Mr. Bock's response:

“What you want to do is say: ‘Here’s the attribute I’m going to demonstrate; here’s the story demonstrating it; here’s how that story demonstrated that attribute.’” And here is how it can create value. “Most people in an interview don’t make explicit their thought process behind how or why they did something and, even if they are able to come up with a compelling story, they are unable to explain their thought process.”

But if you're really a hotshot, i.e. the best of the best of the best, and are better than anyone else at explaining your thought processes and triggering innovation, are you honestly interested in devoting your youth to online searches, data storage and advertising? Google is so big, can you have an impact upon the organization? Sure, the salary and perks are fabulous, and maybe Google is a great way station, but perhaps there's so much more you can do with your talent.

Yes, I know: I'm a fine one to talk. I wasted years with a financial institution, until discovering the courage to leave and take my chances. I urge you to reread the final stanza of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken":

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Perhaps I was not ready to go it on my own until after I turned 50. Fortunately, however, roads can diverge in a wood more than once in a lifetime.

Maureen Dowd, "Still Getting Wolf Whistles at 50": In Love With a Mustang? I Prefer Dogs!

Sometimes you get lucky. In 1981, when reversing my 1970 Mercury Cougar (a Mustang knock-off) out of a driveway, I hit the brakes, and my foot went down to the floor without resistance. A tree prevented me from rolling into a gully, but I knew it was time to say goodbye, notwithstanding its 351 Cleveland V-8 Engine, sequential tail lights and all the personal history that went with the car.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Still Getting Wolf Whistles at 50" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/opinion/sunday/dowd-still-getting-wolf-whistles-at-50.html?ref=maureendowd&_r=0), Maureen Dowd tells of her ’65 Mustang convertible:

"IT’S weird to be jealous of your car.

But I am.

Men look at my car with such naked lust, their eyes devouring the curves and chrome, that I often feel as though I’m intruding on an intimate moment. Women like it, too. They sometimes grin and give it a thumbs up as it growls by, and one girlfriend fondly refers to it as 'the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Goddess car.'"

Naked lust for a car? Not me. I prefer dogs.

But as I swiftly approach my 60th and my eyebrows turn white, wouldn't it be nice, just once more, to feel the foolish power and freedom afforded by youth?