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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Paul Krugman's "The President Surrenders"

Thank goodness, this time I was right: A compromise settlement involving the debt ceiling was indeed reached. However, many liberal commentators are enraged by this bargain and leveling scathing criticism on President Obama.

In his column in today's New York Times entitled "The President Surrenders" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/01/opinion/the-president-surrenders-on-debt-ceiling.html?hp), Paul Krugman intersperses venom directed at Republicans with bile aimed at the president. Krugman's anger at Republicans could be anticipated; however, his furor with the president is unprecedented:

"And then there are the reported terms of the deal, which amount to an abject surrender on the part of the president.

. . . .

In fact, Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats.

. . . .

Did the president have any alternative this time around? Yes.

First of all, he could and should have demanded an increase in the debt ceiling back in December. When asked why he didn’t, he replied that he was sure that Republicans would act responsibly. Great call.

. . . .

But wouldn’t taking a tough stance have worried markets? Probably not. In fact, if I were an investor I would be reassured, not dismayed, by a demonstration that the president is willing and able to stand up to blackmail on the part of right-wing extremists. Instead, he has chosen to demonstrate the opposite."

Now consider what the New York Times's token conservative, bad boy columnist, Ross Douthat, has to say in his op-ed entitled "The Diminished President" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/01/opinion/the-diminished-president.html?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjson8.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Fopinion%2Findex.jsonp):

"But winning a debate on points isn’t a substitute for looking like a leader. It’s one thing to bemoan politics-as-usual when you’re running for the White House. It’s quite another to publicly throw up your hands over our 'dysfunctional government' when you’re the man the voters put in charge of it.

. . . .

This leaves Americans to contemplate two possibilities more alarming than debt-ceiling brinkmanship. First, that we’re living through yet another failed presidency. And second, that there’s nobody waiting in the wings who’s up to the task either."

In essence, this is one of those rare instances where Krugman and Douthat are in agreement: Obama lacks the leadership skills to take the US forward.

Where have you previously heard someone bemoan this lack of leadership? Have another look at "Official: Obama Worst President in U.S. History" (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/08/official-obama-worst-president-in-us.html), written almost a year ago, in which I labeled an absence of leadership as the hallmark of the Obama administration. Sadly, nothing has occurred to make me change my opinion.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Maureen Dowd's "Tempest in a Tea Party": Maybe Obama Just Wants To Be Loved

In her latest New York Times column entitled "Tempest in a Tea Party" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/opinion/sunday/dowd-tempest-in-a-tea-party.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Maureen Dowd justifiably rips into those in the Tea Party, who, blind like Samson, are attempting to bring the temple down upon themselves. But whereas her criticism of the Tea Party was to be anticipated, her scalding criticism of Obama breaks new ground:

"Amid the chilling anarchy, there’s not a single strong leader to be seen — not even a misguided one. All the leaders are followers. You have to wonder if President Obama at some level doesn’t want to lead. Maybe he just wants to be loved.

. . . .

Democratic lawmakers worry that the Tea Party freshmen have already 'neutered' the president, as one told me. They fret that Obama is an inept negotiator. They worry that he should have been out in the country selling a concrete plan, rather than once more kowtowing to Republicans and, as with the stimulus plan, health care and Libya, leading from behind.

. . . .

The laconic president emerges from the sidelines periodically to warn about economic default, but we’re already in political default."

Maybe Obama "just wants to be loved"? Given that Obama was abandoned by his father at the age of two and sent away by his mother at the age of 10, this should sadly come as no surprise. Likewise, Obama's inability to foresee the debt ceiling crisis, his abrupt about-face on deficit spending, and his incapacity to broker a deal, all stemming from an arrogance which in turn might be attributed to an absence of parental love, were also to be expected.

Bottom line: We are witnessing the ultimate game of "chicken," where both Republicans and Democrats are demonstrating their willingness to jeopardize the future of the US as they pursue partisan political advantage: Republicans fearful of compromise which could cause them to be jettisoned in favor of persons further to the right in contested primaries; Democrats unable to consider any agreement that might require further consideration of the debt ceiling prior to the November 2012 elections.

Maddening and sickening, yet unless all of these politicians are truly insane, someone will flinch before the onrushing train squashes the economy.

Aluf Benn, "Israel's Lost Chance": A Call for "Creative Diplomacy"

Aluf Benn, editor-at-large of Haaretz, Israel's uber-left newspaper with a miniscule circulation of some six percent of Israeli newspaper readership on weekdays (see: http://972mag.com/the-political-line-of-israeli-papers-a-readers-guide/), was again given the opportunity to publish his views on the uber-left op-ed page of The New York Times. In his latest "contributor" op-ed entitled "Israel's Lost Chance" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/30/opinion/netanyahus-missed-opportunity.html?hp), Benn alleges that Netanyahu sought a confrontation with Obama during his last visit to the US and needs to engage in "creative diplomacy" in order to stave off a third Palestinian intifada in September:

"When he visited America in May, Mr. Netanyahu picked a fight with Mr. Obama over a formula for peace proposals. That raised his popularity at home and pleased Republicans in America. But in the long run, it could cost Israel dearly.

. . . .

It isn’t too late for Mr. Netanyahu to change course. He has reaped diplomatic fruits from the regional crisis, but has refrained from taking political risks at home. His timidity and cynicism will prove costly for Israel when the Arab storm reaches its shores. Before time runs out, he must leverage Israel’s new strength to join Mr. Obama in creative diplomacy to avert a diplomatic debacle in September and pursue a stable peace with the Palestinians."

Netanyahu picked the fight with Obama? Regardless of whether you are a fan or detractor of Netanyahu, Obama's May 19, 2011 speech calling for peace between Palestinians and Israelis premised upon the "1967 lines" blindsided Netanyahu, who was on his way over to the US. Sometimes it's not a matter of what you say, but how and when you say it -- a lesson Obama has yet to learn.

Personally, I support the creation of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, and this has been the basis for the peace proposals proffered in the past by Israeli prime ministers Barak and Olmert. However, there can also be no denying that both Arafat and Abbas steadfastly refused to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state within any borders whatsoever, and there can be no peace agreement without such acknowledgement.

Netanyahu should engage in "creative diplomacy"? How does one engage in "creative diplomacy" with a party unwilling to recognize your right to exist? That would indeed demand a kind "creativity" falling within the realm of "delusional thinking."

A third Palestinian intifada in September along the lines of the Arab protests and insurrections in Israel's neighboring states? Maybe. On the other hand, this would also jeopardize significant economic growth (real GDP growth of some eight percent in 2010) and declining unemployment (17 percent in 2010) in the West Bank, where economic prospects are superior to those existing in Egypt, whose youth unemployment is considered a ticking time bomb by the IMF (http://www.cnbc.com/id/41363921/Egypt_Youth_Unemployment_Was_Time_Bomb_IMF_Head), and Syria, which also suffers from severe unemployment among youth (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130222200).

Will Abbas and Fayyad be willing to jeopardize this progress and potentially lose American aid to boot in another month's time? Or are they playing brinkmanship, intended to ingratiate themselves with a potentially restive Arab street? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan to Hire My Wife As Senior Adviser

Yes, it's true: Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has announced that he will be hiring my wife as a senior political adviser effective immediately.

The decision to hire my wife was precipitated by a number of international developments. Earlier this month Erdogan again demanded that Israel apologize for the death of Turkish nationals during the attempt, over a year ago, by the Mavi Marmara to break the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza. Erdogan threatened that if the Israelis did not apologize, he would conduct an official visit to Gaza to meet with its rulers from Hamas, who have been declared terrorists by the US, Canada, EU and Japan (see: http://www.businessturkeytoday.com/pm-erdogan-to-visit-gaza-if-israel-refuses-to-apologize-to-turkey/). Thus far, Israel has ignored his demands.

If Erdogan's visit to Gaza occurs, it will come at a time when Turkey is experiencing new tension with its Kurdish minority, which has long sought autonomy (see: http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=231192).

More recently, Erdogan is demanding that Armenia apologize to Turkey for filling its youth with hatred, after Armenian Prime Minister Sarkisian, asked whether Western Armenia, today part of Turkey, will ever be united with Armenia, responded, “everything depends on the young generation” (see: http://asbarez.com/97287/erdogan-asks-sarkisian-to-apologize-for-western-armenia-remarks/). Erdogan, of course, refuses to acknowledge Turkey's massacre of Armenians in 1915 and is now threatening to deport 100,000 Armenians who are allegedly working illegally in Turkey (see: http://asbarez.com/78347/erdogan-threatens-to-deport-armenians-from-turkey/).

So why will my wife be advising Erdogan? Apparently, Erdogan learned from his security services that my wife is expert at extracting apologies from me almost every day.

In case you were wondering, my wife doesn't read this blog. But in case she gets wind of this latest entry, allow me to go on record as saying, "Sorry, dear, I was only joking."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Maureen Dowd's "Not O.K. at the O.K. Corral": Still Blaming Bush and Cheney

Maureen Dowd, in her latest New York Times op-ed, "Not O.K. at the O.K. Corral" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/27/opinion/27dowd.html?hp), uses the opportunity to blame the Republicans, specifically Bush and Cheney, for all of America's ills. According to Maureen, an independent Obama, willing to compromise at the drop of a hat, has fallen victim to the morass created by his predecessors:

"The last century was the American century. But this one will not be, thanks to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who used their boots and spurs to ride roughshod over the globe and American economy. They spent eight years and trillions of dollars either barging into stuff they should have left alone or leaving alone stuff they should have intervened on.

. . . .

The White House feels that its foes not only want to stomp on any reasonable compromise; they want to make sure that Obama never has the presidency he dreamed of, one that isn’t about digging out from W.’s intractable messes; one that helps the parties reason together and move into the future.

. . . .

You could argue that Obama created his own nightmare by failing to read the class rage of the public and aggressively cut government fat as soon as he came into office. His passivity allowed the Tea Party to rise, fed by fury over Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats stuffing pork into the 2009 stimulus package.

But whatever the criticisms of Obama, it’s Republicans who are overtly playing politics. Even though Obama compromises ridiculously easily, the Republicans are showing no willingness to compromise at all."

Only the Republicans are playing politics? I suppose that is why Obama has been rejecting any temporary agreement ending before November 2012, which would allow the parties to hammer out a better reasoned arrangement without the exigencies of time bearing down upon them.

Only the Republicans got us into this mess? Peculiar. I thought it was Obama who decided to escalate the war in Afghanistan, which will cost the US a record $120 billion in 2011. This is now Obama's senseless war.

Obama is the "great compromiser"? Observe what David Brooks had to say yesterday in "Congress In the Lead" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/opinion/26brooks.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), concerning Obama's negotiating style:

"[T]he White House negotiating process was inadequate. Neither the president nor the House speaker ever wrote down and released their negotiating positions. Everything was mysterious, shifting and slippery. One day the president was agreeing to an $800 billion revenue increase; the next day he was asking for $400 billion more."

Obama merely failed to trim government fat when entering office? Read "Toying With Default" in "Review & Outlook" of The Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903999904576465843244525786.html?mod=djemEditorialPage_h):

"Then again, it has long been clear that Mr. Obama isn't interested in spending reform. In February he proposed a budget that spent more than any in U.S. history. In April he demanded that Congress pass a 'clean' debt ceiling hike that included no spending cuts whatsoever. Only after House Republicans unveiled their own sweeping budgetary reforms did the White House rush to also claim it wanted deficit reduction as part of the debt-ceiling debate."

And if you think for one moment that the president's nascent desire to cut spending is anything other than an unscrupulous political ploy designed to win him reelection, read Paul Krugman's "Messing With Medicare" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/25/opinion/25krugman.html?ref=opinion):

"So why is the president embracing these bad policy ideas? In a forthcoming article in The New York Review of Books, the veteran journalist Elizabeth Drew suggests that members of the White House political team saw the 2010 election as a referendum on government spending and that they believe that cutting spending is the way to win next year."

Don't get me wrong: Bush was indeed profligate in his spending. However, I had always thought that Obama was swept into office in order to correct these excesses. Instead, in July 2011, as we coast toward November 2012, absent any meaningful achievements attributable to the Obama administration, economic or otherwise, we are stuck in a "blame game."

Let's see if the American electorate is willing to buy it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

David Brooks, "Congress In the Lead": The Week When Obama Lost It

What a difference a week makes . . .

Recall David Brooks's op-ed from a week ago, entitled "The Road Not Taken" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/opinion/19brooks.html?hp), in which Brooks excoriated the Republicans for failing to reach compromise with Obama over the debt ceiling. Brooks then oozed empathy for the president:

"There was a Democratic president eager to move to the center. He floated certain ideas that would be normally unheard of from a Democrat. According to widespread reports, White House officials talked about raising the Medicare eligibility age, cutting Social Security by changing the inflation index, freezing domestic discretionary spending and offering to pre-empt the end of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a broad tax-reform process."

Seven days later, in "Congress In the Lead" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/opinion/26brooks.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Brooks has changed his tune:

"[T]he White House negotiating process was inadequate. Neither the president nor the House speaker ever wrote down and released their negotiating positions. Everything was mysterious, shifting and slippery. One day the president was agreeing to an $800 billion revenue increase; the next day he was asking for $400 billion more.

. . . .

[T]he president lost his cool. Obama never should have gone in front of the cameras just minutes after the talks faltered Friday evening. His appearance was suffused with that 'I’m the only mature person in Washington' condescension that drives everybody else crazy. Obama lectured the leaders of the House and Senate in the sort of patronizing tone that a junior high principal might use with immature delinquents.

. . . .

This should be a humbling moment for the White House, and maybe a learning experience. There are other people who have been around Washington a long time. They know how to play this game. As a result of their efforts, we may see some debt reduction but nothing big and transformational. Obama won’t get his centrist election boost."

A "learning experience" for Obama in July 2011? Even if an omniscient Obama could be taught anything, isn't it a little late in the game, with so much at stake, for on-the-job training?

Obama only "lost his cool"? In fact, Obama lost his ability to lead and govern.

It's over for Obama. Congress will reach a compromise without him. Obama sought to take center stage (pun intended), displayed grievous inexperience in negotiations and a pious self-righteousness which will hamstring him as we approach November 2012. Absent an economic miracle, his condescending arrogance will not be forgiven by the American electorate.

All that remains for the Republicans to do in order to recapture the White House is to settle upon some reasonable alternative, capable of wresting the middle from the Democrats. On the other hand, this, too, could prove mission impossible, given the unwillingness of those who might prove palatable (New Jersey's Chris Christie?) to throw their hats in the ring. However, given the vulnerability displayed by the president on national television on Friday, this now could also change.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Paul Krugman's "Messing With Medicare": Hell Hath No Fury Like a Krugman Scorned

Reading through Paul Krugman's latest New York Times op-ed, "Messing With Medicare" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/25/opinion/25krugman.html?ref=opinion), one is initially led to believe that we are contemplating "same old, same old": yet another variation on Krugman's irate criticism of attempts to rein in federal spending at a time when the economy is tanking.

And then, three paragraphs from the bottom, comes the surprise:

"So why is the president embracing these bad policy ideas? In a forthcoming article in The New York Review of Books, the veteran journalist Elizabeth Drew suggests that members of the White House political team saw the 2010 election as a referendum on government spending and that they believe that cutting spending is the way to win next year."

Furious with Obama, Krugman is letting us know that the president's nascent desire to cut spending is no more than an unscrupulous political ploy designed to win him reelection.

Actually, this should come as less than a bolt from the blue. With almost no achievements under his belt heading toward 2012, Obama is doing what he does best, i.e. positioning and campaigning.

Although Krugman appears to think that he is smarter than the rest of us, how is it that this Nobel Prize winner didn't see this coming?

To quote and garble a misquote: "Hell hath no fury like a Krugman scorned."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nicholas Kristof's "Republicans, Zealots and Our Security": Words Can Kill

Given what happened in Norway on Friday, I was astounded to read Nicholas Kristof's latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Republicans, Zealots and Our Security" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opinion/24kristof.html?ref=opinion), which would have us believe that "obsessive" House Republicans are willing to drag the US "over the cliff of default" and pose "the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer". Kristof writes:

"IF China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage.

Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists."

Deploring the elimination of federal aid to "Reading Is Fundamental," a nonprofit program that provides books to "low-income children" [sic], and other educational programs by Republicans, Kristof concludes:

"So let’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots."

Wow! A columnist from a national US newspaper is lumping Republicans together with al-Qaeda. Query: Are exasperated New York Times readers now justified in countering this "national security threat" by bombing the 2012 Republican National Convention or murdering Tea Party leaders with well-aimed bullets to the head?

Obviously, Republicans would argue that unsustainable federal deficit spending has spiraled out of control under the Obama administration and in effect has already taken the US over Kristof's "cliff," but Kristof's lumping of Republicans with international terrorists does not leave room for reasoned debate.

Sure, Kristof's incendiary language comparing Republicans with al-Qaeda is protected by the First Amendment, but it doesn't belong on the op-ed page of The New York Times.

On Friday we saw where fanaticism can take persons charged with irrational emotion. Words can kill. Shame on Nicholas Kristof. Shame on The New York Times.

Norway and Israel's Island of Peace Massacre

I went to sleep last night and woke up this morning seeing black, after reading about the bomb explosion in the Norwegian government building and the island shooting attack, which together left at least 92 people dead.

Many of us in Israel have personally experienced terror of this kind, and just reading about this attack in distant Scandinavia brought out all my repressed anger and deep-seated concern for the welfare of my own children.

What immediately came to mind was the 1997 Island of Peace Massacre, in which a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli school children who had come to visit an Israeli-Jordanian park at the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers. Seven 11-year-old girls were murdered in the incident.

Of all the countries in Europe, perhaps Norway is least friendly to Israel. There are even those who belong to Norway's Socialist Left Party, the junior partner in the Norwegian government, who have called for military action against Israel is it acts against Hamas, notwithstanding the incessant targeting of Israeli civilian targets by Hamas (see: http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2011/03/norwegian-socialists-to-vote-on-bombing-israel/). Perhaps this senseless act of terror in Norway will lead to better understanding of the constant threat of terror with which Israel lives.

My deepest condolences to the people of Norway, particularly to those who have lost loved ones.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

David Brooks, "The Grand Bargain Lives!": Compare With Paul Krugman's "The Lesser Depression"

David Brooks in his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Grand Bargain Lives!" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/22/opinion/22brooks.html?hp) takes a step back from his prior column (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/07/david-brooks-road-not-taken-compare.html), which oozed impending gloom and doom.

Much of my life has been spent moving from one crisis to another, both military and economic, and unlike Brooks, I have become inured to the inescapable process inherent in reaching a settlement, which requires a deadline to force reason upon the parties. This morning, Brooks appears to have regained his sanguinity regarding the prospects of achieving an accord involving the deficit ceiling, and he explains why Republicans and Democrats should both support compromise:

"At the last minute, two bipartisan approaches heave into view. In the Senate, the 'Gang of Six' produces one Grand Bargain. Meanwhile, President Obama and John Boehner, the House speaker, have been quietly working on another. They suddenly seem close to a deal.

. . . .

You are being asked to support a foggy approach, not a specific plan. You are being asked to do this even though you have no faith in the other party and limited faith in the leadership of your own. You are being asked to risk your political life for an approach that bears little resemblance to what you would ideally prefer.

Do you do this? I think you do.

You do it because all the other options are worse. Doing nothing could lead to default and the end of American economic supremacy."

Compare, however, the Brooks op-ed with that of an irate Paul Krugman, who, in "The Lesser Depression" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/22/opinion/22krugman.html?hp), rejects any settlement that constrains spending:

"For those who know their 1930s history, this is all too familiar. If either of the current debt negotiations fails, we could be about to replay 1931, the global banking collapse that made the Great Depression great. But, if the negotiations succeed, we will be set to replay the great mistake of 1937: the premature turn to fiscal contraction that derailed economic recovery and ensured that the Depression would last until World War II finally provided the boost the economy needed.

. . . .

There’s an old quotation, attributed to various people, that always comes to mind when I look at public policy: 'You do not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed.' Now that lack of wisdom is on full display, as policy elites on both sides of the Atlantic bungle the response to economic trauma, ignoring all the lessons of history. And the Lesser Depression goes on."

Unlike Krugman, who thinks he knows better than anyone else, I would be unwilling to gamble away all of my remaining chips on stimulus, which has thus far failed to stimulate. This is not 1931, and Americans, many of whom suffer from obesity and diabetes, cannot be sent off WPA-style to work on construction and park projects. More than 80 years since the onset of the Great Depression, in an era of globalization, personal computers in every household, Internet and instant information interchange, I don't cling obsessively to solutions from the distant past.

Among my answers: Develop American oil shale and bring the ground forces home from Afghanistan, but then who's listening? After the debt ceiling crisis is behind us, Democrats and Republicans will again be at one another's throats as they position themselves for the 2012 elections.

Can Obama be reelected with unemployment over 9% and no record of achievement? Possibly. Even probably, if a dysfunctional Republican Party nominates a new Barry Goldwater. Yes, there are still lessons to be learned from bygone years, although we live in changed times.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Syria: Obama Again Leads From Behind

As reported by the Los Angeles Times in an article, written by Paul Richter, entitled "U.S. softens its criticism of Syria" (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-us-syria-20110720,0,5436104.story), the US is now backtracking from its demands for Syrian President Assad to step down. As stated in the article:

"After sharply escalating its criticism of Syria's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, the Obama administration has abruptly scaled back its condemnations, showing fresh uncertainty about its willingness to confront President Bashar Assad's regime.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared last week that Assad's government had 'lost legitimacy,' diplomatic language that implied a break with the government in Damascus. Analysts said they expected the White House to demand Assad's ouster, as it did earlier this year with Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

But Clinton backed off on Saturday, saying the administration still hopes that Assad's regime will stop the violence and work with protesters to carry out political reforms. On Monday, European Union ministers also called on Assad to implement reforms and made it clear they still hoped he would do so.

. . . .

The change in tone reflects the continuing debate over whether Syria's ruler is likely to survive the current turmoil, and how best to use the limited diplomatic tools available to pressure him."

Given that the number of Syrian civilians butchered by Assad over recent months exceeds 1,400, and with more dead every day, is this the time for Obama to backtrack?

Hezbollah is also now threatening to bombard all Israeli cities, including Eilat, with Scud missiles supplied by Assad (see: http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=230286). Does Obama continue to believe that by "making nice" to misunderstood despots, such as Ahmadinejad and Assad, he can somehow influence their behavior and that of their stooges, e.g., Hezbollah's Nasrallah?

Indictments and warrants for the arrest of four members of Hezbollah were recently issued by the UN tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a friend of the US (see: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2011/07/02/hezbollah-hariri-nasrallah.html). Among those indicted is Mustafa Badreddine, who also participated in the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which killed 241 Americans. Both bombings were instigated and approved by Syria, but why should this matter to Obama, who continues to procrastinate?

As observed by Max Boot, writing for Commentary (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/07/20/u-s-sitting-on-sidelines-about-syria/):

"There might be circumstances where it would be appropriate to risk charges of hypocrisy so as not to undermine a valued ally such as Bahrain. But c’mon, guys, this is Syria we’re talking about–Iran’s ally, Hezbollah’s sponsor. That the administration can’t make up its mind about whether to push for Assad’s removal is beyond appalling. It’s puzzling. This is about as big an opportunity as we have faced in the region in decades–and the administration is sitting on the sidelines, mulling its options."

Actually, it's not puzzling at all. Obama can never decide.

Maybe the brutal events which will occur throughout Syria tomorrow will succeed in penetrating Obama's psyche.

Paul Ryan on the Budget Deficit: "We Have a Leadership Deficit"

Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) speaking yesterday from the floor of the US House of Representatives (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2011/07/20/paul_ryan_leading_on_reporters_at_press_conferences_is_not_leadership.html):

"Here's the problem we have right now, Mr. Speaker. We have a leadership deficit. I keep hearing about the President's got a plan. The President's offering balance. The President hasn't offered a thing yet. Nothing on paper. Nothing in public. Leading on reporters at press conferences is not leadership. Giving speeches according to the CBO is not budgeting.

The President did inherit a tough problem. No two ways about it. What did he do with this problem? He drove us deeper into debt. $1 trillion of borrowed money for a stimulus that was promised to keep unemployment below 8% and went up to 10% and now it's at 9.2%. A stalled economy. A budget the President gave us that doubles the debt in five years and triples it in 10 years. That's not leadership."

Okay, suppose it's all true. Name a viable alternative being offered by a dysfunctional Republican party, who is prepared to vie for the presidency in 2012. Yes, there is a leadership deficit, but it extends to both parties.

How about you, Mr. Ryan? Are you ready to do something other than lecture from the sidelines? Time to test your theories and proposals upon the broader American electorate. Yes, you might be forced to walk away in humbled defeat, but that is the price of leadership.

Monday, July 18, 2011

David Brooks, "The Road Not Taken": Compare with Krauthammer's "Call Obama's Bluff"

In a New York Times op-ed entitled "The Road Not Taken" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/opinion/19brooks.html?hp), David Brooks excoriates Republicans for failing to reach compromise with Obama over the debt ceiling. Brooks writes:

"There was a Democratic president eager to move to the center. He floated certain ideas that would be normally unheard of from a Democrat. According to widespread reports, White House officials talked about raising the Medicare eligibility age, cutting Social Security by changing the inflation index, freezing domestic discretionary spending and offering to pre-empt the end of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a broad tax-reform process.

. . . .

The combined effect would have been to reduce the size of government by $3 trillion over a decade. That’s a number roughly three times larger than the cost of the Obama health care law. It also would have brutally fractured the Democratic Party.

. . . .

But it’s much more likely that Republicans will come to regret this missed opportunity. So let us pause to identify the people who decided not to seize the chance to usher in the largest cut in the size of government in American history."

Now compare the above with Charles Krauthammer's Washington Post op-ed entitled "Call Obama’s bluff" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/call-his-bluff/2011/07/14/gIQAfzFyEI_story.html). Proposing a $500 billion short-term debt ceiling hike that would provide five months of breathing room to achieve a more comprehensive solution, Krauthammer writes:

"President Obama is demanding a big long-term budget deal. He won’t sign anything less, he warns, asking, “If not now, when?”

How about last December, when he ignored his own debt commission’s recommendations? How about February, when he presented a budget that increases debt by $10 trillion over the next decade? How about April, when he sought a debt-ceiling increase with zero debt reduction attached?

. . . .

Hasn’t the White House leaked that he’s prepared to raise the Medicare age or change the cost-of-living calculation?

Anonymous talk is cheap. Leaks are designed to manipulate. Offers are floated and disappear.

. . . .

. . . Obama insists upon a long-term deal. And what is Obama’s definition of long-term? Surprise: An agreement that gets him past Nov. 6, 2012."

My belief:

Compromise will be reached within two weeks, and Brooks and Krauthammer will move on to other topics. However, there should be no ignoring the senseless war in Afghanistan, escalated by Obama, which will cost the US a record $120 billion in 2011. Any remedy of the US budget deficit must necessarily begin with withdrawal of American ground forces from this morass - something which has escaped the acute vision of Brooks and Krauthammer, and which is being conveniently ignored by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Syria: The Beginning of a Savage Civil War?

As reported today by Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/18/us-syria-idUSTRE76F26I20110718), at least 30 people have died in Homs, Syria's third largest city, as a result of fighting between persons supporting and opposing Syrian President Assad:

"Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said on Monday that clashes between pro- and anti-Assad residents started on Saturday afternoon after the bodies of three government supporters, kidnapped last week, were returned to their relatives dismembered."

Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, which comprises some 12% of Syria's population. Until now Bashar al-Assad, and his father before him, maintained power by appointing Alawite officers to key positions in the Syrian army and security agencies.

Alawites have long been deemed heretics by Syria's Sunnis, who comprise some 70% of the population.

Assad is on his way out. However, it remains to be seen whether the Syrian Sunni majority will now seek revenge for years spent under the thumb of the Assads and the 1982 Hama massacre of up to 40,000 Sunnis, which has never been forgotten.

It's not going to be pretty.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thomas Friedman's "The Clash of Generations": Shifting the Blame Away from Obama

In his latest New York Times manifesto entitled "The Clash of Generations" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/opinion/sunday/17friedman.html?ref=opinion), Thomas Friedman, writing from Athens, compares the debt dilemma in Greece with the debt ceiling crisis in the US. Friedman questions whether baby boomer politicians, specifically Eric Cantor, are emotionally capable of dealing with such predicaments:

"That brings up another similarity between Greece and America: that the necessary may be impossible, that baby boomer politicians in the age of Twitter may not be up to addressing problems this big. The hole is too deep and power too fragmented. The only way out is by collective action — where ruling and opposition parties unite, share the pain and take the necessary steps. But that is not happening here or in Washington. There are Eric Cantors everywhere — reckless baby boomer politicians for whom no crisis is too serious to set aside political ambition and ideology."

So now it's all Eric Cantor's fault.

I would remind Tom of the words of another baby boomer Democratic senator, who, on March 16, 2006, opposed George W. Bush’s request to raise the debt limit, declaring:

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. . . . Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."

That senator was Barack Obama.

Moreover, before pinning the blame on Cantor, Tom should read Paul Krugman's July 7 op-ed entitled "What Obama Wants" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/08/opinion/08krugman.html?hp), where Krugman acknowledges:

"It’s getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama’s motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right.

. . . .

Almost all the high-profile economists who joined the Obama administration early on have either left or are leaving."

Bottom line: The US is now a rudderless ship, captained by a man, who, as acknowledged by those closest to him, struggles to reach decisions. Obama is the ultimate example of a baby boomer, steeped in "political ambition and ideology," who should have known that he lacked the experience and emotional maturity to assume the reins of power.

An angry painful compromise involving the US debt ceiling will ultimately be reached. Moreover, if the dialogue forces the Obama administration to engage in serious soul searching and proffer concrete solutions to the budget deficit, Cantor's stubbornness will have served the nation well. Any attempt, however, to saddle Cantor with the blame for this quagmire amounts to politicized tripe of the kind that has come to characterize Friedman's column.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Joe Nocera's "The Journal Becomes Fox-ified": And The New York Times Needs to Be Detox-ified

In his New York Times op-ed entitled "The Journal Becomes Fox-ified" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/16/opinion/16nocera.html?_r=1&hp), Joe Nocera contends that Rupert Murdoch has destroyed the journalistic quality of The Wall Street Journal. Nocera writes:

"It’s official. The Wall Street Journal has been Fox-ified.

It took Rupert Murdoch only three and a half years to get there, starting with the moment he acquired the paper from the dysfunctional Bancroft family in December 2007, a purchase that was completed after he vowed to protect The Journal’s editorial integrity and agreed to a (toothless) board that was supposed to make sure he kept that promise.

. . . .

The political articles grew more and more slanted toward the Republican party line."

I'm certain Nocera has heard the adage, "Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." However, he is apparently unwilling to recognize the political leanings of his own newspaper, which in the past were acknowledged by Clark Hoyt, the former public editor of the Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/opinion/13pubed.html?ref=thepubliceditor):

"There is no question that the editorial page is liberal and the regular columnists on the Op-Ed page are heavily weighted in that direction. There is also no question that The Times, though a national newspaper, shares the prevailing sensibilities of the city and region where it is published."

However, quite apart from the political leanings of The New York Times, manifested by its coverage and its editorial content, there is something far more insidious that has found its way into Nocera's newspaper.

Yesterday, my online comment in response to Roger Cohen's op-ed was censored by the "moderators" of The New York Times (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/07/roger-cohens-year-of-waste.html). It didn't come as a surprise. The chances of being censored if you disagree with the leftist leanings of many of the Times's op-ed writers are high.

Also, strident anti-Semitic readers' comments have often been published by the Times, despite its purported policy to refuse posting of comments if they are "abusive." This phenomenon got so bad that one of its most senior editors was forced to intervene and personally remove many of these comments following correspondence that I had with him.

Do you recall the Roger Cohen op-ed entitled "Obama in Netanyahu's Web". I complained to the Times that the imagery evoked by this title was apt to enflame anti-Semitism, and one of the Times's most senior editors responded that the op-ed had already been published by the International Herald Tribune, and it should have been changed (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/10/further-insensitivity-of-new-york-times.html).

Cohen wrote another op-ed entitled "What Iran's Jews Say," which sought to demonstrate that the life of Iran's remaining Jews was not so bad, but subsequently acknowledged - not in his column (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/06/was-roger-cohens-what-irans-jews-say-in_17.html) - that his interviews were conducted with the assistance of a government appointed translator. Was there nothing ethically wrong with this?

And then there was the instance where the Times's "moderators" permitted a post calling for the murder of a high ranking Republican government official. Again, one of the Times's most senior editors was forced to intervene.

By the way, what ever happened to Maureen Dowd after she was caught plagiarizing a blog? Was there even a slap on the wrist, beyond the criticism of the public editor at the time?

In short, a columnist for The New York Times, which arguably needs to be "detox-ified," is hardly in a position to be criticizing The Wall Street Journal.

[I sent Mr. Nocera an e-mail, asking that he "swallow the red pill" and read this blog entry. Let's see if he has the courage.]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

David Brooks, "Death and Budgets": An Invitation to Come to Compugen

In his New York Times op-ed entitled "Death and Budgets" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/opinion/15brooks.html?hp), David Brooks bemoans the fact that billions of dollars are being wasted by the US government to prolong life by a couple of months, but no new meaningful cures are on the horizon. Brooks writes:

"The fiscal crisis is driven largely by health care costs. We have the illusion that in spending so much on health care we are radically improving the quality of our lives. We have the illusion that through advances in medical research we are in the process of eradicating deadly diseases. We have the barely suppressed hope that someday all this spending and innovation will produce something close to immortality."

I have said this time and again in this blog, so I will make it short:

I am convinced that the failure of the pharma industry to create meaningful new medicines owes to the fact that they have all been doing the same high throughput and ultra high throughput experiments, i.e. throwing ever larger libraries of chemicals at drug targets at ever higher speeds, without taking the time to understand biological phenomena at the molecular level.

A decade ago, a tiny Israeli biotech company named Compugen predicted that Big Pharma would hit the wall in its drug discovery efforts, and undertook a long lonely effort to create discovery platforms which could accurately model biological processes at the molecular level and enable the computerized prediction and selection of therapeutic and diagnostic product candidates. Foreseeing that the era of trial and error in the world of drug discovery was yielding diminishing returns, Compugen sought to harness advanced mathematics and computer science to create the next generation of drugs addressing unmet medical needs.

Today, at a time when Big Pharma's pipelines are going dry, Compugen has an ever expanding pipeline of early stage therapeutic candidates aimed at unmet medical needs. Compugen's candidates are not intended to extend life by a mere month or two, but rather provide meaningful therapies where often none exist. Moreover, Compugen's computerized ability to identify new drug candidates is swift and costs a tiny fraction of what is required by other pharma companies to discover new potential products (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/search/label/Compugen).

A concrete example of Compugen's predictive capabilities? Consider how they arrived at their candidate for multiple sclerosis ("MS") and rheumatoid arthritis, CGEN-15001, described in my September 7, 2010 blog entry (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/09/cgen-15001-predictive-discovery-and_07.html).

Mr. Brooks, I'm inviting you to visit Compugen to learn about their cutting edge science. Alternatively, let's have a conference call. It should prove an eye-opener for you.

[As noted in prior blog entries, I am a Compugen shareholder, this blog entry is not a recommendation to buy or sell Compugen shares, and in mid-September 2009 I began work as a part-time external consultant to Compugen. The opinions expressed herein are mine and are based on publicly available information. This blog entry has not been authorized or approved by Compugen.]

Roger Cohen's "A Year of Waste": Unadulterated Rubbish

A "polite" condensed version of the following blog entry, which was submitted as an online comment in response to Roger Cohen's op-ed "A Year of Waste," was censored by The New York Times:

Roger "Iran is not totalitarian" Cohen has again outdone himself in yet another obsessive effort to bash Israel, entitled "A Year of Waste" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/opinion/15iht-edcohen15.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss). In this slimy attempt to blame the Jewish state for a lack of progress in talks with the Palestinians, Cohen writes:

"The Israeli insistence on up-front recognition from the Palestinians of Israel as a 'Jewish state' is absurd — a powerful indication of growing Israeli insecurities, isolation and intolerance. There was no such insistence a decade ago."

What is Cohen hiding from us this time? What in fact happened during the past ten years?

Ten years ago there were relatively few suicide bombing perpetrated by Palestinians in Israel: two in 1998, two in 1999, and five in 2000. Suddenly in 2001 there were 41 suicide bombings, in 2002 there were 46 suicide bombings, and in 2003 - when Israel slowly began to gain control over this horror - there were 24 suicide bombings. (For a list of these bombings, including casualties, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_suicide_attacks) Yes, things were different a decade ago.

But that's not all. A decade ago, the south of Israel was not being bombarded with mortar shells, rockets and missiles fired from Gaza at civilian targets. Since 2001, some 12,000 such projectiles have been shot at Israeli towns and cities. Five more rockets were fired at Israel yesterday. Small difference, huh, Roger?

In March 2008 I invited Cohen to visit the Israeli town of Sderot, which was under siege by Palestinian rockets. In my e-mail to Cohen, I suggested:

"Visit Sderot, opposite the Gaza strip. I would like you to meet some of the underprivileged families that live there - they cannot afford to move - and their children, who have been living with the rockets for the past five years and the 15 second routine to reach a bomb shelter. Some wet their beds rather than risk a trip to the bathroom."

Cohen's response:

"Thanks, Jeffrey. And will do."

But Cohen never took me up on my offer.

How important is it for the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel's right to exist? Consider that Israel is only 9 miles wide at its waist. If Israel unilaterally evacuates the West Bank - as it did Gaza - without Palestinian agreement to its right to exist, all of Israel's major cities except Eilat will fall within rocket range and can and should expect the worst.

Why should Israel expect the worst? Consider the results of a very recent survey of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza conducted by US pollster Stanley Greenberg (http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=229493):

"Just 34% said they accepted [a two-state solution], while 61% rejected it.

Sixty-six percent said the Palestinians’ real goal should be to start with a two-state solution but then move to it all being one Palestinian state.

. . . .

When given a quote from the Hamas Charter about the need for battalions from the Arab and Islamic world to defeat the Jews, 80% agreed. Seventy-three percent agreed with a quote from the charter (and a hadith, or tradition ascribed to the prophet Muhammad) about the need to kill Jews hiding behind stones and trees."

"[R]ecognition from the Palestinians of Israel as a 'Jewish state' is absurd"? That's very easy for Cohen to say, particularly given his decision in 2008 not to visit Sderot in southern Israel.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nicholas Kristof's "The Opposing Party": No Mention of Afghanistan

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Opposing Party" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/opinion/14kristof.html?_r=1&hp), Nicholas "Chemicals Threaten Our Bodies" Kristof is back at it: writing about economics, about which he is demonstrably clueless.

Quickly read through Kristof's partisan blather, 99% of which is devoted to blaming the Republicans for all of America's economic woes. Nicholas does mention health care, and remarkably he acknowledges:

"The Obama health care plan could have done better on cost control."

But where is there even a single mention of Afghanistan? The estimated cost to the US of what is now Obama's senseless war will reach a record $120 billion in 2011. Why is Kristof not highlighting this fact?

Any effort to reduce the deficit must begin with withdrawal of US ground forces from this sinkhole; however, neither Obama nor the Republicans have the good sense or courage to put an end to this folly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thomas Friedman's "The Start-Up of You": Why Unemployment Isn't Going Away Anytime Soon

In his latest New York Times op-ed "The Start-Up of You" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/13/opinion/13friedman.html?ref=opinion), Thomas Friedman observes the rise in unemployment and opines that many of our children might have to invent, as opposed to find, their next job. Friedman writes:

"Look at the news these days from the most dynamic sector of the U.S. economy — Silicon Valley. Facebook is now valued near $100 billion, Twitter at $8 billion, Groupon at $30 billion, Zynga at $20 billion and LinkedIn at $8 billion. These are the fastest-growing Internet/social networking companies in the world, and here’s what’s scary: You could easily fit all their employees together into the 20,000 seats in Madison Square Garden, and still have room for grandma. They just don’t employ a lot of people, relative to their valuations, and while they’re all hiring today, they are largely looking for talented engineers."

I am in agreement with Friedman. In the past, I have written extensively about a small Israeli biotech company named Compugen, whose tiny team of perspicacious scientists is creating an expanding pipeline of therapeutic drug candidates based upon the company's leadership in algorithm-driven predictive biology, at a time when the pipelines of Big Pharma, whose R&D departments are staffed by thousands, are going dry. When it comes to hi-tech employees, I believe that quality, rather than numbers, dictates success.

What does this mean for our children? It is indeed a different world, and a Ph.D. without far-reaching vision, boundless creativity and adaptive flexibility no longer guarantees a job. There is little room for anything less than excellence, and this trend will only grow stronger with the passing of years.

Stated otherwise, unemployment could prove far more intractable in the future than anyone in Washington might imagine.

[As noted in prior blog entries, I am a Compugen shareholder, this blog entry is not a recommendation to buy or sell Compugen shares, and in mid-September 2009 I began work as a part-time external consultant to Compugen. The opinions expressed herein are mine and are based on publicly available information. This blog entry has not been authorized or approved by Compugen.]

Maureen Dowd's "Hitler's Talking Dogs": The Op-Ed Page of The New York Times Goes to the Dogs


In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Hitler's Talking Dogs" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/13/opinion/13dowd.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Maureen Dowd tells us that Adolph Hitler might have been crazier than we thought. She tells us of German attempts to teach mastiffs to talk and a plan to have German soldiers pack rubber blow-up dolls as sex comforters.

This morning I discussed the matter with Winnie and Arnold, seen above with my oldest son, and they agree that Maureen is running out of things to say and that the op-ed page of The New York Times has gone to the dogs. For a small fee payable in biscuits under the table, they would be willing to advise Dowd.

Full stop.

Monday, July 11, 2011

David Brook's "The Magic Lever": What About Leadership?

In his New York Times op-ed of today's date entitled "The Magic Lever" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/opinion/12brooks.html?_r=1&ref=opinion), David Brooks concludes that there is no one "magic lever" which can set the economy aright:

"The tragedy is that in Barack Obama and John Boehner we have leaders who would like to do something big. They seem to know that you need bipartisan cover if you want to really cut spending. They seem to know circumstances for deficit reduction will only get worse in the years ahead.

But they are bracketed on all sides — by the tax cut and Medicare brigades, by the wonks hatching budget gimmicks that erode trust, by political hacks who don’t want to lose their precious campaign issues: tax cuts forever, Medicare spending without limit.

Mostly, they are buffeted by the proud, by those who think they have a magic lever to control human destiny and who will not compromise it away. This is the oldest story known to man."

I agree and disagree with Brooks. There is indeed no single "magic lever" to place the economy back in a growth mode, bringing jobs and hope to millions of Americans. On the other hand, I also believe that in the absence of leadership from the White House, economic growth cannot be set in motion, and nowhere was that lack of leadership, i.e. leadership from behind, more evident than at the US embassy in Damascus yesterday. What does the US embassy in Damascus have to do with the US economy? Nothing and everything.

Yesterday, there was a premeditated, government orchestrated, mob assault upon the US embassy compound in Damascus and the US ambassador's residence. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the message from Syrian President Assad to US President Obama was clear: Assad will brook no interference from US ambassador Ford, who on Thursday and Friday visited the Syrian city of Hama, together with the French ambassador to Syria. Hama is where Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad murdered 20,000-40,000 civilians (the exact number will never be known) in 1982 in order to suppress a rebellion, and where there have recently been mass demonstrations in opposition to Bashar al-Assad.

A few facts about the US embassy in Damascus:

• There had been no ambassador to Syria following the direct involvement of Bashar al-Assad in the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a friend of the West, in 2005.
• Bypassing Senate confirmation and seeking to avoid public scrutiny by acting while many are on holiday, Obama appointed Robert Ford as ambassador to Syria at the end of 2010.
• Obama has rejected demands to recall Ford as ambassador notwithstanding Assad's murderous repression of the recent civilian insurrection in Syria.

How did Obama respond to yesterday's attack upon the US embassy, which amounts to an attack upon US territory? State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told a news briefing:

"We consider that the Syrian government has not lived up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomatic facilities. It's absolutely outrageous."

That's all? Business as usual? Obama's foreign policy has been characterized by overtures to the world's most brutal dictatorships, including Iran and Syria, but this has backfired in his face. He has been too slow to acknowledge that Iran is moving full speed ahead with its nuclear weapons development program, and was among the last in the West to condemn Syrian barbarism directed against civilian demonstrators. True leadership from behind.

Back to the economy: The crisis, including the problem of the debt ceiling, was there for all to see, but Obama was too slow to react. You will recall that before deciding to escalate US involvement in Afghanistan, Obama ruminated over the issue for months. Once again, Obama's inability to lead - this time as it pertains to the economy - rises to the foreground.

As acknowledged by Brooks, there is no one "magic lever" for curing the economy. However, economic recovery cannot begin without the confidence of Americans in the leadership capabilities of their president, which are sorely lacking. There are various paths to recovery, but Obama has spent far too much time scratching his head at the junction.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

New York Times Editorial, "The Worst Time to Slow the Economy": Brain Dead

In yet another catastrophic attempt at providing economic guidance, the editorial board of The New York Times in "The Worst Time to Slow the Economy" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/opinion/sunday/10sun1.html?ref=opinion) blames the Republicans for cutting spending notwithstanding Friday's dismal unemployment report. The editorial concludes by calling upon the president to find a way to put Americans back to work:

"There is still time for the president to insist that the debt talks include a substantial program to put people to work now, while reducing the deficit over a longer period. To do otherwise is to ignore Friday’s ugly reality."

I would observe:

1. Any attempt to establish a meaningful program to create employment within the space of a week would be specious. This should have been done long ago by Obama.

2. On March 16, 2006, a Democratic senator named Barack Obama opposed George W. Bush’s request to raise the debt limit, declaring: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."

Enough said.

Jewish Validation of Anti-Semitism from Richard Falk and Amira Hass

In March 2008, Richard Falk, who taught at Princeton for 40 years and was known for his radical leftist leanings, was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a UN Special Rapporteur on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967." In January 2009, Falk made headlines by accusing Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead and by comparing Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto (http://www.haaretz.com/news/un-human-rights-official-gaza-evokes-memories-of-warsaw-ghetto-1.268743).

In 2010, Falk initiated a blog "in celebration of his 80th birthday" (http://richardfalk.wordpress.com/). Falk, who is Jewish, recently used his blog to disseminate a virulent anti-Semitic and anti-American "cartoon":



In the face of harsh criticism, Falk removed the "cartoon," claiming it was "unintentional" and blamed the posting on his vision, which purportedly prevented him from identifying the yarmulke, replete with a Star of David, on the dog's head:

"Even now I needed a magnifying glass to identify the anti-semitic character of the dog. My vision (at 80) is pretty good, but not good enough. It looked like a helmet to me, and the main visible symbol on the dog was the USA midriff covering."

Falk notes in his blog the "stream of venomous comments" which this cartoon, posted on his blog attracted. Note, however, that this was not the original excuse provided by Falk, who stated (http://blog.unwatch.org/index.php/2011/07/06/timeline-falks-reaction/):

"Maybe I do not understand the cartoon, and if it offends in this way I have removed it from the blog. It may be in bad taste to an extent I had not earlier appreciated, but I certainly didn't realize it could be viewed as anti-semitic, and still do not realize."

In his blog, Falk puzzles over the "venomous comments" elicited by the posting of this cartoon (http://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/a-final-attempt-to-clarify-my-posting-of-the-cartoon/).

Sorry, but I don't buy any of this claptrap. Even it were remotely possible that Falk did not identify the yarmulke and the Star of David, I object to his vile denigration of the United States. Apologies notwithstanding, this explosion of raw sewage from Falk's blog cannot be excused.

Equally horrifying was the declaration by Amira Hass of Haaretz in a July 7, 2011 "opinion" entitled "In dealing with flotilla, Israel is anything but smart" (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/in-dealing-with-flotilla-israel-is-anything-but-smart-1.371879), in which this reporter, covering the failed Gaza flotilla from Greece, wrote:

"Like an anti-Semitic caricature, Israel has extended its long tentacles around the globe in an effort to stop 10 decades-old ships from sailing to Gaza."

In no less than an Israeli newspaper, Hass would give creedance to the anti-Semitic caricatures of Israel and the Jews as a monster capable of global dominance. See, for example, this 2002 "cartoon" from Al-Ahram, Egypt's most widely read, government owned, daily newspaper:



Hass is also well known for her leftist views, and when reading her recent articles from Greece, it was never clear to me whether she was reporting on, opining on, or participating in the failed flotilla. Clearly, she was infuriated by the refusal of the Greek government to permit the flotilla to embark on its planned journey to Gaza, but there is no excusing the hateful language used to express her rage. Even more remarkable was the willingness of Haaretz to publish this rant and its failure to apologize.

In the past, I took The New York Times to task for publishing an op-ed by Roger Cohen entitled "Obama in Netanyahu's Web" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/opinion/28iht-edcohen.html). In an e-mail to the Times, I observed that the title of Cohen's op-ed evoked horrifying Nazi images, portraying Jews as voracious spiders. A senior editor from the Times agreed that the title of the op-ed was inappropriate:

"It was not a good headline, I agree. By the time this column gets to the times website it has already been published in the IHT on paper and online. This is not an excuse. It is an explanation. The headline should have been changes [sic] there."

However, Falk's posting of the anti-Semitic "cartoon" and Hass's outburst are far worse than the title of Cohen's op-ed. The fury of the left, particularly when it relates to Israel, knows no bounds, even from Jews.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Paul Krugman, "What Obama Wants": What Krugman Doesn't Want

Paul Krugman's columns have grown boring. You know before you begin reading that he will again be demanding that the U.S. spend its way out of the recession, and in that respect, his latest New York Times op-ed, "What Obama Wants" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/08/opinion/08krugman.html?hp), doesn't "disappoint." What does come as a mild surprise is his growing annoyance with Obama:

"It’s getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama’s motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the G.O.P.’s diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it.

. . . .

Almost all the high-profile economists who joined the Obama administration early on have either left or are leaving.

. . . .

Mr. Obama’s people will no doubt argue that their fellow party members should trust him, that whatever deal emerges was the best he could get. But it’s hard to see why a president who has gone out of his way to echo Republican rhetoric and endorse false conservative views deserves that kind of trust."

It sounds as if Krugman is calling upon Democrats to resist any compromise that Obama might reach with Republicans concerning the deficit ceiling. I doubt, however, with elections looming, that Obama's fellow Democrats will risk bringing the temple down upon themselves. Better to remain chained to the president's dictates than risk the wrath of the electorate come November 2012.

But why does Krugman remain enslaved to his conviction that it is possible to spend yourself out of the recession when you are overdrawn and risking, some would say, default and economic ruin? Obama has already thrown money at the economy, this year’s budget deficit is projected to reach a record $1.5 trillion, and there is no relief in sight. Krugman's model hasn't worked.

I would argue that today's economics, shaped by globalization and the real-time immediacy of the Internet, demand flexibility and a new view of the world that is susceptible to adaptation in accordance with developments. In this regard, Krugman probably agrees. In January 2009 he wrote an open letter to Obama in Rolling Stone entitled "What Obama Must Do" (http://www.cfr.org/united-states/rolling-stone-obama-must-do-letter-new-president/p18781), stating:

"Like FDR three-quarters of a century ago, you're taking charge at a moment when all the old certainties have vanished, all the conventional wisdom been proved wrong. We're not living in a world you or anyone else expected to see."

However, I would say that what worked for Roosevelt, i.e. spending, will not work today, and it is time to cast 1930s dogma aside. Technology bars the advent of a new WPA-type program. Moreover, I am also among those who are foolish enough to believe that you can't spend what you don't have and never will have.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Nicholas Kristof's "Taxes and Billionaires": Beyond Kristof's Ken

In the past, Nicholas Kristof has written some incredibly inane material, demonstrating a level of ignorance that does not behoove a national newspaper. One of the stupidest columns he has ever written was "New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/opinion/06kristof.html), in which he declared:

"The President’s Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream, so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic food movement and declare: chemicals threaten our bodies.

. . . .

Avoid meats that are cooked well-done."

Apparently, Kristof was unaware that our bodies consist of chemicals and that well-done, as opposed to potentially carcinogenic charred or burned, meat prevents the ingestion of dangerous bacteria. In short, there are certain areas where Kristof should never venture.

Well, if you thought "New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer" was dumb, have a look at Kristof's latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Taxes and Billionaires" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/07/opinion/07kristof.html?_r=1&hp). In his new essay, Kristof goes to bat for President Obama and blames U.S. economic woes on the Republicans, who allegedly are looking out for the best interests of the richest 1 percent of Americans, who include - not mentioned by Nicholas - multi-millionairess and House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat, California, worth at least $35 million in calendar 2010. Kristof focuses his readers' attention on the carried interest tax loophole:

"Tycoons have bet for years that the public is too stupid or distracted to note that in many cases they’re paying just a 15 percent tax rate.

What’s at stake is the 'carried interest' loophole, and President Obama is pushing to close it. The White House estimates that this would raise $20 billion over a decade. But Congressional Republicans walked out of budget talks rather than discuss raising revenues from measures such as this one.

. . . .

This carried interest loophole benefits managers of financial partnerships such as hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds and real estate funds — who are among the highest-paid people in the world. John Paulson, a hedge fund manager in New York City, made $4.9 billion last year, top of the chart for hedge fund managers, according to AR Magazine, which follows hedge funds. That’s equivalent to the average per capita income of 184,000 Americans, according to my back-of-envelope calculations based on Census Bureau figures."

Don't get me wrong: I favor closing this loophole, but this is not what is going to save the U.S. economy or balance the budget.

Kristof tells us that by closing the carried interest loophole, $20 billion over a decade will be saved. By the same token, perhaps we can say that closing this loophole will save $200 billion over the next century. On the other hand, it could also be stated that closing the loophole will save $2 billion next year. Annual savings of $2 billion? Let's place that in perspective:

• The estimated cost to the U.S. of what is now Obama's senseless war in Afghanistan will reach a record $120 billion in 2011. Why is Kristof not highlighting this fact?

• This year’s budget deficit is projected to reach a record $1.5 trillion. Compare that with a savings of $2 billion.

Now let's look at Kristof's other gem, i.e. $4.9 billion is "equivalent to the average per capita income of 184,000 Americans," according to his "back-of-envelope calculations." Excuse me, but this is unintelligible. Does he mean that $4.9 billion is equal to the average annual per capita income of 184,000 Americans? Or does he mean the combined total annual average per capita income of 184,000 Americans? To which 184,000 Americans is he referring? Sure, I know, he probably means the average per capita annual American income, but he doesn't say any of this.

Perhaps Kristof would be best off not "calculating," and certainly not on the back of envelopes.

However, more to the point, why did Kristof attempt this disastrous economic analysis? With the U.S. economy tanking and little hope in sight, the only way Obama can be reelected is by blaming others for his failure and seeking to ignite class warfare by attacking the rich. Again, I am in favor of eliminating all inequitable loopholes, including those sponsored by Democrats, so as to balance the budget, but if Obama is relying on Kristof's advocacy to be reelected, he's in big trouble.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hedy Epstein and the Gaza Flotilla: A Final Act of Hypocrisy

Hedy Epstein, soon to be 87, was sent by her family from Nazi Germany to England via the Kindertransport, and thus escaped the "Final Solution," although her parents died at Auschwitz. Over the years, she has sought to make use of her "Holocaust survivor" status in order to bolster her credibility when engaging in anti-Israel activities.

Epstein is among the "activists" seeking to sail on the Audacity of Hope to Gaza. She seemed almost in tears when the Greek coast guard forced her ship back to port, declaring (see video clip, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/07/04/israel.gaza.flotilla/index.html?hpt=hp_t2):

"I'm hurting. I'm sad. I'm angry. I want to go to Gaza."

Indeed, every effort should be made to allow Hedy to live out her days in Gaza, where children are taught that the Holocaust never happened and that Jews are the children of "pigs and monkeys." Even J Street's Ben-Ami issued a statement denouncing Holocaust denial by Hamas (http://blogs.jta.org/politics/article/2009/09/01/1007583/j-street-blasts-hamas-holocaust-denial):

"J Street unequivocally condemns Holocaust denial by Hamas officials, most recently in an open letter to UNRWA Chief John Ging stating that the group refuses to 'let our children study a lie invented by the Zionists'.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal remarked to the The New York Times that Hamas needs to be 'part of the solution' but it is difficult to take that seriously while Hamas officials continue to perpetuate and promote Holocaust denial."

Let's all take up a collection and help wheel Hedy into Gaza!

In related news, the Tahrir, the so-called "Canadian" ship participating in the flotilla, was towed back to port in Cyprus, after seeking to disobey orders from the Greek government and head for Gaza. The Tahrir sought to use kayakers to interfere with the Greek coast guard and make their escape. According to an article in Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/gaza-bound-tahrir-crew-warned-ship-may-be-in-danger-1.371470#article_comments), the drama queens on board the Tahrir are now claiming that their ship is in danger:

"The Tahrir's steering crew said in a statement to Haaretz that Greek supporters holding a vigil on the pier notified the passengers aboard the ship that their safety may be at risk."

Their safety "might be at risk"? True, the ship is now without electricity, and at night they might stub a toe in the darkness.

Also, these valiant graying "activists" are complaining that they can no longer flush the boat's toilets. Maybe this will serve to illustrate to them how Sderot's children have felt, some of whom wet their beds at night rather then risk being caught outside their concrete-walled safe rooms when rockets from Gaza fell.

The absurdity here is that notwithstanding their intentions, these radical leftists have contributed mightily to the standing in Israel of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has made them look like the duplicitous chumps they are.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Gaza Flotilla: One Reporter for Every Three Radical Leftists

A Haaretz article entitled "Gaza flotilla to set sail Monday despite numerous setbacks" (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/gaza-flotilla-to-set-sail-monday-despite-numerous-setbacks-1.371050) has this to say about the American ship, Audacity of Hope, which was forced back to port by the Greek coast guard after leaving Perama without clearance from the Greek authorities:

"The ship was carrying 51 passengers, including five members of the crew and 11 journalists."

Translation: There is one journalist for every three radical leftists on board!

Even more absurd, eight of the aging activists from this ship have started a hunger strike in order to force the Greek government to allow them to sail. No one is hungry in Gaza, but these buffoons are apparently starved for attention and seeking to feed their own vanity and narcissism.

See for yourselves the abhorrent, shell pocked, concentration camp conditions that prevail throughout Gaza, which these "activists" are rabidly protesting:



Did you see any emaciated faces? This would appear to be one of those peculiar instances where you can't have your cake and not eat it, too.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Maureen Dowd's "When a Predator Collides With a Fabricator": Why Was a Polygraph Not Immediately Administered?

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "When a Predator Collides With a Fabricator" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/opinion/sunday/03dowd.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Maureen Dowd not surprisingly chooses to examine the Dominique Strauss-Kahn fiasco, which has destroyed whatever was left of the reputation of the Manhattan D.A.'s office. Dowd writes:

"They [the French] were right about Iraq and America’s rush to war. And they may be right about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and America’s rush to judgment.

. . . .

The upright-looking Vance is not like the scoundrel prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case. He did not ignore evidence that was contrary to the case prosecutors were trying to build. It just took several weeks, after they tried to deny DSK bail and after they indicted him, to do a thorough investigation.

. . . .

When a habitual predator faces off against a habitual liar, the liar will most likely lose, even if it is the rare case when she is telling the truth."

In the past, I worked in law enforcement, and I wonder whether it really should have taken several weeks to do a thorough preliminary investigation.

Although there is an inevitable euphoria working on high profile prosecutions, the bottom line is that this case amounted to a simple he-said, she-said story. What to do given the high stakes involved in this matter and the potential diplomatic fallout if the case should fall? Simple: Ask the alleged victim to undergo a polygraph test for purposes of establishing credibility, not for use as evidence.

I like polygraphs and have been tested several times in the past, once, for example, to obtain a job demanding a high security clearance, and once to prove that an alleged leak did not come from my department. The results are only as good as the person administering the test, but if you can get a good examiner, many of your doubts will be put to rest. Sure, there are those special individuals who can "beat" the machine, but I would bet that the complainant in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair is not one of them.

None of this has to do with taking sides or liking or not liking Dominique Strauss-Kahn. This is purely a matter of criminal justice in the U.S., which demands 99.9% certainty, i.e. proof beyond reasonable doubt, before convicting. I wouldn't want it any other way.

So what happened here, when, as Dowd describes it, a predator collided with a fabricator"? Unfortunately, an unwary system fell victim.

Peter Catapano's "Dead in the Water?": The Mendacity (and Cowardice) of Dopes

In a New York Times "Opinionator" column entitled "Dead in the Water?" (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/01/dead-in-the-water/?hp), Peter Catapano attempts to present the opinions of those favoring and opposing the Gaza flotilla. Needless to say (this is, of course, The New York Times), Catapano provides more space to those in favor of the flotilla (Max Blumenthal, Alice Walker, Juan Cole) than those opposed (Howard Jacobson).

There is no mention by Mr. Catapano or those opposing the flotilla of:

• abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas without Red Cross visits for five years and without a sign of life for almost two years (http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/news-release/2011/israel-palestine-news-2011-06-23.htm);
• "honor killings" perpetrated against women in Gaza;
• persecution and murder of Christians in Gaza;
• persecution and murder of homosexuals in Gaza;
• incarceration and murder of dissidents in Gaza;
• the thousands of mortar shells, rockets and missiles fired from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets in recent years;
• the repeated attempts by Hamas to smuggle advanced weaponry int Gaza (e.g., the attempt to smuggle ship-to-shore missiles aboard the "Victoria" in March);
• the Hamas charter, which calls for the obliteration of Israel and the murder of all Jews (not just Israelis).

Also no mention by Mr. Catapano or those favoring the flotilla of:

• the two luxury hotels opening in Gaza later this month;
• the gourmet restaurants (e.g., Roots, Carino's) to be found in Gaza;
• the three-story, $2 million wedding hall under construction in Gaza;
• the Mercedes and hot tubs that passed into Gaza last week via Israel;
• the hundreds of BMWs and pickup trucks that have been imported into Gaza in recent months;
• the opening of a second new shopping mall with escalators from Israel next month;
• the abundance and widespread use of cell phones and personal computers throughout Gaza;
• that all 130 engineering firms in Gaza are busy with work;
• that hundreds of new homes are being built;
• that two dozen new schools are about to go up;
• that unemployment has fallen dramatically to 25% according to Hamas's economic minister, Ala al-Rafati (compare with over 21% in Spain);
• that statistics for literacy, live births and longevity are better in Gaza than in Turkey or in most of the surrounding Arab countries;
• that health conditions are far superior to most of the developing world.

In 2010, 18,000 people and their companions passed from Gaza into Israel to receive medical treatment; 80 percent of those who requested treatment in Israel were allowed to enter. Six thousand tons of goods are trucked into Gaza from Israel every day, and as acknowledged by Robert Serry of the UN, there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/136180).

Among the many hateful statements by Alice Walker which did not find their way into Mr. Catapano's piece:

• "I think Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world. And I think in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations themselves." (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/23/interview_alice_walker?page=0,1)

• "I gave her [a Palestinian woman] a gift I had brought, and she thanked me. Looking into my eyes she said: May God Protect You From the Jews. When the young Palestinian interpreter told me what she’d said, I responded: It’s too late, I already married one." (http://www.voiceseducation.org/node/744)

Walker has repeatedly compared Israel with Nazi Germany (http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_print=1&x_context=2&x_outlet=7&x_article=1932):

"I feel that the Israel that many Jews dreamed of having – that one is gone. That's demolished. I think it's time for people to accept that. Because what you have now is something that is so frightening. Israel is as frightening to many of us as Germany used to be."

Moreover, her remarks before the left-leaning congregation of Rabbi Michael Lerner in San Francisco in 2009 during the High Holy Days, were deemed blatantly anti-Semitic by some worshippers, who walked out of her "talk" (http://www.beyttikkun.org/article.php/20090930114030409).

Although there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, there is indeed a humanitarian crisis in Syria, where thousands of persons have been murdered, imprisoned, tortured and forced out of their homes in recent weeks. Yesterday, Assad's security forces killed 24 more civilians (http://www.haaretz.com/news/mideast-in-turmoil/report-assad-forces-kill-24-civilians-in-violent-protests-across-syria-1.370806). Why does the flotilla not sail to Syria? Because they know that in Syria they will be arrested, brutalized and thrown into prison.

So much for the idealism of Walker and these would-be freedom fighters, who combine tourism with safe-protest.