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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nicholas Kristof's "'Thank You, America!'": Distorted and Disturbing

Nicholas Kristof has written a frighteningly distorted and disturbing New York Times op-ed entitled "'Thank You, America!'" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/01/opinion/kristof-from-libyans-thank-you-america.html?ref=opinion), in which he drools praise over Obama's assistance to the Western coalition that toppled Qaddafi in Libya:

"As I was walking back from Green Square (now renamed “Martyrs’ Square”) to my hotel on Wednesday morning, a car draped in the victorious Libyan flag pulled up and offered me a lift. 'I just want you to feel welcome here,' explained the driver, Sufian al-Gariani, a 21-year-old salesman. He beamed when he heard where I was from and declared: 'Thank you, Americans. Thank you, President Obama.'

. . . .

President Obama took a huge political risk, averted a massacre and helped topple an odious regime. To me, the lesson is not that we should barge into Syria or Yemen — I don’t think we should — but that on rare occasions military force can advance human rights. Libya has so far been a model of such an intervention."

Obama does not deserve the same credit accorded Cameron and Sarkozy, who entered the fray without knowing whether Obama would ultimately assist them, although the Libyan rebels couldn't have overcome Qaddafi's forces without low-flying US AC-130 flying gunships and A-10 attack aircraft together with spotters.

No mention by Kristof that the rebels are refusing to extradite Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, responsible for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, to the West.

No mention by Kristof that Iran is inviting the chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council to visit Teheran.

Re Syria, where Kristof says Syrians mostly don’t want multinational intervention (I'm unaware of any such poll), the conduct of Obama and the EU has been disgraceful from a humanitarian standpoint. There have been embarrassingly belated denunciations from Obama, again leading from behind, regarding Assad's atrocities, and both the US and the EU have been delinquent in imposing sanctions upon the purchase of oil from Syria.

Moreover, Obama, who several times sent Senator John Kerry to woo Assad and appointed an ambassador to Damascus without Senate approval, has demonstrated his reluctance to acknowledge his flagrant error in judgment, and is again procrastinating with respect to a future course of action.

Iran's Ahmadinejad is now reassessing his relationship with Syria's Assad, and we soon could face an anomalous situation in which Iran withdraws its ambassador from Damascus before Obama requests that Robert Ford abandon the Syrian capital.

From the lyrics of "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who:

And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

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

Query: Has smiling Nicholas been fooled again for the umpteenth time?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Maureen Dowd, "What Price Life?": Blame It on Bush

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "What Price Life" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/31/opinion/dowd-what-price-life.html?_r=1&hp), Maureen Dowd scolds those Republicans who would cut the budget of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Again referring to Dick Cheney's new memoir (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/08/maureen-dowds-darth-vader-vents-crazy.html), in which Cheney criticizes Louisiana Governor Blanco for failing to request timely federal assistance, Dowd concludes:

"The awful hypocrisy is this: As we saw when they spent trillions trying to impose democracy on Iraq and Afghanistan, W. and Cheney believe in big government, in a strong, centralized executive power. But with Katrina, they chose not to use it."

Notwithstanding her recent criticism of Obama's aloof, effete, incompetence, she now reprises what is fast becoming the theme of Obama's 2012 campaign: Blame it on Bush.

Sorry, Maureen, but Obama promised to fix the economy. Ordinarily, you break something in a store, it's yours. Here, Obama didn't fix the economy - he made it worse - and it's his.

Obama also had us believe that he would bring US troops home. Instead, he escalated the war in Afghanistan. Sorry, Maureen, but once again, he didn't fix the situation - he made it worse - and it's his.

Time to forget Bush and 70-year-old Dick Cheney, who are long gone from the scene. Problems with cutting FEMA's budget? Speak to the new boss, whose response to Irene was to cut short his vacation in Martha's Vineyard.


New York Times Editorial, "NATO's Teachable Moment": "What Would It Be Like to Have to Fight a Real Enemy?"

In an editorial entitled "NATO's Teachable Moment" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/natos-teachable-moment.html?hp), The New York Times lavishes praise upon Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama for intervening in Libya:

"The Western allies, especially the British and French forces backed up by the United States, can be justly proud. So can Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and President Obama, who ignored the naysayers who claimed that Libya was a quagmire and the battle not worth fighting."

"Backed up by the United States"? Indeed, this was another instance where Obama was "leading from behind," and Obama does not deserve the same credit accorded Cameron and Sarkozy, who entered the fray without knowing whether Obama would assist them. On the other hand, the Libyan rebels could not have overcome Qaddafi's forces without low-flying US AC-130 flying gunships and A-10 attack aircraft, which pounded Qaddafi's ground troops and supply convoys into submission.

The Times editorial concludes with a question:

"In June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointedly told European NATO allies that they risked becoming militarily irrelevant unless they stepped up investment in their forces and equipment. His successor, Leon Panetta, needs to drive that message home.

European leaders need to ask themselves a fundamental question: If it was this hard taking on a ragtag army like Qaddafi’s, what would it be like to have to fight a real enemy?"

Indeed, let's not beat around the bush and ask outright whether Europe could contend with Syria, which in past months has been busy murdering and torturing thousands of its citizens. Unlike the conflagration in Libya, which was primarily tribal in nature, the uprising in Syria represents an attempt by the majority Sunni population to wrest control from the ruling Alawite minority, which dominates the upper echelons of Syria's armed forces and security agencies.

There have been embarrassingly belated denunciations from Obama, again leading from behind, regarding Assad's atrocities, and both the US and the EU have been delinquent in imposing sanctions upon the purchase of oil from Syria. Syria's economic outlook, dismal even before the insurgency, is buckling under the strain: exports, tourism, trade, manufacturing and foreign investment are all failing (see: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/29/us-syria-economy-idUSTRE77S1W420110829), and the likelihood remains that even without Western intervention, Assad will be forced to depart for Iran.

The bottom line, however, remains: Europe is not prepared to contend with Syria's army, which is the repository of the world's largest arsenal of chemical weapons, and Obama, who several times sent Senator John Kerry to woo Assad and appointed an ambassador to Damascus without Senate approval, has demonstrated his reluctance to acknowledge his flagrant error in judgment, and is again procrastinating with respect to a future course of action.

Thousands more Syrian civilians will die before Assad is ultimately forced to flee Damascus, but in the mean time, the US and EU, which were reluctant to effect economic and diplomatic sanctions, will do little to assist those seeking to dethrone Assad.

From a humanitarian standpoint, the conduct of Obama and the EU has been disgraceful. On the other hand, it is unclear what will emerge from the chaos in Libya, as evidenced by the rebels refusal to extradite the Lockerbie bomber (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/08/libyan-rebels-refuse-to-extradite.html), and the post-Assad outlook for Syria is even more abstruse, given the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood, will rise from the ashes of Hama, and vie for control of the government, as in Egypt.

Today's news: Iran is inviting the chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council to visit Teheran. Perhaps the omniscient editorial board of The New York Times would care to explain what this should teach NATO.

Arab Spring, my eye!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Libyan Rebels Refuse to Extradite Lockerbie Bomber

As reported by Lebanon's Daily Star (http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2011/Aug-29/Rebels-will-not-hand-over-Lockerbie-bomber.ashx#axzz1WPyOesQt), Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, one of those responsible for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, will never be extradited to the West:

“'We will not give any Libyan citizen to the West,' Mohammad al-Alagi, the NTC [National Transitional Council] justice minister, told reporters in Tripoli. The NTC is the de facto government of Libya’s rebel movement.

'Megrahi has already been judged once and he will not be judged again … We do not hand over Libyan citizens. [Moammar] Gadhafi does.'

Megrahi, who had been diagnosed with cancer, served eight years in a Scottish prison for orchestrating the bombing of the Pan Am passenger plane which blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988 killing 270 people. He was released in 2009 on compassionate grounds after doctors gave him only months to live."

The Daily Star article states that Megrahi was "whisked away" by security guards last week and his whereabouts are being kept secret.

So much for the Arab Spring and the nascent forces of democracy in Tripoli.

From the lyrics of "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who:

There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

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? Sing it to the New York Times's Kristof, Cohen and Friedman. Maybe they'll be smarter next time around.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "All Together Now": Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

In his latest New York Times opus entitled "All Together Now" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/28/opinion/sunday/friedman-all-together-now.html), Thomas Friedman delineates four "ruling bargains" whose unraveling threatens the world order:

"the European Union is cracking up. The Arab world is cracking up. China’s growth model is under pressure and America’s credit-driven capitalist model has suffered a warning heart attack and needs a total rethink."

Thanks, Tom, for enlightening us with regard to these developments. At least in Friedman's description of the Middle East unrest, we are spared past blather concerning the "Arab Spring" and blithe expectations for democracy. Rather, realism has set hold in Friedman's head, and he now warns, "Hope for the best, prepare for anything."

Okay, so we're in deep dudu. What is Tom's answer to these travails?:

"When the world is experiencing so many wrenching changes at once — with already high unemployment and weak economies — the need for America, the most important pillar of all, to be rock solid is greater than ever. If we don’t get our act together — which will require collective action normally reserved for wartime — we are not going to just be prolonging an American crisis, but feeding a global one."

"Collective action reserved for wartime"? And is our wartime president mustering our forces in the face of this calamity? Sadly, Obama was forced to cut short his vacation in Martha's Vineyard owing to the approach of Hurricane Irene. No small wonder that Friedman, aware that "Change we can believe in" will not occur during Obama's current term in office, is also beginning to hint at the need for an alternative third party.

Maureen Dowd, "Darth Vader Vents": Crazy Dick Cheney?

Although former vice president Dick Cheney is now 70-years-old, and his past antics are now all but forgotten by a world consumed by a devastating economic crisis, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd revives the memory of her ageing nemesis in an op-ed entitled "Darth Vader Vents" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/28/opinion/sunday/dowd-darth-vader-vents.html). Reviewing in her inimitable way Cheney's recently published memoir "In My Time," Dowd recounts one of the vice president's more poignant vignettes:

"Cheney says that in 2007, he told President Bush, who had already been pulled into diplomacy by Condi Rice: 'I believed that an important first step would be to destroy the reactor in the Syrian desert.'

At a session with most of the National Security Council, he made his case for a strike on the reactor. It would enhance America’s tarnished credibility in the Arab world, he argued, (not bothering to mention who tarnished it), and demonstrate the country’s 'seriousness.'

'After I finished,' he writes, 'the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.'”

Another example of Dick Cheney's recklessness?

Before playing devil's advocate, I would first observe that I have consistently opposed America's ground involvement in Afghanistan, which has proven catastrophically costly and senseless. I also opposed the Second Gulf War, which destroyed the delicate balance of power between rival monstrous regimes in Iraq and Iran.

But let's suppose that in 1981 Israel had not destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in an operation sharply condemned by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. Might it have been possible for Saddam Hussein, armed with nuclear weapons, to have annexed Kuwait in 1990 without meaningful opposition?

In 2007, was Israel mistaken to have destroyed the nuclear reactor under construction with North Korean assistance in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria? Given the atrocities Assad has visited upon his own people in recent months, does anyone question the danger that nuclear weapons in the hands of this tyrant might have posed? Currently, there is no small amount of concern within Western security agencies regarding the destination of Assad's stockpiled chemical weaponry, should his regime fall.

Was Dick Cheney altogether out to lunch? You decide.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Compare Max Frankel With Andrew Rosenthal: A Sign of the Times? (Pun Intended)

Max Frankel was editorial page editor of The New York Times from 1977 to 1986, before becoming executive editor from 1986 to 1994. On November 14, 2001, in its 150th anniversary issue, the Times published an article by Frankel entitled "Turning Away From the Holocaust" (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/14/news/150th-anniversary-1851-2001-turning-away-from-the-holocaust.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm), which acknowledged that during World War II, the Times ignored reports of the Holocaust. Frankel wrote (I recommend reading the article in its entirety):

"There is no surviving record of how the paper's coverage of the subject was discussed by Times editors during the war years of 1939-45. But within that coverage is recurring evidence of a guiding principle: do not feature the plight of Jews, and take care, when reporting it, to link their suffering to that of many other Europeans.

. . . .

No single explanation seems to suffice for what was surely the century's bitterest journalistic failure. The Times, like most media of that era, fervently embraced the wartime policies of the American and British governments, both of which strongly resisted proposals to rescue Jews or to offer them haven. After a decade of economic depression, both governments had political reasons to discourage immigration and diplomatic reasons to refuse Jewish settlements in regions like Palestine.

. . . .

After the Nazis' slaughter of Jews was fully exposed at war's end, Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, the influential daughter, wife and mother of Times publishers, changed her mind about the need for a Jewish state and helped her husband, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, accept the idea of Israel and befriend its leaders. Later, led by their son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, and their grandson Arthur Sulzberger Jr., The Times shed its sensitivity about its Jewish roots, allowed Jews to ascend to the editor's chair and warmly supported Israel in many editorials."

Today, Andrew Rosenthal is editorial page editor of The New York Times. In his biography, it is observed, "In 1964, he won the 3rd Grade Spelling Bee at Public School 183 in Manhattan, on the word 'necessary'" (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/17/business/media/24askthetimes.html?pagewanted=all). On August 14, 2011, almost a decade following Frankel's thoughtful piece, Rosenthal disseminated the following tweet(http://twitter.com/#!/andyrNYT):

"Perry announce speech. Did he miss a GOP cliche? One fave: Isreal [sic] won't have to worry about him. As if it ever has to worry about a US prez."

In the past, I have corresponded with Rosenthal concerning anti-Semitism, the op-ed page of the Times, and grotesque anti-Semitic readers' comments posted by the Times online, some of which were removed by Rosenthal. Concerning Rosenthal's snotty Twitter item, I would begin by observing that although he won a third grade spelling bee, he misspelled "Israel".

More to the point, however, Rosenthal displays appalling ignorance concerning Israel's relationships with past US presidents. Israel's relationships with Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama have often been less than amicable. For example, Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, opposed the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel, and when Israel stood on the verge of annihilation during the 1973 War of Atonement, Kissinger's advice to Nixon was "Let them bleed."

Jimmy Carter, never a friend of Israel, as highlighted by calumnies against Israel and banquets with Assad during which human rights abuses were swept under the table, appointed Zbigniew Brzezinski, also no friend of Israel, as National Security Advisor.

Fast forward: Brzezinski, labeled by Obama as "one of our most outstanding thinkers," stated in a September 2009 interview with The Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/09/18/how-obama-flubbed-his-missile-message.html) in response to the question how Obama should respond to an Israeli air strike on Iran:

"We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?"

Obama is also advised by Samantha Power, who has advocated that America send an armed "mammoth protection force" to impose a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians (see: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2008/01/27/obama-and-israel-it-gets-worse/). Israel need not be concerned about Obama's future conduct, particularly if he is reelected?

Back to Frankel and Rosenthal: Compare content and style. Sure, there is a difference between an article and a tweet, but what a difference a decade makes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

David Brooks, "President Rick Perry?": Romney and Obama Face Serious Threats

In today's New York Times, Rick Perry is the focus of the columns of both Paul Krugman (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/08/paul-krugmans-bernankes-perry-problem.html) and David Brooks. But whereas Krugman addresses the effect of Perry upon Federal Reserve policy, Brooks, in his op-ed entitled "President Rick Perry?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/26/opinion/brooks-president-rick-perry.html?ref=opinion), describes fundamental shifts in the US electorate which have allowed Perry to become the Republican front-runner within days of announcing his candidacy for president.

Observing Perry's double-digit lead over Romney in multiple polls, Brooks suggests that Romney could counterattack by emphasizing Perry's slipperiness:

"Romney could accuse Perry of being the latest iteration of Tom DeLay Republicanism. On the one hand, he is ideologically slippery. The man who sounds so right wing today was the Texas chairman of the Al Gore for President campaign in 1988. The man who now vows to appoint only anti-abortion officials to relevant administration jobs endorsed Rudy Giuliani four short years ago. On the other hand, he is unwavering in his commitment to the government-cash nexus. Even this week — amid much attention to his pay-to-play proclivities — Perry named two big donors to powerful state jobs."

Yeah, right. And Perry won't observe Romney's waffling positions on abortion, gay marriage, gun control, and health care. Sorry, but Mitt never did stand a chance, except when positioned against the likes of Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Donald Trump.

Brooks also informs us that Obama should be worried:

"So, yes, it is time to take Perry seriously as a Republican nominee and even as a potential president. Until a few weeks ago, Perry trailed Obama in general election matchups. But as Perry’s name recognition has increased, that has changed. He and Obama are neck and neck in a recent Gallup poll."

Indeed, Obama, who has also amply demonstrated his slipperiness, e.g., gay marriage, Afghanistan and the Armenian Genocide, can start packing if the economy doesn't improve.

Me? I will never understand how a president, once considered the most liberal US senator, stands to be dethroned after four years by someone diametrically opposed to his values. Apparently, the pendulum must swing, and regrettably it cannot stop in the middle.

Paul Krugman's "Bernanke's Perry Problem": Weaken the Dollar

In an New York Times op-ed entitled "Bernanke's Perry Problem" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/26/opinion/bernankes-perry-problem.html?ref=opinion), Paul Krugman tells us that Governor Rick Perry is a "symbol of the political intimidation that is killing our last remaining hope for economic recovery" and says that he will be "shocked" if Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke announces "anything significant" while speaking at the annual Federal Reserve gathering at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Krugman tells us what the Fed could do, if Bernanke were to take Bernanke's own advice found in a 2000 paper concerning Japan, which "was partly based on [Krugman's] own earlier work":

"Back then, Mr. Bernanke suggested that the Bank of Japan could get Japan’s economy moving with a variety of unconventional policies. These could include: purchases of long-term government debt (to push interest rates, and hence private borrowing costs, down); an announcement that short-term interest rates would stay near zero for an extended period, to further reduce long-term rates; an announcement that the bank was seeking moderate inflation, 'setting a target in the 3-4% range for inflation, to be maintained for a number of years,' which would encourage borrowing and discourage people from hoarding cash; and 'an attempt to achieve substantial depreciation of the yen,' that is, to reduce the yen’s value in terms of other currencies."

Well, the Fed has already announced that short-term interest rates will remain near zero for an extended period, and I would briefly like to focus on the effect of weakening the US dollar.

Note that the US dollar is already weak. Five years ago, the US dollar was worth some 0.78 euro, some 117 Japanese yen, some 1.11 Canadian dollars, and some 1.23 Swiss francs. Today, the US dollar is worth some 0.69 euro, some 76 Japanese yen, some 0.98 Canadian dollars, and some 0.83 Swiss francs. True, five years ago, the US dollar was worth some 0.53 British pounds, compared with some 0.61 British pounds today, but overall the US dollar has already been significantly debased.

Suppose now that the Chinese were to learn that their hoard of US dollars is about to be further debased. I can promise you that they will sell their US dollars, creating immediate and massive currency disruptions on world markets.

Imagine also the effect of a weaker US dollar on the price in US dollars of imported oil. Given higher gasoline prices, consumption will decline with short-term dire effects on the economy, and the US trade deficit will spiral higher.

Thanks, but no thanks, Paul.

Krugman concludes:

"With the Fed also intimidated into inaction, it’s hard to see any end to the ongoing economic disaster."

Query: Does Krugman view Obama as incapable of shaping America's economic future, and does it now all hinge upon the Fed?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New York Times Editorial, "Gov. Perry’s Cash Machine": Note the Timing

In an editorial entitled "Gov. Perry’s Cash Machine" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/opinion/gov-rick-perrys-cash-machine.html?_r=1&hp), The New York Times today slams Texas Governor Rick Perry for an alleged abuse of the spoils system:

"There are nearly 600 boards, commissions, authorities and departments in Texas, many of which are of little use to the public and should have long been shut down or consolidated. They are of great use to the governor, who more than any predecessor has created thousands of potential appointments for beneficent backers and several pro-business funds that have been generous to allies.

Since 2001, more than a fifth of the $83 million that Mr. Perry has raised for his gubernatorial campaigns has come from people he appointed to state boards and commissions, according to a study by Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group."

Query: What are "potential appointments"?

In related news, on August 24 Gallup informed us, "Twenty-nine percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents nationwide say they are most likely to support Perry, with Mitt Romney next, at 17%" (http://www.gallup.com/poll/149180/Perry-Zooms-Front-Pack-2012-GOP-Nomination.aspx).

Also in related news, the "Gallup Daily: Obama Job Approval" poll for August 21-23, 2011 (http://www.gallup.com/poll/113980/gallup-daily-obama-job-approval.aspx) showed that the president's approval rating has fallen to 39% (its lowest ever), while his disapproval rating has risen to 53% (its highest ever).

Governor Perry obviously has the editorial board of the Times worried.

Regarding the substance of the Times editorial, I have no information concerning this alleged abuse of power by Governor Perry. However, I also take no comfort when examining the list of Obama's top donors in 2008, which included Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, and Morgan Stanley (see: http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.php?cycle=2008&cid=n00009638).

Which system of raising campaign funds is cleaner? You decide.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thomas Friedman's "Obama, Tiger, Golf and Politics": Obama Has Lost His Swing

At a recent business meeting held at the offices of one of my clients, I was asked by one of their senior executives, "What's your sport?" I suppose this person, whom I had just met, assumed that I play golf because I live close to a golf course. Sadly, my golf experience involves a one-time, frustrated attempt at clubbing balls at a driving range, and it has always been my assumption that golf is much like playing the piano: Before reaching a proficiency level that will enable you to enjoy either the game or the instrument, many hundreds of hours of training are necessary. Re the piano, I would only add that I am tone deaf, and this deficiency has not been abetted by a decline in my hearing owing to proximity to loud noise, i.e. automatic rifle and artillery fire, over the course of many years. (Query: Is survival a sport?)

In his New York Times op-ed entitled "Obama, Tiger, Golf and Politics" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/24/opinion/friedman-obama-tiger-golf-and-politics.html?_r=1&hp), Thomas Friedman observes that he is pleased that Obama is vacationing in Martha's Vineyard and hopes that he is playing a lot of golf. Comparing golf with Obama's style of governing, Friedman writes:

"For months now, Obama has been playing not to lose, keeping his own plans for a 'Grand Bargain' on debt, deficits, taxes, jobs and investment vague, while waiting for the Republicans to say crazier and crazier stuff — like promising the return of $2-a-gallon gasoline, or insisting that climate change was made up by scientists to get research grants (but politicians taking millions from oil companies can be trusted to tell us the truth on this issue), or that Texas has a right to secede. But while the G.O.P. candidates have been obliging the president with their nuttiness, it has not helped Obama’s poll ratings.

. . . .

Obama is smart, decent and tough, with exactly the right instincts about where the country needs to go. He has accomplished a lot more than he’s gotten credit for — with an opposition dedicated to making him fail. But lately he is seriously off his game. He’s not Jimmy Carter. He’s Tiger Woods — a natural who’s lost his swing. He has so many different swing thoughts in his head, so many people whispering in his ear about what the polls say and how he needs to position himself to get re-elected, that he has lost all his natural instincts for the game. He needs to get back to basics."

Obama "has accomplished a lot more than he's gotten credit for"? Yeah, right. Like removing American ground forces from Afghanistan and providing specifics involving a program for economic revival.

Obama "has lost all his natural instincts for the game"? Which game? Campaigning or governing? Campaigning and governing are two different "sports," and with the aid of a teleprompter, Obama proved himself a natural at campaigning. On the other hand, he has been sadly deficient at wielding the reins of government, which begins with the ability to reach prompt, confident decisions without tortuous vacillation over the course of months, e.g., Obama's determination to escalate American involvement in Afghanistan coupled with an endpoint broadcast to the enemy.

Will Obama regain his swing? You can't regain something you never had. On the other hand, I am confident the president looks forward to hitting the campaign trail and abandoning the sorrows of governing, whose relevant skills he never learned.

Sorry, but I am going to have to cut this blog entry short: "What's that, dear? Yes, dear. Immediately, dear. I didn't hear you, dear." Ah, yes, even the diminishment of hearing has its silver lining. "Only kidding, dear."

Monday, August 22, 2011

New York Times Editorial: "Qaddafi's Final Hours"

From an editorial (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/opinion/qaddafis-final-hours.html?hp) in today's New York Times:

"For more than 40 years, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has dominated and terrorized Libya — his image plastered on what seemed like every wall and his goons posted on every corner."

Now I ask you, is it appropriate for President Obama to extend a warm handshake to a person who has terrorized his own country and the world for almost half a century?

By the way, I was present when Obama greeted Qaddafi with a toothy grin at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy on July 9, 2009, and I overheard Qaddafi whispering to the president: "You know, Barack, it's the clothes that make the man."

More from the Times editorial:

"There were times when the United States and Europe should have committed more assets. But Mr. Obama made the right decision to let Europe take the lead."

Translation: Obama made such a mess of Afghanistan - simultaneously announcing a surge and a withdrawal date - that he was again best off "leading from behind."

From the editorial's conclusion:

"It will be up to the Libyans to build their own future. The rebels’ victory — if followed by the democracy they promise — should inspire others to believe that the battle is worth fighting."

The "democracy they promise" in Libya? What have you folks been smoking in far away Manhattan? It's a tribal conflict, there will ultimately be winners and losers, and it's not going to be pretty. My expectation: One man, one AK-47.

Nevertheless, I wish to thank the editorial board of The New York Times for introducing a bit of comedy into my morning.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Roger Cohen's "Jews in a Whisper": Not a Self-Hating Jew?

In his New York Times op-ed entitled "Jews in a Whisper" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/opinion/sunday/cohen-jews-in-a-whisper.html), Roger ("Iran is not totalitarian") Cohen compares anti-Semitism in England with the US, and observes that in America he has been labeled a self-hating Jew:

"In America, because I’ve criticized Israel and particularly its self-defeating expansion of settlements in the West Bank, I was, to self-styled 'real Jews,' not Jewish enough, or even — join the club — a self-hating Jew."

In today's column, Cohen again uses this opportunity to express his opposition to settlement of the West Bank by Israel:

"The lesson is clear: Jews, with their history, cannot become the systematic oppressors of another people. They must be vociferous in their insistence that continued colonization of Palestinians in the West Bank will increase Israel’s isolation and ultimately its vulnerability."

Well, I also believe in a two-state solution, and also favor returning the West Bank with land swaps as necessary. However, I also deem it necessary for the Palestinians to renounce terror, to put an end to racist incitement, and to recognize Israel's right to exist. Peculiar how no one is labeling me a self-hating Jew.

Why then are there those who would demean Cohen with this appellation? Could it be that Cohen's criticism of West Bank settlement is not the only reason? Note that there is not a single mention in Cohen's piece concerning Thursday's odious terror attack by Palestinians against Israeli civilians on the Egyptian border. Likewise, Cohen does not bother to observe that more than 100 mortar shells, rockets and missiles were fired from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets over the weekend, killing and wounding Israelis.

Let's also look at the title of one of Cohen's prior op-eds, "Obama in Netanyahu's Web," which was painfully in keeping with the anti-Semitic tradition of depicting Jews as voracious spiders, and which, according to a very senior Times editor, "was not a good headline" (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/10/further-insensitivity-of-new-york-times.html).

Then, too, there was Cohen's willingness to paper over the fear and suffering of Iran's tiny Jewish minority in "What Iran's Jews Say" (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/06/was-roger-cohens-what-irans-jews-say-in_17.html).

More? In an op-ed entitled "Lo, the Mideast Moves" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/opinion/30iht-edcohen.html), Cohen compared Netanyahu with Khrushchev, the Soviet dictator who threatened to destroy the US during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the issue of "self-hating Jews" again was raised by Roger.

The matter of whether he is a self-hating Jew appears to be something of an obsession for Cohen. Is Cohen indeed a self-hating Jew, or is he only able to see out of his myopic left eye? You decide.

Maureen Dowd's "Of Dystopias and Alphas": Obama Should Read Robert Frost

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Of Dystopias and Alphas" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/opinion/dowd-of-dystopias-and-alphas.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Maureen Dowd again berates Obama for his detachment and ineptitude:

"Is Obama so isolated he can’t see that Americans are curled up in a ball, beaten down by a financial crisis, an identity crisis, a political crisis and a leadership crisis?

He got the job by blaming Washington. But once you’re in the White House, you are Washington. It’s like the plumber who came to fix the sink waiting for the sink to fix itself."

President Obama, however, thinks otherwise. In his August 20, 2011 weekly address (http://m.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/08/20/weekly-address-getting-america-back-work), prerecorded from Alpha, Illinois (heaven forbid that we should see him golfing in Martha's Vineyard), Obama seeks to distance himself from Washington:

"Now, I’m out here for one reason: I think Washington, DC can learn something from the folks in Atkinson and Peosta and Cannon Falls. I think our country would be a whole lot better off if our elected leaders showed the same kind of discipline and integrity and responsibility that most Americans demonstrate in their lives every day.

Because, the fact is, we’re going through a tough time right now. We’re coming through a terrible recession; a lot of folks are still looking for work. A lot of people are getting by with smaller paychecks or less money in the cash register. So we need folks in Washington – the people whose job it is to deal with the country’s problems, the people who you elected to serve – we need them to put aside their differences to get things done."

Encapsulated in these two paragraphs is Obama's 2012 reelection game plan: Blame Washington, not me. I may currently reside in the White House, but I'm separate and distinct from what happens in the nation's capital. Or as Bart Simpson might say, "I didn't do it."

Dowd recommends that Obama "pick up a volume of Robert Frost" and concludes her column with a quote from "The Lesson for Today:

"I’m liberal. You, you aristocrat,

Won’t know exactly what I mean by that.

I mean so altruistically moral

I never take my own side in a quarrel."

Personally, I would have the Proscratinator-in-Chief reread 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."

Unlike Frost's traveler, Obama all too often gets stuck at the junctions, incapable of taking the reins and leading the nation forward via either alternative route.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Charles Blow, "Obama in the Valley": The Robot President

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Obama in the Valley" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/opinion/blow-obama-in-the-valley.html?_r=1&hp), Charles Blow, an Obama loyalist from the Times op-ed page, also appears ready to defect. Observing the robotic quality of the current leading Republican contenders for the presidency (Bachmann, Perry and Romney), Blow tells us that he never expected to sense this eerie mechanical feeling from the president:

"But one person I never thought would fall into this valley was Barack Obama, the charismatic candidate who electrified the electorate in 2008 and whom many saw as the fulfillment of the dream of the even-more-electrifying Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet here Obama is, down in the valley, struggling to connect with the American people and failing, increasingly coming across as dispassionate to some and outright revolting to others."

Blow calls upon the president to rise to the economic and foreign affairs crisis, and concludes:

"A robotic Sustainer-in-Chief with an eerie inhumanity will not satisfy."

"Sustainer-in-Chief"? I prefer Procrastinator-in-Chief, but be that as it may, I propose a simple solution to humanize Obama:

Unplug him from the Axelrod teleprompter.

This might reveal the president to be inexperienced and confused, as he no longer looks left, then right, for scripted text. On the other hand, when he stutters and stumbles, as he will, we'll know he's no longer an android of Axelrod's making.

By the way, if you're looking for something other than a robot, consider the combative, in-your-face Chris Christie. Like him or not, there can be no mistaking Christie for a robot.

New York Times Editorial, "Truth About Syria": Horse Feathers!

For many months, this blog has observed the horrifying refusal of President Obama to confront Syrian President Assad, who has been busy deploying tanks and warships against his own people. Obama has finally asked Assad to remove himself from power, and a New York Times editorial entitled "Truth About Syria" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/19/opinion/truth-about-syria.html?_r=1&ref=opinion) has this to say of Obama's long overdue declaration:

"It took too long, but President Obama has finally — and unequivocally — called for the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to step down and end his murderous war against the Syrian people. In another belated but welcome move, Mr. Obama also ordered a stiff new array of sanctions, including freezing all Syrian government assets in the United States and banning American citizens and corporations from doing business with the Syrian government.

. . . .

The United Nations estimates that at least 2,000 Syrians have been killed in the uprising since mid-March. A report by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights cited summary executions and gross violations of human rights that 'may amount to crimes against humanity.'”

Better late than never? I suppose. However, observe that the Times editorial does not mention the thousands of Syrians who are "missing" since the uprising.

The Times editorial also fails to note that the American ambassador to Damascus has still not been recalled. As reported by NOW News (http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=302162), Obama has "no plans" to recall US Ambassador Ford.

Ford was appointed ambassador without US Senate approval (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/search/label/Robert%20Ford), and his recall would amount to further embarrassing acknowledgment of the failure of Obama's outreach program to "misunderstood" tyrannies.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

David Brooks, "The Question-Driven Life": Advice to Politicians?

I woke up this morning still in pain from the prior day's events: a horrifying attack by terrorists from Gaza against Israeli civilians, the embarrassingly belated call from Obama for Syria's Assad to step down, and the continued collapse of world financial markets brought on by economic stagnation. David Brooks's New York Times op-ed entitled "The Question-Driven Life" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/19/opinion/brooks-the-question-driven-life.html?ref=opinion), describing Philip Leakey's unconventional mountaintop lifestyle in Kenya, provided a momentary reprieve from my sorrow.

Brooks concludes his essay with advice offered by Richard Holbrooke:

"The late Richard Holbrooke used to give the essential piece of advice for a question-driven life: Know something about something. Don’t just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around."

What a pity that the current occupant of the White House and those who would supplant him cannot live by this code.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Frank Bruni's "Heroes, Until They've Arrived": He's Not Referring to Obama

Texas Governor Rick Perry shot himself in the foot after taking aim at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and speculation now abounds whether 41-year-old Congressman Paul Ryan will declare his readiness to run for president, given the fallow field of existing Republican candidates. Scuttlebutt has it that Ryan's wife, Jana, supports this endeavor (see: http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/big-names-encourage-paul-ryan-run_590322.html). What about Ryan?

In a New York Times op-ed entitled "Heroes, Until They've Arrived" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/opinion/bruni-heroes-until-theyve-arrived.html?ref=opinion), Frank Bruni, not quite 37-years-old, who formerly served as the Times chief restaurant critic, takes aim at three young Republicans, whose names have recently arisen as viable presidential candidates -- Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio. Bruni levels seething criticism at Ryan:

"As for Ryan, he’s the face of a proposed Medicare retrenchment that met widespread public protest, forgotten only because the debt-ceiling showdown stole the stage. It would be remembered in a general election, and he’d have to campaign as the blue-eyed Grinch Who Stole Grandma’s Boniva.

In the primaries, he’d have to explain a record that challenges his Immaculate Fiscal Conservative image. Before the 2010 midterms brought a stringent new orthodoxy, he voted for the auto bailout. He voted for TARP. That’s now Tea Party anathema and was precisely the cudgel Perry used to flatten Kay Bailey Hutchison in his 2010 re-election race."

So Ryan voted for the successful auto bailout that allowed thousands of US workers to keep their jobs? Sounds good to me.

Ryan also voted for The Troubled Asset Relief Program, which kept significant US employers afloat, and although originally expected to cost $300 billion, is now estimated to carry a price tag of less than $25 billion. This is a problem?

Of course, these positions could cost Ryan Tea Party support, but they make him that much more palatable to middle of the road Americans, and cast him as a person capable of substituting reason for impermeable conservative orthodoxy.

By all means, Ryan should declare his candidacy, and should he win the nomination, he should select Rubio as his vice presidential candidate. This intriguing possibility should keep Obama's mind occupied as he goes golfing in, oops, I meant governs from Martha's Vineyard, while Washington and the rest of the country are consumed by the flames of economic stagnation and unemployment.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Maureen Dowd's "Field of Dashed Dreams": Maybe Michelle Should Negotiate With the Republicans

Mitt Romney is no longer seriously in the running in 2012. As announced by the Rasmussen Reports (http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections/election_2012/election_2012_presidential_election/gop_primary_perry_29_romney_18_bachmann_13):

"The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary voters, taken Monday night, finds Perry with 29% support. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, earns 18% of the vote, while Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who won the high-profile Ames Straw Poll in Iowa on Saturday, picks up 13%."

The significance? Reference by New York Times columnists Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd to Seamus, the Irish Setter, driven by Romney from Boston to Ontario in a dog carrier strapped to the roof of his station wagon, will likely end. Collins and Dowd will need to find new material for their comedy routines.

And Maureen Dowd is indeed hustling up such material from Iowa, where, writing from Peosta without a mention of Romney, she quips in her latest op-ed entitled "Field of Dashed Dreams" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/17/opinion/field-of-dashed-dreams.html?_r=1&hp):

"In Cannon Falls, Minn., the president compared negotiating with House Republicans to negotiating with his wife.

In my house," Obama noted, "if I said, ‘You know, Michelle, honey, we got to cut back, so we’re going to have you stop shopping completely. You can’t buy shoes; you can’t buy dresses; but I’m keeping my golf clubs.’ You know, that wouldn’t go over so well."

In Decorah, he said: "Everybody cannot get 100 percent of what they want. Now, for those of you who are married, there is an analogy here. I basically let Michelle have 90 percent of what she wants. But, at a certain point, I have to draw the line and say, ‘Give me my little 10 percent.’ ”

Maybe Michelle should be the one negotiating with the Republicans.

Maureen also refers to Obama's interchange with an Iowa mother named Emily:

“Now, I know that people would like to say ‘Well, just do something to get these guys under control,’” he told Emily, adding: “You don’t want to reward unreasonableness. Look, I get that. But sometimes you’ve got to make choices in order to do what’s best for the country at that particular moment.”

The answer must have seemed lame even to Obama because, on the spur of the moment, he felt backed into doing what many in his White House and party wish he had done long ago. He told Emily he would put forward “a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs and to control our deficit.” (But not until September.)

Already campaigning and abandoning the nettlesome job of governing, Obama has unwittingly informed the populace of his inability to strike favorable bargains when seeking compromise solutions with tough negotiating partners, be it his wife or House Republicans. Given this submissive attitude, Obama's bow to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and his inability to contend with Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, should come as no surprise. Obama is blessed with oratorical gifts, but never learned to lead.

The difference in style between Obama and new Republican frontrunner Perry is not lost on Ms. Dowd, who observes in her column Perry's unwarranted attack upon Federal Reserve chairman Bernanke. As I have observed in prior blog entries, rash characterizations of political opponents are apt to lead to violence, and Perry's conduct was entirely unwarranted, but as yet there has been no apology from the governor of Texas.

Obama against Perry in 2012? Is this the best America has to offer? Why can't it be Hillary (or Michelle) against Chris Christie? I, too, have my dashed dreams of competent leadership in the White House.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Joe Nocera, "What Is Business Waiting For?": Answer . . . Leadership

In his latest New York Times op-ed, "What Is Business Waiting For?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/opinion/nocera-what-is-business-waiting-for.html?hp), Joe Nocera savages Obama's job creation ideas and calls upon American corporations, flush with cash, to ignore short-term profits in order to put people back to work:

"As for the government, President Obama’s idea of job creation is extending unemployment insurance, on the one hand, and painting grandiose pictures of far-off 'green jobs,' on the other. He is bereft of ideas for creating jobs in the here and now. Meanwhile, the Republicans insist — despite mounds of evidence to the contrary — that more tax cuts would create jobs. By now, most Americans have lost hope that our current government will come up with a viable jobs program. It won’t.

I am coming more and more to think that with the government essentially paralyzed for the foreseeable future, the only way we’re going to get jobs is by turning to actual job creators: business itself. With all their cash, companies shouldn’t be waiting for Congress to give them tax incentives to hire people. They should be trying to jump-start the economy — and fend off another recession — by making investments, and hiring workers, that will lead to renewed prosperity."

Corporations will only accept the idea of foregoing short-term profits if they are made to believe that hiring will lead to long-term growth. In order to ready themselves for long-term growth, business leaders need to believe that Washington has a plan - any plan, short-term or long-term - to reignite the economy. Regrettably, Obama, already busy campaigning for reelection, is, as acknowledged by Nocera, bereft of ideas and busy blaming the tsunami in Japan for America's economic woes (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOqPIOMJzWY).

What to do? "Well, now if I were president of this land" (Steppenwolf, "The Pusher"), I would declare war on unemployment. I would convene a gathering of the CEOs of America's 100 largest corporations and disseminate my program for spurring economic growth over the next 12 months, including tax incentives for job creation and a renewed drive to free the US from dependence upon foreign oil. And I would call America's CEOs to the podium, one at a time, asking them to share their ideas, to commit to cooperation, and to pledge immediate expansion of their corporate work forces.

But it all begins with a restoration of confidence, deriving, in turn, from "leadership we can believe in" - something that is sorely lacking in Washington.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Maureen Dowd, "Power to the Corporation!": Mo Might Not Like Mitt, But Corporations Are About People

Writing from Des Moines, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd informs us in her latest op-ed, "Power to the Corporation!" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/opinion/sunday/Dowd-power-to-the-corporation.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), that she saw Mitt Romney's hair move (Who cares?) and that she saw him sweat (Who cares?).

With Gail Collins away on book-writing leave, Maureen takes it upon herself to recount for the umpteenth time Gail's favorite story about Seamus, the Irish Setter, who was driven by Romney from Boston to Ontario in a dog carrier strapped to the roof of his station wagon. (To both Gail and Maureen: Romney might currently be the front runner in a fallow field of Republican candidates, but he will never receive the nomination, and as much as I care for canines - we recently adopted two abandoned puppies - this story is getting dog-tired.)

Of somewhat more interest is Dowd's description of an incident involving a Romney critic at an Iowan fair:

"At the fair, Romney — whose net worth is between $190 million and $250 million — once again went manly by flipping a pork chop on a grill and facing down hecklers worried about cuts in Social Security. When a man in the audience yelled that corporations should be taxed more, Romney replied, 'Corporations are people, my friend.'

Give 'The Stormin’ Mormon,' as Neil Cavuto approvingly called him on Fox News, credit: never has the traditional Republican doctrine been so succinctly explained.

Of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation. We the corporation. Corporations who need corporations are the luckiest corporations in the world. Power to the corporation!"

I agree with Maureen: Corporations are not people. On the other hand, I believe that corporations are the embodiment of people, and reflect what's good and bad about their management and employees.

You needn't think too hard to come up with the names of various predatory financial corporations, known for their avarice and manipulative conduct.

On the other hand, where would we be without the innovation and drive of such companies as Apple, Google, Intel, Amazon and Microsoft? The hi-tech companies with which I work in the fields of biotechnology and medical devices, powered by brilliant and caring people, are a daily inspiration to me.

Lest Maureen forget, she, too, is an employee of The New York Times Company, which, from a financial perspective, has known better days, but has shaped news reporting and public opinion for some 160 years.

And although corporations are not people, they provide employment to millions of Americans, they contribute a steady flow of taxes to the US Treasury, they have played critical roles in America's defense, and they have shaped America's scientific greatness.

In a 1947 House of Commons speech, Winston Churchill declared, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." I hold a similar sentiment regarding the relationship between corporations and human enterprise.

Obama Inaugurates Negative Campaign

With an anemic economy showing few signs of recovery and almost no achievements under his belt, other than nabbing bin Laden, Obama is expected to wage a "negative" reelection campaign, focusing on the faults of his opponents. As such, the initial salvo fired by Obama's political strategist, David Axelrod, in response to the Republicans' debate on Thursday (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20091630-503544.html), came as no surprise:

"Axelrod, in an appearance on CBS' 'The Early Show,' blasted the candidates' performances in Thursday night's Republican debate, and took particular aim on the eight Republicans' unanimously expressed opposition to accepting tax increases as part of a deal to reduce the deficit.

. . . .

Axelrod also took aim at Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is expected to make clear his intention to run for president in a South Carolina speech on Saturday. Perry was not present at the Thursday debate - nor is he on the ballot for Saturday's straw poll - but he is likely to emerge as an immediate frontrunner if and when he does get into the race.

When asked to comment on Perry's criticism of President Obama's jobs record, Axelrod noted that 'he's also called for secession from the United States of America and all kinds of other things.'"

I have no affinity for any of the current Republican candidates, but it is sad to think that the Democrats' 2012 focus will be on mud slinging as opposed to 2008's "change we can believe in."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Paul Krugman, "The Hijacked Crisis": Paul, Here's A Short-Run Fix

Paul Krugman is furious with the Procrastinator in Chief, and it becomes ever more obvious from week to week. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Hijacked Crisis" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/opinion/the-hijacked-crisis.html?_r=1&hp), Krugman lets loose with the following slap in the face:

"For more than a year and a half — ever since President Obama chose to make deficits, not jobs, the central focus of the 2010 State of the Union address — we’ve had a public conversation that has been dominated by budget concerns, while almost ignoring unemployment. The supposedly urgent need to reduce deficits has so dominated the discourse that on Monday, in the midst of a market panic, Mr. Obama devoted most of his remarks to the deficit rather than to the clear and present danger of renewed recession."

Ouch. But let's ignore Obama, who is becoming increasingly irrelevant with every passing week, and focus on Krugman's other contention that "self-proclaimed centrists" are also to blame for our economic sorrows:

"Check out the opinion page of any major newspaper, or listen to any news-discussion program, and you’re likely to encounter some self-proclaimed centrist declaring that there are no short-run fixes for our economic difficulties, that the responsible thing is to focus on long-run solutions and, in particular, on 'entitlement reform' — that is, cuts in Social Security and Medicare. And when you do encounter such a person, you should be aware that people like that are a major reason we’re in so much trouble.

For the fact is that right now the economy desperately needs a short-run fix. When you’re bleeding profusely from an open wound, you want a doctor who binds that wound up, not a doctor who lectures you on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as you get older."

Ouch, again. Well, I avoid characterizing myself as left, right or center, but I do offer overnight medicine for America's economic woes.

The European Securities and Markets Authority has announced that short sales, i.e. the sale of unowned stock by traders in order to benefit from an anticipated decline in the share price — will not be permitted in Belgium, France, Italy and Spain effective Friday, adding to the temporary ban on shorting currently in effect in Greece and Turkey (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/business/global/europe-considers-ban-on-short-selling.html?_r=1&hp).

I do not advocate an outright ban on short sales in the US, as this would interfere with the efficiency of markets, i.e. interfere with the pricing of shares in accordance with their true value. I do, however, support reinstatement of the "Uptick Rule," which would prevent downward manipulation of share prices by market sharks, which has cost many small companies their lives, thereby adding to unemployment.

The Uptick Rule went into effect in 1938 in response to market abuses that threatened the health of the US economy, and prohibited short sales of securities except on an "uptick". As summarized by the SEC:

"Rule 10a-1(a)(1) provided that, subject to certain exceptions, a listed security may be sold short (A) at a price above the price at which the immediately preceding sale was effected (plus tick), or (B) at the last sale price if it is higher than the last different price (zero-plus tick). Short sales were not permitted on minus ticks or zero-minus ticks, subject to narrow exceptions."

The Uptick Rule was cancelled in 2007, thereby enabling hedge funds to short shares, i.e. sell shares they did not own, in almost unlimited, immediate quantities, and permitting them to benefit from resultant investor panic in almost any given traded company.

Example: Micro-cap company "X" has designed and patented a revolutionary widget. Recently, the achievements of "X" have made their way into the news, and its shares have risen. Farmer Joe, who attends night school and reads the financial news, decides to buy 1,000 shares of "X". However, unbeknownst to Farmer Joe, Slick Eddy at Hedge Fund "Z", who couldn't care less about the merits of company "X"'s widgets, has also noticed the rise in the share price of "X". With almost unlimited resources behind him, Eddy borrows "X" shares from various financial institutions and begins to sell vast quantities into the market, causing a precipitous decline in the market price of "X". Eddy then blocks any rally in the share price and immediately sells shares at the bid after any significant purchase. Worried by the huge downswing in the price of "X" accompanied by unusually high volume, and also concerned that at the end of each trading day "X" always goes down (Eddy always sells into the market in the last seconds of trading), Farmer Joe dumps his shares at an enormous loss ("Someone must know that something's wrong at 'X'"). Having succeeded in panicking Farmer Joe and other small investors in "X", Eddy buys back the shares at a significantly lower average price than that at which he sold them, resulting in enormous profits for Hedge Fund "Z". Eddy's bosses note his "fine" work and reward him with bonuses as the shares of "X" tumble.

Of course, there are those who will say that ultimately the stock market is "efficient", and the price of "X" will recover to an appropriate level. However, in the process we have witnessed the flow of wealth from Farmer Joe and other small investors to Hedge Fund "Z" and Slick Eddy.

Also, consider the damage to company "X", which, owing to doubt raised by the run on its shares, is suddenly unable to raise additional funds to finance production of a new line of widgets, declares bankruptcy and fires its staff.

Why has the Uptick Rule not been reinstated? Obviously, there are powerful lobbyists opposed to its reenactment, yet this requires immediate action.

As I wrote in an earlier blog entry (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/search/label/Uptick%20Rule), looking back at Glass Steagall and the Uptick Rule, it turns out that our forefathers gained much wisdom in their attempts to pull the US out of the Great Depression and to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy. Today, their wisdom is ignored.

Paul wants a short-run fix for the economy? Here, at least, is part of it: Reinstate the Uptick Rule. The message will not be lost on the American economy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Maureen Dowd, "Withholder in Chief": More Disdain from Dowd

It would appear that with the passage of time, Maureen Dowd's estrangement from Obama grows, and this week is no exception. In her latest New York Times op-ed, "Withholder in Chief" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/opinion/withholder-in-chief.html?hp), Dowd excoriates the president and claims, "he turns out to be the odd case of a pragmatist who can’t learn from his mistakes and adapt." But Obama's ineptitude should come as no surprise.

Writing from Iowa, Dowd observes:

"Many of his Democratic supporters here, who once waited hours in line just to catch a glimpse of The One, are disillusioned.

'We just wish he’d be more of a fighter,' said one influential Democrat with a grimace. Another agreed: 'You can’t blame him for everything. I just wish he would come across more forceful at times, but that is not the dude’s style. Detached hurts you when things are sour. You need some of Clinton’s ‘I feel your pain’ compassion.'”

Why are those who voted for Obama disillusioned? Answer: David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Anita Dunn designed one of the slickest campaigns in American history for a young man with no executive experience and a penchant for voting "present," but possessing remarkable oratorical capabilities. Making certain that Obama answered no questions and that the media was spoon fed materials prepared by his staff, Obama's media advisers created a situation where Obama's supporters saw in the man what they wanted to see, and a distressed American electorate bought into the illusion.

Anita Dunn described this stratagem at an event focusing on Obama’s media tactics and hosted by the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, in which Dunn discusses how Obama controlled the media during the 2008 election (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlGNhAnwp_Y):

"One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe videos was not just for our supporters, but also because it was a way for us to get our message out without having to actually talk to reporters. We just put that out there and made them write what Plouffe had said as opposed to Plouffe doing an interview with a reporter. So it was very much we controlled it as opposed to the press controlled it. . . . very rarely did we communicate through the press anything that we didn’t absolutely control."

Sweet. But afterwards, try as they might, Axelrod, Plouffe and Dunn could not help Obama govern, as opposed to campaign.

Describing Obama's procrastinative nature, Dowd observes:

"His inability to grab a microphone and spontaneously assuage Americans’ fears is strange. If the American servicemen had died on a Monday, he wouldn’t have waited until Wednesday to talk about it. He doesn’t like the bully pulpit, just the professor’s lectern.

After failing to interrupt his Camp David weekend to buck up the country on one of its worst days in history, he tacked on his condolences for the soldiers’ families to his economic pep talk, in what had to be the most inept oratorical segue of his presidency.

He long ago should have gone out into the country to talk to Americans in person and come up with a concrete plan that people could print out from the White House Web site and study. Hasn’t he learned how dangerous it is to delegate to Congress? His withholding and reactive nature has made him seem strangely irrelevant in Washington, trapped by his own temperament. He doesn’t lead, and he doesn’t understand why we don’t feel led."

Sorry, Maureen, but Obama's inability to grab a microphone and spontaneously assuage Americans’ fears is anything but "strange" and actually was to be expected. There has never been anything spontaneous about Obama. Moreover, this leopard is not going to lose his spots.

"Withholder in Chief" or "Procrastinator in Chief"?

Where is Hillary when we need her? She is not likeable, but she's certainly capable of making a timely decision.

New York Times Editorial: "The Arab States and Syria"

In an opinion piece entitled "The Arab States and Syria" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/opinion/the-arab-states-and-syria.html?_r=1&ref=opinion), the editorial board of The New York Times writes:

"It took far too long, but the cruelty of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has finally registered with his Arab neighbors. They are speaking out against a reign of terror that has claimed the lives of as many as 1,600 courageous Syrians since pro-democracy protests began in March.

. . . .

The fact that they waited so long is a disgrace. Mr. Assad — a member of Islam’s minority Alawite sect — has escalated the violence dramatically, with brutal tank assaults on two mainly Sunni cities. Not even the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan has deterred him."

Excuse me, but what does this say about the refusal of Obama to recall US Ambassador Ford from Damascus. Bypassing Senate confirmation and seeking to avoid public scrutiny by acting while many were on holiday, Obama appointed Ford as ambassador to Syria at the end of December 2010. Hasn't this also taken "far too long"?

I would only add that although the editorial mentions the 1,600 persons known to have been murdered by Assad in recent months, it ignores the some 3,000 additional Syrian civilians, including children, who have "disappeared" (see: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/07/28/syria.disappeared.website/index.html?hpt=hp_mid).

Joe Nocera, "While the Markets Swoon ...": Bush Is Still to Blame

Voicing discontent with Obama's "uninspired" speech on Monday, Joe Nocera, in his latest New York Times op-ed, "While the Markets Swoon ... (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/opinion/nocera-while-the-markets-swoon.html?hp), would have us know that the economic crisis is the fault of George W. Bush:

"Has any president in American history left behind as much lasting damage as George W. Bush? In addition to two unfinished wars, he also set us on the path to our current financial mess."

Okay, Bush is to blame, but Obama was elected to end the wars and guide us out of the morass. This hasn't happened.

In its editorial entitled "Past Time for a New Agenda" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/opinion/past-time-for-a-new-agenda.html?_r=1&hp), The New York Times today rails against the Republicans in its efforts to shift the blame for the economic debacle. Is "I didn't do it" shaping up to be the theme of the 2012 Obama reelection campaign?

What a shame that Obama is not being challenged in the primaries by Hillary.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Past Time for a New Agenda": The Political Agenda of The New York Times

In a less than remarkable opinion piece entitled "Past Time for a New Agenda" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/opinion/past-time-for-a-new-agenda.html?_r=1&hp), the editorial board of The New York Times purportedly calls upon President Obama to shift his apparently limited attention span from curbing debt to job growth. The editorial mentions the proposals for job growth proffered by the president on Monday:

"Increased investment in infrastructure, renewing the payroll tax cut and extending jobless benefits are vital to prevent further backsliding. Inaction on the payroll tax and unemployment benefits could cost nearly a full percentage point in growth next year."

But does the editorial board have any novel suggestions to spur employment? Obviously not. In fact, the overwhelming bulk of this epistle was devoted to partisan politics (Italics added):

• "In the defective logic of the Republican machine, that was Mr. Obama’s fault because it occurred on his watch. (That’s a breathtaking bit of hypocrisy, by the way, from the party that fabricated the debt-ceiling crisis.)"
• "The credit decision put a price tag on the agenda of dysfunction that Republicans brought to Washington, in which unnecessary crises are created to achieve their goals of shrinking government and bringing down Mr. Obama. When one of the two political parties announces its willingness to let the nation default, S.& P. essentially said, those who lend it money can no longer trust it to act rationally."
• "But having spent far too long haggling over the margins of the Republican agenda to reduce the deficit with only spending cuts, the president needs to move to a very different set of priorities. He should start making the case that it is foolish to focus the nation’s attention solely on debt, where the Republicans want it, and instead shift every available resource toward jobs."
• "If he stays locked into the arid agenda of the Republicans, the economy will remain as dormant as his speech on Monday, which is just where his rivals hope it will be in November 2012."
• "Defeatists may say that it is impossible to consider programs like these at a time when Republicans will find a way to kill any worthy idea from the White House, especially those that might require some short-term spending. But the shackles forged by Republican lawmakers can only be broken with the power of good ideas."
• "He is now free to move past that deal, to outline much bolder plans for a turnaround. Then he could defy Republicans — with their crabbed vision of government’s role — to stand in his way."

Query: Is this editorial about job creation or an obsessive campaign manifesto?

Given the chaos in world financial markets, I am astounded by such partisan tripe. If Obama is finally able to rise to the occasion and pull the US out of this morass, he will be reelected. If he and the subservient editorial board of The New York Times pursue the blame game, Obama and friends should get an early start on packing prior to January 2013.

You Lack Faith in the Creditworthiness of the US? Buy Cow Manure, Not Gold!

I had many calls from clients over the past 24 hours concerning my stance with regard to the malaise affecting world financial markets. Let me make this as short as I made it to my customers: I bought shares yesterday in the companies in which I believe. Obviously, it could be that I bought them too high, and if I were to have waited, I might have been able to buy them at a better price; however, there is no doubt in my mind that the markets will recover, and the share price of the companies in which I invest will do well over time.

When asked whether I recommend the purchase of gold, I told my customers that I prefer cow manure. I explained that unlike Standard & Poor's, my faith in the ability of the United States government to repay its debt has not changed one iota, and if it did, gold would offer me little security over the long-term. On the other hand, if the US government were to default, we would all be growing vegetables in our gardens, and cow manure for fertilizer would ultimately prove more valuable.

Never good at growing vegetables, I will stick with my belief in the creditworthiness of the US and take advantage of the decline in world equity markets to add to my positions in the companies which I respect and trust.

New York Times Editorial, "Palestinians and the U.N."

In an opinion piece entitled "Palestinians and the U.N." (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/08/opinion/palestinians-and-the-un.html?_r=1&hp), The New York Times editorial board takes the position that a vote on statehood by the United Nations in September will "further isolate both Israel and Washington" and alienate Palestinians, allowing extremists to attempt to "exploit that disaffection." The editorial begins:

"In little more than a month, the Palestinians are expected to ask the United Nations to recognize their state. We have sympathy for their yearning and their frustration. For years, they have been promised a negotiated solution — President Obama called for a peace deal by September — and they are still empty-handed."

I also have sympathy for the Palestinians' "yearning" for statehood, but am disdainful of their so-called "frustration." The New York Times ignores the fact that Israeli prime ministers Barak and Olmert offered Arafat and Abbas, respectively, statehood on the basis of the 1967 lines with land swaps as necessary, all in accordance with Obama's current guidelines, but in both instances the president of the Palestinian Authority demurred. Why? Because neither Arafat nor Abbas was ultimately willing to recognize Israel's right to exist within any boundaries whatsoever.

The New York Times editorial board continues:

"With the September deadline approaching, the Obama administration is back in the business of incremental diplomacy. The White House is working with Israel and the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations) on a statement setting out parameters for negotiations. The core element: a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps and guarantees for Israel’s security.

. . . .

To have any chance of inducing the Palestinians to drop their statehood bid — and finally move the peace process forward — the United States and its partners should put a map and a deal on the table, with a timeline for concluding negotiations and a formal U.N. statehood vote. The Security Council and the Arab League need to throw their full weight behind it."

The Times editorial board nowhere acknowledges that "guarantees for Israel's security" must begin with an acknowledgement of Israel's right to exist. How is this to be obtained when the Hamas charter calls for the murder of all Jews? Is Israel expected to make a separate deal with the Palestinian Authority? Given the unrest in the Arab world, is Palestinian Authority President Abbas, who recently concluded a unity deal with Hamas, currently prepared to acknowledge Israel's right to exist? No way.

Let the Palestinians acknowledge Israel's right to exist, and then let the negotiations begin. However, there is no mention of Israel's need for this fundamental building stone for peace in the Times editorial.

Israel and the US will be "isolated"? Perhaps the Times editorial board should come to terms with current US popularity in the Muslim world. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey taken before the raid which killed Osama bin Laden showed that US popularity in Pakistan had "fallen to an all-time low, with just 11 percent of Pakistanis holding a favorable view of the country and President Barack Obama" (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/19/ap/asia/main20064522.shtml).

The popularity of the US in the Arab world? According to a 2011 poll conducted by IBOPE Zogby International for the Arab American Institute Foundation in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/checkpoint-washington/post/arab-worlds-views-of-us-president-obama-increasingly-negative-new-poll-finds/2011/07/12/gIQASzHVBI_blog.html) determined:

"In most countries surveyed, favorable attitudes toward the United States dropped to levels lower than they were during the last year of the Bush administration. The killing of Osama bin Laden also worsened attitudes toward the United States.

In Saudi Arabia, for instance, 30 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the United States (compared with 41 percent in 2009), while roughly 5 percent said the same in Egypt (compared with 30 percent in 2009)."

Or in other words, the US is already isolated in the Muslim world, and Israel will remain a pariah state beset with existential threats no matter what they do. Further isolation? Wake up and smell the coffee.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "Win Together or Lose Together": We Just Need to Pull Together

In his latest op-ed, "Win Together or Lose Together" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/opinion/sunday/Friedman-win-together-or-lose-together.html?_r=1&ref=opinion), New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman would explain the United States's economic decline in four paragraphs:

"Our slow decline is a product of two inter-related problems. First, we’ve let our five basic pillars of growth erode since the end of the cold war — education, infrastructure, immigration of high-I.Q. innovators and entrepreneurs, rules to incentivize risk-taking and start-ups, and government-funded research to spur science and technology.

We mistakenly treated the end of the cold war as a victory that allowed us to put our feet up — when it was actually the onset of one of the greatest challenges we’ve ever faced. We helped to unleash two billion people just like us — in China, India and Eastern Europe. For us to effectively compete and collaborate with them — to maintain the American dream — required studying harder, investing wiser, innovating faster, upgrading our infrastructure quicker and working smarter.

Instead of doing that at the scale we needed — that is, building muscle — we injected ourselves with massive amounts of credit steroids (just like our baseball players). This enabled millions of people to buy homes they could not afford and to fill jobs in construction and retail that did not require that much education. Our European friends went on a similar binge.

All this debt blew up in 2008 in the U.S. and Europe, and that led to the second problem: Homeowners, firms, banks and governments are all now 'deleveraging' or trying to — meaning that they are saving more, shopping less, paying off debts and trying to dig out from mortgages that are under water."

Fascinating. No mention by Friedman of disastrous American involvement in overseas wars. No mention of the demise of the enforcement of antitrust laws, which has resulted in the elimination of companies, competition and jobs. No mention of the elimination of the uptick rule, which has turned US financial markets into a cash cow manipulated by predatory big players, instead of a home for investment, which has in turn choked off cash for promising startups. And the list continues.

Friedman's one-paragraph solution?:

"If juggling all these needs at once sounds hard and complicated, it is. There is no easy, one-policy fix. We need to help people deleverage, cut some spending, raise some revenues and reinvest in our growth engines — as an integrated strategy for national renewal. Something this big and complex cannot be accomplished by one party alone. It will require the kind of collective action usually reserved for national emergencies. The sooner we pull together the better."

"Pull together"? Friedman's solution to save the economy sounds a bit like the lyrics from the Youngbloods's 1960s hit "Get Together":

"C'mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
Right now
Right now!"

Thanks, Tom, and hurry off and tell Obama. I'm sure he can't wait to hear the good news: Pull together, abide by the "five basic pillars of growth," "deleverage," and salvation is around the corner. Sweet.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Joe Nocera, "The Tea Party, Take Two": "Nothing Like a Good Financial Crisis to Turn You Into a Liberal"

In his latest New York Times op-ed, "The Tea Party, Take Two" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/06/opinion/the-tea-party-take-two.html?hp), Joe Nocera describes his liberal upbringing and apologizes for accusing Tea Party Republicans of waging "jihad on the American people" in a prior column (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/opinion/the-tea-partys-war-on-america.html?_r=2&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss). Nocera, chagrined by this earlier apoplectic attack, explains his rant:

"Then came the financial crisis. I like to joke that there’s nothing like a good financial crisis to turn you into a liberal. But it’s not really a joke. The more I learned the back story that led to the crisis, the more horrified I became. The lack of regulation and oversight of Wall Street and the big subprime companies like Countrywide, driven by the ideology of deregulation, was thoughtless and irresponsible. The refusal of bank regulators to stop subprime abuses bordered on the criminally negligent. The unwillingness of the Obama Justice Department, even now, to hold anyone to account for their role in the crisis has been disheartening."

Unlike Nocera, appellations of liberal and conservative and attributions of good and evil do not interest me, notwithstanding my liberal upbringing. More important is a path out of the abyss.

I would also observe that absent from Nocera's laundry list of factors contributing to the crisis is the decline of antitrust regulation over the course of past decades, which, under the auspices of both liberal and conservative administrations, has also wrecked havoc upon competition and the job market (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/search/label/antitrust).

Nocera gently scolds Obama for the financial crisis:

"I still think it was terribly wrong for the Republicans to use the threat of default to insist on massive spending cuts, though President Obama also deserves blame for playing his hand so poorly. Putting on my pragmatist hat again, I also think Congress could not have chosen a worse time to rein in spending. Yes, the country’s enormous debt — and the entitlement programs that are driving the federal deficit — needs to be brought under control."

Obama could have played his hand better? Oh really? When was there ever a written budget plan from the president?

"Congress could not have chosen a worse time to rein in spending"? The real question is why didn't Obama deal with the debt ceiling months earlier. Nobody has illustrated this point better, albeit humorously, than Jon Stewart (see: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-august-1-2011/dealageddon----a-compromise-without-revenues).

I went to sleep last night feeling ill from the week's events - the slaughter of civilians in Syria, the downing of a helicopter in Afghanistan, the tumultuous debt ceiling debate, world economic rot - not knowing of the downgrade by Standard and Poor's of US debt, which will only add to the chaos on world markets on Monday. Will Obama, now purportedly focusing his attention on jobs, be able to turn the American economy away from the shoals? Why do I lack confidence in the Procrastinator in Chief?

But perhaps we should at least be grateful that Nocera apologized for his uncivil outburst. No such remorse has been expressed by Nicholas Kristof, who recently lumped Republicans together with al-Qaeda (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/07/nicholas-kristofs-republicans-zealots.html). Kristof's incendiary language, protected by the First Amendment but conducive of violence, doesn't belong on the op-ed page of The New York Times.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nicholas Kristof, "Seeking Balance on the Mideast": No Balance in Kristof's Column

Choosing to ignore Assad's tank onslaught upon the citizens of the Syrian city of Hama and divert the attention of the readership of The New York Times to – you guessed it – Israel, Nicholas Kristof, in his latest op-ed entitled "Seeking Balance on the Mideast" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/opinion/seeking-balance-on-the-mideast.html?_r=1&hp), would excuse himself by writing:

"Whenever I write about Israel, I get accused of double standards because I don’t spill as much ink denouncing worse abuses by, say, Syria. I plead guilty. I demand more of Israel partly because my tax dollars supply arms and aid to Israel. I hold democratic allies like Israel to a higher standard — just as I do the U.S."

Actually, no one is accusing Nicholas of double standards, but rather something far worse.

Kristof writes:

"Similarly, when Israel stormed into Gaza in 2008 to halt rocket attacks, more than 1,300 Gazans were killed, according to B’Tselem, a respected Israeli human rights group."

Peculiar how Kristof fails to state the number of mortar shells, rockets and missiles that had been fired from Gaza at civilian targets in southern Israel prior to Operation Cast Lead: over 10,000. And by the way, two more rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli cities yesterday (see: http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=232392).

More odious, however, is how Kristof fails to mention that B'Tselem's casualties figures are hotly disputed (see, for example: http://maurice-ostroff.tripod.com/id328.html). Kristof also chooses to ignore the casualties figures carefully researched by the Israel Defense Forces: 1,166 Palestinians died, of whom only 295 were non-combatants (see: http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=137286). The Israel Defense Forces numbers were recently confirmed in large part by Hamas (see: http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=193521), but there is no acknowledgement of this by Kristof.

Kristof also praises J Street and would have us believe that support of Israel is a "conservative" phenomenon:

"That’s because those Jews who vote and donate based on Israel are disproportionately conservative (the same is true of Christians who are most passionate about Israel issues)."

Kristof ignores the most recent Gallup poll concerning the support of the US public for Israel (http://www.gallup.com/poll/146408/americans-maintain-broad-support-israel.aspx):

"Americans' views toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict held fairly steady over the past year, with a near record-high 63% continuing to say their sympathies lie more with the Israelis. Seventeen percent sympathize more with the Palestinians."

Question for Kristof: Are all of these supporters of Israel "conservatives" and/or "extremists"?

According to section 17 of The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism (http://www.nytco.com/press/ethics.html):

"As journalists we treat our readers, viewers, listeners and online users as fairly and openly as possible. Whatever the medium, we tell our audiences the complete, unvarnished truth as best we can learn it."

Did Kristof report the "complete, unvarnished truth" in his latest column, in which he apparently seeks to have his readers compare Israel's 2008 operation in Gaza to curtail rocket fire against civilians with current Syrian atrocities in Hama? You decide.