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Monday, October 31, 2011

David Brooks, "The Wrong Inequality": The Impact of Higher Education Goes Unnoticed

David Brooks has written another fascinating op-ed concerning inequality in the US.

In his latest New York Times opinion piece entitled "The Wrong Inequality" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/opinion/brooks-the-wrong-inequality.html?_r=1&ref=opinion), Brooks observes that "Blue Inequality," which exists in and around America's major urban centers, consists of doctors, lawyers, engineers and people in sports, entertainment and the media amassing fortunes. These persons can wield "disproportionate political power" and contribute "seemingly little to the social good." According to Brooks, it is also these persons who attract the most attention:

"That’s because the protesters and media people who cover them tend to live in or near the big cities, where the top 1 percent is so evident."

Brooks compares "Blue Inequality" with "Red Inequality," which has gone largely unnoticed. Red Inequality exists outside the big cities and pertains to those who do or do not have college educations. As explained by Brooks:

"Over the past several decades, the economic benefits of education have steadily risen. In 1979, the average college graduate made 38 percent more than the average high school graduate, according to the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke. Now the average college graduate makes more than 75 percent more.

Moreover, college graduates have become good at passing down advantages to their children. If you are born with parents who are college graduates, your odds of getting through college are excellent. If you are born to high school grads, your odds are terrible.

. . . .

Today, college grads are much more likely to get married, they are much less likely to get divorced and they are much, much less likely to have a child out of wedlock."

Brooks concludes that Red Inequality is more important than Blue Inequality and concludes:

"If your ultimate goal is to reduce inequality, then you should be furious at the doctors, bankers and C.E.O.’s. If your goal is to expand opportunity, then you have a much bigger and different agenda."

I am not a social scientist, but Brooks's opinion piece necessarily raises the issue of facilitating less expensive or even free higher education for all. Such an option would require study of the societal costs and benefits, but on its face it appears an attractive possibility. Given the current costs of higher education, persons from a lower income background often cannot bear the risks and burdens entailed in choosing this path.

Also, among its unintended benefits, free higher education would temporarily delay entry of many young persons into the work force, thereby reducing unemployment in a manner akin to the apprentice system instituted in certain European countries.

Certainly worth examining.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Paul Krugman, "Bombs, Bridges and Jobs": Barney Frank Knows Best

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank knows a thing or two about how to create jobs, but apparently he's an ineffective manager. In 1985, Frank attempted to make an honest man of Steve Gobie, a male prostitute, and hired him with personal funds as an aide, housekeeper and driver. However, when Frank learned that Gobie was also running a bisexual prostitution service out of the congressman's apartment, their relationship ended (see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/frenzy/frank.htm).

Given Frank's expertise at job creation, Nobelist Paul Krugman quotes Frank in the opening paragraph of his New York Times op-ed entitled "Bombs, Bridges and Jobs" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/31/opinion/bombs-bridges-and-jobs.html?_r=1&hp):

"A few years back Representative Barney Frank coined an apt phrase for many of his colleagues: weaponized Keynesians, defined as those who believe 'that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.'"

Basically, Krugman would have us know that you can't have your cake and eat it, too. In other words, if you oppose federal spending for "the building of bridges or important research," you should not be demanding wasteful federal funding for superfluous defense projects.

Needless to say, Krugman ignores the middle ground.

If I decide to throw myself a birthday party, I will of course need to buy a cake. But the cake can be only be cut up into so many pieces for the guests, even if some will want bigger or smaller pieces. So I will have to limit the number of guests. Also, although I might dream of throwing the party at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall and hiring the New York Philharmonic for entertainment, ultimately, when the music's over, I will be responsible for my expenses.

So, too, the federal budget can only be cut into so many pieces, be they civilian or military projects, and when drawing up this budget, we need to be certain that somewhere down the road these costs can be covered.

Frankly, Paul, my concerns don't relate to "keeping regulation and taxes on the wealthy at bay." Rather, for me it's all a matter of accountability, something that Barney and many of his friends on both sides of the aisle have yet to assimilate.

Draw up a budget any way you like, but tell me how you're going to pay for it, today, tomorrow or ten years down the line.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "Did You Hear the One About the Bankers?": Obama Should Also Wear a Nascar-Style Jumpsuit

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Did You Hear the One About the Bankers?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/opinion/sunday/friedman-did-you-hear-the-one-about-the-bankers.html?_r=1&ref=opinion), Thomas Friedman makes four proposals involving US banks:

"We need to focus on four reforms that don’t require new bureaucracies to implement. 1) If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big and needs to be broken up. We can’t risk another trillion-dollar bailout. 2) If your bank’s deposits are federally insured by U.S. taxpayers, you can’t do any proprietary trading with those deposits — period. 3) Derivatives have to be traded on transparent exchanges where we can see if another A.I.G. is building up enormous risk. 4) Finally, an idea from the blogosphere: U.S. congressmen should have to dress like Nascar drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they’re taking money from."

As those who read this blog know, I favor reenactment of Glass-Steagall and am not hostile to Friedman's suggestions. A pity the world's banks are not rated according to their ethical standards and service as opposed to their assets and profits (see, for example: http://www.bankersalmanac.com/addcon/infobank/bank-rankings.aspx).

However, why should only congressmen be forced to dress like Nascar drivers? Why shouldn't President Obama also wear a Nascar-style jumpsuit with the logos of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, and Morgan Stanley, all among his top contributors in 2008 (see: http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.php?cid=N00009638), embroidered in crimson upon the garment?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Charles Blow, "America’s Exploding Pipe Dream": Blow's Exploding Op-ed

How low can the op-ed page of The New York Times go? Today it plumbs new depths.

In an exceedingly brief opinion piece entitled "America’s Exploding Pipe Dream" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/29/opinion/blow-americas-exploding-pipe-dream.html?_r=1&hp), Charles Blow informs us of America's "woeful state":

"We have not taken care of the least among us. We have allowed a revolting level of income inequality to develop. We have watched as millions of our fellow countrymen have fallen into poverty. And we have done a poor job of educating our children and now threaten to leave them a country that is a shell of its former self. We should be ashamed."

Blow supports his allegations by reference to a report released last week by the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation of Germany, which, according to Blow, "analyzed some metrics of basic fairness and equality among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries and ranked America among the ones at the bottom." Blow's op-ed links to a chart prepared by The New York Times using the foundation's statistics, encaptioned "Bottom of the Heap" (http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/10/29/opinion/29blow-ch.html?ref=opinion), for simplicity in comparing the various OECD countries' "fairness and equality."

What doesn't Blow tell us?

The Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation was founded in 1977 by Reinhard Mohn, a German publishing magnate, who died in 2009. According to a 2009 New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/business/media/05mohn.html) written after Mohn's death:

"An officer in Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Mr. Mohn was briefly a prisoner of war in the hands of the United States Army before returning to help run his family’s publishing business in Gütersloh, a sleepy town in northeastern Germany.

. . . .

In the postwar years, Mr. Mohn was known as having few sympathies for the Nazi regime. One chief executive of Bertelsmann, Thomas Middelhoff, even repeated the company lore, during a 1998 speech in New York, that it was shut down in 1944 for printing banned books.

That later proved false. A commission of historians appointed by the company with Mr. Mohn’s approval established in 2002 that Bertelsmann had extensive dealings with the Nazi regime, and that Jewish slave labor was probably used in some of its plants. Heinrich Mohn, Mr. Mohn’s father, belonged to a group that donated money to the Nazi squadron SS."

Cute.

And what about Bertelsmann Stiftung? The foundation's website (http://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/cps/rde/xchg/SID-137F8C05-82AFDD37/bst_engl/hs.xsl/269.htm) spells out its objective:

"In keeping with the longstanding social commitment of its founder, Reinhard Mohn, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is dedicated to serving the common good."

Ah, yes, another champion of "the common good."

Let's have a look at the "Bottom of the Heap" table prepared using the Bertelsmann Stiftung statistics, which is used by Charles to conclusively demonstrate America's depravity. Among the table's categories: "overall social justice rating" (which establishes the position of a given country in the overall ratings), "overall poverty prevention rating," and "overall poverty rate."

At the very top of the table is Iceland. Needless to say, there is no mention of the fact by Blow that Iceland is still in the throes of a devastating financial crisis, which has seen all three of its major commercial banks collapse, and which has wrecked economic and social havoc.

Five slots from the bottom of the table is the US, which, we are made to believe is only superior to, in descending order, Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey. America's "overall poverty prevention rating" is scored at 3.85, which is considerably worse than Turkey's 4.26. America's "overall poverty rate" is scored at 17.3, which is slightly worse than Turkey's 17.0.

This is truly remarkable. Notwithstanding the number of journalists currently languishing in Turkish prisons, America's "overall social justice rating" is little different from that of Turkey. And at a time when an earthquake has struck Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast province of Van, and Turkey is struggling to provide members of its Kurdish minority with tents and blankets, we are being told that Turkey has a better "overall poverty prevention rating" than the US.

I challenge Blow to travel to southeastern Turkey to witness the poverty which has crushed Turkey's Kurdish minority. Not up to the trip? Then merely compare Turkey's infant mortality rate, 23.94 deaths/1,000 live births, and life expectancy at birth, 72.5 years, with that of the US, 6.06 deaths/1,000 live births and 78.37 years, respectively. I can assure you that the figures relating to Turkey's Kurdish minority are worse than Turkey's national average.

I can hardly wait for the next assault on our common sense from the op-ed page of The Times. Sorry, Charlie, but I'm not partial to baloney with my morning coffee.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paul Krugman, "The Path Not Taken": What Paul Doesn't Tell You

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Path Not Taken" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/28/opinion/krugman-the-path-not-taken.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Paul Krugman makes the case for allowing troubled banks to fail:

"But it’s worth stepping back to look at the larger picture, namely the abject failure of an economic doctrine — a doctrine that has inflicted huge damage both in Europe and in the United States.

The doctrine in question amounts to the assertion that, in the aftermath of a financial crisis, banks must be bailed out but the general public must pay the price."

But what does Paul fail to mention?

After the US government rescued Citigroup in 2008, American taxpayers netted a profit of $12 billion on the government's investment of $45 billion, when, in 2010, the Treasury Department sold off the last of its shares acquired as part of the bailout. This represents almost a 27% return on a two-year investment, which saved the jobs of more than 250,000 employees around the world and staved off global economic chaos. The general public paid the price? Yes, and did handsomely by it.

And how is Citigroup doing today? Although it continues to face numerous challenges, Citigroup announced its seventh consecutive quarterly profit earlier this month.

True, many people are currently suffering in the current economic downturn, but any recovery will require the mechanisms of the banks.

Was the banks' recklessness responsible in large part for the current crisis? No question about it. But do we want revenge, or do we seek better regulation of the financial institutions, which are needed to foster any upturn?

I don't know about Paul, but I prefer the latter alternative.

Fareed Zakaria, "To deal with Iran's nuclear future, go back to 2008": Will Fareed Accept the JG Caesarea Challenge?

Fareed Zakaria has returned from a brief visit to Tehran last week, and in a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "To deal with Iran’s nuclear future, go back to 2008" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/to-deal-with-irans-nuclear-future-go-back-to-2008/2011/10/26/gIQADQyEKM_story.html?hpid=z3), he takes up where Roger Cohen left off in 2009 and calls for "strategic engagement" with Iran:

"Strategic engagement with an adversary can go hand in hand with a policy that encourages change in that country. That’s how Washington dealt with the Soviet Union and China in the 1970s and 1980s. Iran is a country of 80 million people, educated and dynamic. It sits astride a crucial part of the world. It cannot be sanctioned and pressed down forever. It is the last great civilization to sit outside the global order. We need a strategy that combines pressure with a path to bring Iran in from the cold."

That's very tidy, Fareed. But here's the deal: Go back to that "last great civilization" and request special permission to witness:

• a woman, accused of adultery, being stoned to death;
• a homosexual being hanged;
• the conditions at Evin and Gohardasht prisons, where leaders of the Baha'i community are being held under appalling conditions after being sentenced to 20 years in jail on trumped-up charges in August 2010.
• the manner in which Kurdish journalist Kamal Sharifi is being tormented and tortured at Gohardasht prison.

Let Fareed come back from Iran after accepting the JG Caesarea Challenge and report back whether he still believes the mullahs should be coddled into bringing "Iran in from the cold."

"Last great civilization"? Yeah, right.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nicholas Kristof, "Crony Capitalism Comes Home": His Worst Opinion Piece Ever

Nicholas Kristof has written many fatuous New York Times op-eds. In one 2010 opinion piece entitled "New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/opinion/06kristof.html), Kristof began by stating:

"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."

Apparently, Kristof was blithely unaware that our bodies consist of chemicals, but ignorance has never prevented him from foisting twaddle upon the The Times's readership.

Kristof today introduces the readership of The New York Times to a new bugaboo, crony capitalism, in his latest op-ed, "Crony Capitalism Comes Home" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/27/opinion/kristof-crony-capitalism-comes-homes.html?hp). However, Kristof begins with a defense of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

"Whenever I write about Occupy Wall Street, some readers ask me if the protesters really are half-naked Communists aiming to bring down the American economic system when they’re not doing drugs or having sex in public.

The answer is no. That alarmist view of the movement is a credit to the (prurient) imagination of its critics, and voyeurs of Occupy Wall Street will be disappointed."

Is it remotely possible that Kristof is unaware of the findings of pollster Douglas Schoen (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576637082965745362.html) concerning the views of OWS protesters? Schoen determined:

"Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda."

Nicholas can deride the critics of OWS with inapposite sexual innuendo, but these statistics are indeed frightening.

Before going further astray along the fuzzy directions of this op-ed, let's return to its purported subject, i.e. crony capitalism. Although Kristof tells us that Lawrence Summers once opined that crony capitalism was to blame for the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, and he would have us believe that crony capitalism is to blame for America's current economic ills, he never troubles to define this term.

Allow me to assist Kristof. Crony capitalism involves a system whereby governments extend permits, grants, loans, tax credits, and other favors to connected persons in the business community.

Hey, doesn't that remind you of what happened with respect to Solyndra? Needless to say, Kristof doesn't go down that path.

Instead, Kristof provides a laundry list of distinguished persons who call for "structural change," recommend "broad-based job creation," and warn against "too much inequality" in a capitalist economy. But none of these persons are saying that the US is a banana republic suffering from crony capitalism.

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I have long derided past excesses of America's financial institutions. I favor reenactment of Glass-Steagall; I favor reinstatement of the Uptick Rule. However, unlike Kristof, I do not perceive the United States as a banana republic.

Kristof concludes:

"So, yes, we face a threat to our capitalist system. But it’s not coming from half-naked anarchists manning the barricades at Occupy Wall Street protests. Rather, it comes from pinstriped apologists for a financial system that glides along without enough of the discipline of failure and that produces soaring inequality, socialist bank bailouts and unaccountable executives.

It’s time to take the crony out of capitalism, right here at home."

I am no apologist for the financial system, and I don't wear pinstripes. (As I type this blog entry, I am wearing sweat-stained gym shorts and a t-shirt covered in dog hair.) I do believe in correcting excesses without crashing the system. And unpleasant as it may have been, had Citibank and AIG not been rescued by the federal government, we would probably be back in the days of barter, with cow manure, for use as fertilizer to grow your own food, one of the world's most precious commodities.

Winston Churchill once said:

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

I think the same is true of capitalism as it pertains to systems of economics.

Kurdish Earthquake Victims in Turkey Desperate for Help

As reported by Reuters (http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=243331):

"Sheltering thousands of families left homeless by a deadly earthquake became Turkey's priority as chances dwindled of finding more survivors four days after disaster struck the mainly Kurdish southeast province of Van.

The death toll rose to 481 on Wednesday and the number of injured was put at 1,650 after Sunday's 7.2 magnitude tremor, the quake-prone country's biggest in more than a decade.

In Ercis, a town of 100,000 that was hardest hit, people stood in a line that stretched back more than 1.5 kilometers to get tents and blankets being handed out by troops."

Peculiar how Turkey could send the ship Mavi Marmara (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/09/roger-cohen-israel-isolates-itself.html) with aid to Gaza, but when its own Kurdish minority, whose standard of living is beneath that which exists in Gaza, is struck by a massive earthquake, persons must stand in a line more than 1.5 kilometers long to obtain blankets and tents, four days after the disaster struck.

And to boot, Turkey delayed receiving help from Israel (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/10/turkey-and-israel-deep-freeze-thaws.html).

The Kurds truly require their own state.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "Barack Kissinger Obama": More Poppycock


In his NYT op-ed of today's date, "Barack Kissinger Obama" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/opinion/barack-kissinger-obama.html?_r=1&hp), Thomas Friedman engages in a dialogue with himself. Friedman asks:

"But while Obama has been deft at implementing Bush’s antiterrorism policy, he has been less successful with his own foreign policy. His Arab-Israeli diplomacy has been a mess. His hopes of engaging Iran foundered on the rocks of, well, Iran. He’s made little effort to pull together a multilateral coalition to buttress the Arab Awakening, in places like Egypt, to handle the postrevolution challenges. His ill-considered decision to double down on Afghanistan could prove fatal. He is in a war of words with Pakistan. His global climate policy is an invisible embarrassment. And the coolly calculating Chinese and Russians, while occasionally throwing him a bone, pursue their interests with scant regard to Obama’s preferences. Why is that?"

Friedman answers himself:

"The reason: the world has gotten messier and America has lost leverage. When Kissinger was negotiating in the Middle East in the 1970s, he had to persuade just three people to make a deal: an all-powerful Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad; an Egyptian pharaoh, Anwar Sadat; and an Israeli prime minister with an overwhelming majority, Golda Meir.

To make history, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by contrast, need to extract a deal from a crumbling Syrian regime, a crumbled Egyptian regime, a fractious and weak Israeli coalition and a Palestinian movement broken into two parts."

This is pure nonsense. If you see that the timing for a deal is not right, you walk away from the table. But this is not the only reason that Obama's Middle East policy, for example, has been such a frightening failure.

Obama sought to coddle tyrannical regimes such as Iran and Syria, and was convinced that his personal charm and outreach would bring them into the fold. Obama was wrong, and this has had dangerous repercussions: Iran is on the verge of building nuclear weapons, and for too long Obama silently sat on the sidelines as Syria's Assad murdered his own people.

Egypt? Obama helped force American ally Mubarak out of power, thereby alienating Saudi Arabia. The ultimate results of this action remain to be seen, particularly given that we have yet to witness elections in Egypt -- which could bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

Libya? We have yet to see the fruits, if any, of "leading from behind" in this tribal conflict. Democracy in Tripoli and Benghazi? No way. Something better than Qaddafi? Let's hope.

Obama came into office convinced that Israel was the source of all tensions in the Middle East, but is only beginning to learn about the extent of the enmity between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Incompetence and misconceptions have characterized Obama's foreign policy in this corner of the world, which have little to do with the personages with whom Obama has been forced to contend. Rather, his failures are the product of his own myopic visions and misplaced confidence in his magical powers of persuasion.

Maureen Dowd, "Limits of Magical Thinking"; Does Jobs Remind You of Someone in the White House?

In her New York Times op-ed of today's date, "Limits of Magical Thinking" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/opinion/limits-of-magical-thinking.html?hp), Maureen Dowd describes Steve Jobs as someone enamoured of himself and his powers. She begins her essay by noting:

"Steve Jobs, the mad perfectionist, even perfected his stare.

He wanted it to be hypnotic. He wanted the other person to blink first. He wanted it to be, like Dracula’s saturnine gaze, a force that could bend your will to his and subsume your reality in his."

Does this remind you of someone else, who has also long been convinced of his powers of persuasion? Who is so polished in his oratory?

Dowd also observes that Jobs "was abandoned by parents who conceived him out of wedlock at 23." Does this also remind you of America's president, who was also abandoned by both his father, first, and then his mother, who sent him to be raised by his grandmother?

Perhaps there the similarities end: Obama's life does not sound like the "darkest hell of volatility," and I have never heard stories of Obama being "capable of frightening coldness, even with his oldest collaborators and family," or that he suffers from dramatic mood swings.

Query: Did narcissism enable both Jobs and Obama to achieve at remarkably early ages what we ordinary mortals can almost never attain, but at a very steep price? Were their successes accompanied by, or the product of, myopic perceptions of self, which also belie hidden insecurity?

Turkey and Israel: The Deep Freeze Thaws Ever So Slightly

Driving in and out of Tel Aviv on Tuesday via the coastal highway, I noticed three things:

1. Heightened activity at the location, which to the untrained eye appears like a giant garbage dump, where Israel trains to lift massive concrete blocks in anticipation of the earthquake which will ultimately rock the country.

2. An advertisement on a bus reading "Turkey welcomes you." Turkey is again welcoming Israelis to vacation there? Given the strains between the two countries since the Mavi Marmara incident and the humiliation of Israelis arriving in Istanbul, I found it somewhat remarkable that Turkey would now be "welcoming" Israelis.

3. As always, the Turkish flag proudly unfurled from the Turkish Embassy building in Tel Aviv with no sign of tension whatsoever in the environs.

Sure enough, I later learned that Turkey was asking Israel for assistance in rescuing persons still trapped under the rubble following its latest earthquake. I'm certain that the delay has resulted in the deaths of several Turks, but fortunately Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan was ultimately willing to swallow his pride. However, there's more to this story than meets the eye.

Erdogan has recently learned that a weakened Egypt does not want his meddling. The roots of this rivalry between Arabs and Turks go back hundreds of years, particularly as it pertains to Egypt. Moreover, even when I visit Istanbul, I still hear Turks decrying how the Arabs stabbed them in the back during World War I.

Erdogan has also sought to improve relations with Iran, notwithstanding economic sanctions being imposed by the West on Tehran. Erdogan is again coming to realize that notwithstanding the Middle East power vacuum created by Obama, the historic tensions between Turkey and Iran cannot be undone overnight, and there is a price to be paid for snubbing Turkey's NATO benefactors, particularly when he is seeking their material assistance in heightened fighting with Kurdish guerilla forces.

Last but not least, Erdogan, who had sought to improve relations with Syria, as part of his efforts to regain suzerainty over the Middle East in a throwback to Ottoman days, has determined that more harm than good can come from befriending Syria's Assad, who has made sport in recent months of murdering his own people.

As the Russian ambassador to Israel once told me many years ago: "There is never a dull moment in this country. Sometimes it's crazy."

Monday, October 24, 2011

David Brooks, "The Fighter Fallacy": Gaining the Trust of Voters

David Brooks latest New York Times op-ed, "The Fighter Fallacy" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/opinion/brooks-the-fighter-fallacy.html?_r=1&ref=opinion), is about falling trust in the federal government, which, under Obama, has reached a new nadir:

"Now, amid the economic slowdown, public trust has hit an all-time low. According to a CNN/ORC International poll, only 15 percent of Americans asked said that they trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time."

Observing that Obama is now speciously seeking to present himself as a "fighter" as opposed to a "conciliator," Brooks concludes his opinion piece by writing:

"If you don’t trust voters to be serious, they won’t trust you."

But when did Obama ever trust voters? Not in 2008. As explained by one of his most senior advisers, Anita ("two of my favorite political philosophers, Mao Tse-Tung and Mother Teresa") Dunn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlGNhAnwp_Y):

"One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe [Obama’s chief campaign manager] 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."

. . . .

"There is no such thing as off the record . . . . Obama himself learned that when he told a fund raising group in San Francisco . . . about people who owned guns in small communities that ended up of course costing us a lot of votes in rural Pennsylvania. . . . Anything you say you should expect to be on You Tube."

Obama and his advisers never trusted the electorate with his true views on anything. It was all about "control." It was all about being elected. It was all a shimmering mirage.

Obama now seeks to pose as a "fighter"? A little late in the game. The harsh realities of governing, which cannot be disguised, have presented him as a man who cogitates, deliberates, cerebrates and avoid decisions, e.g. the mistaken determination to escalate American involvement in Afghanistan which took many months to reach.

America's Procrastinator-in-Chief is no "fighter," and no one -- no matter how hard Axelrod and Plouffe may try in 2012 -- is going to buy it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paul Krugman, "The Hole in Europe’s Bucket": If Only Greece and Italy Could Still Print Their Own Currency

In his New York Times op-ed of today's date entitled "The Hole in Europe’s Bucket" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/24/opinion/the-hole-in-europes-bucket.html?_r=1&hp), Paul Krugman writes:

"Think about countries like Britain, Japan and the United States, which have large debts and deficits yet remain able to borrow at low interest rates. What’s their secret? The answer, in large part, is that they retain their own currencies, and investors know that in a pinch they could finance their deficits by printing more of those currencies."

Sure, Greece and Italy could print more of their own currencies, as Germany did in the 1920s, with the result that a pound of bread in 1923 cost 3 billion marks.

Krugman would have us know that "the real danger is a replay of the 1930s." What of hyperinflation in the 1920s?

There are no simple answers. Enough said.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Maureen Dowd, "The Saudi Ambassador of Sangfroid": The Coming Middle East War

Read Maureen Dowd's most recent New York Times op-ed, "The Saudi Ambassador of Sangfroid" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/opinion/sunday/dowd-the-saudi-ambassador-of-sangfroid.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), then tell me what is peculiar about this opinion piece. I'll give you two minutes, which is more than enough . . .

I'm still waiting for your answer . . . Sorry, time's up.

Although a bit longer than most of her columns and intended to describe the escalating tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Maureen Dowd does not once mention Israel. How can this be? The cornerstone of Obama's Middle East policy has always been that Israel is the source of all tension in this region. Guess what? Obama and his ultra left foreign policy team, consisting of Samantha Power and friends, have been proven dead wrong.

Enmity and jealousy between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are destined to provoke the next Middle East conflagration. Unbeknownst to many, their proxies have been fighting for years in Yemen (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/11/middle-east-war-in-yemen-goes-unnoticed.html).

The Saudis have never cared whether Israel possessed atomic weapons. Iran, however, is another matter. If Iran is permitted by Obama to continue to build a nuclear arsenal, the Saudis will seek the same weaponry (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/29/saudi-build-nuclear-weapons-iran).

Those who read my blog probably noticed by silence concerning the deal which enabled Gilad Shalit to return from captivity in Gaza. My guess is that fearing a forthcoming conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Israel needed to free Shalit as quickly as possible before some unfortunate turn of events might have shocked the collective Israeli psyche. My guess is also that Saudi Arabia is now offering Israeli warplanes flyover rights, should Israel decide to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

So what is Obama doing about this potential war that could set the global economy back even further? Obama is again in campaign mode, notwithstanding Iran's plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington (http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/11/justice/iran-saudi-plot/index.html), Iran's threat to sink US carriers (http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2011/07/ap-iran-to-target-us-carriers-if-attacked-070911/), and Iran's warning to deploy warships off America's East Coast (http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/world/10356471/iran-says-could-deploy-navy-near-u-s-coast-report/).

And who has been encharged by the US to deal with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who on Saturday claimed that the US "has become weaker and weaker" and is "hated in the region" (http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/21/world/meast/iran-ahmadinejad-interview/)? Answer: Her Hideousness, Catherine Ashton, the Baroness of Upholland, who serves as the EU's high representative for foreign affairs (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/10/catherine-ashton-managing-talks-for-us.html). Re Ashton, in case you may have forgotten:

• Before assuming her EU position, Ashton was almost entirely lacking in foreign affairs experience.
• A former chairwoman of the Health Authority in Hertfordshire, she has never held elected office.
• Ashton has a BSc degree in sociology and has a life-sized Dalek (a fictional race of extraterrestrial mutants from the British science fiction television series "Doctor Who") in her sitting room.
• Ashton served as national treasurer in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which is suspected of having received funding from the Soviet Union.
• Ashton enjoyed a relationship with a hard-line communist tied to some of Britain’s most militant union leaders.

However, Ashton's hostility to Israel is akin to that of Samantha Power.

Will Obama finally do something more concrete in order to prevent Iran from building atomic weapons? Probably not. Although Obama has learned that his outreach program to that country has flopped, his most pressing current concern is not foreign policy or the economy, but reelection. If not reelected, he will be pleased to pass the problem of containing a nuclear Iran to his successor.

Thomas Friedman, "One Country, Two Revolutions": Cloudy Thinking

I never agree with almost anything Thomas Friedman writes, and his New York Times op-ed of today's date, "One Country, Two Revolutions" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/opinion/sunday/friedman-one-country-two-revolutions.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), was another case in point.

Yes, I'm delighted that many of America's smartest university graduates will no longer be gravitating toward Wall Street investment banking houses in order to devise useless derivatives or to design new algorithms for ultra fast computerized trading.

On the other hand, I don't agree with Friedman that the "convergence of social media" and cloud computing is going to dramatically change the way we live. Friedman writes:

"The latest phase in the I.T. revolution is being driven by the convergence of social media — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Groupon, Zynga — with the proliferation of cheap wireless connectivity and Web-enabled smartphones and 'the cloud' — those enormous server farms that hold and constantly update thousands of software applications, which are then downloaded (as if from a cloud) by users on their smartphones, making them into incredibly powerful devices that can perform myriad tasks."

Although I work with remarkable, cutting edge, hi-tech companies, I have no need for Facebook or LinkedIn, and I do not tweet. I am satisifed with the functionality of my Blackberry and have no need to turn it into an "incredibly powerful device."

True, I'm not a scientist, and my work does not involve remotely accessing data banks, but I question how many of my clients will be willing to pass vital information to cloud storage and service, which necessarily involve security threats and risk of failure beyond my clients' control.

Moreover, although cloud computing is intended to result in ease of access from remote locations, personally I still believe in the fecundity of human interaction within close quarters, i.e. in an office or a laboratory.

Sure, there's a place for cloud computing, but I think it's being hyped. Maybe it's a function of my age, but I believe that the wellspring of innovation is no longer better access to data, but rather finding better uses for such data, which in turn is a function of creative and flexible thinking induced by intimate interplay and meshing at close quarters.

Charles Blow, "Occupy-apalooza Strikes a Chord": A Pickled Lenin Winks from His Red Square Mausoleum

How low can Blow go? Certainly today he is testing new depths.

In a New York Times op-ed entitled "Occupy-apalooza Strikes a Chord" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/22/opinion/blow-occupy-apalooza-strikes-a-chord.html?_r=1&hp), Charles Blow begins by describing a meeting with a young woman, who, after a morning "boot camp" workout at the Y.M.C.A. and evening drinks with friends, intends to participate in the Zucotti Park Occupy Wall Street protests. When asked by Blow why she is going, she responds:

"I don't know. It's just cool"

"Cool"? That is a reason to participate in a demonstration?

This young woman went on to tell Blow that she wanted to be a part of OWS "in the same way that people from previous generations were part of the civil rights, women’s liberation and antiwar movements." Well, back 40 years ago, I was protesting the Vietnam War on the streets of Chicago, but it wasn't because it was "cool" or because I needed to belong to something, but rather, because I was passionately opposed to the war.

Given this young woman's inability to articulate a rational reason for participating in the OWS protest, Blow provides one:

"Needless to say, that doesn’t cover everyone. The protests have a Lollapalooza-like eccentricity and diversity to the crowds. Some come to revel in the moment. Others come to rage against the machine. But they are all drawn together by the excitement of animating a muscle that many thought had atrophied: demonstration and disobedience in the name of equality."

Blow proceeds to cite three polls showing that many Americans are in agreement with the "disparate ideas" of the OWS protesters, and concludes:

"If nothing else, the movement has established itself as a cultural phenomenon with surprising staying power, and as someone who wasn’t sure that it would catch hold, I must echo the young woman in the restaurant: that’s just cool."

However, one of the "disparate ideas" of the OWS protesters is anti-Semitism in its basest forms, but of course no mention by Blow of this unpleasant phenomenon (see, for example: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/10/11/occupy-wall-street-has-an-anti-semitism-problem/). I am confident that if the N-word was being freely tossed around by these radicals, Blow would lose much of his enthusiasm for the movement, but these days, anti-Semitism has even weaved its way into The New York Times (see, for example: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/08/charles-blows-obama-and-jews-part-2.html) and has become mainstay in leftist circles.

Blow also doesn't trouble themselves to observe that 34% of the Occupy Wall Street protesters polled by New York Magazine believe that the US is no better than al-Qaeda, 37% believe that capitalism is inherently immoral and cannot be saved, and 55% didn't vote in the 2010 midterm elections (see: http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/topic/occupy-wall-street-2011-10/).

Needless to say, Blow doesn't bother to relate to the findings of pollster Douglas Schoen, who, in an article in The Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576637082965745362.html), wrote:

"[T]he Occupy Wall Street movement reflects values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people—and particularly with swing voters who are largely independent and have been trending away from the president since the debate over health-care reform.

The protesters have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies. On Oct. 10 and 11, Arielle Alter Confino, a senior researcher at my polling firm, interviewed nearly 200 protesters in New York's Zuccotti Park. Our findings probably represent the first systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion.

Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda."

Sorry, Charles, but there is nothing "disparate" about the ideas of these protesters, and there is certainly nothing "cool" about them, notwithstanding your best efforts to provide them with a positive spin. Shame on you!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Catherine Ashton Managing Talks for the US with Iran: Impeach Obama!

Tell me I'm dreaming . . .

Her Hideousness, Catherine Ashton, the Baroness of Upholland, who serves as the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, is managing negotiations with Iran on behalf of, inter alia, the US, regarding Tehran's nuclear development program. According to Reuters (http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/10/21/idINIndia-60055220111021):

"Major powers are willing to meet with Iran within weeks if it is prepared to 'engage seriously in meaningful discussions' and address concerns about its nuclear programme, the European Union's foreign policy chief told Tehran in a letter on Friday.

. . . .

EU foreign policy chief Ashton has been leading efforts on behalf of six countries -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany and non-Western powers China and Russia -- to negotiate with Tehran over its disputed atomic activities.

. . . .

She said the goal 'remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature' of Iran's nuclear programme.

'In order to start such a process, our initial objective is to engage in a confidence-building exercise aimed at facilitating a constructive dialogue on the basis of reciprocity and a step-by-step approach,' the letter added."

With Iran plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington (http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/11/justice/iran-saudi-plot/index.html), threatening to sink US carriers (http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2011/07/ap-iran-to-target-us-carriers-if-attacked-070911/), and warning of its intention to deploy warships off America's East Coast (see: http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/world/10356471/iran-says-could-deploy-navy-near-u-s-coast-report/), Ashton, of all people, has been encharged by the US to deal with Ahmadinejad and friends?

In case you may have forgotten:

• Before assuming her EU position, Ashton was almost entirely lacking in foreign affairs experience.
• A former chairwoman of the Health Authority in Hertfordshire, she has never held elected office.
• Ashton has a BSc degree in sociology and has a life-sized Dalek (a fictional race of extraterrestrial mutants from the British science fiction television series "Doctor Who") in her sitting room.
• Ashton served as national treasurer in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which is suspected of having received funding from the Soviet Union.
• Ashton enjoyed a relationship with a hard-line communist tied to some of Britain’s most militant union leaders.

"A confidence-building exercise aimed at facilitating a constructive dialogue on the basis of reciprocity and a step-by-step approach"? Haven't we already gone down that route more than a dozen times over the past three years?

Sorry, but it's time to impeach Obama for callously jeopardizing US national security by entrusting Ashton with this task.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

David Brooks, "Who You Are": Players in a Game We Don't Understand

David Brooks has written another fascinating New York Times op-ed, entitled "Who You Are" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/opinion/brooks-who-you-are.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), describing the research of Daniel Kahneman and his research partner, the late Amos Tversky, which has dramatically altered the manner in which we perceive ourselves. Summarizing their conclusions, Brooks writes:

"We are players in a game we don’t understand. Most of our own thinking is below awareness. Fifty years ago, people may have assumed we are captains of our own ships, but, in fact, our behavior is often aroused by context in ways we can’t see. Our biases frequently cause us to want the wrong things. Our perceptions and memories are slippery, especially about our own mental states. Our free will is bounded. We have much less control over ourselves than we thought."

For someone like myself who is constantly blaming himself for everything that goes wrong, I suppose this is welcome news. Is it time to go easier on myself and to try to enjoy a game, which ultimately all of us lose?

Brooks continues:

"They also figured out ways to navigate around our shortcomings. Kahneman champions the idea of 'adversarial collaboration' — when studying something, work with people you disagree with."

Hmmm, work with someone with whom I disagree . . . . Fortunately I have my dear wife of almost 25 years for that.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and an Attempt at Crossing the Valley of Death

In my prior blog entry, I promised to reveal what keeps me awake at night. Well, several nights ago, I rocketed up from my sleep. "What's the matter this time?" asked my wife. "There's a chance I may have helped some people," I answered.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a devastating disease characterized by scarring of the lungs, leading to respiratory failure. Despite an improved understanding of IPF's molecular mechanisms, the prognosis is poor, with a median survival of some three years from the onset of symptoms. Other than lung transplantation, there is no known effective treatment.

Estimated to affect five million people worldwide and 128,000 persons in the US, IPF has no known cause. These numbers are small relative to the 200,000 persons diagnosed with lung cancer in the US each year, but this is of little comfort if you contract IPF. Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws, died of IPF in 2006. A member of my family also died from the disease.

Several years ago, I read about a tiny Israeli biotech company named Compugen, which models disease processes at the molecular level and aims to predict drug candidates in silico, i.e. by computer. Although larger entities have failed at what Compugen is attempting, Compugen has persisted in its lonely efforts and believes it is well along the road to success.

In February 2007, Compugen, created a platform for the predictive discovery of novel G-protein coupled receptors ("GPCRs"), and in the initial run of this platform, eight novel GPCR ligands were found. Given that some 40% of all drugs modulate GPCRs and the relative high probability of newly discovered GPCR peptide ligands ultimately becoming drugs, Compugen's announcement elicited significant recognition from the scientific community.

In March 2009, Compugen announced that one of these newly discovered ligands, CGEN-25009, was able to activate the Relaxin receptor, and studies conducted by Professor Daniele Bani, an expert in the field of relaxin and fibrotic diseases from the University of Florence, demonstrated that administration of CGEN-25009 led to robust reduction of the fibrotic tissue in the lungs of mice induced with IPF.

Now you might think that such news would cause Big Pharma to come running. Not so. Pulmonary fibrosis claims fewer victims than other diseases. Also, notwithstanding the fact that the pipelines of several Big Pharma companies have gone dry, the focus of some of these companies remains short-term.

In brief, CGEN-25009 needed to be escorted across the "valley of death," the period when promising drug candidates are at too early a stage to attract capital for continued development from Big Pharma.

In 2009, I wanted to do something that mattered. Specifically, I wanted to move CGEN-25009 ahead. I called Compugen, and was fortunate enough to be hired as an external consultant.

Next, a cold call to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation in Chicago, which was sufficiently intrigued to consult, inter alia, with the University of Pittsburgh's Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Diseases.

Last week it was announced in a press release that the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation will provide a grant to the Simmons Center to further establish the anti-fibrotic properties of CGEN-25009 in multiple animal models of fibrosis, to elucidate the mechanism of CGEN-25009's anti-fibrotic effects, and to prioritize potential biomarkers for the study of CGEN-25009 in patients with IPF (see: http://www.cgen.com/Content.aspx?Page=press_releases&NewsId=569).

It didn't happen overnight, and my persistent pestering intended to advance this project post-haste nearly rendered me persona non grata. In addition, there can be no assurances that CGEN-25009 will ever become a marketed drug; however, there is certainly hope, and on a personal level, I am excited by this new model for cooperation between academia and industry.

[I am a Compugen shareholder, and in 2009 I began work as an 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, the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation or the University of Pittsburgh, and this is not a recommendation to buy or sell Compugen shares.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gail Collins, "Mitt and Begonia-gate": More Flatulence from GC

Honestly, I didn't watch the Republican debate in Las Vegas and didn't read a transcript, although I skimmed a synopsis prepared by Jonathan Tobin in Commentary (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/10/18/live-blog-the-gop-presidential-debate/). Perry jabbing at Romney does not preoccupy my mind.

Mitt, however, is apparently keeping several New York Times columnists awake at night. First, there was Maureen Dowd's snotty attack upon Romney's Mormon faith yesterday (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/10/maureen-dowd-anne-frank-mormon-will.html). Today, in "Mitt and Begonia-gate" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/opinion/mitt-and-begonia-gate.html?hp), Gail Collins observes that the landscaping firm that once maintained Romney's garden outside of Boston may have used undocumented workers. Collins acknowledges that Romney stopped using the firm.

Question for Gail: When you eat out, do you first strut into the restaurant's kitchen and demand to see the dishwashers' papers? I don't.

And of course there was Gail's twenty-fourth reference to the Seamus the dog story. I wonder whether Collins also constantly regales (pun intended) her friends with this anecdote at parties, if she is still being invited. Maybe Gail should assign this story a number for ease of reference and to save the verbiage.

So, if Seamus and illegal aliens trimming Romney's lawn don't arouse me, what wakes me up at night? See my next blog entry (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/10/idiopathic-pulmonary-fibrosis-and.html). Yes, there is more to our world than just Democrats versus Republicans.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Maureen Dowd, "Anne Frank, a Mormon?": Will Mitt's "Magical Underwear" Prevent His Nomination?

I have been waiting for Mitt Romney's faith to be scrutinized by a New York Times op-ed, and in "Anne Frank, a Mormon?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/19/opinion/dowd-anne-frank-a-mormon.html?ref=opinion), Maureen Dowd does not shy from the task. Dowd writes:

"Richard Bushman, a Mormon who is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, said that after 'the Jewish dust-up,' Mormons 'backed away' from 'going to extravagant lengths to collect the names of every last person who ever lived and baptize them — even George Washington.' Now they will do it for Mormons who bring a relative or ancestor’s name into the temple, he said.

. . . .

As for the special garment that Mitt wears, “we wouldn’t say ‘magic underwear,’ ” Bushman explains.

. . . .

Republicans are the ones who have made faith part of the presidential test. Now we’ll see if Mitt can pass it."

Okay, Maureen, you've made your point: Mitt's Mormon beliefs might strike many of us as "weird."

Personally, I don't care whether or not devout Mormon couples think they will be given planets in an afterlife. I also don't care what Mitt wears under his suit. (Maureen might be interested to know that many Orthodox Jews wear a fringed "tallit katan" under their shirts.)

I am far more troubled that Obama sat in silence over the course of 20 years as his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, told his congregation that African Americans should not sing "God Bless America" but "God damn America," and claimed that United States "terrorism" was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Water under the bridge, or does Obama remain a radical leftist in sheep's clothing, apropos "magical underwear"?

The Kennedy brothers, John, Robert and Edward, were all able to differentiate between their Catholic faith and America's pluralistic freedom of religion. I have no doubt that Mitt Romney will do the same.

Can Republicans accept Romney's Mormonism? Actually, I think the issue which remains to be seen is whether Romney's relative moderation, flip-flops and all, as opposed to his Mormonism, will allow him to be nominated, or will Republicans commit hari-kari by nominating a reincarnation of Barry Goldwater, defeated by a landslide in the 1964 presidential election.

Monday, October 17, 2011

David Brooks, "The Great Restoration": Untelegenically, Americans Repair Their Economic Values

In yet another thoughtful New York Times opinion piece, "The Great Restoration" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/18/opinion/the-great-restoration.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), David Brooks informs us that notwithstanding the media attention being given to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, most of America is seeking to repair its economic values. Brooks writes:

"While the cameras surround the flamboyant fringes, the rest of the country is on a different mission. Quietly and untelegenically, Americans are trying to repair their economic values.

. . . .

The first norm is that you shouldn’t spend more than you take in. After an explosion of debt over the past few decades, Americans are now reacting strongly against the debt culture.

. . . .

Second, Americans are trying to re-establish the link between effort and reward.

. . . .

The third norm is that loyalty matters. A few years ago there was a celebration of Free Agent Nation. But now most people, even most young people, would rather work long-term for one company than move around in search of freedom and opportunity."

Sickened by the extremism of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements (the latter enthusiastically endorsed by New York Times columnists Kristof and Krugman), I find it gratifying to be informed by Brooks of this noiseless retrenchment of American values.

Forty years ago, I was contemptuous of President Nixon's reference to a "silent majority" and joined marches in the streets of Chicago in opposition to a senseless war in Vietnam. Today, I oppose American involvement in a senseless engagement in Afghanistan, but would like to believe that there indeed exists a "silent majority" which has come to acknowledge the inanity of this costly, prolonged conflict.

However, the Brooks op-ed is not so much about war, but rather about economics, and the resilience of Americans. It is a hopeful column, and I pray that Brooks is right. When, where and how will his theory be put to the test?

America today is governed by a telegenic president, who, by his own acknowledgement, has failed to improve the way in which Americans live during the course of his first term. "Change we can believe in" has crashed and burned.

Nevertheless, Obama is amassing a huge war chest to gain re-election. Although Obama failed to create jobs at Solyndra, in recent months he has opened campaign offices in 15 states, hired hundreds of staffers, and already spent $87 million to remain in the White House (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/us/politics/big-cash-edge-powers-obama-in-drive-for-2012-election.html?_r=1&hp).

Will Americans provide the telegenic president with a second term, notwithstanding his economic and foreign policy failures? Obviously, the answer will in large part be determined by whether the Republicans are able to field a more reasonable candidate. Nevertheless, 2012 should prove something of an acid test for the Brooks sociological theory.

Partially deafened by prolonged proximity to artillery and rifle fire, I've grown to appreciate the virtues of quietude and hope David is correct in his assessment of predominant mainstream American values.

Paul Krugman, "Losing Their Immunity": Wall Street Responsible for "Destroying the World Economy Thing"

Paul Krugman's latest New York Times op-ed, "Losing Their Immunity" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/opinion/krugman-wall-street-loses-its-immunity.html?_r=1&hp), left me feeling ill. The conclusion of his opinion piece:

"Money talks in American politics, and what the financial industry’s money has been saying lately is that it will punish any politician who dares to criticize that industry’s behavior, no matter how gently — as evidenced by the way Wall Street money has now abandoned President Obama in favor of Mitt Romney. And this explains the industry’s shock over recent events.

You see, until a few weeks ago it seemed as if Wall Street had effectively bribed and bullied our political system into forgetting about that whole drawing lavish paychecks while destroying the world economy thing. Then, all of a sudden, some people insisted on bringing the subject up again.

And their outrage has found resonance with millions of Americans. No wonder Wall Street is whining."

Let me begin by observing for the umpteenth time that I am a fervent opponent of financial industry excesses. As known to all who read this blog, I favor reinstatement of Glass-Steagall and the Uptick Rule, and I am dismayed by the compensation packages drawn by the top executives of banks and other financial service companies. Moreover, should Congress decide to increase taxes imposed upon US billionaires, I am not opposed, although this will barely make a dent in America's debt or budget deficit. Having said that . . .

Krugman fails to mention that Steve Jobs was said to be worth $7 billion at his death (see: http://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/list/). Did that make him an evil person? Quite the contrary. His talents were responsible for the employment of tens of thousands of Americans and kept the US at the fore of the information technology industry. Apple, the company for which Jobs is famous, has market capital of some $400 billion, and its shares comprise part of the retirement portfolios of many Americans. Do we separate Jobs from "Wall Street"?

Is Bill Gates, said to be worth $59 billion and one of America's leading philanthropists, also a greedy monster? Microsoft has a market cap of some $230 billion. Does Gates have no nexus to "Wall Street"?

Does Warren Buffett's wealth, estimated at $39 billion, also dictate that Americans erect barricades and shut down lower Manhattan? Is Buffett, famous for his stock picks, not part of "Wall Street"?

Whereas Krugman is quick to claim that "Wall Street" is now abandoning Obama in favor of Romney, where is there mention in his op-ed of George Soros, said to be worth $22 billion, who is known for currency speculation and was labeled "The Man Who Broke the Bank of England" (see: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1993/07/finance-the-unifying-theme/5148/). Would Krugman have us believe that Soros, who is famous for championing liberal "activist" organizations, is separate and distinct from "Wall Street"?

Unlike Krugman, I do not perceive "Wall Street" as a monolithic embodiment of evil, nor do I blame "Wall Street" for "destroying the world economy thing." Have there been abuses which deserve correction? Absolutely, but this does not require trashing America's economic underpinnings and gambling upon a nihilistic utopian vision being promoted by the radical left.

"Wall Street"? I just returned from a visit to New York, where I met with financial institutions and discussed various projects intended to significantly improve the quality of human life. Sure, "Wall Street," as long as I can remember, has always demanded a share of the profits in exchange for staking millions of dollars in ventures which inevitably entail risk. I welcome this trade-off.

Is there a better system? Would I have it any other way? Is it preferable that the federal government decide whether to fund projects such as Solyndra? Answer: No, to all three questions.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "A Progressive in the Age of Austerity": Singing Paeans to Emanuel, Friedman Fails to Mention Solyndra

Rahm Emanuel became the 55th Mayor of Chicago on May 16, 2011, and although Emanuel has spent only five months on the job, Thomas Friedman is already singing paeans to his style of municipal government. In a New York Times op-ed entitled "A Progressive in the Age of Austerity" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/opinion/sunday/friedman-a-progressive-in-the-age-of-austerity.html?ref=opinion), Friedman writes:

"I stopped by Chicago’s City Hall last week to interview the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff. I find 'Rahmbo’s' Chicago agenda intriguing because it’s a microcosm of what the whole country will have to do for the next decade: find smart ways to invest in education and infrastructure to generate growth while cutting overall spending to balance the budget — all at the same time and with limited new taxes.

. . . .

'I want to be honest about this budget,' the mayor declared. 'Almost every one of these ideas has been discussed and debated before. But politics has stood in the way of their adoption. Maybe in the past, we could afford the political path. But we have come to the point where we can’t afford it any longer. The cost of putting political choices ahead of practical solutions has become too expensive. It is destroying Chicago’s finances and threatening the city’s future. In all of these reforms, we will be guided by principle, pragmatism and progress — not politics.'”

"I want to be honest about this budget"? Charming. But what about that unpleasant, unfinished, malodorous business at the White House? I'm referring to Solyndra.

Now in Chicago, Emanuel is claiming that all will be guided by "principle, pragmatism and progress," but regarding Solyndra, Emanuel can't remember a thing. Asked about Solyndra by Speaking to Chicago radio station WLS 890AM (see: http://nation.foxnews.com/rahm-emanuel/2011/09/19/rahm-emanuel-solyndra-i-don-t-remember), Emanuel claimed:

“Ya know, I’m focusing on a major announcement today for the City Of Chicago. I don’t actually remember that or know about it. So, what I’m dealing is with what I’m dealing with here today.”

However, as reported by Yahoo! News (http://news.yahoo.com/rahm-emanuel-solyndra-don-t-remember-201402430.html), Emanuel's failure to remember seems somewhat disingenuous:

"E-mail communications from the White House obtained by the House Energy and Commerce Committee point to more involvement in the deal than perhaps Emanuel would care to remember.

The vice president was scheduled to announce the closure of the Solyndra deal on Sept. 4, and several e-mails show pressure from the White House to approve the loan.

In one e-mail, an assistant to Emanuel wrote on Aug. 31, 2009 to the Office of Management and Budget about the administration’s upcoming announcement on Solyndra and asked whether 'there is anything we can help speed along on OMB side.'”

His aide wanted to "speed along" the loan, and Emanuel was to announce that the deal had been completed, yet he remembers nothing?

Thomas Friedman may wish to focus on Emanuel's acuity as mayor of Chicago after only five months on the job; however, there appears to be some unfinished business demanding credible answers at his prior place of employment.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gail Collins, "Here's the Herminator": GC Explains Her Mission

I have often wondered how Gail Collins twice weekly is able to squander the pulpit granted her by The New York Times and consistently assail us with drivel. In "Here's the Herminator" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/15/opinion/collins-heres-the-herminator.html?ref=opinion), she provides the answer:

"Either way, my mission is clear. In keeping with our ongoing project of reviewing the literary output of the Republican candidates for president, today we’re going to take a look at 'This Is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House.'"

Gail, I'm glad you have a "mission" in life, but this is not "our [italics added] ongoing project," but yours. She continues:

"When he was a vice president at the Pillsbury corporate headquarters, Cain decided that he had hit a dead end, so he gave up the title, took a pay cut and started again from the bottom at the company’s restaurant division. At 36, he was sitting at Burger King University, learning how to put buns and patties through a broiler with a roomful of recent college graduates and assistant store managers. I am not prepared to say that it’s enough to make me want to give him control of the nation’s military arsenal, but it does sound like a seriously gutsy move."

Here, I would observe that although I am no fan of Mr. Cain, at least he comes with business experience. Prior to becoming president, the experience of the young man currently occupying the Oval Office, apart from politics, amounted to a short stint as a "community organizer." This community organizer was given "control of the nation's military arsenal" and has kept us mired in a meaningless war in Afghanistan for the past three years.

Fast forward, GC cannot contain her snottiness:

"But show some respect. None of us are ahead in the presidential primary polls with a best-selling book about our journey to be the C.E.O. of Self. Stop sniffing at the fact that Cain’s chief economic adviser works at the Wells Fargo office in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Take the guy seriously."

Books? I believe that Obama has written three, all about . . . himself. And a query for Gail: After almost three years and trillions of dollars of deficit spending, does US Treasury Secretary Geithner have anything to show us, notwithstanding his remarkable curriculum vitae?

Lest Gail forget, Obama still has a year and three months remaining in his first term. Collins apparently prefers to ignore the ongoing performance of the incumbent and to focus on the giddy campaign game, which is so much more fun than to parse the wreckage of change we can believe in.

Paul Krugman, "Rabbit-Hole Economics": Paul and I Almost Find Common Ground

Halleluyah! I almost found a bit of common ground with Paul Krugman. In his New York Times op-ed "Rabbit-Hole Economics" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/14/opinion/rabbit-hole-economics.html?hp), Krugman writes:

"In the real world, recent events were a devastating refutation of the free-market orthodoxy that has ruled American politics these past three decades. Above all, the long crusade against financial regulation, the successful effort to unravel the prudential rules established after the Great Depression on the grounds that they were unnecessary, ended up demonstrating — at immense cost to the nation — that those rules were necessary, after all."

Amen to that. I have been calling for reinstatement of Glass-Steagall and the Uptick Rule for as long as I can remember, but unlike Paul, I don't have a political ax to grind. Krugman writes:

"The Great Recession should have been a huge wake-up call. Nothing like this was supposed to be possible in the modern world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be engaged in serious soul-searching, asking how much of what he or she thought was true actually isn’t.

But the G.O.P. has responded to the crisis not by rethinking its dogma but by adopting an even cruder version of that dogma, becoming a caricature of itself. During the debate, the hosts played a clip of Ronald Reagan calling for increased revenue; today, no politician hoping to get anywhere in Reagan’s party would dare say such a thing.

It’s a terrible thing when an individual loses his or her grip on reality. But it’s much worse when the same thing happens to a whole political party, one that already has the power to block anything the president proposes — and which may soon control the whole government."

Apparently, Paul prefers to forget that Obama has occupied the Oval Office for the past three years, and during the first two of those years, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. More to the point, there are 15 months to go in Obama's first term of office, and would Krugman have us write off the coming year? Has the campaign season already begun, and can nothing be accomplished by America's current president within that time frame?

Krugman tells us that the prospect that one of the current Republican presidential candidates will be elected is "terrifying." Apparently, unbeknownst to Paul, we have already descended into the inferno, and the would-be messiah, now unable to deliver on promises of salvation, is ready to sell his soul to the nihilistic Occupy Wall Street movement in order to gain reelection.

Paul is "terrified" by the Republicans? I am more troubled by the anti-Semitic underpinnings of the Occupy Wall Street movement (see: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/10/13/occupy-wall-street-kalle-lasn/), which bring us face to face with the opening maw of hell.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

David Brooks, "The Thing Itself": Zigs and Zags to Get Where You Want to Go

I thought David Brooks's New York Times op-ed, "The Thing Itself" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/14/opinion/the-thing-itself.html?_r=1&hp), was beautifully written and provocative, albeit disheartening. Brooks is of the opinion that the philosophical underpinnings of building projects (specifically illustrated by the reconstruction of the World Trade Center), tax policy, gun control and Green Tech must often be demystified in order to achieve practical results. His conclusion:

"Sometimes circumstances compel you to raise taxes, sometimes circumstances allow you to cut them. Sometimes government can promote innovation; in most cases it can’t.

Walker Percy once wrote, 'God writes straight with crooked lines.' Translated into policy terms, that means it takes a lot of little zigs and zags over the terrain to get where you want to go. Mayors, governors and local officials do this all the time as they respond practically to circumstances. At the national level anybody who tries to zig and zag gets regarded as weak and traitorous by the economic values groups. There are rewards for those who fight over symbols, few for those who see the thing itself."

I can agree with David how practical considerations should trump philosophical regimens regarding taxes, gun control and Green Tech, but art and architecture? Is there no longer a place for projects such as the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, born out of the tension between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II? Nearer to our times, i.e. in my childhood, will there never be another 1964 New York World's Fair, dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe," whose pavillions showcased American culture and technology?

Are our cities headed for the urban demise and debilitation envisioned by such sci-fi films as "Blade Runner" and "The Fifth Element"?

More to the point, will the US ever recover from the trillions wasted on pointless wars and ineffectual attempts to stimulate the economy? Dr. Seuss tells us:

"Why are they sad and glad and bad?
I do not know. Go ask your dad"

Were it only 1964 again and still possible . . .

Gail Collins, "The Gift of Glib": More DS from GC

In her NYT op-ed, "The Gift of Glib" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/opinion/the-gift-of-glib.html?_r=1&hp), Gail Collins gives full vent to her power to engage in vacuous meandering and, toying with her readership (it's no wonder The Times is teetering), concludes:

"As things stand, the Perry camp is apparently planning to keep their guy in the background during debates and hit Romney over the head with mean commercials. That shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe they’ll include the day Mitt drove to Canada with the family dog on the car roof."

More of the same DS (you know the meaning of BS) from Collins, i.e. a twenty-third reference to the Seamus story (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/09/gail-collins-curse-of-mitt-gail-needs.html). The less said, the better.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Disintegration of Obama's Foreign Policy: Iran and Syria

With unemployment over 9% in the US and trillions of dollars wasted on failed stimulus, Americans are naturally focused on jobs as we approach the 2012 presidential election. However, Obama's foreign policy, currently not under scrutiny given US economic travails, has proven even more of a catastrophe.

Obama rode into the Oval Office determined to demonstrate that the countries comprising the Bush administration's "axis of evil" were merely misunderstood and could be won over with tolerance and a kindly outreach program. More specifically, he believed that Israel was the fount of all tensions in the Middle East, and if a peace agreement could be imposed upon a purportedly intransigent Israel, tranquility would prevail throughout the region.

In keeping with this sea change in foreign policy, Obama promptly sent new year's ("Nowruz") greetings to Iran's tyrannical theocratic leadership in March 2009, referring to the "true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization" and making clear that the US did not seek regime change. Moreover, Obama sat on the sidelines as Iran's population rose in revolt and was slaughtered in the streets following the country's fraudulent June 2009 presidential election.

What has this restraint earned Obama? Iran has continued undeterred with its program to manufacture nuclear weapons. This week, we have also learned that Iran sought to murder the Saudi ambassador to the US and bomb the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Saudi and Israeli Embassies in Argentina.

Regarding Syria, after repeated visits by Senator John Kerry with Assad, Obama appointed a new ambassador, Robert Ford, to Damascus, without Senate confirmation, for the first time since 2005, when Lebanese Prime Minister Rafi Hariri, a friend of the West, was murdered by Hezbollah at the behest of Assad. Obama barely said a word when earlier this year Assad mowed down protesters, but grew uneasy when the number of dead spiraled over 2,000 (now closer to 3,000) and the number of missing also moved into the thousands.

What has this restraint earned Obama? As reported by The Washington Post on October 10 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/syrian-rights-group-clashes-between-soldiers-and-defectors-leave-dozens-dead/2011/10/10/gIQAZPDbZL_story.html?hpid=z4):

"In a speech late Sunday, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun, a state-appointed cleric and Assad loyalist, issued a clear warning to the West.

'I say to all of Europe, I say to America, we will set up suicide bombers who are now in your countries, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon,' Hassoun said in a speech late Sunday. 'From now on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'”

Keep up the good work, Barack, and compliments to the chef, Samantha Power.

David Brooks, "The Milquetoast Radicals": The Inanity of Occupy Wall Street

Yesterday, in his New York Times op-ed entitled "Panic of the Plutocrats," Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman spoke of the "actual goals" of Occupy Wall Street and opined, "It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction"(see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2011/10/paul-krugman-panic-of-plutocrats-paul.html). "Actual goals"? Name them.

Unlike Krugman, Eugene Robinson, in his October 10 Washington Post column entitled "The Occupy protests: A timely call for justice" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/occupy-wall-street-a-timely-call-for-justice/2011/10/10/gIQASKleaL_story.html), recognized the clueless intellectual underpinnings of Occupy Wall Street, but could not refrain from expressing his admiration for the movement:

"Occupy Wall Street and its kindred protests around the country are inept, incoherent and hopelessly quixotic. God, I love ’em."

Not surprisingly, desperate "any port in a storm" Democrats now seem ready to embrace Occupy Wall Street. As observed in an article in today's New York Times entitled "Protests Offer Help, and Risk, for Democrats" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/us/politics/wall-street-protests-gain-support-from-leading-democrats.html?hp), Eric Lichtblau writes:

"Leading Democratic figures, including party fund-raisers and a top ally of President Obama, are embracing the spread of the anti-Wall Street protests in a clear sign that members of the Democratic establishment see the movement as a way to align disenchanted Americans with their party.

. . . .

Mr. Obama has spoken sympathetically of the Wall Street protests, saying they reflect 'the frustration' that many struggling Americans are feeling. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, have sounded similar themes."

Needless to say, Krugman, Robinson, Obama, Biden and Pelosi don't trouble themselves to observe that 34% of the Occupy Wall Street protesters polled by New York Magazine believe that the US is no better than al-Qaeda, 37% believe that capitalism is inherently immoral and cannot be saved, and 55% didn't vote in the 2010 midterm elections (see: http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/topic/occupy-wall-street-2011-10/). Robinson "loves" these people? Excuse me while I lose my breakfast.

In his New York Times op-ed of today's date entitled "The Milquetoast Radicals" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/opinion/the-milquetoast-radicals.html?hp), David Brooks injects a bit of balance into the assessment of these would-be "Occupiers":

"If there is a core theme to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that the virtuous 99 percent of society is being cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent.

This is a theme that allows the people in the 99 percent to think very highly of themselves. All their problems are caused by the nefarious elite.

Unfortunately, almost no problem can be productively conceived in this way. A group that divides the world between the pure 99 percent and the evil 1 percent will have nothing to say about education reform, Medicare reform, tax reform, wage stagnation or polarization. They will have nothing to say about the way Americans have overconsumed and overborrowed. These are problems that implicate a much broader swath of society than the top 1 percent.

They will have no realistic proposal to reduce the debt or sustain the welfare state. Even if you tax away 50 percent of the income of those making between $1 million and $10 million, you only reduce the national debt by 1 percent, according to the Tax Foundation. If you confiscate all the income of those making more than $10 million, you reduce the debt by 2 percent. You would still be nibbling only meekly around the edges."

But why should any of the facts cited by Brooks matter? When bad things happen to you, find someone else to blame.

Obama is ready to flirt with Occupy Wall Street in order to remain in the White House? Good luck to him. As observed by Alana Goodman of Commentary Magazine in a "Contentions" item entitled "So Much for Gratitude" (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/10/10/obama-bank-of-america/), 20% of Obama's 2008 campaign funds came from Wall Street, and Bank of America has contributed more to Obama than any other politician since 1991.

I would expand upon Goodman's piece and note Obama's ties with Goldman Sachs. As observed in the past by CNN (http://articles.cnn.com/2010-04-20/politics/obama.goldman.donations_1_obama-campaign-presidential-campaign-federal-election-commission-figures?_s=PM:POLITICS):

"According to Federal Election Commission figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Goldman Sachs' political action committee and individual contributors who listed the company as their employer donated $994,795 during 2007 and 2008 to Obama's presidential campaign, the second-highest contribution from a company PAC and company employees."

What a pity this money from Bank of America and Goldman Sachs was not used for medical research or to feed the poor.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Paul Krugman, "Panic of the Plutocrats": Paul Claims Occupy Wall Street Has Goals

In his New York Times op-ed "Panic of the Plutocrats" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/10/opinion/panic-of-the-plutocrats.html?_r=1&hp), Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman appears to take pleasure in the discomfiture of those troubled by the protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

"It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.

. . . .

Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor and a financial-industry titan in his own right, was a bit more moderate, but still accused the protesters of trying to 'take the jobs away from people working in this city,' a statement that bears no resemblance to the movement’s actual goals."

Paul says that Occupy Wall Street has "actual goals." Perhaps he would care to delineate them for us. Do those uniform goals, coming from a broad spectrum of extreme leftist factions, consist of anything other than to occupy Wall Street and dismantle the nation's financial system? Occupy Wall Street and then what? Throw out the baby with the bath water? Start afresh in a brave new utopian world?

A desperate-to-be-reelected Barack Obama is unwilling to dissassociate himself from this movement, which apparently would put an end to the American free market system. In his October 6, 2011 press conference, he sought to explain their motives:

"What I think is that the American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules; that Wall Street is an example of that; that folks who are working hard every single day, getting up, going to the job, loyal to their companies, that that used to be the essence of the American Dream. That's how you got ahead -- the old-fashioned way. And these days, a lot of folks who are doing the right thing aren't rewarded, and a lot of folks who aren't doing the right thing are rewarded."

Well, I've got news for you, too, Barack: Life isn't fair. As I have tried to impart to my children, working hard never ensures that you get ahead. I can dig for oil everyday in my backyard with a spade and shovel, and I can promise you that I will come up dry. Even Herculean efforts demand thought and direction. Yet, I remain appreciative that I can still decide for myself where and when to dig.

I don't care for the Tea Party, and I am appalled by the predatory trading tactics, bundling schemes and novel derivatives which have helped bring the US to its knees. I am also in favor of reinstating Glass-Steagall and the Uptick Rule. However, I have absolutely nothing complimentary to say about Occupy Wall Street.

These days, there is very little room left for those in the middle, as aptly illustrated by my most recent transatlantic flight.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Thomas Friedman, "Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?": The End of a Grand Friendship

Thomas Friedman and his wife Ann are unlikely ever to be invited back to a state dinner at the Obama White House.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/opinion/sunday/friedman-where-have-you-gone-joe-dimaggio.html?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjson8.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Fopinion%2Findex.jsonp%3F8dpc), in which he observes the absence of Steve Jobs's leadership in US national politics, Friedman levels scathing criticism at the president:

"What is President Obama’s vision? I cry just thinking about the question. The Republican Party has been taken over by an antitax cult, and Obama just seems lost. Obama supporters complain that the G.O.P. has tried to block him at every turn. That is true. But why have they gotten away with it? It’s because Obama never persuaded people that he had a Grand Bargain tied to a vision worth fighting for.

. . . .

Obama has given the spending plan, but he has not produced a credible, this-really-hurts fiscal plan — and many Americans know it. The paucity of Obama’s audacity is striking."

A little slow on the uptake, Tom, but you're beginning to get the picture.

Saddest of all is that with the US mired in stagnation, Obama is already in campaign mode, seeking a scapegoat for failing to deliver on his 2008 promises. Although he might capture the imagination of the Occupy Wall Street buffoons, malingerers and Marxists by threatening to tax the hell out of Friedman and other multimillionaires, Obama is not going to emulate Jobs, create jobs or win reelection in this manner.

A "Grand Bargain" tied to a captivating "vision" from Obama? It never was and never will be. Indeed, Obama never proffered anything approaching a "Grand Bargain." Rather, it has all proven a "Grand Illusion," courtesy of Axelrod, Plouffe and friends.

Obama, Solyndra, the Banks and Wall Street: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

We are more than a year away from the 2012 presidential election, yet Obama is already in full campaign mode, seeking to blame others, i.e. the banks and Wall Street, for America's persistent economic woes. Obama's October 6, 2011 press conference was illustrative of this offensive (in both senses of the word) strategy:

"So I'm going to be fighting every inch of the way here in Washington to make sure that we have a consumer watchdog that is preventing abusive practices by the financial sector.

I will be hugely supportive of banks and financial institutions that are doing the right thing by their customers. We need them to be lending. We need them to be lending more to small businesses. We need them to help do what traditionally banks and financial services are supposed to be doing, which is providing business and families resources to make productive investments that will actually build the economy. But until the American people see that happening, yes, they are going to continue to express frustrations about what they see as two sets of rules.

. . . .

What I think is that the American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules; that Wall Street is an example of that; that folks who are working hard every single day, getting up, going to the job, loyal to their companies, that that used to be the essence of the American Dream. That's how you got ahead -- the old-fashioned way. And these days, a lot of folks who are doing the right thing aren't rewarded, and a lot of folks who aren't doing the right thing are rewarded.

And that's going to express itself politically in 2012 and beyond until people feel like once again we're getting back to some old-fashioned American values in which, if you're a banker, then you are making your money by making prudent loans to businesses and individuals to build plants and equipment and hire workers that are creating goods and products that are building the economy and benefitting everybody."

Ah yes, the old-fashioned American value of making prudent loans to enable businesses to build plants and hire workers to create products that benefit everybody. And I suppose that the half billion dollars in federal loans granted to Solyndra provide an example of this rock solid, old-fashioned American value?

Let there be no mistake: I am in favor of reinstating both Glass-Steagall and the uptick rule in order to prevent predatory financial practices. On the other hand, Obama and friends have demonstrated their own incompetence in providing federal loans and are hardly in a position to furnish financial oversight by way of a "consumer watchdog." Given the warnings about the legality of the Solyndra loans from within Obama administration (see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/solyndra-obama-and-rahm-emanuel-pushed-to-spotlight-energy-company/2011/10/07/gIQACDqSTL_story.html?hpid=z1), this scandal appears ready to enmesh the highest echelons of the West Wing and even the president himself.

Federal supervision of the banks and Wall Street? By all means, but who will guard the guards?