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Saturday, June 29, 2013

David Ignatius, "Obama’s Puzzling Middle East Policies": There Are No Policies

In a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Obama’s puzzling Middle East policies" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-obamas-puzzling-middle-east-policies/2013/06/28/42c471d8-e030-11e2-b2d4-ea6d8f477a01_story.html?hpid=z8), David Ignatius writes of "President Obama’s delay in implementing his policies in Syria":

"The military situation in Syria is slipping away as the president ponders. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran, is creating a 'cordon sanitaire' from Damascus to the Alawite heartland in northwest Syria. This campaign escalated this month when Assad’s forces drove Syrian rebels from Qusair, near the Lebanese border. Now, Assad’s forces are pushing Sunni rebels from Tal Kalakh, a little farther north, continuing what increasingly appears to be a policy of ethnic cleansing.

'A divided Syria is going to be a scourge on its neighbors, region and the whole world, but mostly a catastrophe brought on the Syrian people for decades to come. . . . Simply, a dictator should not be left to do so much destruction,' wrote Gen. Salim Idriss, the rebel commander, in a letter to the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

And what is the United States doing to deliver on Obama’s June 14 pledge to provide increased military aid for the rebels? Let me quote the succinct summary of one of my Syrian rebel contacts: 'Nothing . . . not even a single bullet.'"

Hold your horses, David. In order for there to be a delay in implementing Obama's policies in Syria, there need to be policies.

"Red line" involving the use of chemical weapons? There is no red line.

Arms to Idriss? "Not even a single bullet" from America's Procrastinator-in-Chief.

Sure, I'm fully aware that Syria in some respects amounts to a battle between a Sunni al-Qaeda and a Shiite Iran/Hezbollah, and it could well be that apart from humanitarian interests - which are important - the US does not and should not have a dog in this fight.

The real concern should be a nuclear Iran, which continues to enrich uranium without hindrance from Obama. Obama has told us that he will not allow Iran to build an atomic bomb and that he does not bluff (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/obama-to-iran-and-israel-as-president-of-the-united-states-i-dont-bluff/253875/). The problem, however, is that the Muslim Middle East and Russia's Putin are now convinced that America's president is as tough as the Pillsbury Doughboy and incapable of action.

And so Iran continues to build its bomb (see: http://www.jpost.com/Iranian-Threat/News/Iran-signals-no-scaling-back-in-nuclear-activity-despite-victory-of-moderate-Rouhani-318076), and ultimately Israel will be forced to act on its own.

Regarding Egypt, Ignatius observes:

"Egypt is another puzzling example of bootless Obama administration policy in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi is demonstrably failing. The country is effectively bankrupt, save for misguided charity from Qatar. With just 28 percent of the public supporting Morsi, according to a Zogby Research poll, an opposition coalition called Tamarod claims to have gathered 15 million signatures on a petition withdrawing confidence in the president. This weekend protesters are gathering in Cairo.

What is the Obama administration’s position? You would think, surely, that it would remain neutral in the face of broad-based opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood. It would urge the Egyptian army — the only institution in Egypt that retains wide support — to stay neutral as well, just as it did when protesters challenged President Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

But administration policy is so unclear that many Egyptians think the United States is backing Morsi in the face of public rejection, and they wonder why."

Again, there is no American policy other to watch from the side, and bloody rioting is anticipated today in Cairo and Alexandria.

What's to be done? Much like Chance the Gardener in Jerzy Kosinski's "Being There," America's president likes to watch . . . from distant Tanzania.

Thomas Friedman, "Takin’ It to the Streets": Sorry, Tom, but Don't Go Comparin' Egypt with the US!

Today we learned that a 21-year-old American, Andrew Pochter, who had come to Egypt to teach English and improve his Arabic, was stabbed to death in Alexandria when protesters set fire to the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. As reported by The Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/friday-protests-in-egypt-portend-violence/2013/06/28/ac413f3e-e016-11e2-8cf3-35c1113cfcc5_story.html?hpid=z1):

"Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in competing protests for and against the nation’s Islamist president Friday, ahead of the planned anti-government demonstrations on Sunday that many Egyptians are convinced will turn deadly.

By Saturday, clashes that erupted between the rival sides in the coastal city of Alexandria had left three dead and more than 200 wounded, and attackers in Nile Delta cities had set fire to offices belonging to the president’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood."

Egypt, with only some $16 billion in foreign reserves, soaring unemployment, a weakening currency, poverty, illiteracy, discrimination against women (90 percent of whom have had their genitals mutilated), oppression of its Christian Coptic minority, and a population that is growing beyond the country's means, is headed for disaster.

No, it's not going to be pretty tomorrow in Cairo and Alexandria.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Takin’ It to the Streets" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/30/opinion/sunday/takin-it-to-the-streets.html?_r=0), Thomas Friedman asks, "Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies?" Friedman would have us believe that what is happening in Egypt is somehow similar to protests in the US (and Israel). Friedman writes:

"The former C.I.A. analyst Paul R. Pillar asked this question in a recent essay in The National Interest: Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies? Speaking specifically of Turkey and Brazil, but posing a question that could be applied to Egypt, Israel, Russia, Chile and the United States, Pillar asks: 'The governments being protested against were freely and democratically elected. With the ballot box available, why should there be recourse to the street?'"

Well, unbeknownst to Tom, there is a world of difference between the violence that characterizes Egyptian demonstrations and the relative orderliness and absence of violence that typically characterizes American demonstrations, which are protected by the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Nevertheless, Friedman would lump all of these protests together and attribute them to the convergence of three phenomena:

  • "the rise and proliferation of illiberal 'majoritarian' democracies.
  • "the way middle-class workers are being squeezed between a shrinking welfare state and a much more demanding job market."
  • "much greater ability to link up with others who share their views to hold flash protests."  

Friedman's conclusion:

"The net result is this: Autocracy is less sustainable than ever. Democracies are more prevalent than ever — but they will also be more volatile than ever. Look for more people in the streets more often over more issues with more independent means to tell their stories at ever-louder decibels."

In short, Friedman fails to differentiate between recent riots in Turkey and Egypt, resulting in dead and wounded, and political protests in the US, which can be loud and boisterous, but typically do not turn violent. Riots as opposed to protests - there is a big difference.

There can also be no comparing American democracy with whatever now exists in Egypt. Again, consider the 2010 findings of the Pew Research Center that 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe that those who abandon Islam should be executed and 95 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe it is "good" that Islam plays a large role in politics (see: http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/).

It never occurs to Tom that there is a link between Islamic militancy and intolerance and the violence that characterizes demonstrations in the Muslim Middle East.

Compare deadly riots in Egypt and Turkey with orderly protests in the US protected by the Constitution? Go back to sleep, Tom.

Gail Collins, "Expect the Unexpected": Let's Put the Theory to the Test

You want something unexpected? Don't go searching for it in Gail Collins's column.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Expect the Unexpected" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/29/opinion/collins-expect-the-unexpected.html?_r=0), Gail Collins, as might be expected, refers us to approval by the Senate yesterday of the immigration reform bill and defeat in Texas of an anti-abortion bill. Collins - excuse me as I stifle a yawn - writes:

"Every once in a while, something happens that challenges your entire view of the order of the universe. For instance, this week the U.S. Senate actually passed something. Meanwhile, in Texas, liberal Democrats and the abortion rights movement won a huge political victory.

. . . .

Americans have conflicted attitudes toward this issue, but one thing that’s consistently clear is that they don’t want a wholesale abortion ban."

Yada yada yada.

The immigration reform bill? As observed by Jonathan Tobin in Commentary:

"Though the yes votes, comprising more than two-thirds of the Senate, represented an impressive bipartisan coalition the prospects of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are slim if not entirely non-existent. The ability of anti-reform forces to rally much of the GOP grass roots to oppose the reform proposal as “amnesty” or a fraudulent attempt to bolster border security has entirely intimidated the House leadership and much of the party. Though some supporters of the idea, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, are vowing to bring forward a version of reform that might conceivably be meshed with the Senate bill in a conference, passage of any compromise that might conceivably satisfy either party seems unlikely."


Re Texas, I am pro-choice, but I am far more concerned by the NSA's attack on civil liberties than by the 11-hour filibuster in Austin.

Okay, you're still looking for something unexpected? Let's try something new!



Cheesecake in the JG Caesarea blog? Pandering? No way! This is my daughter, Barr, who is trying to advance her modeling career. Having provided you with Arnold's picture yesterday (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/david-brooks-nation-of-mutts.html), doesn't Barr deserve equal time?

Friday, June 28, 2013

New York Times Editorial, "Dangerous Divisions in the Arab World": They Can't Even Get Their Facts Right

Yet another JG Caesarea challenge round! Before reading today's New York Times editorial entitled "Dangerous Divisions in the Arab World" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/29/opinion/dangerous-divisions-in-the-arab-world.html?_r=0), tell me how many times Israel is mentioned. Don't peek!

Answer: Zero. You see, Israel, after all, has absolutely nothing to do with most of the hatred, strife and conflict in the Muslim Middle East.

Okay, you want a second chance? How many times do those buffoons at The Times mention the Middle East's 30 million stateless Kurds, who for many decades have suffered discrimination and abuse in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria? Don't peek!

Answer: Again zero. But why should 30 million Kurds matter to those sitting in their ivory towers in Manhattan?

What does the Times editorial tell us? After describing the recent lynch of four Shiites in Egypt, the editorial goes on to say:

"The incident illustrates a pernicious sectarianism that was largely repressed by pre-Arab Spring dictators but that now threatens Egypt and much of the Arab world. If left unchecked by newly elected leaders who either exploit simmering historical animosities or refuse to address them constructively, divisions will worsen between Sunnis and Shiites or between Muslims and other minorities, like Christians, ensuring prolonged regional turmoil."

Hmm. It turns out, in retrospect, that Egypt's Mubarak wasn't so bad after all.

The editorial concludes:

"Regardless of what happens in Syria, leaders in neighboring countries need to move quickly to reverse the sectarian slide. That means stating unequivocally that they are committed to the equal rights of all citizens and to ensuring that Shiites and other minorities can practice their religions without fear. Such principles are embedded in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More broadly, it will require an acknowledgment that elections do not alone produce democracies; that governments need to be inclusive; and that nurturing hatreds, for whatever reason, inevitably backfires and makes stable societies impossible."

The leaders of Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt need to declare that "they are committed to the equal rights of all citizens and to ensuring that Shiites and other minorities can practice their religions without fear"? Oh really? Apparently unbeknownst to the editorial board of The New York Times, Shiites are a majority in Iran (where they perpetrate travesties against Sunnis, Baha'is, Christians and Kurds) and also in Iraq. Owing to the strength of the armed wing of Hezbollah funded by Iran, Lebanon's Shiites (close to 30% of the population) have also come to dictate much of the policy of that country as well.

Muslim leaders in the Middle East are now going to commit to the equal rights of all citizens? What are they smoking in the offices of The Times?

Meanwhile, Iran continues to build its first atomic bomb (see: http://www.jpost.com/Iranian-Threat/News/Iran-signals-no-scaling-back-in-nuclear-activity-despite-victory-of-moderate-Rouhani-318076), unperturbed by Obama.

Charming.   





Roger Cohen, "The Service of Snowden": "History, the Real Sort, Will Judge Him Kindly"?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Service of Snowden" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/opinion/global/the-service-of-snowden.html), Roger Cohen asks if Edward Snowden is a "self-aggrandizing geek who betrayed his country and his employer" or a "brave young American determined to fight — at the risk of long imprisonment — against his country’s post-9/11 lurch toward invasion of citizens’ lives."

Cohen's justifies Snowden's activities by observing:

"We would not know how the N.S.A., through its Prism and other programs, has become, in the words of my colleagues James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, 'the virtual landlord of the digital assets of Americans and foreigners alike.' We would not know how it has been able to access the e-mails or Facebook accounts or videos of citizens across the world; nor how it has secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; nor how through requests to the compliant and secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (F.I.S.A.) it has been able to bend nine U.S. Internet companies to its demands for access to clients’ digital information."

Cohen's conclusion:

"Snowden has broken the law of his country. We do not know what, if anything, he has offered China or Russia — or been coerced or tricked into handing over. He has, through his choice of destination, embraced states that suppress individual rights and use the Internet as an instrument of control and persecution. His movements have sent the wrong message.

Still, he has performed a critical service. History, the real sort, will judge him kindly."

As I wrote in the past, instead of going after Iran and Hezbollah, the Obama administration has focused its efforts upon eroding American civil liberties (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/david-ignatius-edward-snowdens.html). Moreover, I believe that a cost/benefit analysis tells us that the cost to American civil liberties of PRISM and other such NSA programs vastly outweighs the counter-terrorism benefits. As has often been asked, why didn't PRISM prevent the Boston Marathon bombing even after US intelligence services were warned in advance by Russia concerning the Tsarnaev brothers?

But does this in any way justify Snowden's conduct? Indeed, we don't know what Snowden passed on to Russia and China.

More to the point, there were other ways that Snowden could have conveyed his objections to these infringements of American civil liberties without revealing American secrets to countries that make mincemeat of basic human rights. With minimum effort, he could have brought the matter before members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sure, there would have been no notoriety, but it could have been done without damaging the United States in broad-brush fashion.

"History, the real sort, will judge him kindly"? I don't know what the "real sort" of history is. Perhaps it is of the kind that will justify Cohen's infamous past declaration that Iran is "not totalitarian."

I don't judge Snowden kindly, nor will I ever. Moreover, if history judges him at all, it will ultimately be as one more footnote to a disastrous Obama presidency.

Paul Krugman, "Invest, Divest and Prosper": Prospering from a War on Coal

Engulfed in scandal at home and faced with crises demanding decisions overseas, President Obama has scurried off to the wilds of Tanzania, a center of human trafficking (see: http://allafrica.com/stories/201306121100.html), but not before declaring war on coal.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Invest, Divest and Prosper" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/opinion/krugman-invest-divest-and-prosper.html), Paul Krugman blithely writes:

"The new Obama plan is, to some extent, a war on coal — because reducing our use of coal is, necessarily, going to be part of any serious effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But making war on coal won’t destroy jobs. In fact, serious new regulation of greenhouse emissions could be just what our economy needs."

Making war on coal is "just what our economy needs" and "won't destroy jobs"? How can this be? Krugman explains:

"Suppose that electric utilities, in order to meet the new rules, decide to close some existing power plants and invest in new, lower-emission capacity. Well, that’s an increase in spending, and more spending is exactly what our economy needs."

Just a moment, Paul: You're going to close plants and invest in lower-emission capacity, and over the short-term and medium-term, this is not going to eliminate jobs? As reported by The Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/06/25/is-obama-waging-a-war-on-coal/):

"Still Kyle Danish, an attorney at the law firm Van Ness Feldman, said utilities that already have to spend heavily to control their toxic emissions are anxious to see exactly how the federal government will regulate carbon dioxide from existing plants.

'They want to make the investment in scrubbers and other very expensive equipment to meet the mercury and toxics standards, but they don’t want those investments to be stranded if they end up closing the plant anyway,' Danish said."

Or stated otherwise, I can see why utilities will now place spending on new power plants on hold, pending clarifications from the federal government. Meanwhile, however, coal has become taboo, and this of necessity will cost jobs of those who need them most as plants are closed, but nothing arises in their stead.

Consider Krugman's prior New York Times op-ed entitled "Et Tu, Bernanke?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/opinion/krugman-et-tu-bernanke.html?_r=0), in which he wrote:
"The first thing you need to understand is how far we remain from full employment four years after the official end of the 2007-9 recession. It’s true that measured unemployment is down — but that mainly reflects a decline in the number of people actively seeking jobs, rather than an increase in job availability. Look, for example, at the fraction of adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) who have jobs; that ratio fell from 80 to 75 percent in the recession, and has since recovered only to 76 percent."

Krugman truly cares about unemployment? Not when it affects coal workers.

"Invest," "divest" and "prosper"? Sounds a bit like "hope," "change" and "forward."

Ah yes, the Conscience of a Liberal . . .

Thursday, June 27, 2013

David Brooks, "A Nation of Mutts": Immigration Is Not As Simple As David Thinks


Meet Arnold, probably a mutt, but when asked, and depending upon my mood, I alternately explain that Arnold, 170 pounds of dog, is an Anatolian shepherd or a direwolf. I also tell small children that he is a baby polar bear, but that he doesn't yet know this and shouldn't be told, because he still thinks that he is a dog. Arnold is indeed a sweetheart.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "A Nation of Mutts" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/opinion/brooks-a-nation-of-mutts.html?_r=0), David Brooks informs us:

"Soon, we will no longer be an outpost of Europe, but a nation of mutts, a nation with hundreds of fluid ethnicities from around the world, intermarrying and intermingling. Americans of European descent are already a minority among 5-year-olds. European-Americans will be a minority over all in 30 years at the latest, and probably sooner."

Brooks's conclusion:

"On the whole, this future is exciting. The challenge will be to create a global civilization that is, at the same time, distinctly American. Immigration reform or not, the nation of mutts is coming."

As regards this intermingling and in response to an earlier Brooks's op-ed entitled "Speed of Ascent" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/opinion/brooks-speed-of-ascent.html?_r=0), I wrote:

"Which brings me to my next inane question: Is the President black or white? I suppose you might observe that today it matters less than ever. Consider the ethnic backgrounds of: Vin Diesel, Vanessa Hudgens, Halle Berry, Beyoncé Knowles, Tiger Woods, Will Smith, Lenny Kravitz and a host of other remarkably talented celebrities (see: http://www.imdb.com/list/SmPQhHBlI0g/).

I am leaving would-be Native American Senator Elizabeth Warren off the list, but it should nevertheless be apparent that America is growing more integrated and more tolerant with the passing of the years."

There is also much to be said for immigration, which can also serve as an invigorating elixir. As stated by Brooks today:

"Immigration boosts economic dynamism, and more immigration would boost it more. There would also be a lot of upward striving. Immigrant groups tend to work harder than native groups. They save more. They start business at higher rates than natives."

However, immigration can also be a double-edged sword, which can bring trouble to which Americans are unaccustomed. One need look no further than the Tsarnaev brothers and the Boston Marathon bombing. "Honor killings" in the United States? Yes, this horror has arrived (see: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57409395-504083/honor-killing-under-growing-scrutiny-in-the-u.s/).

And as for immigrants working harder than native groups, Brooks would be wise to have a gander at Europe, where unemployed immigrants are stretching the social welfare system to the limit. As reported by Forbes in 2009 (see: http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/23/france-uk-muslims-business_oxford.html):

"In both France and the United Kingdom, Muslims’ economic integration has been poor. In both, unemployment is high (above 20% and sometimes approaching 40%) among Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and North Africans. Earnings are also weak: According to 2000 data, male Bangladeshis were earning about three-quarters the average wage."

And as reported by the Council on Foreign Relations (http://www.cfr.org/religion-and-politics/europe-integrating-islam/p8252):

"Despite signs that Muslims are beginning to succeed in business and academia in countries such as France and Germany, many analysts say most of Western Europe's Muslims are poorly integrated into society. They cite closed ethnic neighborhoods, high crime rates in Muslim communities, calls for use of sharia law in Europe, the wearing of the veil, and other examples as evidence of a conflict with European values."


You see, David, the issue of immigration is not a cut and dry as you think. A recent Pew Research Center survey (http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-exec.aspx) found that 1% of US Muslims "say violence against civilians is often justified," and 7% say that such violence "is sometimes justified" - these are horrifying numbers. In order for immigration to work, tolerance and some shared values are required.

Oh my goodness! Have I said something wrong that is "not conducive to the public good" and which will bar me from entering the UK (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/geller-and-spencer-refused-entry-into.html)? I suppose that I will have to take that risk.

Geller and Spencer Refused Entry into the UK: Is Bill Maher Also Persona Non Grata?

As reported by the BBC yesterday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23064355):

"Two prominent US bloggers have been banned from entering the UK, the Home Office has said.

Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer co-founded anti-Muslim group Stop Islamization of America.

They were due to speak at an English Defence League march in Woolwich, where Drummer Lee Rigby was killed.

A government spokesman said individuals whose presence 'is not conducive to the public good' could be excluded by the home secretary.

He added: 'We condemn all those whose behaviours and views run counter to our shared values and will not stand for extremism in any form.'

Ms Geller, of the Atlas Shrugs blog, and Mr Spencer, of Jihad Watch, are also co-founders of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, best known for a pro-Israel 'Defeat Jihad' poster campaign on the New York subway."

On his website, "Jihad Watch," Spencer shows us the letter he received from the UK's Home Office, which bars his entry into the UK. The letter, dated June 25, 2013, states in relevant part:

"You are reported to have stated the following:


  • '. . . it [Islam] is a religion and is a belief system that mandates warfare against unbelievers for the purpose for establishing a societal mode that is absolutely incompatible with Western society because media and general government unwillingness to face the sources of Islamic terrorism these things remain largely unknown.'

. . . .

You are therefore instructed not to travel to the UK as you will be refused admission on arrival."

Query: Is Bill Maher also being banned from entering the UK? Consider Bill Maher's interchange with Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, following the Boston Marathon bombing. "Could they do the 'Book of Islam' on Broadway?" No way.

Now consider the hate speech of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who calls Jews "blood-suckers" and "descendants of pigs and apes."

Hate speech? You bet! There is no way of knowing if Morsi's regime will survive the protests planned for this coming Sunday (see: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Two-killed-in-Egypt-street-clashes-as-Mursi-readies-speech-317848), but was there ever talk of banning his entry into the UK?

And ignoring the belief system of Islam for just a moment, what does the home secretary have to say about Patrick Mercer's shameful description of a young girl serving in the Israeli army? "You look like a bloody Jew." My goodness, she was wearing open-toed sandals! Hate speech? No doubt. But Jews today are fair game, whereas Islam is off limits.

Have I also been barred from entering the UK? Am I also "not conducive to the public good"? I can only wonder . . .


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Obama's War on Coal: "The Wrong War, at the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time, and with the Wrong Enemy"

As reported by The Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/06/25/obama-science-adviser-calls-for-war-on-coal/):

"A Harvard University geochemist who serves as a scientific adviser to President Obama is urging the administration to wage a 'war on coal.'

'The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants,' Daniel P. Schrag, a member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, told the New York Times. 'Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.'"

From the US Energy Information Administration (http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3):
What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source?

In 2012, the United States generated about 4,054 billion kilowatthours of electricity.  About 68% of the electricity generated was from fossil fuel (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), with 37% attributed from coal.

Energy sources and percent share of  total electricity generation in 2012 were: 

  • Coal 37%
  • Natural Gas 30%
  • Nuclear 19%
  • Hydropower 7%
  • Other Renewable 5%
    • Biomass 1.42%
    • Geothermal 0.41%
    • Solar 0.11%
    • Wind 3.46%
  • Petroleum 1%
  • Other Gases < 1%
Hmm, coal currently provides the US with 37% of its energy.

Now consider Paul Krugman's last New York Times op-ed entitled "Et Tu, Bernanke?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/opinion/krugman-et-tu-bernanke.html?_r=0), in which the Conscience of a Liberal writes:

"The first thing you need to understand is how far we remain from full employment four years after the official end of the 2007-9 recession. It’s true that measured unemployment is down — but that mainly reflects a decline in the number of people actively seeking jobs, rather than an increase in job availability. Look, for example, at the fraction of adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) who have jobs; that ratio fell from 80 to 75 percent in the recession, and has since recovered only to 76 percent."

And as reported by The Wall Street Journal today (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324328204578569210422060922.html):

"The U.S. economy grew at a slower pace than previously estimated in the first quarter as consumer spending and business investment were revised sharply downward, amid signs the pace of growth is likely to have slowed in recent months.

The nation's gross domestic product, the broadest measure of all goods and services produced in the economy, grew at a 1.8% annual rate from January through March, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That was less than earlier readings and below the 2.4% gain estimated by Dow Jones Newswires.

The economy has grown for 15 consecutive quarters, but the pace of those gains—about 2%—is among the weakest for recoveries since World War II. In the fourth quarter of 2012, economic output expanded only 0.4%."

Responding to General Douglas MacArthur's proposal to expand the Korean War into China, General Omar Bradley stated before Congress on May 15, 1951 that MacArthur's idea amounted to folly:

"Frankly, in the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy."

A war on coal? Isn't this also "the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy"?

Monday, June 24, 2013

David Brooks, "Speed of Ascent": Is Obama Black or White?


"It was bright and sunny in Washington on Saturday as President Obama stepped out of the White House in flip-flops and khaki shorts to hit the golf course with his buddies."

- The Washington Post, "Obama’s hands-off approach to extraditing Snowden draws criticism" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obamas-hands-off-approach-to-extraditing-snowden-draws-criticism/2013/06/24/9b1d900a-dcdc-11e2-9218-bc2ac7cd44e2_story.html)

With domestic scandals swirling around him and the human tragedy in Syria highlighting his irresolution, I had begun to worry what had happened to our incredible shrinking president (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/the-incredible-shrinking-president-he.html). Yet there was never cause for worry, and he turned up on the links.

Which brings me to my next inane question: Is the President black or white? I suppose you might observe that today it matters less than ever. Consider the ethnic backgrounds of: Vin Diesel, Vanessa Hudgens, Halle Berry, Beyoncé Knowles, Tiger Woods, Will Smith, Lenny Kravitz and a host of other remarkably talented celebrities (see: http://www.imdb.com/list/SmPQhHBlI0g/).

I am leaving would-be Native American Senator Elizabeth Warren off the list, but it should nevertheless be apparent that America is growing more integrated and more tolerant with the passing of  the years.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Speed of Ascent" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/opinion/brooks-speed-of-ascent.html?_r=0), David Brooks explores the status of affirmative action programs, following the Supreme Court's decision not to decide the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin on Monday. Brooks concludes his opinion piece by observing:

"What are we looking for when we admit a student into a university? We’re looking for speed of ascent, not academic attainment at one moment in time. A student who’s risen from an economic catastrophe to achieve a B-plus average has more speed of ascent than the child of law professors who has an A average. The first student may be more expensive to teach. She may not write as many big alumni checks. But she’ll reflect more credit on her school and society.

We now have the means to measure speed of ascent in a fairer and better way. Explicit, raced-based affirmative action programs weren’t wrong for their time, but they are being replaced."

I would go a step further than Brooks: Explicit, raced-based affirmative action programs were right for their time.

But I would also ask, what is the future of universities? In another decade, more advanced learning will occur remotely, i.e. online.

Law school and medical school today? Do kids still want to be lawyers and doctors? I would counsel anyone considering a career in law to find a different profession.

A corollary question: Should children and their families go deep into debt to finance what could well prove a worthless degree?

And now for the politically incorrect kicker: Can computer science programs brook affirmative action programs? Regarding computer science, you either have the talent or you don't (I don't). Moreover, even if you graduate such a program, mediocrity is not being sought in the upper end of this job market.

Universities and affirmative action programs will need to adapt. Universities as we know them today might not even survive.

Welcome to our brave new world.


New York Times Editorial: "More Overreach by the N.Y.P.D.": Who Is Causing Whom "Suspicion and Mistrust"?

In an editorial entitled "More Overreach by the N.Y.P.D." (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/opinion/more-overreach-by-the-nypd.html?_r=0), The New York Times takes the NYPD to task for installing a surveillance camera at the entrance to a mosque in New York City. The editorial concludes:

"Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has responded to such complaints by insisting that the department’s surveillance program is perfectly legal and implying that critics are undermining public safety. This is the same response he offers when challenged on the stop-and-frisk program. This arrogant approach tries to discredit legitimate criticism while justifying further overreach by a department with a history of abusive behavior. It is up to the courts to determine whether the Muslim surveillance program and the stop-and-frisk program are constitutional. What already seems clear is that these surveillance policies create suspicion and mistrust, which does not help the Police Department or anyone else."

Needless to say, the editorial does not make mention of a recent Pew Research Center survey (http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-exec.aspx), which determined:
"Few U.S. Muslims voice support for suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam; 81% say such acts are never justified, while fewer than one-in-ten say violence against civilians either is often justified (1%) or is sometimes justified (7%) to defend Islam."

Only 1% of US Muslims "say violence against civilians is often justified," and only 7% say that such violence "is sometimes justified"? These numbers are astonishing.

Recently, we have heard repeatedly from left-leaning pundits, e.g., Thomas Friedman, who are willing to endure NSA surveillance of their phone calls, e-mails and Internet surfing to prevent another 9/11 (see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-calderone/tom-friedman-9-11-new-york-times_b_3429219.html).

But surveillance of mosques? How horrifying! How politically incorrect!

Query: Who Is Causing Whom "Suspicion and Mistrust"? Hint: It's not a corpulent, intellectually challenged (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/thomas-friedman-postcard-from-turkey.html) Thomas Friedman.

Yes, I'm mad. How mad? I'm not "mad enough" to go see "World War Z" (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/maureen-dowd-zombie-scare-with-zombie.html), but consider the enduring relevance of "Network" from 1976: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Bill Keller, "Inching Into Syria": Our Incredible Shrinking President

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Inching Into Syria" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/opinion/keller-inching-into-syria.html?pagewanted=all), Bill Keller tells us of the hope inspired among Syrian rebels following the June 13 White House announcement that the US would supply them with light weapons and ammunition. Keller writes:

"Whether this fresh whiff of faith in America is justified, only the president can tell us, and I wish he would."

. . . .

"What we know is that without our involvement several things are likely: The slaughter will continue. The menacing alliance of Iran, Hezbollah and Syria, stoked by Russia, will be empowered and emboldened. America’s influence on issues like Iran’s nuclear program will be seriously diminished. Jordan and Lebanon and Iraq will be destabilized. Bloodied Syria will be more than ever a breeding ground of terror."

. . . .

"Nobody, except perhaps our enemies, wants to see American troops in Syria. Our aim should be to make life so miserable for Assad and his friends that he agrees, or his sponsors agree, that it is time to stop the killing, send Assad and his circle into exile, and move from blood bath to diplomacy. Is that achievable? I honestly don’t know. But given the certain costs of doing nothing, I think it’s worth a try. I wish I knew whether President Obama felt the same."

"Only the president can tell us, and I wish he would." Interesting. Compare Keller's musings with the conclusion of Thomas Friedman's recent op-ed entitled "Syria Scorecard" (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/thomas-friedman-syria-scorecard-hundred.html):

"And that’s why I’d like to hear which option Obama is pursing [sic] and why he thinks it would succeed."

Our incredible shrinking president, besieged with scandal at home and crises overseas, has lately been making himself scarce (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/the-incredible-shrinking-president-he.html). Go find him in Tanzania.

Regarding Syria, what is the president thinking? Which option is he pursuing?

Answer: The president is contemplating how he can continue to avoid making a decision, after making a mockery of himself with purported "red lines," all in keeping with his foreign policy of "leading from behind." The option being pursued in a single word? Procrastination.

C'est tout.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Paul Krugman, "Et Tu, Bernanke?": Hey, Doesn't Someone Else Deserve the Blame?

Yesterday, I was asked to attend a management meeting of Nano Retina, a small, non-public Israeli start-up company (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2010/12/nano-retinas-bionic-retina-seeks-to.html), which is creating a tiny implant that will restore vision to persons blinded by retinal disease, e.g., age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, in a 30-minute minimally invasive procedure. Viewing a simulation of what patients will be able to see following implantation of the device and listening to the subsequent discussion, I estimated the incredible cumulative IQ of those seated around the table and calculated by how much the average had been reduced by my arrival in the room. Although I could not understand much of the talk concerning the electronics and miniaturization, I was relieved to know what humans continue to strive to achieve, notwithstanding the readiness of others to spend hundreds of dollars on zombie movies (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/maureen-dowd-zombie-scare-with-zombie.html).

But all is far from well in the world.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Et Tu, Bernanke?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/opinion/krugman-et-tu-bernanke.html?_r=0), Paul Krugman complains that the US Federal Reserve is hinting that it is abandoning its policy of aggressive monetary stimulus. This has caused the benchmark interest rate on 10-year US government bonds to rise from 1.7 percent to 2.4 percent over the past two months and has also engendered a precipitous decline in the stock markets (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/william-cohan-at-long-last-stocks-get.html).  Krugman writes:

"Lately, Fed officials have been issuing increasingly strong hints that rather than doing more, they want to do less, that they are eager to start 'tapering,' returning to normal monetary policy.

. . . .

The first thing you need to understand is how far we remain from full employment four years after the official end of the 2007-9 recession. It’s true that measured unemployment is down — but that mainly reflects a decline in the number of people actively seeking jobs, rather than an increase in job availability. Look, for example, at the fraction of adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) who have jobs; that ratio fell from 80 to 75 percent in the recession, and has since recovered only to 76 percent.

Given this grim reality — plus very low inflation — you have to wonder why the Fed is talking at all about reducing its efforts on the economy’s behalf.

Still, it’s just talk, right? Well, yes — but what the Fed says often matters as much as or more than what it does. This is inherent in the relationship between what the Fed more or less directly controls, namely short-term interest rates, and longer-term rates, which reflect expected as well as current short-term rates. Even if the Fed leaves short rates unchanged for now, statements that convince investors that these rates will be going up sooner rather than later will cause long rates to rise. And because long rates are what mainly matter for private spending, this will weaken growth and employment."

Yes, I agree with Krugman: unemployment remains disastrously high, although I question to what extent the purchase by the Fed of billions of dollars of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities each month has improved the American economy. Yes, funds have been driven to the stock market, but where is resultant job creation?

But just a moment: Where is there even a mention of Obama in Krugman's op-ed? Does our incredible shrinking president (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/the-incredible-shrinking-president-he.html) have no responsibility for the economy? Perhaps not. Recall the recent words of Ben Rhodes regarding the cost of the president's upcoming trip to Tanzania:

"We don't have the exact figure on costs — frankly we don't own or control those numbers."

Or in other words, "Hope," "Change" and "Forward" with no control of the numbers.

Yeah, right.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Thomas Friedman, "Syria Scorecard": A Hundred More Died Yesterday

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Syria Scorecard" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/opinion/sunday/friedman-syria-scorecard.html), would-be Middle East expert Thomas Friedman describes the 1918 collapse of the Ottoman Empire and asks:

"In Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Libya, all that’s left is a single question: Can the people in these countries who for so long have been governed vertically — from the top down — now govern themselves horizontally by writing their own social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens with regular rotations in power and without iron fists from above."

Allow me to set your mind at ease, Tom. The answer is "no."

Asserting, "It is still unclear to me where the president is going with Syria, but I see only three possible strategies: the realist, the idealist and the God-I-hope-we-are-lucky approaches," Friedman concludes:

"Fighting for democratic values — rather than for family, sect, tribe or Shariah — is still a new thing for these societies. Those who are fighting for a sectarian or Islamist outcome, though, are full of energy and well financed. That’s why staying out guarantees that only more bad things will happen, but going in, big or small, would not guarantee success. And that’s why I’d like to hear which option Obama is pursing [sic] and why he thinks it would succeed."

Again, allow me to set your mind at ease, Tom. Obama is pursuing the "red line" is not a "red line" procrastination option. Procrastination has characterized his foreign policy, which has not met with success, but perhaps has averted failure.

What do I think? I don't believe that Friedman's "idealist" option is practical, i.e. "a unified, multisectarian and democratic Syria." Sunnis living in peace with Shiites, or, in the case of Syria, Alawites? Democracy in the Muslim Middle East? Spare me.

Friedman's "realist" approach - awaiting the partition of Syria following a bloody protracted quagmire - strikes me as unethical and dangerous. Just watch from the sidelines as tens of thousands of more civilians die and as Syria's enormous stockpiles of chemical weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaeda affiliates? I don't think so.

And Friedman's "lucky" approach - providing the rebels with small arms and hoping that Assad ultimately agrees to abdicate - is not going to happen. Assad knows what will befall his minority Alawite clan if he flees the field.

On the other hand, I do believe in a fourth "humanitarian" option, commensurate with America's standing as a superpower and bulwark of human rights, which would penalize Assad for killing innocent civilians, provide Syria's Kurds with independence and dignity, demand an end to sectarian killing, and frustrate Iranian aspirations for Middle East hegemony. Yes, this might entail enforcing a no-fly zone, but would not require boots on the ground.

Is President Obama capable of moving in this direction and taking control of the course of events? No. It's not the nature of the man.

So what will happen? In the past, I never expected massive armed Hezbollah assistance to Assad, which blunted rebel advances. (Stated very succinctly, my past predictions were dead wrong.) But given that Qatar has already begun to supply the Sunni rebels with RPGs and shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, and inasmuch as the ranks of the rebels could soon be bolstered by tens of thousands of Egyptian volunteers, the tide of this war could again change.

Without a doubt, many more Syrian civilians are destined to die if this carnage doesn't end soon.

Maureen Dowd, "A Zombie Scare With a Zombie Chaser": A $190 Million Horror

Movies? Where would I be without them? Every night I begin watching a DVD with a bowl full of ice cream and quickly drift off into never-never land. Horror flicks? They don't do it for me. I am embarrassed to acknowledge that I kind of liked Roman Polanski's "The Ninth Gate," but nothing else comes to mind. You see, I watch movies for escapism, and the horrors currently being perpetrated by Assad's government forces and the Syrian rebels put to shame any gore that you might ever chance to see coming out of Hollywood.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "A Zombie Scare With a Zombie Chaser" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/opinion/sunday/dowd-a-zombie-scare-with-a-zombie-chaser.html?_r=0), Maureen Dowd describes "World War Z," an apocalyptic action horror movie based on a 2006 novel of the same name. Dowd writes:

"The last 40 minutes of the movie had to be rewritten and reshot, and the ending still isn’t fixed. The $190 million 3-D, C.G.I.-enhanced spectacle is kind of fun, but it isn’t a classic of the genre, like George Romero’s 1968 'Night of the Living Dead,' Val Lewton’s 1943 'I Walked With a Zombie,' and the 1932 'White Zombie,' the first full-length zombie feature, with Bela Lugosi playing the evil voodoo master of Haiti, Murder Legendre.

Pitt just seems happy that the blockbuster is not as dreadful as it was when he saw the first cut. 'It was pretty rank,' he told USA Today."

Sorry, but I would need to be paid to watch this.

A budget of $190 million? Those aware of the medical miracles that could be achieved or starvation which could be averted using only a tiny fraction of this amount must surely be horrified.

William Cohan, "At Long Last, Stocks Get a Jolt": Non Sequitur

In a New York Times op-ed entitled "At Long Last, Stocks Get a Jolt" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/22/opinion/at-long-last-stocks-get-a-jolt.html?_r=0), William Cohan exults over the recent decline of the stock market:

"The Dow Jones industrial average has nose-dived more than 500 points, or over 3 percent, since the Federal Reserve chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s somewhat upbeat, if ambiguous, statement on the economy on Wednesday. Hurrah!

. . . .

What happened to change the mood so dramatically, so quickly? Is the panic selling justified — or is it just the first glimmer of hope that the Fed will finally take the metaphorical morphine drip out of the arm of the capital markets and allow the forces of supply and demand to set long-term interest rates?"

No question about it: Given that people could no longer expect any reasonable rate of return on their savings at the bank, they flooded stock markets with funds and created yet another bubble that would ultimately burst.

But Cohan's conclusion leaves me scratching my head:

"The good news is that, finally, the artificial high might just be coming to an end. No addiction is healthy and this one is no exception. Weaning ourselves off the Fed’s cheap money will hurt. Between the sudden collapse of bond prices and the sharp drop in the stock market, investors are now feeling some pain. Good. A healthy economy demands that the price of borrowed money be set by the market to correspond with risk, not be distorted by a half-decade’s worth of interventions from a central bank.

As we saw throughout much of 2007 and 2008, when markets badly misprice risk it can have disastrous consequences for economies throughout the world. The sooner we get clean, the better."

Okay, half a decade of intervention from a central bank might well have caused investors to underestimate stock market risk.

But prior to 2008, underestimation of real estate risks by banks and their gullible customers also created a bubble, which eliminated many leading banks and financially crippled those who took loans to buy housing at inflated levels and those willing to buy derivatives backed by housing loans.

As long as I can remember there have been "bubbles" of different kinds involving mispriced risk, and there always will be.

Consider what has happened to the price of gold over the past nine months.

Consider Facebook's 2012 initial public offering of stock at $38 per share.

Consider the dot-com bubble (1997-2000) prior to the real estate bubble, which brought on the 2008 calamity.

Okay, Jeffrey, there will always be mispriced risk and bubbles. Smart ass that you are, how do you manage your finances?

Or stated more kindly, how do I seek to mitigate risk in an ever changing world?

Fortunately, I don't have so much money to throw around, so I buy what I want at a price that I can afford. I bought the real estate that I wanted and built my house with a loan which was limited in amount and could not lead to repossession.

Regarding investment in shares, experience has taught me to invest in companies where I am actively involved by choice, have my finger on the pulse, and can seek to influence management. Yes, I realize this is not practical for many investors, who alternatively seek to spread their risk, but with the passage of the years, it has become axiomatic for me. I only work and invest with people whom I trust.

My purchase this past week of an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) in Afghanistan (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/david-brooks-humanist-vocation-in.html and http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/the-incredible-shrinking-president-he.html)? I didn't say that I was free of foibles.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Incredible Shrinking President: He Doesn't "Own or Control Those Numbers"

It's a little past midnight in New York, and I'd like you to humor me with a one-minute exercise. Go to the home page of The New York Times and do a search for "Obama." I just came up with "no matches found."

Now go to CNN (I'm looking at the International Edition) and do the same search. Again, I came up with "no matches found."

Now have a look at the President's Schedule for June 22 as provided by the White House (http://www.whitehouse.gov/schedule): "No public schedule."

Enmeshed in scandal at home, buffeted with crises overseas, America's president has disappeared.

Disappeared? Well, not entirely. Somebody has to run the show and tell us what he's up to. Obama is making a week long trip to Africa, from June 26 to July 3, with his wife and daughters, and the cost of this excursion does not seem to want to go away. Asked about the cost of this upcoming journey, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call Friday (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/obama-administration-defers-security-africa-trip-costs-skips-211646601.html):

"We don't have the exact figure on costs—frankly we don't own or control those numbers."

Hmm . . . Let's try that one out on the domestic front:

"Jeffrey . . ."

"Yes, dear."

"How much did that MRAP that you just brought back from Afghanistan cost us?"

"Sorry, dear, but we don't own or control those numbers."

Well, you can't see it online, but that was my pillow, blanket, trashy novel and medicinal vodka bottle (filled with water) being thrown out the bedroom door.







David Brooks, "The Humanist Vocation": In Search of a Lost Soul

I just arrived back from Afghanistan with my MRAP (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/meet-our-next-car-mrap.html), and yes, I'm tired. The flights were delayed, there were so many MRAPs to choose from, but it was well worth the effort. I've already noticed that I'm not getting much in the way of miles per gallon, and its 0-60 acceleration is slow, but you should see how people stare as I drive by them! Who cares if I cause traffic jams by occupying two lanes? How did Borat describe such a vehicle?:

Borat: A man yesterday, tell me if I buy a car I must buy one with a pussy magnet.
Car Dealership owner: He means a car that women like.
Borat: Yes, but where do you keep this magnet?
Car Dealership owner: No. There's no magnet he just means the vehicle. Women love the Hummers.
Borat: Do this have a pussy magnet?
Car Dealership owner: No. The vehicle itself would be a magnet.
Borat: If I give you good price, will you please put in pussy magnet?

Which brings me to David Brooks's latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Humanist Vocation" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/opinion/brooks-the-humanist-vocation.html?_r=0) (I know, that wasn't much of a segue). You will recall that in response to Brooks's prior op-ed, "Beyond the Brain" (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/david-brooks-beyond-brain-brain-is-not.html), I wrote:

"Yes, as terror, cruelty, greed and poverty swirl around us, we should continue to marvel at the sublime human mind.

And if we have a mind, do we have a soul? Truly, a soul-searching issue . . ."

Well, whether or not he reads my blog, he certainly picked up my gauntlet, and today, decrying the demise of the teaching of humanities, Brooks writes:

"A half-century ago, 14 percent of college degrees were awarded to people who majored in the humanities. Today, only 7 percent of graduates in the country are humanities majors. Even over the last decade alone, the number of incoming students at Harvard who express interest in becoming humanities majors has dropped by a third.

Most people give an economic explanation for this decline. Accounting majors get jobs. Lit majors don’t. And there’s obviously some truth to this. But the humanities are not only being bulldozed by an unforgiving job market. They are committing suicide because many humanists have lost faith in their own enterprise."

Humanists have lost faith in their own enterprise? Philosophers don't get jobs? How can this possibly be, given the election of Barack Obama and the advent of "Hope" and "Change," which have morphed into "Forward," which is, by the way, why I just bought an MRAP. "Forward" in an MRAP is fine, but reverse can be a nightmare.

But I stray from the matter at hand. Brooks continues his opinion piece by declaring:

"Back when the humanities were thriving, the leading figures had a clear definition of their mission and a fervent passion for it. The job of the humanities was to cultivate the human core, the part of a person we might call the spirit, the soul, or, in D.H. Lawrence’s phrase, 'the dark vast forest.'"

Ah yes . . . the "soul"! I told you, I knew it was coming. "On the Soul" by Aristotle? I wouldn't do that to you. Rather, I will confine myself to the elucidating declaration by Andre the Giant in the 1987 gem "The Princess Bride":

Fezzik: The Dread Pirate Roberts is here for your souls!

In fact, I had much time to contemplate my soul earlier this morning while driving down the highway in my new MRAP with the roof down. You see, I studied philosophy at the University of Chicago, and later learned law, and was forced to reeducate myself twice.

Reeducate myself? Okay, no one is willing to pay you today for introducing Immanuel Kant into negotiations (either you can, or you can't), but law? There's no market for law? To make matters short, I would refer you to the 1992 comedy "My Cousin Vinny":

Mona Lisa Vito: Don't you wanna know why Trotter gave you his files?
Vinny Gambini: I told you why already.
Mona Lisa Vito: He has to, by law, you're entitled. It's called disclosure, you dickhead! He has to show you everything, otherwise it could be a mistrial. He has to give you a list of all his witnesses, you can talk to all his witnesses, he's not allowed any surprises.
[Vinny has a blank look on his face]
Mona Lisa Vito: They didn't teach you that in law school either?

In fact, I vaguely recall them teaching me "legal ethics" at law school. It's the equivalent of "giant shrimp."

Yet again I stray from the human soul and its ineluctable corollaries, honesty and morality. Allow me to quote from a masterful opinion piece by George Will entitled "Obama hits a wall in Berlin" in today's Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/george-f-will-obama-hits-a-wall-in-berlin/2013/06/20/bfff0426-d9df-11e2-a016-92547bf094cc_story.html?hpid=z2), concerning Obama's speech on Wednesday at the Brandenburg Gate:

"Shifting his strange focus from Russia’s nuclear weapons, Obama said “we can . . . reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking.” Were Obama given to saying such stuff off the cuff, this would be a good reason for handcuffing him to a teleprompter. But, amazingly, such stuff is put on his teleprompter and, even more amazing, he reads it aloud.

Neither the people who wrote those words nor he who spoke them can be taken seriously. North Korea and Iran may be seeking nuclear weapons? North Korea may have such weapons. Evidently Obama still entertains doubts that Iran is seeking them.

In Northern Ireland before going to Berlin, Obama sat next to Putin, whose demeanor and body language when he is in Obama’s presence radiate disdain. There Obama said: 'With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence.' Differing perspectives?

Obama wants to reduce the violence by coaxing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who is winning the war, to attend a conference at which he negotiates the surrender of his power. Putin wants to reduce the violence by helping — with lavish materiel assistance and by preventing diplomacy that interferes — Assad complete the destruction of his enemies."

Hiding from scandals at home, Obama is also evading international truth.

A human soul? I don't know, however, I sure as heck believe in human evil, which needs to be confronted. Obama is doing his best to avoid the issue.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Meet Our Next Car: An MRAP!

Our Honda is more than ten years old, and almost every evening my wife tells me:

"While I was driving on the highway this afternoon, I saw this very sporty looking hybrid . . ."

"Sorry, dear, we're short on cash."

"Do you know how much it costs to fill the Honda with gas?"

"Yes, dear."

Well, tonight I have a little surprise for my wife. Actually, it's kind of a big surprise, which is going to fill up the entire driveway: Our next car is an MRAP!

"An MRAP?" you ask. "What's that?" Answer: Simple. As reported by The Washington Post  in an article entitled "Scrapping equipment key to Afghan drawdown" ((http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/scrapping-equipment-key-to-afghan-drawdown/2013/06/19/9d435258-d83f-11e2-b418-9dfa095e125d_story.html?hpid=z1)) by Ernesto Londoño:

"Facing a tight withdrawal deadline and tough terrain, the U.S. military has destroyed more than 170 million pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment as it rushes to wind down its role in the Afghanistan war by the end of 2014.

The massive disposal effort, which U.S. military officials call unprecedented, has unfolded largely out of sight amid an ongoing debate inside the Pentagon about what to do with the heaps of equipment that won’t be returning home. Military planners have determined that they will not ship back more than $7 billion worth of equipment — about 20 percent of what the U.S. military has in Afghanistan — because it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship back home.

. . . .

The most contentious and closely watched part of the effort involves the disposal of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, the hulking beige personnel carriers that the Pentagon raced to build starting in 2007 to counter the threat of roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The massive trucks, known as MRAPs, came to symbolize the bloody evolution of wars that were meant to be short conflicts but turned into quagmires.

The Pentagon has determined that it will no longer have use for about 12,300 of its 25,500 MRAPs scattered at bases worldwide, officials said. In Afghanistan, the military has labeled about 2,000 of its roughly 11,000 MRAPs 'excess.' About 9,000 will be shipped to the United States and U.S. military bases in Kuwait and elsewhere, but the majority of the unwanted vehicles — which cost about $1 million each — will probably be shredded, officials said, because they are unlikely to find clients willing to come pick them up."

"Unlikely to find clients willing to come pick them up"? No way! Later today, I'm flying to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, to select my own MRAP, which I can't wait to drive with the top down beside the beach.

Imagine the smile on my wife's face when I drive up to the house in our brand new rugged terrain vehicle! She always wanted a Jeep, and now I'm sure to make her proud!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Maureen Dowd, "Of Rats and Hit Men": Honor Killing

Some who read this blog are aware that part of my professional life was devoted to law enforcement. Fewer of my readers know that I recently took time to translate the memoirs of a former gang leader, who, after many years in prison, decided to make a clean break from his prior vocation. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that I have been following the trial in Boston of James "Whitey" Bulger (see: http://abcnews.go.com/US/whitey-bulger-hitman-broke-heart-hear-bulger-fbi/story?id=19418872#.UcElYnZBTct) with avid interest.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Of Rats and Hit Men" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/19/opinion/dowd-of-rats-and-hit-men.html), Maureen Dowd turns her attention to this trial and the testimony of Johnny Martorano, who is now a federal witness against Bulger. Dowd writes:

"Johnny 'The Executioner' Martorano, who turned government witness and copped to killing 20 men and women as part of Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang, explained to Whitey’s lawyer Tuesday in federal court here that he was motivated by love of family and friends.

'I didn’t enjoy killing anybody,' he said. 'I enjoyed helping a friend if I could.'

If anybody insulted, implicated or roughed up his brother or a friend’s brother, if anybody looked at him funny while he was with a date, if anybody ratted on his fellow gang members, if anybody could eyewitness a crime committed by an 'associate,' he grabbed a .38 or a knife, a fake beard, a walkie-talkie or a towel to keep the blood off his car, and sprang into action. And somebody usually ended up in a trunk somewhere, sometimes still groaning."

While reading Dowd's op-ed, I searched for the word "honor," and it inevitably appeared:

"In a sneering cross-examination Tuesday, Henry Brennan, a lawyer on Whitey’s defense team, referred to Martorano’s deal for a 'so-called sentence' of 14 years (12 served) for 20 murders and asked the Executioner if he felt he was killing out of honor and integrity.

'I thought both,' Martorano replied."

"Killing out of honor"?

Throughout the Muslim Middle East, women are murdered every day by their fathers, brothers and husbands for allegedly bringing shame upon their families. The men call these murders "honor killings," which often go unpunished.

Throughout the world of crime, murder routinely involves perceived slights to the "honor" of gang leaders. This was plainly evident in the testimony of Martorano.

Families - crime families, tribes, clans and extended and nuclear families - continue to demand the death of those who have shamed their eminence, dignity, status or standing. It's all a matter of "pride" and "honor."

When does any of this insanity end?

Apparently not in my lifetime.

Thomas Friedman, "Postcard From Turkey": Dead Wrong!

Does Thomas Friedman speak Turkish? No, but that does not stop him from breezing into Istanbul and mistakenly describing the nature of protests throughout Turkey. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Postcard From Turkey" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/19/opinion/friedman-postcard-from-turkey.html?_r=0), Thomas Friedman writes:

"Having witnessed the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011, I was eager to compare it with the protests by Turkish youths here in Taksim Square in 2013. They are very different. The Egyptians wanted to oust President Hosni Mubarak. Theirs was an act of 'revolution.' The Turks are engaged in an act of 'revulsion.' They aren’t (yet) trying to throw out their democratically elected Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What they’re doing is calling him out. Their message is simple: 'Get out of our faces, stop choking our democracy and stop acting like such a pompous, overbearing, modern-day Sultan.'"

Turks "aren't (yet) trying to throw out their democratically elected Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan"? An act of "revulsion"? Is that all it is? According to the BBC on June 7 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22809430):

"Mr Erdogan responded to calls for his resignation by referring to his election victory in 2011 when he took 50% of the vote.

'They say I am the prime minister of only 50%. It's not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west,' he told the crowd.'

It was the first major show of support for Mr Erdogan following a week of protests in which his opponents have called for him to resign."

As reported by Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/10/us-turkey-protests-idUSBRE94U0J920130610):

"Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned protesters who have taken to the streets across Turkey demanding his resignation that his patience has its limits and compared the unrest with an army attempt six years ago to curb his power."

According to The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/10122409/Mother-of-Turkish-protester-killed-in-Ankara-Erdogan-must-resign.html):

"The mother of Ethem Sarisuluk, one of five people killed in a fortnight of protests in Turkey, tells Justin Vela that the protests must continue until Prime Minister Erdogan resigns."

As reported by Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/with-one-voice-they-yelled-erdogan-resign.premium-1.527192):

"For the last two days, Istanbul’s main center, Taksim, and its surrounding areas, have been under siege due to a massive peaceful protest. Thousands of canisters of tear gas have been fired at hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters throughout the city, together with water-cannons spraying tainted water that burns the skin, all while the protesters screamed in unison, 'Erdogan Resign!'"

And as reported by Friedman's own newspaper (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/world/middleeast/turkish-leader-agrees-to-meet-protest-organizers.html):

"The protesters later widened their grievances into a broad rebuke of what they consider the authoritarian style of Mr. Erdogan and his political party, which is supported by religious conservatives in Turkey. The protesters have demanded the resignation of governors and security chiefs in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, the punishment of abusive police officers and the release of people detained in the protests. Some have called for Mr. Erdogan to resign."

Is the message of the Turkish protesters simply, "Get out of our faces, stop choking our democracy and stop acting like such a pompous, overbearing, modern-day Sultan," as Tom would have us believe? Or could it also have to do with the fact that Turkey leads the world in arresting journalists (see: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/02/2013217124044793870.html)?

And as long as we are on the topic of Erdogan, you will recall that when interviewed by Fareed Zakaria in 2012, Obama listed Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as one of his best international friends (http://swampland.time.com/2012/01/19/inside-obamas-world-the-president-talks-to-time-about-the-changing-nature-of-american-power/). Care to comment now, Mr. President?

David Brooks, "Beyond the Brain": The Brain Is Not the Mind

Egbert: "Was I in here last night, and did I spend a 20 dollar bill?"
Joe the Bartender: "Yeah!"
Egbert: "Oh, boy, is that a load off my mind. I thought I'd lost it!"


- W.C. Fields as Egbert Sousé, "Sousé – accent grave over the 'e'!", in "The Bank Dick," 1940


His mind troubled by a host of scandals, including revelations concerning mind mapping efforts by the NSA (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/07/nsa-prism-records-surveillance-questions), President Obama set off on a globetrotting trip intended to set his mind at ease. Unfortunately, Obama was soon reminded by Putin that the two world leaders are not of the same mind regarding Syria (see: http://news.yahoo.com/russias-putin-says-disagrees-obama-syria-200057452.html). I wonder if Obama remembered his "open microphone" gaffe, during which the US president mindlessly asked Putin to bear in mind that he would have more "flexibility" after the election (see: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/26/us-nuclear-summit-obama-medvedev-idUSBRE82P0JI20120326). Obviously, the two remain minds apart.

Meanwhile, as Obama heads off for Tanzania, which has been involved in a lengthy dispute with the US over human trafficking (see: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-06-09/opinions/39856653_1_human-trafficking-tanzania-president-obama), those of us with enquiring minds, or even half a mind, wonder who is now minding the store in Washington.

Me? Mindful of this mess, I opened a bottle of Kahlua and again watched "Blade Runner." Rachael was an intelligent "replicant," with presence of mind, but did she actually possess a mind?

My mindset after last night's mind bender? I don't dwell on matters involving the subconscious mind.

Am I engaging in mind games this morning? Hardly. In his latest mind-expanding New York Times op-ed entitled "Beyond the Brain" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/opinion/brooks-beyond-the-brain.html?_r=0), David Brooks does not take the time to explain to us the meaning of "mind," but adamantly informs us - twice - that "the brain is not the mind." Brooks writes:

"At the lowbrow level, there are the conference circuit neuro-mappers. These are people who take pretty brain-scan images and claim they can use them to predict what product somebody will buy, what party they will vote for, whether they are lying or not or whether a criminal should be held responsible for his crime.

At the highbrow end, there are scholars and theorists that some have called the 'nothing buttists.' Human beings are nothing but neurons, they assert. Once we understand the brain well enough, we will be able to understand behavior.

. . . .

These two forms of extremism are refuted by the same reality. The brain is not the mind.

. . . .

Right now we are compelled to rely on different disciplines to try to understand behavior on multiple levels, with inherent tensions between them. Some people want to reduce that ambiguity by making one discipline all-explaining. They want to eliminate the confusing ambiguity of human freedom by reducing everything to material determinism.

But that is the form of intellectual utopianism that always leads to error. An important task these days is to harvest the exciting gains made by science and data while understanding the limits of science and data. The next time somebody tells you what a brain scan says, be a little skeptical. The brain is not the mind."

Yes, as terror, cruelty, greed and poverty swirl around us, we should continue to marvel at the sublime human mind.

And if we have a mind, do we have a soul? Truly, a soul-searching issue . . .

Obviously, I woke up on the wrong side of bed (no, this time not on the floor).

Never mind. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bill Keller, "Living With the Surveillance State": Ignoring the Real Threat

In an editorial entitled "Taking the mystery out of cyberwar" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/cyberwar-the-white-house-is-thinking-ahead/2013/06/16/b4a0ab00-d4fa-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_story.html?hpid=z3), The Washington Post today describes defensive and offensive cyber operations, should the United States find itself in such a war:

"'Defensive cyber effects operations,' or DCEO, involve reaching outside of U.S. government networks to stop an assault or imminent threat. 'Offensive cyber effects operations,' or OCEO, are intended to 'offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance U.S. national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging.' Both of these describe attacks, and, according to the directive, the president has ordered targeting plans. Stuxnet, the computer worm developed by the United States and Israel and used to sabotage Iran’s nuclear equipment a few years ago, was in the vanguard of such operations. Just recently, an online magazine that spreads al-Qaeda ideology was taken down, presumably another example."

Stuxnet, the product of a US and Israeli collaboration initiated when Bush was still president, can now be described as a fossilized worm. Should there be a future cyber war, look for a combined attack on transportation systems, power grids, telecommunications and financial markets. Although not as deadly as the tragic events on 9/11, such an assault could shut a country down and cause overwhelming destruction.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Living With the Surveillance State" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/opinion/keller-living-with-the-surveillance-state.html?pagewanted=all), Bill Keller begins by showering compliments on Thomas Friedman for his June 12, 2013 op-ed entitled "Blowing a Whistle" (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/thomas-friedman-blowing-whistle-nsa-is.html). Keller writes:

"Tom’s important point was that the gravest threat to our civil liberties is not the N.S.A. but another 9/11-scale catastrophe that could leave a panicky public willing to ratchet up the security state, even beyond the war-on-terror excesses that followed the last big attack. Reluctantly, he concludes that a well-regulated program to use technology in defense of liberty — even if it gives us the creeps — is a price we pay to avoid a much higher price, the shutdown of the world’s most open society. Hold onto that qualifier: 'well regulated.'"

Well, I have news for both Bill and Tom: The bigger current danger to the US is not another 9/11 type attack, but rather a massive cyber assault. Moreover, even with warnings from Moscow concerning the Tsarnaev brothers, the data accumulated by PRISM couldn't prevent the Boston Marathon bombing.

Keller continues:

"But in most cases the advantages of intrusive technology are tangible and the abuses are largely potential. Edward Snowden’s leaks about N.S.A. data-mining have, so far, not included evidence of any specific abuse.

The danger, it seems to me, is not surveillance per se. We have already decided, most of us, that life on the grid entails a certain amount of intrusion. Nor is the danger secrecy, which, as Posner notes, 'is ubiquitous in a range of uncontroversial settings,' a promise the government makes to protect 'taxpayers, inventors, whistle-blowers, informers, hospital patients, foreign diplomats, entrepreneurs, contractors, data suppliers and many others.'

The danger is the absence of rigorous, independent regulation and vigilant oversight to keep potential abuses of power from becoming a real menace to our freedom. The founders created a system of checks and balances, but the safeguards have not kept up with technology. Instead, we have an executive branch in a leak-hunting frenzy, a Congress that treats oversight as a form of partisan combat, a political climate that has made 'regulation' an expletive and a public that feels a generalized, impotent uneasiness. I don’t think we’re on a slippery slope to a police state, but I think if we are too complacent about our civil liberties we could wake up one day and find them gone — not in a flash of nuclear terror but in a gradual, incremental surrender."

No "evidence of any specific abuse"? The fact that Snowden was privy to PRISM is in and of itself a significant failure. Add to this, Snowden's declaration: "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail." In short, I would bet that a serious investigation would reveal massive abuse by NSA staff and subcontractors. Randomly select 100 NSA and subcontractor employees and ask them to take a polygraph to determine whether they ever abused the system. My guess is that there would be much "unhappiness" within the ranks.

Congress might also want to ask James Clapper about the hacking of Sharyl Attkisson's computer.

Indeed, the employment of Snowden and his freedom of action are evidence of the absence "of rigorous, independent regulation and vigilant oversight to keep potential abuses of power from becoming a real menace to our freedom."

I agree with Keller that "if we are too complacent about our civil liberties we could wake up one day and find them gone." In any given instance, a balance must be struck between the intrusiveness of technology and its ability to prevent disaster. The Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated PRISM's limited value.

More important, PRISM is powerless to prevent the real threat currently facing the US, i.e. a massive cyber assault on America's infrastructure, whose cost could prove immeasurable.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Protests Continue in Turkey: Care to Comment, President Obama?

As reported this morning by the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22924886):

"Protesters have clashed with Turkish police in Istanbul, after riot squads used tear gas and water cannon to eject demonstrators from Gezi Park.

The protesters quickly fled the park, but later erected barricades across nearby streets and lit bonfires.

Witnesses said it was one of the worst nights of unrest since the park was occupied 18 days ago.

. . . .

Clashes continued into Sunday morning in the streets around [Taksim] square, eyewitnesses say.

. . . .

Thousands of people also took to the streets of the capital, Ankara, to express support for the protests.

The Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) also said it would call a nationwide strike on Monday, while another union grouping is deciding whether to join the action.

Medical officials estimate that 5,000 people have been injured and at least four killed since protests began in earnest on 31 May."

You will recall that when interviewed by his friend Fareed Zakaria in 2012, Obama listed Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as one of his best international friends (http://swampland.time.com/2012/01/19/inside-obamas-world-the-president-talks-to-time-about-the-changing-nature-of-american-power/):

"I think that if you ask them, Angela Merkel or Prime Minister Singh or President Lee or Prime Minister Erdogan or David Cameron would say, We have a lot of trust and confidence in the President. We believe what he says. We believe that he’ll follow through on his commitments. We think he’s paying attention to our concerns and our interests. And that’s part of the reason we’ve been able to forge these close working relationships and gotten a whole bunch of stuff done."

Yup, Mr. President, you've "gotten a whole bunch of stuff done" with Erdogan. I suppose that's why Turkey today leads the world in arresting journalists (see: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/02/2013217124044793870.html).

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Thomas Friedman, "Egypt’s Perilous Drift": Yes, His Brain Is Fried

Thomas Friedman has a solution for everything.

The final paragraph of Friedman's latest gem of a New York Times op-ed entitled "Egypt’s Perilous Drift" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/opinion/sunday/friedman-egypts-perilous-drift.html?pagewanted=all) reads:

"What is different about Egypt, though, is that it is bursting with talented young people who understand that Egypt needs an inclusive, long-term, sustainable plan for national renewal. And what they also understand is that those who say that the Arabs have tried everything — Nasserism, socialism, Communism, Baathism, liberalism and Islamism — but that nothing has worked, are wrong. There is one ism they haven’t tried: environmentalism. The only way Egypt and the other Awakening states will have sustainable democracies with sustainable economies is to elevate an environmental ethic to the center of political thinking. Without that, it’s all just musical chairs."

Environmentalism is going to provide Egypt with a sustainable democracy and sustainable economy? Should I laugh or cry?

Tom, tell it to the women of Egypt, 90% of whom have had their clitorises removed.

Tell it to Egypt's Christian Copts, who have known nothing but brutal discrimination from the country's Sunni Muslim majority.

Tell it to the generals and colonels, who own somewhere between 25 percent and 40 percent of the Egyptian economy.

Tell it to the 28 percent of Egyptians who are illiterate.

And tell it to the 82 percent of Egyptian Muslims who believe that people who commit adultery should be stoned to death, and to the 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims who believe that those who abandon Islam should be executed (see: http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/).

Sometimes I just can't believe that Friedman is paid to write this trash.