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Friday, January 31, 2014

Gail Collins, "Christie Plays Defense": John Bolton for President?

There are many people who read this blog, even throughout the Muslim Middle East, but I seldom get feedback, except from the occasional troll. Yesterday, I had a very touching comment, which, in case you missed it, reads:

"I'm no fan of Obama, but I must say Jeff, you are depressing me. The U.S. always bounces back, and so she will again, even if I can't tell you just how it will happen. Perhaps it's time for you to start believing in God. Seriously. Believing makes a difference. I can testify. By the way, I do enjoy your commentary, most of the time. Peace to you."

My response:

"I pray to God, I believe in American exceptionalism, and I am convinced that America will bounce back if it will have leadership that will allow it to bounce back. Do you recall in the Bible how Joseph prophesied seven lean years? I am expecting eight."

Often I am tempted to forsake this blog, which also depresses me. I wish I could write more about my work assisting companies in the life sciences, which is an inspiration and a joy, but most of the time I am prevented from doing so, owing to the requirements of corporate secrecy.

Concerning politics and international affairs, the more you know, the more depressed you become. There is much truth to the adage, "What you don't know can't hurt you."

My focus on New York Times op-eds? Sadly, The New York Times is the only newspaper that Obama reads, and it is well known that he spends much time poring over their columnists' sycophantic opinion pieces. There is another adage: "Garbage in, garbage out," to which those who programmed the Obamacare website should also have paid more attention.

All of which amounts to a somewhat meandering segue to Gail Collins's latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Christie Plays Defense" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/opinion/collins-christie-plays-defense.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), in which Collins again obsesses over "Bridgegate." Collins writes:

"I am getting a little worried about the metropolitan region.

Also, now that I think of it, this was the week in which Donald Trump announced that he would run for governor of New York on the Republican line, as long as they give him the nomination without making him run in a primary or go to the convention.

But the good news is that we’re ignoring Trump entirely. As well as non-New York reports on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s defense of Justin Bieber and Bristol Palin’s critique on the parenting skills of Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.

Christie, however, is national news. And the scandal we’re talking about involves two of the favorite topics of conversation in modern America, bullying and traffic."

Yet why belabor Christie? As I've noted several times, he's finished on the national scene, i.e. roadkill. He is no longer a viable candidate for president. I think he should resign as governor of New Jersey.

Christie is now every bit as viable as a presidential candidate as Donald Trump might be as a candidate for governor of New York.

Me? I'm far more concerned that Obama told outright lies to the American people during his State of the Union address concerning his "diplomatic achievements," which perhaps cost the lives of tens of thousands of people, and which may yet cost the lives of hundreds of thousands more (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/david-brooks-opportunity-coalition-like.html?showComment=1391234525500#c8032909048847853668).

But this obfuscation of the truth obviously didn't trouble Collins, who is content to continue obsessing over Christie.

So when will these lean years end? Perhaps not until there is a reemergence of leadership on the US national scene. Leadership? It's not going to come from Hillary "What Difference Does It Make" Clinton.

John Bolton for president?

Her Hideousness, Catherine Ashton, Marks Holocaust Remembrance Day Without a Mention of the Jews

As reported by a Jerusalem Post editorial entitled "Ashton’s lapse" (http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Editorials/Ashtons-lapse-339781), Catherine Ashton, the EU's imbecilic (I'm being kind) foreign affairs chief, who has been leading the P5+1's so-called negotiations with Khamenei over Iran's nuclear weapons development program, has marked Holocaust Remembrance Day without a mention of the Jews:

"Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and vice president of the European Commission, issued a statement this week marking international Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It was commendable that the EU at all chose to note the day, but what Ashton said on its behalf on Monday was surreal. She managed to use 121 words without ever mentioning Jews. Her glaring omission is quite remarkable."

But then what would you expect from Catherine? A former chairwoman of the Health Authority in Hertfordshire, she has never held elected office and is almost entirely lacking in foreign affairs experience. Ashton, who has a BSc degree in sociology, has a life-sized Dalek (a fictional race of extraterrestrial mutants from the British science fiction television series "Doctor Who") in her sitting room.

Quite apart from what decorates her sitting room, what might be hiding in her closet? Questions have arisen over her role as national treasurer in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (no mention of this position in her EU profile), which is suspected of having received funding from the Soviet Union. It has also been reported (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1233545/Baroness-Ashton-communist-lover-riddle-Moscow-gold.html):

"Britain's new EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton enjoyed a relationship with a hard-line communist who boasted close links to some of Britain’s most militant union leaders."

Needless to say, her selection to head EU security policy was most peculiar, and the world continues to pay the price.

David Brooks, "The Opportunity Coalition": Like the Whigs, Obama Coasts Into Oblivion

Did you listen to Obama's 2014 State of the Union address? Did you hear any mention by the president of his pre-election promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide by Turkey? No way! You see, autocratic Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has been declared by Obama to be one of his best overseas friends. Meanwhile, Turkey's economy is showing signs of another imminent crisis, which could have signficant economic repercussions for the rest of the world (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/paul-krugman-talking-troubled-turkey.html).

During his State of the Union address, Obama did, however, relate to Syria. Surely you remember how Obama ignored his own "red line" concerning the use of chemical weapons by Syrian madman Bashar al-Assad against his own countrymen. And you recall how in the face of incontrovertible evidence that Assad had used chemical weapons, Obama punted the matter over to Congress, and then cut a deal with his trustworthy buddy, Vladimir Putin, for Assad to destroy his chemical stockpile. And so we were proudly told by Obama during his SOTU earlier this week:

"American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear."

However, it just so happens that there's a fly in the ointment, and Obama was "obfuscating the truth," i.e. lying to the American people. As reported yesterday by Reuters in an article entitled "U.S. accuses Syria of stalling on chemical arms handover" by Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick(http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/30/us-syria-crisis-chemical-idUSBREA0S19720140130):

"The United States on Thursday accused Syria of dragging its feet on giving up its chemical arms, putting at risk a deal to remove such weapons of mass destruction from the country as it splits apart in a chaotic civil war.

President Barack Obama this week touted the chemical weapons agreement as one of the few U.S. diplomatic achievements on Syria, but the State Department said just 4 percent of Syria's deadliest chemical agents has been shipped out of the country for destruction at sea.

The United States has few good choices to force President Bashar al-Assad to comply."

Obama also related in his SOTU to the deal he struck with Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei, whose text America's president refuses to reveal, for the "dismantling" of Iran's nuclear weapons program:

"And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium."

However, this is another disingenuous declaration by Obama. Again, as reported by Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/20/us-iran-nuclear-idUSBREA0J00420140120) (my italics):

"Under the interim deal, Iran agreed to suspend enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, a short technical step away from the level needed for nuclear weapons."

In addition, Iran is expected to convert half of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to uranium oxide and dilute the remaining half to 5 percent enriched uranium, but these processes are reversible. None of this amounts to "eliminating" stockpiles.

And so, notwithstanding these international crises and a festering US economy, David Brooks, in his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Opportunity Coalition" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/opinion/brooks-the-opportunity-coalition.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), makes the case that Obama is now at a "moment of liberation" and should look to the "Whig tradition" for guidance. Brooks writes:

"President Obama can spend the remainder of his term planting a few more high-tech hubs, working on reforming the patent law and doing the other modest things he mentioned in his State of the Union address. And if he did that, he might do some marginal good, and he would manage the stately decline of his presidency during its final few years.

Or, alternately, he can realize that he is now at a moment of liberation. For the past five years he has been inhibited by the need to please donors, to cater to various Congressional constituencies and to play by Washington rules.

But the legislating phase of his presidency is now pretty much over. Over the next few years he will be free to think beyond legislation, beyond fund-raising, beyond the necessities of the day-to-day partisanship. He will have the platform and power of the presidency, but, especially after the midterms, fewer short-term political obligations.

. . . .


But there is a third ancient tradition that weaves through American history, geared directly at enhancing opportunity and social mobility. This is the Whig tradition, which begins with people like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln. This tradition believes in using the power of government to give marginalized Americans the tools to compete in a capitalist economy."

Yup, giving all that is troubling the world today, Obama should look to the Whigs for guidance as he fades into a golden sunset. Give "marginalized Americans the tools to compete in a capitalist economy"? Does that mean higher speed Internet to watch porn? In this increasingly complex, hi-tech world, to which "tools" is Brooks referring?

Time to get real, David. The world is on fire, and the Whigs, who long ago faded into oblivion, didn't and don't have the answers.

Obama is a "relay swimmer" preparing to "pass things along to the next swimmer"? Good luck to the next swimmer as Obama flails about aimlessly in the rapids, leaving America hopelessly out of the race.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Paul Krugman, "Talking Troubled Turkey": Ignoring Contagion From Avian Flu

Did you listen to Obama's State of the Union address? Did you hear any mention by the president of his pre-election promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide by Turkey? No way! You see, autocratic Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has been declared by Obama to be one of his best overseas friends (see: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/world/2013/05/16/Erdogan-and-Obama-Best-friends-no-more.html).

The radical Islamization of Turkey and the end of that country's civil liberties? Why should Obama care (no pun intended)?

Of course there was the rioting in Turkey in 2013 (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/thomas-friedman-postcard-from-turkey.html), and the question looms whether the military in Turkey will take heart from events in Egypt and also act to overthrow an increasingly authoritarian regime in Ankara, as was done on more than one occasion in the past (see: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/12/us-turkey-protests-military-analysis-idUSBRE95B0XK20130612).

However, Erdogan is aware of this threat, and one-in-five Turkish generals (see: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/05/14/one-in-five-turkish-generals-now-in-prison/) and more than half of the country's admirals (see: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21571147-once-all-powerful-turkish-armed-forces-are-cowed-if-not-quite-impotent-erdogan-and-his) are now sitting in prison.

Could a recent bribe probe, involving the laundering of payments for Iranian oil and construction bribes (see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25514579), also engender another Turkish financial crisis as I suggested in December (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/12/huge-corruption-scandal-hits-turkey.html)?

The next Turkish financial crisis appears to be on its way, but Paul Krugman isn't troubled by it.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Talking Troubled Turkey" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/opinion/krugman-talking-troubled-turkey.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Krugman dismisses fear of "contagion" from another Turkish economic downturn. Krugman writes:

"The larger point is that Turkey isn’t really the problem; neither are South Africa, Russia, Hungary, India, and whoever else is getting hit right now. The real problem is that the world’s wealthy economies — the United States, the euro area, and smaller players, too — have failed to deal with their own underlying weaknesses. Most obviously, faced with a private sector that wants to save too much and invest too little, we have pursued austerity policies that deepen the forces of depression. Worse yet, all indications are that, by allowing unemployment to fester, we’re depressing our long-run as well as short-run growth prospects, which will depress private investment even more."

Paul is again out to lunch.

What Paul doesn't understand is that in order to reap the benefits of commissions from Turkish trade, i.e. letters of credit and guarantees, the world's banks have been forced to pay something akin to a bribe in the form of participation in enormous loan consortiums to Turkish banks. If the Turkish economy tanks, some or even many of these loans might not be paid with resultant losses and shock waves throughout the world's banking system. Will Turkey then step in and rescue its banks? That will all depend on the size of the disaster.

The effect on the world economy as the big banks lick their wounds and reassess their exposure to emerging market debt? In fact, notwithstanding Krugman's attempt to provide reasons why it won't happen, it could prove something of a tsunami, as we have painfully learned from past experience.

But why learn from the past? Krugman would again have us believe that all the world's ills derive from "austerity," which depresses private investment.

Well, let's see what will be the effects of another Turkish financial crisis on the willingness of the big banks to loan funds and the world's appetite for risky private investment if we should experience another bout of "avian flu."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gail Collins, "How Preschool Got Hot": Saving America From Its Death Spiral

So "pre-k" is the latest flavor or the month, intended to save America from its socio-economic death spiral. Good luck!

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "How Preschool Got Hot" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/opinion/collins-how-preschool-got-hot.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), Gail Collins picks up on this trendy topic. Her opinion piece begins:

"All of a sudden, early childhood education is really, really popular. Everybody’s favorite. If early childhood education were an actor, it would be Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep. If it were a video game, it would be Candy Crush or Angry Birds, minus the spyware.

The other night at the State of the Union speech, President Obama mentioned 'high-quality early education' and John Boehner applauded. Boehner applauded early education! Paul Ryan likes it, too. Prekindergarten is so in, the guys on 'Duck Dynasty' would probably have a good word for it.

Kudos, guys! We certainly don’t want to complain about this. Early education is one of the best tools for breaking the poverty-to-poverty trap. Unfortunately, it only works if it’s high quality, and high quality is expensive. Yet very little of this newfound enthusiasm comes with serious money attached."

Ah yes, there's always a price tag attached, particularly at a time when state and federal debt have reached the stratosphere. Collins's conclusion, which addresses the matter of money:

"It’ll be a huge number of kids, and the classes have to be really small. Also, the teachers have to get much better pay. They go into the business out of love, but when you are talking about medial salaries of $27,000 a year, sometimes love is not enough. All in all, we’re talking about a ton of money.

So here’s the question: How much of the new enthusiasm for early childhood education is real, and how much is just an attempt to dodge the whole inequality debate? Maybe we could agree that no politician is allowed to mention pre-k without showing us the money."

Of course, Collins, who is the founder of the Bonbon School of Journalism which is best practiced from a cushy couch, doesn't mention the "Head Start Impact Study" (see: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/executive_summary_final.pdf), which found:

"Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole."

But not to worry, smiley Nicholas Kristof addresses this concern in his New York Times op-ed entitled "Pre-K, the Great Debate" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/opinion/kristof-pre-k-the-great-debate.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss) (my italics):

"Yet early education has always had an impact not through cognitive gains but through long-term improvements in life outcomes. With Perry, Abecedarian and other programs, educational gains fade, yet, mysteriously, there are often long-term improvements on things that matter even more, such as arrest rates and high school graduation rates. The Head Start Impact Study couldn’t examine those outcomes.

Other researchers have, and their findings are almost unanimous. One rigorous study led by Eliana Garces, then of U.C.L.A., found that Head Start graduates were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their peers. David Deming of Harvard found that children who attended Head Start were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely as young adults to be 'idle' — out of a job and out of school.

Jens Ludwig of University of Chicago found that Head Start reduced child mortality in elementary years, apparently because of screening and treatment referrals.

. . . .

When experts weigh these benefits against short-term costs, preschool for at-risk kids from low-income families more than pays for itself. (It’s not as clear that this is as true for middle-class kids.) When we have kids growing up in poverty and homes without books, we end up paying one way or the other. We can invest in preschool today (about $8,000 per child per year), or in juvenile detention tomorrow (around $90,000 per child per year)."

But allow me to play devil's advocate: Does every child who does not get the benefit of Head Start end up in juvenile detention? And if the parents of middle class children also demand the same benefit, who is going to foot this hefty bill, running into the hundreds of billions of dollars each year? Ultimately it boils down to a nasty cost-benefit analysis for Kristof's "often" and "more likely." How "often"? How much "more likely"?

Might it not be better, i.e. more apt to yield positive results at a lower cost, to attack the problem at its core, i.e. make a better effort to address poverty in children's homes and crime and violence in their neighborhoods, while also attempting to address the collapse of the family unit in the United States?

I do not have the answers, but I am convinced that pre-K will not come close to providing a panacea for America's burgeoning socio-economic ills.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Maureen Dowd, "Dealing With Pot": A "Great Social Experiment"?

Writing from the "Mile-High City," Maureen Dowd, in her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Dealing With Pot" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/opinion/dowd-dealing-with-pot.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), describes Governor John Hickenlooper's reservations concerning Colorado's legalization of marijuana:

"'Great social experiments always have risk,' says Hickenlooper, who, amid floods, fires, droughts and shootings, finds the pot issue bogarting his time. The state, subtly supported by the president and attorney general, must conjure up a regulatory system, sort out legal and banking complexities, and quickly try to head off deleterious effects.

'It’s like opening a restaurant,' the governor says. 'Just because you have three great weeks does not make it a successful restaurant.'"

Legalization of marijuana is a "great social experiment"? "Great" in which sense of the word?

Although its rollout has been a disaster and its implementation could prove even more catastrophic, Obamacare is an enormous "social experiment," introducing socialized medicine to the United States.

The legalization of marijuana, on the other hand, is a non-prescription remedy for the anxiety and pain of an empire in decline.

And whereas the United States may be literally going to pot, Obama's new-found friends in Iran are hanging ever higher numbers of drug offenders (see: http://www.cannabisculture.com/content/2013/02/11/Iran-Drug-Execution-Frenzy-Continues-Year).

In this as yet obscure clash of civilizations, who comes out on top? As Edith Hamilton once wrote:

"When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."

May the Lord have mercy on us.

Thomas Friedman, "Why Kerry Is Scary": Because Psycho-Killer Assad Is His "Dear Friend"?

So-called Middle East expert Thomas Friedman is again out to lunch. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Why Kerry Is Scary" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/opinion/friedman-why-kerry-is-scary.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), Friedman writes:

"Has the number of Israeli Jews now living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank become so much larger — more than 540,000 — that they are immovable?"

Yet the overwhelming majority of these Israeli Jews live in areas which, as was agreed in past negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, would be retained by Israel pursuant to any peace arrangement and swapped for Israeli land. The territorial size of these Jewish settlements, concerning which Friedman is making such an issue? According to none other than Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, they comprise only some 1.1% of the West Bank (see: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/erekat-olmert-offered-palestinians-territorial-equivalent-of-west-bank-1.393484).

Friedman proceeds to ask if it is a "a fantasy to expect any Israeli or Palestinian leader to have the strength to make the huge concessions needed for a two-state solution," before describing what he terms the "Kerry Plan":

"The 'Kerry Plan,' likely to be unveiled soon, is expected to call for an end to the conflict and all claims, following a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank (based on the 1967 lines), with unprecedented security arrangements in the strategic Jordan Valley. The Israeli withdrawal will not include certain settlement blocs, but Israel will compensate the Palestinians for them with Israeli territory. It will call for the Palestinians to have a capital in Arab East Jerusalem and for Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. It will not include any right of return for Palestinian refugees into Israel proper."

The "Kerry Plan"? Sorry, Tom, but this is in essence the plan that was already offered to Palestinian President Abbas, currently in the tenth year of a four-year term of office, by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert . . . and which was already rejected by Abbas. (So much for Israeli leaders lacking "the strength to make the huge concessions needed for a two-state solution.")

Or in other words, Kerry is making a "daring" offer of what Olmert was already prepared to do in 2008.

Friedman concludes:

"But if either or both don’t agree [to "his" plan], Kerry would have to take his mission to its logical, fanatical conclusion and declare the end of the negotiated two-state solution. (If not, he loses his credibility.)"

But everyone, except for Kerry, who once declared that psycho-killer Bashar al-Assad is his "dear friend," saw this coming. (The picture atop this blog entry shows John Kerry and his mass murderer buddy having a cozy dinner with their wives in Damascus.) Yes, Kerry long ago lost his credibility.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon recently observed that the American secretary of state has been "acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and a messianic feeling" (see: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/14/us-palestinians-israel-kerry-idUSBREA0D0IY20140114).

Well, Ya'alon was wrong. Unbeknownst to Ya'alon and a mealymouthed, sycophantic Friedman, Kerry is simply a moron.

Monday, January 27, 2014

David Brooks, "Alone, Yet Not Alone": "Dad, Are You an Atheist?"

Earlier today, I was approached by my youngest son, soon to enlist in the army, who asked if I was an atheist. Busy scrubbing a pot, I brushed my son off. Atheist? Me? I'm not smart enough to reach such conclusions. "There are no atheists in foxholes," I joked. But I suppose that if I had been more attentive, less tired and a better father, I might have answered that I regard myself as just a bruised time traveler attempting to navigate the river, who, while seeking to avoid capsize, has never given the matter sufficient thought.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Alone, Yet Not Alone" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/opinion/brooks-alone-yet-not-alone.html?_r=0), David Brooks concludes:

"If you are a secular person curious about how believers experience their faith, you might start with Augustine’s famous passage 'What do I love when I love my God,' and especially the way his experience is in the world but then mysteriously surpasses the world:

'It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.'"

Yes, I'm secular, but at the moment I'm not preoccupied with "a perfume which no breeze disperses" or "light which space cannot contain." Instead, I  am overwhelmed by the 55,000 photographs smuggled out of Syria by a military police officer, which show the emaciated and bloody victims of the Assad regime (see: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2544711/Starved-tortured-throttled-The-true-horror-Assads-soldiers-execute-rebel-prisoners-revealed-new-images-released-today.html).

We are being confronted with more evidence of genocide, yet where is God? Where are the world's leaders? Where is the outrage on the op-ed page of The New York Times?

I didn't find answers in David's opinion piece.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Paul Krugman, "Paranoia of the Plutocrats": Announcing the Establishment of a Charity for Impoverished New York Times Columnists

"But every group finds itself facing criticism, and ends up on the losing side of policy disputes, somewhere along the way; that’s democracy. The question is what happens next. Normal people take it in stride; even if they’re angry and bitter over political setbacks, they don’t cry persecution, compare their critics to Nazis and insist that the world revolves around their hurt feelings. But the rich are different from you and me."

- Paul Krugman, "Paranoia of the Plutocrats" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/opinion/krugman-paranoia-of-the-plutocrats.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), The New York Times, January 26, 2014

"But the rich are different from you and me," declares Paul Krugman in his latest New York Times op-ed. But that's not all he has to say. Paul goes on to tell us:

"We’re not talking captains of industry here, men who make stuff. We are, instead, talking about wheeler-dealers, men who push money around and get rich by skimming some off the top as it sloshes by. They may boast that they are job creators, the people who make the economy work, but are they really adding value? Many of us doubt it — and so, I suspect, do some of the wealthy themselves, a form of self-doubt that causes them to lash out even more furiously at their critics."

Those dastardly rich people, who skim off the top, don't add value and don't create jobs! Surely they  are all inveterate rogues!

But that being the case, how best to help others like . . . you and me? Or better still, how best to help others who help others? Eureka . . .

Given the poverty, endless suffering and immeasurable contribution to society of New York Times columnists, I would proudly like to establish a charity for these esteemed personages, who struggle financially, just like . . . you and me.

How much would you care to contribute?

I beg of you, open wide your wallets and pony up from your pocketbooks. Moreover, to avoid any doubt as to where your money will be going, allow me to announce the 2014 winner of this new charity's largesse: none other than Thomas Friedman! Some of you might already have seen Friedman's decrepit mansion in Maryland. Don't you think it's high time to add a new wing to the estate?

The 2015 winner? Why that would be Nicholas Kristof, that smiling, world trotting, do-gooder, of course. What's that you say? Kristof is married to Sheryl Wudunn, Senior Managing Director at Mid-Market Securities, who previously "worked at Goldman, Sachs & Co., where she was a vice president, in the role of investment advisor for private clients, in the firm's investment management division" (go to http://www.mid-marketsecurities.com/team.php and click on her name)? Sorry, but in case you didn't know, there are plenty of struggling investment bankers out there.

And in 2016? It will be our turn to offer a helping hand to Paul Krugman. After all, Paul might have given away (or lost on bad investments - I'm joking, of course) all of his Nobel Prize money and payments received from his many books. What does he receive for his bi-weekly Times column? Peanuts, I'm sure. Yup, given that he's just like the rest of us, he, too, can certainly use our assistance.

Plans for the future? How about a charity for impoverished job-creating politicians, responsible for making the economy work, such as Nancy Pelosi (net worth of over $20 million), John Kerry (net worth of some $200 million), and Barack and Michelle Obama whose presidential memoirs are expected to fetch in the neighborhood of $30 million (see: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/01/27/140127fa_fact_remnick?currentPage=all)?

Where to send your donations for these new charities? I'll provide the mailing address in my next blog entry . . . not.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Maureen Dowd, "Now Playing in Denver: Reefer Gladness": Time for Me to Go Back Into the Jungle

"Saigon. Shit. I'm still only in Saigon. Every time, I think I'm gonna wake up back in the jungle. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I'd wake up and there'd be nothing. I hardly said a word to my wife, until I said 'yes' to a divorce. When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I'm here a week now... waiting for a mission... getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger. Each time I looked around the walls moved in a little tighter."

- Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard, "Apocalypse Now" (1979)
Do you remember a stoned Captain Willard, alone in a Saigon hotel room, smashing his fist into the mirror (a "fishing accident") while waiting for a mission? Yup, accidents have a way of happening when your brain is fried.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Now Playing in Denver: Reefer Gladness" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/26/opinion/sunday/dowd-now-playing-in-denver-reefer-gladness.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Maureen Dowd describes preparations in Colorado for the legalization of marijuana. She concludes by telling us:

"At a warehouse under construction in a spot that used to be a bakery, Dixie Elixers is cooking up edible, drinkable and topical pot treats, trying to become the Coke of toking. With a big foil-covered Willy Wonka machine, they extract the THC from the plant and whip up products from chocolate truffles to bath soaks to massage oil, all in modern silvery packaging meant to scream 'safe.'

Nonetheless, Denver is the Wild West of weed. And things will be confusing, evolving and dicey for some time. As Dixie Elixirs Chief Operating Officer Chuck Smith tells his team, 'We’re building the airplane while we’re flying it.'"

Well, I hope that no one in Colorado will be flying the airplane while smoking it.

Query: Does smoking marijuana promote interaction among people, or is it more of an individualistic, i.e. narcissistic, joyride? Is it really, as Obama would have it, "a bad habit and a vice" and not "more dangerous than alcohol"?

And although the walls around me are not moving in a little tighter, I have to ask what Ali and Hassan, off in the wilds of Iran, are thinking as we grow weaker and they get stronger.

Time for me to go back into the jungle.

[See also: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/new-york-times-editorial-irans-charm.html]

Thomas Friedman, "1; 5,000; 500,000": How About 200,000; 2,500,000; 4,250,000?

Do you recall the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 and how Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof and Roger Cohen went to pains to avoid bumping into each other in Cairo's Tahrir Square while extolling the virtues of the Arab Spring and the birth of Egyptian democracy? Well, the Arab Spring has turned into the Arab Ice Age, Egypt is again in flames (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egyptians-mark-anniversary-of-uprising-with-show-of-support-for-army-backed-government/2014/01/25/f67d47ee-85cc-11e3-8742-668814928ae4_story.html?hpid=z3), and Friedman is busy explaining what went wrong.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "1; 5,000; 500,000" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/26/opinion/sunday/friedman-1-5000-500000.html?ref=thomaslfriedman&_r=0), Tom Terrific tells us:

"In short, what ails the Arab world is something we alone can’t fix: an inability to manage pluralism in a democratic way. We can stop the worst of it as long as we are there (see: Iraq). But only they can make the best of it — and make it self-sustaining. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is a monster. But he can only be removed in a way that won’t bring more chaos if the Syrian opposition can demonstrate on the ground that it not only believes in pluralism, but has the will and ability to enforce it. Otherwise, the Syrian minorities gathered around Assad will not abandon him. Everyone urging President Obama to intervene in Syria needs to keep all this in mind."

"[W]hat ails the Arab world is . . . an inability to manage pluralism in a democratic way"? Just the Arab world? Iran, which is Shiite but not Arab, also has a problem managing "pluralism." The Khamenei regime hangs homosexuals, stones to death women accused of adultery, murders Baha'is, oppresses Christians, discriminates against Sunni Muslims, abuses Kurds, and throws opponents of Khamenei into Evin Prison in Tehran, where they are tortured and left to rot. And if Obama and Kerry were to dare raise the issue of these abominations in their discussions with Khamenei, which reflect directly on Tehran's world view and intentions, the ersatz negotiations with Khamenei would be dead in the water that much sooner (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/new-york-times-editorial-irans-charm.html).

Would it be politically incorrect to say, What ails the Muslim world is an inability to manage pluralism in a democratic way? I know, don't go there: All religions profess peace and brotherhood. Yeah, right.

"President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is a monster"? How can this be? Sure, he's responsible for some 200,000 deaths, 2.5 million refugees, and another 4.25 million people displaced from their homes (Syria has a total population of 22.5 million people), but he's also John Kerry's "dear friend," and no less than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of Assad on "Face the Nation":

"There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer."
Yes, Bashar has proven that he is every bit as delightful and humane as his father, who was responsible for the 1982 Hama massacre.

"Everyone urging President Obama to intervene in Syria needs to keep all this in mind"? Well, if you have the stomach for it, you might want to have a look at some of the 55,000 photographs smuggled out of Syria by a military police officer, which show the emaciated and bloody victims of the Assad regime (see: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2544711/Starved-tortured-throttled-The-true-horror-Assads-soldiers-execute-rebel-prisoners-revealed-new-images-released-today.html). These pictures are reminiscent of corpses found after the allies liberated Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and if Obama had been less of a weakling, this genocide could have been prevented without American boots on the ground.

However, both Assad and Khamenei have learned that Obama's red lines are drawn with disappearing ink, and who knows how many more innocent people will die owing to the American president's timorousness, i.e. Obama's Pox Americana.

[See also: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/new-york-times-editorial-irans-charm.html]

Friday, January 24, 2014

New York Times Editorial, "Iran’s Charm Offensive": Naivete or Duplicity on the Part of the Times?

Needless to say, there is no mention in the latest New York Times editorial entitled "Iran’s Charm Offensive" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/irans-charm-offensive.html?ref=opinion&_r=0) of the 55,000 photographs smuggled out of Syria by a military police officer, which show the emaciated and bloody bodies of victims of the Assad regime. Yes, we're talking about pictures of victims of that same Bashar al-Assad, whom US Secretary of State John Kerry called "my dear friend." We're talking about that same Assad about whom former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on "Face the Nation":

"There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer."

If you have the stomach to view several of these pictures, which show images reminiscent of corpses found after the allies liberated Nazi concentration camps during World War II, see: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2544711/Starved-tortured-throttled-The-true-horror-Assads-soldiers-execute-rebel-prisoners-revealed-new-images-released-today.html

Close to 200,000 Syrians have now died over the course of this civil war, and much of this horror is a direct consequence of Iran sending Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah fighters to prop up Assad. The torture shown in the photographs? It is no different from the torture that Iran perpetrates in Evin Prison in Tehran.

So what does the editorial board of the The New York Times tell us:

"Mr. Rouhani, who took office in August, is eager to fulfill his promises of improving Iran’s relations with the world and reviving an economy devastated by international sanctions and his predecessor’s mismanagement. He quickly reached an interim deal with the major powers that curbs significant aspects of Iran’s nuclear program."

Rouhani is "eager to fulfill his promises of improving Iran’s relations with the world"? Oh really? This is the same Rouhani who boasted prior to the Iranian presidential elections how he had lulled the West into complacency while radically expanding Iran's nuclear weapons development program.


Rouhani "quickly reached an interim deal with the major powers that curbs significant aspects of Iran’s nuclear program"? Obama, of course, is not allowing us to see the terms of this so-called deal. Moreover, we recently learned from Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has been quoted sympathetically by the editorial board of the Times (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/new-york-times-editorial-another-syria.html), that in exchange for the decision of the P5+1 to dismantle sanctions against Iran, Iran "did not agree to dismantle anything.

Rouhani agrees with Zarif: In an interview with Fareed Zakaria, Rouhani declared that Iran would not destroy its centrifuges "under any circumstances."

The Times editorial acknowledges:

"Over the long term, Iran’s full reintegration into the international system will depend on more than just adherence to the interim nuclear deal and completion of a final agreement. It must also be seen as contributing to stability in other ways, including ending the hostility toward Israel. Mr. Rouhani said he sought 'constructive engagement' with Iran’s neighbors. But that goal is belied by Iran’s support for the Syrian government, a government that has bombed civilians and obstructed humanitarian aid. Iran, which uses Syria as a buffer between it and Israel, has encouraged Hezbollah to fight on his behalf."

Hold your horses! Iran's Supreme Leader "encouraged" Hezbollah to fight on behalf of Assad? Sorry, but Hezbollah's Nasrallah would not have dared to take such a step without receiving explicit orders from Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei.

The editorial concludes:

"Iran’s support of Mr. Assad is all the more unsettling because Mr. Rouhani was rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite just as a stormy peace conference on Syria was playing out elsewhere in Switzerland. Instead of just bemoaning the civil war as a 'major catastrophe' and dismissing all the anti-Assad forces as 'terrorists,' he could have given credibility to his 'constructive engagement' policy by temporarily suspending arms to Syria while peace talks are underway and negotiating a face-saving way for Mr. Assad to leave power.

The United States has tried to keep the nuclear and Syria issues separate, and there is logic to that. If the nuclear deal were the vehicle to resolve every dispute the West has with Iran, it would likely fail. But the Syrian civil war is a major catastrophe, and Iran has considerable leverage to help bring it to an end."

Rouhani "could have given credibility to his 'constructive engagement' policy by temporarily suspending arms to Syria while peace talks are underway and negotiating a face-saving way for Mr. Assad to leave power"? Sorry again: Rouhani is not the boss in Iran. Khamenei is the boss, and he has no intention of suspending arms shipments to Assad or forcing him out of power, particularly given the timorousness displayed by Obama.

"The United States has tried to keep the nuclear and Syria issues separate, and there is logic to that"? By all means, let's focus strictly on the nuclear issue and ignore the fact that Iran hangs homosexuals, stones to death women accused of adultery, murders Baha'is, oppresses Christians, discriminates against Sunni Muslims, abuses Kurds, and throws opponents of Khamenei into Evin Prison in Tehran, where they are tortured and left to rot. Because if Obama were to raise the issue of these abominations in his discussions with Khamenei, which reflect directly on Tehran's world view and intentions, Obama's ersatz negotiations with Khamenei would be dead in the water.

Seek any kind of "logic" when dealing with Iran? One need only have a gander at a recent article entitled "Snowden Documents Proving 'US-Alien-Hitler' Link Stun Russia" (http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13921021000393), published by Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency, to better understand with whom Obama is seeking to curry favor.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

David Brooks, "It Takes a Generation": Hillary Has Yet to Sing

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "It Takes a Generation" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/opinion/brooks-it-takes-a-generation.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), David Brooks identifies "the next frontier of human capital development: Building lifelong social and emotional development strategies from age 0 to 25." He also identifies the challenges facing any such advancement, among them:

"[R]ight now roughly half-a-million children are born each year as a result of unintended pregnancies, often to unmarried women who are not on contraception or are trying to use contraceptives like condoms or the pill.

. . . .

Once they get to elementary school, children need to learn how to read and write. But that can’t happen in schools where 15 percent of the students are disruptive, where large numbers of students live with so much stress that it has stunted the development of the prefrontal cortexes, sent their cortisol levels surging, heightened their anxiety responses and generally made it hard for them to control themselves.

. . . .

According to work done by Sawhill and others, a significant number of kids stay on track through the early years, but then fall off the rails as teenagers. Sawhill set a pretty low bar for having a successful adolescence: graduate from high school with a 2.5 G.P.A., don’t get convicted of a crime, don’t get pregnant. Yet only 57 percent of American 19-year-olds get over that bar. Only one-third of children in the bottom fifth of family income do so."

Brooks hopes President Obama will discuss these issues during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

To his credit, Obama has regularly addressed some of them (see: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/05/19/obama-morehouse-college-commencement/2324241/ and http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/16/us/politics/16obama.html?pagewanted=all), but can such speeches have any effect on an embedded trend that threatens the socio-economic fabric of the United States?

Within a generation, will federal debt reach an unsustainable 200 percent of GDP (see: http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/economy/140606-us-debt-headed-toward-200-percent-of-gdp-even-after-fiscal-cliff)?

It's not over until the fat lady sings? Well, Hillary might not still be president when it all crumbles, but no matter what Obama has to say during his upcoming SOTU, I wouldn't place my money on any turnaround.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Washington Post Editorial, "On Syria, Obama administration is leading to failure": Kerry Should Not Manage Negotiations With Assad

Concerning ongoing atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime in Syria, which is being propped up by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah fighters ordered into Syria by Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei, a Washington Post editorial entitled "On Syria, Obama administration is leading to failure" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/on-syria-obama-administration-is-leading-to-failure/2014/01/22/90b040b2-8390-11e3-9dd4-e7278db80d86_story.html) today begins:

"THE OUTSIDE world seems to have grown numb to reports of atrocities from Syria — 'barrel bombs' dropped on schools, Scud missiles aimed at apartment houses, blockaded neighborhoods where children die of starvation. But a report released Monday by a panel of international jurists ought to prick some consciences. Based on 55,000 images smuggled out of the country, mostly by a defector from the military police, it reports the murder of some 11,000 men detained by the Syrian government between 2011 and last August. Many of the bodies in the photographs show signs of torture; some are missing eyes. More than 40 percent of the bodies show signs of emaciation, indicating that the prisoners were systematically starved.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry opened the Geneva 2 peace conference on Syria by referring to this 'horrific' account of 'systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners.'

. . . .

Yet the diplomatic initiative that Mr. Kerry launched offers no means to hold the regime of Bashar al-Assad accountable for these atrocities, or even to stop them. On the contrary: It may serve to prop up the Assad government by treating it as a legitimate party to negotiations about Syria’s future."

Let us not forget that this is the same hopelessly naive John Kerry who not too long ago referred to Assad as his "dear friend." For this reason alone, Kerry should resign as secretary of state. He certainly should not be managing negotiations with the Assad regime.

Looking ahead, let us also not forget former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's infamous March 27, 2011 declaration on "Face the Nation":

"There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer."

Today's Washington Post editorial concludes:

"President Obama demonstrated last year that the credible threat of force could change the regime’s behavior. His promise of airstrikes caused Mr. Assad to surrender an arsenal of chemical weapons. Yet the president seems not to have learned the lesson of that episode. Now he makes the defeatist argument that, as he put it to David Remnick of the New Yorker, 'It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq.'

In fact, Mr. Obama probably could force the measures Mr. Brahimi is seeking by presenting Mr. Assad with the choice of accepting them or enduring U.S. airstrikes. That he refuses to consider options between Mr. Kerry’s feckless diplomacy and an Iraq-style invasion only ensures that the Geneva 2 conference will fail and that the atrocities will continue."

"Mr. Kerry’s feckless diplomacy"? And what does this say about the deal struck by Obama and Kerry with Khamenei regarding Iran's nuclear weapons development program, whereby the US is dismantling sanctions against Iran in exchange for "concessions" from Tehran that can be reversed in one day (see: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/16/iran-top-nuke-negotiator-deal-reversible-in-one-day.html)?

In fact, we are now learning from Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was quoted sympathetically yesterday by the editorial board of The New York Times (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/new-york-times-editorial-another-syria.html), that in exchange for the decision of the P5+1 to dismantle sanctions against Iran, Iran "did not agree to dismantle anything."

Yes, Obama, who has refused to disclose the terms of his agreement with Khamenei, is engaged in the systemic destruction of American prestige and deterrent power across the globe.

Gail Collins, "The Luck of the Pontiff": Israel Not Lucky Enough to Merit Another Obama Visit

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Luck of the Pontiff" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/23/opinion/collins-the-luck-of-the-pontiff.html?_r=0), Gail Collins discusses the upcoming visit of Obama with the pope and the decision to move America's Vatican Embassy. Collins writes:

"President Obama is going to visit the pope! He’s been to the Vatican before, but not with this pope, who is perhaps the only person in the world almost everybody likes.

. . . .

The president’s visit, which is scheduled for March, comes at an interesting intersection in the two men’s careers. Pope Francis can currently do no wrong, and Barack Obama can do no right. Recently, his administration decided to move its Vatican Embassy into a more secure building, and the outcry was so intense that you’d think Obama had ordered a re-creation of the Sack of Rome."

"The outcry was so intense that you’d think Obama had ordered a re-creation of the Sack of Rome"? You want a real outcry? See what would happen if the US were to move its embassy in Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem. But of course, that would indeed require a miracle.

However, at a time when Obama is busy dismantling sanctions against Iran in exchange for "concessions" from Tehran that can be reversed in one day (see: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/16/iran-top-nuke-negotiator-deal-reversible-in-one-day.html), and when US Secretary of State Kerry is now telling us that "Everybody is happy to have Iran be helpful” with regard to the upcoming Geneva talks on the civil war in Syria (see: http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Kerry-says-Iran-could-help-with-Syria-peace-talks-337111), only 22% of Israelis trust Obama "to ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon" (see: http://www.timesofisrael.com/only-one-in-five-israelis-trusts-obama-on-iran/).

A visit from Obama to assuage Israeli concerns about their survival in the face of ongoing Iranian threats to annihilate their country? No way! Obama is too busy courting Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei and creating a new Middle East order.

[See also: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/washington-post-editorial-on-syria.html]

New York Times Editorial, "Another Syria Peace Conference": Insights Into Obama's Secret Agenda

The latest New York Times editorial entitled "Another Syria Peace Conference" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/22/opinion/another-syria-peace-conference.html?ref=opinion) is as addle-brained as always. However, given that its editorials habitually reflect Oval Office "thinking," this short piece, ruing the absence of Iran from the upcoming peace conference in Geneva, is certainly worth a read. The editorial board of The Times would have us know:

"Just how the invitation from the United Nations was fumbled is unclear, but it is unfortunate that some diplomatic solution could not have been found to include Iran, which along with Russia is Syria’s main ally, providing President Assad with arms and other military support. In an interview with The New York Times and Time magazine last month, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Iran would not be an impediment to a political settlement. 'We have every interest in helping the process in a peaceful direction,' he said. 'We are satisfied, totally satisfied, convinced that there is no military solution in Syria and that there is a need to find a political solution in Syria.'"

Iran has "every interest in helping the process in a peaceful direction"? "There is no military solution in Syria"? I suppose that is why Iran sent Revolutionary Guard advisors and thousands of Hezbollah fighters to assist Assad.

The editorial continues:

"The civil war has drawn affiliates of Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists to the Syrian battlefield, and these could eventually be a threat to Shiite-led Iran as well as Russia, which is fighting extremists in the Caucasus and worrying about attacks during the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month.

Mr. Zarif acknowledged this problem generally, asserting that 'the continuation of this tragedy in Syria can only provide the best breeding ground for extremists who use this basically as a justification, as a recruiting climate, in order to wage the same type of activity in other parts of this region.'"

Now I understand: al-Qaeda is extremist, but Hezbollah and the Iran Revolutionary Guard are not, and we should also believe everything that Javad Zarif tells us. Yeah, right.

Again, you might ordinarily expect this sort of muddled thinking from the editorial board of The New York Times, but in this instance it more likely reflects the thinking of the president. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Obama is preparing to elevate the status and standing of Iran at the expense of America's traditional Sunni allies in the region, i.e. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Jordan.

Indeed, the US purportedly objected to the last-minute invitation to Iran from the UN to participate in the talks, but other conciliatory signals - such as this one from the semi-official organ of the Obama administration - are also being sent to Tehran.

Or in a nutshell, Obama is undertaking a Middle Eastern shake-up with all the preparation that went into the rollout of Obamacare.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Thomas Friedman. "WikiLeaks, Drought and Syria": Israel Has the Answer

In a May 2011 New York Times op-ed entitled "They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/22/opinion/22friedman.html?ref=opinion), Thomas Friedman, writing from Beirut, told us that the protestors being gunned down by Assad's monstrous regime were seeking "democracy":

"More than in any other Arab country today, the democracy protestors in Syria know that when they walk out the door to peacefully demand freedom they are facing a regime that has no hesitancy about gunning them down."

This was all about "democracy protestors"? I wrote in response (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2011/05/thomas-friedmans-they-shoot-horses-dont.html) that Friedman's explanation was "a facile depiction of a rebellion having its roots elsewhere." I continued:

"Notwithstanding demands by demonstrators for greater political freedom, the Assad regime is being brought down by the failure of its economy. Syria's agricultural sector employs some 30 percent of its labor force, and much emphasis has been placed in recent years on achieving food self-sufficiency and stemming rural migration. However, Syria's most important cash crop is cotton, which demands much water, and a five-year drought has had catastrophic consequences."

Was I invited to the State Department to expound upon my thoughts? A phone call? Heck no! Why do they need someone like me when President Obama and friends can depend upon a persistent stream of drivel from would-be Middle East experts such as Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria.

Fast forward two years: In May 2013 Friedman finally got around to acknowledging the effects of the drought in Syria. In an op-ed entitled "Without Water, Revolution" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/opinion/sunday/friedman-without-water-revolution.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), Friedman wrote:

"Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. 'Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land' for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized."

Today, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "WikiLeaks, Drought and Syria" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/22/opinion/friedman-wikileaks-drought-and-syria.html?_r=0), Friedman returns to the topic of the drought affecting Syria:

"And, finally, consider this: 'In the future, who will help a country like Syria when it gets devastated by its next drought if we are in a world where everyone is dealing with something like a Superstorm Sandy,' which alone cost the U.S. $60 billion to clean up? asks Joe Romm, founder of ClimateProgress.org.

So to Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are funding the proxy war in Syria between Sunnis and Shiites/Alawites, all I can say is that you’re fighting for control of a potential human/ecological disaster zone. You need to be working together to rebuild Syria’s resiliency, and its commons, not destroying it. I know that in saying this I am shouting into a dust storm. But there is nothing else worth saying."

An answer to the drought and the swelling population in Syria and the rest of the Muslim Middle East? Simple: Israeli desalinization technologies. You see, Israel has been affected by the same drought that has punished Syrian and also Jordan, and as was reported almost a year ago by David Horovitz in a Times of Israel article entitled "How Israel beat the drought" (http://www.timesofisrael.com/how-israel-beat-the-drought/):

"The solution was desalination, on a major scale — the third phase in a water revolution that had begun with the water carrier and continued with recycling. The first large desalination plant came on line in Ashkelon in 2005, followed by Palmahim and Hadera. By the end of this year, when the Soreq and Ashdod plants are working, there’ll be five plants — built privately at a cost of NIS 6-7 billion (about $2 billion).

Israel uses 2 billion cubic meters of water per year — which is actually a little less than a decade ago, as efficiencies have been introduced in agriculture (which uses 700 million), and water-saving awareness has permeated. Of that two billion, half will be 'artificially' manufactured by year’s end — 600 million cubic meters from those desalination plants, and 400 from purified sewage and brackish water.

'We’re not the world’s biggest desalinators,' notes Kushnir, 'but no one has made the shift so fast to a situation where half of its water needs are filled from ‘artificial’ sources. And it means we are now ready for the next decade, without dramatic dependence on rainfall fluctuations.'"

Would Syria ever consult with Israel regarding how best to solve its water shortage? Probably both Assad and the rebels would rather die of thirst than contemplate receiving technological assistance from the Zionist state.

David Brooks, "The Art of Presence": Consider "The Cable Guy"

Did you ever see the 1996 dark comedy "The Cable Guy," starring Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick? It's not one of my favorite films, but it certainly illustrates that there are different degrees to which we, or at least I, want "friends" involving themselves in our lives.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Art of Presence" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/opinion/brooks-the-art-of-presence.html?ref=davidbrooks&_r=0), David Brooks tells of the horrific tragedy which struck the Woodiwiss family and, referring to Catherine’s Sojourners blog post for Sojourners, provides a list of "dos" and "don'ts" "about how those of us outside the zone of trauma might better communicate with those inside the zone." Among Brooks's "dos":

"Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles."

Whereas I certainly empathize with the Woodiwiss family and respect their thoughts, needs and preferences in times of trouble, my own wishes at such times have been different.

When faced with tragedy or trauma, I have not wanted "builders" in my life. Nor have I taken comfort in "firefighters," seeking to do their duty.

I have a small group of friends, and we will always be present for one another. I don't need or want more than that.

But that's just me.

Each of us is different.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Paul Krugman, "The Undeserving Rich": Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and . . . Barack Obama?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Undeserving Rich" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/20/opinion/krugman-the-undeserving-rich.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), Paul Krugman takes aim at America's affluent. Krugman writes:

"And who are these lucky few? Mainly they’re executives of some kind, especially, although not only, in finance. You can argue about whether these people deserve to be paid so well, but one thing is clear: They didn’t get where they are simply by being prudent, clean and sober."

That's quite an across-the-board condemnation of people such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and even . . . Barack Obama. Yes, President Obama. Already multi-millionaires before taking residence in the White House, Barack and Michelle are expected to fetch in the neighborhood of $30 million for their presidential memoirs (see: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/01/27/140127fa_fact_remnick?currentPage=all).

Whereas you can contend that the incomes of people such as Gates and President Obama need to be taxed at a significantly higher rate and distributed among the poor, it is hard to argue with the impact that they have had on America.

I have worked closely with more than a few extremely successful executives, whose assets and income would place them in the wealthiest 1 and even 0.1 percent of the populace. Some have been saints, others have been less saintly. Yes, these people have all been different from the general populace. But what most characterized these people was not their greed, but rather their drive, ambition and readiness to take risk. Yes, these people have all been different from the general populace.

The readiness to take risk? New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in his book "The World Is Flat" (my emphasis in red):

"America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can't be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a noncorrupt bureaucracy, and financial markets and a venture capital system that are unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global products."

In this rare instance, I agree with Friedman.

Tax these risk-takers at a higher rate? No problem.

Demean them as a group? Get real.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "Obama’s Homework Assignment": How About First Tackling the Drug Problem?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Obama’s Homework Assignment" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/opinion/sunday/friedman-obamas-homework-assignment.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Thomas Friedman suggests that President Obama address the failure of America's educational system in his upcoming State of the Union Address. Friedman asks:

"Are we falling behind as a country in education not just because we fail to recruit the smartest college students to become teachers or reform-resistant teachers’ unions [sic], but because of our culture today: too many parents and too many kids just don’t take education seriously enough and don’t want to put in the work needed today to really excel?"

Perhaps I am being cynical, but I don't know what it means to "really excel." Try as teachers might, the vast majority of students cannot be taught to write algorithms, in much the same way that I cannot be taught to play the piano - the underlying capability is simply not there.

Presumably there is a difference between excelling and making the most of your potential.

On the other hand, most students can learn to become productive, moral citizens and to master basic skills.

However, there is no mention in Friedman's opinion piece of a serious drug problem that is plaguing American schools. Cheap addictive drugs, particularly heroin in capsule form, are available in abundance, and countless children are falling victim.

Before seeking to enable students to achieve excellence, this drug problem first needs to be tackled.


Maureen Dowd, "Peeling Away the Plastic": How About First Scrubbing Away the Blood?

Reflecting on a new Netflix documentary providing an intimate perspective of Mitt Romney's campaigns for the the presidency, Maureen Dowd, in her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Peeling Away the Plastic" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/opinion/sunday/dowd-peeling-away-the-plastic.html?ref=maureendowd&_r=0), concludes:

"The fact that Romney allowed his strategists to keep a fence around him and his faith, which is so central to his life, the fact that he basically had nothing to say about where he wanted to lead the country, the fact that the private equity leecher spoke so dismissively about the 47 percent of people he regarded as moochers, the fact that this supposedly top-notch businessman did not seem to realize his campaign was using 20th-century technology — all of this spoke to a certain tentativeness, obtuseness and callousness.

But there’s always 2016."

Hmm, "tentativeness, obtuseness and callousness" on the part of Romney.

However, Maureen fails to mention the other event that recently stirred much media attention in the US, i.e. publication of Robert Gates's book "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War." Regarding Gates's book, Charles Krauthammer last week wrote a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "How in good conscience?" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-how-in-good-conscience/2014/01/16/138901d4-7ee3-11e3-9556-4a4bf7bcbd84_story.html?hpid=z2), in which he observed re Obama's escalation of American involvement in Afghanistan:

"One question remains, however. If he wasn’t committed to the mission, if he didn’t care about winning, why did Obama throw these soldiers into battle in the first place?

Because for years the Democrats had used Afghanistan as a talking point to rail against the Iraq War — while avoiding the politically suicidal appearance of McGovernite pacifism. As consultant Bob Shrum later admitted, “I was part of the 2004 Kerry campaign, which elevated the idea of Afghanistan as ‘the right war’ to conventional Democratic wisdom. This was accurate as criticism of the Bush Administration, but it was also reflexive and perhaps by now even misleading as policy.”

Translation: They were never really serious about Afghanistan. (Nor apparently about Iraq either. Gates recounts with some shock that Hillary Clinton admitted she opposed the Iraq surge for political reasons, and Obama conceded that much of the opposition had indeed been political.) The Democratic mantra — Iraq War, bad; Afghan War, good — was simply a partisan device to ride anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War feeling without appearing squishy."

Or in a nutshell, after months of procrastination, America's Narcissist-in-Chief finally decided to shed the blood of American service women and men in an inane war for the sake of his own image and political gain.

Dowd sees "tentativeness, obtuseness and callousness" in Romney's campaigns? Perhaps. But I suggest that she first consider what Obama ordered in Afghanistan, which has proven horrifyingly worse by any standard of morality.

Etgar Keret, "Sometimes ‘Nazi’ Is the Right Word": Sometimes Democracy Is Messy

Problems with Israel's fledgling democracy? You bet!

Where I live, there were recently elections for the regional council. There were three leading candidates for the position of head of the regional council (akin to county supervisor), and when I went to cast my ballot during the first round of voting, the incumbent candidate came into the room where my voting booth was situated and began to give a speech. No one stopped him. "You are forbidden from being here!" I shouted at the candidate, whereupon one of his aides, who had also accompanied him into the room, screamed at me that the candidate was within his rights.

I called my local newspaper and described this incident. They never got back to me.

The incumbent ultimately only received some 39% of the vote, necessitating a run-off election with the opponent who received the second highest number of votes. No fool, the incumbent decided to offer the candidate who had received the third highest total of votes to become his deputy, together with an existing deputy, during a future third term in office. I called the incumbent's staff to ask about the cost to the community of a second deputy, but they wouldn't give an amount.

One day before the second round of voting, an e-mail was sent from my local synagogue, exhorting members of the congregation to vote for the incumbent. Calling upon the congregants to vote for the incumbent, the e-mail stated (emphasis in the original):

"The willingness of the Council, and especially its head, to lend a sympathetic ear, is unquestionable. We owe it to ourselves to do all we can to ensure the continued cooperation and assistance from the Council during the next 5 years."

To which "continued cooperation and assistance" did this e-mail refer? I didn't know.

During the second round of voting, I again learned that the incumbent had been present in my town in the rooms where the voting booths were located. One of the proctors informed me that he had been instructed by the Voting Committee that the incumbent was permitted to do so, inasmuch as this constituted a "governmental visit."

I complained about all of the above to Israel's Interior Ministry, and they ultimately acknowledged that it was forbidden for candidates to be present in the polling places, but I was also told not to expect much in the way of redress.

I also submitted the details of these incidents to Israel's left wing newspaper Haaretz, but they never got back to me.

This coming week, I will complain to the State Ombudsman's Office and the police.

Yes, I am furious, and yes, I am something of a Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but I continually need to remind myself that Israel only came into existence in 1948, and its population includes many immigrants who, until they arrived in this country, lived in totalitarian states. Indeed, several people with whom I spoke didn't see anything wrong with candidates making their presence felt in polling stations.

Today, in a guest op-ed entitled "Sometimes ‘Nazi’ Is the Right Word" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/18/opinion/sometimes-nazi-is-the-right-word.html?hp&rref=opinion), Etgar Keret derides an Israeli parliamentary bill "that would criminalize saying 'Nazi' under inappropriate circumstances." Keret writes:

"Imagine a different state of Israel, one very much like our own: This other Israel would also be sunny, with golden beaches, roadblocks in the territories, targeted killings, and rockets hitting the southern towns. The only difference between this new Israel and the current one would be that in the new Hebrew language that would be spoken there, you could say anything except 'Nazi,' 'fascist' and 'anti-democratic.' Wouldn’t that be a better place to live than our current Israel?

And now that we’re exercising our imaginations, let’s picture yet another new Israel — one where the word 'Nazi' is permitted but the government genuinely wants a peace accord and its members do not treat the Palestinians like 'shrapnel in your butt' — as our economy minister, Naftali Bennett, recently put it — but rather as neighbors seeking freedom and self-determination.

Let’s go one step further: Imagine that in this second new Israel, the government gives serious consideration to African refugees’ appeals rather than locking them up in camps while Knesset members like Danny Danon and Miri Regev call them 'a cancer,' or 'infiltrators,' and use racial epithets not unlike those my parents were subjected to in that miserable war in which my grandparents were murdered by you-know-who."

Okay, I agree with Keret that enforcement of any such law could prove extremely problematic and that freedom of speech needs to weigh in the balance. I also object to the epithets cited by Keret.

But unlike Keret, I continue to think that there is a lot that is "right" about Israel that deserves attention: women's rights, gay rights, science and industry, successful absorption of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, and the list continues. An additional example that comes to mind: I remember how I was once riding in a crowded Chicago "L" train. Someone sprang a knife on me, and none of the other riders did a thing. This would not happen in Israel.

Keret, the child of Holocaust survivors, chose to express his objections in The New York Times. Perhaps Keret is unaware of Roger Cohen's New York Times op-ed "Obama in Netanyahu's Web" (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/opinion/28iht-edcohen.html), whose title was painfully in keeping with the anti-Semitic, i.e. Nazi, tradition of depicting Jews as voracious spiders. As Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of the Times, later acknowledged to me, this "was not a good headline."

More about Cohen and The Times? In 2012, following my complaint by e-mail to Andrew Rosenthal concerning the title of Roger Cohen's op-ed, "The Dilemmas of Jewish Power," the title was quickly changed online to "The Dilemmas of Israeli Power" (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/opinion/cohen-the-dilemmas-of-jewish-power.html). Rosenthal did not write back to me, and when I protested to Jill Abramson, executive editor of the Times, she also failed to reply (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2012/02/stench-of-anti-semitism-at-new-york.html).

And then there were also the anti-Semitic rants and double standards of Thomas Friedman (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/11/thomas-friedman-what-about-us-is-thomas.html) and Nicholas Kristof (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/01/nicholas-kristof-retweets-obama-told-2.html and http://www.jsantisemitism.org/essays/GrossmanJSA210(4).pdf.

Not enough? Perhaps Keret is also unaware of how The New York Times made a practice of tolerating anti-Semitic readers' comments in response to its op-eds that would make Goebbels proud (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/06/open-letter-no-2-to-clark-hoyt-public.html; http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/10/sanchez-dismissal-spawns-more-anti.html; http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/08/charles-blows-obama-and-jews-part-2.html; http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/08/vicious-anti-semitic-readers-comment-in.html; http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2010/06/if-you-were-revolted-by-helen-thomas.html).

(By the way, this blog came into being after The New York Times, that would-be beacon of free speech, made a practice of censoring many of my comments.)

In a nutshell, Keret's laundry list of grievances concerning Israel was grist for The New York Times's mill.

But more to the point, let's think for a moment about the Israeli bill, which I also oppose, banning the use of the word "Nazi." Not too long ago, there was much controversy concerning the appearance of a different n-word in Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," found in school libraries across the United States. You see, thorny issues involving language are not peculiar to Israel. Yes, democracy, and freedom of speech in particular, can be messy. But whereas I agree with most of the message in Keret's opinion piece, I question his choice of messenger, i.e. a newspaper seeking opportunities to demean the only true democracy, albeit flawed, in the Middle East.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Charles Krauthammer, "How in good conscience?": Bad War, Good War

Charles Krauthammer's latest Washington Post opinion piece entitled "How in good conscience?" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-how-in-good-conscience/2014/01/16/138901d4-7ee3-11e3-9556-4a4bf7bcbd84_story.html?hpid=z2) is a must read. Reflecting on the revelations of Robert Gates in his recently published book "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," Krauthammer observes:

"One question remains, however. If he wasn’t committed to the mission, if he didn’t care about winning, why did Obama throw these soldiers into battle in the first place?

Because for years the Democrats had used Afghanistan as a talking point to rail against the Iraq War — while avoiding the politically suicidal appearance of McGovernite pacifism. As consultant Bob Shrum later admitted, “I was part of the 2004 Kerry campaign, which elevated the idea of Afghanistan as ‘the right war’ to conventional Democratic wisdom. This was accurate as criticism of the Bush Administration, but it was also reflexive and perhaps by now even misleading as policy.”

Translation: They were never really serious about Afghanistan. (Nor apparently about Iraq either. Gates recounts with some shock that Hillary Clinton admitted she opposed the Iraq surge for political reasons, and Obama conceded that much of the opposition had indeed been political.) The Democratic mantra — Iraq War, bad; Afghan War, good — was simply a partisan device to ride anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War feeling without appearing squishy."

In fact, Iraq and Afghanistan were both bad wars, yet the mainstream media fails to hold Obama's feet to the fire for escalating American involvement in Afghanistan, when he never believed in the ultimate success of the surge there.

The blood of American service women and men is indeed on the hands of America's Narcissist-in-Chief.

Fareed Zakaria, "Making things worse in the Middle East": Blame Bush, Not Obama

Read Fareed Zakaria's latest Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Making things worse in the Middle East" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-us-fuel-to-the-middle-east-fire/2014/01/16/489c2424-7ef1-11e3-95c6-0a7aa80874bc_story.html?hpid=z3). What's most remarkable about it? He doesn't mention Israel even once. Zakaria begins:

"Over the past few months, the Middle East has become an even more violent place than usual. Iraq is now once again home to one of the most bloody civil wars in the world, after Syria of course, which is the worst."

Zakaria of course doesn't mention that according to Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/iran-hangs-40-people-two-weeks-amid-surge-executions-2014-01-16), "Iran has carried out a total of 40 executions since the beginning of 2014, with at least 33 carried out in the past week alone." Yup, newly elected Iranian president Rouhani, upon whom Obama is pinning his hopes of reaching a deal to restrain Iran's nuclear weapons development program, is sure one heck of a moderate . . .

Who, according to Zakaria, is to blame for this Middle East mess? George W. Bush, of course. Zakaria writes:

"If a single action accelerated the sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, it was the decision of the George W. Bush administration to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, dismantle all structures in which Sunnis had power and then hand over the Iraqi state to Shiite religious parties.

. . . .

The consequences of these policies are now clear. The Shiites proceeded to oppress the Sunnis — seemingly with Washington’s blessings. More than 2 million Iraqis — mostly Sunnis and Christians — fled the country, never to return. The Sunni minority in Iraq, which still had delusions of power, began fighting back as an insurgency and then became more extreme and Islamist. These tribes are all tied by blood and kinship to Sunni tribes in their next-door neighbor, Syria, and those Syrian Sunnis were radicalized as they watched the Iraqi civil war."

Correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that Zakaria was born to a Sunni Muslim family in India.

Is Obama, who has sat on his hands during the Green Revolution in Iran, the upheaval in Egypt and the sectarian violence in Syria, to blame? No way, according to Obama cheerleader Zakaria:

"Watching these horrors unfold, many in the United States are convinced that this is Washington’s fault or that, at the very least, the Obama administration’s 'passive' approach toward the region has allowed instability to build. In fact, the last thing the region needs is more U.S. intervention."

No intervention? Not even humanitarian intervention with no boots on the ground? Well, others have meanwhile entered this power vacuum, most notably Iran, which continues to buttress the barbaric Assad regime in Syria while sending long-range missiles to Hezbollah and supporting Shiite insurgencies elsewhere in the region.

Obama has become a dirty name in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and where this leads is anyone's guess. So much for the Arab Spring, which is fast becoming the Arab Ice Age.