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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gail Collins, "It’s Only a Million": How Much Does It Cost Not to Listen to Jeb or Hillary?

When I was very little, I remember visits from my maternal grandparents, who were both the children of impoverished immigrants to the United States. Invariably, the conversation would turn to some item or article regarding which my grandfather would tell us excitedly how much it's worth. And my father, who never had much patience for his in-laws, would invariably respond:

"Did you hear the story about the one-million dollar dog? Its owner traded it for two $500,000 cats!"

Some 50 years later, trading a special dog for two special cats at these prices would not even elicit a blink of an eye.

Today, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "It’s Only a Million" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/01/opinion/collins-its-only-a-million.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Gail Collins observes:

"A million dollars will get you Jeb Bush’s advice. Also, it will buy a visit from Hillary Clinton. Four, in fact — she gets around $250,000 per appearance. When someone in the audience threw a shoe at her recently, she was speaking at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries."

Hmm, I wonder what amount speeches from Barack Obama will soon be commanding.

But more to the point, a million dollars still buys a lot of food, or shoes (for wearing, not for throwing), or basic medical treatment for the poor, of whom there are many.

Pay not to listen to Jeb or Hillary? Fortunately, it still doesn't cost us a penny.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "Challenging Putin’s Values": Don't Believe The Washington Post!

Were you hoping for more flatulence from Thomas Friedman this morning? Congratulations, you've got it!

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Challenging Putin’s Values" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/30/opinion/friedman-challenging-putins-values.html?ref=opinion), Friedman attempts to come to the aid of a beleaguered President Obama, whose foreign policy is under attack from all sides. Tom Terrific writes:

"Look how just our limited sanctions triggered a stampede by the electronic herd of global investors who have pulled more than $50 billion out of Russia this year."

More than $50 billion has left Russia this year? Obama has run America's national debt over $17.5 trillion, an amount which is never going to be returned.

Friedman continues:

"Don’t let anyone tell you the sanctions are meaningless."

Well, two days ago in an editorial entitled "Obama’s half-measures give Vladi­mir Putin little to fear" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obamas-half-measures-give-vladimir-putin-little-to-fear/2014/04/28/b663885c-cee8-11e3-937f-d3026234b51c_story.html), The Washington Post informed us:

"VLADIMIR PUTIN’S assault on Ukraine has been relentless and increasingly reckless: Forces working with Russian personnel in eastern Ukraine are torturing and murdering opponents and holding international observers hostage. In contrast, President Obama’s response has been slow and excruciatingly measured. New U.S. sanctions announced Monday fall well short of the steps that senior officials threatened when the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine began three weeks ago."

Of course, you mustn't listen to the editorial board of The Washington Post!

Friedman's conclusion:

"We couldn’t stop them if we wanted to. [Ukrainians have] been empowered by globalization and the I.T. revolution. Get used to it, Comrade Putin."

Remind you of something? Three years ago, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "They Did It" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/opinion/13friedman.html?ref=thomaslfriedman), Friedman wrote jubilantly of the revolution in Egypt:

"They did this all by themselves. That is so important. One of the most powerful chants I heard in [Tahrir] square on Friday night was: 'The people made the regime step down.'

This sense of self-empowerment and authenticity — we did this for ourselves, by ourselves — is what makes Egypt’s democracy movement such a potential game-changer for the whole region.

. . . .

This could get interesting — for all the region’s autocrats. Egypt’s youthful and resourceful democrats are just getting started."

And where are we today in Egypt? On Monday, an Egyptian court sentenced 683 Muslim Brotherhood members to death. What does Obama have to say about that? Answer: Nothing.

And now the Benghazi scandal has been reawakened owing to FOIA disclosure of documents the White House sought to suppress, which indicate that there was an attempt to mislead Americans concerning the reason for the attack (see: http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-benghazi-documents-point-white-house-misleading-talking-points/).

Which brings us to Maureen Dowd's op-ed of today's date entitled "Is Barry Whiffing?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/30/opinion/dowd-is-barry-whiffing.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), in which she writes:

"Stop whining, Mr. President.

. . . .

It doesn’t feel like leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world.

How can we accept these reduced expectations and truculent passivity from the man who offered himself up as the moral beacon of the world, even before he was elected?"

Yes, Maureen is correct: No one takes Obama seriously overseas. Okay, as observed by Friedman, the Russian stock market has dropped some 13 percent since the beginning of the year, but do you really think Putin, an ex-KGB lieutenant colonel, gives a damn? Trust me, he doesn't.

Maureen Dowd, "Is Barry Whiffing?": Mighty Casey Has Struck Out

"But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."

- "Casey at the Bat," Ernest Thayer, 1888


Obama's foreign policy is a strikeout, and Americans are getting wise to it. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/post-abc-news-poll-shows-democrats-at-risk-in-november-as-obamas-approval-rating-falls/2014/04/28/2a448b04-cf07-11e3-b812-0c92213941f4_story.html), only "34 percent approve of his handling of the situation involving Ukraine and Russia."

But the Ukraine is just the least of it. As Max Boot tells us in a Commentary opinion piece entitled "A Bad Metaphor, But an Even Worse Excuse" (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2014/04/29/a-bad-metaphor-but-an-even-worse-excuse/):

"There hasn’t been a substantial foreign-policy victory since Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gaddafi were killed in 2011. As I note in the Wall Street Journal today, 'Hopes for a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians have been dashed, the civil war continues to rage in Syria, chaos engulfs Libya, Russia has invaded Ukraine and China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea has leaders in Japan and the Philippines drawing analogies to the 1930s.'

That’s actually only a partial listing of the setbacks we have suffered. I had no room to list other bad news: the emergence of a new military dictatorship in Egypt, a crackdown on civil liberties in Turkey, growing instability in Lebanon, new reports of chemical-weapons use in Syria, advances of Islamic insurgents in Pakistan, crumbling economic sanctions on Iran in return for empty promises to slow down their nuclear program, new North Korean belligerence, and declining American credibility from allowing red lines to be crossed from Syria to Crimea and (an overlooked issue) from allowing our defense budget to be slashed precipitously.

Perhaps worst of all is the resurgence of al-Qaeda."

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Is Barry Whiffing?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/30/opinion/dowd-is-barry-whiffing.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Maureen Dowd also takes a swing at Obama's feeble defense of his foreign policy from the Philippines (where the president traveled after failing to reach a trade agreement with Japan): "You hit singles; you hit doubles; every once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run." Dowd's rejoinder:

"Stop whining, Mr. President.

And stop whiffing.

Don’t whinge off the record with columnists and definitely don’t do it at a press conference with another world leader. It is disorienting to everybody, here at home and around the world.

. . . .

It doesn’t feel like leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world.

How can we accept these reduced expectations and truculent passivity from the man who offered himself up as the moral beacon of the world, even before he was elected?"

Is only Obama to blame for this mess? I'm afraid so. He was the one who brought a moronic Chuck Hagel, who can't find his way to first base, and a vain John Kerry, who is unable to come to terms with his balks, onto the team.

"Wait ’til next year!" was once the unofficial slogan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Well, it's not going to get any better next year. Putin, who was promised "flexibility" by Obama, and all of the world's other tyrants know that Obama talks a mean game, but only lobs softballs.

Can Team America regroup following this fiasco? Let's see who is selected as the new manager in 2016, and if the US is able to climb out of the cellar.

Monday, April 28, 2014

David Brooks, "Saving the System": Or Has Humpty Dumpty Already Had His Great Fall?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and Four-score more,
Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.


- From Samuel Arnold's "Juvenile Amusements," 1797


Yes, American foreign policy is coming undone.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Saving the System" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/opinion/when-wolves-attack.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), David Brooks tells us that the US and the world order which it supports, guided by "liberal pluralism," are facing "death by a thousand cuts." Brooks writes:

"[O]ver these centuries, civilized leaders have banded together to restrain these vices. As far back as the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, dominant powers tried to establish procedures and norms to secure national borders and protect diversity. Hegemons like the Nazis or the Communists tried to challenge this system, but the other powers fought back.

Today that system is under assault not by a single empire but by a hundred big and little foes. As Walter Russell Mead argues in a superb article in Foreign Affairs, geopolitics is back with a vengeance. Whether it’s Russia seizing Crimea or China asserting itself, old-fashioned power plays are back in vogue. Meanwhile, pre-modern movements and people try to eliminate ethnic and religious diversity in Egypt, Ukraine and beyond.

China, Russia and Iran have different values, but all oppose this system of liberal pluralism. The U.S. faces a death by a thousand cuts dilemma. No individual problem is worth devoting giant resources to. It’s not worth it to spend huge amounts of treasure to establish stability in Syria or defend a Western-oriented Ukraine. But, collectively, all the little problems can undermine the modern system. No individual ailment is worth the expense of treating it, but, collectively, they can kill you."

Brooks's conclusion:

"The liberal pluralistic system is not a spontaneous natural thing. Preserving that hard-earned ecosystem requires an ever-advancing fabric of alliances, clear lines about what behavior is unacceptably system-disrupting, and the credible threat of political, financial and hard power enforcement."

"Clear lines"? Such as the "red line" proffered by President Obama in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians?

"Credible threats?" Such as those imposed by Obama in response to Putin's aggression in the Ukraine? In an editiorial entitled "Obama’s half-measures give Vladi­mir Putin little to fear" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obamas-half-measures-give-vladimir-putin-little-to-fear/2014/04/28/b663885c-cee8-11e3-937f-d3026234b51c_story.html?hpid=z3), The Washington Post declares:

"VLADIMIR PUTIN’S assault on Ukraine has been relentless and increasingly reckless: Forces working with Russian personnel in eastern Ukraine are torturing and murdering opponents and holding international observers hostage. In contrast, President Obama’s response has been slow and excruciatingly measured. New U.S. sanctions announced Monday fall well short of the steps that senior officials threatened when the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine began three weeks ago."

Well, what did WaPo honestly expect from the first invertebrate to occupy the Oval Office?

Can it get worse? Absolutely. As we have now been informed by The Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/27/exclusive-kerry-warns-israel-could-become-an-apartheid-state.html), John Kerry, the narcissistic American secretary of state in search of a Nobel Peace Prize, told a "closed-door meeting" of "senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan" on Friday:

"Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state."


Israel, a steadfast American ally, on its way to becoming apartheid? That should play well with anti-Semites across the globe, while rendering Kerry useless in any effort to facilitate peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

You will of course recall that Kerry, in a past faux pas, referred to Syrian mass murderer Assad as his "dear friend."

Will there be anything left to put together again by the time Obama and friends finish their handiwork in 2016? Probably not.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Paul Krugman, "High Plains Moochers": Is There Still Room in the Middle in America?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "High Plains Moochers" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/28/opinion/krugman-high-plains-moochers.html?_r=0), Paul Krugman addresses the controversy which has arisen with respect to Cliven Bundy over the use of state-owned lands without payment. Krugman writes:

"American conservatism used to have room for fairly sophisticated views about the role of government. Its economic patron saint used to be Milton Friedman, who advocated aggressive money-printing, if necessary, to avoid depressions. It used to include environmentalists who took pollution seriously but advocated market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or emissions taxes rather than rigid rules.

But today’s conservative leaders were raised on Ayn Rand’s novels and Ronald Reagan’s speeches (as opposed to his actual governance, which was a lot more flexible than the legend). They insist that the rights of private property are absolute, and that government is always the problem, never the solution.

The trouble is that such beliefs are fundamentally indefensible in the modern world, which is rife with what economists call externalities — costs that private actions impose on others, but which people have no financial incentive to avoid. You might want, for example, to declare that what a farmer does on his own land is entirely his own business; but what if he uses pesticides that contaminate the water supply, or antibiotics that speed the evolution of drug-resistant microbes? You might want to declare that government intervention never helps; but who else can deal with such problems?"

I agree with Krugman.

Moreover, as observed in yesterday's blog entry (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/04/maureen-dowd-slaves-to-prejudice-why-be.html), I am horrified by Bundy's racist utterances, which should have been denounced by Fox News and Hannity without delay.

But what I find most interesting with respect to this controversy is American polarization. In addition to a response from a reader who obsesses over my hair (Clothes? Watches? Haircuts? You think I give a damn?), I had a comment from a reader who gloated over the election of Obama notwithstanding his 20-year association with Jeremiah Wright. "Hahaha," he/she wrote twice. In fact, given the absence of Obama adminstration achievements over the past five and a half years, the joke is on America.

A second reader questioned whether by the same reasoning, i.e. my abhorrence of Obama's past association with Wright, I would also object to a Rand Paul presidential candidacy. Well, I also detest Rand.

The assumption, of course, is that if I perceive Obama as a failure or was dismayed by his association with Wright, I surely must be a Tea Party supporter or something further to the right. However, I am pro-choice, favor gay marriage, opposed the Second Gulf War and US ground involvement in Afghanistan, and believe in a ban on the sale of assault rifles. Do I still qualify as a conservative? Perhaps my economics, which are not in keeping with those of Krugman, are conservative. Unlike Krugman, I was revolted by Occupy Wall Street, although I have consistently protested the excesses of hedge funds and banks.

But more to the point, must you either be a progressive or a conservative today? Is there no longer any room in the middle?

Can the Republicans still field someone other than a Tea Party supporter in 2016? We'll have to wait and see, but if it were to come down to a choice between Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul, I would surely back Hillary, albeit with a laundry clip over my nose.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

New York Times Editorial, "Meaningful Progress With Iran": Want to Vomit?

Did you ever read an opinion piece and want to vomit?

In an editorial entitled "Meaningful Progress With Iran" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/opinion/sunday/meaningful-progress-with-iran.html?hp&rref=opinion&_r=0), The New York Times concludes:

"For all this positive momentum, which includes a reciprocal easing of some Western sanctions, many of Iran’s policies remain indefensible, such as the detention of political prisoners, support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and support for Hezbollah. Mr. Zarif failed to address those issues in an article he wrote on Iranian foreign policy in Foreign Affairs magazine. But he firmly committed Iran to 'prudent moderation' and to fostering peace and security. A durable nuclear agreement is an important first step in fulfilling that promise."

Ah yes, "prudent moderation" from Iran, a country that hangs homosexuals, stones to death women accused of adultery, executes poets, and commits atrocities against Baha'is, Kurds, Christians and Sunni Muslims.

After Obama's trip to Japan failed to yield a trade agreement, talks between Palestinians and Israelis sponsored by Kerry crumbled, and Putin thumbed his nose at the US in the Ukraine, we are to believe that Obama's initiative to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons is a success?

Those Iranians, who have witnessed the meaning of Obama's "red line" involving the use of chemical weapons in Syria, are sure to honor any agreement that they might sign with this cream puff . . . not.

Maureen Dowd, "Slaves to Prejudice": Why Be Troubled by Double Standards?

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Slaves to Prejudice" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/opinion/sunday/dowd-slaves-to-prejudice.html?ref=maureendowd&_r=0), Maureen Dowd begins by observing:

"WHEN a cranky anarchist in a cowboy hat starts a sentence saying 'I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,' you can be dang sure it’s going downhill from there.

The unsettling thing about Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s ugly rant on the Virgin River on Saturday, The Times’s Adam Nagourney told me, was that there was no negative reaction from the semicircle of gun-toting and conspiracy-minded supporters who had gathered round to hear it. The oblivious 67-year-old Bundy, who has refused for 20 years to pay for his cattle to graze on our land, offered a nostalgic ode to slavery.

Recalling that he saw African-Americans sitting on the porch of a public-housing project in North Las Vegas who seemed to have 'nothing to do,' Bundy declaimed: 'They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?'"

Yes, this is horrifying, racist rot. Indeed, Fox News owes the nation an apology for eulogizing Bundy.

And yet I can't help thinking back to 2008, when much of the media conveniently chose to ignore presidential candidate Obama's 20-year relationship with a bigot. At the time, Dowd wrote in an op-ed entitled "Praying and Preying" (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/30/opinion/30dowd.html):

"Obama, of course, will only ratchet up the skepticism of those who don’t understand why he stayed in the church for 20 years if his belief system is so diametrically opposed to [Rev. Jeremiah]Wright’s.

He’s back on the tricky path he faced as a child, navigating between two racial cultures. At Trinity, he may have ignored what he should have heard because he was trying to assimilate to black culture. Now, he may be outraged by what he belatedly heard because he’s trying to relate to the white lunch-pail set."

Dowd's attempt at the time of rationalizing away Obama's "error"? I didn't buy it then, I don't buy it now.

Obama's association with Wright should have ruled him out as a presidential candidate. It didn't.

But why should I be troubled by double standards? Whoever said the world is fair?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Measuring Obama's Achievements Against LBJ, FDR and Lincoln

"Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact."

― Lyndon B. Johnson


"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

- Franklin D. Roosevelt


"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

- Abraham Lincoln


"That's some good sushi right there."

- Barack Obama


Do you recall Obama's 2011 claim regarding his White House achievements:

"As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history."

Well, with respect to legislative accomplishments, I believe that the staggering costs of Obamacare ("If you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them") will only become apparent in 2015. On the other hand, with respect to foreign policy, I think Obama's accomplishments are painfully clear.

Obama has just left Japan after failing to reach a trade agreement.

High stakes peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, organized by John Kerry, have crumbled and given rise to Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

With regard to the Ukraine and Crimea, Vladimir Putin, who was promised "flexibility" by Obama in his second term, is ignoring American whining. In fact, it's gotten so bad that the Russians are not even answering Chuck Hagel's phone calls (see: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/apr/25/chuck-hagel-cant-get-russian-defense-counterpart-p/).

But can you really blame Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for refusing to speak with Chuck? Everyone knows Hagel is a moron (see, for example: http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/chuck-hagel-jokes-that-indian-man-asking-him-a-question-is-a).

Whereas JFK's "Camelot" consisted of the "best and the brightest," Obama has managed to surround himself with the worst and the dumbest.

And although Kathleen Sebelius has finally resigned, Kerry and Hagel are going nowhere.

No, it can't get any worse.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

David Brooks, "The Piketty Phenomenon": Are David Brooks and Paul Krugman Marxists?

Question: Did David Brooks or Paul Krugman ever serve in the army? I don't know the answer, but I would guess that they did not. Relevance? Simple. The army is the one place where persons are forced to interact with others from different economic strata, particularly with the poor.

Whether by happenstance or design, both Brooks and Krugman have today written New York Times op-eds concerning Thomas Piketty's new book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." Brooks, in his opinion piece entitled "The Piketty Phenomenon" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/opinion/brooks-the-piketty-phenomenon.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), acknowledges that young professionals in coastal cities have little contact with the poor:

"If you are a young professional in a major city, you experience inequality firsthand. But the inequality you experience most acutely is not inequality down, toward the poor; it’s inequality up, toward the rich.

You go to fund-raisers or school functions and there are always hedge fund managers and private equity people around. You get more attention than them at parties, but your whole apartment could fit in their dining room. You struggle with tuition, but their kids go off on ski weekends. You wait in line at the post office, but they have staff to do it for them.

You see firsthand the explosion of wealth at the tippy-top. It really doesn’t help that you have to spend your days kissing up to the oligarchs and their foundations to finance your research, exhibition or favorite cause."

Enunciating what he understands to be Piketty's claim that inequality is "driven by hedge fund oligarchs" and declaring that a "global wealth tax is utopian," Brooks concludes:

"This is a moment when progressives have found their worldview and their agenda. This move opens up a huge opportunity for the rest of us in the center and on the right. First, acknowledge that the concentration of wealth is a concern with a beefed up inheritance tax.

Second, emphasize a contrasting agenda that will reward growth, saving and investment, not punish these things, the way Piketty would. Support progressive consumption taxes not a tax on capital. Third, emphasize that the historically proven way to reduce inequality is lifting people from the bottom with human capital reform, not pushing down the top. In short, counter angry progressivism with unifying uplift.

The reaction to Piketty is an amazing cultural phenomenon. But it says more about class rivalry within the educated classes than it does about how to really expand opportunity. Of course, this perspective could just be my own prejudice. When it comes to cultural analysis, I, like Piketty, am quasi-Marxist."

Brooks is a "quasi-Marxist"? Fascinating. I'm not a "quasi" anything. Most of the time, I'm pissed-off and tired.

On the other hand, Krugman, who once told us that "Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point," seems more of a "closet" Marxist than a "quasi" Marxist (not that I care). Krugman, in his opinion piece entitled "The Piketty Panic" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/opinion/krugman-the-piketty-panic.html?hp&rref=opinion), tells us:

"The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack to Mr. Piketty’s thesis. Instead, the response has been all about name-calling — in particular, claims that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist, and so is anyone who considers inequality of income and wealth an important issue.

. . . .

[W]hat’s really new about 'Capital' is the way it demolishes that most cherished of conservative myths, the insistence that we’re living in a meritocracy in which great wealth is earned and deserved.

. . . .

Now, the fact that apologists for America’s oligarchs are evidently at a loss for coherent arguments doesn’t mean that they are on the run politically. Money still talks — indeed, thanks in part to the Roberts court, it talks louder than ever. Still, ideas matter too, shaping both how we talk about society and, eventually, what we do. And the Piketty panic shows that the right has run out of ideas."

Yes, I think that inequality of income and wealth is an important issue, but sometimes I wonder if Krugman has run out of ideas beyond government stimulus spending. Is OWS still his answer for income inequality?

My recommendation: In addition to Brooks's "beefed up inheritance tax," I would also demand national service from all citizens, which could include the army, forcing young people from different economic backgrounds to come face to face and learn from one another. Added benefits: reduced unemployment and potential job training.

But why should multimillionaires Obama and Hillary support higher inheritance taxes? This could stand in the way of the future political campaigns of Natasha, Malia and Chelsea. Send Natasha and Malia (it's a little too late for a pregnant Chelsea) to the army? We all know that's not going to happen.

Piketty "Phenomenon" or "Panic"? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. Nor will a narcissistic West in another couple of months.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gail Collins, "Meet Me at the Fair": What a 2014 New York World's Fair Might Resemble

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

- John Fitzgerald Kennedy, June 26, 1963


"That's some good sushi right there"

- Barack Hussein Obama, April 23, 2014


Can you imagine President Obama traveling to the Ukraine tomorrow and declaring "I am a Kiever"? I didn't think so.

But as long as we're on the subject of things past, are you old enough to remember visiting the 1964 New York World’s Fair? I am. I remember stopping at the AT&T pavilion, where the difference in dialing time between a standard rotary dial telephone and a new touch tone phone was demonstrated. I also remember at the time how my grandfather expressed the wish to wake up again in another 50 years and see how technology had changed.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Meet Me at the Fair" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/opinion/collins-meet-me-at-the-fair.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), Gail Collins also dredges up recollections of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Collins concludes:

"Just this week, The Times reported that Canada may have outstripped the United States when it comes to middle-class wealth. That seemed like a double-whammy. First, it was still more evidence of growing income inequality. Second, the Canadians didn’t even seem all that excited. Trish Hennessy, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said besting the American middle was 'like comparing ourselves to a sinking stone.' Ouch.

It’d be nice to go back to the old utopian futures. Dream you fell asleep in 2014 and woke up 50 years down the line. What do you want to see? Re-imagine the schools and the housing and the public enterprises. Don’t concentrate on computers. The computers will take care of themselves. Also, no more highways. If we’re going to talk transportation, let’s work on those transporters they have in 'Star Trek.'

Think positive, or move to Toronto."

Query: Can you even begin to imagine a 2014 New York World's Fair with parents walking around with children on leashes for fear that their little ones will be kidnapped? And then there would be the snipers on the roofs, seeking to avert a terrorist bombing, all behind a backdrop of fiscal anxiety regarding what cost overruns could do to the budgets of the state and city.

But more to the point, as I near the age of my grandfather at the time of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, I have no interest in being placed in suspended animation and waking up in another 50 years to witness technological change. I don't like the direction in which the world is going.

Move to Toronto? I don't think so. Too cold. More to the point, I'm tired of being singled out for questioning by their immigration authority:

"Why are you here?"

"Well, I've come to discuss human clinical trials with your hospital system of a new retinal device intended to restore vision."

Although fast approaching the age of 60, I still appear suspicious. As indicated earlier, I did not inherit my grandfather's optimistic outlook, and perhaps I need to write in my will: "Do not resuscitate under any circumstances."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Maureen Dowd, "A Saint, He Ain’t": Kicking the Vatican Where It Counts

Maureen Dowd never gets tired of kicking the Vatican where it counts.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "A Saint, He Ain’t" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/opinion/dowd-a-saint-he-aint.html?ref=opinion), Maureen Dowd recalls how she nearly rolled off the alter during her christening, then rips into the forthcoming canonization of Pope John Paul II, whom, she says, ignored child molestation within the Catholic Church. Dowd's conclusion:

"The church is giving its biggest prize to the person who could have fixed the spreading stain and did nothing. The buck, or in this case, the Communion wafer, doesn’t stop here. There is something wounding and ugly about the church signaling that those thousands of betrayed, damaged victims are now taken for granted as a slowly fading asterisk.

John Paul may be a revolutionary figure in the history of the church, but a man who looked away in a moral crisis cannot be described as a saint.

When the church elevates him, it is winking at the hell it caused for so many children and young people in its care.

A big holy wink."

The war against child molestation? I spent some five years of my life trying to fight it, and I watched with revulsion as as many people I knew looked the other way.

Expect the church to actively combat this plague? Sorry, but I have no expectations from organized religion of any kind.

Saints? There have been a few in my lifetime. Irena Sendler (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2010/04/irena-sendler-catholic-woman-of.html) certainly deserves to be canonized. But heck, she was only a Polish nurse who saved thousands of Jewish children during World War II and not a pope.

Thomas Friedman, "It’s All About May 25": From the North Pole to Kiev, Tom Has Answers

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again
No, no!

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss


- "Won't Get Fooled Again," The Who

Do you remember how Thomas Friedman gushed over nascent Egyptian democracy and the Arab Spring from Cairo's Tahrir Square? Well, fresh from a submarine trip to the North Pole, Tom is back with more drivel enlightenment from the Ukraine. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "It’s All About May 25" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/opinion/friedman-its-all-about-may-25.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), Friedman strolls around Kiev's Independence Square and declares (my emphasis in red):

"It would have been nice if we could have forged a compromise with President Vladimir Putin of Russia that would have allowed Ukraine to gradually join the European Union and not threaten him.

. . . .

Our job is to back Putin off so the elections can happen."

Excuse me, but who is this "we" to whom Friedman so blithely refers? Is it Barack Obama, who so blithely promised "flexibility" during his second term to Vladimir Putin?

Elections will back Putin into a corner? Yeah, right.

Friedman's conclusion:

"In sum, it was courageous Ukrainians who gave birth to their own clean democracy movement, because they were fed up. But Putin can’t live with a successful, Westward-looking democracy here, and young Ukrainians can’t live without it. So, for it to thrive, we have to make sure Putin doesn’t kill it in the crib, and they have to make sure their old-line politicians don’t kill it before it learns to walk."

Ah yes, "courageous Ukrainians," "clean democracy movement," "young Ukrainians" who "can't live" without "Westward-looking democracy." Kind of makes you want to vomit.

Does anyone, other than Friedman, place value on this stream of "thought" (after all, if he thinks it, surely it must be important)? Unfortunately, the answer is yes: Obama still reads this windbag.

Monday, April 21, 2014

David Brooks, "The Leadership Emotions": Obama, the Anti-Leader, Who Leads From Behind

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Leadership Emotions" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/22/opinion/brooks-the-leadership-emotions.html?ref=davidbrooks&_r=0), David Brooks analyzes the battle between "amateur decision making," based upon "experience, intuition, affection, moral sentiments, imagination and genuineness," and "professional tactics and strategy," deriving from "public opinion analysis, message control, media management and self-conscious positioning." Examining how Obama only came around to backing gay marriage after Biden inadvertently took the lead, Brooks concludes:

"In every White House, and in many private offices, there seems to be a tug of war between those who want to express this messy amateur humanism and those calculators who emphasize message discipline, preventing leaks and maximum control. In most of the offices, there’s a fear of natural messiness, a fear of uncertainty, a distrust of that which is not scientific. The calculators are given too much control.

The leadership emotions, which should propel things, get amputated. The shrewd tacticians end up timidly and defensively running the expedition."

In every White House this "tug of war" exists? This is probably true, but there have been few, if any, administrations whose decision-making has been more attuned to catering to majority sentiments than that of Barack Obama. This, in turn, has given rise to a peculiarity: Notwithstanding the fact that Obama's foreign policy has provided a majority of Americans with exactly what they seemed to want, the president's foreign policy is also held in contempt by a majority of Americans. As observed by Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "President Obama’s foreign policy paradox" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/president-obamas-foreign-policy-paradox/2014/03/26/c5284c2e-b4f8-11e3-8cb6-284052554d74_story.html):

"Whether one likes President Obama’s conduct of foreign policy or not, the common assumption is that the administration is at least giving the American people the foreign policy they want. The majority of Americans have opposed any meaningful U.S. role in Syria, have wanted to lessen U.S. involvement in the Middle East generally, are eager to see the 'tide of war' recede and would like to focus on 'nation-building at home.' Until now, the president generally has catered to and encouraged this public mood, so one presumes that he has succeeded, if nothing else, in gaining the public’s approval.

Yet, surprisingly, he hasn’t. The president’s approval ratings on foreign policy are dismal. According to the most recent CBS News poll, only 36 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing on foreign policy, while 49 percent disapprove.

. . . .

Presidents are not always rewarded for doing what the public says it wants. Sometimes they are rewarded for doing just the opposite. Bill Clinton enjoyed higher approval ratings after intervening in Bosnia and Kosovo, even though majorities of Americans had opposed both interventions before he launched them."

Bill Clinton taking the lead in Bosnia and Kosovo? How about Franklin Roosevelt assisting the UK against the Nazis even prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, notwithstanding strong American isolationist sentiments?

Yesterday, Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor of The Washington Post, took the position that Obama's dependence upon public polling has also determined his domestic policy. Hiatt observed how the president "cold-shouldered the bipartisan [Simpson-Bowles commission] he had appointed to right the nation’s finances for the long term" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-obama-needs-to-lead-not-follow-polls/2014/04/20/72fdb36c-c73b-11e3-9f37-7ce307c56815_story.html).

But back to the Brooks op-ed: Is David correct in labeling presidential decision-making based upon "experience, intuition, affection, moral sentiments, imagination and genuineness" as "amateur"? Doesn't leadership entail the occasional willingness to buck majority sentiment and steer the public onto the moral high-road?

However, with only two and a half years left to his presidency, don't be expecting a teleprompter-reading president, who promised "Change," to change course. Obama is destined to be remembered as the "anti-leader" who led from behind.

Moreover, unless he is soon able to change course, he will leave the Oval Office with a stagnant economy, an unwieldy national debt, and a foreign policy most kindly described as wishy-washy.

It remains to be seen how Hillary will seek to distance herself from this "legacy."







Sunday, April 20, 2014

Paul Krugman, "Sweden Turns Japanese": What'chu talkin' 'bout, Paul?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Sweden Turns Japanese" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/opinion/krugman-sweden-turns-japanese.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Paul Krugman sounds an alarm regarding the Swedish economy. Krugman writes:

"Three years ago Sweden was widely regarded as a role model in how to deal with a global crisis. The nation’s exports were hit hard by slumping world trade but snapped back; its well-regulated banks rode out the financial storm; its strong social insurance programs supported consumer demand; and unlike much of Europe, it still had its own currency, giving it much-needed flexibility. By mid-2010 output was surging, and unemployment was falling fast. Sweden, declared The Washington Post, was 'the rock star of the recovery.'

Then the sadomonetarists moved in.

The story so far: In 2010 Sweden’s economy was doing much better than those of most other advanced countries. But unemployment was still high, and inflation was low. Nonetheless, the Riksbank — Sweden’s equivalent of the Federal Reserve — decided to start raising interest rates.

. . . .

Sure enough, Swedish unemployment stopped falling soon after the rate hikes began. Deflation took a little longer, but it eventually arrived. The rock star of the recovery has turned itself into Japan."

An economic disaster in Sweden? What'chu talkin' 'bout, Paul?

According to the European Commission (http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-02-25/sweden-to-grow-fastest-in-nordic-region-eu-commission-says):

"Swedish gross domestic product will grow 2.5 percent this year and 3.3 percent in 2015, the commission said in a report published today. The 2015 expansion rate would be the fastest in the Nordic region and only surpassed in the European Union by the growth rates in the three Baltic states, according to the commission.

'The Swedish economy now follows a more robust growth track and economic activity is expected to gradually accelerate,' the Brussels-based commission said. 'Gross fixed capital formation is expected to rebound sharply in the coming years, adding a new engine to economic growth.'"

The unemployment rate in Sweden? Stable at 8.1% in February 2014, compared with 6.7% in the US, up from 6.6% in January 2014, notwithstanding rock bottom interest rates in America, which have not succeeded in fomenting employment, particularly among the long-term unemployed (see: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/3-01042014-AP/EN/3-01042014-AP-EN.PDF and http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/long-term-unemployed-struggle-to-find--and-keep--jobs/2014/04/18/134c48f6-c4ad-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html).

So why is unemployment higher in Sweden than in the US? Time to acknowledge what is often deemed politically incorrect: As reported in an Economist article entitled "The ins and the outs" (http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21570836-immigration-and-growing-inequality-are-making-nordics-less-homogeneous-ins-and):

"In Sweden 26% of all prisoners, and 50% of prisoners serving more than five years, are foreigners. Some 46% of the jobless are non-Europeans, and 40% of non-Europeans are classified as poor, compared with only 10% of native Swedes."

These dismal numbers are not susceptible to meaningful improvement by tweaking interest rates downward, as suggested by Krugman.

Remarkably, a mere week ago, CNNMoney published an article entitled "Long-term unemployment: What the U.S. can learn from Sweden" (http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2014/04/14/us-long-term-unemployment-sweden/), suggesting that the US emulate Sweden's wage subsidy program.

An economic disaster in the making in Sweden? Sorry, Paul, not yet, and certainly not owing to higher interest rates.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2": Why You Wouldn't Want a Job at Google, Part 2

Yes, I know you're only 20 years old, but what do you want out of life? A job that's a way station, or are you already hungry for more?

In a prior New York Times op-ed entitled "How to Get a Job at Google" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-to-get-a-job-at-google.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Thomas Friedman sought to provide advice for youngsters considering college and careers. After describing a meeting with Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president responsible for hiring at Google, Friedman concluded:

"Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work."

In response to Friedman's opinion piece (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/02/thomas-friedman-how-to-get-job-at.html), I agreed with Mr. Bock that "people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world . . . are exceptional human beings." I also observed that my years in college and law school were a waste of time, which did not teach me anything of value.

Today, in his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/opinion/sunday/friedman-how-to-get-a-job-at-google-part-2.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Friedman tells us that he returned to Mr. Bock in search of more advice for job hunters. Friedman concludes this opinion piece by asking him "What’s your best advice for job interviews?" Mr. Bock's response:

“What you want to do is say: ‘Here’s the attribute I’m going to demonstrate; here’s the story demonstrating it; here’s how that story demonstrated that attribute.’” And here is how it can create value. “Most people in an interview don’t make explicit their thought process behind how or why they did something and, even if they are able to come up with a compelling story, they are unable to explain their thought process.”

But if you're really a hotshot, i.e. the best of the best of the best, and are better than anyone else at explaining your thought processes and triggering innovation, are you honestly interested in devoting your youth to online searches, data storage and advertising? Google is so big, can you have an impact upon the organization? Sure, the salary and perks are fabulous, and maybe Google is a great way station, but perhaps there's so much more you can do with your talent.

Yes, I know: I'm a fine one to talk. I wasted years with a financial institution, until discovering the courage to leave and take my chances. Perhaps I was not ready to go it on my own until after I turned 50. Fortunately, however, roads can diverge in a wood more than once in a lifetime.

Maureen Dowd, "Still Getting Wolf Whistles at 50": In Love With a Mustang? I Prefer Dogs!

Sometimes you get lucky. In 1981, when reversing my 1970 Mercury Cougar (a Mustang knock-off) out of a driveway, I hit the brakes, and my foot went down to the floor without resistance. A tree prevented me from rolling into a gully, but I knew it was time to say goodbye, notwithstanding its 351 Cleveland V-8 Engine, sequential tail lights and all the personal history that went with the car.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Still Getting Wolf Whistles at 50" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/opinion/sunday/dowd-still-getting-wolf-whistles-at-50.html?ref=maureendowd&_r=0), Maureen Dowd tells of her ’65 Mustang convertible:

"IT’S weird to be jealous of your car.

But I am.

Men look at my car with such naked lust, their eyes devouring the curves and chrome, that I often feel as though I’m intruding on an intimate moment. Women like it, too. They sometimes grin and give it a thumbs up as it growls by, and one girlfriend fondly refers to it as 'the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Goddess car.'"

Naked lust for a car? Not me. I prefer dogs.

But as I swiftly approach my 60th and my eyebrows turn white, wouldn't it be nice, just once more, to feel the foolish power and freedom afforded by youth?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gail Collins, "And the Race Is Off": Revisiting "The Wizard of Oz"

Dorothy Gale: How do you talk if you don't have a brain?

Scarecrow: Well, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking don't they?


- "Wizard of Oz" (1939)


Just how daft is Gail Collins?

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "And the Race Is Off" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/19/opinion/collins-and-the-race-is-off.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Gail Collins wonders how much "fun" (her word) it would have been if Kathleen Sebelius has decided to run for senator in Kansas. The rationale underlying her opinion is that incumbent Senator Pat Roberts's "voting address is actually a house on a country club golf course that belongs to two longtime supporters" and that Roberts has joked that he has "full access to the recliner."

This is almost as funny as how Hillary Clinton established residency in order to run for the Senate from New York (see: http://nypost.com/2000/01/05/hillarys-move-in-day-is-just-crate/).

But most remarkable is Collins's declaration (my emphasis in red):

"But about Kathleen Sebelius. Running a hopeless race for the Senate would be better than, say, spending the next year working on a memoir entitled 'It Wasn’t Really My Fault.' And we have to keep stressing that, despite its awful start, the Affordable Care Act is working out fine."

Excuse me but who the hell is this "we"?

Obamacare is "working out fine"? Oh really? Have a look at Michael Gerson's recent Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Obamacare has spawned a misguided debate" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/michael-gerson-obamacare-has-spawned-a-misguided-debate/2014/04/07/f51d8528-be82-11e3-b574-f8748871856a_story.html?hpid=z2). Gerson writes:

"[N]ever mind that the actual goal was not 7 million exchange sign-ups; it was health insurance enrollments, which are likely to be significantly fewer. And never mind that the number of the previously uninsured seems a remarkably small portion of these sign-ups — well under half. (Health wonk Bob Laszewski estimates that only about 27 percent of Americans eligible for Obamacare subsidies have enrolled in the system.) And never mind that, even including the Medicaid expansion, the most optimistic estimates of reductions in the number of the uninsured are much less than what the Congressional Budget Office projected before the rollout began. And never mind that all these decreases in the uninsured seem small in comparison to the amount of money spent, displacement caused and political capital expended.

And never mind that the proportion of younger and healthier enrollees to those with preexisting conditions is still being determined and that many analysts expect double-digit insurance premium increases in many state exchanges (particularly those with limited insurance competition). And never mind that health-care cost inflation has suddenly spiked to a 10-year high."

You want some "fun"? Have a gander at the following video featuring Dr. Barbara Bellar:



But the real "fun" has yet to come. As observed by Jonathan Tobin in a Commentary opinion piece entitled "Obama’s Boasts Won’t End OCare Debate" (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2014/04/17/obamas-boasts-wont-end-obamacare-debate/):

"But the assumption that the government’s successful efforts to pressure or persuade several million people to sign up for ObamaCare means that it is 'working' is completely unwarranted. It’s not just that the figures put forward by the administration are unreliable for a number of reasons. Even if we assumed that there really were eight million ObamaCare policyholders, the real test of this law’s viability and its ability to endure has yet to come. Not until we see just how many of those signed up are young and healthy enough to help pay for the vast number of sick and elderly covered by it will we know if it can pay for itself. And it won’t be until next year when the employer mandate and many other more painful provisions of the law are finally implemented that it will be clear whether the entire scheme can survive and how much damage it will inflict on the economy.

. . . .

Moreover, it won’t be until next year when the politically motivated delays of the implementation of many of the law’s mandates and provisions are put in place that we will know just how serious that damage will be. Nor will we know until then just how massive the cost increases for insurance will be though even the president acknowledged they will go up. With most of the young and healthy uninsured not signing up, rates will skyrocket as companies are forced to pass on the costs of covering those with pre-existing conditions. The president’s claims that the rate of increases are going down won’t convince many who will be paying more in the coming years that the president’s boasts are justified."

Although I favor universal health care, the writing is on the wall: You can't keep your health care plan, you can't keep your doctor, and Obamacare is going to send US national debt spiraling.

And perhaps sometime in 2015, a bewildered Gail Collins will finally acknowledge, as did Dorothy Gale in "The Wizard of Oz" (my emphasis in red):

"I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

David Brooks, "When the Circus Descends": Should Common Courtesy Be Part of the Common Core?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "When the Circus Descends" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/18/opinion/brooks-when-the-circus-descends.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), David Brooks discusses opposition from both the right and the left to Common Core education standards. Brooks writes:

"On the right, the market-share-obsessed talk-radio crowd claims that the Common Core standards represent a federal takeover of the schools. This is clearly false. This was a state-led effort, and localities preserve their control over what exactly is taught and how it is taught. Glenn Beck claims that Common Core represents 'leftist indoctrination' of the young. On Fox, Elisabeth Hasselbeck cited a curriculum item that supposedly taught students that Abraham Lincoln’s religion was 'liberal.' But, as the education analyst Michael J. Petrilli quickly demonstrated, this was some locally generated curriculum that was one of hundreds on a lesson-sharing website and it was promulgated a year before the Common Core standards even existed.

As it’s being attacked by the talk-radio right, the Common Core is being attacked by the interest group left. The general critique from progressives, and increasingly from teachers’ unions, is that the standards are too difficult, that implementation is shambolic and teachers are being forced into some top-down straitjacket that they detest.

It is true that the new standards are more rigorous than the old, and that in some cases students have to perform certain math skills a year earlier than they formerly had to learn them. But that is a feature, not a bug. The point is to get students competitive with their international peers."

Right? Left? Kind of meaningless to me, today.

I am the product of the University of Chicago's required "Common Core" studies, and I recently cleaned the dust off a copy of Thucydides's "The Peloponnesian War," which has accompanied me throughout the years and served as a poignant reminder of my college days. Will I ever return to it? That's the plan, but I also want to teach myself to play the piano sometime before I die. We'll see which, if either, comes first.

Common Core? How about teaching common courtesy? It might be of more value to young people and society in the years to come.

Concern over American students losing ground to international peers? In a December 2013 Telegraph article entitled "OECD education report: Korea’s school system a pressure cooker for children" (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10491289/OECD-education-report-Koreas-school-system-a-pressure-cooker-for-children.html), Andrew Salmon wrote from Seoul:

"It has been praised by President Barack Obama and delivered top-five results for South Korea in global literacy and numeracy tests, but among Koreans themselves, the education system is so controversial that hundreds of thousands become educational emigrants.

The regimented by-the-book teaching system leaves nothing to chance.

. . . .

But intense focus on exam scores creates an irony: knowledge is often eschewed in favor of test preparation.

. . . .

Scholastic pressures are so great that suicide is the number-one killer of South Koreans under 40 (compared to traffic accidents in other developed nations), while educational cost burdens are so colossal, they are cited as a factor in the declining national birth rate."

Emulate the South Korean education system? Thanks, but no thanks, even it means a mid-level managerial position at Samsung, LG, Hyundai or Daewoo. I still vote for common courtesy . . . and lower suicide rates.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maureen Dowd, "Game of Drones": Will Charlotte Leave Maverick for Another Woman?

"Top Gun 2"? Is that where we have arrived? Maybe the film should begin with rumors concerning Maverick's latent homosexuality after the failure of his marriage to Charlotte (call sign "Charlie"), who leaves him for another woman.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Game of Drones" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/16/opinion/game-of-drones.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Maureen Dowd broaches the possibility of a "Top Gun" sequel, then segues into talk about Google, Amazon, Facebook and drones. Dowd concludes:

"Even before one falls from the sky and kills somebody or crashes into a building, the tech drones will mean, as [Jim] Gleick says, 'we’re living in a dystopian novel, with a continuous eye in the sky on everything that happens down below.'

He muses: 'Are Google’s drones going to be watching while Amazon’s drones deliver my packages? How will we distinguish the drones with cameras from the drones with cameras and guns? How long before the N.R.A. insists on the rights of drones to bear arms? The Constitution says people have a right to bear arms. And the Supreme Court says that corporations are people. Do the math.'

Forget 'Top Gun 2.' This sounds more like 'Risky Business.'"

Sorry, but I'm not living a novel or a movie for that matter. Drones? What sticks in my mind is a line from the 2006 remake of "Casino Royale":

"Do I look like I give a damn?"

Thomas Friedman, "Not the Same Old, Same Old": When Things Went "Poof,"or Explaining Away Kerry's "Flotz"

What's a "flotz"? We'll get to that in a moment.

Yesterday, I mentioned that my son is getting married (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/04/david-brooks-long-obedience-my-son.html). My future daughter-in-law? A lovely young woman, whose mother is her father's second wife. "His second wife?" you ask. "What happened to the first wife? Did her father divorce her?" No, he didn't divorce her. In fact, more than 30 thirty years ago, Palestinian terrorists crossed the border into Israel, entered his home while he was away, and murdered his first wife and several of their children. (My future daughter-in-law has a charming sister from the first marriage, who survived because the rifle of one of the terrorists jammed.) Palestinian "terrorists"? Yes, terrorists. Of the murdering kind that Israel was expected to release in order to keep Kerry's hopes for a Nobel Peace Prize alive.

Today, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "Not the Same Old, Same Old" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/16/opinion/not-the-same-old-same-old.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Thomas Friedman not surprisingly takes its upon himself to explain away US Secretary of State John Kerry's delusional effort to bring about a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Friedman writes:

"Israel, from its side, has become a more religious society — on Friday nights in Jerusalem now you barely see a car moving on the streets in Jewish neighborhoods, which only used to be the case on Yom Kippur — and the settlers are clearly more brazen. Many West Bank settlers are respectful of the state, but there is now a growing core who are armed zealots, who will fight the I.D.F. if it tries to remove them. You did not go to summer camp with these Jews. You did not meet them at your local Reform synagogue. This is a hard core."

Of course, this is pure nonsense. When Israel unilaterally evacuated Gaza in 2005, there was violent opposition from the settlers. There was also opposition when Israel evacuated the settlement of Yamit in 1982 in order to achieve peace with Egypt. "Hard core" opposition in 2014? No, the settlers in both instances didn't go to summer camp with Tom, and they also were not members of reform synagogues. In addition, they probably also would not have voted for Obama in 2008, given his 20-year association with an anti-Semitic spiritual mentor. But "hard core"? Please spare the theatrics!

Friedman goes on to write:

"And it is not an accident that Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, who comes from a pro-settler party to the right of the Likud, approved a tender for 700 homes in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, across the Green Line — just as Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace talks were coming to a head."

Some 700 new homes in Gilo caused the collapse of Kerry's folly? Oh really? As Jonathan Tobin recently wrote in a Commentary opinion piece entitled "Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame" (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2014/04/08/why-did-kerry-lie-about-israeli-blame-peace-process-palestinians/):

"Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —'Jewish state'—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table."

Friedman concludes:

"Kerry, in my view, is doing the Lord’s work. But the weight of time and all the changes it has wrought on the ground may just be too heavy for such an act of friendship. If he folds his tent, though, Israelis and Palestinians will deeply regret it, and soon."

Of course, this is pure idiocy. Palestinian Authority President Abbas declared to Jackson Diehl in 2009 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/28/AR2009052803614.html):

"'I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,' he said. 'Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.'"

In fact, nothing has changed for Abbas over the past five years, and this logic, premised upon survival, still guides Abbas, now in the tenth year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. Or stated otherwise, Abbas is not ready for peace.

Should Israel release additional Palestinian prisoners, i.e. murderers, to ensure that Abbas remains at the negotiating table, notwithstanding the fact that he is unwilling to sign off on a peace agreement? No way. Even if you went to summer camp with Friedman, you wouldn't want such killers roaming freely around your neighborhood.

Which brings us to the meaning of "flotz," as it pertains to things going "poof" for poor John Kerry. "Flotz" is Hebrew for fart, and I am confident that you now know more Hebrew and more about the Middle East than Tom Friedman.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Frank Bruni, "The Oldest Hatred, Forever Young": Have a Look at Your Own Newspaper!

In response to the shootings in Kansas at a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home over the weekend, Frank Bruni writes in his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Oldest Hatred, Forever Young" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/opinion/the-oldest-hatred-forever-young.html?ref=opinion):

"Our country has come so far from the anti-Semitism of decades ago that we tend to overlook the anti-Semitism that endures. We’ve moved on to fresher discussions, newer fears.

Following 9/11, there was enormous concern that all Muslims would be stereotyped and scapegoated, and this heightened sensitivity lingers. It partly explains what just happened at Brandeis University. The school had invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a celebrated advocate for Muslim women, to receive an honorary degree. But when some professors and students complained, citing statements of hers that seemed broadly derisive of Islam, the invitation was withdrawn. Clearly, university officials didn’t want their campus seen as a cradle or theater of Islamophobia.

But other college campuses in recent years have been theaters of anti-Israel discussions that occasionally veer toward, or bleed into, condemnations of Jews. And while we don’t have the anti-Semitism in our politics that some European countries do, there’s still bigotry under the surface. There are still caricatures that won’t die."

I am deeply appreciative of Bruni's honesty, but shouldn't he also be looking at The New York Times?

Read what Jonathan Tobin of Commentary has just written in an opinion piece entitled "Why Smear Israel and Whitewash Iran?" (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2014/04/13/why-smear-israel-and-whitewash-iran-new-york-times/):

"But those determined to push the dubious theory that the election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s faux presidential election last year indicates a shift to moderation are undaunted. The New York Times has been a notable advocate for this position on both its editorial and news pages, but it surpassed itself today with the publication of a remarkable piece by two scholars alleging that not only is the Islamist regime changing but that Iran and Israel are like two ships passing in the night as the Jewish state becomes an extremist theocracy. That its thesis is an absurd libel of Israel and a whitewash of Iran is so obvious it is barely worth the effort to refute it. In short, Israel is a pluralist democracy where the rule of law prevails despite the ongoing war being waged against its existence by most of the Arab and Muslim world. Iran is a theocratic tyranny where free expression and freedom of religion are forbidden and women, gays, and minorities are brutally oppressed. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and its foreign policy is aimed at propping up one of the world’s worst tyrants in Syria’s Bashar Assad as well as Hezbollah and other terrorists seeking to destabilize the Middle East.

So while the argument that the Times featured today is so risible as to merit satire rather than a lengthy response, it is worth asking why the newspaper gives space to such laughable arguments."

Worth asking? Absolutely! And I have an answer. Compare Israel with a country that stones to death women for alleged adultery, hangs homosexuals and executes poets for enmity to God? Insane, but the publication of such garbage on the eve of Passover is in keeping with this newspaper's persistent need to smear the Jewish state and an unremitting tolerance of anti-Semitic declarations from two of its op-ed writers (see, for example: http://jsantisemitism.org/essays/GrossmanJSA210(4).pdf, http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/01/nicholas-kristof-retweets-obama-told-2.html and http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/11/thomas-friedman-what-about-us-is-thomas.html).

Anti-Semitism in America? Bruni need look no further than his own newspaper.

The response to the tragedy in Kansas of President Obama, whose spiritual leader for 20 years was the anti-Semitic pastor, Jeremiah Wright:

"While we do not know all of the details surrounding today’s shooting, the initial reports are heartbreaking. I want to offer my condolences to all the families trying to make sense of this difficult situation and pledge the full support from the federal government as we heal and cope during this trying time."

Mr. President, we never know all of the details, but the shooting plainly involved anti-Semitism, and your less than forthright response is inadequate.

David Brooks, "A Long Obedience": My Son Announces His Engagement

Yesterday, my oldest son visited on the eve of Passover to inform us that he was getting married. (He would celebrate the seder with his future  in-laws.) Happy? Absolutely. We adore his fiancée. But is he ready for the responsibilities? If my wife and I did anything right over the years, he will grow into the responsibilities, as he did in the army, his subsequent places of employment, and his studies.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "A Long Obedience" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/opinion/a-long-obedience.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), which focuses on the meaning of Passover but ignores the shootings in Kansas (please see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/04/frank-bruni-oldest-hatred-forever-young.html), David Brooks concludes:

"The 20th-century philosopher Eliyahu Dessler wrote, 'the ultimate aim of all our service is to graduate from freedom to compulsion.' Exodus provides a vision of movement that is different from mere escape and liberation. The Israelites are simultaneously moving away and being bound upward. Exodus provides a vision of a life marked by travel and change but simultaneously by sweet compulsions, whether it’s the compulsions of love, friendship, family, citizenship, faith, a profession or a people."

Sweet compulsions? An interesting thought in an era increasingly characterized by narcissism and self-indulgence.

My son's decision? Especially gratifying given his willingness to sacrifice self in favor of a lasting bond and a belief that there is sufficient goodness around him to bring children into the world.

Quite a change, even for me, as I adapt to the roles of being a father-in-law and ultimately a grandfather. In this instance, I am hoping for more "sweetness" and less "compulsion," but welcome whatever may come.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Paul Krugman, "Three Expensive Milliseconds": High FrequencyTrading and the Increasingly Unlevel Playing Field

You will recall that in a prior blog entry entitled "David Brooks, "The Moral Power of Curiosity": Can You Beat High-Speed Traders?" (http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2014/04/david-brooks-moral-power-of-curiosity.html) I wrote:

"High-frequency trading? A friend recently related the following story to me:

"I had placed an order to buy shares of XXXX, and my order had been the bid for quite some time. I suddenly decided that the market was going lower and that I could buy the shares at a better price. Using my laptop, I attempted to cancel my bid, but within a second my bid was hit, and I had bought the shares."

Coincidence? No. Before the cancellation of my friend's order could be effected, this information had been routed to high-speed traders, and they had sold him the shares. Or stated otherwise, their computers had been "informed" that his cancellation was electronically en route, and they beat his cancellation by a nanosecond. Corrupt? Absolutely.

. . . .

The game is indeed rigged, and, with the cancellation of the Uptick Rule (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/08/maureen-dowd-summers-of-our-discontent.html), small investors are being milked every day by large financial institutions.

Can you still beat the system? I think so. But only with a strong heart, a long-term outlook and sufficient examination of a corporation's innovation, management and value proposition."

Or stated otherwise, before your stock exchange instructions are executed, the big boys' algorithms are going to decide whether or not it is to their advantage to allow those instructions to be effected.

You want to buy or sell shares? You might have to pay a little more - something akin to a tax - in order to prevent the hedge funds from acting a nanosecond ahead of you.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Three Expensive Milliseconds" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/14/opinion/krugman-three-expensive-milliseconds.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), Paul Krugman also reflects on Michael Lewis's new book “Flash Boys” and writes (my emphasis in red):

"You may or may not buy Mr. Lewis’s depiction of the high-frequency types as villains and those trying to thwart them as heroes. (If you ask me, there are no good guys in this story.) But either way, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to save three milliseconds looks like a huge waste. And that’s part of a much broader picture, in which society is devoting an ever-growing share of its resources to financial wheeling and dealing, while getting little or nothing in return.

. . . .

But if our supersized financial sector isn’t making us either safer or more productive, what is it doing? One answer is that it’s playing small investors for suckers, causing them to waste huge sums in a vain effort to beat the market. Don’t take my word for it — that’s what the president of the American Finance Association declared in 2008. Another answer is that a lot of money is going to speculative activities that are privately profitable but socially unproductive."

When was the last time you heard me say that I agree with Krugman? Well here Krugman is mostly right: High frequency trading is indeed milking small investors, but there is nothing "speculative" about it. High frequency trading is guaranteed to make billions of dollars at the expense of small investors.

And just what is the Obama administration doing about it? That's right . . . nothing.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "Go Ahead, Vladimir, Make My Day": Subsidize Ukraine Through the Pain? And Maybe the EU, Too?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Go Ahead, Vladimir, Make My Day" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/opinion/sunday/friedman-go-ahead-vladimir-make-my-day.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Thomas Friedman begins:

"SO the latest news is that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev doesn’t pay its overdue bill, and, by the way, Ukraine’s pipelines are the transit route for 15 percent of gas consumption for Europe. If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy?

Because that is what I’m rooting for, and I’d be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain. Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale. So Vladimir, do us all a favor, get crazy, shut off the oil and gas to Ukraine and, even better, to all of Europe. Embargo! You’ll have a great day, and the rest of the planet will have a great century."

Friedman would be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain? With whose money? Or maybe the US government should just print some more, thereby adding to the national debt, which now exceeds $17.5 trillion.

And after subsidizing Ukraine through the pain, maybe Friedman would also care to throw cash at Europe, which is only now beginning to emerge from a prolonged recession. Unfortunately, the problem does not only involve Russian natural gas. Regarding European dependence on Russian energy sources, the EU tells us (http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Energy_production_and_imports):

"The origin of EU-27 energy imports has changed somewhat in recent years, as Russia has maintained its position as the main supplier of crude oil and natural gas and emerged as the leading supplier of hard coal. In 2010, some 34.5% of the EU-27’s imports of crude oil were from Russia; this was the highest share recorded between 2002 and 2010 having fallen to a temporary low of 31.4% in 2008. Russia became the principal supplier of hard coal in 2006, overtaking South Africa, having overtaken Australia in 2004 and Colombia in 2002; Russia’s share of EU-27 hard coal imports rose from 13.1% in 2002 to 30.2% by 2009, before falling somewhat in 2010 to 27.1%. Despite this contraction, Russia remained the primary source of hard coal imports into the EU in 2010 and its share was well ahead of the next highest, recorded by Colombia (20.2%). By contrast, Russia’s share of EU-27 imports of natural gas declined from 45.1% to 31.8% between 2003 and 2010, while Qatar’s share rose from less than 1% to 8.6%."

Sever the EU overnight from Russian energy sources? It's not nearly as simple as would-be alternative energy expert Friedman would have you believe, unless the EU can rely upon Tom's endless supply of wind.

Maureen Dowd, "A Wit for All Seasons": Welcome to a World of Superficiality in Which Jesters Are Kings

Stephen Colbert has been tapped by CBS to replace David Letterman as host of the "Late Show," and his selection appears acceptable to both right and left. In a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "America’s heartland has nothing to fear from Stephen Colbert" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/kathleen-parker-americas-heartland-shouldnt-fear-stephen-colbert/2014/04/11/1f70ab98-c1ad-11e3-b574-f8748871856a_story.html), Kathleen Parker writes of her appearance on "The Colbert Report":

"To put it plainly, the fellow who will be sitting in the 'Late Show' chair is nothing like the character on the 'Repor(t),' which is both a delightful and grievous prospect. Many will mourn the exit of Comedy Central’s Colbert, but millions more will celebrate his new role. Having met the real-life Colbert, the lad who grew up in Charleston, S.C., I’m confident viewers will find him every bit the Everyman as was all-time favorite Johnny Carson.

The one time I appeared on 'The Colbert Report,' Colbert met me in the green room beforehand and, speaking as the polite Southerner he is, said, 'Now, I’m going to be in character onstage, so don’t let me put words in your mouth.' You can’t say I wasn’t warned."

Parker's conclusion:

"The notion that a fake persona’s comedy routine is a threat to the American heartland bears a striking resemblance to the sort of literal-mindedness that leads to inquisitions and the Taliban. If you can’t take a joke, you could always change the channel. But you’ll miss all the fun."

Meanwhile, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "A Wit for All Seasons" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/opinion/sunday/a-wit-for-all-seasons.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss), Maureen Dowd also describes her appearance on "The Colbert Report":

"I DON’T remember much about being on Stephen Colbert’s show.

It all passed in a blur of fear.

I remember him coming into the makeup room to remind me that he was going to be in character as a jerk.

I remember that he held up my book about gender and asked if it was 'soft-core porn.'

I remember he asked me if I wanted to hold his Peabody and I told him I did, so he jumped up to grab the TV award from the mantel."

Dowd goes on to say:

"Carson was the Walter Lippmann of comedy, wielding enormous influence over the reputations of politicians he mocked. Stewart and Colbert took it a step further. They became Murrow and Cronkite for a generation of young viewers."

Stewart and Colbert have become today's Murrow and Cronkite? Perhaps Dowd is correct. Today, public opinion and politics are being shaped by one-liners instead of serious analysis.

But why should we be surprised? Could it be that the brains of many youngsters are not accessible to anything beyond superficial comedy routines?

In a Washington Post article entitled "Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/serious-reading-takes-a-hit-from-online-scanning-and-skimming-researchers-say/2014/04/06/088028d2-b5d2-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html?hpid=z4), Michael S. Rosenwald writes:

"Humans, [cognitive neuroscientists] warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.

'I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,' said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of 'Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.'

If the rise of nonstop cable TV news gave the world a culture of sound bites, the Internet, Wolf said, is bringing about an eye byte culture. Time spent online — on desktop and mobile devices — was expected to top five hours per day in 2013 for U.S. adults, according to eMarketer, which tracks digital behavior. That’s up from three hours in 2010."

Books? Analysis demanding prolonged thought? All a thing of the past.

Welcome to a world of superficiality in which jesters are kings.

New York Times Editorial, "Inching Forward With Iran": Rouhani Bitch Slaps President Obama

"To open handedley slap someone. Denote disrespect for the person being bitch slapped as they are not worthy of a man sized punch. Suggests the slap was met with little resistance and much whining."

- Definition of "bitch slap," Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Bitch+Slap)


In recent days, Obama's homespun foreign policy has met with disaster:

Now, if all that wasn't enough, Hassan Rouhani, the so-called "moderate" president of Iran, who has been busy executing homosexuals and poets at an ever quickening pace (see: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/04/10/iran-steps-up-pace-executions-as-it-courts-west/), has sought to appoint Hamid Aboutalebi as Iran's ambassador to the UN. Aboutalebi was a member of a student group which held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. But whereas the Obama administration appeared ready to quietly swallow this insulting appointment, on Monday the US Senate unanimously passed a bill, backed by Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer, barring Aboutalebi from entering the US. And although it is unclear whether Obama will sign the bill into law, on Friday the Obama administration announced that it would not provide Aboutalebi with a visa.

Today, in an editorial entitled "Inching Forward With Iran" (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/12/opinion/inching-forward-with-iran.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0), The New York Times seeks to downplay the denial of Aboutalebi's visa and encourage Iran and the US to continue to seek an agreement limiting Iran's nuclear weapons development program. The Times writes:

"There is no doubt that the negotiations between the major powers and Iran over its nuclear program have been productive. All the nations involved — the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany, Iran, even Russia — appear committed to reaching a deal that will go beyond November’s interim agreement and produce a permanent one. The chief negotiators completed a third round of talks in Vienna on Wednesday and plan to meet again on May 13, after which they expect to begin drafting actual text. They hope to wrap it all up by July 20."

No doubt that the negotiations have been productive? Oh really? As reported in a January 23 CNN article entitled "Iranian official on nuke deal: 'We did not agree to dismantle anything'" (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/22/politics/iran-us-nuclear/) by Tom Cohen:

"Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif insisted Wednesday that the Obama administration mischaracterizes concessions by his side in the six-month nuclear deal with Iran, telling CNN in an exclusive interview that 'we did not agree to dismantle anything.'

Zarif told CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto that terminology used by the White House to describe the agreement differed from the text agreed to by Iran and the other countries in the talks -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.

'The White House version both underplays the concessions and overplays Iranian commitments' under the agreement that took effect Monday, Zarif said in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum."

Does that sound productive to you? No way. Wrap up an agreement by July 20? John Kerry and Catherine Ashton are dreaming. Remarkably, even the Times editorial acknowledges the implacable fervent opposition of Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei to any such arrangement:

"In a final deal, the powers want Iran to permanently pare back its nuclear activities so that it will not be able to quickly produce a nuclear bomb. That would mean reducing its centrifuges and curbing operations at facilities that are designed to produce nuclear fuel. In return, there would be substantially more sanctions relief for Iran’s battered economy. Despite the obvious benefits, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sounded pretty implacable on Wednesday when he said, 'We will not cede any of our gains in nuclear research and development.'"

And today we are being told by The Times of Israel (http://www.timesofisrael.com/iran-exceeds-interim-deals-oil-export-limits/):

"Iran is exporting much more crude oil than the one million barrels per day to which it agreed as part of an interim deal with Western nations over its nuclear program, the International Energy Agency says, with the Islamic Republic’s actual exports far exceeding that limit."

The negotiations between the major powers and Iran over its nuclear program have been productive? They certainly have been productive for Iran.

The Times editorial continues:

"Meanwhile, hard-line forces on both sides have been working to undermine any deal. Israel and some members of Congress are insisting that Iran must abandon all nuclear enrichment activities, even for nonweapons purposes. That would be ideal, but it is unrealistic, and insisting on it would scuttle any chance of an agreement. The hard-liners know that, which puts them in the curious position of making a huge political fuss about Iran’s nuclear program while blocking any realistic diplomatic solution. This could cause problems for President Obama as he tries to push talks forward."

Of course, according to the Times, an intransigent Israel is responsible for seeking an end to Iran's nuclear enrichment activities, which could possibly also be used for nonweapons purposes. No mention, of course, of Saudi opposition to Iran's nuclear aspiration. Such enrichment might be used by Iran for nonweapons purposes? How reassuring!

The Times editorial concludes, in conciliatory fashion, regarding the denial of Aboutalebi's visa:

"As the host for the United Nations, the United States is supposed to admit whomever a country designates as its ambassador, barring a direct national security threat. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Iranian president, were all allowed to visit. Still, the appointment was a real misstep by President Hassan Rouhani. It’s hard to believe he does not know how acutely the embassy takeover affected Americans and did not realize that he was handing hard-liners a new issue. But none of this should divert the two sides from pushing hard to secure a final nuclear deal.

If the major powers and Iran can do that, they will create an opportunity for dealing with other important challenges, including Afghanistan, drug trafficking, Syria and Iran’s support for extremist groups. The consequences of failure are equally enormous."

Yes, Rouhani was trying to bitch slap President Obama, but the US Senate wouldn't let him get away with it. Continue to allow a delusional Kerry and a moronic Ashton to play at negotiating a deal to end Iran's nuclear weapons program and terminate Iranian support of terror organizations? Play as they might, Supreme Leader Khamenei has no intention whatsoever of acceding to their fanciful wishes.