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Thursday, October 30, 2014

David Brooks, "Our Machine Masters": Getting His Underpants in a Knot Over A.I.

There are so many scary things to worry about in this world, e.g., Ebola, ISIS and the abnegation of leadership in Washington. So what worries David Brooks? Artificial intelligence, of course. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Our Machine Masters," Brooks suggests two competing future A.I. scenarios:

"In the humanistic one, machines liberate us from mental drudgery so we can focus on higher and happier things. In this future, differences in innate I.Q. are less important. Everybody has Google on their phones so having a great memory or the ability to calculate with big numbers doesn’t help as much."

or

"In the cold, utilitarian future, on the other hand, people become less idiosyncratic. If the choice architecture behind many decisions is based on big data from vast crowds, everybody follows the prompts and chooses to be like each other. The machine prompts us to consume what is popular, the things that are easy and mentally undemanding."

The reality, as noted by Brooks, is that A.I. has already been with us for quite some time: computerized chess software, the selection of music compatible to individual taste, and automatic pilot devices intended to guide airplanes through the sky.

Can A.I. ultimately guide human beings through their lives? I suppose that would depend upon whether someone is capable of turning off her/his own automatic pilot system and switching to manual control during times of crisis or otherwise.

Like it or not, we have all been programmed by a set of childhood experiences, many of them destructive.

Another example of A.I. currently affecting our lives? High-frequency trading. Imagine, however, competing trading systems, all "motivated" by greed, which can set in motion panic, upon which they can feed. When economies fail as a consequence, will another machine be asked to clean up the mess, or will human beings be forced to intervene and create new rules governing the use of such systems?

I still see a place for human leadership, or guidance, if you will. Unless the president decides that he is too busy playing golf and traveling to California to be told by Gwyneth Paltrow that "You’re so handsome that I can’t speak properly."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "ISIS and Vietnam": When Did Vietnam Ever Call for Lone Wolf Attacks in the US?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "ISIS and Vietnam," Thomas Friedman asks:

"Is jihadism to Sunni nationalism what communism was to Vietnamese nationalism: a fearsome ideological movement that triggers emotional reactions in the West — deliberately reinforced with videotaped beheadings — but that masks a deeper underlying nationalist movement that is to some degree legitimate and popular in its context?"

Compare the Sunni nationalism that motivates ISIS with Vietnamese nationalism? I don't think so.

As reported earlier this month by NBC News in an article entitled "Feds Warn of ISIS-Inspired Threat Against Police, Reporters in US":

"According to a Joint Intelligence bulletin from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent to U.S. law enforcement officials, an ISIS spokesman recorded an audio message that urged lone offenders in Western countries to attack 'soldiers, patrons, and troops … their police, security and intelligence members.' Attackers did not need to 'ask for anyone’s advice' prior to striking, said the message, because such actions are legitimate."

Question for Tom: Did North Vietnam ever call for such attacks within the United States?

Friedman goes on to observe:

"The challenge the U.S. faces in Iraq is trying to defeat ISIS in tacit alliance with Syria and Iran, whose local Shiite allies are doing a lot of the fighting in Iraq and Syria."

Indeed, the behavior of Assad, Khamenei and Nasrallah is no less abominable than that of ISIS. These men are also not friends of the US, notwithstanding the fact that US Secretary of State John Kerry once referred to Assad as "my dear friend." Moreover, Obama's persistent efforts to reach out to Khamenei are frightening. However, this has no bearing on the serious threat posed by ISIS to the US, unless of course you choose to ignore the message of the ISIS spokesman in the audio message.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Paul Krugman, "Ideology and Investment": Building an Unsustainable Debt for the Future?

"The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents - #43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back -- $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That's irresponsible. It's unpatriotic."

- Barack Obama, July 3, 2008


Do you remember Obama telling us that taking the national debt up to $9 trillion was "irresponsible" and "unpatriotic"? Well, today it is $17.9 trillion and rising by the second.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Ideology and Investment," Paul Krugman rehashes all of his arguments for renewed federal spending. Krugman writes:

"America used to be a country that built for the future.

. . . .

Our inability to invest doesn’t reflect something wrong with 'Washington'; it reflects the destructive ideology that has taken over the Republican Party.

. . . .

We need public investment; at a time of very low interest rates, we could easily afford it. But build we won’t."

Darned Republicans! (That noise you just heard? Sorry, that was me, yawning.)

Krugman takes pains not to tell us what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had to say about federal debt in July 2014:

"The gap between federal spending and revenues would widen after 2015 under the assumptions of the extended baseline, CBO projects. By 2039, the deficit would equal 6½ percent of GDP, larger than in any year between 1947 and 2008, and federal debt held by the public would reach 106 percent of GDP, more than in any year except 1946—even without factoring in the economic effects of growing debt.

. . . .

Beyond the next 25 years, the pressures caused by rising budget deficits and debt would become even greater unless laws governing taxes and spending were changed. With deficits as big as the ones that CBO projects, federal debt would be growing faster than GDP, a path that would ultimately be unsustainable."

Or in short, America is indeed building for the the future: An unsustainable debt, which, in another 25 years, will sink the ship. Currently, "the federal government can borrow incredibly cheaply"? Absolutely. But you're not supposed to borrow what you can never pay back.

Fortunately for Krugman, in another 25 years he will probably be too old to remember writing this rubbish.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "The Last Train": More of the Same Rubbish

More of the same rubbish from would-be Middle East expert Thomas Friedman. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Last Train," Friedman writes:

"Also, the longer this status quo goes on, the more the juggernaut of Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank goes on, fostering more Israeli delegitimization on the world stage. Right after the Gaza war, in which the United States basically defended Israel, Israel announced the seizure of nearly 1,000 more acres of West Bank land for settlements near Bethlehem. 'No worries,' Israeli officials said, explaining that this is land that Israel would keep in any two-state deal."

Apparently unbeknownst to Friedman, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has acknowledged that Israeli settlements have been built on only some 1.1% of the West Bank. That's a "juggernaut"?

"[N]early 1,000 more acres of West Bank land" will be used by Israel for housing, which, pursuant to any two-state deal, will remain with Israel? This would probably sound a lot less impressive if Friedman were to admit that 1,000 acres amount to 1.5 square miles.

At least Friedman has the decency to acknowledge in his op-ed:

"Diplomatically, President Obama on March 17 personally, face-to-face, offered compromise ideas on key sticking points in the Kerry framework to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and asked him point blank if he would accept them. Obama is still waiting for an answer."

Obama will almost certainly be waiting until the end of his second term in office.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

David Brooks, "The Working Nation": Nothing Simpler Than Solving Unemployment?

I bet you never knew how easy it is to solve unemployment.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Working Nation," David Brooks tells us how bad unemployment in the United States has become:

"The labor force participation rate is at its lowest in decades. Millions are in part-time or low-wage jobs that don’t come close to fulfilling their capacities. Millions more are in dysfunctional or unhealthy workplaces, but they don’t feel they can leave because they don’t think there are other jobs out there that pay the same amount."

Brooks also trots out the "same old, same old" solutions. He tells us that the government should:

  • "borrow money at current interest rates to build infrastructure;"
  • "reduce its generosity to people who are not working but increase its support for people who are;"
  • increase "wage subsidies,"
  • issue "relocation subsidies;"
  • undertake "tax reform;"
  • bring "the world’s most gifted and driven people to move to our shores;"
  • "double-down" on education.

And all that's needed:

"It just takes a relentless focus on job creation, bold political leadership and a country willing to be shaken out of its fear."

The flies in the ointment? First, a president who was never capable of "bold political leadership" and can't wait for Hillary to replace him.

And then there's also that small matter of a $17.9 trillion national debt, which just doesn't stop growing. You see, it's hard to "double-down" on anything when you've out of chips.

Canadian Gunman: Shh! Don't Let Anyone Know He Was a Muslim!

The current lead story on the homepage of The New York Times:

Gunman Panics Ottawa, Killing Soldier in Spree at Capital

By IAN AUSTEN and RICK GLADSTONE

Shots fired inside the Parliament building, before the assailant was killed, stoked fears across Canada, a nation already on alert for terrorism

What faith did the killer profess? You know as well as I do, but let's ignore the fact. After all, Islam is a religion of love and peace. Yeah, right.

Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post in an editorial entitled "Military success has bred popular support for the Islamic State," we are being told:

"The Obama administration has recognized the danger of the Islamic State’s appeal and has pushed for political steps to combat it, such as public statements by clerical authorities. Ultimately, however, the group’s pull will likely be governed by the maxim once formulated by Osama bin Laden: 'When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.' Islamic extremism won’t be defeated by military might alone. But to many in the Islamic world, the Islamic State now looks strong. The only way to reverse its influence is through its military defeat, sooner rather than later."

The WaPo editorial, however, ignores how the Assad regime is stepping up assaults on areas in Syria controlled by so-called "moderate" rebels, while the US and its allies are launching air strikes on ISIS. Of course, Assad is allied with Iran.

The WaPo editorial also ignores the deal Obama is attempting to strike with Khamenei regarding Iran's nuclear weapons development program without Congressional approval.

Question: If the Sunni Islamic State is "degraded" (Obama's choice of words), what about a radical Iran, whose strength is growing by leaps and bounds across the Arabian Peninsula?

ISIS is not the only threat facing the West.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Obama Seeks to Lift Sanctions on Iran Without Congressional Approval: You Didn't See This Coming?

As reported by David Sanger in a New York Times article entitled "Obama Sees an Iran Deal That Could Avoid Congress";

"No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it."

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Did anyone not see this coming?

Yet, notwithstanding the "red line" he fixed regarding use of chemical weapons against civilians by Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad, Obama chose to avoid having to take action against Assad by turning to Congress for approval.

Yes, I think I am going to be ill.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Frank Bruni, "The Virus of Cynicism": Or the Cancer of Hopelessness?

Should Americans be more afraid of the Ebola virus or the incompetence of the Obama administration?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Virus of Cynicism," Frank Bruni observes:

"Ebola is his presidency in a petri dish. It’s an example already of his tendency to talk too loosely at the outset of things, so that his words come back to haunt him. There was the doctor you could keep under his health plan until, well, you couldn’t. There was the red line for Syria that he didn’t have to draw and later erased."

But is current unhappiness in the US only about cynicism, incompetence and a lack of confidence?

I remember how, when I was 15 and wandering the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco, I watched on a storefront television as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Where has America traveled since then?

US national debt is fast approaching $18 trillion, but where are the achievements that can be attributed to this spending? In fact, hope and pride have flown the coop, and have been replaced by greed and narcissism.

Shh! Don't tell the Chinese! Who knows what will happen if they demand back their $1.3 trillion from the American government . . .

Thursday, October 16, 2014

David Brooks, "The Case for Low Ideals": In Praise of "Low Idealism"

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Case for Low Ideals," David Brooks tells us that he is not about to make the case for "high idealism," as exemplified by Obama's 2008 election campaign, "based in the idea of a heroic savior (remember those 'Hope' posters)." Rather, Brooks is "here to make the case for low idealism." David writes:

"The low idealist is more romantic about the past than about the future. Though governing is hard, there are some miracles of human creation that have been handed down to us. These include, first and foremost, the American Constitution, but also the institutions that function pretty well, like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve. Her first job is to work with existing materials, magnify what’s best and incrementally reform what is worst."

Ah yes, the American Constitution and lest we forget, the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights (as opposed to today's Bill of Clinton). Who would believe that the United States is well on its way to abandoning the principle that "all men are created equal," and in its stead, new "royal" families are fast emerging, e.g., the House of Bush and the House of Clinton. Yes, the United States has gone full circle.

"Magnify what’s best and incrementally reform what is worst"? A noble aspiration, and certainly preferable to messianism. But abandon the high ideals that were responsible for the Constitution? Never. Without high ideals, as opposed to the messianism and personality worship fostered by the likes of Anita Dunn and David Axelrod, life would not be worth living.

Glorify "low ideals"? Sorry, but I'm not in the market. Liberty to dream of and live by high ideals or death!

New York Times Editorial, "A British Message to Israel ":

In an editorial entitled "A British Message to Israel," The New York Times declares:

"Israel and the United States have dismissed Monday’s vote in the House of Commons in Britain that endorsed diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state as a symbolic gesture that won’t change British policy.

. . . .

Israel and its allies should not ignore the message. The vote is one more sign of the frustration many people in Europe feel about the failure to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement despite years of promises."

The Times doesn't bother to consider that it is difficult to reach a peace agreement with Hamas, whose charter calls for the murder of all Jews and rejects negotiation with Israel. It is also difficult to reach a peace agreement with Fatah, whose chairman, Abbas, demands that Palestine be free of "Israelis", but refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel should listen to Europe's message? This is the same Europe that did nothing some 70 years ago when Hitler murdered some six million Jews, i.e. two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population.

More specifically, Israel should not ignore Monday's vote in the House of Commons? Oh really? Consider, how following an investigation by Britain's Crown Prosecution Service of an August speech by MP George Galloway, declaring his district, Bradford, an "Israel Free Zone," the CPS last night concluded:

"Given the context and setting in which the speech was made, including its overall content and the audience discussion which followed, we have determined that the speech did not indicate a desire to encourage others to hate a racial group.

“There is also insufficient evidence to show, in all the circumstances of this case, that it was likely that people would have been motivated to hate people of Israeli origin as a result."

Galloway's use of "Israel Free Zone" had no connection to the Nazi term "Judenfrei"? Fascinating.

What about anti-Semitism in the UK? In July 2014, it was at record levels. In August, a London branch of the Sainsbury supermarket chain removed all kosher food from its shelves for fear that the store would be attacked.

Consider also how in August of this year, as reported by Reuters in an article entitled "UK says to suspend some Israel arms exports if Gaza truce fails":

"Britain said on Tuesday it would suspend 12 licences to export military items to Israel, including tank, aircraft and radar parts, if hostilities with Hamas in Gaza resumed, citing concerns the exports may be used to breach international laws.

Britain said last week it was reviewing all arms export licences to Israel after fierce fighting which has resulted in heavy civilian casualties in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

That review concluded on Tuesday that 12 licences would be temporarily suspended pending further investigation if the current truce breaks down and heavy fighting resumes."

Of course, the UK didn't care that Hamas was responsible for repeatedly violating the ceasefires. Thousands of rockets fired at Israeli population centers? Also of no consequence.

The reality is that anti-Semitism has never lost its hold over Europe, and for Israel to do Europe's bidding is no less than a call for Jewish suicide.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "A Pump War?": Not Really

In a New York Times op-ed entitled "A Pump War?," Thomas Friedman writes:

"Is it just my imagination or is there a global oil war underway pitting the United States and Saudi Arabia on one side against Russia and Iran on the other?

. . . .

Think about this: four oil producers — Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria — are in turmoil today, and Iran is hobbled by sanctions. Ten years ago, such news would have sent oil prices soaring. But today, the opposite is happening. Global crude oil prices have been falling for weeks, now resting around $88 — after a long stretch at $105 to $110 a barrel."

So, oil prices are down by some 18 percent. Great, but Iranian oil exports are also growing significantly this year.

As reported in a June 12, 2014 Bloomberg article entitled "Growing Iran Oil Exports Challenge U.S. Nuclear Sanctions" by Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Anthony DiPaola:

"Iran’s oil exports have risen this year, according to Bloomberg calculations, a trend that threatens to violate U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s main source of revenue.

Shipments of Iranian crude oil and condensate have increased about 28 percent on average this year, according to an analysis of customs data from importing nations and figures from the International Energy Agency in Paris. If crude sales are up by the end of July, that would break an international accord to hold Iran’s oil exports at the same level in the first half of this year that they were at in the previous six months."

See also what Clifford Krauss writes in an August 12, 2014 New York Times article entitled "With Natural Gas Byproduct, Iran Sidesteps Sanctions":

"Iran is finding a way around Western sanctions to export increasing amounts of an ultralight oil to China and other Asian markets, expanding the value of its trade by potentially billions of dollars a year.

The exports come during a slight thaw in Iran’s relations with the West as negotiations over its nuclear program continue, and energy experts say it is counting on the United States and Europe to tolerate an increasing export stream.

According to Iranian customs data, the country in recent months has exported 525,000 barrels a day of the ultralight oil, known as condensates, over two times more than it did a year ago. In the last three months, the sales have generated as much as $1.5 billion in extra trade — a rate of about $6 billion a year — based on Iranian trade figures and market prices, analysts said."

Iran is being "hobbled by sanctions" on its oil exports? No, not after Obama, in search of a deal to slow Iran's nuclear weapons development program, sought to appease Khamenei by easing trade sanctions pursuant to the November 2013 Geneva interim agreement.

Meanwhile, as reported today in a Times of Israel article entitled "Israel fumes at ‘post-sanctions’ Iran conference in London" by Raphael Ahren:

"An international conference to promote business ties between Europe and Iran is set to begin Wednesday in London, arousing the ire of local pro-Israel groups and senior government officials in Jerusalem.

The '1st Europe-Iran forum' seeks to prepare the ground for 'post-sanctions investment and trade,' according to its official website. Speakers at the conference, which has been endorsed by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, include former foreign ministers from the United Kingdom and France, one British MP, and a senior official currently serving in the British Foreign Office."

A "global oil war" is underway against Iran? Apparently, the UK and France also don't know anything about it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

David Brooks, "The Sorting Election": I Don't Understand

Have a look today at the homepage of the The New York Times. The siege of Kobani by ISIS? This news item has been supplanted by panic over the Ebola virus, which has once again caught the Obama administration with its pants down.

Send Secretary of State John Kerry to Africa to discuss the spread of Ebola? Not a chance. Instead, Kerry was at a donors' conference for Gaza on Sunday to pledge more than $400 million in US aid for its reconstruction. Who cares if Gaza's infrastructure has been destroyed three times in the past six years? Who cares if the Hamas charter still calls for the murder of all Jews and rejects negotiation with Israel? Let's throw more American money at Hamas. No need for Hamas to change.

Which is not to say that Kerry is unaware of Kobani. On Monday, Kerry declared that Kobani is just "one community."

Obama in the midst of all these crises? Raising funds at the home of Gwyneth Paltrow and being told how handsome he is. Music to this narcissist's ears.

Which brings me to David Brooks's latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Sorting Election." All about Kobani or Ebola? No way! Instead, Brooks concludes:

"People in San Francisco and Houston are achieving success while pursuing different economic models. It probably doesn’t make much sense to govern them intrusively from Washington as if they were engaged in the same project."

Huh?

Maybe it's old age creeping up on me, but I don't pretend to understand.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "I.S. = Invasive Species ": What About Halabja and Hama?

Would-be Middle East expert Thomas Friedman has a penchant for word games. Do you remember his less than memorable New York Times opinion piece entitled "ISIS and SISI"? Perhaps not. In any event, Friedman is back with another humdinger of a title for his latest Times op-ed, "I.S. = Invasive Species," in which Tom claims that "ISIS operates just like an 'invasive species' in the world of plants and animals." Friedman writes:

"Today, ISIS — the foreigners and locals together — is putting pressure on all of Iraq’s and Syria’s native species with the avowed goal of reducing the diversity of these once polycultural societies and turning them into bleak, dark, jihadist, Sunni fundamentalist monocultures."

Ah yes, the good old days in Iraq and Syria, when tolerance permeated their respective ecosystems!

But heck, didn't Saddam Hussein murder 50,000 Kurds during the genocidal al-Anfal Campaign from 1986 to 1989? Surely you remember how some 5,000 Kurds died in the 1988 poison gas on the Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988.

Moreover, tens of thousands of Kurdish and Shiite civilians died when Saddam Hussein brutally suppressed the 1991 uprisings in northern and southern Iraq.

Syria? In 1982, Hafez al-Assad, father of Bashar al-Assad, put down a rebellion of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Hama, killing somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 innocent people.

The violence of ISIS is foreign to the "polycultural societies" of Iraq and Syria? Cut the bullshit, Tom! Violence is endemic to the Muslim Middle East.

Washington Post Editorial, "U.S. is complicit as it blames Turkey for the catastrophe in Kobane": Remember Kobani!

As the Islamic State brings up reinforcements and the fate of the Kurdish city of Kobani hangs in the balance, where are President Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry?

Two days ago, Obama attended a Democratic fundraiser in Hollywood. As reported in a TMZ article entitled "Gwyneth Paltrow Celebrity Event Sullies Presidency":

"The idiocy of Hollywood was in full bloom Thursday night when Gwyneth Paltrow turned an already-embarrassing Hollywood fundraiser into 'The Dating Game.'

Paltrow -- who hosted the event at her Brentwood home -- gushed as she introduced President Obama, 'You're so handsome that I can't speak properly.'

She then showed utter ignorance about, and contempt for, the Constitution and separation of powers -- the basic tenets of our government -- by saying, 'It would be wonderful if we were able to give this man all of the power that he needs to pass the things that he needs to pass.'"

And Kerry? He is jetting off tonight to an equally embarrassing fundraiser for Gaza in Cairo.

Is anyone paying attention to the antics of Obama and Kerry? Apparently, The Washington Post is awakening from its slumber. In a blistering editorial entitled "U.S. is complicit as it blames Turkey for the catastrophe in Kobane," WaPo hammers the Obama administration for effectively aiding Syria's monstrous Assad regime while worsening "conditions for his victims in towns held by moderate rebels who, in theory, enjoy U.S. backing." Lambasting Obama's "strategy" (Does he have one?) as "incoherent as well as morally questionable," the editorial says of an emerging catastrophe in Kobani:

"But the White House seems as uninterested as ever in truly helping the moderates. Easier just to blame the Turks."

Remember the Alamo? Perhaps on November 4, American voters will remember Kobani.

New York Times Editorial, "Having to Rebuild Gaza, Again": The US State Department Again Has Its Facts Wrong

Remarkably, in an editorial entitled "Having to Rebuild Gaza, Again," The New York Times avoids remonstrating against Israel. Questioning the wisdom of providing billions of dollars to rebuild Gaza "just so it can be destroyed in the next war," the Times observes with regard to a donor conference to be held in Cairo on Sunday:

"Israel has a right to insist that Gaza not be used as a launchpad for attacks against Israelis.

. . . .

The only long-term answer to a destructive militant group like Hamas is to empower moderates and give Palestinians hope of a constructive future that could, in time, include a comprehensive peace settlement leading to an independent state."

However, the editorial also mistakenly states:

"Since 2007, when Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt have enforced a draconian blockade that restricts the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza. While the goal is to squeeze Hamas, innocent people have paid a much bigger price."

A "draconian blockade"? In fact, prior to Sisi becoming president of Egypt in 2014, anything and everything, including new cars and long-range missiles, flowed through the hundreds of tunnels leading into southern Gaza. Shipments of cement and steel into Gaza from Israel were of course diverted into the construction of an attack tunnel system intended to be used to infiltrate Israeli border communities.

Who will be representing the United States at the Cairo donor conference? None other than Secretary of State John Kerry, who demanded that Israel accept Turkish and Qatari mediation during the recent Gaza conflict. (Kerry is obviously not concerned if Kurdish-held Kobani falls to the Islamic State during the course of his trip.) In a Voice of America article entitled "Kerry to Cairo for Talks With Abbas on Gaza Reconstruction," Scott Stearns writes:

"Senior State Department officials traveling with Secretary Kerry say the priority here is to address the immediate needs of the people of Gaza, where fighting destroyed the only power plant."

However, as reported by Middle East Monitor in a September 14 article entitled "Gaza's only power plant ready to work pending fuel supply":

"The only power plant in Gaza is now ready to work pending the delivery of fuel supply needed to operate it, CEO of Gaza Electricity Company Walid Sayel said in a press conference Saturday."

Kerry's State Department again has its facts wrong? What a surprise! I have asked the Voice of America for a correction. Let's see if they bother answering.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Charles Krauthammer, "Bombing for show? Or for effect?": And What About the War on Ebola?

In his latest Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Bombing for show? Or for effect?," Charles Krauthammer explains that American attacks on Islamic State forces in Syria are ineffectual:

"So what have we done to relieve Kobane? About 20 airstrikes in a little more than 10 days, says Centcom.

That’s barely two a day. On the day after the Islamic State entered Kobane, we launched five airstrikes. Result? We hit three vehicles, one artillery piece and one military “unit.” And damaged a tank. This, against perhaps 9,000 heavily armed Islamic State fighters. If this were not so tragic, it would be farcical."

Farcical? Indeed, but perhaps enough to convince the American electorate prior to the midterm elections that Obama is not a milksop.

Krauthammer's conclusion:

"The indecisiveness and ambivalence so devastatingly described by both of Obama’s previous secretaries of defense, Leon Panetta and Bob Gates, are already beginning to characterize the Syria campaign.

The Iraqis can see it. The Kurds can feel it. The jihadists are counting on it."

Krauthammer is correct, and Kobani cannot hold out much longer. One month ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC News Today:

"No. Look, we’re engaged in a counterterrorism operation of a significant order, and counterterrorism operations can take a long time, they go on. I think 'war' is the wrong reference term with respect to that, but obviously it involves kinetic military action."

A few days later, Kerry corrected himself and stated that the US is indeed at war with the Islamic State. However, it now turns out that the US is not even engaged in a "counterterrorism operation of a significant order." This is a phony military engagement, if ever there was one.

Krauthammer, however, fails to note that there is another war that Obama has faced with "indecisiveness and ambivalence": the war on Ebola.

The Ebola virus, which is spreading at a frightening rate, could ultimately prove far more deadly than the Islamic State, yet the Obama administration has responded to this threat with extreme laxity.

Obama would have Americans believe that the midterm elections are all about his policies:

"I’m not on the ballot this fall. Michelle’s pretty happy about that. These policies are on the ballot, every single one of them."

Well, let's see what Americans have to say about that.

Fareed Zakaria, "Let’s be honest, Islam has a problem right now": Wait a Few Centuries and Islam Will Come to Its Senses?

Commenting on Bill Maher’s recent HBO television show during which Maher, Sam Harris and Ben Affleck debated the "merits" of Islam, Fareed Zakaria, in his latest Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Let’s be honest, Islam has a problem right now," acknowledges that "There is a cancer of extremism within Islam today." However, Zakaria would also have us know that in the past, Islam demonstrated tolerance. Zakaria writes:

"Harris should read Zachary Karabell’s book 'Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation.' What he would discover is that there have been wars but also many centuries of peace. Islam has at times been at the cutting edge of modernity, but like today, it has also been the great laggard. As Karabell explained to me, 'If you exclude the last 70 years or so, in general the Islamic world was more tolerant of minorities than the Christian world. That’s why there were more than a million Jews living in the Arab world until the early 1950s — nearly 200,000 in Iraq alone.'"

Islamic tolerance of minorities? Zakaria fails to explain why those "million Jews living in the Arab world until the early 1950s" fled to Israel with only the clothes on their backs, leaving behind their homes and businesses. Upon the establishment of Israel in 1948, American Jews, living in a tolerant society, did not do the same.

Zakaria also alludes to the tolerance of Muslim Indonesia:

"I know the arguments against speaking of Islam as violent and reactionary. It has a following of 1.6 billion people. Places such as Indonesia and India have hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t fit these caricatures.

. . . .

A small minority of Muslims celebrates violence and intolerance and harbors deeply reactionary attitudes toward women and minorities."

Indonesia is Islam's poster child? By all means, let's have a quick look at the tolerance of Muslim Indonesians. According to the Pew Research Center:

  • 72 percent of Indonesian Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land.
  • 48 percent of Indonesians who say sharia should be the law of the land, favor stoning as a punishment for adultery.
  • 95 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that homosexuality is immoral.
  • 93 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that a woman should always obey her husband.
  • 32 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that a woman should be able to divorce her husband.
  • 65 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that converting others is a religious duty.

This is Muslim tolerance? If so, it kind of makes you want to shudder.

Zakaria would also have us believe that Muslim extremism is a passing phenomenon:

"If there were periods when the Islamic world was open, modern, tolerant and peaceful, this suggests that the problem is not in the religion’s essence and that things can change once more.

. . . .

That is not how Christianity moved from its centuries-long embrace of violence, crusades, inquisitions, witch-burning and intolerance to its modern state. On the contrary, intellectuals and theologians celebrated the elements of the religion that were tolerant, liberal and modern, and emphasized them, while giving devout Christians reasons to take pride in their faith. A similar approach — reform coupled with respect — will work with Islam over time."

Or in other words, be patient with Islam and choose gentle words. In a few more centuries, Islam could again come to its senses.

Yeah, right.

Paul Krugman, "Secret Deficit Lovers": Krugman Tries to Pull a Fast One

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Secret Deficit Lovers," Paul Krugman tells us:

"[T]he Congressional Budget Office has tallied up the totals for fiscal 2014, which ran through the end of September, and reports that the deficit plunge of the past several years continues. You still hear politicians ranting about “trillion dollar deficits,” but last year’s deficit was less than half-a-trillion dollars — or, a more meaningful number, just 2.8 percent of G.D.P. — and it’s still falling.

. . . .

Yes, current projections still show a rising ratio of debt to G.D.P. starting some years from now, and uncomfortable levels of debt a generation from now. But given all the clear and present dangers we face, it’s hard to see why dealing with that distant and uncertain prospect should be any kind of policy priority."

Victory over the deficit? Not so fast. What does Krugman mean when he says that the ratio of debt to G.D.P. will start to rise "some years from now"? How many years? Should we be concerned?

See what Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Washington Post, had to say about America's debt in an October 5 opinion piece entitled "Obama’s false victory over the deficit":

"Now look into the future as seen by the scrupulously nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Federal debt has reached 74 percent of the economy’s annual output (GDP), “a higher percentage than at any point in U.S. history except a brief period around World War II,” the CBO says, “and almost twice the percentage at the end of 2008.” With no change in policy, that percentage will hold steady or decline a bit for a couple of years and then start rising again, to a dangerous 78 percent by 2024 and an insupportable 106 percent by 2039."

So, whereas Krugman is telling us "Live for today!," Hiatt is explaining that "some years from now" means in another decade with catastrophe predicted by the Congressional Budget Office in 2039.

Yes, 2039 is 25 years into the future, and at that time no one will remember what Krugman wrote in 2014. But when the CBO, cited by Krugman, is warning that America's deficit could put an end to America as we currently know it, why is he crowing?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Nicholas Kristof, "The Diversity of Islam": No Mention of "Honor Killings"

Do you remember Nicholas Kristof's June 2012 New York Times opinion piece entitled "Hugs From Iran," which he started by telling us, "My 1,700-mile road trip across Iran began with a giddy paean to America, reinforcing my view that at the grass-roots level, this may be the most pro-American nation in the Middle East." Honor killings in Iran? Not a mention. Stoning to death of women for adultery? Not a mention. Hangings of homosexuals? Not a mention. Horrific persecution of Kurds, Sunnis and Christians? Not a mention. Discrimination against Baha'is? In fact, there is a passing reference:

"'Iranian people are happy with their leaders,' Monad Omidvar, a 38-year-old farm laborer, told me as he played marbles with his friends beside the road near Mashhad. He has a ninth-grade education, and his only source of news is the government media.

When I asked about human rights activists and members of the Bahai faith who are in prison, he shook his head skeptically. 'I don’t think that in our country innocent people go to jail,' he said. 'They must have done something.'"

That's all Kristof has to say about this oppressed minority group, whose leaders remain imprisoned in Teheran's notorious Evin Prison.

Today, on the other hand, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "The Diversity of Islam," Kristof, expanding on comments expressed as a panelist on Bill Maher’s HBO television show which debated the "merits" of Islam, tells us:

"The persecution of Christians, Ahmadis, Yazidis, Bahai — and Shiites — is far too common in the Islamic world. We should speak up about it."

So in 2012, during his trek around Iran, why didn't Kristof do this, and also denounce the oppression of women, homosexuals, Kurds, Sunnis and journalists willing to express their opposition to this monstrous regime?

Kristof goes on to say in today's opinion piece:

"Third, the Islamic world contains multitudes: It is vast and varied. Yes, almost four out of five Afghans favor the death penalty for apostasy, but most Muslims say that that is nuts. In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, only 16 percent of Muslims favor such a penalty."

Wonderful! Only 16 percent of Muslim Indonesians favor the death penalty for apostasy. Indonesia has a population of some 250 million people, which means that only 40 million Muslims in that country support killing those who abandon the faith.

But as long as we're on the topic of Indonesia, why is it that Kristof fails to mention that according to the Pew Research Center:

  • 72 percent of Indonesian Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land.
  • 48 percent of Indonesians who say sharia should be the law of the land, favor stoning as a punishment for adultery.
  • 95 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that homosexuality is immoral.
  • 93 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that a woman should always obey her husband.
  • 32 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that a woman should be able to divorce her husband.
  • 65 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that converting others is a religious duty.

Concerning the rights of women in Muslim countries, Kristof notes that "of the 10 bottom-ranking countries in the World Economic Forum’s report on women’s rights, nine are majority Muslim," but also observes that "historically, Islam was not particularly intolerant, and it initially elevated the status of women." How comforting! Mention by Kristof of the plague of "honor killings" in the Muslim Middle East? None.

And of course, Kristof warns us, "Beware of generalizations about any faith because they sometimes amount to the religious equivalent of racial profiling." He explains:

"The Dalai Lama today is an extraordinary humanitarian, but the fifth Dalai Lama in 1660 ordered children massacred 'like eggs smashed against rocks.'

Christianity encompassed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also the 13th century papal legate who in France ordered the massacre of 20,000 Cathar men, women and children for heresy, reportedly saying: Kill them all; God will know his own."

Such wonderful news! In another couple of centuries, Islam might also come to its senses!

Kristof's conclusion:

"Let’s not feed Islamophobic bigotry by highlighting only the horrors while neglecting the diversity of a religion with 1.6 billion adherents."

Indeed, bigotry should be avoided, yet when according to the Pew Research Center 60 percent of young Muslims in America think of themseves as Muslim first and only 15 percent of American Muslims under age 30 believe that suicide bombings "can be often or sometimes justified in the defense of Islam" (no mention by Kristof of the Boston Marathon bombing), it's time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Kerry Doesn't Care If Kobani Falls

As reported in a New York Times article entitled "ISIS Advances in Syrian Border Town of Kobani Despite Airstrikes" by

"Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that preventing the town’s fall to Islamic State militants was not a strategic objective for the United States.

'As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobani,' Mr. Kerry said at a news conference with the British foreign secretary in Washington, 'you have to step back and understand the strategic objective.' He added that the focus had been on the militants’ 'command and control centers, the infrastructure.'"

Attack the command and control centers of the Islamic State? Sorry, John, but they're a figment of your imagination.

On the other hand, it is well worth the effort to assist the Kurds (who have always been friendly to the US), prevent a massacre of civilians, and stem the panic being spread by marauding ISIS forces.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

David Ignatius, "Obama may be looking to shake-up his White House team": Obama's Policy Decisions on ISIS "Have Mostly Been Well Handled"?

In the wake of devastating criticism from Leon Panetta, Obama's former director of the CIA and secretary of defense, David Ignatius is now informing us in a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Obama may be looking to shake-up his White House team" that change may be coming to the cabinet after the midterm elections. Ignatius, a die-hard Obama cheerleader now possibly being rewarded with a "scoop," writes:

"As Obama considers his roster for the final two years, he can take comfort from the fact that recent policy decisions on combating the Islamic State have mostly been well handled."

Yeah, right.

First, as noted by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler in his "Fact Checker" column, there was Josh Earnest's claim that "President Obama was not singling out the group that now calls itself as Islamic State when, during in an interview with the New Yorker that appeared last January, he appeared to dismiss it as a 'JV squad.'" This earned Earnest the maximum score of Four Pinocchios, i.e. "whoppers," from Kessler. More important, however, is the advice provided to Obama by CIA Director John Brennan prior to this "JV" nonsense. In Brennan's defense, it should be noted that Obama has been absent from some 59 percent of his Presidential Daily Briefs during his second term, as observed by the Government Accountability Institute. Yup, instead of listening to summaries of the world's most pressing problems, Obama has busied himself doing what he likes best: raising funds from wealthy donors and playing golf.

Moreover, let's see how "well handled" Obama's policy decisions on combating ISIS have been if the Syrian city of Kobani falls and 5,000 Kurds are slaughtered.

So who might be facing the ax? Ignatius observes:

"Obama’s foreign-policy team needs help. National security adviser Susan Rice still suffers from unfair attacks over the Benghazi affair. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was similarly tarnished by a rough confirmation hearing. Secretary of State John Kerry has been a tireless advocate for Obama’s policies, but there’s inevitable tension between a strong secretary and a centralizing White House."

Ah yes, Susan Rice still suffers from unfair attacks over the Benghazi affair. We're talking about that same Susan Rice who appeared on the Sunday news shows after the attack on the US compound and claimed that according to "the best assessment we have today," it was a "spontaneous reaction" to the video. Peculiar how Ignatius doesn't mention how Leon Panetta has now gone on record as saying, "I just, from the very beginning, sensed that this was an attack -- this was a terrorist attack on our compound."

Secretary of State John Kerry? His attempt to compel Israel to accept the mediation of Turkey and Qatar involving the recent Gaza conflict was embarrassing. Then, too, there was his more recent nonsensical claim that the United States is not at war with ISIS, which he needed to walk back. Judging from what appears to be his excessive use of Botox and face fillers, Kerry is not only stupid, but also a narcissist. Obama also apparently suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, and it could well be that the presence of two narcissists in the same room at any given time amounts to one too many for the president.

And what about Secretary of Defense Chuck "Chowderhead" Hagel, who, during a June 2013 speech at the University of Nebraska, asked an Indian man in the audience, "You're not a member of the Taliban, are you?" Why didn't Hagel get the boot? Actually, the answer is quite simple. You've heard of the policy "no boots on the ground"? Well, there has also been an unwritten Obama administration policy "no boots in the arse." Could this policy change after the midterm elections? Ignatius seems to think so.

Stay tuned . . .

Thomas Friedman, "Running on Empty": Who Is Responsible for the "Laxness" in Washington?

You want to know how an intruder with a knife managed to hop the fence protecting the White House and make it all the way into the East Room, and how a security contractor with a concealed pistol, who had three convictions for assault and battery, managed to ride on an elevator with Obama? Thomas Friedman has the answer. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Running on Empty," subtitled "The Secret Service and the Political Class," Friedman explains that he feels a "laxness" in Washington today:

"I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but you feel today in Washington a certain laxness, that anything goes and that too few people working for the federal government take pride in their work because everything is just cobbled together by Congress and the White House at the 11th hour anyway.

. . . .

When the people governing us become this cynical, polarized and dysfunctional, it surely seeps down into the bureaucracy. As above, so below."

A "laxness"? Tom makes certain not to mention Obama's "latte salute" or how the president ran off to a Martha's Vineyard golf course within 20 minutes of delivering a speech decrying the beheading of James Foley by ISIL.

And how does this "laxness" relate to America's response to ISIL, which is so much in the news today? Would-be Middle East expert Friedman tells us:

"We’re at war in the Middle East, with American military lives on the line, but Congress could not stir itself to return from a pre-election recess to either debate the wisdom of this war or give the president proper legal authorization, let alone take some responsibility."

No mention by Friedman of the imminent fall of the Syrian city of Kobani, which is being defended by lightly armed Kurds against an Islamic State onslaught. In an exclusive interview with ABC News’s Martha Raddatz, US General Martin Dempsey declared in response to a question concerning ISIL's siege of the Syrian city of Kobani:

"In fact, I just got off the phone with my Turkish counterpart about it. . . . Well, they are obviously tracking it just like we are. They've got forces on their side of the border that will prevent ISIL from making any incursions into Turkey, but of course ISIl is smart enought not to do that. I am fearful that Kobani will fall. We have been striking when we can. ISIL is a learning enemy, and they know how to maneuver and how to use populations and concealment. So, when we get a target we'll take it."

"Striking when we can"? Rubbish! Kobani has been under attack for several weeks already, and there has been absolutely no coordination of American airstrikes with the city's Kurdish defenders. Why? Because the Turks, who are fearful of the Kurds (some 18 percent of Turkey's population, many of whom want independence), won't allow it.

When Raddatz asked about the possibility of 5,000 Kurds being slaughtered if Kobani falls, Dempsey replied:

"I heard that estimate. We think that most of the residents have actually fled, so whether there are still 5,000 people there or not is a matter of conjecture at this point. But I have no doubt that ISIL will conduct the same kind of horrific atrocities if they have the opportunity to do so."

Friedman wants to talk about "laxness"? How is it possible that the US military, the most powerful army in the world, cannot prevent Kobani from falling? What an embarrassment!  A "matter of conjecture" whether 5,000 Kurds will be murdered? That's obscene.

In fact, the US is not really waging war against ISIL. It's a mere "holding action" on the part of Obama, the Procrastinator-in-Chief, as America's midterm elections approach. As stated in a Washington Post editorial entitled "U.S. air campaign against Islamic State isn’t achieving its aims":

"For now, the U.S. operation in Iraq and Syria is defined mainly by its limitations. The restrictions Mr. Obama has imposed on his commanders are not compatible with the objectives he has asked them to achieve."

Yesterday, on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated that he also feels something:

"There is a feeling and I have a feeling that the leadership and the president have given up on the big issues facing this country whether it's immigration or a budget deal or infrastructure funding or trade or energy. There is a sense that you can't deal with that. This country needs that. They can't give up."

Bottom line: If the president has "given up," is it any wonder that federal workers feel the same way?

US General Dempsey "Fearful" That Kobani Will Fall: The Most Powerful Army in the World Cannot Save the City?

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’s Martha Raddatz, US General Martin Dempsey declared in response to a question concerning ISIL's siege of the Syrian city of Kobani:

"In fact, I just got off the phone with my Turkish counterpart about it. . . . Well, they are obviously tracking it just like we are. They've got forces on their side of the border that will prevent ISIL from making any incursions into Turkey, but of course ISIl is smart enought not to do that. I am fearful that Kobani will fall. We have been striking when we can. ISIL is a learning enemy, and they know how to maneuver and how to use populations and concealment. So, when we get a target we'll take it."

"Striking when we can"? Rubbish! Kobani has been under attack for several weeks already, and there has been absolutely no coordination of American airstrikes with the lightly armed Kurdish ground defenders. Why? Because the Turks, who are fearful of the Kurds (some 18 percent of Turkey's population, many of whom want independence), won't allow it.

When Raddatz asked about the possibility of 5,000 Kurds being slaughtered if Kobani falls, Dempsey replied:

"I heard that estimate. We think that most of the residents have actually fled, so whether there are still 5,000 people there or not is a matter of conjecture at this point. But I have no doubt that ISIL will conduct the same kind of horrific atrocities if they have the opportunity to do so."

The US military, the most powerful military in the world, cannot prevent Kobani from falling? What an embarrassment!

A "matter of conjecture" whether 5,000 Kurds will be murdered? That certainly puts my mind at rest.

Dana Milbank, "Leon Panetta, other former Obama subordinates show stunning disloyalty": Or Refreshing Honesty?

In a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Leon Panetta, other former Obama subordinates show stunning disloyalty," Dana Milbank rebukes Leon Panetta, a Democrat who served as Obama's CIA director and secretary of defense, for disparaging the president in his recently published book "Worthy Fights." Milbank writes:

"Panetta criticized his former boss for having 'lost his way' — allowing the power vacuum in Iraq that created the Islamic State, rejecting Panetta’s and Hillary Clinton’s advice to arm the Syrian rebels and failing to enforce his own 'red line' barring Syria’s use of chemical weapons."

I don't understand what Milbank wants of Panetta. Speaking on CBS’s "Face the Nation" in July, Madeleine Albright admitted, "To put it mildly, the world is a mess." Obama had nothing to do with this? Should Panetta wait another two years and four months before explaining how American foreign policy went astray?

In fact, I think that Panetta owes America an explanation. You cannot correct mistakes without first acknowledging them.

A pity that Panetta would never consider running against Hillary for the Democratic nomination for president. America is in need of a breath of fresh air.

Roger Cohen, "The Community of Expulsion": The War Against Israel Continues

Two weeks ago, we learned that 15 civilians were killed in a coalition airstrike on Kfar Daryan in Syria. Subsequently, protests against the US were held in 40 Syrian towns and villages. As reported by Yahoo News in an article entitled "White House exempts Syria airstrikes from tight standards on civilian deaths" by Michael Isikoff:

"Asked about the strike at Kafr Daryan, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said Tuesday that U.S. military 'did target a Khorasan group compound near this location. However, we have seen no evidence at this time to corroborate claims of civilian casualties.' But Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told Yahoo News that Pentagon officials 'take all credible allegations seriously and will investigate' the reports.

At the same time, however, Hayden said that a much-publicized White House policy that President Obama announced last year barring U.S. drone strikes unless there is a 'near certainty' there will be no civilian casualties — "the highest standard we can meet," he said at the time — does not cover the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

The 'near certainty' standard was intended to apply 'only when we take direct action ‘outside areas of active hostilities,’ as we noted at the time,' Hayden said in an email. 'That description — outside areas of active hostilities — simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.'"

Was there outrage from the Western media in response to this decision to do away with the "near certainty" standard? Heck no! Israel was not responsible for these civilian deaths, including children, in Kfar Darwan, and the disaster quickly faded from collective "progressive" consciousness.

On the other hand, Roger (Iran is "not totalitarian") Cohen, writing from the safety of London after attending High Holy Day services in a Reform synagogue in London, would again remind us of Palestinian civilian casualties suffered over the summer in Gaza. In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Community of Expulsion," subtitled "For Israel, a Time of Self-Scrutiny," Cohen writes of the sermons he heard from British rabbis:

"I listened with interest but without feeling challenged. The one subject not addressed was the one most on the minds of congregants: Israel and its recent war in Gaza, with the deaths of more than 70 Israelis and more than 2,100 Palestinians, including about 500 children.

. . . .

However framed, the death of a single child to an Israeli bullet seems to betoken some failure in the longed-for Jewish state, to say nothing of several hundred."

Concerning Palestinian casualties:

  • Cohen doesn't tell us how many of those Palestinian dead were combatants.
  • Cohen doesn't tell us how many Palestinians died as the result of errant Hamas rockets.
  • Cohen doesn't tell us if the number of Palestinian dead includes Palestinians executed by Hamas for collaboration with Israel.
  • Cohen doesn't tell us if the number of Palestinian children who died includes teenagers bearing arms.
  • Cohen doesn't tell us of the 160 Palestinian children who died digging Hamas's tunnels.

Needless to say, Cohen also makes no mention of a BBC article entitled "Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures" by Anthony Reuben, Head of statistics, BBC News, which relates to the Palestinian casualties in the recent fighting:

"An analysis by the New York Times looked at the names of 1,431 casualties and found that 'the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll. They are 9% of Gaza's 1.7 million residents, but 34% of those killed whose ages were provided.'

'At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71% of the population and 33% of the known-age casualties.'

The list of names and ages of the dead published by al-Jazeera also found men aged between 20 and 29 to be significantly overrepresented."

Cohen's conclusion:

"Palestinians have joined the ever-recurring 'community of expulsion.' The words of Leviticus are worth repeating for any Jew in or concerned by Israel today: Treat the stranger as yourself, for 'you were strangers in the land of Egypt.'"

Once again, Cohen makes certain not to remind his readers that that in 2008, when Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered Palestinian Authority President Abbas an independent state along the 1967 lines with agreed upon land swaps and Palestinian control of east Jerusalem, Abbas refused. Cohen also ignores the fact that several years earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Barak similarly offered to withdraw from 97 percent of the West Bank and tear down 63 Israeli settlements. In exchange for the settlements that would remain part of Israel, Barak said he would increase the size of Gaza by a third. Barak also agreed to Palestinian control of much of East Jerusalem, which would become Palestine's capital, and Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Arafat, however, also refused.

But why should any of this matter to Cohen? He knows his audience.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kobani Will Soon Fall to ISIS: Where Is Obama's Coalition?

The Syrian city of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, will soon fall to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Kobani, which is located on Syria's northern border with Turkey, is being defended by Kurdish militiamen. The Kurds are outgunned by ISIS, which is using tanks to storm the city and whose forces have night vision equipment. As reported in a CNN article entitled "ISIS enters Kobani, city's defenders see 'last chance to leave,' sources say" by Ralph Ellis:

"ISIS moved closer to seizing Kobani on Sunday as militants entered the southeastern edge of the Syrian city and street-to-street fighting began, a fighter and a media activist inside the city told CNN.

The city's defenders were looking for ways to escape the Kurdish stronghold strategically located near the Turkish border, the fighter said.

. . . .

ISIS is making inroads despite airstrikes by U.S. and allied forces, including Sunday's strikes on the eastern outskirts of the city."

U.S. airstrikes on the outskirts of Kobani? If airstrikes on ISIS forces were coordinated with Kobani's Kurdish defenders, ISIS would be routed, but this is not happening, and the reason is simple.

Turkey, which has yet to join the U.S. coalition, is concerned by the establishment of a future homeland for the Middle East's 30 million Kurds living in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. According to the CIA Factbook, some 18 percent of Turkey's population consists of Kurds, and Turkey does not want assistance to be given to Kurdish forces battling ISIS. As reported in a Newsweek article entitled "Has Turkey Joined the Anti-ISIS Coalition to Counter the Kurds?" by Benny Avni:

"While President Barack Obama announced his intention to 'degrade and ultimately destroy' ISIS, the Turkish authorities continued to allow Islamists from the rest of the world to freely cross the Turkish border to join forces with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. And the Turkish authorities seemed happy to turn a blind eye as oil from areas captured by ISIS was smuggled through Turkey to be sold for hard cash to fund their reign of terror.

. . . .

When ISIS recently bombarded the Kurdish city of Kobani, just across the Turkish border in Syria, the Turkish army appeared in no hurry to intervene. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would do 'whatever we can' to help Kobani, but Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz quickly quashed Kurdish hopes that the army would cross the Syrian border anytime soon, telling reporters after the vote in parliament that it would be wrong to expect 'imminent' military action by Turkish forces."

Yesterday, US Vice President Biden was forced to apologize to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan after declaring last week at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University:

"President Erdogan told me, he's an old friend, said, 'You were right. We let too many people [foreigners joining ISIS] through.'"

Claiming that he never said any such thing, Erdogan demanded an immediate apology from Biden, or otherwise he will be "history for me."

Poor Joe! When will he ever learn to stop telling the truth?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "ISIS, Boko Haram and Batman": Send Psaki and Harf on a Hand Holding Mission!

With every passing week, I marvel more at the wondrous know-it-all wit of would-be Middle East expert Thomas Friedman. Needless to say, his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "ISIS, Boko Haram and Batman" does not disappoint.

First, Friedman provides us with a psychological profile of the persons who fill the ranks of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL:

"Their barbarism comes from a dark place, where radical Islam gives a sense of community to humiliated, drifting young men, who have never held a job or a girl’s hand."

Who would have ever thought? Their obsessive need to behead and crucify enemies stems from their past failure to hold hands with young women! Let's quickly send Jen Psaki and Marie Harf to Syria and Iraq on a hand holding mission!

But in fact, Friedman has a better solution. After providing us with a dialogue between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth from "Batman: The Dark Knight" (anything that pops into Friedman's head is of earthshaking importance), Tom provides us with "a strategy for dealing with the world of disorder":

"Where there is disorder — think Libya, Iraq, Syria, Mali, Chad, Somalia — collaborate with every source of local, regional and international order to contain the virus until the barbarism burns itself out. These groups can’t govern, so ultimately locals will seek alternatives.

Where there is top-down order — think Egypt or Saudi Arabia — try to make it more decent and inclusive.

Where there is order plus decency — think Jordan, Morocco, Kurdistan, the United Arab Emirates — try to make it more consensual and effective, again to make it more sustainable.

Where there is order plus democracy — think Tunisia — do all you can to preserve and strengthen it with financial and security assistance, so it can become a model for emulation by the states and peoples around it."

Fascinating! But consider the following representative news items from these various Muddle Eastern locales, purportedly providing order of one kind or another:


Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia are going to provide order to a "world of disorder"? Yeah, right.

Kurdistan? Well, that's a horse of a different color. The Kurds have consistently shown themselves to be friends of the United States. On the other hand, the Obama administration is being very careful not to assist the Kurds in their ground battle with ISIS, so as not to offend Turkey.

Go back to sleep, Tom.

Maureen Dowd, "Too Many Secrets, Not Enough Service ": The Basis for a "Jackass" Sequel?

Was Julia Pierson forced to leave her position as head of America's Secret Service because she was a woman? Rubbish! She had to go because an intruder with a knife managed to hop the fence protecting the White House and make it all the way into the East Room. And then there was also that "minor" matter involving Obama's elevator ride with a security contractor with a concealed pistol, who had three convictions for assault and battery. Everyone makes mistakes? Sure, but Pierson failed to fess up to the president in timely fashion concerning what happened when he visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In short, there was no way in hell she could continue on the job.

In her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Too Many Secrets, Not Enough Service," subtitled "Julia Pierson and the Glass Ceiling," Maureen Dowd tackles the issue of whether gender had anything to do with Pierson's departure. Dowd acknowledges:

"It is true that women often get top jobs, like evening news anchor or Hollywood studio chief, after the institutions have lost their luster. But, in Pierson’s case, she earned her abrupt exit fair and square. It’s no blot on the copybook of women. She withheld crucial information and helped paper over fiascos at an agency where mismanagement and denial put the president’s life (and his family’s lives) in jeopardy."

Hey, Maureen, just as an aside: What about Barbara Walters, who co-anchored ABC Evening News with Harry Reasoner and co-hosted The View until her retirement in May of this year?

But I am drifting off topic. Instead of simply asking whether poor Julia was forced to resign because she was a woman, maybe Dowd should be asking whether Kathleen Sebelius also ultimately needed to leave Health and Human Services because of her gender. Let's think on that for a minute. Better still, let's think on that for half a second. The reality was that Kathleen was also frightfully incompetent and had to go.

But wait! Wasn't Attorney General Eric Holder a disaster? After all, as observed in a Washington Times article entitled "Holder heading out, but contempt lives on" by Stephen Dinan, he is "the first sitting Cabinet official ever to face a contempt citation from Congress," owing to his "delay in turning over documents related to the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation." Why wasn't Holder canned by Obama? I suppose because his actions merely threatened the fabric of America's constitutional democracy, but not the safety of the First Family.

Secretary of State John Kerry? His attempt to compel Israel to accept the mediation of Turkey and Qatar involving the recent Gaza conflict was embarrassing. Then, too, there was his more recent nonsensical claim that the United States is not at war with ISIS, which he needed to walk back. However, you can't fire someone for stupidity, particularly if you were responsible for hiring him.

And what about Secretary of Defense Chuck "Chowderhead" Hagel, who, during a June 2013 speech at the University of Nebraska, asked an Indian man in the audience, "You're not a member of the Taliban, are you?" Why didn't Hagel get the boot? Actually, the answer is quite simple. You've heard of the policy "no boots on the ground"? Well, there is also an unwritten Obama administration policy "no boots in the arse," particularly if a firing would outrage armies of mentally challenged persons throughout the United States. This could swing America's midterm elections in November!

But heck, if we're going to hold Holder, Kerry and Hagel to account, what about Obama himself, who ran off to a Martha's Vineyard golf course within 20 minutes of delivering a speech deploring James Foley's horrifying death?  Let's also not forget how he claimed to learn of the Veterans Administration, IRS, and Fast and Furious scandals by way of news reports.

Bottom line: The antics of the Obama administration could easily provide the basis for a new "Yes Minister" series. That, or a sequel to "Jackass." To get axed by Obama, you really need to do something special, i.e. exhibit gross incompetence as opposed to the run-of-the-mill variety that has characterized his tenure. Pierson managed to do just that.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Roger Cohen, "Iran, the Thinkable Ally": Sick!

Today, in an editorial evidencing extreme ignorance entitled "The Fundamental Horror of ISIS," The New York Times declares:

"The mind rebels at the reports of cruelty by the Islamic State, the beheadings, crucifixions, tortures, rapes and slaughter of captives, children, women, Christians, Shiites. The evidence is there on YouTube, in gruesome images and the cries of witnesses too numerous to deny or doubt.

. . . .

[N]o Islamist group before, no other offshoot of Al Qaeda or Hamas or Hezbollah, has so nakedly adopted a cult of sadism, not only as a weapon in its stated goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate but as the very reason for its existence.

. . . .

Even to call what this group does 'crimes against humanity' is to put a legalistic spin on raw evil; as Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist, wrote in a recent piece about ISIS, there is no 'why' in the heart of darkness."


No other Islamist group "has so nakedly adopted a cult of sadism"? Rubbish! The editorial board of The New York Times has chosen to turn a blind eye to Iran's stoning to death of women, hanging of homosexuals, and persecution and oppression of Baha'is, Kurds, Christians and Sunnis. Believe it or not, Iran, which has the second highest annual number of executions after China, sentences its citizens to death for such "crimes" as "enmity toward God."  Last week, Mohsen Amir Aslani was hanged in Iran for "corruption on earth and heresy in religion" after daring to declare that Jonah was not swallowed by a whale.

In its editorial, The New York Times would make a moral compass of columnist Roger Cohen. Cohen? You will recall that during the first six months of 2009, while engaged in a campaign to seek rapprochement between the United States and Iran, Cohen took the position that Iran is not totalitarian. Ignoring Iran's executions and systematic persecution of minorities, Cohen, in a June 2009 op-ed entiled "Iran Awakens Yet Again," declared:

"For months now, I’ve been urging another look at Iran, beyond dangerous demonization of it as a totalitarian state. Seldom has the country looked less like one than in these giddy June days."

But much to Cohen's chagrin, this opinion piece was soon followed by Iran's brutal suppression of the Green Revolution in July 2009, which shattered his hopes for a Pulitzer Prize.

But Cohen was not about to quit. In 2013, Cohen again told us, "Iran is no Nazi-like totalitarian state with a single authority but an authoritarian regime subject to liberalizing and repressive waves."  Once more, not a totalitarian state with no single authority? Oh really? As reported by Joshua Norman in a 2011 CBS News article entitled "The world's enduring dictators: Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Iran":

"Ayatollah Khamenei was president of Iran from 1981 to 1989, when he ascended to the role of Supreme Leader. While current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may garner all the international headlines, make no mistake about it, Khamenei is the Islamic Republic of Iran's spiritual leader and highest authority until he chooses to give up the post, dies, or is deposed. His veto is final in Iranian political affairs.

Iran has long been plagued by widespread allegations of abuse, torture and summary executions of political opponents. Public executions are also regularly held for those accused of drug use and possession, murder, prostitution and being gay. In late 2009, hundreds may have been killed after government forces crushed a mass popular uprising over the disputed presidential elections that year which saw Ahmadinejad reelected. Iran was also accused of using child soldiers to crush more recent protests against the hard-line government."

But why believe Joshua Norman? During the June 4, 2013 funeral of the Iranian dissident cleric Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for the death of the dictator Khamenei.

Today, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "Iran, the Thinkable Ally," Cohen is back to his old tricks. Calling for the United States to reach agreement with Iran over its nuclear development program prior to the November 24 deadline for conclusion of the P5+1 negotiations, Cohen writes:

"The Islamic Republic, 35 years after the revolution, is — like it or not — a serious and stable power in an unstable region. Its highly educated population is pro-Western. Its actions and interests are often opposed to the United States and America’s allies, and its human rights record is appalling, but then that is true of several countries with which Washington does business.

. . . .

A deal can and must be done for the simple reason it is far better — for Iran, the United States, Europe and Israel — than any of the alternatives."

Employing the same logic, Cohen would have supported Chamberlain's call for "peace for our time" in 1939.

By contrast, in an editorial entitled "Hold the line with Iran," The Washington Post today observes:

"U.S. negotiators have responded to Iranian intransigence on key issues with creative but sometimes disturbing counterproposals. Most notably, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has declared that the regime will not dismantle any of the 19,000 centrifuges it has constructed to enrich uranium. So the United States and its allies, which once insisted that most of the machines be eliminated, reportedly have floated a proposal to leave the centrifuges in place but take away the plumbing that connects them.

If Iran has made similar efforts to bridge the gaps between the two sides, there is no report of them. Instead, Tehran appears to be sticking to its insistence on maintaining and eventually vastly expanding its nuclear infrastructure while offering only a temporary slowdown in uranium enrichment and 'increased transparency.' It is refusing to discuss its ballistic missile program and still isn’t cooperating with international inspectors’ probe into its past nuclear weapons design work."

The US should offer Khamenei further concessions to strike a deal with this maniacal state, which is on the verge of building its first atomic weapon? I don't think so.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thomas Friedman, "Order vs. Disorder, Part 4": What About Containment of Iran's Nuclear Weapons Development Program?

Is it possible for anyone to discuss "containment" in the Middle East without referring to Iran's efforts to build nuclear weapons? Would-be Middle East expert Thomas Friedman manages to do so.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Order vs. Disorder, Part 4," Friedman would have us know that "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the wider East-West clash of civilizations what Off Broadway is to Broadway." Claiming that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict allows us to "see many trends at a smaller scale first," Tom claims that the United States is now "heading" toward "containment" of the Islamic State, in much the same way that Israel seeks to contain Hamas. His conclusion:

"In short, containment in both theaters is necessary but not sufficient for long-term stability. But, unlike the Cold War where our containment strategy was largely the product of like-minded democracies working to liberate like-minded people from a bad system, in the Middle East, we have few like-minded partners.

The most we can hope for are 'least bad' allies and 'least bad' outcomes. In today’s Middle East, least bad is the new good."

"Not sufficient for long-term stability"? Friedman doesn't mention that there is a population explosion in the Muslim Middle East that does not allow for "long-term stability." As stated in a Washington Post article by Max Fisher entitled "How the world’s populations are changing, in one map":

"The Arab Middle East has been experiencing a very significant youth bulge over the last few years, meaning that an unusually large share of the population is young people. That's been problematic because when large numbers of young people hit working age at the same time, the Middle Eastern economies aren't able to provide enough jobs."

Gaza? Toward the end of 1967, its population was under 400,000. Today, its population has reached 1.8 million, and it is expected to reach 2.1 million by 2020. Achieve long-term stability given this trend? Good luck.

But more to the point, how can Friedman talk about "containment" in the Middle East without referring to Iran's nuclear program? You will recall that Obama declared two years ago at the United Nations:

"Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. The United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Remarkably, during his speech at the United Nations last week, Obama dropped all the threatening language when referring to Iran:

"America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them. And this can only take place if Iran seizes this historic opportunity. My message to Iran’s leaders and people has been simple and consistent: Do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful."

Obama created a stir when he acknowledged that the US did not have a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State. Question: Does Obama have a strategy for dealing with Iran when the November 24 negotiations deadline arrives without an agreement to curtail Supreme Leader Khamenei's nuclear weapons development program?

I doubt it.