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Monday, November 30, 2015

Paul Krugman, "Inequality and the City": Establish a New Federal Agency?

In a New York Times op-ed entitled "Inequality and the City," Paul Krugman praises the amenities of New York City, while deploring the rising price of housing, which is becoming unaffordable for the less affluent. Krugman writes:

"New York, New York, a helluva town. The rents are up, but the crime rate is down. The food is better than ever, and the cultural scene is vibrant. Truly, it’s a golden age for the town I recently moved to — if you can afford the housing. But more and more people can’t.

And it’s not just New York. The days when dystopian images of urban decline were pervasive in popular culture — remember the movie 'Escape from New York'? — are long past. The story for many of our iconic cities is, instead, one of gentrification, a process that’s obvious to the naked eye, and increasingly visible in the data."

Krugman's concludes:

"New York City can’t do much if anything about soaring inequality of incomes, but it could do a lot to increase the supply of housing, and thereby ensure that the inward migration of the elite doesn’t drive out everyone else."

Okay, New York City has grown expensive, but what about Detroit? In a July 30, 2015 CNBC article entitled "Detroit: A tale of two housing markets," Diana Olick writes:

"Bidding wars, more competition, better listings—Detroit housing is having a banner summer, Detroit suburban housing that is. Unlike so many other major metropolitan markets, Detroit's downtown is seeing no renaissance at all, at least not yet.

. . . .

The comparison is stark: The median home price in downtown is just $21,102 versus a median price of $162,900 in the suburbs, according to Realcomp, the area's multiple listing service."

Or stated otherwise, Detroit bears no resemblance to New York City.

And Baltimore? Whereas the crime rate is down in NYC, Baltimore was more akin to a warzone in April of this year, following the death of Freddie Gray.

But more to the point, if we take Krugman's argument one baby step further: Should a new government agency monitor the ebb and flow of real estate prices and mandate the construction of low income housing where the more prosperous reside, e.g., in the suburbs of Detroit, thereby bringing the less affluent closer to those same employment opportunities being offered by General Dynamics, Delphi and BorgWarner?

Just asking.

[On the subject of Krugman and income inequality, you might be interested in having a look at a July 1, 2015 Daily Caller article entitled "Paul Krugman Sticks It To Poor People With $225,000 Salary To Study Income Inequality" by Eric Owens.]

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Battle for Aleppo: Russian T-90s vs. American TOWs

Largely unbeknownst to the West, a critical battle for what is left of Aleppo (see pictures), once Syria's largest city, is raging between rebel forces and Assad's crumbling army, which in recent months has been reinforced with "crack" Iranian Quds troops. Notwithstanding Russian bombing runs, the Iranian expeditionary force suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the rebels several weeks ago, and Putin has rushed T-90 tanks with Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor to Assad's 4th Mechanized Division to change the tide of battle.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is boosting supplies, including advanced anti-tank missiles, to the rebels. Moreover, after a Turkish F-16 downed a Russian Su-24 tactical bomber which strayed into Turkish air space (the Su-24 didn't stand a chance) and Erdogan refused to apologize, Turkey has also  been increasing supplies to the rebels.

Can Russian T-90s withstand American-made TOWs? Stay tuned. Although Israel doesn't have a dog in this fight, it has a lot to learn from the outcome.

[Was Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds force, severely wounded in the battle for Aleppo? As reported yesterday by the National Council of Resistance of Iran:

"According to reports from inside the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qassem Suleimani, the notorious commander of the terrorist Qods Force, has suffered severe shrapnel wounds, including in the head, while at Aleppo’s southern front two weeks ago.

Qassem Suleimani’s vehicle that was there for him to oversee an operation by the revolutionary guards and a number of hired forces was targeted by the Free Syrian Army severely injuring Suleimani.

. . . .

The IRGC counterintelligence section has imposed severe restrictions to prevent any leakage of information of Soleimani being wounded and has ordered all hospital personnel to refrain from answering any questions in this regard. The Iranian regime is worried that the news on Soleimani’s injury would cause a complete collapse of moral of the IRGC forces and the militias in Syria. Even now, the revolutionary guards are quite frightened and anxious due to the large number of casualties they have suffered in the past couple of months in Syria."

If true (Fars News is saying that it's not the case), it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.]

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ross Douthat, "Spain Yesterday, Syria Today": Awaiting a Putin Cost-Benefit Analysis

Ross Douthat, in an interesting New York Times op-ed entitled "Spain Yesterday, Syria Today," compares the current conflict in Syria with the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. Douthat's conclusions:

"If the war in Spain previewed an era of totalitarian aggrandizement, the war in Syria has exposed the essential hollowness of so-called nation-states, the ease with which ethnic and religious furies can take over when they crack.

If the war in Spain was a proving ground for eastern front-style total war, the war in Syria is a training ground for Paris-style terrorists.

If the war in Spain ushered in a decade of vast militaries on the march, the war in Syria is giving us civilians on the march — the movement of refugees as a geopolitical crisis.

If the war in Spain demonstrated that Hitler and Stalin were happy to step in when a liberal center failed to hold, the war in Syria demonstrates that the Pax Americana is cracking and no power or alliance is remotely prepared to take its place.

If the war in Spain was a dress rehearsal for World War II — well, the truth about Syria is that it’s probably not a rehearsal for anything. It’s the main event, and nobody can foresee when it will end."

Well, I think his list is incomplete.

The war in Syria is illustrating the hollowness of the artificial boundaries fixed in 1916 by France and Britain pursuant the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, albeit a century after this agreement was signed. It is also letting us know that 30 million stateless and oppressed Kurds, residing in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, can no longer be ignored.

The war in Syria is highlighting the decline of American credibility and deterrent power under a narcissistic president who is convinced that he is smarter than his advisors. Can US credibility and deterrent power be restored beginning in January 2017, or, like Humpty Dumpty, are the pieces irretrievably shattered and scattered?

The war in Syria is demonstrating to Iran that its forces, even with the backing of Russia from above, are anything but omnipotent. The battle for Aleppo has dealt Iran one heck of a bloody nose.

The war in Syria is also proving to everyone (with the exception of Sweden's moronic foreign minister, Margot Wallström, who linked the Paris attacks to Palestinian despair) that Sunni-Shiite enmity trumps Islamic hatred of Israel.

Nobody can foresee when the war in Syria will end? In this instance, I disagree with Douthat. The war will end when Putin realizes, after shoving his enormous ego aside and engaging in a painful cost-benefit analysis, that it does not serve his best interests to continue to prop up the Assad regime and remain allied with Iran and Hezbollah. His involvement in the Syrian conflict went unopposed by Obama, who naïvely believed that Putin intended to attack the Islamic State and not Western-backed rebels, and a new, tougher American president could help Russia's president realize the error in his ways that much sooner. After all, Vladimir has not forgotten the First and Second Chechen Wars, or, for that matter, Russian involvement in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Putin is currently incensed with Turkey and is in no mood to backtrack or compromise.

Peter Wehner, "President Obama’s Hypocrisy on Syria": The Commander-in Chief Who Likes to Watch

"I like to watch."

- Chance the Gardener, "Being There" (1979)

As I observed yesterday, with Russian deployment of S-400 missile systems in Latakia, which are capable of downing aircraft 250 miles away (including planes landing at and departing from Israel's Ben Gurion Airport), President Obama has ceded control over the entire Syrian theater of operations to Putin. Thus, it should come as no surprise that RT is today gloating:

"Both the American and Turkish air forces halted their strikes on Syrian territory around the time Russia deployed S-400 air defense complexes at the Khmeimim airbase, from which it stages its own incursions against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

A spokesperson of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) told Sputnik on Friday that the absence of anti-IS coalition airstrikes 'has nothing to do with the S400 deployment' in Syria."

Nothing to do with the deployment of the S-400 systems? Yeah, right.

In a New York Times op-ed entitled "President Obama’s Hypocrisy on Syria," Peter Wehner writes:

"In 2012 Mr. Obama rebuffed plans to arm Syrian rebels despite the fact that his former secretaries of defense and state, his C.I.A. director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff supported them. He repeatedly insisted he would not put American soldiers in Syria or pursue a prolonged air campaign. He refused to declare safe havens or no-fly zones. And it was also in 2012 that Mr. Obama warned the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, that using chemical weapons would cross a 'red line.' Yet when Mr. Assad did just that, Mr. Obama did nothing.

The president, perhaps fearful of offending the pro-Assad Iranian government with which he was trying to negotiate a nuclear arms deal, chose to sit by while a humanitarian catastrophe unfolded. As Walter Russell Mead wrote in The American Interest, 'This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn.'"

Pete's right; however, I believe that America's credibility and deterrent power have also crashed and burned under a commander-in-chief who likes to watch.

Friday, November 27, 2015

David Brooks, "Communities of Character": Ignoring the Decline and Fall of American Higher Education

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Communities of Character," David Brooks informs us, "All over the country there are schools and organizations trying to come up with new ways to cultivate character." Brooks illustrates his point by describing the Leaders School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn:

"This is a school with roughly 300 students who speak between them 22 languages. Eighty-five percent are on free and reduced lunch. Last year the graduation rate was an amazing 89 percent and every single graduate went to college."

Every single graduate went to college? How marvelous! Or perhaps not.

On Wednesday, George Will provided a remarkable synopsis of the depths being plumbed by American universities in a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "America’s higher education brought low." Examples provided by Will:

"The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, an irony-free campus, declared the phrase 'politically correct' a microaggression. The master of Yale’s Pierson College said his regrettable title reminds distressed students of slavery. Wesleyan University’s student government threatened to cut the school newspaper’s funding because it published a column critical of campus leftists. Wesleyan created a 'safe space,' a.k.a. a house, for LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM students (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderf---, Polyamorous, Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism).

A Washington State University professor said she would lower the grade of any student who used the term 'illegal immigrants' when referring to immigrants here illegally. Another Washington State professor warned in his syllabus that white students who want 'to do well' in his 'Introduction to Multicultural Literature' should show their 'grasp of history and social relations' by 'deferring to the experiences of people of color.' Another Washington State teacher, in her syllabus for 'Women & Popular Culture,' warned that students risk 'failure for the semester' if they use 'derogatory/oppressive language' such as 'referring to women/men as females or males.'"

Go to college in the US and further build character, grit, leadership and intellectual curiosity? I have my doubts.

As even Roger Cohen seems to suggest, America is sickly and getting weaker. May the Lord have mercy on us!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Charles Krauthammer, "The Syrian immigration cul-de-sac: Republicans should keep the focus on the abject failure of Obama's policies": Does Ice Cream Make You Fat?

First the good news, at least for me: Ice cream does not necessarily make you fat. A Times of Israel article by Simona Weinglass, entitled "Will ice cream make you gain weight? It depends on your gut, study finds," tells us:

"Why is it so hard to lose weight? According to a new Weizmann Institute study by Professor Eran Segal and Dr. Eran Elinav, it may be because different people’s bodies respond differently to the same meal, depending on their gut bacteria.

The study, published in the November 19 issue of the journal Cell, followed a group of 800 people for a week and continuously monitored their blood sugar levels. It turns out that the foods most likely to make people’s blood sugar spike diverge widely. For instance, many people’s blood sugar rose sharply after consuming a sugary dessert, but others experienced a blood sugar surge after white bread but not glucose. One participant even saw a sharp rise after eating tomatoes, which she had been consuming under the mistaken impression that they were good for her."

What a relief! I can continue with my diet of Rocky Road and rotgut liquor; however, I'm thinking of taking tomatoes off the menu.

And now the bad news, at least for President Obama: He is under withering criticism from both right and left for his malign neglect policies involving Syria. In a must-read opinion piece entitled "The Syrian immigration cul-de-sac: Republicans should keep the focus on the abject failure of Obama's policies," Charles Krauthammer says of the Syrian refugee debate currently raging in the US:

"A quarter-million deaths ago, when Bashar Assad began making war on his own people, he unleashed his air force and helicopters. They dropped high explosives, nail-filled barrel bombs and even chemical weapons on helpless civilians. President Obama lifted not a finger.

In the earliest days, we could have stopped the slaughter: cratered Assad’s airfields, taken out his planes, grounded his helicopters and created a nationwide no-fly zone. (We successfully maintained one over Kurdistan for 12 years between 1991 and 2003.)

At the time, Assad was teetering. His national security headquarters had been penetrated and bombed. High-level aides were defecting. Military officers were forming a Free Syrian Army.

Against the advice of his top civilian and military aides, Obama refused to intervene. The widows and orphans he now so ostentatiously champions are the product of his coldhearted refusal to do anything that might sully his peacemaking image."

Yes, Krauthammer is right. And now, instead of imposing a no-fly zone, the US is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to admit thousands of Syrian refugees (half of Syria's population of 23 million has been displaced from their homes).

But he is not alone in taking Obama to task. In a New York Times op-ed entitled "World War III," Roger (Iran is "not totalitarian") Cohen also derides the president's failed policy involving Syria. Creating an imaginary dialogue between a child and his mother, Roger provides us with the mother's explanation as to why people are fighting in that country:

"'Well, there was this brutal, remote tyrant behaving like an emperor and some of the peoples in Syria rose up against him. The tyrant started shooting them. America and Britain and France, among other countries, didn’t like that, and they said they’d kind of support the rebels, but didn’t really.'


'Because, like I said, America is sickly. It’s getting weaker.'"

America is sickly and getting weaker? Coming from Cohen? My instincts tell me that Roger is not going to be invited to interview Obama any time over the next three decades, or until Cohen meets his maker, whichever comes sooner. But Cohen is also correct: As we are informed by another Times of Israel article entitled "Russia deploys S-400 missile battery in Syria, state media says" by Judah Ari Gross:

"The advanced [S-400] missile system, completed in 2007, is capable of detecting and destroying aircraft some 400 kilometers (250 miles) away. Its deployment in Latakia will grant Russia aerial control over practically all of Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, over half of Turkey, parts of Iraq and Jordan — and, of course, Israel: Planes flying in and out of Ben Gurion International Airport — approximately 395 kilometers (245 miles) from Latakia — would be within Russian sights."

Or stated otherwise, the first invertebrate ever to occupy the Oval Office has ceded control over the entire theater of operations to Russia.

All of which is enough to give you a headache and make you want to forget the world. Where is my Rocky Road? Where is my vodka?

Maureen Dowd, "King Kevin Versus Queen Cersei": Hillary Flip-Flops on ISIS

Today, in a "breath of fresh air" New York Times op-ed entitled "King Kevin Versus Queen Cersei," Maureen Dowd allows her brother Kevin to proffer his unabashed views concerning the Republican and Democratic candidates for president. With respect to Hillary Clinton, Kevin Dowd writes:

"The next president will have to deal with a severely weakened hand, at home and abroad. The bill for 'leading from behind' has come due. After the Radical Islam (dare I say thy name?) attack on France, the president who called ISIS 'contained' was left to issue his familiar disclaimer that Islam is a religion of peace. In dealing with foes, Clinton, in a 2014 speech at Georgetown University, called for 'trying to understand, and insofar as is psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective.' Note to Hillary: Any enemy with beheading as a menu item does not deserve empathy."

Hillary's 2014 speech at Georgetown? I think it's worth having a look at what came immediately before and after the words quoted by Kevin:

"This is what we call smart power: Using every possible tool and partner to advance peace and security. Leaving no one on the sidelines. Showing respect even for one's enemies. Trying to understand, and in so far as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view. Helping to define the problems, determine the solutions. That is what we believe in the 21st century will change - change the prospects for peace."

Now have a look at what Hillary had to say to the Council on Foreign Relations one week ago:

"[T]ime is of the essence. ISIS is demonstrating new ambition, reach, and capabilities. We have to break the group’s momentum, and then its back. Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS but to defeat and destroy ISIS.

But we have learned that we can score victories over terrorist leaders and networks only to face metastasizing threats down the road. So we also have to play and win the long game. We should pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, one that embeds our mission against ISIS within a broader struggle against radical jihadism that is bigger than any one group, whether it’s al-Qaida or ISIS or some other network.

An immediate war against an urgent enemy and a generational struggle against an ideology with deep roots will not be easily torn out. It will require sustained commitment in every pillar of American power. This is a worldwide fight, and America must lead it."

So which is it, Hillary? Respect, understand and empathize with ISIS, or, defeat and destroy these f*cking bastards? I suppose it all depends which way the polls are trending.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, "The Islamic State’s Bahraini Backers": Obama's Bullshit Coaltion Against the Islamic State

In a blog item yesterday, I observed regarding Obama's coalition against ISIS :

"His 65-nation coalition against the Islamic State includes such big guns as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Montenegro, Nigeria, Panama, Singapore, Slovenia, Somalia, and Tunisia. The coalition also includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, whose wealthy citizens have been busy funding the Islamic State."

I failed to mention that the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain is also one of Obama's partners in his "struggle" against the Islamic State.

Well, in case you missed it, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, declared in a New York Times guest op-ed entitled "The Islamic State’s Bahraini Backers":

"While Bahrain imprisons political activists and rights advocates at home, it also participates in the American-led coalition against the Islamic State. The bitter irony of this is that the Islamic State’s Bahraini recruits come not from among the government’s opponents, but from within its own ranks.

Unlike the United States, Britain and France, where typically the Islamic State recruits among alienated young people, in Bahrain the group finds willing jihadists in the establishment. The most prominent Bahraini member of the Islamic State, the terrorist preacher Turki al-Binali, comes from a family closely allied with the Khalifa royal family. Other recruits have come directly from the security forces of Bahrain. (Mr. Rajab, the human rights advocate, was imprisoned for six months recently for pointing out links between the Bahraini military and the Islamic State.)

Another Binali family member who has defected to the Islamic State, Mohamed Isa al-Binali, is a former Interior Ministry officer. He worked in Jaw Prison, a facility notorious for overcrowding and harsh conditions. One former prisoner told me that he’d witnessed Mr. Binali overseeing the ill treatment of juvenile Shiite inmates, not long before Mr. Binali disappeared in 2014 to join the Islamic State."

A fitting testament to the quality of Obama's coalition and his administration's dedication to human rights? I think so.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dana Milbank, "Barack Obama, President Oh-bummer": Why Is There a Need for a Syrian State?

In a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Barack Obama, President Oh-bummer," uber-liberal Dana Milbank, observing the "stylistic gulf" between American President Obama ("discouraging and lawyerly") and French President Hollande ("upbeat and can-do") at a news conference in the White House on Tuesday, concludes (my emphasis in red):

"When Laura Haim of France’s Canal+ TV network asked if there was a deadline for ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, both men had the same policy: no timetable. But what they said after that highlighted their different styles.

Hollande spoke of a new era. “There is a new mind-set now,” Hollande said. “And those who believed that we could wait” now realize “the risk is everywhere . . . . We, therefore, must act.”

Then came President Oh-bummer.

'Syria has broken down,' he said. 'And it is going to be a difficult, long, methodical process to bring back together various factions within Syria to maintain a Syrian state.'

Maybe you can motivate people when you sound so discouraging. But it’s hard."

Query for Obama: Why is there any need whatsoever "to maintain a Syrian state," whose artificial boundaries were fixed in 1916 by France and Britain pursuant the Sykes-Picot Agreement? Isn't it time to recognize a Kurdish state, which would include the northern region of Syria, where its long-oppressed Kurds reside?

Reporting on yesterday's White House press conference, Peter Baker, in a New York Times article entitled "Meeting With François Hollande, Obama Urges Europe to Escalate ISIS Fight," writes:

"Publicly, though, Mr. Obama outlined no concrete new actions that the United States would take, and he suggested that the attacks might finally prompt Europe to approach the threat more seriously. 'We also think, as François said, that there may be new openness on the part of other coalition members to help resource and provide additional assistance, both to the coalition as a whole and to the local forces on the ground,' Mr. Obama said."

"[N]ew openness on the part of other coalition members to help resource and provide additional assistance"?  His 65-nation coalition against the Islamic State includes such big guns as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Montenegro, Nigeria, Panama, Singapore, Slovenia, Somalia, and Tunisia. The coalition also includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, whose wealthy citizens have been busy funding the Islamic State.

In fact, Obama is disavowing responsibility for the Middle East disaster he engineered and blowing smoke up our collective asses.

David Brooks, "Tales of the Super Survivors": Can Nations Recover From PTSD?

PTSD? A doctor once told me that I showed signs of it; however, I've never cared much for psychological pigeonholing. Personally, I prefer the diagnosis of a dear friend who determined, "You're crazy, but in a good way."

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Tales of the Super Survivors," David Brooks discusses the ability of some human beings to "experience surges of post-traumatic growth" following terror attacks. Brooks goes on to conclude his opinion piece by relating to the ability of nations to rebound from mass casualty atrocities:

"It’s interesting that this age of terrorism calls forth certain practical skills — the ability to tell stories, the ability to philosophize and define a meaning to your life. Just as individuals need moral stories if they are going to recover, so probably do nations. France will most likely need a parable to make sense of what happened, just as the United States still has competing parables about the meaning of 9/11.

This is why foreign policies that pursue amoral realpolitik are always impractical. If a country can’t discern a moral purpose in its foreign policy, it will lack resilience. It will lack the capacity to bounce back from an attack. It will lack a satisfying narrative and lose the ability to thrive in terror’s wake.

The good news is there is no reason to be pessimistic during the war on terrorism. Individuals and societies are tough and resilient, and usually emerge from attacks better than before."

France? Its demographics are changing, and its Jews, who have recently suffered repeated anti-Semitic incidents, are leaving. France will emerge "better than before"? I don't think so.

A "moral purpose" in America's foreign policy under Obama? The foreign policy of Obama, who couldn't even bring himself to condemn the conviction and sentencing of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, is best described as one of malign neglect.

Is America "better than before" post-9/11? As the US nears an election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, i.e. something akin to "King Kong vs. Godzilla," a horror from which many PTSD-afflicted persons might not find the will to recover, I have my doubts.

Monday, November 23, 2015

New York Times Editorial, "Iran Sentences an American Journalist": Obama's Foreign Policy of Malign Neglect

In an editorial entitled "Iran Sentences an American Journalist," The New York Times protests Tehran's announcement that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has been sentenced to prison for espionage for an unknown length of time. The Times tells us:

"The Iranian government made the announcement with as much transparency as it has shown in this case all along: none.

. . . .

The prosecution of Mr. Rezaian, a well-respected journalist of Iranian ancestry with dual citizenship, has been a travesty since he and his wife were detained in July 2014. The authorities have failed to present a shred of credible evidence that Mr. Rezaian broke any law and they have deprived him of due process. Recent suggestions by senior Iranian officials that he could be swapped for people imprisoned for violating sanctions against Iran strongly suggest that the case against him was a farce all along.

. . . .

In addition to Mr. Rezaian, two other Iranian-Americans are being unfairly detained. Saeed Abedini, a pastor, is serving an eight-year sentence after having been convicted of harming national security by holding Bible classes in private homes. Amir Hekmati, a former Marine, is serving a 10-year sentence after the judiciary convicted him of aiding a hostile government."

How many times does the editorial mention President Obama? Not once, but on the other hand, why should it? The president has said nothing.

This is probably a good time to revisit Dana Milbank's October 16, 2015 Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Obama’s baffling passivity on Jason Rezaian," in which this uber-liberal columnist declared after Rezaian's conviction:

"My Post colleague Jason Rezaian, the paper’s Tehran bureau chief, has been languishing in an Iranian jail for 15 months on bogus charges of espionage. He was put on secret trial by a kangaroo court. On Sunday, Iranian state TV reported that he had been convicted.

And Obama said . . . nothing. He didn’t go to the briefing room and make a statement. He didn’t even release a written statement. On Tuesday, his press secretary, in response to a reporter’s question at the briefing, responded with what might have been described as minor annoyance with the Iranian regime.

'We’ve got a number of concerns,' the spokesman said, mentioning the 'unjust' detention and 'opaque' process.

Where was the demand that Iran immediately release Rezaian and the two or three other Americans it is effectively holding hostage? Where was the threat of consequences if Tehran refused? How about some righteous outrage condemning Iran for locking up an American journalist for doing his job? Even if Obama’s outrage came to nothing, it would be salutary to hear the president defend the core American value of free speech."

Dana couldn't comprehend that Obama's failure to act, or even speak up on behalf of Rezaian and the other Americans languishing in Iranian prison cells, was part and parcel of the president's foreign policy of malign neglect.

But I suppose we must also take into account that if Obama had objected to Rezaian's conviction and sentencing, there are those who might wonder how the president entered into an unsigned, legacy-creating, nuclear deal with these monsters.

January 20, 2017 cannot come soon enough.

Paul Krugman, "Health Reform Lives!": Blowing Smoke Up Obama's Arse

As noted in my prior blog entry, in the 18th century there was a medical device called a tobacco smoke enema, which was used to resuscitate drowning victims. However, it was ultimately discovered that blowing tobacco smoke up dead persons arses had no medical benefit, and from there, "blowing smoke up your ass" was born, i.e. telling someone a lie that she/he wants to hear.

Well, In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Health Reform Lives!," Paul Krugman blows smoke up the president's arse. Claiming that Obamacare remains a success notwithstanding recent "not-great" news concerning Obama's legacy-creating reform of America's health care system,  Krugman writes:

"Sooner or later, of course, there were bound to be some negative surprises. And we’re now, finally, getting a bit of bad, or at least not-great, news about health reform.

First, premiums are going up for next year, because insurers are finding that their risk pool is somewhat sicker and hence more expensive than they expected. There’s a lot of variation across states, but the average increase will be around 11 percent. That’s a slight disappointment, but it’s not shocking, given both the good news of the previous two years and the long-term tendency of insurance premiums to rise 5-10 percent a year.

Second, some Americans who bought low-cost insurance plans have been unpleasantly surprised by high deductibles. This is a real issue, but it shouldn’t be exaggerated. All allowed plans cover preventive services without a deductible, and many plans cover other health services as well. Furthermore, additional financial aid is available to lower-income families to help cover such gaps. Some people may not know about these mitigating factors — that’s the problem with a fairly complex system — but awareness should improve over time."

An average increase of only 11 percent in 2016? Remarkably, this Nobel prize winner fails to observe that inflation in the US is currently running at some 0.2 percent. Or stated otherwise, an 11 percent increase in the cost of health care insurance is disastrous for many Americans.

"[S]ome Americans who bought low-cost insurance plans have been unpleasantly surprised by high deductibles"? As Robert Pear wrote in a November 14, 2015 New York Times article entitled [my italics] "Many Say High Deductibles Make Their Health Law Insurance All but Useless":

"Obama administration officials, urging people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, have trumpeted the low premiums available on the law’s new marketplaces.

But for many consumers, the sticker shock is coming not on the front end, when they purchase the plans, but on the back end when they get sick: sky-high deductibles that are leaving some newly insured feeling nearly as vulnerable as they were before they had coverage.

'The deductible, $3,000 a year, makes it impossible to actually go to the doctor,' said David R. Reines, 60, of Jefferson Township, N.J., a former hardware salesman with chronic knee pain. 'We have insurance, but can’t afford to use it.'

In many states, more than half the plans offered for sale through, the federal online marketplace, have a deductible of $3,000 or more, a New York Times review has found."

Sorry, Paul, but Obamacare is proving as effective as a tobacco smoke enema.

Washington Post Editorial, "Hillary Clinton smartly distances herself from Obama": Blowing Smoke Up Hillary's Ass

The etymology of "blowing smoke up your ass"? Back in the 18th century, there was a popular medical device called a tobacco smoke enema, which was used to resuscitate drowning victims. However, it was ultimately discovered that blowing tobacco smoke into dead persons arses had no medical benefit, and from there, "blowing smoke up your ass" was born, i.e. telling someone a lie that she/he wants to hear.

Well today, in an editorial entitled "Hillary Clinton smartly distances herself from Obama," The Washington Post blows smoke up Hillary's arse. WaPo would have us know concerning Hillary's position on Syria:

"Ms. Clinton has a strong claim to express her differences with Mr. Obama, since it’s well-known that she argued them privately during her time in the administration, especially about how to handle Syria. (She favored more substantial U.S. support to dictator Bashar al-Assad’s opposition early in the popular uprising that has since devolved into civil war.) Not only that, but it’s clear from events in Paris that any progress Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved so far — and there has been some — is insufficient to stop the Islamic State from sowing terror far beyond the Middle East. Finally, the measures Ms. Clinton endorsed, such as safe zones, directly arming Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces if the Iraqi government won’t, and a more aggressive use of airstrikes and Special Operations forces, enjoy the backing of many military experts."

Excuse me, boys and girls, but how do you make such a claim without mention of Hillary's March 27, 2011  "Face the Nation" interview (massive protests against the Assad regime had begun two weeks earlier), during which she declared:

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

Assad a reformer? As the Washington Post's own Glenn Kessler subsequently wrote in a "Fact Checker" column entitled "Hillary Clinton’s uncredible statement on Syria," in which he gave Hillary three Pinocchios:

"Hillary Clinton is known for making provocative statements, but few have generated such a firestorm as her comment last week that the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, may be a reformer. She made her remarks after 'Face the Nation' host Bob Schieffer noted that Assad’s late father had killed 25,000 people during an uprising against his regime. Clinton responded by noting that the son was now in power and he was a 'different leader.'

Lawmakers and columnists quickly condemned her remarks. So two days later Clinton tried to deflect the criticism by telling reporters she was only referencing 'the opinions' of lawmakers who had met with Assad and that she was not speaking for the administration. But then she added: 'We’re also going to continue to urge that the promise of reform, which has been made over and over again and which you reported on just a few months ago – I’m a reformer, I’m going to reform, and I’ve talked to members of Congress and others about that, that we hear from the highest levels of leadership in Syria – will actually be turned into reality.'

. . . .

Throughout the Middle East uprisings, Clinton has had trouble calibrating her comments to the mood of the moment, such as when she pronounced the Mubarak regime to be 'stable' and 'looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.' Days later, Mubarak was gone.

We grant that we have no way of really knowing what lawmakers may have said privately to Clinton. But there is only a small universe of GOP senators and members of Congress who have recently traveled to Syria — 13 or so — and the word 'many' would suggest at least half of those traveling."

The Mubarak regime was "stable"? "There is a different leader in Syria now"? Spare me.

Regarding today's Washington Post editorial, I would also mention in passing that Hillary cannot even bring herself to say the words "radical Islam."

I would also mention that Hillary was instrumental in bringing about Obama's unsigned nuclear deal with Iran, after she recommended allowing the Islamic Republic of Iran, Assad's primary backer, to continue to enrich uranium as part of the said deal. Obama's passivity over the years toward Assad was in no way linked to his desperation to reach a legacy-creating nuclear deal with Khamenei? The answer is obvious. Worse still, Iranian fighter jets are now flying over Syria, creating a powder keg of Gargantuan dimensions, given their proximity to American and Israeli aircraft.

Bottom line: Hillary's foreign policy recommendations have proven no more substantive or consistent than smoke in the wind (or tobacco smoke blown into a corpse's arse). The Washington Post's editorial board should know better than to foist such nonsense upon us.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Frank Bruni, "How ISIS Defeats Us": Dracula to the Rescue?

In a seemingly sensible, balanced, New York Times op-ed entitled "How ISIS Defeats Us," Frank Bruni begins:

"I DON’T know how we win the war against ISIS.

But I know how we lose it. The last week has been a thorough and demoralizing education in that.

We lose it with a response to the Paris carnage and a discussion about the path forward that’s driven by partisan grievances and posturing rather than a mature, nuanced attempt to address Americans’ understandable anxiety and acknowledge that we may not be doing the right things or enough of them."

Bruni doesn't know how to win the war against the Islamic State? Well, fortunately or unfortunately, Russian President Putin thinks he knows how to win. Although Russian air strikes in Syria were initially focused on non-Islamic State rebel forces, including US-backed insurgents, that has all changed after ISIS took down a Russian passenger plane over Sinai on October 31 with a bomb that  killed 224 people. Putin responded to the attack on the A321 jet by declaring:

"Our military work in Syria must not only continue. It must be strengthened in such a way so that the terrorists will understand that retribution is inevitable."

And "true to his word," Putin is now carpet-bombing the Syrian city of Raqqa, which had served as the capital of the Islamic State's would-be caliphate. How many ISIS fighters and civilians have died in the attacks on the city, which once had a population of some 220,000? No one knows.

As you might be aware, Bram Stoker's "Dracula" was based upon a historical figure named Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who, in his battles with the Ottoman Empire, took to impaling Turkish prisoners of war in order to dispirit enemy forces. Well today, a new Vlad has arisen - actually his name is Vladimir - who is not willing to brook any sh*t from ISIS.

How does the US win or lose against ISIS? Sorry, Frank, the whole situation has spun entirely out of American control.

Friday, November 20, 2015

David Brooks, "Hillary Clinton Takes On ISIS": Bullshit!

Yes, I'm furious.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Hillary Clinton Takes On ISIS," David Brooks praises Hillary Clinton's speech on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations. Brooks writes:

"The speech was very impressive. While other candidates are content to issue vague calls to get tough on terror, Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework, not only dealing with ISIS but also putting that threat within the crosscutting conflicts that are inflaming the Middle East.

For example, instead of just issuing a generic call to get tough on the terrorists, she pointed to the reality that ISIS will be toppled only if there is an uprising by fellow Sunnis. There has to be a Sunni Awakening against ISIS in 2016, like the Sunni Awakening that toppled Al Qaeda in Iraq starting in 2007.

That will not happen while President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is spreading mayhem, terror and genocide."

Both Hillary and David fail to recognize that the Sunni Gulf states in the past funded the Islamic State and are now turning a blind eye to donations to ISIS from their wealthy citizenry. You see, Saudia Arabia is more afraid of Shiite Iran's ambition to gain hegemony over the Middle East than it is of ISIS. And lest anyone forget, the courtship of Iran has been a cornerstone of Obama's foreign policy, implemented in no small part by Secretary of State Clinton.

Or stated otherwise, by stoking Sunni fears involving American overtures to Iran, Obama and Hillary share partial responsibility for the emergence of the Islamic State.

Worse still, the Clinton Foundation has also been taking money from these same Gulf states.

Assad? Brooks fails to mention how Hillary declared in March 2011:

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

Assad a reformer? This comment alone should disqualify Hillary as a presidential candidate.

And today, Hillary Clinton cannot even bring herself to say the words "radical Islam." It's almost akin to Harry Potter and friends trying not to utter "Voldemort."

Brooks goes on to say that the US should be "supporting institutional reform, as Clinton said, throughout the Arab world, to revitalize nations as functioning units. Not an unsustainable stab at nation-building, but better governance from top to bottom." Reform the theocracies and dictatorships which comprise the Muslim Middle East? Good luck at that. We already witnessed what came of the Arab Spring.

My advice to Brooks: Go back to writing about the "great religions . . . based on love." You know absolutely nothing about the Middle East.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Charles Krauthammer, "Obama's phony war": The Islamic State Has Become Obama's True Legacy

It is a savage world, and fear has begun to grip the American psyche as the country's populace grows painfully aware of a president's impotence in the face of radical Islamic terror. Discussing President Obama's November 16, 2015 press conference in Antalya, Turkey, Michael Gerson writes in a Washington Post op-ed entitled "Obama, speaking from the ruins":

"Another trump card played by Obama in Turkey against his critics was the approval of the U.S. armed forces.

'We have the finest military in the world,' he said, 'and we have the finest military minds in the world, and I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers that that [an expanded military role] would be a mistake.'

How could anyone argue with that? Except that in 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a classified letter to the White House urging the president to keep 16,000 troops in Iraq, which Mullen called 'my best military advice.' With his re-election coming up, Obama overruled Mullen in favor of a lower number. And then the Obama administration did not really push to retain any troops at all. In a 2014 New Yorker article by Dexter Filkins, we learned: 'Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national-security adviser, told me that Obama believes a full withdrawal was the right decision.'

All of which left Iraq less prepared for the emergence of rise of the Islamic State."

Gerson goes on to observe with regard to the conflict in Syria, "Obama refused to support U.S. proxies in the conflict — against the advice of his defense secretary, his secretary of state and his CIA director."

Today, however, the president's "obstinacy" extends far beyond a refusal to heed the advice of his top ranking appointees. As we have now learned from Sharyl Attkisson, quoted in a Townhall article by Katie Pavlich entitled "Attkisson Source: Obama Is Flat Out Refusing to Hear Intel on Islamic Terror Groups," Obama is not even willing to listen to advice which is at variance with his omniscient notions:

"I have talked to people who have worked in the Obama administration who firmly believe he has made up his mind, I would say closed his mind, they say, to the intelligence they try to bring him about various groups he does not consider terrorists even if they're on the U.S. list of designated terrorists. I don't know the reasoning for it. I’ve only been told by those who have allegedly attempted to present him or been in the circle that has attempted to present him with certain intelligence that they said he doesn’t want it, he said he doesn't want it or he won't read it in some instances."

Or stated otherwise, America's Narcissist-in-Chief has taken to wearing blinders.

And then there is Charles Krauthammer's most recent Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Obama’s phony war," in which the good doctor observed:

"Obama defended his policy by listing its multifaceted elements. Such as, 'I hosted at the United Nations an entire discussion of counterterrorism strategies and curbing the flow of foreign fighters.' An 'entire' discussion, mind you. Not a partial one. They tremble in Raqqa.

And 'We have mobilized 65 countries to go after ISIL.' Yes, and what would we do without Luxembourg?

. . . .

Obama’s other passion is protecting Islam from any possible association with “violent extremism.” The Islamic State is nothing but 'killers with fantasies of glory.' Obama can never bring himself to acknowledge why these people kill and willingly die: to advance a radical Islamist millenarianism that is purposeful, indeed eschatological — and appealing enough to have created the largest, most dangerous terrorist movement on Earth.

Hollande is trying to gather a real coalition to destroy the Islamic State, even as Obama touts his phony 65. For 11 post-World War II presidencies, coalition leading has been the role of the United States. Where is America today? Awaiting a president. The next president."

Gerson and Krauthammer are both conservatives, and their views, which are at variance with mainstream thinking, should be taken with a grain of salt? I don't think so. Not when Senator Dianne Feinstein is also telling us:

"I have never been more concerned. I read the intelligence faithfully. ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding. They've just put out a video saying it is their intent to attack this country."

The Islamic State has become Obama's true legacy, and January 20, 2017 can't come soon enough, unless Obama should be followed by Hillary Clinton, who cannot even bring herself to say the words "radical Islam." It's almost akin to Harry Potter and friends trying not to say "Voldemort."

May the Lord have mercy on us.

Roger Cohen, "Body Bags in Paris": Hypocrite!

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Body Bags in Paris," Roger Cohen, who recently celebrated Obama's unsigned nuclear deal with Khamenei, writes of the attacks in France:

"We may not know who exactly the killers are but we know what they want to destroy. They spit at Montaigne, Voltaire and De Tocqueville. They loathe reason. They detest freedom. They cannot bear the West’s sexual mores. They would enslave the world, particularly its women, to the cruel god of their medievalist reading of Islam."

Hold your horses, Roger! Can't all of the above also be said of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which hangs homosexuals; stones to death women accused of adultery; persecutes Christians, Sunni Muslims, Kurds and Baha'is; imprisons Americans without cause; executes poets accused of being enemies of God; bombed a Jewish community center in distant Buenos Aires; supports the monstrous Assad regime in Syria; arms Hezbollah; and has the highest per capita execution rate in the world?

Perhaps "The West has lost its spine, a spine called America," as Cohen concludes, but Roger is also a hypocrite.

"Ben Carson: My plan to defeat the Islamic State": To Treat a Disease, First Determine Its Origin

Dear Dr. Carson,

Thank you for your Washington Post opinion piece entitled "My plan to defeat the Islamic State," which includes many sagacious observations concerning the symptoms of the disease known as the Islamic State, which is spreading like an epidemic through the Middle East, and which is now threatening Europe and the United States. However, I think all of us need to devote less time to the symptoms and more time to the diagnosis of this pestilence's root cause.

You begin your opinion piece by observing:

"Make no mistake about it: We are at war. It is not a war against an opposing nation. The Islamic State is not a sovereign in the territorial sense but is a sick and twisted ideology that seeks to engulf the region and turn back the clock to the Dark Ages. We must ask ourselves, how do we defeat an evil state of consciousness? What are the best approaches?"

Indeed, "a sick and twisted ideology"; however, the Islamic State is, at its core, a direct response to the shifting of power between Shiites and Sunnis in the Muslim Middle East. In post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, the Shiite majority took hold of the reins of government. At the same time, the antagonism of Syria's Sunni majority to Alawite rule, also fueled by a multiyear drought, again brought tempers from a simmer to a boil (recall the slaughter of 30,000 Sunni inhabitants of Hama in 1982 by Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father). Add to this odious mixture, Obama's withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, together with his courtship of Shiite Iran (Iran could be a "very successful regional power"), and you have the makings of the Islamic State.

You see, the Islamic State is very much a Sunni response to Iranian aggression in the region. Iran, of course, has been supporting the Houthi insurrection in Yemen, supplying weapons and funding to Hezbollah in Lebanon, providing direct military support to Bashar al-Assad in Syria (in addition to sending Hezbollah's fighters into the fray), while also seeking to undermine Bahrain. All of which has Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar very much on edge, resulting in their funding of the Islamic State, which is seen as arresting heretical Iranian expansion.

Or stated otherwise, the Islamic State is very much the illegitimate progeny of Obama's hands-off foreign policy in the Middle East.

Dr. Carson, you suggest a "multi-pronged communications strategy that leverages our strengths in media production and messaging, combined with cutting off traditional access routes to social media for radical Islamist groups." However, blocking "access routes to social media" only treats the symptoms of the malady, whereas the underlying cause is Sunni insecurity.

Dr. Carson, you go on to say:

"The Islamic State is on the offensive, and we must do more to counter their fighters and eviscerate their infrastructure. But this also means identifying and cutting off their sources of supply and funding — namely the oil fields along Syria’s eastern border. We need to either destroy the fields with airstrikes or take them and hold them with a coalition of local (Iraqi, Turkish and Kurdish) ground troops and Western military advisers and Special Operations forces."

Now don't get me wrong: I am very much in favor of cutting off funding to the Islamic State, but a coalition of Iraqi, Turkish and Kurdish troops? There is too much bad blood among them, extending back decades and even centuries. Such a coalition amounts to wishful thinking.

"[S]anctuary zones in the contested areas of Iraq and Syria" for refugees, as you suggest? A good idea, but it also demands overhead "no-fly zones," which, given Russia's entry into the conflict, is now easier said than done.

Your conclusion:

"Now, more than ever, the United States must be willing to lead the free world. We need to restore America’s standing by winning over the hearts and minds of populations affected by radical Islamist violence. And to do that we need to create a winning strategy to dismantle and destroy the Islamic State while planting seeds for a more peaceful, healthy and cohesive society in the war-torn regions of the Middle East."

Agreed, however, radical Islamist violence also includes that spawned by Iran, and progress is not going to be made in combating the Islamic State, until America's traditional Sunni allies in the Middle East are reassured by America's next president concerning America's intentions vis-à-vis Iranian efforts at establishing hegemony over the region.

Yours sincerely,


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thomas Friedman, "Cabs, Camels or ISIS": Islands of Decency in the Muslim Middle East?

"Islands of decency" in the Muslim Middle East?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Cabs, Camels or ISIS," would-be Middle East expert Thomas Friedman provides us with his thoughts on how to handle the Islamic State in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Tom Terrific would have us know:

"The context within which Arabs and Muslims live their lives really matters. And in too many places they’ve had only two choices — SISI or ISIS — the iron fist of generals, like Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who is trying to stifle all dissent, or the ISIS madness that says the only way forward is to take the Arab-Muslim world backward.

Fortunately, there is a third way: the autocracies, monarchies and a few frail democracies that have invested in their people and created islands of decency — Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Morocco and the U.A.E. — where more young Arabs and Muslims can realize their full potential and build their dignity by disrupting camels and cabs — not Paris and Beirut."

If I was reading this op-ed on an airplane, right about now I would be reaching for the vomit bag.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an "island of decency"? Some 70 percent of the population of Jordan, which was carved out of the Palestinian Mandate by Britain in 1922, consists of Palestinians who suffer from discrimination. "Honor killings" against women in Jordan? There are far too many, and they are effectively condoned by the government.

Lebanon, which plays host to Hezbollah and which has witnessed unrelenting civil war and savagery among its Shiite, Sunni, Maronite Christian and Druze inhabitants, is an island of decency? Two suicide bombings in Beirut killed 43 people on Thursday.

Kuwait, whose wealthy denizens have been channeling millions of dollars to the Islamic State, is an island of decency? Spare me!

Friedman continues his opinion piece by observing:

"For me, the big strategic question in Iraq and Syria is: What would it take to uproot ISIS and create a Sunni island of decency in its place? For starters, that requires an honest assessment of how big the challenge is.

Sixty years ago Asian dictators told their people in effect, 'I am going to take away your freedom — but give you the best education, export-led economics and infrastructure that money can buy — and in a half-century you’ll build a middle class that will gradually take your freedom back.' In the Arab world, 60 years ago dictators told their people, in effect, 'I am going to take away your freedom and give you the Arab-Israeli conflict, a shiny object to distract you from my corruption and predation.'

That difference, 60 years later, has produced the Asian economic miracle and fueled the Arab civilizational meltdown/disorder in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq."

Hold on, Tom! China's citizenry is taking its freedom back? How the hell do you ignore the country's three million slaves who manufacture cheap consumer goods for the West? And although Iran leads the world in per capita executions, China executes more people per year than all other countries combined. Mention by Friedman of China's brutal occupation of Tibet? Not a chance.

Or stated otherwise, Friedman's comparison of China with the Muslim Middle East is moronic, but when has that ever stopped him from writing drivel?

Friedman's erudite conclusion:

"To sustainably defeat bad ISIS Sunnis you need good non-ISIS Sunnis to create an island of decency in their place."

Ah yes, replace the bad Sunnis with the good Sunnis. Holy cow, Tom cracked the case! Unless, of course, you prefer one of the competing bullshit narratives proffered by Brooks and Ignatius . . .

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

David Brooks, "Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts": All You Need Is Love . . . and Justice?

At yesterday's press conference in Antalya Turkey, Obama, frustrated and confused in the wake of the Paris attacks, abnegated American leadership in the war against terror. In response to a question from ABC News White House Correspondent Jim Avila, the president declared (my emphasis in red):

"We'll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it's entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate. But what I'm not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France [sic]. I'm too busy for that."

American "leadership" and "winning" won't help protect the American people? Fascinating. So what will help, according to the president? Stick to the Obama game plan . . . whatever that might be. But not to worry: In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts," David Brooks offers alternative advice for a more tranquil world. Brooks writes:

"The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries. Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.

. . . .

Alongside the ethic of love there is a command to embrace an ethic of justice. Love is particular, but justice is universal. Love is passionate, justice is dispassionate.

Justice demands respect of the other.

. . . .

The reconciliation between love and justice is not simple, but for believers the texts, read properly, point the way."

All the great religions are based on love, yet love can run amok? And all the great religions embrace a common notion of justice, extending to others with different sets of spiritual values, thus setting love back on track and providing a path for peace in our time?

Hurry, David, and set a meeting with Obama. You've hit upon it! Love and justice! The case cracker! That, or the West finally gets its act together - with a little help from the Kurds - and kicks some Islamic State butt.

Why do I prefer the latter idea?

[For more stupidity of a different variety, have a look at David Ignatius's Washington Post opinion piece entitled "The fight against the Islamic State should unite Muslims and the West" ("These tragedies should unite Westerners and Muslims, and create a common solidarity against the terrorists of the Islamic State"). Ignatius, who not too long ago claimed that we had heard the last of "Death to America!" from Iran, still doesn't get it.]

Monday, November 16, 2015

Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin, "Could Paris Happen Here?": Sorry, Boys, It's Coming

In a guest New York Times op-ed entitled "Could Paris Happen Here?," Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin, authors of "The Age of Sacred Terror" (I've read it, and it's on a shelf in front of my computer as I type this blog entry), would have us know that American anxiety over terror attacks similar to those in Paris are "unwarranted" and "no one should panic." Simon and Benjamin contend:

"The slaughter in France depended on four things: easy access to Paris, European citizens happy to massacre their compatriots, a Euro-jihadist infrastructure to supply weapons and security agencies that lacked resources to monitor the individuals involved. These are problems the United States does not have — at least not nearly to the degree that Europe does, undermining its ability to defend itself.

. . . .

It appears the Paris attacks involved both Middle Eastern operatives and Muslims from France and Belgium. But some high-profile exceptions aside, American Muslims are much less attracted to the Islamic State and its ideology than European Muslims seem to be. Americans have traveled to ISIS-controlled territories at a rate of roughly a third that of their European Union coreligionists.

Yes, some of the worst attacks of recent years here at home have been by deeply alienated Muslims, including Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and the Tsarnaev brothers, perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing. But the incidence of such malcontents is lower than in Europe, whose larger Muslim communities, social science data shows, are markedly less integrated.

Although European governments have been working to ameliorate grievances, European Muslims remain poorer, more ghettoized and more discriminated against than American Muslims, whose levels of education and income mirror those of the entire American population."

Or stated otherwise, American homeland security has improved markedly since 9/11, American Muslims are more integrated than their European co-religionists, and there is significantly less reason to worry. I disagree. Sure, Simon has degrees from Harvard, Columbia and Princeton, and Benjamin has degrees from Harvard and Oxford, but in my opinion (I worked a "bit" in counter-terrorism, and the West should be focused on choking off the flow of funding to the Islamic State via Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait), they're ignoring key factors weighing against their conclusion.

First, these Islamic State f*ckers (a term of art used widely in academia) are as shrewd as they are vicious. For example, they can beat US airport security and American passport checks. (Compare American airport security staffing with the highly motivated students doing the job in Israel.)

Second, American Muslims are not as "passive" as Simon and Benjamin would have us believe. As reported by the Pew Research Center in an August 30, 2011 article entitled "Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism," eight percent of US Muslims believe that suicide bombing can "often/sometimes" be justified. Now that's a relief! If you randomly place 100 American adult Muslims in a room, only eight of them think that it's "often/sometimes" justified to blow you to kingdom come.

But why rely only on Pew? In a June 2015 poll of 600 Muslim-Americans, The Polling Company determined:

  • If shariah conflicts with the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, 33 percent answered that shariah "should be considered supreme."
  • 36 percent declared that Muslims in the US should be free to choose courts or tribunals in the US that apply shariah law, whereas 15 percent opined that Muslims in the US should be subject only to shariah courts.
  • 29 percent strongly or somewhat agreed that "violence against those that insult the prophet Mohammad, the Qur'an, or Islamic faith is sometimes acceptable."
  • 25 percent strongly or somewhat agreed that "Violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad."
  • 19 percent believed that "the use of violence in the United States is justified in order to make shariah the law of the land in this country."
  • Nine percent believed that the beliefs of the Islamic State are "correct and consistent with shariah."
  • Eight percent believed that the beliefs of al-Qaeda are "correct and consistent with shariah."

Having perused these numbers, are you feeling better? I'm not.

Sorry to disagree, boys, but it's coming.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mitt Romney, "Obama must wage war on the Islamic State, not merely harass it": Is He Running?

In a short guest Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Obama must wage war on the Islamic State, not merely harass it," Mitt Romney hammers Obama for failing to wage war on the Islamic State. Observing how Obama told the American people just hours before the attack on Paris that "we have contained" the Islamic State, Romney goes on to say:

"After Paris, it’s clear: Doing the minimum won’t make us safe. It’s time the president stopped hedging and took meaningful steps to defend us and our allies.

The president was right when he called the Islamic State a 'cancer,' but it is a cancer that metastasized on his watch. Paris is proof. So are Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and North Africa. What we saw Friday we will see here if we continue on the present course. It’s time to change that course, secure the safety of our homeland and preserve our democratic values. Now is the time, not merely to contain the Islamic State, but to eradicate it once and for all."

Note how Romney calls for the "eradication" of the Islamic State, where as Hillary and the other would-be Democratic presidential contenders are unwilling to use the term "radical Islam."

And so, with Trump, notwithstanding his Iowa meltdown, still leading the Republican pack (Are Republicans truly dumb enough to shoot themselves in the foot?), is Mitt giving second thoughts to tossing his hat in the ring? Stay tuned.

New York Times Editorial, "Hillary Clinton Botches Wall Street Questions": And Saudi Contributions to the Clinton Foundation?

A New York Times editorial entitled "Hillary Clinton Botches Wall Street Questions" has surprisingly savaged Hillary Clinton's explanation concerning campaign contributions she has received from Wall Street. In response to her attempt to tie these contributions to the 9/11 attacks directed against the World Trade Center in Manhattan's financial district, the editorial states:

"Since 2001, she and Bill Clinton have earned more than $125 million for speeches, many of the most lucrative made before financial groups. That does not account for the millions given directly to her campaign, and to political action committees backing her. Nearly 15 years after the 2001 attacks, Mrs. Clinton was earning more than $200,000 for a 20-minute speech. Most of those took place behind guarded doors. But one can guess that she and the financial executives were not still talking about 9/11.

. . . .

Her effort to tug on Americans’ heartstrings instead of explaining her Wall Street ties — on a day that the scars of 9/11 were exposed anew — was at best botched rhetoric. At worst it was the type of cynical move that Mrs. Clinton would have condemned in Republicans."

Contributions from Wall Street? In the aftermath of the Islamic State's attack against Paris, I would be more concerned with contributions the Clinton Foundation has received from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, which have also taken a lax attitude toward private contributions to this terror organization.

Prior to November 2016, I am confident this cozy arrangement between the Clintons and the various Gulf states will be explored. It will also be interesting to hear her explain away the abusive conduct of these donor countries to women.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Roger Cohen, "To Have Paris, Defeat ISIS": To Have Buenos Aires, Crush Iran?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "To Have Paris, Defeat ISIS," Roger ("Iran is not totalitarian") Cohen would have us know:

"The only adequate measure, after the killing of at least 129 people in Paris, is military, and the only objective commensurate with the ongoing threat is the crushing of ISIS and the elimination of its stronghold in Syria and Iraq. The barbaric terrorists exalting on social media at the blood they have spilled cannot be allowed any longer to control territory on which they are able to organize, finance, direct and plan their savagery."

A question for Cohen, who has long advocated détente with Iran: You call for the destruction of the Islamic State, yet what is so different between the horrifying acts of terrorism experienced in Paris yesterday and Iran's bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, which killed 87 people and wounded over 100 people?

Why shouldn't the bombing of the Jewish Community Center by Iran have evoked similar outrage? Oh, that's right, it was the bombing of a Jewish Community Center, and Jews apparently don't matter.

The Islamic State versus Iran? In fact, one is Sunni and the other is Shiite, but they are equally barbaric.

Frank Bruni, "The Exploitation of Paris": In Fact, Obama Is to Blame

In fact, it was a disaster waiting to happen. And yes, Obama is to blame.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Exploitation of Paris," Frank Bruni objects to responding to the massacre in Paris "with an unsavory opportunism instead of a respectful grief." Specifically, Bruni writes:

"Well, apparently President Obama’s justly profound concern about rising temperatures is proof of his inadequate attention to terrorism and an indictment of his ability to do triage overall.

Or so I gather from a column written by Roger L. Simon for PJ Media. Simon characterized Obama as "a ludicrous man who thinks the world’s greatest problem is climate change in the face of Islamic terror."

Does battling the latter prohibit battling the former?

Simon also mentioned that Obama had once referred to the Islamic state as 'the jayvee team' and had sought to scale down American military commitments abroad. While I question the usefulness of bashing Obama within 24 hours of the Paris attacks, I acknowledge that his past and present assessments of the Islamic state and his readiness (or not) to use American might are fair points of debate in the context of Paris and how we respond to it."

Actually, Obama's responsibility for the catastrophe in Paris extends far beyond the president's neo-isolationism.

As some who read this blog know, a "bit" of my past professional life involved counter-terrorism. And although I was troubled by Obama's reference to the Islamic State as "the jayvee team," this characterization was the least of my concerns.

A coordinated terrorist attack of the kind witnessed in Paris demands money. And from where has funding in support of the Islamic State come? Currently, revenues from the sale of oil and gas are crucial to the functioning of the Islamic State. However, long before there were oil revenues, there were contributions flowing to the Islamic State from wealthy citizens of Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. As Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen declared in 2014:

"Our ally Kuwait has become the epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria. A number of Kuwaiti fundraisers exploit the charitable impulses of unwitting donors by soliciting humanitarian donations from both inside and outside the country, cloaking their efforts in humanitarian garb, but diverting those funds to extremist groups in Syria. Meanwhile, donors who already harbor sympathies for Syrian extremists have found in Kuwait fundraisers who openly advertise their ability to move funds to fighters in Syria.

. . . .

Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally, has for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability. Press reports indicate that the Qatari government is also supporting extremist groups operating in Syria. To say the least, this threatens to aggravate an already volatile situation in a particularly dangerous and unwelcome manner.

. . . .

Private fundraising networks in Qatar, for instance, increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations for terrorists and to communicate with both donors and recipient radicals on the battlefield. This method has become so lucrative, and Qatar has become such a permissive terrorist financing environment, that several major Qatar-based fundraisers act as local representatives for larger terrorist fundraising networks that are based in Kuwait."

What have Obama and friends done to prevent this funding? Obviously not enough. After all, some 11,000 US troops are stationed at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which Michelle Obama visited less than two weeks ago, and the president wouldn't want to offend the host country, even as it plays both sides of the fence.

Hillary Clinton? As reported in an International Business Times article entitled "Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton's State Department" by David Sirota and Andrew Perez, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have "all donated to the Clinton Foundation and also gained State Department clearance to buy caches of American-made weapons even as the department singled them out for a range of alleged ills, from corruption to restrictions on civil liberties to violent crackdowns against political opponents." Charming.

"Unsavory opportunism instead of a respectful grief" on my part? I don't think so. I'm just angry as hell.