The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rachel's Mime

The Left and much of MSM is correct when it criticizes many of the hyperbolic comments that right-wing talk radio hosts make about important social issues. However, left-wing talk radio is equally hyperbolic, but at the moment, its hyperbole (some would call it deranged thinking) focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rachel Maddow of left-wing Air America comments:
But while we're on the wild wide world of scary tour, of course, Israel has started another war. A third straight day of airstrikes on Gaza, the death toll now more than 300 people. Israel says they are doing this to prevent Palestinians from firing rockets into southern Israel. First of all, there's the question of proportionality as to how many people those rockets have killed versus how many people the Israeli bombing has now killed. There's also the issue of effectiveness. In the midst of this massive air assault killing hundreds of civilians in Gaza, a rocket fired from Gaza today killed a man and wounded seven in the Israeli town of Ashkelon. Effectiveness. Three Israelis were also stabbed by a Palestinian in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank today. Is there a military solution to this problem?

Let me take her comments one at a time:

But while we're on the wild wide world of scary tour, of course, Israel has started another war. One thing that happens all too often is that people like Rachel conveniently forget VERY important facts. Hamas launched 3,000 missiles and mortars into Israel since January, 2008 specifically targeting Israeli civilians. I'm sure if Rachel knew this she’d understand that each of those missile attacks is an act of war. 3,000 of them (300 in the last two weeks) is reasonable provocation for a defensive move on Israel's part. Only a deluded imbecile would term a country’s legitimate right to defend itself from attack as “starting a war.”

A third straight day of airstrikes on Gaza, the death toll now more than 300 people. There's an ugly implication, completely incorrect, that these “People” are all innocent bystanders. By UN count, at least 250 of them are Hamas terrorists and the others are civilians who have been killed because Hamas places missile batteries and operation headquarters in civilian areas, using civilians as human shields. You'd think a human rights activist like Rachel would note this clear violation of international law.

Israel says they are doing this to prevent Palestinians from firing rockets into southern Israel. First of all, there's the question of proportionality as to how many people those rockets have killed versus how many people the Israeli bombing has now killed. Ahhh, the “proportionality” mime, a favorite of terrorist apologists. I suppose Rachel would advocate Israel launching 3,000 rockets into Gaza’s civilian neighborhoods – that’s proportional, isn’t it? The reality, which is obviously too difficult for Maddow to grasp, is that Israel has both the right and the obligation to stop Hamas from launching its attacks on Israeli civilians. It has no obligation under international law or any other law to be “proportional.”

There's also the issue of effectiveness. In the midst of this massive air assault killing hundreds of civilians in Gaza, a rocket fired from Gaza today killed a man and wounded seven in the Israeli town of Ashkelon. Effectiveness. I wonder if Maddow would feel better if a Hamas rocket hit a nursery school classroom in Ashkelon and killed, oh, let's say, 40 children under the age of 5. Would that make her feel better about her contrived "effectivess" equation? More importantly, there are no data whatsoever to suggest that “hundreds of civilians” have been killed (facts, Rachel, they’re supposed to form the basis of your commentary). The highest UN (no friend of Israel) estimate is 60 civilian deaths– very regrettable but hardly avoidable given Hamas’ tactics.

Rachel Maddow is representative of many left-leaning commentators in the media. They have decided that Israel is the villain in this drama and as a consequence, they reject facts that do not fit their mime.

They argue the legitimate right to defense is somehow “starting a war.” They suggest that the barbarians who purposely target innocents are somehow morally equivalent to a nation that does everything possible to avoid civilians casualties. I wonder, for example, why Rachel or her compatriots never mention that Israel dropped pamphlets from the air and sent text messages to Gazans prior to air assaults asking them to vacate the areas under assault, all in an attempt to spare civilians the carnage of war. Can’t report that, it doesn’t fit the Left’s mime.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Bazaar

Many commentators are suggesting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has now been elevated to the top of incoming President Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda. Like many of his positions, Obama has been purposely ambiguous about his position vis-a-vis Israel and Hamas, except to voice the tired phrases that stress the important of a “peace process.” A commenter at The Belmont Club named “Alexis” pinpoints one of the key problems with a reliance on “process:”
An American tourist goes into a bazaar. He looks at a rug and falls in love with it. He tells the merchant, “I just love that rug. It is so beautiful. How much money does it cost?” The merchant had been willing to sell the rug for $100, but he had been planning to quote $500. But hearing this American, he replies, “It’s a cherished heirloom of my grandmother. It’s difficult to part with, but because my beloved son needs back surgery, I might be willing to part with it for $10,000. But just for you, I’ll bring it down to $9000. The American replies, “Oh no, I’ll pay the full ticket. Your son needs the money. Here’s $10,000.” The merchant then accepts the money with a mixture of disbelief and contempt.

That’s the problem that calling the Levant “The Holy Land” brings. The more an outsider wants “peace”, the higher the price the bazaar merchants will demand. And remember that in Arab culture, everybody haggles. According to underworld lore, even the prostitutes will haggle over their own price.

There are those who take the view that Americans must bear some variety of “The White Man’s Burden” to guide the “Holy Land” into a promised kingdom of mutual respect, true justice, and everlasting peace. Perhaps they forget the importance of tough love. When a parent caves in to a child’s demands in exchange for a momentary respite from quarrelling, even if such a desire for peace comes only occasionally, the effect is to teach the child to become a spoiled brat.

Terrorists exist for a reason. There may be an internal cultural component, but the main reason why terrorists act the way they do is because their tantrums often succeed at getting them what they want. Calling the Levant “The Holy Land” ensures that every spoiled brat in the region can get all the attention he wants if he acts out and threatens the peace of mind of every devout fool who is willing to pay any price to achieve “Peace in the Holy Land”.

When outsiders ram “peace” down the throats of people who don’t want peace, peace is not the result. Not real peace. Real peace happens when those who actually live with the consequences of “peace” want peace more than any outsider, whether he is an American or a Swede.

The “peace process” has become yet another form of rental income collected by grifters who fleece the unwary traveler. The “peace process” has become a cow for those who milk the conflict for power, influence, and money.

It would not be wise to sell one’s soul in exchange for “Peace in the Holy Land”.

I worry that Obama, like many of the Presidents who preceded him, will try to “ram peace down the throats of people [the Palestinians] who [demonstrably] don’t want peace.” In essence, that’s what every “peace process” since 1967 has attempted to do, and every one has failed.

Maybe it’s time to walk away from the bazaar and allow the principles who inhabit it to work things out, or not. Maybe it’s time to recognize that the price of “peace” is set far too high (the destruction of the only liberal democracy in the Middle East) and that one of the parties has no intention of buying the goods, only extracting as many concessions as possible until it is strong enough to burn down the bazaar. Maybe it’s time to recognize that peace is an illusion than cannot be achieved until those who would burn down the bazaar decide that life is better than death.

It’s a lot to ask of a new President, but maybe it’s time that someone did.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ground Hog Day

Ground Hog Day? For those who don’t remember the movie, it’s the story of a man who relives the same day over and over again, trying to improve on the result with each iteration. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has the same feel.

In this iteration, the Islamist terrorist group Hamas, whose stated goal is the complete destruction of Israel, lobs hundreds of rockets into Israeli civilian centers. Their actions—purposely targeting Israeli civilians—are clear violations of International Law, but the world quietly watches and occasionally clucks its “concern.” The usual suspects at the UN subtly suggest that Hamas is justified in its actions because Israel is “starving” the Gazans when it blockades it borders with a country that is openly at war with it. This despite no evidence of starvation and a continuous flow a “humanitarian aid,” even as Israel fights Hamas.

It’s useless to ask what other country on the planet would calmly accept continual rocket attacks against its towns and cities or which of the world’s nations would feed, cloth, and provide medical attention to a population that has chosen a terrorist regime that vows to annihilate the nation providing the aid. Silly questions.

In the eyes of the Left, the MSM, and many diplomats, the Gazans are the aggrieved party. Daily rocket attacks, occasional suicide bombers (occasional only because the borders have been closed), and violent rhetoric have no bearing. In the world’s MSM, Israel is characterized as a bully for defending itself, it is criticized for using “disproportionate force” and among the intelligencia, for not recognizing that it must negotiate a settlement.

The stupidity of each of these criticisms is overwhelming, but no matter.

Wretchard of the Belmont Club describes the situation perfectly:
I think the diplomats are playing a dangerous game. The only thing that keeps the situation in the Middle East stable is Israeli restraint. But that’s the stability of a spinning plate in a juggler’s hands; not that of a concrete block sitting foursquare on the floor. The danger is the diplomats may come to regard Israeli restraint as a foundation on which to build their diplomatic fantasies. They will keep handing the juggler one more plate, one more ball, one more champagne glass to spin at the end of a stick. Give back the Golan Heights; let the Arabs have part of Jerusalem; ignore the rocket attacks from Gaza. Today there are no more enemies. Only Partners for Peace.

But they build at the risk that someday the juggler will miss a catch. Restraint may collapse or maybe simply lapse for an instant. But that instant will be fatal. The Arabs, conditioned to expecting Israeli restraint, may explode in outrage. The Israelis may be driven over the edge. All the plates will come crashing down. And on that day the diplomats will be the persons most astonished at the collapse of their house of cards. There won’t be any stability in the Middle East until there is real restraint on both sides; not fake restraint on one side and real restraint on the other.

The reality is that the problem is intractable. Negotiation won’t work because Hamas (and many members of the West Bank’s “moderate” Fatah movement) will accept only the complete destruction of Israel. Backed by supporters in Syria, Iran, and throughout the Arab world, they care little for the Palestinian people and less about building a viable state. They care only about ridding an infidel presence from their midst, even though the infidel (Jews) have inhabited the region for thousands of years before Islam existed.

But war won’t work either. Israel is a nation that values human life. They will not obliterate the Palestinians and would be gravely criticized by the world community if they tried. So they fight back in measured steps, degrading the enemy for a time, but never willing or able to finish the job.

An uneasy calm returns for a time and the cycle repeats.

There are some problems that can be solved. This is not one of them. It is a situation that must be managed, given the murderous intent of Hamas and Hezballah and their backers throughout the Arab world (along with the Islamist leadership of Iran).

And so, as you listen (yet again) to growing criticism of a tiny country that is doing nothing more than defending itself against a movement that will accept nothing less that its complete destruction, just think—ground hog day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


When I began writing this blog in November, 2005, the economic infrastructure of the United States had already begun to go south. It’s just that relatively few of us recognized it. We were in an economic boom period. Residential real estate prices were rocking upward at 20-plus percent a year. Seminars offered advice for those who wanted to get rich quick by flipping houses and condos with no money down. The stock market trajectory shouted “invest, invest, invest” to everyone with a few extra dollars, and unemployment was virtually non-existent.

My son purchased a condo in Los Angeles during that time, and I remember distinctly that he was offered a very large mortgage with no money down, a very low temporary APR that ballooned dramatically at the end of three years, and the option of interest-only payments. I recall a feeling of unease as he told me about the mortgage deal and knew then, at a level that I couldn’t verbalize, that things weren’t right.

At the risk of being a dinosaur, I suggested that he put some money down (20 percent), get a conventional mortgage, and buy the condo using “old school” rules. Luckily, he listened.

I only wish that I had acted on my own feelings of unease during 2005 and 2006, but like millions of others, I couldn’t see the real trouble that was festering within our economic infrastructure. Worse, I never believed that the “masters of the universe”—our national political leaders and the CEOs of major investment banks, commercial banks, investment houses, and insurance companies would act with such breathtaking irresponsibility.

As I write this 400th post for OnCenter, my outlook for the near term future has dimmed considerably. Domestically, we’re faced with an economic downturn that is unprecedented in my lifetime. But even worse, we’re faced with a crisis of confidence that has infected even those of us who believed that our country and our economic system could occasionally be bowed, but would never be broken.

Jim Kunstler (hat tip: The Belmont Club) provides some dark commentary:
The tipping point seems to be the Bernie Madoff $50 billion Ponzi scandal, which represents the grossest failure of authority and hence legitimacy in finance to date in as much as Mr. Madoff was a former chairman of the NASDAQ, for godsake. It's like discovering that Ben Bernanke is running a meth lab inside the Federal Reserve. And out in the heartland, of course, there is the spectacle of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich trying to desperately dodge a racketeering rap behind an implausible hairdo.

What seems to spook people now is the possibility that everybody in charge of everything is a fraud or a crook. Legitimacy has left the system. Not even the the legions of Obama are immune as his reliance on Wall Street capos Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers seem tainted by the same reckless thinking that brought on the fiasco. His pick last week for chief of the SEC, Mary Shapiro, is already being dissed as a shill for the Big Bank status quo. In a few days we'll discover what kind of bonuses are being ladled out by the remaining Wall Street banks with TARP money and a new chorus of howls will ring out.

This is very dangerous territory. In dollar terms, the numbers being applied to the various problems are so colossal -- trillions! -- that the death of our currency seems assured. And in defiance of congress's express intentions, none of the TARP "money" has been applied to its targeted purpose of buying up "toxic" (i.e. fraudulent) securities hidden in the vaults of banks, pension funds, and municipal portfolios.

Assuredly, we are “in very dangerous territory.” It appears that we are now willing to accept a country in which moral hazard is inadvertently encouraged for irresponsible individuals, incompetent CEOs, and uncompetitive corporations. Bail ‘em all out and everything will be just fine!

Will it?

Monday, December 22, 2008


If you think about it for just a moment, the current media frenzy over Caroline Kennedy’s potential appointment as New York’s junior senator is a sad reflection of our collective obsession with the country’s glitterati and their supposed entitlement as our opinion leaders.

It appears that Caroline Kennedy is a decent woman who, like many women who grew up with wealth and power, tries to contribute to society as best she can. But at 51 years of age, Caroline has never held a real job, never been elected to any office, and with the exception of the past year, has never expressed any political opinions of substance. Obviously, none of that disqualifies her as a potential senator, but it does seem odd that she’s an odds-on favorite for the position when many, many other qualified democratic candidates are available to New York’s Governor Paterson.

Victor Davis Hansen comments:
Caroline Kennedy is no doubt a fine individual who by all accounts has led an exemplary life. But her proposed appointment to the US Senate is a rare reflection of ourselves--the glittering of the aristocracy in the left's vision of an otherwise egalitarian America, the notion that blue-chip certification conveys status and wisdom rather than proven excellence through the life-school of hard knocks, and the ethical bankruptcy of the media that has no principled notion of disinterested inquiry, but now serves as an fawning appendage of the Left.

In short, appointing Caroline Kennedy to the Senate from New York tells us a lot more about ourselves than it does even her.

Caroline's many defenders cite her Harvard and Columbia education as qualification for the Senatorial position. Puleeze. Again from Hansen:
Much is recently made of Barack Obama's evocation of the 'Best and Brightest' Kennedy coterie, as he draws heavily on so-called "smart" people from the Ivy League. But the media's current heavies in the financial meltdown--President George Bush, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, SEC head Chris Cox, former director of Fannie Mae Franklin Rains, and Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Barney Frank all have in common only Harvard degrees, which apparently are requisites to have overseen financial disaster rather than tools to have prevented it.

On balance, it doesn’t matter much whether or not Caroline gets the Senate appointment. My guess is she won’t, not because she has weak qualifications, but because Patterson will do the harsh political calculus and decide to eliminate a strong potential political opponent, New York AG Andrew Cuomo, by pushing him upstairs. Then again, never underestimate the raw power of the Kennedy machine.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


In the week following the Bernard Madoff revelations, Tom Friedman tells of a western businessman who approached him at a conference in Hong Kong and asked: “So, just how corrupt is America?”

Three months ago, I would have answered that it’s far less corrupt than virtually any developing country and even looks pretty good when compared to most modern Western countries. Now, I’m beginning to wonder. The ”black swan” event that is now know as the “Collapse of ‘08” has shaken my faith in the fiduciary responsibility of bankers, regulators, and the politicians who oversee them. I never doubted that greed drives many individuals, but I had hoped (naively, it turns out) that people who manage billions would act like grown-ups. They haven’t, and all of us who did act like grown-up have been badlly hurt as a consequence.

Friedman comments on corruption in our financial markets:
I have no sympathy for Madoff. But the fact is, his alleged Ponzi scheme was only slightly more outrageous than the “legal” scheme that Wall Street was running, fueled by cheap credit, low standards and high greed. What do you call giving a worker who makes only $14,000 a year a nothing-down and nothing-to-pay-for-two-years mortgage to buy a $750,000 home, and then bundling that mortgage with 100 others into bonds — which Moody’s or Standard & Poors rate AAA — and then selling them to banks and pension funds the world over? That is what our financial industry was doing. If that isn’t a pyramid scheme, what is?

Far from being built on best practices, this legal Ponzi scheme was built on the mortgage brokers, bond bundlers, rating agencies, bond sellers and homeowners all working on the I.B.G. principle: “I’ll be gone” when the payments come due or the mortgage has to be renegotiated.

The “Collapse of ‘08” is infuriating to those of us who never took on heavy debt, who lived well within our means, and who viewed ourselves as “conservative” investors. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme may become a tipping point, shaking our confidence in an economic system that should have a built-in immune system that attacks and kills greed and corruption before they infect then entire economic body.

And how do our existing (and new) leaders in Washington plan to cure the infection? Buy flooding the body (our economy) indiscriminately with antibiotics (money that is really nothing more than debt). The prognosis—inflation, a stagnant economy, continuing private sector unemployment, and enormous government waste that benefits far fewer people that you might think.

The real cure? The frightening thing is that even Wall Street's masters of the Universe and Washington's best and brightest don’t seem to have a clue.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Major Address

Over the past few weeks, spokespeople for the new Obama administration have indicated that the President-Elect plans a ”major address in an Islamic Capital” as an attempt at rapprochement with Islam and to mend the perceived damage done the by Bush administration. Last week, Obama was quoted by The Chicago Tribune on the subject:
"The message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the terrorist extremism we saw in Mumbai."

Although the thrust of Obama’s comments is appropriate, the new President, like the old one, dances around the real problem. Amir Tehrani comments on Obama’s phrasing:
Note also that he [Obama] talks of "terrorist extremism," not "Islamic" or even "Islamist" terrorism.

The reason, of course, is his desire not to ruffle Muslim feathers. And herein lies the fundamental weakness of his position.

If the terrorism we saw on 9/11 and many other occasions has nothing to do with Islam, then why bring up the issue with Muslim leaders rather than Buddhist monks? Alternately, if this type of terrorism does have Islamic roots, why not give it its proper designation?

In fact, Islamic feathers need to be ruffled if we are to defeat Islamic terrorism. Muslims should be told that they've been too complacent in recognizing the threat.

To be sure, not all Muslims are terrorists. But virtually all terrorists are Muslims. Nor do they live on another planet: They are recruited, trained and sheltered in Muslim countries. Individual Muslims and Islamic charities finance them; Islamic governments provide them with passports and safe havens. The media regimes in most Muslim countries (often state controlled) propagate the very themes that sustain the terrorist ideology in its different versions.

Since 9/11, virtually every world leader has tried hard—very hard—to avoid the implication that Islam and terrorism are connected. They have tried hard—very hard—to emphasize that most Moslems are moderate, that the “religion of peace” is not the problem. And yet, hatred of the West in Arab capitals and among a non-trivial percentage of the world’s Moslems continues unabated.

Although Islamic extremists exist in almost all predominantly Islamic countries, they are concentrated, funded, and encouraged in the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Anthropologists and sociologists note that these cultures put extremely high value on family and tribal honor and view Western style “straight talk” as an insult, even when it is meant as a simple critique. Reacting to this reality, Western leaders tip-toe around the core problems and seem impotent in their conversations with the world of Islam.

In a recent post, I noted:
Our war on Islamist terror will continue. We’ll use our diplomatic efforts to change perceptions of the West in the Islamic community, our most generous financial aid to alleviate the poverty that a broken Arab culture visits on its own, our best methods of intelligence to thwart attacks before they happen, and our best and bravest warriors to defeat terrorist scum when they do attack. But it won’t be enough – never has been, never will be.

Until the broader Islamic community demonstrates against terror with the same vehemence they used to demonstrate against cartoons, terror will never be defeated. I worry that that won’t happen.

If Barack Obama decides to speak directly and publicly with Islamic leaders and a broader worldwide audience of Moslems, he must deliver that message. Specifically, we in the West need to see more outrage in the Arab street over acts of Islamist barbarism. We need to see tangible actions by Moslems that ferret out and eliminate Islamist terrorists and their sympathsizers in Moslem countries. We need to see less silence and a lot more action. And we need to see it now.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Caveat Emptor

When I was a very young man, just married, I invested all of our wedding gift money ($1,000, it wasn't very much by today's standards) into an investment fund that was recommended by those much older and wiser than me. I was told that lots of sophisticated investors were receiving a guaranteed return (well above the fed rate) against gains in a stock investment fund. The fund was a Ponzi scheme that began to unravel less than a year after my investment.

The perpetrator, one “J. Bennett Raffer,” was indicted, and I was subpoenaed to travel in lower Manhattan to the U.S. district attorney’s office to be deposed as a victim of the fraud. After my brief deposition and as the stenographer was closing down her equipment, I looked up at the Assistant District Attorney as asked, “Sir, do you think I’ll get my money back?”

The ADA, a man in his mid-thirties who was my elder by 12 years, smiled wanly, and asked, “Did you go to college?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Did you learn anything in any of the courses you took”? he queried.

“I did.”

He paused as if thinking how best to deliver bad news. “You won't get a dime back. But look at it like you took a rather expensive college course. If you learn from it; if you understand that things that are too good to be true almost always are, then you’ve made a good investment with Raffer, because you’ll never make the same mistake again.”

Wisdom from a nameless ADA so many years ago.

Many people are asking how sophisticated investors lost billions in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club explains:
Some of those who escaped ruin may have owed their survival to crass skepticism. Despite Madoff’s long record of producing returns one country club member refused to participate because Madoff would not explain his methods. In a world that ran on trust, he impolitely insisted on evidence.

Madoff remained above suspicion in part because he knew how to exploit the allure of exclusivity. He did not seem anxious to take just anyone’s money. You almost had to ask him to take it. The New York Post explains “He had a closed fund, which is why people put more money into it, instead of diversifying … you couldn’t just come in off the street and plunk down $100,000.” Lawrence Leamer adds, “He didn’t take just anybody. He turned down all kinds of people, and that made you want to give the man even more of your money. When he took your fortune, he told you that he would tell you nothing about how he achieved his returns. He was a god. He had the Midas touch.”

It wasn’t about stupidity or greed as much as it was about the need to belong to a very exclusive group (entry into Madoff’s funds was a sure sign of wealth and prestige). The rich and famous forgot the thing I learned from a lowly ADA those many years ago—“things that are too good to be true almost always are.” Caveat emptor.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Paperboy

The image of a paperboy is pure Americana. A little kid on a bicycle rides down your block throwing the morning paper onto your front step. It’s an image of youthful initiative coupled with a small town news that is delivered to your neighbors, your block, your town.

Never mind that most paperboys have been co-opted by adults who fling the paper out of their fast moving vans in the early morning darkness. Never mind that the news delivered by the paper is now longer immediate or even relevant. Never mind that the paper and ink media is fast becoming an anachronism and may die out much more rapidly than any of us believed. The image of the paperboy is comforting in an increasingly chaotic world. And it’s for that reason (and possibly only that reason) that some of us continue our newspaper subscriptions.

Andrew Sargus Klein comments on the demise of paper and ink media:
The point is not lost when applied to the very real dismantling of paper media. The Tribune Co.—piloted by Sam Zell and owner of The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The Baltimore Sun, among others—is on the verge of collapse. The New York Times, the media world’s onetime bastion, is frantically circling the wagons as it borrows against its own assets to protect its brand new building. As the paper seeks to cut loose dead weight, it’s finding that brand amputation costs more in the short run than the former assets are currently worth. The paper has declined 70 per cent in value over the past five years. It’s a grim situation. (I wonder how many New Yorkers see the Times’ stake in the Boston Red Sox as the metaphysical culprit…) Media pundits have been singing print’s swan song for years now. And that song is blaring as America’s storied dailies, weeklies and magazines shudder to a halt, one fiscal quarter at a time. The business models cannot support the medium, as the Internet has so deftly shown—and expedited.

It seems newspapers were just starting to jam their homepages with dozens of blogs, just starting to “get” the whole Web thing. It seems we were just starting to feel out some sort of reconciliation between the “just the facts,” hard-line old media with the loose, first-person new. But as theoretical and invigorating as that debate was and is, it’s largely irrelevant. Newspapers as we know them have failed.

And then there’s the inimitable P.J. O’Rourke who comments facetiously on print journalism’s collapse:
We print journalists are victims of economic forces beyond our control. We were as surprised as everyone else by the sudden collapse of the reliable reporting market. We had no idea that real news and clear-eyed analysis were being bundled with sub-prime celebrity gossip, US Weekly derivatives, and Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie swaps.

We need a swift infusion of federal aid. Otherwise all the information in the US will be about Lindsay Lohan's sex life.

As time passes, I’ve noticed that our paper (The Sun-Sentinel) often remains in its neat plastic wrapper from the time it arrives at our home until it’s thrown into the recycling bin. The fast pace of life (e.g., jobs, social commitments) and the vast array of alternative information sources (e.g., Internet, cable news) make reading the paper a questionable luxury.

The other day my wife and I sat at the dinner table staring at an unopened copy of The Sun Sentinel.

“Maybe we should discontinue our subscription when it runs out,” I stated hesitantly.

She grimaced. After subscribing to a long string of newspapers for almost 40 years, my comment was heresy. “I don’t know. We read it sometimes, don’t we?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t even look like a newspaper any more.” I stated.

I was referring to the “updated” (and dumbed-down) redesign that no doubt was intended to make the paper more palatable for a younger demographic.

“You’re right,” she said grudgingly, “I have trouble finding the front page – everything looks like the lifestyle section.”

Feeling irrationally guilty, I waffled, “I know, but it’s a shame to abandon the paper, After all …”

The problem was, as my sentence trailed off, I couldn’t think of any solid reasons for keeping the subscription going.

We didn’t actually make a decision about the paper, but it’s coming.

Today, I wrote a Christmas check for our news carrier, a man who I’ve never seen and never spoken to. As I signed the check, I thought of a paperboy and sighed.


I have very mixed emotions about what many politicians and the MSM call “climate change” or “global warming.” As I have posted over the past few years, it epitomizes politicized science, using inaccurate and biased mathematical models, rather than empirical observation and the proven scientific method, to suggest that a climate catastrophe is but a few years away. On the other hand, it just might be the catalyst that leads to significant discoveries associated with alternative energy sources and energy independence over the next 20 years.

If the hype surrounding climate change results in significant progress toward energy independence, we will have achieved the right result for the wrong reasons. It would be far better to achieve the right result without relying on junk science.

The danger is that the incoming Obama administration believes the climate change hype (it does, because anthropogenic climate change is an article of faith among his supporters) and enacts draconian measures (e.g., taxes, cap and trade, overbearing regulation) that will stifle initiative and burden our already weakened economy.

For the past few years, Al Gore and his followers have referred to those scientists who dissent as “climate deniers.” Gore, a political opportunist whose scientific background is only slightly better than Paris Hilton’s, uses this pejorative phrase to marginalize those who have legitimate objections to the snake oil he’s selling. It must trouble him that the number of serious scientists who are "climate deniers" is growing rapidly.

The U.S Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reports on the UN Climate Conference currently underway in Poznan, Poland:
The UN global warming conference currently underway in Poland is about to face a serious challenge from over 650 dissenting scientists from around the globe who are criticizing the climate claims made by the UN IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore. Set for release this week, a newly updated U.S. Senate Minority Report features the dissenting voices of over 650 international scientists, many current and former UN IPCC scientists, who have now turned against the UN.

In other posts I have tried to summarize some of the scientific objections to climate change and recent scientific data that refutes the UN claims. In this post, I’ll summarize some of the dissenting scientific voices:
“I am a skeptic…Global warming has become a new religion.” - Nobel Prize Winner for Physics, Ivar Giaever.

“Since I am no longer affiliated with any organization nor receiving any funding, I can speak quite frankly….As a scientist I remain skeptical.” - Atmospheric Scientist Dr. Joanne Simpson, the first woman in the world to receive a PhD in meteorology and formerly of NASA who has authored more than 190 studies and has been called “among the most preeminent scientists of the last 100 years.”

Warming fears are the “worst scientific scandal in the history…When people come to know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.” - UN IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical chemist.

“The IPCC has actually become a closed circuit; it doesn’t listen to others. It doesn’t have open minds… I am really amazed that the Nobel Peace Prize has been given on scientifically incorrect conclusions by people who are not geologists,” - Indian geologist Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia at Punjab University and a board member of the UN-supported International Year of the Planet.

“The models and forecasts of the UN IPCC "are incorrect because they only are based on mathematical models and presented results at scenarios that do not include, for example, solar activity.” - Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico

“It is a blatant lie put forth in the media that makes it seem there is only a fringe of scientists who don’t buy into anthropogenic global warming.” - U.S Government Atmospheric Scientist Stanley B. Goldenberg of the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA.

“Even doubling or tripling the amount of carbon dioxide will virtually have little impact, as water vapour and water condensed on particles as clouds dominate the worldwide scene and always will.” – . Geoffrey G. Duffy, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering of the University of Auckland, NZ.

“After reading [UN IPCC chairman] Pachauri's asinine comment [comparing skeptics to] Flat Earthers, it's hard to remain quiet.” - Climate statistician Dr. William M. Briggs, who specializes in the statistics of forecast evaluation, serves on the American Meteorological Society's Probability and Statistics Committee and is an Associate Editor of Monthly Weather Review.

“For how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand that the planet is not warming? For how many years must cooling go on?" - Geologist Dr. David Gee the chairman of the science committee of the 2008 International Geological Congress who has authored 130 plus peer reviewed papers, and is currently at Uppsala University in Sweden.

“Gore prompted me to start delving into the science again and I quickly found myself solidly in the skeptic camp…Climate models can at best be useful for explaining climate changes after the fact.” - Meteorologist Hajo Smit of Holland, who reversed his belief in man-made warming to become a skeptic, is a former member of the Dutch UN IPCC committee.

“Many [scientists] are now searching for a way to back out quietly (from promoting warming fears), without having their professional careers ruined.” - Atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh.

“Creating an ideology pegged to carbon dioxide is a dangerous nonsense…The present alarm on climate change is an instrument of social control, a pretext for major businesses and political battle. It became an ideology, which is concerning.” - Environmental Scientist Professor Delgado Domingos of Portugal, the founder of the Numerical Weather Forecast group, has more than 150 published articles.

“CO2 emissions make absolutely no difference one way or another….Every scientist knows this, but it doesn’t pay to say so…Global warming, as a political vehicle, keeps Europeans in the driver’s seat and developing nations walking barefoot.” - Dr. Takeda Kunihiko, vice-chancellor of the Institute of Science and Technology Research at Chubu University in Japan.

Oh, don’t pay any attention to these eminent scientists. After all, they’re climate deniers, aren't they?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human Rights

Just when you think Jimmy Carter has decided to enter a quiet retirement, he reappears to castigate his own country as a human rights violator and worse, as the cause for human rights violations in other countries:
Since then [September 11, 2001], while Americans continue to espouse freedom and democracy, our government's abusive practices have undermined struggles for freedom in many parts of the world. As the gross abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were revealed, the United States lost its mantle as a champion of human rights, eliminating our national ability to speak credibly on the subject, let alone restrain or gain concessions from oppressors. Tragically, a global backlash against democracy and rights activists, who are now the targets of abuse, has followed.

Carter’s moral preening is predictable and despicable at the same time. In his delusional world view, he believes that the closure of Guantanamo would somehow have led to a cessation of brutality and genocide in places like “Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan's Darfur region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo” not to mention rogue regimes like Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and many, many others. Yeah, the world’s brutal dictatorships all look at the “horrors” of detention in Guantanamo—you know, three halal meals a day, warm showers, a soft bed, toilets, a notable lack of brutality (except in the fevered minds of those on the far Left) and say, heck, if the US would just close that camp down, I’d reform. You betcha.

And who, pray tell, does Carter and other critics of American policy look to to enforce human rights? The United Nations, of course. The utter hypocrisy of this is overwhelming. Joseph Loconte comments on the UN’s ability to defend “human rights” across the globe::
In the international community. More than half of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, the principal U.N. body charged with promoting human rights, fail to uphold basic democratic freedoms in their own countries. Using the canards of anti-colonialism and anti-Americanism, they block resolutions that might embarrass them on the world stage. Thus, some of the most egregious offenders of human rights--including China, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe--typically evade censure. Last week, for example, the Human Rights Council approved a resolution praising the Kinshasa government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose military stands accused of mass rape and murder.

Meanwhile, U.N. preparations for a world conference against racism, a follow-up to a controversial 2001 event in Durban, carry the familiar stigmata of moral cynicism. The U.N. planning committee includes nations such as Libya, Iran, Pakistan, and Cuba. What exactly can Iran--which defends policies that criminalize and brutalize its gay community--teach the world about combating racism? Safely inoculated against self-examination, the U.N. committee has produced a draft declaration suggesting that the United States, Western Europe and other liberal democracies are discriminatory against Islam and fundamentally racist.

Strident anti-Israel criticism, of course, remains the norm. Last month the president of the U.N. General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, called for a global campaign of "boycott, divestment, and sanctions" against Israel for its policies in the Occupied Territories. There was no mention in Brockmann's speech of terrorist attacks against Israel, the wretched fate of political prisoners in the Arab world, or the absence of democratic freedoms in the Middle East.

The UN cares little for human rights. It is corrupt and venal. Possibly that’s why Carter looks to it as an arbiter of human rights.

Over the years, I’ve written about reaction formation—a psychological phenomenon in which a person when faced with a horrifying or unpleasant situation applies a “defense mechanism in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions are replaced by their direct opposites.” [Wikipedia] Carter and his acolytes cannot face the barbaric behavior that brutal regimes perpetrate on their own people and their enemies. Instead, the Carters of the world blame the USA in a delusional effort to make things better. It does nothing to solve the problem, but it allows Jimmy Cater to feel morally superior to those of us that care more about reality than delusion.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


As the Bush administration enters its final days, we still hear talk from Secretary of State Condi Rice about the “opportunities for a peace settlement” between the Palestinians and the Israelis. She talks of a “process” that will somehow cause a coalition of murderous terror organizations sworn to the destruction of Israel to see the light and accept a two state solution. I’d call Condi naïve, but she’s way too smart for that. And I can only wonder what path Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration will take after January 20th.

But before Hillary and Barack make any decisions about the Middle East, it might be worthwhile for them to ponder the words of someone that just about everyone on the Left despises. The MSM never mentions him without the adjective “right-wing” preceding his name and condemns his work and his words as inflammatory. His name is Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who created the movie Fitna, a considerably less than flattering depiction of Islam that resulted in violence and threats throughout the Moslem world.

It is true that Wilders is a Dutch nationalist who believes that the Netherlands and Europe in general are threatened by a rapidly growing Moslem immigration resulting in parallel societies that are antithetical to one another. Some of his rhetoric is over the top, but his message is worth pondering.
In a recent speech in New York, Wilders, who like many critics of Islam is under death threat by Islamic extremists, comments on Islam’s view of Israel:
Now, I would like to say a few things about Israel. Because, very soon, we will get together in its capitol. The best way for a politician in Europe to lose votes is to say something positive about Israel. The public has wholeheartedly accepted the Palestinian narrative, and sees Israel as the aggressor. I, however, will continue to speak up for Israel. I see defending Israel as a matter of principle. I have lived in this country and visited it dozens of times. I support Israel. First, because it is the Jewish homeland after two thousand years of exile up to and including Auschwitz, second because it is a democracy, and third because Israel is our first line of defense.

Samuel Huntington writes it so aptly: “Islam has bloody borders”. Israel is located precisely on that border. This tiny country is situated on the fault line of jihad, frustrating Islam’s territorial advance. Israel is facing the front lines of jihad, like Kashmir, Kosovo, the Philippines, Southern Thailand, Darfur in Sudan, Lebanon, and Aceh in Indonesia. Israel is simply in the way. The same way West-Berlin was during the Cold War.

The war against Israel is not a war against Israel. It is a war against the West. It is jihad. Israel is simply receiving the blows that are meant for all of us. If there would have been no Israel, Islamic imperialism would have found other venues to release its energy and its desire for conquest. Thanks to Israeli parents who send their children to the army and lay awake at night, parents in Europe and America can sleep well and dream, unaware of the dangers looming.

Many in Europe argue in favor of abandoning Israel in order to address the grievances of our Muslim minorities. But if Israel were, God forbid, to go down, it would not bring any solace to the West. It would not mean our Muslim minorities would all of a sudden change their behavior, and accept our values. On the contrary, the end of Israel would give enormous encouragement to the forces of Islam. They would, and rightly so, see the demise of Israel as proof that the West is weak, and doomed. The end of Israel would not mean the end of our problems with Islam, but only the beginning. It would mean the start of the final battle for world domination. If they can get Israel, they can get everything. Therefore, it is not that the West has a stake in Israel. It is Israel.

And yet, much of the West’s academics and intelligencia, a non-trival percentage of the West’s political class, and most of its glitterati readily condemn Israel and embrace Islamist Palestinian organizations that would, if given the chance, eliminate the most basic freedoms that all of them hold so dear. If it weren’t so dangerous, it would be farcical.

Like all administrations for the past 50 years, the Obama administration will develop its own stance toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since both Hillary and Barack are very smart people, they should ask themselves whether Wilder’s words have any merit. If they think not, then they are fools, and if they believe (privately) that Wilders has a point, US policy should be crafted to be sure that the reality he states is not ignored.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Think back for just a moment to September, 2005 and the incident of the “Danish Cartoons.” You remember, the caricatures of the Profit Mohammed published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Postenthat. The cartoons were considered so offensive that hundreds of thousands of Moslems conducted often-violent demonstrations in various parts of the word. As offensive to Moslems as they may have been, the cartoons in and of themselves injured no person physically and were a legitimate exercise in free speech in the country of their origin.

Now consider the days following November 27, 2008. Ten Islamist terrorists murdered 173 innocent people in cold blood in Mumbai. Leaders within the Islamic community in India condemned the murderers and suggested that they are not true Moslems. But what about the broader Islamic community throughout the Arab world, Indonesia and Asia? Sure, there have been a few op-ed pieces condemning the attacks, but the broader Islamic community, lead by Imams in dozens of countries including the USA, has remained errily quiet. Tom Friedman comments:
… if 10 young Indians from a splinter wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party traveled by boat to Pakistan, shot up two hotels in Karachi and the central train station, killed at least 173 people, and then, for good measure, murdered the imam and his wife at a Saudi-financed mosque while they were cradling their 2-year-old son — purely because they were Sunni Muslims — where would we be today? The entire Muslim world would be aflame and in the streets.

Our war on Islamist terror will continue. We’ll use our diplomatic efforts to change perceptions of the West in the Islamic community, our most generous financial aid to alleviate the poverty that a broken Arab culture visits on its own, our best methods of intelligence to thwart attacks before they happen, and our best and bravest warriors to defeat terrorist scum when they do attack. But it won’t be enough – never has been, never will be.

Until the broader Islamic community demonstrates against terror with the same vehemence they used to demonstrate against cartoons, terror will never be defeated. I worry that that won’t happen.

And someday, the terrorists will do something so heinous, so terrible that it will be too late for Islam to protest their actions. Instead, all of those innocent Moslems who chose to be silent, all of those religious leaders who chose to make excuses, and all of those Islamic countries who looked the other way will pay a terrible price. All because good, decent Islamic people remained silent.