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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.