Archive for the 'Foreign Relations' Category

Shoot first, aim later

It was my birthday, May 13, 1939. The SS St. Louis was carrying 900 German Jews fleeing the Nazis.  They had hoped to land in Cuba and then proceed to the United States but were refused entry by the Cuban government.  With no place to go, the ship returned to Europe and over 250 of those refugees were eventually murdered in Nazi death camps. The United States government played a role in that crime against humanity by also refusing to accept them.

Fast forward seventy-six years.  A band of murdering misfits guns down helpless Parisians whose principal crime was enjoying all that Paris has to offer.  Talking heads go into high gear predicting the end of humanity as we know it. They create an atmosphere of mistrust where people “unlike us” are to be avoided, suspected and kept in their place.

Politicians, seeing fodder for their flagging campaigns, leapt into action and promised to be the answer to the threat hovering somewhere in the ether.  Marco Rubio, forgetting his own heritage for the expedient moment, said that we should stop accepting Syrian refugees.  Not for a moment did he seem to comprehend that these are the very people who are fleeing the murdering misfits.

Jeb Bush, fearing permanent assignment to the ignominious list of also-rans, is somewhat more accepting of the long as they are Christians.  Continuing the parade of presidential hopefuls who believe that it’s constitutional to discriminate by religion, Senator Ted Cruz said Sunday in South Carolina “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Duh.

Donald Trump, once a lukewarm supporter of Syrian immigration, turned his coat and announced that he would, as President, deport any of that ilk. Coupled with his demand that eleven million illegal aliens be summarily ripped from their homes and sent back to their ancestral homes leaves him batting a thousand.  But looking for more points than his competition led him to suggest on Monday that he would “strongly consider” shutting down Muslim mosques in this country in response to the Paris attacks.  “Some of the absolute hatred is coming from these areas…The hatred is incredible. It’s embedded. The hatred is beyond belief. The hatred is greater than anybody understands.”

Reaching for the gold ring, the current heir apparent to the Republican Presidential nomination, Ben Carson, offered this inexplicable foreign policy during a Sunday interview on Fox News..

  • Stated he would not allow refugees into the US because of his “frontal lobes”
  • Insisted that China is active in the Syrian conflict
  • Struggled to name a single coalition partner he could call upon to combat ISIS
  • Advocated a shooting match with Russia over a no-fly zone

A respectable cadre of Republican governors, led by Alabama and Mississippi, joined the “Keep Out the Refugees” chorus by issuing statements saying that those miserable people would find no solace in their otherwise safe and happy states. And if I had a choice, I’d avoid those two states too.

These shoot first and aim later politicians surely are smart enough to realize that their actions merely fall right into the plot set by ISIS.  Generate havoc, let world leader wannabes shout out against Muslims and then reap the windfall of more misfit volunteers to their blighted cause.  But no, fear mongering reaps more votes at the ballot box than calls for helping persecuted people do.

Maybe it’s the “silly season” but I’m not laughing.

Arabic Numerals

Are Arabic numerals the last gasp of a once proud people?

Smelling victory in the air, Hamas and their brethren were on the verge of defeating the Israeli minions.  Not by military might, but by the weight of public opinion.  Tossing mindless rockets, some less lethal that those shot in the air on the Fourth of July, the Palestinians threw themselves on the funeral pyre and almost welcomed the more sophisticated weapons of killing that descended upon them.

The number of dead Palestinians, many of them wide-eyed beautiful children put in harm’s way, swung the pendulum toward a resolution of the awful conflict that had made the world grimace and cry for what has seemed like eons.  No matter the actual numbers slain.  No matter if most were combatants.  All that mattered were the damning photos and genuinely tearful stories generated by the all too willing media.

Jews all over, sensing the need to protect Israel began to fill the web-way with counterbalancing and often untrue stories.  Stories that sometimes demeaned Arabs.  As though this would somehow turn world opinion. Stories that are ineffective at best and obnoxious at worst.

Even I, a Jew, found myself uttering things like “Are the Israelis crazy. The whole world is turning against them.  They look like monsters.  Every anti-Semite is smiling.  Settle for God’s sake.  You can’t win by increasing the body count.”

But as the scenario dragged on and repeated itself, an odd thing happened.  Cease fires, too numerous to count even with Arabic numerals, were started and then violated.  It seemed to go something like this.  Hamas and the Israelis agree to a temporary cease-fire.  Hours before the cease-fire is to end, Hamas sends rockets into Israel and hits nothing.  Israel retaliates in spades and hits everything.  No matter, world opinion is on our side, Hamas says.  We can do this all day.

But the world begins to yawn, lose interest and move on.  And the world says “Is Hamas crazy?  Settle already.  I’ve got other things to worry about.”

Snatching defeat from victory.  Maintaining the status quo.  The current mini-war will eventually end.  Hamas will claim victory by the virtue of still standing erect.  The Palestinians will reward Hamas with continued support.  Israel will go back to enlarging the settlements and giving world opinion the finger.  And the anti-Semites will smile.

And we will look at Arabic numerals and say “there was a once proud people.”  And we’ll wonder when our turn will come.

In a nutshell

Many of you were probably watching the baseball playoffs, the football game or some porno movie.  So being a public-spirited, non-partisan guy, here are the highlights of the VP debate.

You can guess what Joe Biden had to say since you watched him four years ago when he fenced with the Snow Queen.  So to save time, I’ll just tell you what Paul Ryan said.

About Iran.  We need to get the Ayatollahs’ attention. I’m personally going to send them an e-mail or something equally harsh.

About Afghanistan.  We’re going to get out in the middle of 2014…unless we don’t.

About Libya.  We can say anything we want about that attack on our embassy.  Even if we haven’t got a clue about what happened.

About Syria.  We should have already given lots of guns and missiles to the good guys over there.  Even if we don’t know who they are.

About Israel.  The President was on The View while Mitt was at the Wailing Wall looking for Jewish votes.  And forget about what Mitt said about kicking the Palestinian ball down the field and hoping for the best.  He misspoke, again.

About the military.  We’re going to give them another trillion dollars even if we have to shove it down their throats.  Don’t fuck with us.

About our budget balancing plan.  We’re going to lower taxes, especially for rich people, and cut the crap out of spending.  Keep tuned for details.

About jobs.  The black guy hasn’t done nearly enough.  We will do much better by taking money from the middle class and give it to rich people so they can hire poor people.

About abortion.  Life begins at erection.  And if you don’t want a kid, don’t screw.  And if you want to screw you can’t have a contraceptive.

About war.  We’re not going to have any unless it’s in our best interests.  And, by the way, the hell with the U.N. and the rest of the world.

About bi-partisanship.  We’re going to reach across the aisle and be as cooperative as we were when we filibustered to death every plan that might have improved the lot of the American public.

About social safety nets.  We don’t need them.  Mitt and I will personally visit everyone who needs help.  Or maybe we’ll send Billy Graham or Pat Robertson.

About Social Security.  Trust us.  Old folks who vote Republican don’t need to worry.  Youngsters can invest their money with Bernie Madoff.

About healthcare.  Trust us.  Old folks can have anything they want as long as they vote for Mitt and me.  Youngsters can have a voucher good for about half the cost of their care…maybe.

About Mitt’s remarks.  He doesn’t mean what he says.  And that goes double for his bonehead remark about 47% of the country being deadbeats.  So don’t pay any attention.

About my remarks.  I spent a lot of time memorizing stuff for this debate, especially the names of the Pakistani tribes that I repeated twice so you would say “Wow, what a foreign relations expert he is.”

I feel so much better about Paul Ryan.  At least he’s no Sarah Palin.

Smirker in Chief

One unforgettable morning eleven years ago, I turned on the TV near my rowing machine and was confronted with burning buildings and the greatest calamity to befall our nation since Pearl Harbor.  I stood in front of the TV and didn’t know what to do except stare at the unbelievable devastation.

Eleven years later plus a day, I was again staring at the TV getting ready to cajole my much older bones to rise to the occasion when I saw Hillary Clinton talking about another attack on our citizens.  Her words were well-chosen as she sought to memorialize those who died this time in Benghazi and to seek some calm  after another turbulent event half a world away.

After watching the emerging story of the events in Libya, I was treated to a press conference featuring that foreign relations guru, Mitt Romney.  Quickly offering his condolences to the families of the murdered embassy officials, Mitt launched into a denunciation of the comments from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, the Obama administration and anyone else remotely resembling a Democrat.  The Romney campaign had earlier offered this statement from Mitt…

I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.


Even Republican senators knew better.  A joint statement on Fox News by John McCain, Lindsay Graham and which-way-is-the-wind-blowing Joe Lieberman took no political punches at the administration.

Mitt’s press conference doubled down and  bordered on an immediate declaration of nuclear war on those yet-to-be identified perpetrators of the attack on the Benghazi embassy, and offered a denunciation of Obama’s failure to draw and quarter the framers of a message delivered by the Cairo staff.  How dare Mr. Obama, he said, be so willing to support the audacity of the Cairo staff that both condemned the Benghazi attack and denounced the asinine video that may have incited the attackers.  No matter that the Cairo embassy was trying to quell a protest outside its own gates by being what ambassadors are paid to do…be ambassadorial.

Ever willing to seize the low ground, the Mitt decided that it was more important to embrace diversity to make political points rather than to encourage solidarity and unity.  His prepared remarks led to a series of questions posed by his traveling press corps.  As the reporters bore down and focused on what he would do differently and whether his remarks were intended to simply purchase political capital, his once firm facial expression degenerated into a smirk signifying his discomfort with the questions and an unwillingness to offer specifics.  A face becoming all too familiar.

The more I watched and listened, the more I was reminded of that other “shoot first and ask questions later” proponent.  The smirky man from Texas who didn’t let the absence of facts deter him.  The one who took us to Iraq, lost more than 4,000 of our soldiers and facilitated the annihilation of thousands of Iraqis.  The one that even Republicans shun.

The as yet unconfirmed creator of the video randomly condemning Islam for everything including the sinking of the Titanic and global warming, Sam Bacile, was aided and abetted by pastor Terry Jones, the same moron who previously graced the news in 2010 with his proclamation of “Burn A Koran Day.”

As the NY Times  reported later in the day…as an adviser to the campaign who worked in the George W. Bush administration said on Wednesday, Mr. Romney’s accusation that Mr. Obama had invited the attacks because he had weakened America looked like “he had forgotten the first rule in a crisis: don’t start talking before you understand what’s happening.”

So there you have it.  First, two imbeciles promote a vicious video falsely condemning all of Islam, and second you have a point-seeking presidential candidate condemning the President for recognizing and acknowledging the impact of that monstrous lie.  And smirking at the same time.

War is hell!

A week ago Sweetie and I shlepped downtown for the 4:30 movie at the Ojai Playhouse.  I love going to the Playhouse.  Since its extensive renovation, my only complaint is that some guy usually opens the men’s room door into my back as I stand in front of the urinal.  Progress sometimes occurs in small steps.

The movie, Afghan Star, chronicled the adventures of five everyday Afghans as they competed for the title “best new singer in Afghanistan.”  Three young men and two young, vibrant women made it to the finals, having been winnowed from hundreds of sometimes comical, sometimes pathetic contestants.  A home-grown TV station sponsored the contest. Votes were cast at each stage of the competition by anyone with a cellphone and a desire to be counted.

The entire country seemed to be caught up in the excitement.  Befitting the political mess in Afghanistan, there was ample opportunity to cajole, threaten and cheat in order to make your favorite singer a winner.  People were glued to TV sets, placards were everywhere, handouts extolling your favorite singer’s virtues littered the landscape.  It was exciting, meaningful, happy.

The camera also captured the sorry state of the country, focusing on bullet holes in what once were attractive buildings, dirty street urchins making a living by recharging car batteries used to power TV sets equipped with home-made antennas and, sadly, the continuing less-than-second-class status of women.  Death seemed to be lurking around every corner.

Yet there was a certain hope that permeated the film.  A hope that things could be different, better.  Flashing back to 1980, a video of an Afghan dance hall highlighted men and women in daring western dress, swinging to rock music, smoking, drinking and looking as happy as our kids did.  Much has changed since then.

I watched and found myself thinking about the war and our part in it.  I thought back to my tirades about the war in Iraq.  How we should have never been there.  How we needed to get out now.  How our then-president had cheated us, let us down, been out of touch with reality.  How I was elated when Obama took over.  How I hoped that we’d all come home.  How it wasn’t our war.  How I hadn’t given much thought to his belief that it was Afghanistan where we were really needed.

Now it’s Obama’s turn in the box and I’m torn.  Why do we need to be there?  The place is a hell hole.  The government is run by crooks.  The country is divided among egotistical warlords.  Religion is taking its toll on human freedoms.  The Taliban are everywhere.  Money needed here at home is being pissed away without meaningful improvement in Afghan lives.  And, worst of all, our kids are being killed along with the poor, unfortunate Afghans.

But then there’s the hope, the possibility of an Afghan Star.


Sweetie has a cold.   She probably got it from one of our kids who was here for the holidays.  Me…I’m constantly swallowing to check my throat.  Is it scratchy?   Is my head hot?  Am I getting it too?  So far no, but the week is young.

The grandkids were in and out of the house during the holidays.  Collecting Chanukah presents at our house, then down to the grandparents in Ventura for Christmas cheer.   Pretty good haul, though Isaac never did get that sweatshirt with the spooky eyes sewn into the hood.  Maybe next year.

With Sweetie on the couch and me not feeling like doing much, I’ve been watching the news and reading the pundit predictions for the incoming Obama administration.   They continue to marvel at the public’s high expectations.  A certain euphoria and comparisons to the second coming are easy to find.  How can that be?

The Israelis and Hamas further complicated an already severely agitated world.  Iraq hanging on by a fingernail.  Kabul virtually the only place in Afghanistan where the Taliban are not in control.  Pakistan and India waving nukes at each other.   Somalia,  Ethiopia and Zimbabwe troubled hotspots.   Blagojevich trying to sell the Cubs to Venezuela (why not…and you can throw in the Bears for good measure).

An economy that needs several more Christmas shopping seasons before it straightens itself out.  A stock market that lost eight years of gains in 2008 and gets vertigo whenever it inches up a bit.  Auto companies that can’t endear themselves to the American driver.  A school system that is running on fumes.  Nearly eleven million people out of work.  Forty million without health care.  Madoff skips out with $50 billion and no one in the SEC seems to have a clue.

And the media.  If real tragedies weren’t enough, the media will create them.   Turning good news into bad news is a real art.  I was scanning the NY Times home page the other day.  Lots of bad news…as usual.  I worked my way down to the bottom of the page.  I was breathing hard when I spotted this little gem.  “Amazon reports best Christmas season ever.”  And that was it.  No point highlighting good news I guess. 

And today,  the piece de resistance…

 Attention Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers, starting tonight, you will lose your favorite Comedy Central shows on TV and online because of a dispute with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

What!  No John Stewart!  No Stephen Colbert!  No Tina Fey!   No!  This can’t be.  What is Obama going to do about this?  It’s worse out there than I thought it was.

So why the euphoria?  Then I stopped and smelled the roses.  You know that little trinket I got almost four years ago?  I told you about it a month ago.  You know, the one that counts down the years, days, hours and minutes to the end of the Deluder in Chief’s term.  I look at it nearly every day.

 And I smile.  It’s euphoric.


If the shoe fits…

Poor George Bush.   Takes time off from the crumbling economy to fly to Iraq to tell everyone “Hang in there, I’ll remember you.”   And some guy throws a shoe at him.  So much for fond farewells.

The shoe guy, Muntadhar al Zeidi, had this to say…”This is your farewell kiss, you dog!  This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”  Nicely put but hardly politically correct.  What Mr. al Zeidi fails to mention in his soliloquy are a couple of related items that I offer for your consideration.

While the Deluder in Chief was promoting, prosecuting and making excuses for the ill-conceived and poorly planned war in Iraq…

He turned a federal surplus into a raging deficit.  The American economy entered free-fall.  People lost their homes.  Retirement assets lost 40% of their value.  And at least 8% of us will be jobless.

The SEC was tiptoeing around Bernard Madoff as part of the Administration’s goal of regulation abandonment.   And the biggest investment fraud in American history cost us $50 billion in a blatant Ponzi scheme.

The reconstruction of Iraq was overseen by virtually no one…at a cost of $100 billion.  And it failed.  A new draft report shows that the Administration was informed enough to know about the failing effort.  So what did they do?  They simply put out inflated measures of progress.  Mission accomplished.

And lookee here.  A new Senate bipartisan report says that the Administration not only knew about the atrocities at Abu Grahib.  They produced them.   The torture wasn’t the fault of a few misguided psychopaths.  It resulted from actions committed by high ranking officials in the Bush cabinet including Rummy, Dickie and Alberto.  Actions that some would say should lead to criminal indictments.  As the Times reported…

…top officials, charged with defending the Constitution and America’s standing in the world, methodically introduced interrogation practices based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War. Until the Bush administration, their only use in the United States was to train soldiers to resist what might be done to them if they were captured by a lawless enemy.

The officials then issued legally and morally bankrupt documents to justify their actions, starting with a presidential order saying that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners of the “war on terror” — the first time any democratic nation had unilaterally reinterpreted the conventions.

Yet in spite of the potential benefits of maintaining a low profile in the remaining days of the Bush legacy, it goes on.  Like new regulations that can be rushed into place just in time for the Deluder’s departure.  Regulations that impact the environment, our privacy and a woman’s right to govern her own body.

Yes, I can hear some of you say “Enough already.  We know he’s a jerk and good riddance to him.  Why do you have to keep beating on a dead horse?”  Maybe because those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  Or maybe because it was so awful that even I can’t believe it.

Yes, Mr. al Zeidi had the right idea when he threw the shoe.  Too bad it took us eight years to see it.


Missiles be damned

A beautiful day.  Warm and sunny.  Picked nearly five gallons of kalamata olives from one of our trees.  Big surprise.  Thought I’d be lucky to get a couple of quarts.

Olive trees are deceptive.  They bloom in the spring and, like a good quarterback, give you all kinds of false moves before you know how big the crop really is.  Yoram likes to cure olives so he came and got them.  Can’t wait to sample a few.

Sweetie and I cleaned up, got in the car and began our drive to Santa Barbara.  Our old friend Lenny is a two-month resident of a very nice senior housing complex and had invited us to visit, meet his new girl friend and have dinner.  We looked forward to the drive and the visit.

We drove through Ojai and swung north onto 101 along the coast.  The sun was low in the sky and glimmered off the calm Pacific waters.  It was tough on the eyes but so beautiful.

We listened to NPR and continued to savor the ongoing news about the election, the winners and the losers, and the bright prospects for the future.  It was time for Robert Siegel, Michelle Norris and All Things Considered.  I love listening to Siegel.  He sounds so squeaky clean, refreshing and up.

Siegel introduced a guy whose name is lost to me.  Pretty decent credentials and very authoritative.  He focused on Russia’s president Dmitri Medvedev.  During Dmitri’s speech to the Russian Federal Assembly on Wednesday, he warned the incoming Obama administration that if the U.S. went ahead with the development of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, the Russians would put short range missiles on their western border.  Tit for tat.

Siegel’s guest emphasized the importance of Obama’s response to this challenge.  Surely, he said, this was Obama’s chance to show his toughness, his military prowess, his muscles.  The world would be watching and listening.  I turned to Sweetie.  “Has nothing changed?”

I continued to drive and, at the same time, daydream a bit.  Dangerous on the 101 but I couldn’t help myself.  I thought about Obama and drafted a note that he would send to the Russian president.

Dear Dmitri,

Thanks very much for welcoming me to the world.  You know, I’m only the president-elect.  That other guy, the one who thought of that lame-brained missile defense system, hasn’t packed his bags yet and is still screwing around with the war, foreign relations and other things he hasn’t learned much about in nearly eight years.

I understand your concerns about having missiles planted in your neighbor’s back yard.  I would be pissed too.  But you know what…I’m going to be a little busy starting the end of January.  The economy over here is in the crapper…I understand yours is also a bit messy.  Lots of good folks are out of work.  A bunch of poor people don’t have health care.  There’s a misbegotten war that needs to end.  And I’ve got to change the sheets in the White House bedrooms.

So I tell you what.  I’m going to put the missile idea on the back burner for awhile.  When I get the time, you and I can get together…either at your place or mine.  We can have a beer or some Stoli, your choice.  We can show each other pictures of our kids.  We can talk about the importance of peace in the world and how you and I can work together to make that happen.

Meanwhile, let’s keep in touch.

Love to you, your lovely wife and the kids.

Your buddy,





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