January 2015, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

There's A Market For Pro-American War Movies:  A big market, as "American Sniper" just demonstrated.
"So-called ‘sand movies,’ the term Hollywood sometimes uses for films set in Afghanistan and Iraq, have a terrible box office track record,” noted the New York Times.  Or rather, they had a terrible box office track record.  The release of American Sniper, a biopic about Iraq war veteran and legendary Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has changed all that.

The film, which opened wide January 16, shattered the record for the largest opening weekend of a film released in January, a month traditionally considered a graveyard for ticket sales.  The film pulled in $105 million its first weekend against its $60 million budget—and the film that previously held the record for largest January weekend is Avatar, the highest-grossing picture in history.  Already, American Sniper has the markings of a cultural phenomenon.  In exit polls conducted by CinemaScore, movie-goers rated the film A+.  Phil Contrino, chief analyst at, has attributed the film’s success to a massive outpouring of favorable attention on social media.

Naturally, the commercial and artistic success of American Sniper—it received six Oscar nominations—has liberal Hollywood deeply conflicted, and pockets of the left outraged.
(Those other "sand movies", as you probably know, and as Mark Hemingway goes on to discuss, are almost all anti-American.)

The outrage is easy to understand; the conflict, harder.  If Hollywood were only interested in making money, then they would welcome this success, and would be planning, right now, to make similar movies in order to get a share of this untapped audience.

But those who run Hollywood (and almost all of those who work there) are not only interested in making money.  They are also on the left, politically and culturally.  And so there are some messages they do not want to put out, however profitable they might be, and however indirectly the message is presented.

(And, to be fair, the producers may no longer have many of the the directors and writers who once made such movies for them.)

This is not a new conclusion; Michael Medved came to it in his book, Hollywood vs. America, first published more than two decades ago.  And I suspect that others came to the same conclusion before he did.

But we see again just how hard it is for Hollywood to accept that conclusion.

(Brook Barnes, writing in the New York Times article that Hemingway quotes, begins by almost accepting the conclusion in my title, but then dances away from it, and ends by discussing the clever marketing used to sell the picture.)
- 3:12 PM, 23 January 2015   [link]

Surrounded By Cartoons:  This won't surprise those who have their own sites, but it might surprise others.

Whenever I link to a New Yorker cartoon, as I did yesterday, for the next day or two I'll see ads for that cartoon, and others, at many of the sites I visit.  For instance, yesterday Drudge was showing me at least different eight cartoons at a time.

It's a logical enough strategy, I suppose.  Since I searched for the cartoon at a site that sells it, I might be interested in buying it.  I don't particularly mind; there are worse things to look at than cartoons I have seen before.  But I do wonder, from time to time, how many I would see if I ever bought one of the cartoons.

(As I assume almost all of you have figured out, I use this indirect way of showing cartoons out of respect for copyrights — and the lawyers who enforce them.  And if one of you happen to buy one of the cartoons I link to, that's fine with me.)
- 8:07 AM, 23 January 2015   [link]

Did Bill Clinton Know That He Was Riding on the "Lolita Express"?
Just released flight records show Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has been flying with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein on the financier's private jet dubbed the 'Lolita Express' since as early as 1997, despite public statements that they were only acquaintances.

The high-profile lawyer has been distancing himself from Epstein ever since a young woman named Virginia Roberts filed a lawsuit claiming she was recruited to work as a 'sex slave' for Epstein when she was just 15, naming both Dershowitz and Prince Andrew as two of her molesters.

The flight records, obtained by Gawker, also show former President Bill Clinton rode on Epstein's jet at least 11 times, and often with two of Epstein's female associates believed to have provided the dozens of underage girls to their boss and his well-connected friends.
(Emphasis added.)

As smart as Clinton is about some things, it is hard to believe that he didn't at least suspect that Epstein might be involved with underage girls.

(For the record:  Although there seems to be no doubt about Epstein's taste for underage girls, I would not automatically accept all the charges made by one of them, now.

Vladimir Nabokov's novel is not as famous as it once was, but I am sure Bill Clinton would know all about it.  I recall reading parts of it, years and years ago, but not finishing it, partly out of disgust.)
- 7:27 AM, 23 January 2015   [link]

If You Were A Smart Aleck Kid (or just know a few), you'll like today's New Yorker cartoon.
- 4:16 PM, 22 January 2015   [link]

More On The Death Of The Argentine Prosecutor, Alberto Nisman:   Here's a sober BBC Q&A on what is known publicly, so far.

For example, it does not appear to be locked-room mystery, as early accounts said.
Investigators said there were three possible ways to enter the apartment:
  • Main door: operated by an electronic code and found locked
  • Service door: according to the locksmith, this was closed but unlocked.  The key was in the lock inside the apartment
  • Air conditioning tunnel: narrow passageway housing air conditioning units linking Mr Nisman's apartment to that of a neighbour
They mention, but do not give much space to the most sensational development, yet.
The death of a prosecutor investigating the bombing of a Jewish community center was not a suicide, as was initially reported, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said on Thursday.

Alberto Nisman, lead investigator into the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center that killed 85 people, was found dead in his apartment late Sunday, a 22 caliber pistol by his side.
. . .
The government says two key witnesses in Nisman's case against the president had been falsely presented to him as state intelligence agents.

Fernandez said the deception discredited Nisman's charges against her and points to a conspiracy to smear her name.

"They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead," she said in an open letter to the country, adding that his death was "sad and terrible."
I don't believe she has been specific about who "they" are, other than enemies of hers.
- 12:48 PM, 22 January 2015   [link]

The Air Has Certainly Gone Out Of That Story:  No, not the football story, this story.
Justice Department lawyers will recommend that no civil rights charges be brought against the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., after an F.B.I. investigation found no evidence to support charges, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his civil rights chief, Vanita Gupta, will have the final say on whether the Justice Department will close the case against the officer, Darren Wilson.  But it would be unusual for them to overrule the prosecutors on the case, who are still working on a legal memo explaining their recommendation.

A decision by the Justice Department would bring an end to the politically charged investigation of Mr. Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.  The Missouri authorities concluded their investigation into Mr. Brown’s death in November and also recommended against charges.
(Emphasis added.)

Why was this story released now, before the official report, and attributed only to unnamed "law enforcement officials"?

Since I don't have any contacts inside the Holder Justice Department, I can't say for sure.   I can offer you this speculation, which is consistent with the known facts:

The hyping of this story cost the Democrats votes last November.  I don't believe that the Obama-Holder-Sharpton team expected that.  But they recognized it, after the election, and are now cutting their losses.  By putting the story out in this way, they are trying to let their supporters down easy.  By putting it out at this time, they are hoping that it will get little attention — and whoever chose the time is probably delighted by the coverage that New England football story is getting.

This explanation is, admittedly, cynical.  But it is consistent with the stories from "mainstream" journalists before the election that the Obama administration believed that hyping Ferguson would motivate blacks to turn out and vote.  And experience has shown us that we should view everything that Sharpton does, and most of what Obama and Holder do, with a fair amount of cynicism.

(And that the damage done to Darrell Wilson?  I doubt that any of the three care one whit about that.  Wilson is, after all, a white working class man, which makes him guilty on three counts (in their eyes), regardless of what he may have done.)
- 8:39 AM, 22 January 2015   [link]

Americans Are, More And More, Tuning President Obama Out:   They aren't even bothering to watch his State of the Union speeches.
President Barack Obama‘s 2015 State of the Union address drew the lowest television viewership for any such speech in the last 15 years, according to new data from Nielsen.

The president’s Tuesday address was watched by 31.7 million viewers across 12 broadcast and cable networks that carried the speech live, despite a two-week campaign style tour and a social media blitz to drum up interest.
In this area and, I suspect, in most of the United States, our "mainstream" journalists promoted the speech heavily.

For me, the most interesting part of this brief article is not the text, but the pattern you can see in the graph at the top, showing viewership "as a share of the population".

In his last three State of the Union speeches, Obama had fewer viewers, as a share of the population, than Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had for any of their speeches, even their final speeches.  About 11 percent listened to Clinton in 2000; about 12 percent listened to Bush in 2008.  Obama drew a smidgen over 10 percent in 2013 and 2014, and right at 10 percent this year.

That's not very good for a man many touted as a great speaker
- 7:42 AM, 22 January 2015   [link]

Here's An Investment Opportunity:  Though it may be more suitable for enthusiasts than profit seekers.
Startups are famous for setting big, hairy goals.  Carmine “Tom” Biscardi wants to catch Sasquatch—and is planning an initial public offering to fund the hunt.

Mr. Biscardi and his partners hope to raise as much as $3 million by selling stock in Bigfoot Project Investments.  They plan to spend the money making movies and selling DVDs, but are also budgeting $113,805 a year for expeditions to find the beast.  Among the company’s goals, according to its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission: “capture the creature known as Bigfoot.”
. . .
The SEC said it doesn’t comment on specific companies and filings.  But in a 2013 investor bulletin, the agency said its staff “does not evaluate the merits of any IPO or determine whether an investment is appropriate for any investor.”  Instead, its efforts are focused on making sure the companies comply with SEC disclosure requirements and accounting rules.
Note, please, that I am not planning to put my own money into this venture.  And wouldn't be, even if I were an active investor, which I haven't been, for years.
- 2:31 PM, 21 January 2015   [link]

How Petty Was Obama's State Of The Union Speech?  This petty.
President Obama made no mention Tuesday night of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s recent ascension to majority leader, even though he will likely play a major role in congressional negotiations this year.

Obama made a point of congratulating John Boehner (R-Ohio) for winning the Speaker’s gavel at the start of his 2011 State of the Union address, weeks after Republicans ousted Democrats from the House majority.

This year, however, Obama ignored the Republican takeover the Senate — which was fueled by constant attacks on his record, including his administration’s handling of the Ebola epidemic and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Obama did a little better in 2011, congratulating, at least perfunctorily, Speaker Boehner, but even then he didn't come close to George W. Bush's gracious tribute to Nancy Pelosi, in 2007.

Obama isn't a good loser — or a good winner, for that matter.
- 2:08 PM, 21 January 2015
More:  James Taranto does what The Hill (and I) should have done, giving the presidential reactions in 1995, 2007, and 2011 to their electoral "thumpings" in the years before.  Congratulating the opposition party is not just good manners; it is also an admission that the voters have asked for a change in course.  This time, Obama was unwilling to make that admission, unwilling to say that he had heard what the voters were trying to tell him.
- 3:43 PM, 22 January 2015   [link]

Senator Rand Paul Hires Another Interesting Aide:  After his experience with Jack Hunter, the "Confederate Avenger", I would have thought that Paul would be more careful about his hires, that at least he would avoid people with public embarrassments in their backgrounds.

But Marianne Copenhaver is at least as interesting as Hunter, as these examples will show you:
A blogger who has been hired to do social media work for Sen. Rand Paul’s (R., Ky.) likely presidential campaign is not a fan of “stupid armchair jingoes” in the Republican Party, says Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) “will use anything to satisfy his blood lust,” and wants Edward Snowden to receive a Nobel Peace prize, according to her Facebook page.

Marianne Copenhaver, also known as “Libertarian Girl,” joined Paul’s team a few months ago to do contract work, the Daily Beast has reported.

Copenhaver’s recent Facebook posts are filled with vehement attacks on the GOP’s foreign policy on Iran, Russia, the Islamic State, Syria, and Israel.
. . .
She also criticized drones as “Devastating U.S. War Crimes” and promoted the anti-Israel group Breaking the Silence.
(I reversed the order of those two blocks of quotes, because they make more sense that way.)

These two hires will make most of us wonder how Paul picks his aides.  Is he just careless in checking their backgrounds?  Or does he not see anything wrong with a person (Hunter) who fantasizes about assassinating Lincoln, or a person (Copenhaver), who hates most of the leaders of the Republican Party?

(Ever since Rand Paul came on the scene, I have wondered whether he shared some of Ron Paul's less pleasant opinions — but was too canny to say so, publicly.   These two hires have given me even more reason to wonder about that question.)
- 1:50 PM, 21 January 2015   [link]

Two Prominent People Took My Advice and skipped the State of the Union speech.
For some, all the hubbub was a bit much. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) stayed home to watch the speech from his couch: “More comfortable, fewer distractions.”  And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared to be resting her eyes during portions of the speech.
Oh, I know, Congressman Larsen says he watched the speech, and Justice Ginsburg probably heard parts of it.  But each avoided as much of it as they could in the circumstances, just as I advised yesterday.
- 8:58 AM, 21 January 2015   [link]

Worth Watching:  NBC correspondent Richard Engel, reacting to last night's State of the Union speech, destroys President Obama's claims of foreign policy successes.

Engel accuses Obama — though not in those words — of presenting a series of pleasant fantasies, rather than the unpleasant facts.

(Brian Williams's lead-in and reaction are worth watching, if only to illustrate how a famous "journalist" avoids following up on unpleasant news.  The NBC anchor began with a list of problems, but was obviously not expecting Engel's harsh critique.  So, instead of following up with a few questions, he made a silly remark about seagulls, followed that with an empty generality, and then switched away to a safer correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.

What questions would I have asked Engel?  I would have started with the obvious question, one I have asked before:  How much of what President Obama said does he believe?  Is Obama living in a fantasy world, or is he just trying to con us?  I suppose that what he says is a mixture of the two, but for most of his speeches I find it hard to guess what the proportions are, though I have thought hard about this question for years.)
- 7:53 AM, 21 January 2015   [link]

How Seriously Does Obama Take The Proposals He Is Going To Make In Tonight's Speech?  This seriously.  Tomorrow he is off to Boise, Idaho to give another speech.  And then, a few days later, he'll be traveling to India for another vacation.

If he took his own proposals seriously, he'd be staying in the capital and working with staff, department heads, and congressional leaders.

(Why the trip to Idaho?  Well, he hasn't been there during his presidency, and it's a beautiful state.  But I can't help speculating that he and his staff want to prove they can cause traffic problems even in a city like Boise, that they see it as a challenge after all the easy victories over ordinary commuters in cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.)
- 3:28 PM, 20 January 2015   [link]

Hugs For Vote Fraud:  I am almost a year late getting to this story, but yesterday's events reminded me of one more reason to dislike Al Sharpton.
A Hamilton County poll worker who has been held up nationally as an example of voter fraud took the stage at a local voting rights rally – outraging Republicans and dismaying even top local Democrats.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, keynote speaker at Thursday's rally to kick-off the campaign for an Ohio Voters' Bill of Rights Ohio Constitutional amendment, even hugged Melowese Richardson.
(Hamilton County includes Cincinnati and most of its suburbs.)

To their credit, local Democratic officials did not think that Richardson deserves to be honored.

Did Richardson have a clean record before then?  Well, no.
Richardson, 58, was convicted last spring of four counts of illegal voting.  The charges say she twice voted in the 2012 election and voted three times in past elections on behalf of her sister, Montez Richardson, who has been in a coma since 2003.

Richardson was previously convicted of threatening to kill a witness in a criminal case against her brother; of stealing; of drunken driving; and of beating someone in a bar fight, according to past Enquirer stories.
That record might explain that original five year sentence for vote fraud, which did seem excessive.  (And I wouldn't be surprised if Richardson had committed other felonies, outside the Enquirer's area.)

She seems, if I may say so, an odd choice for a poll worker.
- 2:37 PM, 20 January 2015   [link]

The "Puzzling Death" Of An Argentine Prosecutor:  Here's the New York Times story, which seems informative and balanced.

Here's how the article begins:
Police sentries guarded the federal prosecutor’s luxury high-rise building.  His door on the 13th floor had been locked from the inside, and a gun with a spent cartridge was found on the floor near his body.  There was no suicide note.

Just one day earlier, on Saturday, the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, said, “I might get out of this dead.”

From the moment 10 years ago when he was assigned to investigate the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish center here that left 85 people dead, Mr. Nisman, an even-keeled lawyer, became entangled in a labyrinthine plot that he traced to Iran and its militant Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.

But it was only in the past week that Mr. Nisman, 51, leveled explosive accusations that top Argentine officials, including President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had conspired with Iran to cover up responsibility for the bombing as part of a deal that would supply Iranian oil to Argentina.
Argentina has, according to the Times, a "recent history of suspicious deaths officially described as suicides".

So Nisman's death was either a strange suicide or a locked-room murder mystery, of the kind that detective writers are so fond of posing, and then explaining.

I don't have a strong opinion on which explanation is most likely.

But I can add that Argentina's ties to Iran are no surprise to those familiar with Argentina's record during and after World War II.

(Scott Johnson wrote an earlier post on this puzzling death, a post that includes links to more articles.)
- 2:02 PM, 20 January 2015   [link]

No One Predicted The Collapse In Oil Prices:  Including many highly educated and experienced people who are paid large amounts of money to predict such things.

The Wall Street Journal's 2014 economic forecasting survey found that "The economists surveyed expected oil to end 2014 at about $95 a barrel, up from about $92 at the time of the survey."   A big miss to be sure, but they were not alone.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's 2014 outlook gave itself a very wide margin for error, projecting oil prices between $159 on the high to $70 on the low.  Obviously that range wasn't wide enough, with the actual low so far about 35% under their lowest case.

The IMF World Economic Outlook of October, 2014 forecast that the "average price of oil will be $102 a barrel in 2014 and $99 a barrel in 2015."
(And there are more.)

Alex Pollock tries to explain why all these experts were wrong.  If you believe his argument (and I mostly do), you'll conclude that we should expect — more price surprises in the future.

The drop in oil prices is, mostly, good news for the economy.  Last night, on the Nightly Business Report, I heard an expert say that each $10 drop in the price of a barrel of oil will increase GDP growth by one quarter of a percent.  (My apologies for the vague reference; I was only half paying attention.)

(I said mostly, and so perhaps I should explain that.  Almost all the experts that Pollock cites would favor higher prices for oil (and other carbon-based fuels) in order to stave off global warming.  So some of them may have predicted what they wanted to happen.   Everyone I have known has made that kind of mistake.)
- 8:42 AM, 20 January 2015   [link]

Don't Watch (Or Listen To) Obama's State Of The Union Speech:  If you are interested in the content, rather than the theatrics, find a copy on line, read it, think about it, and later, perhaps, look for commentaries from people you trust.

You'll save time, and you'll be able to think about any arguments he makes, more rationally.

I have been doing this with almost all politicians' speeches since the Nixon administration.  It has certainly saved me time and, I believe, has given me a somewhat more accurate picture of the political world.  It is much easier to do now, of course, with transcripts so widely available on the Internet.

Two exceptions:  Some people enjoy doing real-time commentaries on speeches.  And political tacticians often will want to watch speeches to see how a political leader is — take your pick — fooling the people, or appealing to their better instincts.
- 7:57 AM, 20 January 2015   [link]

From Martin Luther King, Jr. Down To Al Sharpton:  On this holiday, I usually put up a post on the man it honors.  But this last year, I have been so depressed by the rise of Al Sharpton — who is honored by the Obama administration and routinely called a "civil rights leader" by our "mainstream" journalists — that I just don't feel up to it.

If you still want to see one, here's one I originally wrote in 2007.
- 7:38 PM, 19 January 2015   [link]

Worth Reading, Studying, And Sharing:  (For that matter, worth buying, if you can find a copy of the Wall Street Journal's weekend edition.)

Christopher Caldwell's "Europe's Crisis of Faith", on that continent's failure to confront its Muslim problems, honestly.

Three samples:
Consider Éric Zemmour, a slashing television debater and a gifted polemicist.  His history of the collapse of France’s postwar political order, “Le suicide français,” was No. 1 on the best-seller lists for several weeks this fall.  “Today, our elites think it’s France that needs to change to suit Islam, and not the other way around,” Mr. Zemmour said on a late-night talk show in October, “and I think that with this system, we’re headed toward civil war.”
. . .
Just why Europe has had such trouble can be partially understood by contrasting it with the U.S.   Europe’s welfare states are more developed and, until recently, more open to noncitizens, so illegal or “underground” immigration has been low.  But employment rates have been low, too.   If Americans have traditionally considered immigrants the hardest-working segment of their population, Europeans have had the opposite stereotype.  In the early 1970s, 2 million of the 3 million foreigners in Germany were in the labor force; by the turn of this century, 2 million of 7.5 million were.
. . .
As European politics grew duller and the stakes lower, many political romantics looked enviously at the aspirations of the Muslim poor, particularly regarding Palestine.  You could see a hint of this last weekend in the BBC journalist who interrupted a mourning Frenchwoman, distraught about the targeting of Jews for murder at a kosher supermarket, to say that “the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands.”

In a world that prized “identity,” Muslim immigrants were aristocrats.  Those who became radicalized developed the most monstrous kind of self-regard.
This essay is a shorter, and more pessimistic, version of Caldwell's book, Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West.   Caldwell would probably say that the greater pessimism is the result of what has happened since 2010.

If he did, I would agree.
- 6:31 PM, 19 January 2015   [link]

Michael Ramirez is pretty funny, today.

It occurs to me that Ramirez is more often successful at making his point when he uses a light touch.  But that may just reflect my own tastes.
- 4:38 PM, 19 January 2015   [link]

News You May Be Able To Use — If You Are A Mouse:   And, quite possibly, if you are a human.
In 2012, Satchidananda Panda, a Salk associate professor, showed that mice that were fed a high-fat diet, but allowed access to that diet for only eight hours per day, were healthier and slimmer than mice given access to the same food for the whole day, even though the two groups consumed the same number of calories.  The new study shows the benefits of time restriction is surprisingly more profound than initially thought and can reverse obesity and diabetes in animal models.
. . .
In the new study, Panda’s group subjected nearly 400 mice, ranging from normal to obese, to various types of diets and lengths of time restrictions.  They found that the benefits of time-restricted feeding showed up regardless of the weight of the mouse, type of diet and length of the time restriction — to some degree.

Regardless of whether their diets were high in fat, fat and sucrose or just fructose, mice that were given time restrictions of nine to 12 hours – and consumed the same amount of daily calories as their unrestricted counterparts – gained less weight than the controls, researchers found.
So it is as much when you eat, as what you eat?  I never would have guessed that.

Naturally, you would hope that this study will be replicated in mice — and that someone takes the much harder step of replicating it in humans.  Soon.

(Some may prefer this description of the study in a New York Times article.)
- 2:12 PM, 19 January 2015   [link]

It Isn't So Much What He Said, As Who Said It:  So let's start by introducing Leslie Gelb.
Dr. Gelb was Executive Assistant for Senator Jacob Javits from 1966 to 1967.[4]  He was director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs at the Department of Defense from 1967 to 1969, winning the Pentagon's highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal.  Robert McNamara appointed Dr. Gelb as director of the project that produced the controversial Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War. From 1969–1973, Dr. Gelb was a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

He was diplomatic correspondent at The New York Times from 1973 to 1977.

He served as an Assistant Secretary of State in the Carter Administration from 1977 to 1979, serving as director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs and winning the Distinguished Honor Award, the highest award of the US State Department.
. . .
He returned to the Times in 1981; from then until 1993, he was in turn its national security correspondent, deputy editorial page editor, editor of the op-ed page, and columnist.  This period included his leading role on the Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism in 1986 for a six-part comprehensive series on the Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative.  In 1983, he also worked as a producer on the ABC documentary The Crisis Game, which received an Emmy award in 1984.[6]

Dr. Gelb became President of the Council on Foreign Relations in 1993 and as of 2003 is its President Emeritus.[7]
There's more, but that should be enough to convince you that Gelb is a Democratic heavyweight on foreign policy.

Which makes his recent column even more striking.
Here’s why America’s failure to be represented at the Paris unity march was so profoundly disturbing.  It wasn’t just because President Obama’s or Vice President Biden’s absence was a horrendous gaffe.  More than this, it demonstrated beyond argument that the Obama team lacks the basic instincts and judgment necessary to conduct U.S. national security policy in the next two years.  It’s simply too dangerous to let Mr. Obama continue as is—with his current team and his way of making decisions.  America, its allies, and friends could be heading into one of the most dangerous periods since the height of the Cold War.
There's more, including Gelb's admission that he has "never made such extreme and far-reaching proposals in all my years in this business".  A doctor doesn't prescribe the strongest medicine ever, when he thinks a patient is in good condition.

Although Gelb thinks that it is "too dangerous" to let Obama go on as before, he says nothing in the column that gives us reason to think that Obama will take the medicine Gelb is preswxribing, will change course, or staff.  Which is even grim than my own predictions for the next two years.

If you are wondering why I am slightly more optimistic than Gelb, it's because I agree with Adam Smith who once said:  "There is a great deal of ruin in a nation."  (Here's some context for those who are curious about that quotation.)
- 1:44 PM, 19 January 2015   [link]

John Kerry's Trip To France Could Have Been Worse:  His attempt to mend relations after the Obama administration chose not to join the Charlie Hebdo demonstration was, granted, remarkably clumsy.

His schoolboy French was bad enough to that even I could hear some mistakes in pronunciation.   He offered hugs to a nation that doesn't like hugging, except between mothers and children and, of course, lovers.  
When the US secretary of state, John Kerry, rushed arms open towards the French president, to warmly embrace him on Friday, what followed was a cringeworthy culture clash that has befuddled many a visitor to France.

The French are just not that into hugging.
(As is evident in pictures of Kerry and Hollande.  I had never felt much sympathy for the French president before, but it is hard not to feel sorry for the man when you see him with Kerry.)

The James Taylor performance was just as bad (and inappropriate) as everyone said it was.  And, no, you don't have to watch the whole thing, since he doesn't get better (or worse) as he goes along.

So, how could Kerry's trip have been worse?

Easy.  Kerry could have brought Cat Stevens along to sing "Peace Train".

Some of you are reacting to that suggestion by thinking that I have gone too far; others are hoping that I am not giving the Obama administration any ideas.

If you are in the first group, I would ask you if you are absolutely sure that this administration wouldn't do something that absurd.  To the second group, I would say that I am sure they don't listen to me — or to anyone else outside their little circle.

(I'll digress, briefly.  I was somewhat surprised to learn that Cat Stevens, or, if you prefer, "Yusuf", is still respectable in Britain and elsewhere, in spite of that little Salman Rushdie controversy.  And, no, I don't believe "Yusuf" when he claims not to have meant what he said, several times.)
- 6:34 AM, 19 January 2015   [link]