Netanyahu, Obama and Campaign Hyperbole

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute campaign rant that there would be no Palestinian State while he was Prime Minister sounded, even to us, like finger nails screeching down a blackboard. It must have come across as startling as Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” was to Palestinians abroad and Arabists in our own country. Not surprisingly, both politicians hurriedly “walked back” their campaign blather within 24 hours.

It is generally axiomatic in American politics that politicians pander to their base when running, and tack to the center once in office. Netanyahu cobbled together a coalition of right-leaning and hard-right minorities within the Israeli electorate in order to win the right to try to form a government. No one knows for sure, at this time, whether he will succeed in forming a new government consisting of an allied cabinet of ministers and the factions they represent in the Knesset. We certainly expect, however, that he will.

The campaign alarm Netanyahu expressed over the large number of Arabs who were voting was reprehensible in a modern democratic society, but we give him credit for candor. It probably was alarming to him. He wasn’t trying to stop Arabs from voting, but he was desperately trying to get the rightists out to vote for him. But think about this. His sense of alarm demonstrated just how vibrant Israeli democracy is. The anti-Netanyahu Arab minority has the right to vote, and vote they did. Where else in the Arab world today, do heads of state really worry about the Arab vote? Where else in the Arab world today do they even vote? Nonetheless, it was sorry rhetoric in such a strong democracy.

The crassness of it aside, it was a rather obvious assessment of reality in that troubled and chaotic neighborhood. The fact is there will be no Palestinian State while Netanyahu is Prime Minister, nor would there be a Palestinian State if Herzog or Livni were Prime Minister. There will not be a two-state solution while Hamas is a partner in the Palestinian government, and not while the Palestinians demand the right of all Palestinians and their descendants to return to the homes they once occupied in what is now Israel, and certainly not while any Palestinian government refuses to agree that a peace settlement will end the dispute.

Actually, Netanyahu’s (immediately retracted) words are not the issue. His words are simply the excuse that President Obama now has to “rethink” the US position on supporting Israel in world forums, especially the UN Security Council. It is a fatuous excuse. Israel is either an ally of the United States or it is not. The campaign hyperbole of an Israeli Prime Minister was just that — campaign hyperbole. Its retraction should be taken at face value, not because the retraction evidences fidelity to a two state solution (it may or may not), but because of the interests and values that bind us as allies.

The Palestinian issue won’t be resolved until the Palestinian body politic and the Israeli body politic really want to resolve the dispute. There can be no question but that most Israelis yearn for peaceful coexistence. Each side, however, constantly gives the other side justification for not resolving the dispute, and as long as there is a strong rejectionist movement on both sides there will be no resolution. Progress toward peace has been, and will continue to be, subject to easy unraveling.

Every American administration seems to believe peace is simply a matter of process. Reagan pursued a plan that would have tied the Palestinians to Jordan, required Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied after the six-day war (following successful peace and security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians). Bush 41 pursued the Madrid peace process. Clinton pursued the Wye Plantation agreement (remember that one) and then the 2000 Camp David Talks. Bush 43 pursued the Annapolis peace talks and the so-called road map; and Obama pursued peace talks that collapsed last year encumbered by the expansion of some settlements by the Israelis, and the subsequent announcement by the PA (during the talks) that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas had secretly formed a unity government.

Small wonder Netanyahu assured his base in the waning hours of an election campaign that there would be no two-state solution while he was Prime Minister. This is the same Hamas that has regularly fired rockets at Israeli civilian centers ever since they took over the Gaza Strip following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal. This is the same Hamas that is committed by its charter to genocide against Jews in general and against Israel in particular. And horrors of horrors, Netanyahu promises that there will be no Palestinian state while he is Prime Minister.

The UN and the EU may be ready to welcome into the family of nations a Palestinian state joined at the hip with Hamas, but no one should expect Israel to. President Obama’s high pique over Netanyahu’s recanted campaign excesses are, in our judgment, overwrought.

The idea of a Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government is anathema to Israelis, but cheered by almost all Palestinians. According to a reliable poll by Ramallah-based Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) conducted last year, Three quarters of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza support integrating Fatah and Hamas security services and the inclusion of Hamas in the Palestine Liberation Organization. An even larger majority supports a Hamas-PA partnership even if it results in U.S. economic sanctions or Israeli political pressure.

So what does all of this tell us? It tells us that until the time is conducive, and the parties themselves want to make progress, there will be no lasting progress. Anwar Sadat’s readiness and determination to end the cycle of war with Israel paved the way for peace between Egypt and Israel. The ’94 Oslo accords, which had limited but important lasting value, was pursued by Israelis and Palestinians in Oslo to the surprise of the US and the rest of the world. Every US Administration, it seems, drags both parties to its own version of peace talks. What we’ve learned is that peace efforts orchestrated by Washington to which the parties themselves are not committed, are fraught with danger, rarely accomplish anything positive and create more friction then they alleviate.

President Obama seems determined to hang on to Netanyahu’s remarks even if the Israeli Prime Minister has let them go. Obama now considers Netanyahu’s campaign excesses a new statement of positions that justifies recalculation of America’s support of Israel. “We take him at his word,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said of Netanyahu.

Earnest also complained about Netanyahu’s remarks about the heavy Arab turnout. “These kinds of cynical, divisive election day tactics stand in direct conflict to … the values that are critical to the bond between our two countries,” he said.

Someone should ask Mr. Earnest if President Obama also thinks the “Death to America” remarks this week by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, might also be in direct conflict to the values that are critical to the bond he is seeking with Iran.

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The Administration and the US Senate on Iran: Dumb and Dumber.

 Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSometimes it seems as though a mysterious force descends on Republicans in the US Congress with the sole purpose of enfeebling their judgment in order to create, throughout the land, sympathy for the Obama Administration. The recent letter, signed by 47 Republican members of the Senate, to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, is a good example of how this befuddling and mysterious life force seems to manifest itself.

Ironically, a letter designed to enrich(es) your (Ayatollah Khamenei) knowledge of our constitutional system and promote(s) mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress…” demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding (by the signatories to the letter) of the very constitutional process about which the 47 Republican Senators wish to enrich the Ayatollah’s knowledge.

In fact, a proper understanding of our advise and consent process would have demonstrated that the Senate could include its own Reservations, Understandings, and/or Declarations to a proposed treaty. But we’re nitpicking. The President has announced his decision to by-pass the Senate’s ratification process by treating this nuclear limitation agreement as an executive agreement and not a treaty, thereby excluding the Senate from any role in the process.   We do not quarrel with the notion that the negotiation of agreements and treaties are the prerogative of the executive branch of our government. Yet these agreements (when they apply to arms limitations) once negotiated, are generally forwarded to the US Senate for approval. That, in more recent years, was true of Salt I, Start I, Start II, Sort and New Start. There have been exceptions, but whenever an agreement is transformative, wise judgment dictates that it be codified on a non-partisan basis.

And that is where the Obama Administration has become a full and equal partner in poor governance. It rather likes, in fact it even brags about, circumventing or ignoring Congress and prior agreements when our legislative body doesn’t embrace what the President wants to do. Remember the Missile Defense Treaty that was abrogated by President Obama in deference to his eagerness to “reset” relations with Russia. How did that work out?

“Catastrophic for Poland” is how the Polish Ministry of Defense described the suspension of the program. Mirek Topolanek, the former Czech prime minister complained the decision to abrogate the treaty as another sign that “the Americans are not interested in this territory as they were before.” He continued, “this is not good news for the Czech state, for Czech freedom and independence.” Remember Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and founder of Solidarity? He observed with bitterness: “I can see what kind of policy the Obama administration is pursuing toward this part of Europe.”

And, of course, we needn’t dwell on Russia’s lack of reciprocation to our unilateral reset.

But we digress. The Republicans’ letter to the Ayatollah was “bush league” writ large. We are not familiar with any instance in our history in which members of Congress intervened directly with a foreign government to warn that government of the limitations of an agreement it was negotiating with The United States. As precedents go, this was a poor one to initiate. The immediate backpedaling by some of the signatories once the letter was called out for what it was (a gross and clumsy tantrum by its author(s) constituted a pathetic display of ineptitude.

We are certainly not apologists for the agreement being negotiated, elements of which have been leaked by the Administration. Assuming what has been made public is accurate, it is a bad agreement and riddled with concessions that contradict what the US and the other members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) were demanding when this negotiating process began. Let’s review:

At the outset of these negotiations it had been the position of the concerned nations of the world that Iran close its Arak and Fordow nuclear facilities, which it is believed can have no practical purpose other than to ultimately produce nuclear weapons-grade material. Iran has refused to do that, so we dropped those demands. The reader should keep in mind that Iran has four such facilities that we know of. Furthermore, early on, we insisted that the thousands of centrifuges Iran had acquired be dismantled (destroyed) or reduced to only a few hundred. Iran apparently refused to do that and, from what we now understand, Iran will be allowed to keep several thousand and the Ayatollah has made it clear that Iran will, in the future, go on to acquire well over 100,000 centrifuges. Also, an early demand of the p5+1 was that any agreement have a term of at least 20 years. Now, apparently, we have been negotiated down to 10 years “or more.”

We and the other members of the UN Security Council have gone from a hard-and-firm effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program to a hail-Mary plan to regulate it. Iran is not going to be regulated by the United States, the UN Security Council or anyone else. Iran is a rogue state. That bears repeating. Iran is a rogue state. It plots and plans terrorist activity all over the world. It has been responsible for countless US casualties in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It planned, and nearly succeeded, in assassinating the Saudi Ambassador in a Washington, D.C. restaurant. It is, it appears, responsible for the deaths of 84 men women and children (with hundreds wounded) at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. It supplies rockets and trains those who would fire them at Israel’s civilian population. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency reports a chronic lack of compliance with resolutions of the UN Security Council pertaining to its nuclear program.

It is not hard to understand how we got to this reality with Iran. After years of very understandable war fatigue in Iraq and Afghanistan with virtually nothing to show for it in Iraq and possibly little to show for it in Afghanistan, the country has inculcated a strong desire to avoid military engagement with Iran at all costs—or even threatening it. And Iran knows it. Without a believable willingness to use force if necessary, the United States has relied solely on sanctions. After all tough sanctions initiated by President Bush and extended by President Obama did bring Iran to the negotiating table.

Iran, we believe, is convinced that the United States will not attack under any circumstances. Iran is, we think, betting (or we might say bargaining) certain that America will make concession after concession rather than allow the talks to fail. None of our European allies seem to have the stomach for an endless regimen of sanctions and they certainly have no intention of military intervention.

Iran has made impressive progress with its nuclear program while the west dithered. Remember, as recently as 2003, Iran was reported to have only 130 centrifuges capable of converting uranium into an ugly concentration from which a chain reaction could be initiated. Such a chain reaction could be used to create nuclear energy or to simply blow things up like things haven’t been blown up in seventy years. While we talked and moaned and groaned Iran continued to build these centrifuges and by the time we reached the first interim agreement with Iran in November 2013, the Islamic Republic had nearly 20,000 centrifuges spinning away. Some experts say Iran could now produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb in as little as 45 days. It is believed Iran’s current stockpile of low-enriched uranium could, with further enrichment, quickly produce six or seven nuclear bombs.

Force, either military or economic, and the willingness to use it are what make negotiations a viable alternative when negotiating partners are military or economic antagonists. Iran understands full well, that we have the capability to use force. They probably do not, however, fear that even a limited military strike or series of strikes are still options in our playbook. And, thus far, they have achieved great sanctions relief just by agreeing to talk without giving up very much of anything. They have even seen President Obama promise to veto any reinstitution of sanctions while the talks are in progress, so we anticipate that their strategy will be to keep us talking, or to just see what happens should the talks collapse.

The Administration’s negotiating strategy with this rogue regime that reviles us seems to be all carrot and no stick. The idea that we, alone, could re-impose strict sanctions seems unrealistic in the extreme.

And then there is the spectacle of the Republicans’ letter last week warning the Ayatollah that any agreement is apt to be short lived anyway. All in all –dumb and dumber.

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Hillary’s Email Imbroglio: Much Ado About… Who Knows What.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsFormer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, has managed to maneuver herself into an incredibly Clintonesque corner over her current email contretemps. One could almost hear Frank Sinatra singing in the background, “I did it my way,” as Mrs. Clinton tried to explain to the press her reasons for comingling over 60,000 personal and official State Department emails on her Blackberry.

As everyone now knows, Secretary Clinton conducted 100% of her State Department email correspondence on her own private blackberry, all of which was stored on her own private server. She has announced that she has turned over to the State Department every email they need to see, and they (and we) will see there was nothing about which to be concerned. Everything else (that which she chose not to turn over to the State Department) she says is private and none of the government’s business and none of our business.

Well, hold on. How would anyone know what was or wasn’t the people’s business? Who says so? Ah, Hillary Clinton says so – and that’s the problem. She is telling us that she and her personal counsel have determined which of the tens of thousands of emails she generated during the time she served as Secretary of State, all of which were saved on (and since deleted from) her personal blackberry, and all of which are presumably still etched in her own private server will and will not be made available to the government.

Mrs. Clinton says, in retrospect (translation: now that stuff has hit the fan) she should have used separate devices. “I thought using one device would be simpler, and, obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way,” Mrs. Clinton opined at yesterday’s news conference at the United Nations in New York. “Looking back, it would have been probably…smarter to have used two devices.” Well, not really. How about simply using any smart phone that allows one to have more than one account on it.

As Secretary of State from 2009 until early 2013, Mrs. Clinton exclusively used a personal email account managed through a private computer server in her home in Chappaqua, N.Y. Why in the world, would the nation’s top diplomat do something like that? Well, simply because it gave the Secretary complete control over what communications would ever see the light of day. Specifically, it gave her the final say over what ever would be accessible by the media, by Congress and by the public through our various public-records laws.

Why in the world did she wait two years to turn over some of the emails, instead of turning them all over, which the spirit of the law intended and which (now) the letter of the law requires? It is hard to escape the conclusion that had she not been asked by the government, none of her email correspondence would have been turned over to the government nor could any of it have ever been made available under the Freedom of Information Act.

An obvious answer to every doubter’s question would simply be to have an independent party (perhaps a trusted, non-partisan official of the FBI or the judiciary) review what is still on her server and determine what, if anything might still pertain to State Department business. But alas, Mrs. Clinton has nixed that obvious alternative claiming that all of the remaining (private) 30,000 emails are simply variations of personal correspondence between she and her husband (who says he doesn’t use email) and other personal family matters.

The question isn’t whether Mrs. Clinton is hiding anything. Of course she is. By definition, whatever she has deleted and refused to turn over to the government is hidden – permanently. The more important question is whether what she is hiding is relevant or potentially damaging, improper or unlawful. Frankly we doubt it, but that really isn’t the point. The real problem for Mrs. Clinton is that a reasonable person in high office wouldn’t comingle all of his or her personal email with all of his or her official email. And a reasonable person certainly wouldn’t wait two years after they left office to decide what they would or wouldn’t turn over to the government. And that simply suggests, by definition, that Mrs. Clinton is not (was not) behaving as a reasonable person should behave in high office. Now, that’s not such an aberration in Washington, but it is the last thing Hillary needed the public to be reminded of just before she announces her candidacy for President.

This modus-operandi will have a familiar ring to those Americans old enough (and with long-enough memories) to remember the lost (and subpoenaed) Rose Law Firm billing records that mysteriously turned up (after two years of looking) in the Clinton White House residential quarters. To this day no one knows how those records got there. Well, we presume, almost no one knows.

And who can forget that wonderful 100 to 1 return Mrs. Clinton pocketed on her first-ever cattle futures trade back in 1978. That was when husband Bill was running for Governor and she apparently turned $1,000 (over the course of a year) into $100,000 trading in one of the most risky futures trading pits in the world (especially for first-time traders). Mrs. Clinton had insisted that she did it all on her own after learning how by reading one article in the Wall Street Journal. Actually, the reader may recall, it later came out that James Blair, outside counsel to Arkansas corporate heavyweight Tyson Foods (a company regulated by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission), turned out to be her guide. That may have been the first time we heard I did it my way, playing in the background.

Back in 1997, Mrs. Clinton’s penchant for secrecy almost cost her husband’s Administration $286,000. A suit in federal court determined that the health-care task force Hillary was running had “run amok” in its pursuit of secrecy. Federal judge Royce Lamberth’s financial sanctions were later rescinded on appeal because an appellate court found that there was no ill intent in the secrecy. It was, in effect, just an early case of Hillary saying, “I did it my way.”

There is not, however, a plausible “great right wing conspiracy” to blame for this mess as she has blamed prior messes on. It is a mess purely of her own making. It is almost breathtaking to contemplate that she believes that the inconvenience of carrying two phones or having two accounts on one phone justified her massive comingling of personal and official email correspondence, and that she and she alone should determine what the government sees and what it doesn’t see. As John Stewart quipped, “I think the concern…is that the aides are the ones that get to decide which emails are appropriate to be shared as opposed to an independent arbiter. That is why Doritos doesn’t get to decide which ingredients consumers need to know about, or why you don’t get to tell the cops which pocket to search.”

 This public relations train wreck will not, by itself, do great harm to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential aspirations. She has not, however, enjoyed a good run-up to the coming formal announcement of her candidacy. Her book tour was a flop and she has avoided the press like the plague for the last five or six months. This was a very bad coming out party.

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Netanyahu’s Sin: Shining Light on a Pact That Shouldn’t See the Light of Day.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe suspect the Obama Administration began leaking details last week about the agreement it is seeking with Iran in order to dampen the extent to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address might resonate with Congress and, more importantly, with the American People. They failed.

Talking heads from both the right and left were eager to share their opinions of the speech, but we thought centrist CNN commentator David Gergen (who would have preferred that Netanyahu delay his remarks until after the elections in Israel) offered the most clear-headed and dispassionate assessment. Gergen opined, “…Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday to the U.S. Congress should be required reading for anyone who cares about peace in the Middle East.

The United States and its negotiating partners are moving into the final stages of possibly reaching a nuclear deal with Iran. Forceful but not bombastic, Netanyahu laid out the clearest and strongest case against the deal of any public leader so far.

Iran, he argues, remains the biggest terrorist state in the Middle East and already dominates four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. The regime cannot be trusted.

The deal shaping up, Netanyahu warns, would allow Tehran to keep a huge nuclear infrastructure that it would almost certainly try to build up further through cheating. In about a decade, the deal would lift all restrictions. It is foolhardy, he argues, to expect a regime that has held power for 36 years to give up its grip — or its ambitions — in the next 10.

The Obama administration sharply disagrees with Netanyahu’s assessment. Fair enough. But in coming days, the President must lay out his case just as clearly and strongly, as his top advisers began to do Monday at the AIPAC conference. Armed with both arguments, the American people — along with the Congress — will then have a reasoned basis upon which to render a judgment. Democratic peoples thrive when they can hear all sides.”

And that is precisely why the Obama Administration has been apoplectic in its bush-league, month-long, denunciation of the Prime Minister’s temerity to address Congress. They did not want the cogent case Netanyahu presented to be aired before they had a chance to reach a final agreement with Iran. They especially did not want the case against the agreement to be accorded the attention that an address to a joint meeting of Congress might attract. In their efforts to sandbag the address they merely heightened the attention and the interest of the American People.

UN Ambassador Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice both delivered superb speeches the day before Netanyahu’s speech. Their words could not have been more reassuring, or, sadly, more lacking in certainty.

Ambassador Rice insisted with a straight face, that a good deal is one that would cut off every single pathway for Iran to make a nuclear weapon, adding that the controversial “sunset clause” would be set at more than a decade with additional provisions providing transparency for a longer period of time — except the deal cuts off no pathways at all. Iran will not be required to dismantle any of the infrastructure it currently has at its command. Iran will simply agree not to use that infrastructure nor build upon it for the next ten years. We (and Israel) are expected to rely upon Iran’s fidelity to transparency, now and for the next decade or more.

Really? Let’s revisit the recently released report of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Last month The New York Times obtained a copy of the IAEA document and reported, that Iran was still refusing to answer the agency’s longstanding questions about suspected work on nuclear weapons and designs. A lurking issue, according to the New York Times, has been whether, as part of any final accord, Iran will be compelled to answer all questions that the IAEA has put to it about evidence of past work on designing weapons.

“We’ve been stonewalled on all those questions,” one European official involved in the talks said recently. “And the question is, does it make sense to lift sanctions against Iran before it satisfies the inspectors?” Well, come to think of it, that is essentially what many Americans as well as the Israeli Prime Minister have been asking too.

The Times reported that American officials have cloaked the details of the negotiations in secrecy, and have not been specific about how an agreement would compel compliance with the international inspectors, who are part of the United Nations. Iranian demands for an agreement include a lifting of all United Nations resolutions and sanctions against Iran. The IAEA report said the agency “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.

 We know Iran has been busy developing long-range ballistic missile capability, and that too has been of concern to the IAEA. Iran has, reportedly, excluded from the nuclear agreement negotiations any aspect of its long-range ballistic-missile program. This is very relevant and very serious.

In a November 2012 report, the IAEA stated “Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. This information, which comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of Member States, from the Agency’s own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself, is assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the activities took place under a structured program; that some continued after 2003; and that some may still be ongoing.”

In a November 2013 report, the IAEA reported,“Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile. Iran is required to cooperate fully with the Agency on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program, including by providing access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the Agency.”

To this day, Iran has refused to comply with IAEA demands for access to these sites and to relevant records.

UN Ambassador Samantha Power was almost reassuring when she said, “The United States will not allow Iran to obtain Nuclear weapons –Period!” Why in the world did she throw in that now widely ridiculed Obamaism, “Period!” as in, If you like your current health insurance plan you can keep it “Period! And if you like your doctor you can keep him,”Period!” The only way we can assure that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons, short of going to war, is to insist that they dismantle the infrastructure they have built to do just that – Period!

As though trying to demonstrate Orwellian Newspeak Nancy Pelosi called Netanyahu’s address “an insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the p5 +1 nations and called the Prime Minister condescending toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”   Then again, this is the same Nancy Pelosi who told the nation that we’ll have to pass Obamacare so that we could see what was in it. Well we did pass Obamacare so that we could see what was in it, and that, Mrs. Pelosi, is the problem. Such protestations may have helped pass Obamacare, but they are not likely to promote confidence in our efforts to control Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran is an enemy nation. That isn’t just our opinion. It is Iran’s position, stated often, menacingly and unambiguously. Why in the world we would agree to a sunset provision in an arms limitation agreement with an enemy who has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of American servicemen, who has vowed to defeat us and wipe an ally, Israel, off the face of the earth is, indeed, perplexing.

Frankly, we fear the nuclear discussions have dragged on (and been extended) for so long by Iran as a negotiating tactic. It has imposed upon Secretary Kerry an investment of so much of his time, that (Iran might assume) he will embrace a poor agreement rather than come up empty handed after having expended so much effort. If that’s the case, we hope (and we believe) Kerry will say, “no deal.”

Meanwhile, we believe the Administration wildly over reacted to Netanyahu’s decision to accept Speaker Boehner’s invitation to address Congress. Protocol was never the issue. Having the nation’s attention focused on why the emerging deal is a bad one was, and is, the cause of the President’s outrage.

We are reminded of a wonderful bit of wisdom shared with the world by the late and very popular astronomer, Carl Sagan. “For me,” Sagan wrote, “it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”


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Netanyahu Address to Congress: It’s The Right Place and The Right Time.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors We’ve had our issues over the years with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His decision to address Congress, however, is not one of them. Speaker Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s decision to accept that invitation were appropriate given the circumstances. So just what were those circumstances?

The night before the invitation was formally proffered, President Obama announced to the world, during his State of the Union Address, that he would veto any legislation that presumed to reinstitute or increase sanctions on Iran should Iran cheat on the impending nuclear limitation agreement between Iran and the p5+1 (really the United States). Given that the presumed first target of a future Iranian nuclear weapon would be Tel Aviv, we’re inclined to cut the Israeli Prime Minister considerable slack regarding his acceptance of any invitation to go anywhere to address any audience to warn of the dangers of a Nuclear-armed Iran.

Furthermore, we’re also inclined to cut Speaker Boehner considerable slack in extending the invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister. The White House not only used the State of the Union Address to tell Congress to mind its own business (as though critical arms agreements are none of its business), but it announced (almost simultaneously) that it was planning to circumvent Congress by not seeking its approval of the impending pact after the fact.

The charge made by Obama sycophants that Netanyahu’s addressing Congress amounts to Israeli interference in a partisan American political dispute is, well, bizarre. Iran has threatened to liquidate Israel…to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth, and they are busily going about the task of developing the wherewithal to do just that. If anything, Israel fears this Administration is compromising its ability to defend itself in the years ahead, by acquiescing to Iran becoming nuclear threshold state – a state that can weaponize its nuclear capability at a time of its choosing.

This Administration simply does not want the American people to hear a cogent case against a bad deal by the one person who can make that case better than anyone in the world.

Critics argue that Netanyahu is trying to bolster his prospects in Israel’s elections scheduled for March 17th. That may be true (although polls in Israel suggest that that would be a recklessly unnecessary strategy), but so what. If Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to Israel’s existence it is quite irrelevant if articulating that helps any candidate.

Others argue that Netanyahu could have waited until after Israel’s March 17 elections to come and address Congress. That argument is, in our opinion, either disingenuous or naïve. The go-no/go deadline for continuation of the nuclear talks is March 24, which would mean an address to Congress after the Israeli elections, would come when there would be little or no time to alter the course of the talks. The die would have been cast (if it already isn’t).

The New York Times this week echoed an editorial theme, which has been widespread in the nation’s press. Their editorial’s concluding paragraph opines, “Mr. Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address Congress next week, has already denounced the deal. The agreement must be judged on the complete package, not on any single provision…” Really? It would only take one provision to poison the well if that provision enables Iran to keep enriching uranium with enrichment technology they already have and refuse to dismantle.

If Iran has the ability (technology) to produce a nuclear weapon and they are allowed to keep that technology and, indeed, to continue enriching uranium, everything else may be little more than window dressing. The Times editorial concluded with, “Even if the deal is not perfect, the greater risk could well be walking away and allowing Iran to continue its nuclear activities unfettered.” Unfettered? Iran is at the negotiating table because both Presidents Bush (43) and Obama, signed legislation that imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran. We know of no one who has suggested that Iran might be allowed to continue its nuclear activity “unfettered.” The Administration, however, is so worried that Iran would walk away from the talks if Congress stipulated that tough sanctions would be re-imposed should Iran discontinue the negotiations or if Iran cheated on any deal that is reached, that the President has publically (and foolishly, in our opinion) committed himself to vetoing any legislation that makes that clear.

Now we appreciate that the Iranian nuclear problem is not merely a product of this Administration’s making. Not by a long shot. Four prior Administrations have failed to deal effectively with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But we are at a very decisive moment that is unfolding on President Obama’s watch — and that of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu knows perfectly well what address would be posted on Iran’s first nuclear weapons, and his determination to present Israel’s case to anyone who will listen is understandable. The hyperventilated pique evidenced at the White House has little to do with a protocol misstep, and everything to do with a desire to keep a critique of the evolving agreement from being aired to a large American audience.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice opined during a Charlie Rose interview this week that Netanyahu’s speech had “injected a degree of partisanship” into a relationship that should be above politics. “It’s destructive to the fabric of the relationship,” Rice told the Charlie Rose show. “It’s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way.” Huh? Israel’s very real fear that we are negotiating a deal with Iran that could give Iran the wherewithal to deliver on its often stated belief that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, is trivialized to “injecting a degree of partisanship into a relationship that should be above politics.

Israel believes its very survival is the issue and why shouldn’t they? Iran announces on a regular basis that Israel’s survival is the issue. The Administration announced that it would veto any legislation that re-imposed strict sanctions if the talks failed, and then announced its intention to circumvent Congress altogether in implementing any deal Obama reaches with Iran. It was the Administration that injected a degree of partisanship into the Iran nuclear issue.

We appreciate that the President has great confidence in his persuasive ability, but we’ll cut Prime Minister Netanyahu quite a bit of slack in not sharing that confidence. Netanyahu and Obama have been conditioned by very different circumstances. Netanyahu understands his neighborhood and Israel’s sworn enemies who occupy it quite well. He enlisted in the Israel Defense Force during the 1967 six-day war. Netanyahu quickly became a team leader in Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s Special Forces unit that has played a key role in the rescue of hostages. He was wounded during the successful rescue of hijacked passengers aboard a Sebena Airlines flight in 1972. He also saw action at the front lines (and was wounded again) during the War of Attrition with Egypt and he fought in the 1973 war when Egypt attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holy days.

He takes Iran’s threats to wipe his country off the face of the earth at face value. We should too. Speaker Boehner has invited Netanyahu to share his concerns with the Congress. He has accepted. It is the right place and the right time.

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Mr. President: Islamic Extremism Exists. We are Its Ultimate Enemy. Deal With It.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIslamic extremism is deadly. Its declared enemies are Christians, Jews and non-conforming Muslims, and all others whom it considers to be infidels or apostates. It, indeed, is antithetical to Western Civilization. It has clashed and will continue to clash with mounting ferocity with America and our allies.

And yes, Mr. President, it is a religiously motivated movement. Saying, indeed insisting, that it isn’t doesn’t change that reality. We will not make progress in dealing with Islamic extremism if we refuse to acknowledge its existence. It is not just terrorism plain and simple. It is, contrary to the President’s pronouncements this week at the White House Conference on Countering Violent Extremism, a religiously motivated terrorist movement. It is called Jihad and to recognize Jihad as anything other than a religious movement – indeed a religious imperative, assures we will fail in our attempts to address this deadly problem. We recognize that jihad has more modern and benign interpretations, and we respect the interpretation that defines jihad as a spiritual struggle, but its widespread meaning today is warfare against the infidel. That’s us — and the rest of the civilized world.

Not all anti-American terrorism is religiously motivated. Some terrorists just hate America. But terrorism that is practiced by the Islamic State, its affiliates, acolytes and other similar religiously fanatic sects is a product of religious extremism – invariably, Islamic Extremism.

President Obama, foolishly in our opinion, has tried to rally world leaders to join us in stopping religious fanatics like those who have joined the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and, now, Yemen, by insisting that this deadly and religiously inspired movement has nothing to do with Islam. “The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie. And all of us, regardless of faith, have a responsibility to reject it,” Obama said during a speech at the State Department to representatives from more than 60 countries.

That we are not at war with the totality of Islam is, of course, true. We aren’t and should never be. But we are at war (or had better be) with a rapidly growing, metastasizing and deadly movement within Islam. It will not burn out of its own excesses, nor will it temper its unrestrained orgy of horror simply because it creates revulsion among civilized people everywhere. Modernity itself is the central enemy of this movement and the revulsion it creates is a central objective. The President’s protestations that it has nothing to do with Islam is laughable to the Islamists and, truth be known, laughable to most Muslims who have turned westward to distance themselves from the dramatic leap backward that is roiling so much of the Islamic world.

It was painful to watch and listen to the Administration report that 21 men were beheaded because they were Egyptian citizens and not because they were Egyptian Christians. The linguistic gymnastics the White House and State Department spokespersons go through to avoid using the word “Islamic” in the same sentence as radical or extremist or fanatic would be comical if weren’t so sad.

President Obama, trying to get beyond the semantics of the battle that lies ahead, opined that the world must remain “unwavering” in the fight against terrorist groups like ISIS and promised that the U.S. “will not relent” in its campaign to fight the organization that has gobbled much of Iraq and Syria. Those portions of Iraq and Syria (and perhaps Yemen), which are, today, controlled by the Islamic State now constitute, according to those who control the land, a Caliphate. That is no small matter. Control of land is integral to the very meaning of the word Caliphate and without control of the land the movement collapses.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure the security, the prosperity and the human rights of our citizens,” Obama said. “We are here today because we are united against the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.” Well, this kind of violent extremism and terrorism didn’t materialize out of a vacuum. It materialized out of scripture, Islamic scripture.

“They are not religious leaders. They’re terrorists,” Obama said about ISIL and al Qaeda’s leaders. Well, that’s quite debatable. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu’minin or Caliph Ibrahim. To his followers, and now there are thousands of them, he is Caliph Ibrahim, their religious leader. He is known to have lived a Spartan life in a room attached to a small local mosque in Tobchi, a poor and ramshackle neighborhood on the western fringes of Baghdad, inhabited by both Shia and Sunni Muslim residents. He attended Islamic University, and American and Iraqi intelligence analysts in 2014 said Baghdadi has a doctorate in Islamic studies. He also has a familial pedigree that qualifies him to be a Caliph. Like it or not, Al-Baghadadi is, indeed, an Islamic religious leader. Thousands follow him as such, and the President’s protestations that he isn’t a religious leader are both unhelpful and revealing. It demonstrates how little we appear to understand.

New York Times op-ed writer Roger Cohen, however, understands the reality of what we face quite well.

“After a Danish movie director at a seminar on “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” and a Danish Jew guarding a synagogue were shot dead in Copenhagen, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark, uttered a familiar trope:

 “We are not in the middle of a battle between Islam and the West. It’s not a battle between Muslims and non-Muslims. It’s a battle between values based on the freedom of the individual and a dark ideology.”

 This statement — with its echoes of President Obama’s vague references to “violent extremists” uncoupled from the fundamentalist Islam to which said throat-cutting extremists pledge allegiance — scarcely stands up to scrutiny. It is empty talk.

 Across a wide swath of territory, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, the West has been or is at war, or near-war, with the Muslim world, in a failed bid to eradicate a metastasizing Islamist movement of murderous hatred toward Western civilization.

 To call this movement, whose most potent recent manifestation is the Islamic State, a “dark ideology” is like calling Nazism a reaction to German humiliation in World War I: true but wholly inadequate. There is little point in Western politicians rehearsing lines about there being no battle between Islam and the West, when in all the above-mentioned countries tens of millions of Muslims, with much carnage as evidence, believe the contrary.”

Over the more than 13 years since Al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11, Cohen observed, “we have seen trains blown up in Madrid, the Tube and a bus bombed in London, Western journalists (and others) beheaded, the staff of Charlie Hebdo slaughtered, Jews killed in France and Belgium and now Denmark. This is not the work of a “dark ideology” but of jihadi terror.” Cohen could have added the practice of burning captives alive to his litany of Islamic extremist terror.

 Cohen continued, Only Arabs can find the answer to this crisis. But history, I suspect, will not judge Obama kindly for having failed to foster the great liberation movement that rose up in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Inaction is also a policy: Nonintervention produced Syria today.”

We suggest President Obama ponder the conclusions drawn by Graeme Wood writing in Atlantic Monthly: Wood makes the point that the Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Woods concludes that the reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. “Yes,” he observes, “it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combated, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

Ironically, President Obama’s insistence that Islamic State and it’s lookalikes aren’t Islamic is self defeating when confronting Islamic terrorism. Ultimately, this war can only be won within Islam. We can provide enormous help, but only contemporary Islam can successfully defeat archaic, radical Islam. The more the President of the United States tells the world that there is no issue with Islam; the less modern Islam will be emboldened to confront those who are vying for the heart and soul of their religion. Modern Islam is in a death struggle with the likes of ISIS, Boku Haram, Al Qaeda and many other Islamist clones.

It is a disservice to those within Islam who will, sooner or later, have to draw a line in the proverbial sand if modernity, indeed, civilization itself is to survive within Islam. Sadly, it seems, almost everyone gets it except the President of the United States.

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US and IRAN Confer In Munich – MUNICH???

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSurely, we were not the only ones bemused by the irony of Kerry and Zarif meeting in Munich (of all places) to try to iron out wrinkles in the on-going negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. For goodness sake, they could have gone down the road thirty-five miles to Augsburg, chatted, had a beer, posed for pictures and avoided their hour-long photo op in the one city whose name will always be synonymous with appeasement. Yes, we know all the suits were in Munich for an annual security conference, the agenda of which was dominated by the unfolding events in Ukraine — but still.

Things are not going well with our attempts to keep Iran from becoming an unwelcome member of the nuclear club. In fact, from what we know, they are going quite badly, despite the President’s assurances to the contrary. The agreement we are negotiating would, as the President says, be historical, but it won’t be an agreement history will smile upon. That’s because we’ve already conceded just about everything except the arrangement of the deck chairs. Everyone outside of the beltway bubble (well almost everyone) knows it’s going to be a bad deal. Even the left-leaning, and generally Obama-supportive, Washington Post seems more than a bit troubled at what is about to come down.

The venerable Post noted, “…while presidents initiate U.S. foreign policies, it is vital that major shifts win the support of Congress and the country; otherwise, they will be unsustainable.” This was in response to the Administration’s plans to circumvent congressional approval of the impending deal. While it is true that foreign policy initiatives have largely been conceded to the Executive branch since the early days of the Republic that does not mean, and has never meant, that Congress cannot and should not assert itself when it feels the nation’s vital interests are being put at substantial risk.

The Post opined after hearing two former Secretaries of State (Henry Kissinger and George Schultz) and others from both parties testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “though we (The Washington Post) have long supported negotiations with Iran as well as the interim agreement…we share several of those concerns (those of the Republican and Democratic witnesses) and believe they deserve more debate now (emphasis added)— before negotiators present the world with a fait accompli” (so much for Congress having no role in these deliberations as some have contended, and so much for the brouhaha over inviting the only ally in the region threatened by Iran to address Congress).

Prominent Democrats such as Virginia’s Senator Tim Kaine, who has generally been a strong supporter of President Obama and was on Obama’s shortlist to run as Vice President, have parted company with the President over Iran. Kaine testified and reminded the Armed Services Committee that an attempt by the United States to negotiate the end of North Korea’s nuclear program failed after the regime covertly expanded its facilities. With Iran, Kaine, said, “a nation that has proven to be very untrustworthy . . . the end result is more likely to be a North Korean situation if existing infrastructure (essentially 18,000 centrifuges) is not dismantled.”

So, what do we know about Iran’s centrifuges currently spinning or able to spin? Iran is estimated to have about 18,000 centrifuges 9000 of which are (or were) spinning away at Iran’s Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant.

According to reports by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, the approximately 9,000 first generation centrifuges operating at its Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant could, theoretically, produce enough weapon-grade uranium to fuel a single nuclear warhead in about 1.7 months. The UN agency also estimates that Iran’s more advanced IR-2m centrifuges, about 1,000 of which are installed at Natanz, would allow Iran to produce weapon-grade uranium more quickly. The Agency estimates Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is now sufficient, after further enrichment, to fuel approximately seven nuclear warheads.

This is very serious stuff. We are negotiating with a regime that considers America its number one enemy (the Big Satan) and Israel its number two enemy (the Little Satan). It has solemnly declared that Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth, and the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that they have been developing the technology capable of accomplishing that. It has for two decades been the position of the United States, our allies and the UNIAEA (let’s just say the sane world) that Iran must not develop that capability because doing so would greatly destabilize the Middle East and beyond.

Democrat Tim Kaine put it well, “ (Iran is) currently involved in activities to destabilize the governments of [U.S.-allied] nations as near as Bahrain and as far away as Morocco.” The Washington Post observed that — “a Tehran-sponsored militia recently overthrew the U.S.-backed government of Yemen. Rather than contest the Iranian bid for regional hegemony, as has every previous U.S. administration since the 1970s, Mr. Obama appears ready to concede Iran a place in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and beyond — a policy that is viewed with alarm by Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, among our (European) allies as well.”

Former Secretary of State Kissinger reminded the Senate Armed Service Committee that negotiations with Iran have evolved from a multilateral effort headed by the European Union and backed by six U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to stop Iran from developing nuclear capability to, essentially, a bilateral negotiation between the United States and Iran “over the scope of that nuclear capability, not its existence.

Think about that for a moment. Negotiations are no longer about keeping Iran from being able to build a bomb, but rather conceding that capability to Iran and then trying to control it. Specifically, we are negotiating for, essentially, a one-year’s “head up” so that we’ll know they are enriching Uranium in a one-year countdown to weaponization. We’re hoping to accomplish that by getting Iran to agree to a level of enriching technology that would require about a year to enrich and then weaponize.

Kissinger testified that such an arrangement would very likely prompt other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, to match Iran’s threshold capability. “The impact . . . will be to transform the negotiations from preventing proliferation to managing it,” he said. “We will live in a proliferated world in which everybody — even if that agreement is maintained — will be very close to the trigger point.

Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz testified that he was “very uneasy” about the ongoing negotiations. “They’ve already outmaneuvered us, in my opinion,” he told the Armed Services Committee.

Meanwhile, back in Munich things took an interesting turn. As though to send a message to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu following the White House pronouncement that the Administration doesn’t meet with foreign leaders who are facing an election, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry both met with Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog in the Bavarian capital last Saturday. Herzog is Netanyahu’s main opponent.

The darndest things seem to happen in Munich.

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Netanyahu Address to Congress: Just Who is Dissing Whom?

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThere are many more pressing issues surrounding the Iran nuclear talks, than diplomatic formality, precedence and etiquette. The very survival of the only democracy in the Middle East, as well as threats to America and its allies, are really the primary issues about which the White House should be concerned. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, views Iran’s nuclear program as a direct threat to millions of Israelis and the continued existence of the Jewish State — and for good reason. Iran has made exquisitely clear that Israel is to be wiped off the face of the earth. Iran has bragged that while it could sustain multiple nuclear attacks, Israel would be destroyed with one well-placed bomb.

Which brings us to the current brouhaha over Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress (as distinguished from a join session of Congress) to discuss the dangers Israel and the rest of the world faces from a nuclear-armed Iran.

Horrors! screamed the White House. The Speaker of the House did not clear the invitation with us first. Actually, the speaker did inform the White House of the invitation almost simultaneously with it being formally proffered to Netanyahu but, it seems, not before. The White House was informed of the invitation, however, before Netanyahu formally accepted it.

One Democrat after another, bowing to party discipline, has begun announcing that they will not attend the historic address. The Vice President says he can’t attend, because he is scheduled to be traveling abroad, but no one in the Administration seemed to know to where he would be traveling. Their stock response is that the unspecified trip had been in the works before the prime minister’s speech was announced. In the works, but apparently not actually arranged.

The press is largely buying the White House spin that Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu have engineered an enormous breech of protocol. Some pundits are wringing their hands that this will give comfort to those who claim that Israel has too much influence over American foreign policy. What nonsense.

President Obama stuck it to both the Senate and the House by announcing in his State of the Union address that he would veto any legislation that reached his desk that imposed sanctions should Iran fail to live up to whatever agreements are reached. He said, in effect, bug off, foreign policy is my exclusive domain.

Except that it isn’t — not according to that quaint, nettlesome document we know as the Constitution of the United States. The President acts in this arena with the advice and consent of the Senate, and while that language has been viewed as a pain in the derriere by various Presidents (especially this one) the language is there for a reason.

Once the President announced to the world that any legislative initiatives that penalize Iran for failing to keep its word would be dead on arrival at his desk, Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu to address before the legislature, the dangers of a poor agreement did not, in our judgment, warrant the apoplectic display of petulance we have been treated to from the White House.

The excuse the White House has provided for not seeing the Prime Minister when he is in Washington is also, in our judgment, disingenuous. We don’t receive heads of state that are facing election, the White House sanctimoniously announced. Meanwhile, the absolute Islamic carnage endemic to so much of the Middle East, all of which is described by the perpetrators as a prelude to what Israel can expect, would seem to trump the trumped up tradition of not seeing a head of state facing election.   What better way to say to the Islamic extremists who are savaging the Middle East and Africa, the hell with tradition and protocol, we meet with our strategic allies when they are threatened?

Many journalists who repeat the absurdity that Congress has no role in foreign affairs have bemused us. The Constitution provides that the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.” Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist no. 75, “the operation of treaties as laws, plead strongly for the participation of the whole or a portion of the legislative body in the office of making them.”

Now, there are exceptions. There are international agreements concluded by the executive branch and not submitted to the Senate. These are classified in the United States as executive agreements, not as treaties. We suspect President Obama will treat any agreement that evolves from the on-going negotiations with Iran as just such an executive agreement. Such agreements usually involve implementation provisions of treaties that have been approved, or international agreements, which are more perfunctory. The growth in executive agreements is also attributable to the sheer volume of business conducted between the United States and other countries, coupled with the routine business of the Senate.

In our view the impending Iran nuclear agreement certainly does not qualify as such an executive agreement. The agreement, should it be reached, will involve the removal of remaining sanctions imposed by the Congress and should only be lifted by the Congress. The Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) was overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed into law by then President George W. Bush. It is the basis of the current sanctions against Iran (already eased by President Obama) and should only be terminated by Congress.

The invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress is viewed as a blunder by almost everyone – accept a substantial plurality of the American people. According to a just-released poll by the Rasmussen opinion research organization 42% of American support the invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress with 35% opposed and 23 % not sure.

Speaker Boehner believed, we think quite correctly, that the American people and their representatives in Congress should hear from our ally whose existence will be most threatened by a lousy deal with Iran. The President has already let it be known, quite publically, that the negotiations with Iran are none of Congress’s business. It goes without saying that there is great tension between the new leadership in the Congress and the President. However, no fewer Americans will tune into the Netanyahu address because Biden and other Democratic members of Congress choose to boycott the Israeli Prime Minister’s address.

The contrived brouhaha over a protocol contretemps simply denigrates the legitimate fear that many serious thinkers have regarding the potentially disastrous deal with Iran that may soon unfold.

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Greek Debt Dustup: The Stuff of Greek Mythology.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsHomer would have relished the plot material provided by the dustup currently unfolding between Athens and the EU. Tension hasn’t been this high since Achilles  faced down the Trojan warrior Hector outside the gates of Troy. But this is real Greek tragedy playing out on the world stage – not mythology. The stakes are huge for everybody. There may be no winners. There is plenty of grief waiting in the wings to go around.

Greece is suffering from a man-made catastrophe – one of its own making. For years, actually forever, Greece has spent much more than it has taken in, and borrowed much more than it could payback. One would be hard pressed to find a country on the face of the earth that has, over the years, defaulted on its loans more than Greece. Perhaps only Ecuador and Honduras have out-defaulted Greece.  Greek politicians habitually bought votes by padding public payrolls and hoisting public salaries and pensions. Corruption has, historically, been endemic. An outrageous number of its citizens found a way to beat the taxman. They simply didn’t pay their taxes, and, it seems, no one much cared or did very much about it. That’s the way things have been in Greece for a long time.

Remember Dionysius, the ruler of the Greek city-state of Syracuse? He couldn’t pay the debts he ran up either, so he simply doubled the denominations stamped on all of the Drachmas in the land. That was sort of the Greek way of printing more money before there were printing presses. But Dionysius learned that inflating the currency didn’t make Syracuse richer. It made the Drachma even more worthless. We apologize for the outrageous redundancy, but we trust the reader gets the point.

Lesson learned, right? Well, apparently not. Greece has, over the years, turned abysmal credit worthiness into an art form. During much of the 186-year history of the modern Greek state, the country seems to have reneged on its loans in just about every generation. But we digress.

The dilemma Greece faces today is the most serious in its very long history because it threatens the very viability of the entire European grand experiment we know as the European Union. The reader may recall that in the Spring of 2010, the eurozone countries with the help of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (the Troika) provided a rescue package worth about $145 billion (110bn in Euros and 91bn in British pounds). As part of the bailout deal, Greece’s Prime Minister, George Papandreou announces a round of even more stringent austerity measures.

Trade unions, of course, immediately called a general strike in protest. That’s because the life preserver the Troika tossed to Greece had strings attached (they always do). Greece had to clean house, tighten its belt, privatize many of the inefficient bloated public services (which had guaranteed workers jobs for life), seriously collect taxes from the chronic tax cheats, reduce spending, and do something about corruption that everyone knew was rampant. Greece agreed. Her creditors at the time had their debt rescheduled, which is a euphemism for accepting cents on the Euro as payment. Greece drastically reduced spending and curtailed public payrolls and began privatizing. This was the bitter medicine called austerity.

As might be expected, the people began to suffer, really suffer, because of the past profligacy of their leaders. As should have been anticipated, unemployment spiked, businesses closed and the economy severely contracted. Immense unrest began to roil the country, and just last week a far-left Party, Syriza, was elected promising to end the austerity upon which the bailout had been predicated in the first place. This is, indeed, the stuff of Greek tragedy of mythological proportions.

The so-called Troika is, of course, caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Portugal, Spain, Italy, and who knows who else, are all watching and waiting to see whether more liberal bailout terms are offered to Greece, because they all have their own problems.

Germany and Finland and the other more responsible, productive and credit worthy countries are also watching. They know they will ultimately bear the burden of any further defaults regardless of how the risk is spread on paper. Their taxpayers are not going to sit still for paying with their taxes what the Greeks and, perhaps, other southern countries have not paid for with their taxes. And besides, Greece’s debt structure is in good shape compared to some of the other bailout countries. Greece enjoys the longest debt maturities and actually has a lower cost of interest relative to its gross domestic product compared to most of the Eurozone countries, and the citizens of those countries vote too.

You would think everyone with so much skin in the game would be treading very carefully right now. But that isn’t what is happening. Instead lines are being drawn from which it will become increasing more difficult for anyone to retreat. The new Greek government is demanding from the rooftops to have its debt rescheduled (further haircuts for the creditors), the time for repayment extended (initial payments are due later this month) and an end to austerity. The moment of decision is at hand. The EU’s bailout deal, now valued at about 240 billion Euro’s, runs out at the end of this month. Under the deal Greece has to put further reform measures in place and start paying off billions of Euros in bond redemptions in order to receive the final 7.2 billion Euros it has (or had) coming under the bailout agreement. Right now, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Any deviation from the bailout plan Greece had agreed to is apt to cause a furor in Germany and a number of other EU countries.

Greece’s new Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis has announced that he won’t even meet with representatives of the Troika to discuss the crisis. Meanwhile, officials of the EU and the European Central Bank are drawing their own lines in the sand. Germany’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, wasn’t having any of it. “Rules need to be kept,” he has insisted.

To add suspense to this unfolding drama, Spain has general elections coming up this year and the anti-austerity party known as Podemos has been mightily energized by Syriza’s success in Greece. Podemos, which means “yes we can” is surging in the polls and its leader Pablo Iglesias has promised that 2015 will be a year of change for Spain. Spain’s public debt has, in the past few years, soared to over a trillion Euros, about 100% of its GDP.

Until the housing crisis erupted in 2008 Spain had managed its economy reasonably well. The bitter pill of austerity has not gone down well in Spain and the people are fed up. Spain, like Greece, has had it with austerity fatigue and a class-warfare mentality seems to have taken hold. “We are Greece” has become a popular slogan on the Iberian Peninsula ever since the anti-austerity Syzira party catapulted to power in Athens last week. Spain’s economy is stronger than Greece’s, but the country is still shouldering 24 percent unemployment and the people are restive.

The currencies of the strong exporting countries such as America as well as Germany, Switzerland, Finland and other Northern European countries have spiked up dramatically making their goods more expensive, and harder to sell. We seem to have a perfect (but very ugly) storm in the making.

Not long ago, Greece leaving (or being banished from) the EU was unthinkable. Greece and those who provided the bailout funds are facing off against one another. Everyone is waiting to see who blinks first. Homer would have a field day finishing this story.

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Swiss Movement: Clocks Striking Thirteen

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors“Time”, someone once wrote, “is like the rumble of distant thunder at a picnic.” And so it was last week when Switzerland heard the distant thunder and severed its tie to the Euro in anticipation of the EU’s massive Quantitative Easing venture, which is intended to spark economic growth throughout the moribund European Union. The Swiss, quite correctly, anticipating a sharp drop in the value of the Euro decided not to go along for the ride and unhinged the Swiss Franc from the Euro zone currency. No longer would Switzerland maintain its artificial ratio of 1.20 Swiss Francs to the Euro.

Almost everyone is following the script written by European Central Bank (ECB) Chief, Mario Draghi, and cheering the decision of the ECB to begin an aggressive, all-out program to buy every month (with newly minted money) 60 billion Euros worth of government bond, agency and other debt as well as inflation-linked bonds and other bonds with maturities between two and thirty years  “for as long as it takes.” This infusion of money into the EU banking systems (which holds these assets) will, the thinking goes, provide vast new resources for banks to lend and, therefore, stimulate business growth.

As expected the Euro plunged in value while the Swiss franc, the US dollar, and equities in general, soared as investors dropped their Euros like hot potatoes. And that, of course, was the idea. The prospects are that the export of EU manufactured goods will pick up smartly (they are cheaper now relative to US and Swiss goods) at the expense of US and Swiss exports thereby jolting back to life EU economic growth. Norway, Japan and Austria all saw their currencies tick up over 100 basis points against the Euro as well.

Concern about deflation (constantly falling prices) clearly and properly (at this point in time) trumps fear of inflation, which by and large is nowhere to be found. We noted, above, that almost everyone is cheering. Almost, but not everyone.

People who probably never heard of Hyman Minsky are expressing concerns as though the late, famous, economics professor who taught at Brown University, UC California, Berkeley and Washington University in St. Louis, was whispering into their ears – Beware, too much cheap money sooner or later always becomes very costly.

Minsky argued that a phenomenon that invariably pushes economies toward crisis is the accumulation of very cheap debt by the non-government sector. That’s where the 60 billion of quantitative-easing Euro’s is intended to go every month. Sooner or later, Minsky argued, too many borrowers with too much cheap debt become dependent on asset values increasing sufficiently to refinance their debt and that is the stuff of bubbles and the crises they cause. We all do still remember 2008 don’t we?

So, while almost everyone is cheering the EU’s new Quantitative Easing program, we noticed a few voices across the pond that were not so sanguine about the massive infusion of capital that is about to be unleashed.

Not surprisingly, hints of concern and expressions of caution can be heard in Europe’s strongest and most conservative economy, Germany, which has the most to lose if American-style irrational exuberance causes another bubble to burst in the future.

Many in Germany fear that infusing massive quantities of cheap money into the weaker European economies will fuel asset bubbles, as Minsky predicted always happens. Whatever motivation exists in the weaker nations to pursue needed reforms will evaporate, they fear. Specifically, the Germans worry about Greece, France and Italy. The Germans know that if these or other nations stumble, they may be the only ones left standing to pick them back up.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the central bank’s loosening of monetary policy risked distracting Euro zone governments from much needed reforms and undermining an already fragile recovery.

“No matter what decision the ECB should take, we should not, as politicians, be diverted from putting in place the necessary conditions for recovery,” Ms Merkel said.

Merkel seemed unimpressed by an element of the central bank’s new policy that shifts most of the risk for the bond-buying program from the ECB to Europe’s 19 national central banks. Draghi in order to get Germany to go along with the EU’s aggressive quantitative easing program agreed to this weakening of the central bank’s role, recognizing that Germany did not want to assume responsibility for the potential losses of weaker euro zone states.

One expects that Merkel and other more conservative German thinkers worry that the “policy” to shift liability to Europe’s 19 national central banks might wind up being window dressing to sell the program, and if push came to shove most of the burden of rescue would fall upon Germany.

Clearly, Chancellor Merkel is not alone in feeling queasy about the EU’s journey down QE Lane. Conservative economist Hans Werner Sinn, head of Munich’s Ifo Institute for Economic Research, claimed the central bank’s actions were illegal because they went beyond monetary policy and strayed into state financing “through the printing presses”.

Peter Gauweiler, a well-known eurosceptic and Christian Social Union party leader, said he was already preparing to take the ECB to Germany’s constitutional court over quantitative easing. Gauweiler, who has launched a number of legal actions against the common currency, said Draghi’s risk sharing agreement with other Euro zone central banks should not divert attention from the broader “illegalities” of the program.

And of course, the sinking yields on the bonds of Euro zone countries also benefited the Portuguese and Greeks where yields on 30-year Portuguese government bonds dropped 23 basis points to 3.76 per cent, while equivalent Greek debt dropped 37 basis points to 7.62 per cent on the back of news that Greek debt could be included in the bond-buying program.

Nonetheless, the EU’s quantitative easing program may be too late to qualm fears in Greece, where today’s election just might turn the EU on its head. As we go to press, it seems all but certain that Syriza, the leftist, anti-austerity party will emerge as the winner of a hard fought election. The Greeks are frustrated with the EU and many want to return to the Drachma and dump the Euro all together. Some fear that could become a contagion that might spread to other countries with chronically weak economies. The specter of Greece’s exit from the Euro zone is no longer considered unthinkable. The Greek economy has shrunk more than 25% since 2008, unemployment hovers around 25%, and it is estimated that about twenty five percent of households live in poverty. More than 100,000 business have closed in Greece since 2008.

So this is, indeed, an historic time for the EU. Tens of billions of Euro’s are riding to the rescue of a doggedly lackluster economy on the continent. In all, a trillion new Euro’s are, over the next year, intended to prop up economic growth in Europe. Thanks to our own Federal Reserve, Quantitative Easing has become the new gold standard for lifting sagging economies out of their economic doldrums. Time, however, will tell whether all that glitters is really gold.

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Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.