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Scene above:  Constitution Island, where Revolutionary War forts still exist, as photographed from Trophy Point, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
 

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APRIL 1,  2011

WHAT ARE WE BECOMING? – AT 11:47 P.M. ET:  Steve Moore of The Wall Street Journal has written a fine, provocative piece on what America is becoming economically.  It is disturbing, and important, one of the best short pieces I've read recently:

If you want to understand better why so many states—from New York to Wisconsin to California—are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.

It gets worse. More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees. Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills?

And...

Don't expect a reversal of this trend anytime soon. Surveys of college graduates are finding that more and more of our top minds want to work for the government. Why? Because in recent years only government agencies have been hiring, and because the offer of near lifetime security is highly valued in these times of economic turbulence. When 23-year-olds aren't willing to take career risks, we have a real problem on our hands. Sadly, we could end up with a generation of Americans who want to work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

And...

One way that private companies spur productivity is by firing underperforming employees and rewarding excellence. In government employment, tenure for teachers and near lifetime employment for other civil servants shields workers from this basic system of reward and punishment. It is a system that breeds mediocrity, which is what we've gotten.

Finally...

President Obama says we have to retool our economy to "win the future." The only way to do that is to grow the economy that makes things, not the sector that takes things.

COMMENT:  Of course, Moore is correct.  Look, we do need public employees, and many do a fine job.  But bloated government agencies, at any governmental level, rarely do a fine job.  And please remember that many who work in these agencies have a vested interest in problems not being solved.  If you work in a welfare agency, you don't want reductions in welfare rolls.  That reduction can put you out of business.  If you work in a mediocre school, you don't want parents having school choice.  That could close your school.

But I think it's going to be awfully hard to get this country back to the point of "making things."  The "service economy" is easier and cleaner, and fits in with the mentality of today's educational system.  Manufacturing is outsourced to low-pay nations.

This country won (along with our allies) World War II in large measure because of production.  We made things, and made them at an astounding rate.  We still make a small number of products, and we grow most of our own food.  But some American flags are made in China.  And Boeing's production of airliners is being stalled by a shortage of parts from quake-ravaged Japan...a country Boeing warplanes helped defeat not many decades ago.

April 1, 2011     Permalink

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WHERE OBAMA STANDS – AT 10:08 A.M. ET:  We reported yesterday on a new Quinnipiac poll that shows several Republicans – Huckabee, Romney and Christie – in a position to challenge Obama in 2012.  The poll also showed Obama's approval in the low 40s. 

Today's Rasmussen tracker confirms that Obama seems to be on a slight downward slide, although today's jobs report may help him.  What has clearly not helped him is his muddled, baffling response to Libya:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows that 25% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty-two percent (42%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -17.

And...

Overall, 45% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president's performance. On Monday morning, before the president’s speech, that number was 47%. Today, fifty-five percent (55%) disapprove.

COMMENT:  The president's approval, according to Ras, has hovered in the same range for more than a year.  He may go down to the low 40s, as shown in that Quinnipiac poll, but he's never been below that.  So, while his numbers are very soft, they're far from hopeless. 

We should remember that Carter was ahead of Reagan in the polls during much of the 1980 campaign.  Reagan's victory was far from assured until the final weeks.  And Obama is better liked than Carter.  So poll numbers today are only telling part of the story.

April 1, 2011      Permalink

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LIBYA LATEST – AT 9:04 A.M. ET:  To say the picture is muddled would be modest.  It is hard to know exactly what is happening on the ground.  However, a rebel leader, meeting with a UN envoy, has set out the first formal conditions for the conflict to end.  From Fox:

BENGHAZI, Libya-- A Libyan opposition leader says the rebels will accept a U.N.-demanded cease-fire if Moammar Gadhafi pulls his forces from all cities and allows peaceful protests.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil spoke Friday during a joint press conference with U.N. envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib. Al-Khatib is visiting the rebels' de-facto stronghold of Benghazi in hopes of reaching a cease-fire and political solution to the crisis embroiling the North African nation.

Abdul-Jalil says the rebels' condition for a cease fire is "that the Gadhafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose and the world will see that they will choose freedom."

At the same time, American policy gets more and more confused, even, incredibly, drawing a reprimand from Secretary of Defense Gates, as Fox reports:

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is about to pull its attack planes out of the international air campaign in Libya, hoping NATO partners can take up the slack.

The announcement Thursday drew incredulous reactions from some in Congress who wondered aloud why the Obama administration would bow out of a key element of the strategy for protecting Libyan civilians and crippling Muammar Qaddafi's army.

"Odd," "troubling" and "unnerving" were among critical comments by senators pressing for an explanation of the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that American combat missions will end Saturday.

"Your timing is exquisite," Republican Sen. John McCain said sarcastically, alluding to Qaddafi's military advances this week.

And...

Gates said no one should be surprised by the U.S. combat air pullback, but he called the timing "unfortunate" in light of Qaddafi's battlefield gains.

Yeah, I'd say so.  My own reasonably informed guess is that the White House is trying to run the operation while, at the same time, appeasing its leftist base.  Mission impossible. 

And the German government has just declared that there is no military solution to Libya, a patently ridiculous comment.  Of course there's a military solution, if NATO is willing to impose it.  But Germany is increasingly becoming a problem within NATO, going its own way and becoming increasingly assertive.  German companies are supplying sensitive material to Iran, and Germany refused to go along with the military campaign to protect civilians in Libya.  Although Angela Merkel, Germany's leader, is decidedly pro-American, she is a leading a nation that is drifting back toward some very disturbing old ways. 

The lack of real American leadership right now is profound, and the resulting confusion and lack of a firm strategy is going to cost us.

April 1, 2011      Permalink 

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JOB REPORT BRIGHTER – AT 8:42 A.M. ET:  The weekly jobs report just came out, and it shows continued, if less than spectacular, improvement.  From The New York Times:

The United States economy added 216,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department reported Friday, adding to hopes that hiring was finally on a steadier track despite concerns about overseas turmoil.

The gain in jobs slightly exceeded economists’ expectations. The unemployment rate continued to decline, to 8.8 percent.

Quite a few signs have pointed to this economic recovery finally gaining some momentum. The weekly unemployment claims have declined steadily, from the mid-400,000s to the neighborhood of 385,000. In most contexts, the latter would be a grim number. But in this slowest and most sluggish of recoveries, it points to fewer layoffs, and presumably to more hiring.

Still, threats to a more robust recovery remain, of course, including a surge in energy and food prices, with the possibility of disruptions in oil production in the Middle East continuing to weigh on the financial markets. State and local governments have also been shedding jobs as they grapple with budget woes.

COMMENT:  If the job picture improves, Mr. Obama will benefit mightily in 2012.  But the last paragraph we quoted is critical.  The rise in food and oil prices hits people where they live.  Even if they are gainfully employed, nothing will hit them more.  And housing is still in a deep recession.

We're always happy to see more people employed in the private sector, but I think we're far from out of the woods.  If we go into stagflation – a stagnant economy joined by rising prices – Obama will be in Carterland. 

April 1, 2011      Permalink

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SMOKING GUNS – AT 8:25 A.M. ET:  One of the bright things about the revolutions going on in the Mideast today is that information comes out that finally, and definitively, exposes the vast network of corruption and hatred that has supported Arab thug leaders for decades.  Consider:

CHICAGO – Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan reiterated his defense of Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday, calling the embattled Libyan leader a friend and Muslim brother who's lent the movement $8 million over the years.

Farrakhan, speaking at a rare news conference, railed against the media and said Gadhafi isn't the monster being portrayed by Western governments.

Ask the relatives of PanAm 103.  But Farrakhan wouldn't talk to them anyway.

The 78-year-old minister criticized the U.S. government and President Barack Obama — whom he also called a brother — for launching military action against Libya without justification. He accused Americans of just wanting Gadhafi out of the picture to secure oil interests.

"I love Moammar Gadhafi, and I love our president," Farrakhan told several hundred cheering supporters at the Nation of Islam's headquarters. "It grieves me to see my brother president set a policy that would remove this man not only from power, but from the earth."

The man he loves – and this isn't a Gershwin tune – openly said that he would murder his own people in Libya if the revolution continued.  Farrakhan has strange crushes. 

Sadly, Farrakhan continues to have a disturbing level of support in the black community.  Maybe now, as he expresses heat for one of the world's great murderers, will people start to desert him.

The sad fact is, however, that Farrakhan has also had white enablers.  They have included the late columnist, Robert Novak, and the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell.  As mayor of Philadelphia, Rendell welcomed the bigot Farrakhan to his city and reprimanded those who opposed Farrakhan's visit.

When you lie down with dogs...

April 1, 2011     Permalink

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MARCH 31,  2011

THIS IS CALLED A CAMPAIGN ISSUE – AT 9:53 P.M. ET:  Gas at the pump, gas at the pump, who's happy about gas at the pump?  Certainly not the Obama White House.  From the Washington Times:

Feeling pain at the pump? Gas prices have doubled since Mr. Obama took office. According to the GasBuddy gasoline price tracking web site, the price of a gallon of regular gas was around $1.79 when Mr. Obama took office. Today the national average is $3.58. The lowest average price in the continental United States is $3.31 in Tulsa Oklahoma, the highest is $4.14 in Santa Barbara, CA. Four-dollar-a-gallon gas has arrived on average throughout California, and a number of other states are headed in that direction.

Consumer price index (CPI) figures from February show an unadjusted 12 month gasoline inflation rate of 19.2%, but in the last month alone prices jumped 6.8%, probably because of oil price increases due to instabilities in the Middle East. If the trend continues, gas prices would double again within a year. 100% gasoline price inflation is nothing to brag about, but imagine Mr. Obama going into the 2012 election having to explain why gas costs $7.00 a gallon. I'm sure the White House would spin it as one of their "Green" initiatives.

COMMENT:  This is one of the things that shortened the adventurous political life of Jimmy Carter, whose administration Obama's often resembles.  It may be that there is no short-term solution for soaring energy prices, but Obama can take some dramatic action, like making exploration for oil in the U.S. a high priority, and easing restrictions on offshore drilling.  We fear that the theoreticians and environmental religionists in his party will make that impossible.

These prices can cost Obama the election...assuming Republicans can come up with an alternate, fast, and dramatic energy plan that actually lowers prices and increases supply. 

March 31, 2011     Permalink

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OBAMA SQUEEZED IN NEW 2012 POLL – AT 8:48 P.M. ET:   Obama is shown to be quite vulnerable in a 2012 matchup against candidates with real names.  From CNN:

(CNN)-Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee would go toe-to-toe with President Obama if he sought the presidency in 2012, according to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University survey. Among registered voters nationwide, 46 percent said they'd vote for Huckabee and the same number would re-elect the president.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is also considering another presidential run, only trailed the president by one percentage point. Voters favored the president 44 to 43 percent over Romney, who wrote a Wednesday op-ed attacking Obama's treatment of unemployment and job creation in USA Today.

And though he's declared his non-candidacy for president, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also performs well against the sitting president whom he trails by six percentage points. Registered voters chose Obama 46 to 40 percent over Christie. The governor has adamantly denied an ambition to helm the Republican ticket in 2012, but helped the House GOP earn $10 million in a DC fundraiser Wednesday night.

Other possible contenders for the Republican nomination saw less favorable results in a hypothetical matchup with Obama. More than half the nation preferred the president over former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin - 54 to 34 percent. And Tim Pawlenty, who formally announced a presidential exploratory committee, fell behind Obama by 14 percentage points. Voters preferred the president 48 to 34 percent over the former Minnesota governor. Obama also led former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 52 to 37 percent in the theoretical race.

COMMENT:  What is striking in this poll is that Obama in only a few matchups makes it out of the 40s.  He is vulnerable.

What is also striking is that no Republican actually wins against Obama.  Now, of course, Obama is a far larger presence on TV screens than any GOP candidate, at least at the moment, and he has the advantages of incumbency.  But I think the numbers, which measure reasonably well-known personalities as Romney and Huckabee, show that the Republicans may have to look further.  There is a sizzle factor that is missing.

I'm not shocked by Sarah Palin's showing.  I've always liked her, but she has little support beyond her base.

The poll was conducted among registered voters.  A poll among likely voters would probably have shown Republicans somewhat stronger.

March 31, 2011      Permalink

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SNIPPET OF THE DAY – AT 11:16 A.M. ET:

From the L.A. Times:  With movie theater attendance in the U.S. and Canada down a whopping 20% so far this year compared with 2010, cinema operators and some studio chiefs surprisingly agree on at least one cause: The movies haven't been very good.

For insights like this, some movie executive is paid $10-million a year. 

March 31, 2011      Permalink

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OHIO FOLLOWS WISCONSIN – AT 9:46 A.M. ET:  Although there was less trauma, and far less theatricality, Ohio, following Wisconsin, has now passed legislation reining in the power of public-service unions.  A bill to that effect is about to be signed by Governor John Kasich.  It will be challenged in a public referendum:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A drastic overhaul of Ohio's nearly 30-year-old collective-bargaining law cleared the legislature on Wednesday after nearly two months of contentious hearings, raucous protests and passionate debate.

Now the fight comes to your doorstep.

Republican Gov. John Kasich will sign Senate Bill 5, which will spark a voter referendum effort by Democrats and unions to defeat the bill by putting it before voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.

"This isn't over," House Democratic Leader Armond Budish, of Beachwood, said on the House floor before representatives approved it, 53-44. "We've just begun to fight, and we're going to fight like hell."

SB 5 opponents booed and chanted "Shame on you" and "Repeal" from the House chamber's balcony after the House approved the bill . Two banners also were draped over the balcony and a few profanities could be heard before House Speaker William G. Batchelder, a Medina Republican, had Highway Patrol officers clear the gallery, which held about 200 spectators.

Democrats and unions are expected to spend up to $20 million to defeat the measure, an amount Republicans admit will be tough to match.

Republicans hailed the bill's passage in the House as a victory for Ohio taxpayers who have had to foot the bill for costly public labor contracts negotiated through a collective-bargaining process that favors unions.

COMMENT:  One of the things not generally noted in the media is that Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Governor John Kasich of Ohio are potential presidential candidates.  If either man can actually solve the desperate economic problems of his state, he becomes an instant star.   That is especially true of Kasich, who already is nationally known from his days as a TV commentator.  He also is governor of the swing state of Ohio.

Little by little, progress is being made in some states to provide some sanity to the issue of public-service employment.  We are certainly not anti-union here, but the idea of public-service unions negotiating with politicians they've helped put in power through campaign contributions is bizarre at best.

One state to watch is California, which is almost bankrupt.  Wisconsin and Ohio have Republican governors.  California has, in Jerry Brown, a Democratic governor holding, ironically, the same office he held in the 1970s and early 80s.  Will a Democrat be able to rein in union contracts?  It is exceptionally difficult for any Democrat to take on the interests that help support the Democratic Party.  However, Democrat Andrew Cuomo in New York has made a good start and is presenting a balanced budget.  Eyes are on Brown.

March 31, 2011      Permalink

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SYRIA ON THE BRINK – AT 9:14 A.M. ET:  Syria, by orders of magnitude, is a far more important Mideast country than Libya.  It is at the heart of Arab civilization, but is also an ally of Iran.

There have, in the past weeks, been violent clashes in Syria between demonstrators and government forces, resulting in scores of deaths.   Yesterday, Syria's leader, Bashar Assad, delivered a speech to the Syrian people that essentially promised nothing, and seems to have only angered anti-government protesters even more.  The latest action by the Syrian regime is unlikely to tame that anger:

DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar Assad, facing a wave of demonstrations for greater freedoms, has set up a committee to look into replacing a decades-old emergency law with anti-terrorism legislation.

The state news agency SANA said on Thursday the panel would study and prepare "legislation including protecting the nation's security and the citizen's dignity and fighting terrorism, paving the way for lifting the emergency law."

It said the committee would complete its work by April 25, but gave no further details.

Repealing emergency law, used for decades to snuff out any opposition to monolithic Baath Party rule, has been a central demand of protesters who have held two weeks of demonstrations in which more than 60 people have been killed.

COMMENT:  Today is likely to be a quiet day in Syria.  It is tomorrow that we look to with anticipation.  Friday is the most important protest day in the Arab world, the day when people attend mosques, then congregate for political activity afterward. 

The question is whether Syria will explode tomorrow, with the government reacting with brute force.  If that happens, it can profoundly change the future of the Middle East.  Syria is critical to any peace with Israel, and essentially controls Lebanon.  All eyes will be on Syria tomorrow.

The Assad family  – Bashar's father preceded him as president – has a history of extreme brutality toward the Syrian people.  Thousands were killed under daddy's regime.  So far Bashar hasn't given an inch.

March 31, 2011       Permalink

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CONFUSION OVER LIBYA – AT 8:39 A.M. ET:  The situation involving Libya can best be described this morning as confused.  Yesterday saw the defection of some high-level Libyan officials, but also saw government forces pushing the rebels back.

At the same time there is an increasing, and increasingly anxious, debate in Washington over just who the rebels are.  Our intelligence is, as usual, thoroughly inadequate, and some members of Congress and observers are warning that the people we're helping may turn out to have Al Qaeda connections.  CNN reports on the latest:

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- NATO took sole command of air operations in Libya on Thursday as CIA operatives worked the field to connect with rebel fighters who have seen their surge toward Tripoli impeded.

The NATO mission -- called Operation Unified Protector-- includes an arms embargo, a no-fly zone and "actions to protect civilians and civilian centers," the alliance said Thursday.

It follows a U.N. Security Council resolution allowing member states to take all necessary measures -- with the exception of foreign occupation -- to protect civilians under the threat of attack in Libya.

Over the weekend, CNN reported that rebels had taken al-Brega, Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad and reached a town just east of Sirte. But in the last three days, opposition fighters have been pushed back eastward.

There are reports that the U.S. is considering supplying arms to the rebels. 

While U.S. and British officials say no decision has been made about whether to arm the opposition, a U.S. intelligence source said the CIA is in the country to increase the "military and political understanding" of the situation.

"Yes, we are gathering intel firsthand, and we are in contact with some opposition entities," the source told CNN.

COMMENT:  Remember, about a week ago, how many people were saying that this story would end quickly?  It isn't ending quickly.  We hope not, but the military operations in which we're involved can go on for a very long time, with no guarantee of the outcome.

A word about CNN:  We have been properly critical of some of their reporting in the past, and there's no question that CNN leans left.  But its reporting on the recent upheavals in the Mideast has, I think, been quite good, and generally free of the usual ideological bias.  Some of the grown-ups at CNN, like Wolf Blitzer, have asserted themselves, and the news outlet has sought the wisdom of Fouad Ajami, often quoted here, who's raised the knowledge level of CNN by about 300 percent.

I suspect CNN's improvement is largely due to the departure of Christiane Amanpour, one of the most wildly overrated reporters in all of human history, who now is working her black magic at ABC.  She was CNN's chief international correspondent for many years, and the operation seems to have blossomed, both in content, and in attitude, in her absence. 

March 31, 2011       Permalink

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SHREWD MOVE – AT 8:11 A.M. ET:  A few days after declaring that he was not running for president in 2012, and even discouraging talk of the vice presidency, new GOP Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has reportedly made a shrewd move that could place him at the center of Republican policymaking.  Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard breaks the story:

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has obtained the text of a letter freshman senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent tonight to the Senate majority and minority leaders. In it, Rubio proposes that the Senate authorize the president’s use of force in Libya, and that the authorization state that the aim of the use of force should be the removal of the Qaddafi regime.

This is by far the boldest move Rubio has made—it’s perhaps the boldest move any freshman senator has made—in the three months since the beginning of the 112th Congress. Rubio is taking on those in his own party who wish to distance themselves from what they consider Obama’s war in Libya. He is answering critics of the war who have tried to cast a vague sense of illegitimacy over the action because Congress hasn’t explicitly authorized it. And Rubio is trying to push the administration into fully embracing regime change as an explicit goal, thus providing a compelling clarity for American military action—a clarity that he thinks will increase support for the effort at home and the chances of success on the ground.

This is a striking bid by a freshman senator to exercise foreign policy leadership, in the face of opposition from some in his own party and reluctance by the Obama administration. If he succeeds in galvanizing Republican support for the war and influencing the administration’s conduct of it, it will be a remarkable achievement.

COMMENT:  Remarkable move for Rubio, whom we like very much here.  Yes, he's inexperienced, but actually has far more high-level political experience than a certain Chicago politician had when he successfully ran for president in 2008.

Despite Rubio's pronouncements about 2012, don't count him out.  At least the guy has guts, and is as good a campaigner as Obama.

March 31, 2011     Permalink

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THE ANGEL'S CORNER

Part I of The Angel's Corner was sent late Wednesday night.

Part II will be sent over the weekend.

 

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