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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DECEMBER 2,  2011


THE VICE GOOFBALL DOES IT AGAIN – This administration has raised the practice of undercutting allies to a fine art.  Vice President Biden says that the U.S. has no proof the Iranian government was involved in the mob storming of the British embassy in Tehran.  This comes only a few days after Britain announced that the Tehran government was indeed involved, and that diplomatic reprisals would be mounted.  Thanks, Joe.  We're sure the Brits, our closest ally, really appreciate your support. 

TV SET OWNERSHIP DECLINES – For the first time since it started keeping these records, the Nielsen organization reports that television set ownership has declined.  The decline is steepest among the demographic advertisers prize most, the 18-48 year-olds.  I suspect this is due to the popularity of the internet, and the fact that many people can now watch some programs on their computers.  At the same time, TV set manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to squeeze profit out of their sales, as prices must be kept low in the fiercely competitive electronics market.  The CEO of SONY recently said that his corporation loses money on every TV set it makes.  Some better, more imaginative programming might help the situation, but don't hold your breath.

DANGER FOR THE GOP – Congressional Republicans are seriously fractured over an extension of the temporary payroll tax rate begun last year, due to expire at the end of this month.  Obama wants it extended.  Some Republicans are skeptical, others would agree to an extension if it were paid for with acceptable spending reductions.  This is a dangerous area for Republicans, and the smart ones know it.  The party has, at some times correctly, been identified as enthusiastic about tax cuts for upper-income brackets.  If it balks at a tax-cut extension that will mostly benefit the middle class, the imagery can be awful, and provide a field day for the Dems.  The Republicans must get their act together and find some way to extend the cut.

HERMAN HANGS ON – Herman Cain is hanging on, at least until tomorrow, Saturday.  He promises he will meet with some supporters on the future of his candidacy, and it is expected that he will give some indication of where he's going.  Frankly, it really doesn't matter.  Cain is declining, not rising, in the polls, and is making no progress toward resolving the two great issues dogging him – a feeling that he is unprepared for the presidency and doesn't know the issues, and a belief that he has not satisfactorily answered charges of sexual harassment.  He was hot a month ago, and is now an asterisk.  It makes us wonder where Newt Gingrich will be a month from now, after the attack ads start. 

December 2, 2011       Permalink

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ON THIS DATE – AT 9:30 A.M. ET:  A plaque posted at Stagg Field at The University of Chicago:

On December 2, 1942 man achieved here the first self-sustaining chain reaction and thereby initiated the controlled release of nuclear energy

The experiment was under the leadership of Enrico Fermi, an immigrant scientist from Italy who, with others, allowed us to win the race against the Nazis for the nuclear bomb.

December 2, 2011      Permalink

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THE COST OF BIAS? – AT 9:15 A.M. ET:  As readers know, we often quote from The Politico, a large website devoted exclusively to political news.  We've also noted recently that The Politico is drifting increasingly to the left and that we had to be careful about it as a source.  That leftward drift has apparently been noticed by others, with a possibly devastating result for the site's readership numbers.  From the conservative website, The Daily Caller:

Internet traffic and Web search measurement tools from several sources indicate that despite massive promotion efforts on MSNBC and in other venues, Politico.com is rapidly losing readers, especially outside of Washington, D.C.

Measurements of U.S. Web traffic provided to The Daily Caller by Compete, Inc. indicate that the number of total monthly visits to Politico.com dropped by 31.8 percent during the 18-month period that ended on October 31.

During that same period, and perhaps not coincidentally, Politico has come under sustained criticism from many observers, including Fox News Channel anchors and several prominent radio hosts, for exhibiting liberal bias in its news stories.

Other third-party traffic measurements also indicate a recent traffic decline for Politico.

COMMENT:  It is very difficult absolutely to assign cause and effect characteristics to changes in viewing numbers.  Political websites tend to exhibit sharp drops and increases, often depending on the news, the season, and whether there's a major news personality who is attracting attention.

However, I have noticed that publications and sites that are seriously accused of left-wing bias do tend to lose readership, and that includes The New York Times.  When readers feel their point of view is being given short shrift, they leave.  I think that is reflected in the popularity of Fox News, which gives viewers what they weren't getting from the traditional mainstream media. 

The Politico started well.  I'd like to see them try to get back to where they were by moving the balance meter a bit to the right.  That may be a hopeless hope.

December 2, 2011       Permalink

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POSITIVE ECONOMIC NEWS – AT 9:01 A.M. ET:  This is surprising, but, once again, you have to look at the details.  From Bloomberg:

Unemployment in the U.S. unexpectedly dropped in November to a two-year low, while employers added fewer workers than projected and earnings eased, indicating the labor market is making limited progress.

The jobless rate declined to 8.6 percent, the lowest since March 2009, from 9 percent, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Payrolls climbed 120,000, with more than half the hiring coming from retailers and temporary help agencies, after a revised 100,000 rise in October. The median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey called for a 125,000 gain.

What we may be talking about here is seasonal employment, especially by retailers.  We'll have to wait several months before we find out if any of this is permanent.

Companies like DirecTV (DTV) have said they will keep a tight rein on spending and employment in 2012, reflecting concern over the outlook for demand, Europe’s debt crisis and the U.S. deficit. The scant number of jobs is limiting wage gains and restraining consumers’ ability to boost spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.

“It’s good news, not great news,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts, who projected a 125,000 gain in payrolls. “The labor market is gradually healing. I wouldn’t take huge comfort that the unemployment rate is falling but some comfort that it’s edging down.”

Bloomberg survey estimates ranged from increases of 75,000 to 175,000.

COMMENT:  Politically, this is good news for Obama.  But the election is 11 months away, many lifetimes in politics.  People will not vote statistics, but by what they see around them, and what they see in their own lives.  These temporary numbers are interesting, but only that.

December 2, 2011       Permalink 

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AND NOW THE BAD NEWS FROM EGYPT – AT 8:31 A.M. ET:  Well, the good news (we hope) from Syria, just below, had to be balanced by other stuff going on in the Mideast.  We've learned in the last day or so that the Muslim Brotherhood is way ahead in voting so far, basically negating much of the promise of the "Arab spring."

But it gets worse.  The party that apparently is coming in second in the vote isn't one of the secular, liberal parties, to whom we looked for real progress, but a party that makes the Brotherhood look middle-of-the-road.  Be prepared to be chilled.  This is a really bad movie:

One of the biggest surprises in Egypt’s parliamentary ballot is expected to come from Salafists – members of a fundamentalist, puritanical stream of Islamism that makes the Muslim Brotherhood look moderate by comparison.

Estimates vary, but some Egypt watchers expect Salafist groups to take as much as a quarter of the vote, challenging the eight-decade- old Brotherhood’s domination of the country’s Islamist constituency.

Salafists are distinguished by their insistence that politics be guided strictly by Islamic law. Al-Nour (“Light”) – Egypt’s leading Salafist party, founded in January of this year – advocates a legal system based solely on Shari’a, as well as Islamic principles of money transaction that prohibit taking interest. It also espouses rigid social codes: Its leaders have pushed for a complete separation of the sexes in public and condemned music of any form as contrary to Islam.

“This won’t be a great result; there’s just no way to get around that,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egyptian-American analyst and a fellow at the Century Foundation.

“This is a huge Islamist presence, and could skew the dynamics of parliament depending on what the Brotherhood wants to do,” he said by phone from the Egyptian capital.

The heavy turnout for Islamist parties left many observers wondering what had happened to the young, comparatively liberal protesters who filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square in an 18-day popular protest that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

“A lot of liberal forces are taken aback,” Hanna said, adding that liberals were all the more disappointed that the first round of voting included Cairo Governorate, where the vast majority of potential non-Islamist votes are concentrated.

“Cairo is a place where liberals wanted to do very well, and they’ve done okay, but they’re not going to outperform what they did here unless something strange happens,” he said.

The liberal camp is led by the Egyptian Bloc, a leftist-liberal alliance including the Free Egyptians Party, a heavily Christian party headed by telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris.

COMMENT:  The implications are vast. Egypt is the center of Arab culture.  It has been a reasonably good ally of the United States.  That may well change drastically, although you may be sure that we'll soon see "intelligence analysts" appear before Congressional committees to soft-pedal the political disaster we're seeing before our eyes.  They will be joined by academic "multiculturalists" who'll lecture us about "understanding" and "respecting" other peoples' "cultural choices." 

Yup.  Ignore that little man with the mustache and the funny armband.  It's just another cultural expression.

December 2,  2011     Permalink

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GOOD NEWS FROM SYRIA? – AT 8:05 A.M. ET:  That's a headline you probably never expected to see.  Syria is the second most influential Arab country, behind only Egypt.  It is one of the seats of Arab culture.  Through its alliance with Iran, it is a major mischief maker, and essentially controls the politics of Lebanon. 

Syria is engaged in what an increasing number of experts are calling a civil war.  We know how bad the Assad regime is.  It has killed a reported 4,000 if its own people in recent months, a figure greeting with silence by "anti-war" groups like Code Pink.

But what of the opposition?  We've now learned, painfully, that no matter how bad an Arab government is, you'd better look at the views of the opposition before taking a stand.  A major opposition leader in Syria, though, has now spoken out, and, although we proceed with a CAUTION light, we like what we hear: 

PARIS – A Syrian government run by the country's main opposition group would cut Damascus's military relationship to Iran and end arms supplies to Middle East militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, the group's leader said, raising the prospect of a dramatic realignment of powers at region's core.

Burhan Ghalioun, the president of the Syrian National Council, said such moves would be part of a broader Syrian reorientation back into an alliance with the region's major Arab powers. Mr. Ghalioun's comments came Wednesday, in his first major media interview since he was made SNC leader in October.

Mr. Ghalioun also called on the international community to take aggressive new steps, including the possible establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria.

"Our main objective is finding mechanisms to protect civilians and stop the killing machine," Mr. Ghalioun, a 66-year-old university professor, said from his home in south Paris. "We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights."

Underscoring those concerns, the United Nations human-rights commission estimated Thursday that Syria's crackdown on its nine-month uprising has claimed "much more" than 4,000 lives, a toll that has grown by the hundreds in recent weeks.

COMMENT:  We inject even more caution:  We heard enlightened views from the Egyptian organizers of the "Arab spring" earlier this year, but now we find the dreamers have been overwhelmed by the Islamist groups.  Not the script we intended to write.  So, while the Syrian opposition leader's voice is more than welcome, we don't know how powerful he is, or whether a "democratic" process will see, once again, the emergence of the nutbags.

Please remember that Arab leaders, including religious leaders, have kept their people in a kind of intellectual bondage.  People only know what they're permitted to know.  They take that ignorance into the polling booths.

December 2,  2011     Permalink

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DECEMBER 1,  2011


ANOTHER "UNEXPECTEDLY" – If something doesn't go right for the Obama administration, the obliging media describes the event as "unexpected," or a variation thereof.  We got multiple uses of the "un" word this morning when it was announced that jobless claims "unexpectedly" rose above 400,000 this week, after being below that number for three straight weeks.  The claim figure would have to consistently be below 375,000 to have an impact on the unemployment rate.  This latest number is discouraging to those who thought they saw an improvement in the labor market.  They unexpectedly are upset.

GOOFBALLS AT WORK – Amnesty International is urging African countries to arrest former President George W. Bush if Bush visits, so the former chief executive can be "brought to justice" for authorizing torture.  Like many "human rights" groups, Amnesty has been taken over by leftists, who are bothered not at all when real thugs and dictators travel.  But BUSH (!!!) drives them up a wall.  One can just imagine what would happen if CHENEY (!!!!!) decided to go on vacation.  Amnesty has made a mockery of human rights before, so don't be surprised by this latest stunt.

EGYPT VOTES FOR THE DARK AGES – This will become a major story.  Egypt, which had a chance to move into the 21st century, has apparently chosen to return to the 10th.  Preliminary results from the first round of parliamentary elections show that Islamist parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and an even more radical group, will win a majority in the new parliament.  The secular, liberal parties, whose adherents really began the "Arab spring," are well behind.  Next time we hustle a pro-American leader like Hosni Mubarak out of power, we ought to be reasonably sure who we're getting.  We're reminded that Hitler was democratically elected also. 

WHAT A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE – General Motors is offering to buy back any Chevy Volt whose owner fears it will catch fire.  Boy, what an advertisement for the car.  What'll they think of next?  Free fire extinguishers and fireproof suits?  GM also says it will recall the 6,000 Volts on the road once they figure out why three Volts caught fire in government crash tests.  You know, I can just imagine the enthusiasm that Volt owners will have tomorrow morning as they get into their new, green-energy car and realize they're getting a free recall...if they survive that long.  I actually saw a Volt a few months ago.  Haven't seen one since.

December 1, 2011     Permalink

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BULLETIN – THE GINGRICH SURGE – AT 3:14 P.M. ET:  It just seems incredible, but Newt Gingrich is absolutely soaring in the GOP race, according to a Rasmussen survey, just released.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged to the largest national lead held by any candidate so far in the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters finds Gingrich on top with 38% of the vote. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is a distant second at 17%. No other candidate reaches double-digits.

The national survey of 1,000 Likely Republican Primary Voters was conducted on November 30, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.

COMMENT:  I really wonder whether this is really a growing enthusiasm for Gingrich, or a growing enthusiasm for anybody-but-Romney. 

If the trend continues, Gingrich, who was such a joke at the start of the campaign that his entire staff deserted him, will be on his way to the nomination...unless someone else enters the race and steals his thunder. 

I've never seen a contest quite as strange as this, although Clinton's rise in 1992 from a scandal-tinged start because of sexual allegations made by Gennifer Flowers may come close.  And Clinton won the whole thing.

Remember, back a couple of months, when people said the Republican race was so dull?

December 1, 2011       Permalink

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SCARED TO DEATH – AT 9:42 A.M. ET:  The Egyptians are voting.  Some very starry-eyed folks are still referring to it as the "Arab spring," even though the weather has clearly changed.   Islamists appear to be winning, and their coming to power is producing gray hair among those willing to see a problem for what it actually is.

But please notice that there is one group regularly left out of the reporting of this "transition to democracy."  Some ten percent of Egyptians are Coptic Christians, and they are frightened.  At least a few AP reporters noticed them:

ASSIUT, Egypt – Ahead of elections, Egypt's Coptic Church discreetly told followers to vote for an alliance of leftist and liberal parties sponsored by a Christian tycoon. The move by a Church normally wary of inserting itself into politics showed how deeply Egyptian Christians fear that Islamists will come to power.

The country's Christian minority turned out in droves for voting Monday and Tuesday in the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.

Many indeed said they had "voted for the eye" — a reference to the Egyptian Bloc, the coalition that the Church pointed to. Each party has a campaign symbol so that illiterate voters can identify their choices on the ballot, and the Bloc's symbol was the eye.

In pockets where their community is concentrated, the flow of Christians to the polls was strong. In the Cairo district of Shubra, men and women with cross tattoos on their wrists — a common tradition among Egyptian Christians — kept lines full through the day. White-haired elders, equipped with chairs and bottles of water for the long wait, waited with young men and women who took time off from jobs to get to the ballot box.
Almost all expressed a common motivation: Stop the Islamists.

"We are voting for liberal parties as a means of survival," said Farid George, a Christian in the southern city of Assiut. "Egypt is our country. My kids were raised here and I will die here."

The prospect of an Islamist victory in the election has Egypt's Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population of 85 million, terrified that one day strict Islamic law will be imposed. Talk of leaving Egypt has increasingly circulated among many Christians since Mubarak's fall, raising fears over the fate of a community that predates the coming of Islam to the country in the 7th century.


Anti-Christian violence accelerated since Mubarak's fall, blamed by Christians on increasingly bold Islamists. Salafi preachers have spoken out against the building of churches and accused Christians of seeking to take over "Islamic" Egypt.

COMMENT:  Gee, I wonder the "human rights activists" have anything to say about this.  Probably not.  I mean, what kind of a cocktail party invitation will you get by being concerned about Christians? 

Now if these were prisoners at Guantanamo...

What kind of an "Arab spring" is this?

December 1, 2011       Permalink

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THE OBAMAN STRATEGY – AT 8:51 A.M. ET:  Jay Cost, in the Weekly Standard, has an excellent piece on the White House strategy to win reelection, and why he has doubts about it.  Well worth reading. 

Across a series of news articles...it has become clear how Team Obama sees a path to reelection.

Essentially, it all comes down to three big goals:

1. Do as well with the non-white vote as Obama did in 2008, with the expectation that it continues to increase as a share of the total electorate.

2. Hold steady with upscale white voters, who tend to be more focused on quality of life issues like environmentalism.

3. Mitigate losses among the white working class, but expect to lose this group once again.

So this would be a path to 270 electoral votes that might include Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia (which historically have been Republican) but not Ohio (a quadrennial swing state) or even Pennsylvania (which historically has been Democratic).

As we've noted here, the loss of the white working class is a profound development in the history of the Democratic Party, which based its 20th-century victories on that very group.

Is this a feasible approach?

At this point, it's not likely. I could go on at length about all of its problems, but let’s just look at the three biggest dilemmas I see.

1. Obama still needs the “white working class.”...The problem with this approach is that the white working class is more essential to the Obama coalition than one might think.

Cost points out that "roughly half of Obama’s voters in the key Midwestern swing states were in the white working class" in 2008.

2. Hispanics are not secure. I’ve pointed out before that “emerging Democratic majority” theorists make a category error when they talk about Democratic strength among “non-white” voters. There are important differences within this overly-broad category.

African Americans are loyally Democratic, in that they back the party in roughly the same numbers through thick and thin. “Non-white” voters who are not African American – e.g. Asians and Hispanics – do not behave in this manner. They are, rather, swing groups that have a Democratic tilt. In other words, the Democratic share of this group goes up and down, depending on the party’s overall position in the country.

There is obvious concern in Democratic circles about the Hispanic vote.  There is a strong strain of conservatism, especially social conservatism, in the Hispanic community. 

3. Obama has trouble with the affluent, too.

Some are not so affluent these days.  Affluent Democrats like to dabble in "social justice" causes.  But in a dwindling economy, they may not have that luxury.

COMMENT:  Of course, much depends on who is nominated by the Republican Party.  I don't think that someone who barely has a pulse will beat Obama who, it must be emphasized, is a superb campaigner.  And, as president, Obama has powers that can be used to advance his political fortunes.  The presidency is, remember, that bully pulpit...and has the armed forces of the United States behind it.

December 1, 2011       Permalink

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IS OBAMA GETTING DESPERATE? – AT 8:27 A.M. ET:  One of our favorite bloggers, Andrew Malcolm, of Investors Business Daily, and formerly of the L.A. Times, concludes that there is a sense of desperation in the Obama camp, and that Obama's hyperbole is coming far earlier than usual in a presidential campaign.

Suddenly, President Obama is inserting a stark new tone of drama and urgency into his campaign speeches to loyalists at political fundraisers...

..."Every single thing that we care about is at stake in the next election," he told one donor group. "The very core of what this country stands for is on the line."

So, the future of the entire country is now inextricably tied to Obama's own reelection?

Such hyperbolic, hubristic claims are usually reserved for a campaign's closing hours to prompt a last-minute spurt of political adrenalin among supporters. Not 341 days out. Not 10 months before even early voting opens. This couldn't possibly be desperation! Already?

Here are several other points made by Obama to a possibly puzzled crowd assembled at the Gotham Bar and Grille:

"I've got to win in 2012."

"In order to finish the job, I'm going to have to have a second term."

"I need a couple more years to finish the job."

"I'm going to need another term to finish the job."

And in case anyone had missed the point, the ex-partial-term senator said, "I'm going to need a few more years to finish the job."

This was in one speech.

In foreign policy, Obama emphasizes that he's winding down two wars, but then goes into fantasyland:

No talk about victory, but he's ending two wars. Then, Obama claims modestly: "We’ve also been able to mobilize world opinion around U.S. leadership in a way that many people had thought had been lost when I came into office."

Really?  As Johnny Carson used to say, "I did not know that."  Yup.  Watch all those countries fall in line behind Barack.  One by one.  Why, marching in unison, just like West Point cadets.

If you see anything like that, please send me an e-mail.

We've also noticed a sense of desperation in some Democratic talk.  I think it stems from the belief that the Dem base isn't very interested, and that Obama can lose simply because people stay home on election day. 

What the president needs is a major victory – a major economic boost, or some foreign policy triumph in which he can actually use the word "victory," even if he chokes on it.  Hmm.  Those Iranian nuclear targets may look awfully tempting come next summer.

December 1, 2011       Permalink

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WORRY IN THE ROMNEY CAMP – AT 8:11 A.M. ET:  Newt Gingrich's sudden rise is producing real concern in the Romney camp.  A Romney interview with Fox News turned testy, and the Mitt people are starting to snipe at Gingrich, without getting too personal.   Ace political reporter Doyle McManus, of The Los Angeles Times, has the story:

By this point in the Republican presidential campaign, Mitt Romney's backers had hoped that conservative voters would be coalescing around the former Massachusetts governor as the inevitable nominee.

But that's not happening. The disappointed partisans of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain haven't flocked to Romney; they haven't even trickled. Instead, Romney's support in national polls declined over the last month. In many surveys, there's a new front-runner: Newt Gingrich, whose candidacy once looked so moribund that his staff left in droves and he took off for a vacation in the Greek islands.

Now, Romney and his aides are having to contemplate nightmare scenarios: A Gingrich upset in New Hampshire, a Gingrich victory in South Carolina, a Gingrich endorsement from Sarah Palin — and a bitter, two-man race all the way through the 11 primaries of Super Tuesday on March 6.

Romney might still win a race like that, but he's unlikely to come out unscathed. His supporters worry that a grueling negative campaign could weaken him for the ultimate battle with President Obama.

One of Romney's problems, of course, is that he's not a new candidate, a fresh face.  He's an old competitor and people feel they know him, which is why perceptions of him tend to be set.  Republicans just haven't warmed to him.  He doesn't inspire much loyalty or enthusiasm.  He comes off as a wealthy technocrat, no matter how capable he may actually be.  There is no quote from Romney worth remembering, which should always be worrisome. 

You get the feeling that, if you were in a foxhole with Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, Gingrich would be firing like mad, whereas Romney would be examining his rifle to see how it could be made more inexpensively.  That's the difference.

Why has Gingrich risen to the top of the heap as the last remaining conservative alternative to Romney, despite his long record of heresies and gaffes?

He may merely be the latest enthusiasm of a conservative electorate that keeps searching for an ideal candidate, and he could soon be tossed aside like his predecessors. But he may also have an outside chance at winning, or at least coming close...

...The real test, as always, will be one of temperament: Is New Newt disciplined and steady enough to match Romney's virtually error-free run?

"When Newt is doing well is when he gets into trouble," a Romney advisor told me. "He's smarter than he used to be. We're about to find out how much smarter."

The smart money among Republican political veterans is still on Romney. But Gingrich is making his progress to the nomination more difficult.

COMMENT:   Newt is lucky in that he's the final serious candidate to challenge Romney, and is peaking just before the voting begins.  Romney's nightmare scenario may just come to pass.  Then we'll have to see whether it's good or bad for the conservative cause.

December 1, 2011     Permalink

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"What you see is news.  What you know is background.  What you feel is opinion."
    - Lester Markel, late Sunday editor
      of The New York Times.


"Councils of war breed timidity and defeatism."
    - Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, to his
      son, Douglas.


"Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred. "
        - Jacques Barzun



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

Part II will be sent over the weekend.



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