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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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DECEMBER 13,  2011

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 10:43 P.M. ET:

HOUSE PASSES TAX BREAK EXTENSION – The House passed and sent to the Senate a bill extending the tax break for Social Security taxes.  It also extended unemployment benefits, but at a reduced level, and it barred any cut in reimbursement to doctors for Medicare services.  But it also required construction of the Keystone pipeline from Canada.  Dems in the Senate promise to kill the bill, but that's far from a certainty.  Some moderate Democrats, especially from states that the pipeline will cross, may vote for the legislation because it will create some 20,000 jobs.

GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM – Christiane Amanpour, whom I believe is one of the most overrated journalists of our time, is out as moderator of ABC's Sunday morning program, "This Week."  George Stephanopoulos, who had moderated the show for years, is back in.  Under Amanpour's inept guidance, ratings for "This Week" were in the basement, in part because Amanpour hasn't got a clue about American politics.  She will now go on to do some international reporting for ABC, and also do some work for her old employer, CNN, anchoring a show for CNN International, which is even to the left of CNN in the U.S.  Amanpour is not a reporter.  She's an editorial writer who poses as a reporter, and her views are entirely predictable. 

NTSB PROPOSES BAN ON USING CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING – The National Transportation Safety Board, for which I've always had a very high regard, is proposing a ban on the use of cell phones while driving, except in an emergency.  I'd prefer to see this done on the state level, and enforcement can be difficult.  After all, an emergency would have to be defined.  On balance, though, I think it's a solid idea.  There is no "right" to drive.  It is a licensed activity, and states already impose reasonable restrictions in the interest of public safety.  Banning chit-chat, whether at highway speeds, or in heavy traffic, when you can easily hit a car ahead of you, seems reasonable to me. 

ANYONE NOTICE? – Talk about an underreported story.  It turns out that, last week, a federal court found the government of Iran liable for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.  Al Qaeda carried out the attacks, but the District Court for the District of Columbia concluded that the attacks would not have occurred without the direct assistance of Iran and Sudan.  If the court's conclusions are correct, we can only contemplate what actions Iran might take once it has a nuclear umbrella protecting it.  If you get a copy of the court's opinion, please send it to the White House.  Mark it "Christmas reading."

December 13,  2011     Permalink

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THE ENDORSEMENT RACE – AT 9:46 A.M. ET:  Presidential candidates love endorsements.  I'm not sure the public cares, but a politician does.   The Hill is reporting on congressional endorsements on the Republican side.  It's a lopsided contest.

Mitt Romney is way ahead with 56 endorsements by lawmakers.   Rick Perry is second with 13 endorsements.  Newt Gingrich, currently the presumed frontrunner, is third with eight.  Of those eight, five are from fellow Georgians, leaving only three endorsements from outside Georgia. 

I cannot deny being troubled by this list.  Readers know that I have serious reservations about Newt, while agreeing with him on many things and impressed by his intellect.  But Newt Gingrich is a creature of Congress, and if all he can muster is three endorsements outside his home state...well, what can one say?

Newt is clearly preferable to what we have now, but I continue to wonder whether he can mount a credible presidential campaign.  I fear he'll be "Goldwatered" in the first few weeks.  The press today is even more biased than it was in 1964, when Goldwater ran.  Also, Newt, like Goldwater, is prone to provocative comments that blow up in his face.  One of the things that made Obama's run successful in 2008 was his campaign's tremendous self-discipline.  Self-discipline is not a term normally applied to Newt.

We have to win next year.  If we don't, this country will have four more years of the second coming of Jimmy Carter, squared.   The race appears to be between Romney and Gingrich, unless someone comes out of the blue.  But the blue seems awfully empty right now.

December 13, 2011       Permalink

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ANOTHER UNIVERSITY OUTRAGE – AT 8:51 A.M. ET:  We report from time to time on the way in which political correctness – a means of advancing a party line – has come to grip our colleges, and a good part of our media.

We have another, outrageous example. 

There is a great deal of attention being paid these days to sexual misbehavior on college campuses.  At Penn State, at Syracuse, major athletic officials are accused of abusing young boys.  We make no judgment of guilt or innocence, but, clearly, the handling of charges against these powerful coaches by the universities involved was disturbingly inadequate.  An investigation is long overdue, and prosecutions will probably result. 

But other cases are surfacing, and some of them raise questions the other way – whether the accused are being sacrificed to the demands of trendiness.  At Columbia University, a young woman, a former student, has come forward to claim that a a professor sexually harassed her...in 2005.  There is no record of her having filed any complaint at the time, or even mentioning the alleged episode, but the professor's reputation is now permanently scarred.  From The Columbia Spectator:

A former graduate student has filed a lawsuit against Columbia University in which she accuses a Columbia professor of sexual harassment. According to court documents, the student is accusing SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs) Professor Joseph Paul Martin of demanding sex from the student in exchange for a passing grade in an independent study class she took in fall 2005: “instead of helping Plaintiff … with her course work, Defendant Martin repeatedly solicited Plaintiff … for sex.”

In her lawsuit, the former student claims that Martin insisted on sitting very close to her during meetings, and asked inappropriate questions about her personal relationships. He also allegedly explained that “Even if I am the professor and you are the student and there is a power difference, you would still be choosing if you wanted a good grade. This is the same as sex in exchange for your grade.”

The student claims she repeatedly tried to contact administrators in an attempt to get them to address the situation, but says they were uncooperative. Some of them, including former GSAS Dean Henry Pinkham and Assistant Dean Darice Birge, are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.

According to the suit, the student rebuffed her professor’s advances, but he continued harassing the student and asking her inappropriate personal questions. At one point, Martin allegedly asked the student, who is black, whether she planned on having children while single, and made references to his belief that “black women typically have children out of wedlock.” At the end of the semester, Martin allegedly refused to give the student a grade and ultimately accused her of cheating in her independent study class.

The former student is seeking $1 million dollars in her lawsuit, which was filed in Manhattan federal court on Nov. 26. Martin is teaching several courses this spring, including Human Rights in Theory and Practice (HRTB BC1025), as well as two graduate colloquia in human rights.

COMMENT:  The suit is vague enough, and it's being directed at a university known for its sensitivity to this issue.  One of the deans named as a co-defendant is female.

What is outrageous is that the professor is now sullied, whether innocent or not, but the individual making the charge against him is kept anonymous.  This is a repeating pattern and is grossly unfair.  We saw it in the Duke University lacrosse case, where a false charge of rape was made against three lacrosse players, resulting in their suspension.  The charges were later shown to be bogus, and the district attorney who prosecuted them was disbarred for his actions.

I can understand anonymity in a sexual assault case.  There are very sensitive issues involved.  And even there, women testify in those cases in open court every day.  But anonymity in a low-level harassment case?  Sorry.  That is a standard that encourages false charges, although I make no judgment in this case.

The three boys in the Duke lacrosse case are tarred with that case for the rest of their lives.  Whenever their names are Googled, that will come up, despite their eventual exoneration.  Now Professor Martin will be tarred with the charge against him, but his accuser, even if rebuffed by the court, will remain anonymous. 

I am the father of two daughters, and I worry about sexual violence and harassment.  But there's got to be a better way to pursue these cases than what we're seeing at Columbia.

December 13, 2011       Permalink

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CAVING ON IRAN – AT 8:27 A.M. ET:  Even the increasingly liberal Politico website has acknowledged what many observers are seeing – that the Obama administration is caving on Iran.

In recent weeks alone we've seen the pathetic efforts of the Obama administration to weaken sanctions against Iran proposed by Congress.  We've seen the downing of an ultra-secret American drone in Iran, and the utter refusal of the American president to destroy it on the ground to keep its secrets with us.  We've seen Leon Panetta, who is becoming Obama's lapdog, making a speech warning against the use of military force against Iran, essentially removing that deterrent to Iran's pursuit of a nuclear bomb.

From The Politico: 

Michael Makovsky and Blaise Misztal are the latest foreign policy observers to note a discernible shift in the administration's rhetoric on Iran's nuclear ambitions -- with language slowly drifting from 'unacceptability" to 'isolation.' They detect an underlying shift towards a policy of containment rather than confrontation:

[T]he administration’s lack of support for a military option undermines its commitment to preventing a nuclear Iran and undercuts its ability to achieve broader international support for sanctions. Despite repeated assertions that they are keeping “all options on the table,” officials seem to be conditioning Americans to view the prospect of a military strike negatively. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his predecessor, Robert Gates, have effectively ruled out U.S. military action by constantly highlighting its risks. Twice recently, Panetta emphasized a strike’s “unintended consequences.”...

...The administration’s alternative to prevention — isolation — implies containment. But a nuclear Iran could not be contained as the Soviet Union was. Containment requires credibility, a resource United States will have drained if, after numerous warnings to the contrary, we permit Tehran to cross the nuclear threshold.

William Galston reported in the New Republic that Israeli policymakers simply do not believe the administration's threats of military action. And Jeffrey Goldberg -- who has defended the administration's approach from critics in the past -- wrote last week that he's "beginning to have doubts about the Obama Administration approach to this issue."

COMMENT:  We are also starting to see the shape of Obama's second-term foreign policy, a full-throated embrace of Islamism and a turn toward unashamed appeasement.  The Arab spring is turning into a nightmare, but the administration, and its amen corner in the leftist press doesn't think so. 

Obama's pathetic request for the Iranians to return the drone they captured is a signal that we intend to speak softly and carry an increasingly small stick. 

We are in a great deal of trouble.  The only force that is truly strengthening under the foreign policy of this administration is Islamism, and we must wonder if this reflects the sympathies of the man in the White House.

December 13, 2011        Permalink

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THE CRIME – AT 8:18 A.M. ET:  Occasionally, even the UN's Human Rights Council gets it right.  It doesn't happen often, but some crimes are so odious that even the UN must acknowledge them:

(Reuters) - More than 5,000 people have been killed in nine months of unrest in Syria, the U.N. human rights chief said, as an insurgency began to overshadow what had initially been street protests against President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.

Navi Pillay reported the death toll to the U.N. Security Council as 1,000 higher than the previous toll just 10 days ago. It includes civilians, army defectors and those executed for refusing to shoot civilians, but not soldiers or security personnel killed by opposition forces, she said.

The Syrian government has said more than 1,100 members of the army, police and security services have been killed.

Syria's actions could constitute crimes against humanity, said Pillay, issuing a fresh call for the council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

COMMENT:  Please note the silence of the American left.  When the US Army encountered a minor prison scandal at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the left went into hysterics.  We were monsters, war criminals, the worst people who'd ever lived.

But 5,000 Syrians?  Hey, who are we to question someone else's culture?  And, of course, Barack Obama was far more concerned by the governmental excess of American ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt than by the American enemy living in Damascus, Syria. 

There have been some sanctions imposed on Syria, but without effect.  And there does not seem to be great interest in Washington, which is consumed by the economy. 

Syria is Iran's most important ally in the Arab world.  You'd think that would arouse our interest.  Snooze.

December 13,  2011     Permalink

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DECEMBER 12,  2011

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 9:43 P.M. ET:

PRETTY PLEASE – President Obama informed the press today that he has asked Iran to return the super-secret drone that was brought down in Iranian territory.  He did not say whether he used the term "pretty please" in making the request, or whether he offered a lollipop in exchange for the drone.  This is real amateur stuff, and signals what some analysts are now fearing openly – that our policy toward Iran has essentially failed, and that Obama has no intention of doing anything about it.

THE COURT AND ARIZONA – The United States Supreme Court will take up the issue of Arizona's controversial immigration law.  Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who was solicitor general under Obama, will recuse herself, presumably because she was involved in discussions about that law while in the Justice Department.  The key justice once again will be Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing vote.  If he sides with the assumed position of the four conservatives, there could be a 5-3 vote in favor of upholding the law.  But if he sides with the liberals, the court will be deadlocked, letting stand a Ninth Circuit opinion striking down part of the Arizona statute.

HEZBOLLAH OUTS CIA AGENTS – Hezbollah, the militant Mideast group which operates under the thumb of Iran, has revealed the names of agents it says are working for the CIA in Lebanon, placing them in immediate danger of their lives.  We aren't sure how Hezbollah got these names, but some sources say a double agent was involved.  Let's see if there's as much consternation in liberal circles over this as there was when Valerie Plame was allegedly "outed" by a member of the Bush administration, a wildly overrated and overreported case.

CHRISTIE SOLID FOR ROMNEY – Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey held a major fundraiser for Mitt Romney tonight in Christie's home state.  Christie thus seems to be solidly behind Romney, with no intention of running from his endorsement.  This is important because there is increasing talk of members of the GOP establishment trying to get behind a candidate who isn't yet running to try to stop Newt Gingrich.  It doesn't appear that Christie is in any way interested, and I doubt he'd take the bait unless Romney pulled out, which seems highly unlikely, even if he loses the early primaries.

December 12,  2011          Permalink

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DOES RICK PERRY LIVE? – AT 9:41 A.M. ET:   Rick Perry went from conservative darling to also-ran after a series of poor debate performances.  And his gaffes continue – like saying last week that the Supreme Court had eight justices, and not knowing the name of the one he was discussing, Justice Satomayor.

But Perry is now asking the electorate to look him over once again.  Clearly, he's trying to position himself as the acceptable alternative to Romney and Gingrich, hoping the two will destroy each other in the early primary fights.  He also says he's over a medical issue.  From the Des Moines Register:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, fresh from a solid performance in Saturday’s Iowa debate, said he’s a “new candidate” since he’s fully recovered from back surgery in July.

“My back is great, I’m back running again for the last six weeks so I think part of the reason you’ve seen a somewhat different candidate on the debates is that my health is, really both physically and mentally, just really back in the game from the standpoint you have a fusion on your back and it takes you a while to get back on your game,” he said.

I asked him if he wasn’t feeling well during the early debates. Perry and his campaign were downplaying the effect of the surgery as recently as a month ago. But today, he acknowledged it took a toll.

“I would suggest to you I was pretty fatigued,” he said. “But no excuses, it was there, it’s what it is and, look, if anybody’s looking for a perfect candidate I’m not it. If they’re looking for the perfect debater, if they’re looking for someone that is going to have the answer to every question and never make a mistake, I’m not their candidate.”

I also asked Perry why he didn’t take that $10,000 bet that Mitt Romney offered in last night’s debate. Perry still thinks he was right about what Romney’s book, “No Apologies,” originally said about his Massachusetts individual insurance mandate being a model for the national plan. (The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has said Perry’s wrong about that.)

But, he said, “I don’t have $10,000 to bet and I was a little shocked, frankly,” he said. He called it a “clarion moment” in the debate.

“…That’s just a lot of money for most people and I guess not for Mitt,” he said.

COMMENT:  It is certainly true that Perry had his best debate Saturday night.  But Douglas MacArthur once remarked that all disasters begin with two words:  "Too late."   And I wonder if it's just too late to try for a comeback. 

Yes, John McCain's campaign fell apart during the 2008 primary season, and then was put back together.  Newt was counted out early in this campaign, and his staff defected to Perry.  But we are much further along right now, and one good debate does not a candidacy make.  Perry would have to live down his reputation as being not quite ready for prime time.

Also, Perry still has not convinced the nation that he can campaign outside Texas.  He has that "local" image.  But we'll be watching him.  This race is far from over.  We may be in for some real shocks down the road, if nobody grabs the nomination early.

December 12, 2011       Permalink

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FUR HAT IN THE RING NEWS – AT 9:19 A.M. ET:  There is political news this morning from Moscow.  Donald Trump, eat your heart out.  From Bloomberg:

Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said he’ll run for president against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in March elections after the biggest anti-government demonstrations in a decade emboldened Russia’s opposition.

“This is the most important decision of my life,” the New Jersey Nets basketball team owner told reporters in Moscow.

I honestly didn't know that the Nets were owned by a billionaire Russkie.  But strange things happen in New Jersey, where billionaires do well...like former Governor Jon Corzine.

Prokhorov, Russia’s third-richest man with a fortune Forbes magazine put at $18 billion, said that he’ll seek to build support from the grassroots level and that he opposes “revolution” and “populism.” Prokhorov, 46, quit as leader of the Pravoye Delo, or Right Cause, party on Sept. 15, accusing President Dmitry Medvedev’s administration of blocking the group’s preparations for parliamentary elections in December.

That Dec. 4 vote, in which Putin and Medvedev’s United Russia party retained its majority, was neither free nor fair, observers from the U.S. and Europe said. Thousands of Russians took to the streets in the week after the contest to protest the results amid widespread reports of ballot-stuffing. Police estimated the crowd at Moscow’s Dec. 10 rally, the largest in the country, at 25,000, the same figure they ascribed to a pro- United Russia rally near Red Square today.

COMMENT:   Not a bad idea to have a competitive race for president of Russia, but I think it's hilarious that the old KGB guy, a real old-time red, will be opposed by a super-capitalist of the new Russia.  The election will probably go to the candidate who buys the most votes. 

December 12, 2011      Permalink

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READERS BEWARE – AT 8:36 A.M. ET:  I want to alert readers to a trend, although expected, that I've noticed in some journals in recent weeks – an attempt to sanitize election results in the Arab world. 

It is being led, naturally, by writers like Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, but has even crept into conservative publications like the Washington Times.  The argument is not new.  You can go back to the 1930s and find it under the general heading:  "Mussolini made the trains run on time."  It goes like this:  Yes, there are some troubling things about these Islamic movements, but, gosh darn, they certainly do deliver services, which is why people vote for them.

Yup, look at that great social security system that the Third Reich established.  And the employment record!

Same argument.

Readers, the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't call itself the Muslim Brotherhood to put mushrooms on dinner tables.  It has an agenda.  And, once again, we're being assured by "experts" that this agenda is being sidelined in favor of services to "the people." 

Why, Mr. Kristof has actually broken bread with Muslim Brotherhood leaders and voters, and, while he concedes there may be some bothersome ideological points, he sees many of them simply as folks interested in democracy and bettering lives. 

Note:  People returned from the Berlin Olympics of 1936 filled with praise for the Hitler regime.  Where was all this racial hatred they'd read about?  Of course, all the anti-Semitic and racial signs had been taken down for the games, and put right up again when the tourists left.

And, once again, the same mistake is being made that is regularly made by reporters in the Mideast.  They listen to what people tell them in English, but ignore what these same people say in Arabic...because they don't know Arabic. 

Of course, we do hope that the Islamic parties become more moderate, but there's no reason to be overly optimistic about that.  There is no history that justifies optimism.

My most serious fear is that this kind of Kristof-style thinking will find its way into the American intelligence establishment, and the defense establishment, both of which have been infiltrated by political correctness during the Obama administration.  Only last week the Pentagon described the Fort Hood massacre, carried out by a committed Islamist, as "workplace violence."  And we must remember that, during the 1930s, prominent Americans like Joseph P. Kennedy and Charles Lindbergh became water carriers for the Nazis.  In the 1940s and 1950s, other prominent Americans, like Paul Robeson, performed the same function for the Stalinists, and some later fronted for Fidel Castro.

Be skeptical about the sunshine reports.  The Obama White House will encourage them.  Our universities will advance them.  And we may pay the price in the end.

December 12, 2011       Permalink

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THE INDEPENDENT VOTE – AT 8:09 A.M. ET:  The election will be decided in the great political center.  Obama has been having trouble holding independents recently, a bloc that went solidly for him in 2008, and recent polling in Florida and Ohio, two critical states, is instructive, as is polling in Pennsylvania.  From the Weekly Standard:

A new Quinnipiac poll shows that President Obama is now trailing both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney among independents in the crucial swing states of Florida and Ohio. The poll shows that, among independents, Gingrich leads Obama by 4 percentage points (45 to 41 percent) in Florida and by 1 percentage point (39 to 38 percent) in Ohio, while Romney leads Obama by 10 points (46 to 36 percent) in Florida and 4 points (41 to 37 percent) in Ohio. Romney also leads Obama among independents in Pennsylvania (42 to 38 percent) — a nearly must-win state for any Democratic nominee — while Obama leads Gingrich there (44 to 36 percent).

The results are both encouraging and troubling.  Romney is now well behind Gingrich among Republicans in the race for the nomination, but Romney polls better in matchups with Obama.  Obama, remember, is the one to beat in November, not another Republican.  But Gingrich is closing the gap: 

Quinnipiac’s Peter Brown observes, “Gingrich’s surge in the GOP race is accompanied by a better showing among independent voters in a general election race against President Obama, although he still has a ways to go.” In Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Brown says, “Romney runs only slightly better against Obama, diluting his claim that he has the best chance to win.” Brown adds, “The media says the White House wants to run against Gingrich because he will be easier to beat than Romney, but the data is less clear today than it was last month on that point.”

COMMENT:  There is increasing talk that the Republican establishment may step in within a few months to try to deprive Gingrich of the nomination, believing him unelectable, and also believing that he'd be a poor president.  If Gingrich can close the polling gap with Romney in general-election polling, the establishment's arguments will be weakened.  The problem, of course, is that Gingrich has a very vivid history of self-destruction, and one gets the feeling, in sampling opinion, that the Washington Republicans are just waiting for another episode to happen.  So is Mitt.

December 12, 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

 

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