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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 29,  2011

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 10:51 P.M. ET:

ROMNEY ROMPS IN RASMUSSEN POLL – The poll shows Mitt Romney defeating Barack Obama 45-39%.  This is the biggest lead for Romney yet in the Rasmussen survey.  The poll also shows that Romney is the only GOP candidate who, at this stage in the race, can defeat the president.

MORE WORRY FOR OBAMA – After a brief rise in the polls, following the Republican fumbles in the payroll tax extension debate, Mr. Obama is slipping again.  Today's Gallup Poll has him at 41% approval and 50% disapproval.  This is a dramatic decline from earlier in the week, when the president registered 46% approval in the same poll.

REALLY?  REALLY? – Nancy Pelosi's daughter, who should know, says her mother would like to leave Congress, but stays only because campaign donors want her there.   Look, if people are giving money to get her to stay, how about the rest of us promising to send checks if she leaves?  The former speaker's office hotly denies her daughter's statement, but it has the ring of truth.

RON PAUL SLAMMED – The Manchester Union-Leader, one of the most important conservative papers in the country, published a sizzling editorial today slamming Ron Paul and calling him "dangerous" to America.  The paper denounced Paul's foreign policy views, noted the disturbingly bigoted background of a number of his supporters, and said that has consistently spouted nonsense.  This is part of the backlash against Paul that is building among knowledgeable conservatives.

December 29, 2011       Permalink 

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SHOWING THE FLAG – AT 8:24 A.M. ET:  The U.S. is apparently showing the flag rather conspicuously as Iran conducts naval drills to show that it can close the vital Strait of Hormuz, through which many of the world's oil tankers pass.  From Fox:

TEHRAN – An Iranian surveillance plane has shot video and photographed a U.S. aircraft carrier during Iran's ongoing navy drill near a strategic waterway in the Persian Gulf, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday.

The report did not provide details and it was unclear what information the Iranian military could gleam from such footage. But the announcement is an indication Iran is seeking to cast its navy as having a powerful role in the region's waters.

IRNA quoted Iran's navy chief, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, as saying the action shows that Iran has "control over the moves by foreign forces" in the area where Tehran is holding a 10-day military exercise.

"An Iranian vessel and surveillance plane have tracked, filmed and photographed a U.S. aircraft carrier as it was entering the Gulf of Oman from the Persian Gulf," Sayyari said.

He added that the "foreign fleet will be warned by Iranian forces if it enters the area of the drill."
State TV showed what appeared to be the reported video, but it was not possible to make out the details of the carrier because the footage was filmed from far away.

The Iranian exercise is taking place in international waters near the Strait of Hormuz -- the passageway for one-sixth of the world's oil supply.

COMMENT:  Some commentators have pointed out that the Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz in the event we ratchet up sanctions against Tehran runs hollow because it would damage the Iranian economy.  Also, U.S. Navy could almost certainly break a blockade rather quickly.

But the threat itself roils oil markets and gives Tehran at least some leverage in its battle with the West.

The carrier is apparently the Stennis, which has, if normally configured, about 85 planes on board.

December 29, 2011       Permalink

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HE SHOULDA DUN IT – AT 8:07 A.M. ET:  A new book claims that General David Petraeus almost resigned in protest against President Obama's decision quickly to draw down forces in Afghanistan.  From AP:

WASHINGTON – Four-star general-turned-CIA director David Petraeus almost resigned as Afghanistan war commander over President Barack Obama's decision to quickly draw down surge forces, according to a new insider's look at Petraeus' 37-year Army career.

Petraeus decided that resigning would be a "selfish, grandstanding move with huge political ramifications" and that now was "time to salute and carry on," according to a forthcoming biography.

Author and Petraeus confidante Paula Broadwell had extensive access to the general in Afghanistan and Washington for "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus," due from Penguin Press in January. The Associated Press was given an advance copy.

COMMENT:  I wish he had resigned, which would have set off a needed national discussion about Afghanistan.  It would have also given Petraeus some running room politically.  Instead, he got trapped in the CIA job, effectively taking him out of the political arena, and a possible presidential race.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Petraeus would have made a good presidential candidate.  I heard him speak at a small gathering a year ago, and it was clear he isn't a great orator.  Eisenhower wasn't either, but Eisenhower was considered the liberator of Europe, and, in the minds of many Americans, could do no wrong.

Also, Eisenhower, in 1952, was running against Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic governor of Illinois.  If Petraeus had entered the political arena and run for president, he would have been running against Obama, his former boss.  Many Americans might have considered that disloyal, and a bit too ambitious. 

So, who knows what might have been?  But resignation over principle is often a healthy thing, and doesn't happen here often enough.

December 29, 2011      Permalink

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WHAT'S IN A NAME? – AT 7:49 A.M. ET:  Plenty, it appears, at least temporarily.  The Dems have been desperate to find an alternative to "liberal," which, in many areas of the country, will not get you elected to anything.  They picked "progressive," and may have made a wise choice.  From the Daily Caller:

The Democrats’ newest ideological label — “progressive” — has a 67 percent approval among Americans, far higher than the recognized and rejected “socialist” and “liberal” labels, says a new poll released by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

However, the conservative label wins a 62 percent approval from the 1,521 people polled by the Pew, despite Democrats’ prevalence in the education, culture and media sectors, and despite the sympathetic media coverage given during the fall to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

The progressive label gets a 67 percent approval rating largely because it is still rated positively by 55 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of independents, said the poll.

That's the point.  Most Americans don't yet realize that "progressive" has been slipped in to replace "liberal."  Once they realize that, the poll numbers will go south.

The liberal label was deeply damaged by the social-policy failures of the 1960s and 1970s. “Liberal” now gets a positive rating of only 39 percent, and a negative rating of 50 percent.

This repudiation prompted many Democrats — including Obama — to subsequently label themselves as progressives. In the House of Representatives, for example, 83 Democratic legislators have joined the progressive caucus. There is no “liberal caucus” group in the House.

COMMENT:  What's a bit hilarious here is that the "progressive caucus" is actually to the left of most of the liberals in the House.  Indeed, the Progressive Party of the 1940s was clearly to the left of liberal Democrats of the time, and wouldn't even condemn the Soviet-sponsored North Korean invasion of South Korea.

Republicans, if awake, must focus on defining "progressive" for what it is, a subterfuge.  Defining your opponent is one of the first requirements of political strategy.

December 29, 2011       Permalink

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IOWA LATEST – AT 7:30 A.M. ET:  Really, the only important thing about the Iowa caucus results next Tuesday is that 1) they may give a bit (but not more) of momentum to someone and 2) they may tell us who is at the bottom of the heap and will have a lot more trouble raising cash.

But they are fun because horse races are fun, so let us examine the latest polling results, as reported by CNN:

Did Newt Gingrich peak too early?

A new survey of people likely to attend Iowa's Republican caucuses indicates that the former House speaker's support in the Hawkeye State is plunging. And according to a CNN/Time/ORC International Poll, one-time long shot candidate Rick Santorum has more than tripled his support since the beginning of the month.

Twenty-five percent of people questioned say if the caucuses were held today, they'd most likely back Mitt Romney, with 22% saying they'd support Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Romney's three point margin is within the poll's sampling error.

The poll's Wednesday release comes six days before Iowa's January 3 caucuses, which kickoff the presidential primary and caucus calendar. The Iowa caucuses are followed one week later by the New Hampshire primary...

...In Iowa, both Romney and Paul are each up five points among likely caucus goers from a CNN/Time/ORC poll conducted at the start of December. The new survey indicates that Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, is at 16% support, up 11 points from the beginning of the month, with Gingrich at 14%, down from 33% in the previous poll. Since Gingrich's rise late last month and early this month in both national and early voting state surveys, he's come under attack by many of the rival campaigns.

And...

In New Hampshire, the CNN/Time/ORC poll indicates that Romney remains the overwhelming front runner. He's supported by 44% of likely GOP primary voters, up nine points from earlier this month.  Paul is at 17%, with Gingrich at 16%, down ten points from early December. Huntsman, who's hoping for a strong finish in the Granite State, is at 9%, with Santorum at 4%, Bachmann at 3%, and Perry at 2%.

COMMENT:  For symbolic reasons, I'd like to see Paul defeated in Iowa, which is probably his strongest state.  But he may just eke out a victory because his supporters, or propeller heads, are so committed.  It's impossible to predict precisely who will come to the Iowa caucuses because they require a much greater commitment than simply going into a booth and pulling a lever.

The New Hampshire polling seems to reflect other recent polls we've seen. 

December 29, 2011     Permalink 

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DECEMBER 28,  2011

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 10:19 P.M. ET

HUGO CHAVEZ, M.D. – Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, who is a cancer patient, is openly speculating that the United States might have developed a way to give Latin American leaders cancer.   Several, all leftists, have been diagnosed with the disease.  Chavez did not explain why, if we have developed this remarkable capability, it has not been used anywhere else in the world.  This man is running a country.

COP-OUT – In a TV interview, Mitt Romney blundered by saying he'd vote for supreme goofball Ron Paul over President Obama.  Romney could have evaded the question, or been forthright, as was Newt Gingrich, in saying he'd refuse to vote for Paul.  Many of Paul's views are ridiculous and some are sickening.  The more that comes out, the worst it gets.  No mainstream party would ever nominate him.  Indeed, some of his foreign policy views are to the left of Obama's.  Newt is to be applauded for his principled stand, but Romney, in many respects an admirable man, should be criticized for groveling to the Paulbots.  He's regularly accused of flip-flopping and conniving.  This won't improve his image. 

UTTER VULGARITY – Iran thought it could blunt international condemnation by changing the means of execution of a woman condemned to death from stoning to hanging.  Iran explained that the prison where the woman is being kept does not have the facilities for stoning.  Apparently, advanced equipment is required.  The woman stands convicted of adultery.  The fact that Iran actually thought it could silence critics by simply switching to hanging shows the mentality of its regime, and tells us why we have every reason to fear an Iranian nuclear weapon.  These people think in barbaric, medieval terms.  

HEY, IT'S A TRADITION – The UN's own flag flew at half mast today to mark the funeral of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il.  It was explained that this was protocol, that the UN always marks the deaths of leaders of member nations.  I guess they've got to follow protocol, but the sight of the UN flag flying at half mast in New York City to mark the death of a gangster should remind us of what the UN has come, since its idealistic founding in San Francisco in 1945.  Not exactly a champion of human rights. 

December 28, 2011       Permalink

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GOODBYE DEAR LEADER, WHATEVER YOUR NAME IS – AT 8:41 A.M. ET:  Big doings in North Korea yesterday, as the nation ran a lavish funeral for departed leader Kim Jong Il. 

What is striking is that the transition in North Korea has been smooth, at least up to now.

SEOUL — In a city of gray buildings, with snow covering the wide streets and wailing mourners lining the sidewalks, North Korea on Wednesday staged an extravagant good-bye to dictator Kim Jong Il, his casket covered in a red revolutionary flag.

The funeral for the man known as North Korea’s “Dear Leader” marked an official junction in the nuclear-armed state’s second father-to-son power transfer, as the state-run media told the nation its next leader, Kim Jong Eun, was every bit worthy of his predecessor.

The younger Kim, thought to be in his late 20s, led the outdoor funeral procession, walking alongside the black hearse that transported his father’s body. Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, an apparent caretaker in the power transfer, walked several steps behind, along with other Workers’ Party and military officials.

State television, broadcasting to the outside world, showed hours of the choreographed imagery that underpins the Kim family personality cult. The funeral motorcade was led by a black sedan, its roof affixed with a massive portrait of a smiling Kim Jong Il. The hearse followed close behind, flanked by several Jeeps, then trailed by a fleet of black Mercedes Benzes and a formation of goose-stepping, flag-bearing soldiers.

And...

In a Wednesday editorial, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper described Kim Jong Eun as the “supreme leader of our party and people.” He will take “warm care of the people left by Kim Jong Il,” the editorial said.

COMMENT:  There has been some criticism of the American intelligence community for being taken by surprise by the announcement of Kim Jong Il's death.  We have large information gaps regarding North Korea, which not only is a nuclear power, but exports its technology to other rogue states, like Iran and Syria. 

We still have not made a dent in North Korea's nuclear program.  This will be another major story in 2012.

December 28, 2011       Permalink

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SIX DAYS TO IOWA – AT 8:20 A.M. ET:  The Iowa caucuses are six days away.  We noted yesterday that Iowa is a very poor predictor of who the Republican nominee will be.  There are some saying that, if Ron Paul wins the caucuses, Iowa will fade in significance in future GOP races.

However, Rich Galen and other Republican prognosticators point out that ridiculing the Iowa caucuses occurs in every presidential election year, yet no one has canceled them.  I suspect we'll see them in 2016, assuming we can avoid the Mayan prediction that the world will end on December 21, 2012.  If it does end, the Iowa caucuses might have to be scrubbed. 

Current polling places Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in a close race for first place, with others behind.  But an inordinate number of Iowans have told pollsters they aren't sure of their choices.

Remember:  The New Hampshire primary follows Iowa by a week, and the word "Iowa" will probably have disappeared from the political discourse by then.  Current polling shows Mitt Romney comfortably ahead in New Hampshire.

I'm sensing from political reports that the Ron Paul bubble is starting to leak, if not burst, as more comes out about Paul's bizarre world views and his refusal to take responsibility for truly appalling things published under his name in the 80s and 90s.  We now know also, as noted here yesterday, that much of Paul's support is coming from outside the Republican Party.  Yesterday, Newt Gingrich openly said that he could not vote for Ron Paul in a general election, and I suspect that view is widely shared within the party, and will be stated again and again should Paul have some serious showings. 

December 28, 2011       Permalink 

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TOUGH TALK FROM THE MULLAH NAVY – AT 7:58 A.M. ET:   Trying to fend off more stringent sanctions, the Iranian regime is talking tough about what it can do to Western, and especially American, interests in its region:

(Reuters) - Closing off the Gulf to oil tankers will be "easier than drinking a glass of water" for Iran if the Islamic state deems it necessary, state television reported on Wednesday, ratcheting up fears over the world's most important oil chokepoint.

"Closing the Strait of Hormuz for Iran's armed forces is really easy ... or as Iranians say it will be easier than drinking a glass of water," Iran's navy chief Habibollah Sayyari told Iran's English language Press TV.

"But right now, we don't need to shut it as we have the Sea of Oman under control and we can control the transit," said Sayyari, who is leading 10 days of exercises in the Strait.

Tension has increased between Iran and the West after EU foreign ministers decided three weeks ago to tighten sanctions on the world's No. 5 crude exporter over what the U.N. nuclear watchdog says is an attempt to design an atomic bomb, but left open the idea of an embargo on Iranian oil.

Iran, which says it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, warned on Tuesday it would stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if sanctions were imposed on its crude exports.

The announcement over the possible closure of the only access channel for eight U.S.-aligned, Gulf Arab states to foreign markets, pushed up international oil prices on Tuesday although they slipped back on Wednesday in thin trade and as the market dismissed it as rhetoric.

COMMENT:  The U.S. Navy is in the area, and I would assume that any attempt to choke the Strait of Hormuz could be ended fairly quickly, but would involve active combat at sea.

The much greater threat is that Iran will get the bomb.  Even if it had two or three bombs, that would give it instant deterrent power, the same kind of power possessed by North Korea.  It's one thing to face some Iranian destroyers in the Strait, and possibly sink them.  It's quite another to contemplate a freighter sailing into an American port with an Iranian nuclear device on board, and set off by a suicide crew.

Crunch time is coming.  Even Leon Panetta has warned that Iran may have an actual bomb within a year.  It's been noted that, when he gave that warning, our election was about a year away.  There is considerable speculation that Obama may pull an "October surprise" next year, and order a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities just before election day, rallying the country to his side. 

I have my doubts, but I'm open to persuasion.

December 28, 2011        Permalink

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ABSOLUTELY UNBELIEVABLE – AT 7:35 A.M. ET:  You know, we used to make cynical jokes about the Nazi officers who'd deny they saw anything unusual about the mass deportations from Nazi-held countries.  "I saw nothing, I saw absolutely nothing.  There were just trains going by."

I thought of that when reading this dispatch:

(Reuters) - Arab League monitors aiming to verify whether Syria is ending a military crackdown on protesters said they saw "nothing frightening" in an initial visit to the protest hotbed of Homs although a long investigation would be needed.

Given the brief and limited nature of the monitors' tour on Tuesday, the comments by the chief monitor could heighten the concern of opposition activists that the observer mission could be used as a cloak of respectability by Damascus, issuing assessments whitewashing President Bashar al-Assad's record.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based activist group, said security forces killed 15 people across the country Tuesday, six of them in Homs, coinciding with the monitors' visit. Activists said 34 had been killed Monday.

"Some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening," Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi, the chief of the monitoring contingent, told Reuters by telephone from Damascus.

COMMENT:  It is reliably estimated that some 5,000 Syrians have been murdered by the regime in recent months, and that many remain in secret captivity.  And these "monitors" see nothing. 

And please notice the silence of Western leftists, who were all over the United States over a minor prison scandal in Iraq, but who care not for human lives, unless the "caring" fits the party line.  We well recall how this same crowd, which wept and wailed over "the people of Vietnam," remained silent over the Cambodian genocide. 

Something has to give in Syria.  Yes, we must be careful to examine the "revolutionaries" and learn what they are for, not just what they're against, lest we wind up with another mess, as in Egypt.  But first the slaughter must stop.

We assume the president, in Hawaii, is interested.

December 28,  2011     Permalink

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"What you see is news.  What you know is background.  What you feel is opinion."
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    - Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, to his
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"Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred. "
        - Jacques Barzun

 

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