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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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TO OUR READERS:  Please click on Urgent Agenda several times during the day.  We hope, in 2011, depending on the news, to put up at least one post during the afternoon hours, so there'll always be something new to read.  So visit us regularly.

 

Today, January 8, 2011, is the third anniversary of Urgent Agenda.  I want to thank our incredibly loyal readers for carrying us this far. 

 

 

JANUARY 8,  2011

MURDER IN TUCSON – AT 6:45 P.M. ET:  Obviously, all who follow the news closely have been caught up in the terrible events today in Tucscon.  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a moderate Arizona Democrat, was holding an outdoor meeting with constituents at a shopping center when a gunman opened fire, shooting her in the head, and hitting a total of 18 people, according to news reports.  We're told that six are dead, although some reports have it at five.

Congresswoman Giffords is alive, and has survived emergency surgery.  But her prognosis is uncertain.  She is married to an astronaut.

She was one of the members of Congress reading a portion of the Constitution on the House floor this week.  She read the First Amendment. 

The shooter has been identified as a 22-year-old white male, Jared Lee Loughner, who has entries on YouTube.  He appears to be a very confused conspiracy theorist who lists both Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and "The Communist Manifesto" among his favorites. 

Events like this bring a torrent of news stories in the first hours, a requirement of the 24-hour news cycle.  Some will turn out to be wrong.  Several news outlets reported Gabrielle Giffords dead, then had to retract the story.  The wisest thing is for viewers and readers to wait for more information, corroborated, before drawing any conclusions from the deed or the perpetrator.

Obviously, the usual suspects will be out in force, spinning this horror for their own political ends.  You know how to ignore them, and they deserve mightily to be ignored.

January 8, 2010        Permalink

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SNIPPET OF THE DAY – AT 10:37 A.M. ET: 

More than 30 years after NASA's Viking landers found no evidence for organic materials on Mars, scientists say a new experiment on Mars-like soil shows Viking did, in fact, hit pay dirt.  The new study was prompted by the August 2008 discovery of powerful oxygen-busting compounds known as perchlorates at the landing site of another Mars probe called Phoenix.

The organic material would be covered under Obamacare, but the death panel ruled that's more than 60 million years old, just outside the age limit.

January 8, 2010      Permalink

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RAHM ROMPS – AT 9:23 A.M. ET:  Chicago will soon elect a new mayor, another opportunity for voters to meet their ancestors at the polls.  It appears at this time that the Obama-Chicago axis will be strengthened.  From The Politico:

Of the candidates for Chicago mayor, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun has benefited most from the recent shrinking of the field, but former Rep. Rahm Emanuel still leads by a healthy margin, according to the first poll released since state Sen. James Meeks and Rep. Danny Davis dropped out.

Emanuel had 42 percent of likely city voters in the poll to Braun’s 26 percent second-place showing — a 16-point lead — according to the poll conducted for the city’s Teamsters union council and reported Friday by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The vote is scheduled for February 22nd.  If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, a runoff will be held in April.

Chicago is a racially charged town, with raw, 1960s-style racial politics.  There were originally three African-American candidates, but two dropped out so the black community could coalesce around one.  That one, Carol Mosely Braun, is possibly the worst candidate in the entire history of human elections, here and abroad.  A former, and hopelessly inept and corrupt U.S. senator, and a former, nondescript ambassador, she has ethics issues aplenty.  The idea of coalescing around one candidate for ethnic reasons is dubious enough.  But that candidate? 

Rahm Emanuel was Obama's chief of staff.  He's never run anything large.  But, on balance, he's the best candidate, and watching his furious, take-no-prisoners manner will be great political theater.

The Republicans have no chance this year in the mayoralty race.

I have an affection for Chicago.  I went to college there, and it's a great town, if you have a bulletproof vest.

January 8, 2010       Permalink 

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AS GOES PAKISTAN – AT 9:05 A.M. ET:  We've been hearing much about Pakistan lately, and much of that isn't very good.  Pakistan, a country with an expanding nuclear arsenal, is falling further and further into the darkness of extremism.  Our media tends to ignore it, since what's happening there can't be blamed on "American policies."  But Pakistan will affect every family living in the United States.  From AP:

ISLAMABAD -- A 60-year-old university administrator in the southern port city of Karachi is wistful as he recalls the more tolerant, freewheeling Pakistan of his youth.

Once, when a teacher suggested no book can be perfect, the boy asked if that included Islam's holy book, the Quran. That sparked a candid class discussion about religion. But in today's Pakistan, Muqtida Mansoor said he would never dare to ask the question in public.

After all, "anyone could shoot you."

Days after the assassination of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, one of the few politicians openly challenging the onslaught of religious extremism, Pakistani moderates are facing a new and troubling reality: Pakistan is a country where fundamentalism is becoming mainstream, leaving even less room for dissent, difference and many once-prevalent leisures such as public music, dance parties or other social contact between the sexes.

More liberal-minded Pakistanis have been left with a profound sense of loss, alienation and fear for the future. One rights activist forecast that at the rate Islamist groups are rising, a religious party could be ruling the country in 10 to 15 years.

The transformation is particularly disheartening for many younger Pakistanis.

"There is no concept of freedom of speech in this country," said Aaisha Aslam, 25, who works for a non-governmental organization. People with fanatic mindsets are "out to snatch this country from us."

The poles have shifted so much that it was not just bearded students from religious seminaries who this week praised the suspected killer of a politician who opposed blasphemy laws. Some religious scholars who oppose the Taliban also joined in - and lawyers showered him with rose petals.

COMMENT:  We must ask what will happen to those nuclear weapons.  We are endlessly assured that they are "safe."  Really?  How would we know?  Who will eventually be guarding them if a fanatical, Iran-style regime takes over?

And in our universities, students will be told that we Western imperialistic, right-wing colonialist warmongers have no "right" to question what's happening in Pakistan because it's "another cultural expression."  And too many people who will go on to work in government and the press will believe that.

Welcome to the next decade.

January 8, 2010      Permalink

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WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL – AT 8:51 A.M. ET:  We begin our third year with a story about something we can cheer, an American teacher who does it the old-fashioned way.  We hope his example spreads through our alarmingly shallow education system.  From The New York Times:

SUDBURY, Mass. — William H. Fitzhugh, the cantankerous publisher of a journal that showcases high school research papers, sits at his computer in a cluttered office above a secondhand shop here, deploring the nation’s declining academic standards.

“Most kids don’t know how to write, don’t know any history, and that’s a disgrace,” Mr. Fitzhugh said. “Writing is the most dumbed-down subject in our schools.”

His mood brightens, however, when talk turns to the occasionally brilliant work of the students whose heavily footnoted history papers appear in his quarterly, The Concord Review. Over 23 years, the review has printed 924 essays by teenagers from 44 states and 39 nations.

The review’s exacting standards have won influential admirers. William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions, said he keeps a few issues in his Cambridge office to inspire applicants. Harvard considers it “something that’s impressive,” like winning a national math competition, if an applicant’s essay has appeared in the review, he said...

...The term paper was once an important feature of American secondary education, requiring students to dig deeply and write at length. Mr. Fitzhugh said that most public school teachers have stopped assigning such papers — a shift that he attributed mostly to the fact that teachers have so many students and so little time.

Still, hundreds of earnest students send Mr. Fitzhugh papers every year, hoping to win his stamp of approval.

In the most recent issue, a senior from Montclair, N.J., writes of Theodore Roosevelt’s tenure as a New York police commissioner; a New Orleans student profiles a 19th-century transcendentalist philosopher; and a senior from Seoul documents the oppression of Korean residents on a North Pacific island.

COMMENT:  Just terrific.  There are still great teachers, and there are still great students.  We can reverse mediocrity.

And I hope that, within out lifetime, Americans will once again discover the joy of writing, in longhand, a personal letter to a friend, on real paper.  I don't want future generations to judge us entirely by our e-mails. 

Mr. Fitzhugh, U R doin' good werk.

January 8, 2010     Permalink

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JANUARY 7,  2011

A LOT MORE ELEGANT THAN BOXERS VS. BRIEFS – AT 8:58 P.M. ET:  I recall how the nation collectively winced when someone asked Bill Clinton whether he wore boxers or briefs.  Nothing like a little good taste.

Now the question before the House, literally, is Macs vs. PC's.  In one important office, Macs are winning:

Just a few days ago we told you how the U.S. Senate rules had been opened up to allow Macs into Senate offices with official permission. Well, it turns out that Macs are quite popular in the House as well. Our example: the newly named House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). In the picture above, he is at his iMac-equipped desk calling President Obama about the confirmation of Rep. John Boehner as House Speaker.

A close look will also reveal Cantor's iPad in the black Apple case. According to his staff, the Congressman has had an iPad since the day it was released, and uses it quite a lot to read his hometown newspaper, the Richmond Times Dispatch (via the paper's app). Congressman Cantor has been a Mac user for many years, while his office is split between Macs and PCs based on the preference of the staff member.

With a loosening of the restrictions on Macs on the Senate side, and the increasing popularity of the iPad as a quick way to catch up on the news and deal with email, I'd look for more and more Apple products showing up on Capitol Hill -- even in such previously off-limits areas as the House floor.

COMMENT:  Urgent Agenda is a Mac-based site, and I'm delighted that our new GOP majority leader has joined in our spiritual community.  Yes, it's true, Mac users are nuts.  But we're also warm and delightful.

January 7, 2010      Permalink

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SNIPPET OF THE DAY – AT 6:36 P.M. ET:

From Fox:  The words “mother” and “father” will be removed from U.S. passport applications and replaced with gender neutral terminology, the State Department says.  “The words in the old form were ‘mother’ and ‘father,’” said Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services. "They are now ‘parent one’ and ‘parent two.’"

I called one of my daughters and said, "This is parent two."  She hung up and called the police.

January 7, 2010       Permalink

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WAS HE PUSHED? – AT 4:21 P.M. ET:  According to ace reporter Toby Harnden of London's Telegraph, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs walked the plank on the order of incoming chief of staff, Bill Daley, in a typical, Chicago-style execution:

It’s being reported by John King on CNN right now that Gibbs wanted to be a presidential counsellor – something he’s been putting about for quite a while – but William Daley, the new chief of staff, nixed this because he believed that too many cooks would spoil the presidential broth. So that’s why Gibbs is out.

Additionally, King reports that Valerie Jarrett, whose sole qualification to being a senior counsellor seems to be that she’s a long-time Chicago buddy of Barack and Michelle Obama, will have her wings clipped. Daley, not Jarrett, will be the person speaking to the business community.

It’s no secret that Rahm Emanuel, a Daley protege, clashed with Jarrett. Or that David Plouffe, about to join the White House, was often at odds with her when he was the 2008 Obama campaign manager. Obama is nothing if not ruthless. He dropped Jane Dystel, the agent who approached him to write “Dreams from my Father”, and has previously cut loose long-time advisers. One aide described him as “the most unsentimental man I’ve ever met”.

So the next question is: with Gibbs and David Axelrod gone, how much longer will Valerie Jarrett last?

COMMENT:  I recall walking the streets of Chicago with friends at 5 a.m. the day after election day, 1960.  We still weren't sure who'd been elected president.  The Chicago Sun-Times came out with a headline:  IT'S KENNEDY.  Then, an hour later, it came out with another:  IS IT KENNEDY? 

But we knew one thing for sure – that Mayor Richard Daley, the father of now incoming presidential Chief of Staff William Daley, was holed up in the Morrissey Hotel, local headquarters of the Democratic Party, trying to find the votes to put Kennedy over the top.  Strangely, he found them.  Those citizens may never have known they voted, having been departed for many years, but they made history.

The Daley machine was, and is, well oiled.  It work superbly, in terms of its purposes.  I never thought I'd see the day when one of its sons would wield power directly in the White House.

Look, if Bill Daley is good, and straightens out this administration, I'm all for him.  One thing about the Daley machine – they knew how to get things done, what buttons to press, who to muscle and who to stroke.  Those are skills in need right now.

Mayor Daley the elder must be smiling in his grave, and figuring out how many judgeships he can get out of this.  Nominations please?

January 7, 2010       Permalink

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NEW TERROR ALERT IN BRITAIN – AT 9:26 A.M. ET:  They're coming one after another, and sooner or later...  From The New York Times:

LONDON — British authorities raised the level of terrorism alerts at transport hubs including railroad stations and airports on Friday but left the national assessment unchanged at “severe,” its second highest level, news reports said.

Without confirming the reports, Scotland Yard said the current national level meant that “an attack is highly likely,” promising to “police accordingly and use a range of covert and overt tactics which remain under constant review.”

But the police declined to offer specific details of those tactics or to discuss whether the threat levels had been raised or not. Television footage showed police wearing flak jackets and armed with automatic weapons patrolling airport check-in halls, accompanied by dogs trained to sniff out explosives.

British security authorities use a twin-track security alert system, setting a national level, which is usually made public, while making assessments, usually kept secret, of threats to specific areas.

COMMENT:  There were many terror attempts by Islamist groups all over the world last year, and some succeeded, in the Middle East and South Asia.  There were close calls in the U.S., especially in Times Square, New York.

Terrorist training continues, and will probably improve.  So will the technical skills of the trainees.  After all, we know they can be training to crash airliners into buildings.

On guard, always.

January 7, 2011      Permalink

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UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DROPS, BUT DOES IT? – AT 8:42 A.M. ET:  New employment figures just came out, but the well-known devil is in the equally well-known details.  From WaPo:

U.S. employers added 113,000 private-sector jobs in December, the Labor Department reported Friday, fewer than analysts expected. But the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 to 9.4 percent--the lowest level since May, 2009.

Economists had predicted that employers had created 150,000 net new jobs in December, and that the unemployment rate would drop to 9.7 percent. Instead, the overall number of jobs created was 103,000, the government said. But more people apparently also stopped looking for work, which accounts for part of the decline in the joblessness rate.

COMMENT:  Bit of sleight of hand there.  So, let's examine:  The economy picked up 113,000 jobs (some other sources have it at 103,000), about a third less than expected.  But, magic, the unemployment rate dropped like a rock to 9.4 percent.

But, the detail:  The reason the unemployment rate dropped is that more people stopped looking for work, and apparently joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Why do I think I'd like to see statistics in the next four months or so to conclude whether the economy is really improving?

But Obama will take the credit for this, no doubt about it.  And his disciples in the media will go hype-crazy.

UPDATE:  We're noticing, at 9:21 a.m. ET, that previously euphoric news organizations, who'd rushed out with this "good news," are now pulling back, recognizing that it isn't very good at all.

January 7, 2011      Permalink

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GOVERNMENT GRANTEE PERSONNEL NEWS – AT 8:21 A.M. ET:  NPR, the (partly) government-financed radio service sometimes known as Radio Havana North, has made some personnel decisions in the light of its firing of Juan Williams for daring to say prohibited things, and to say them on prohibited Fox News.  From WaPo:

NPR's top news editor resigned Thursday after an internal review found that the Washington news organization mishandled the firing of news analyst Juan Williams over controversial remarks he made on a TV program in October.

Translated into common-man English:  The Republicans won the election.  They're threatening to cut off our federal funding, so let's show them we can behave like adults.

In an additional piece of fallout from the firing, NPR's board voted to cancel the annual bonus of NPR's chief executive, Vivian Schiller, who supported the decision to fire Williams and made some ill-timed comments about it, for which she later apologized.

Ill-timed?  She pretty much implied that Williams needed a psychiatrist.  When is the timing for that good?

Both moves come as a new Republican majority takes over in the House. Partly spurred by the Williams firing, GOP lawmakers have vowed to cut federal funding for public broadcasting. Several NPR staffers said they hoped the latest moves would mollify critics in Congress, but the chief sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), said, "From my perspective, it doesn't change anything."

Ellen Weiss, the 28-year NPR veteran who resigned Thursday, was the editor who decided to terminate Williams after he told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly that he became "nervous" flying with people dressed in "Muslim garb."

He said what millions are thinking, but it wasn't politically correct.  If he'd said he felt nervous around people carrying Christian Bibles, nothing would have happened. 

NPR justified the firing by saying that Williams had ignored years of warnings that he limit his comments to news analysis, and not offer personal opinions, while appearing on other networks. But the firing created a storm of criticism, particularly from Fox News, whose hosts said NPR was trying to stifle free expression.

It should be noted that NPR recently took a huge grant from George Soros, a profoundly left-wing financier and political operator.  People wondered at the time why an organization that has access to that kind of funding needs federal dollars, a very good question.  Many also wondered about the wisdom of taking funds from so controversial a source.

NPR is left-wing.  It's run from the left.  It got caught at it this time, and its government funding should be slashed substantially.

January 7, 2011       Permalink

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HEY, IT'S NOT TOO EARLY – AT 7:57 A.M. ET:  I quote from Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard:

Having just returned from the e21 and Manhattan Institute-sponsored Conversation with Paul Ryan (very ably conducted by Paul Gigot)--and having seen Marco Rubio speak recently as well, I'll just say this: Wouldn't it be easier just to agree now on a Ryan-Rubio ticket, and save everyone an awful lot of time, effort, and money over the next year and a half?

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, these were the first four of many e-mails to arrive, responding to the Ryan-Rubio blog post:

“Excellent, excellent choices! Unbeatable pair! I'm so excited - a reason for hope!”

“All I can say is: YES!!!!!”

“I don't want to take away from some of the other potentially great candidates, but you are so right. Rubio is inspirational and Ryan is simply the best out there. His knowledge of the issues, particularly issues related to the budget, is second to none and he is able to communicate his position in a concise and understandable way.”

“Love it.”

COMMENT:  Now that's inspired.  It's the kind of thinking that can wake up the deadly dull Republican presidential selection process.  Two young moderns.  Outside the box. 

Compare please to a ticket of (snore) Mitt Romney and whoever. 

Do I sense an awakening?

Comments, readers?

January 7, 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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      of The New York Times.

 

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    - Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, to his
      son, Douglas.

 

THE ANGEL'S CORNER

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Part II was sent late last night.

 

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