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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MAY 6,  2011

IN MEMORIAM – AT 8:03 P.M. ET:  Regular readers know that I refer periodically to my good friend and Iranian rights activist Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, who has done fine work on behalf of Iran's democracy movement from her base in New York. 

Banafsheh comes from a distinguished Iranian family.  Last week her father, who had been under house arrest in Iran, committed suicide as a final protest against the regime.  He is remembered in this essay in London's Telegraph:

While Britons celebrated the royal wedding last Friday, one of Iran’s greatest intellectuals willingly fell to his death from the sixth-floor balcony of his Tehran apartment. Siamak Pourzand, aged 80, had held out long enough against the Islamic Republic, despite its best efforts to erase his outsize influence and, indeed, his existence. In the end, he died on his own terms.

Pourzand was an already prominent cultural commentator and foreign correspondent long before Ayatollah Khomeini boarded a plane from Paris, full of big ideas, in 1979. He reported on JFK’s funeral and interviewed Nixon while also finding time to write supple film criticism for the prestigious French journal Cahiers du Cinema.

Secular and cosmopolitan to the core, Pourzand had no time for the guardianship of the sadists and made a point of saying so, especially in the late 1990s when he began writing for various opposition newspapers (having been banned from the ones that were now mullah-controlled). He covered the funeral processions of Darius and Parvaneh Forouhar, a married couple who were assassinated in their Tehran apartment in 1998 as part of the “chain murders” of prominent Iranian dissidents.

Why didn’t Pourzand leave Iran when he had the chance?

One of his daughters, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, a long-time human rights activist in New York, told me yesterday that her father always believed that a nation’s cultural identity was the first casualty of fanatical revolutions.

COMMENT:  It is worthwhile to read the rest of the essay, which will give you a very good idea of how that regime really functions. 

May 6, 2011       Permalink

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MORE ON AL QAEDA STATEMENT ON DEATH OF BIN LADEN – AT 10:09 A.M. ET:  Reuters expands on the earlier bulletin that Al Qaeda has now confirmed the death of the big fella:

UBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden on Friday in an Internet message that vowed revenge on the United States and its allies, including Pakistan, according to a statement issued by the Islamist militant group.

Five days after President Barack Obama announced bin Laden's death in a U.S. raid in Pakistan, al Qaeda confirmed the death of its leader as a historic moment, and vowed not to deviate from the path of armed struggle.

"In a historic day for the great Islamic nation... the mujahid (holy warrior) Shiekh Abu Abdullah, Osama bin Mohammed bin Laden, God have mercy on him, was killed on the path taken by those before him and will be taken by others after him."

"Congratulations to the Islamic umma (community) for the martyrdom of its son Osama."

The global militant group, which said it will soon release an audio tape made by its leader a week before he died, vowed not to deviate from the path of armed struggle and said bin Laden's blood "is more precious to us and to every Muslim than to be wasted in vain."

"It will remain, with permission from God Almighty, a curse that hunts the Americans and their collaborators and chase them outside and inside their country," the militant network said in a statement released on Islamist Internet forums.

"Their happiness will turn into sorrow, and their blood will be mixed with their tears," al Qaeda said. 

COMMENT:  We have to share the same Earth with these boys.  What a pity.

May 6, 2011       Permalink

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Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits). Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds."

Oh, come on, loosen up, guys.  In America we call people like that "economists."

May 6, 2011      Permalink

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WHO NEEDS DETAILS? – AT 9:17 A.M. ET:  The Obama-friendly press is shouting the news this morning that the economy added 244,000 jobs last month, more than had been expected.  But this is one of those "not so fast, Jones" stories, where the details tell a far less optimistic story, as CNBC reports:

Employment increased more than expected in April as private companies created jobs at the fastest pace in five years, pointing to underlying strength in the economy, even though the jobless rate rose to 9.0 percent....

...The internals, though, were less encouraging.

The total amount of unemployed was unchanged from March at 13.7 million people.

The labor participation rate also was stuck at 64.2 percent, refuting the notion that the rise in the unemployment rate reflected more discouraged workers looking for jobs.

Also, the so-called real unemployment rate—which the government calls the U-6—which encompasses discouraged workers as well, actually rose in the month two-tenths of a point to 15.9 percent.

The numbers suggested that a good portion of the boost came from McDonald's, which moved to hire 50,000 workers last month.

Yeah, those great high-paying jobs.

Still, gains in April marked seven straight months of net job creation, but remained too little to make much of dent on the pool of 13.7 million Americans out of work.

COMMENT:  Talk to people on the street, especially when the word "gasoline" comes up, and you'll find out how the economy is really doing.  I don't see an ocean of smiles.

May 6, 2011       Permalink

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BULLETIN – AT 8:46 A.M. ET:  Fox News is just reporting that Al Qaeda has confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden in an internet statement. 

This should save some of President Obama's bacon, fried beyond crispness in his administration's monumentally inept handling of statements following the bin Laden raid.  In fact, as London's Telegraph said this morning, "Because of the ham-fisted way in which the White House has handled the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's demise, a triumph is in danger of turning into a PR disaster."

Even an Al Qaeda statement, though, will not silence all conspiracy theorists.  In fact, some will undoubtedly say that the terror group is making the statement to protect bin Laden.  In another blunder, President Obama had bin Laden's body buried at sea within 24 hours of the raid, presumably to show respect for Muslim custom.  Once again he showed more regard for Muslim "sensitivities" than our own interests.  The dumping of the body, as Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School said, "constituted the willful destruction of evidence.”  Had it been preserved, it could have been examined before a respected panel of experts, properly identified and then dispatched to Hell.

But the Al Qaeda statement will help.  And, of course, we won't see any new bin Laden music videos either.

May 6, 2011        Permalink

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HISTORY DOESN'T STOP – AT 8:18 A.M. ET:  The bin Laden episode has averted our eyes from other stories, especially the revolutions going on in the Mideast.  But they haven't stopped.  Syria, in particular, remains volatile:

(Reuters) - Protests broke out across Syria on Friday, with thousands calling for freedom in the Kurdish east and dozens briefly marching in Damascus to demand the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad, activists and witnesses said.

But the army, which stormed the southern city of Deraa last month to crush resistance in the cradle of the seven-week uprising, deployed tanks in the central city of Homs and security forces quickly dispersed the Damascus protest.

Witnesses said security forces also opened fire at protesters in the town of Tel, just north of the capital, wounding demonstrators.

Activist Wissam Tarif said protests also took place in the southern town of Jassem, coastal Banias, and Amouda in the east.

Human rights campaigners say army, security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad had killed at least 560 civilians during pro-democracy demonstrations that started in March. Thousands have been arrested and beaten, including the elderly, women and children, they said.

The Syrian protesters do not seem to be making any progress at all, while the Obama administration, quick to shove American ally Hosni Mubarak out of power in Egypt, has put little pressure on American enemy Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, the Libyan situation remains stalemated.  Gadaffi remains in power.  The U.S. is trying to free some funds to help the rebels:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the administration is trying to free some of the $30 billion of Libyan state funds frozen in the United States to help the rebels in Libya. Clinton is attending a meeting in Rome of the so-called "Libya Contact Group," where the Italian government said a special fund is being set up to channel money to rebel leaders in Benghazi. Two Arab Gulf states said they would make contributions to the fund: Kuwait promised $180 million, while Qatar said it would contribute between $400 million and $500 million.

Reports from Egypt are exceptionally disturbing.  Week by week the "new" government distances itself from the United States and from Mubarak's commitment to peace with Israel.  The Muslim Brotherhood is becoming more and more vocal in its extreme demands and is, as is widely reported, the best organized force in Egypt.  The revolution is being increasingly betrayed.  Much of the rhetoric coming out of Egypt resembles the hard-line Islamist rhetoric that normally comes out of Iran, to which Egypt is growing closer.  This is very much an underreported story, probably because it doesn't follow the "narrative" accepted by liberal Western journalists.

May 6, 2011     Permalink

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MAY 5,  2011

WHAT A DISGRACE – AT 9:25 P.M. ET:  This is a heartbreaking story, but one that should raise the caution flag when someone announces that we need to spend more money on education.

DETROIT (WWJ) – According to a new report, 47 percent of Detroiters are ”functionally illiterate.” The alarming new statistics were released by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund on Wednesday.

WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with the Fund’s Director, Karen Tyler-Ruiz, who explained exactly what this means.

“Not able to fill out basic forms, for getting a job — those types of basic everyday (things). Reading a prescription; what’s on the bottle, how many you should take… just your basic everyday tasks,” she said.

“I don’t really know how they get by, but they do. Are they getting by well? Well, that’s another question,” Tyler-Ruiz said.

Some of the Detroit suburbs also have high numbers of functionally illiterate: 34 percent in Pontiac and 24 percent in Southfield.

“For other major urban areas, we are a little bit on the high side… We compare, slightly higher, to Washington D.C.’s urban population, in certain ZIP codes in Washington D.C. and in Cleveland,” she said.

Tyler-Ruiz said only 10 percent of those who can’t read have gotten any help to resolve it.

The report will be used to provide better training for local workers. 

COMMENT:  I'm glad they're getting better training.  But isn't there something called a school system?  And where were the parents of these illiterates as they were growing up?

Why don't I ever read these stories about Asian-American communities?

What we really need is far better education reporting that will get to the bottom of these colossal failures.  The problem is, such reporting will be politically incorrect, and not good for journalism careers.  So it will probably never be done.

But you can be sure that the cry for "more money" will rise loudly from Detroit's political class and the teachers' unions.

May 5, 2011       Permalink

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UNBELIEVABLE – AT 9:03 P.M. ET:   From Fox:

Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism will bestow its highest honor to Al Jazeera English, the university announced Wednesday.

The Columbia Journalism Award is given annually during the school's commencement to recognize an individual or organization for "singular journalism in the public interest," according to a press release. It will mark only the second time that the award is being given to an organization.

"Al Jazeera English has performed a great service in bringing the English-speaking world in-depth coverage of the turmoil in the Middle East," said Dean Nicholas Lemann. "We salute its determination to get to the heart of a complicated story unfolding in countries where news has historically been difficult to cover."

The school’s faculty, which selects the awardees, voted for Al Jazeera English for the "overall depth and quality of its peerless coverage of the ongoing protests in the Middle East," the release continued. Al Antsey, managing editor of Al Jazeera English, will accept the award and address the school's graduating class of 2011 on May 18.

Elizabeth Fishman, the school's associate dean of communications, told FoxNews.com the selection was made during a private faculty meeting. Past winners of the Columbia Journalism Award, which was established in 1958, include Walter Cronkite and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour was the first outlet to win the award in 1993.

COMMENT:  That is my alma mater, and it's not the first time I've been embarrassed by it.  Al Jazeera is largely a function of a foreign government, Qatar, which is not even a democracy.  It has probably improved in recent years, and has done some good coverage of the upheavals in Arab countries.  But it has a pretty bad history of anti-Americanism, not to mention anti-Israelism, and was roundly denounced by Secretary Rumsfeld for its coverage of the Iraq war.  (That may be one reason it got the award.)  It is not worthy of this prize.  It would have to prove itself over another, say, ten years, before being in that league.

But Columbia is to the left, and the school probably thinks it is acting nobly.  The journalism school has drifted further and further left over the years.  Its magazine program is headed by the former editor and publisher of The Nation, which tells you something.  Its former dean was Bill Moyers's partner, which tells you the same thing. 

I'm embarrassed again.

May 5, 2011      Permalink

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From USA Today:  The Department of Justice has sent a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert asking why the association does not have a major-college football playoff and it wants to know if Emmert believes some aspects of the Bowl Championship Series system do not serve the interests of fans, schools and players.

Your tax dollars at work.  I have sent to the Department of Justice a copy of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary with the word "priorities" circled, for their contemplation. 

May 5, 2011       Permalink

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CREDIT TO THE WASHINGTON POST – AT 9:41 A.M. ET:  We've written here before about how the Washington Post's editorial page shines in comparison to that of the dreary, propagandistic New York Times.  The Post is a liberal paper and I often disagree with its editorials.  But they are well written, thoughtful, and sane.  And the Post understands that liberalism doesn't have to mean a knee-jerk, or just jerk, reaction to any military operation.

In the last few days, following the bin Laden raid, we've seen the political left, especially in Europe, reorganize again, as it reorganizes after every major event, and go back to its standard leftist lines and sneering anti-Americanism.  The usual cast of Europeans and left-leaning Brits, now including the Archbishop of Cantebury, has taken to expressing anguish over the legality and morality of the raid.  We are being lectured by our self-proclaimed superiors. 

The Washington Post, to its enormous credit, will have none of it, as the paper makes clear in a superb editorial published this morning:

SOME ARE questioning the legality of the raid in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. Was it lawful for a team of Navy SEALs to launch a mission in Abbottabad without permission from Pakistani leaders? Did they comply with international strictures when they killed the al-Qaeda leader rather than capturing him and bringing him before a court of law?

In a word: yes.

Right on, WaPo.  For liberals, you've got guts.

Absent a surrender, there is no question that U.S. forces would have been entitled to shoot him on sight had they encountered him on an Afghan battlefield. But that is not where the terrorist leader spent his time. After lengthy and intricate intelligence-gathering, the Obama administration tracked him to a heavily secured mansion in a city outside Islamabad populated by military officers and the country’s elite military academy. With suspicions high that Osama bin Laden enjoyed some semblance of official protection, the Obama administration rightly decided to proceed without notifying Pakistan.

Correct again.

Much has been made of the disclosure that Osama bin Laden was unarmed, but this, too, is irrelevant in determining whether the operation was lawful. The SEALs entered the compound on a war footing, in the middle of the night, prepared to encounter hostile fire in what they believed to be the enemy leader’s hideout. They reported that they became embroiled in a firefight once inside; they had no way of knowing whether Osama bin Laden himself was armed. Even if he had signaled surrender, there is no reason to believe that danger had evaporated.

That is pure common sense, often lacking in the "international law" experts who are peppering the pages of newspapers with their learned opinions.

It is easy in the light of day to second-guess decisions made in the heat of war. It is particularly easy for those who refuse to acknowledge that war in the first place. Based on information released by the administration, the covert military operation that brought down the most wanted terrorist in the world appears to have been gutsy and well executed. It was also lawful.

COMMENT:  Cheers to the Washington Post, whose editorial will probably produce severe biological trauma in faculty lounges throughout the nation, and cafes where Euro types meet.  Paramedics are standing by.  Have insurance cards ready. 

The conflict with terror organizations is ongoing.  Bin laden was a major soldier in that conflict.  He was a military planner, and a legitimate target.

We did good.

May 5, 2011       Permalink

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ECONOMIC STUNNER – AT 9:01 A.M. ET:  Are we headed for a double-dip recession?  That possibility grew greater today with the release of new, tremendously discouraging job figures that raise serious doubts about the "recovery."  From Bloomberg:

The number of claims for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, pushed up by auto-plant shutdowns and other unusual events that seasonal variations failed to take into account, the Labor Department said.

Applications for jobless benefits jumped by 43,000 to 474,000 in the week ended April 30, the most since August, Labor Department figures showed today. A spring break holiday in New York, a new emergency benefits program in Oregon and auto shutdowns caused by the disaster in Japan were the main reasons for the surge, a Labor Department spokesman said as the data was released to the press.

Even before last week, claims had drifted up, raising concern the improvement in the labor market has stalled. Employers added 185,000 workers to payrolls in April, fewer than in the prior month, and the unemployment rate held at 8.8 percent, economists project a Labor Department report to show tomorrow.

“April seems to have shown a little bit of a slowdown,” Thomas Simons, an economist at Jefferies Group Inc. in New York, said before the report. “We haven’t seen as rapid an improvement in the labor market as we’ve seen in previous months.”


Economists forecast 410,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Forecasts ranged from 395,000 to 450,000 in the survey of 46 economists. The Labor Department revised the prior week’s figure up to 431,000 from an initially reported 429,000.

COMMENT:  Please note that the actual number of claims exceeded even the most pessimistic prediction among economists. 

Most political pundits are saying that the glow from the bin Laden operation will soon fade, and that Obama will be left with the economy as the main issue in 2012.  If today's report reflects another downward trend, the president will be in serious trouble very quickly, saved, if he is to be saved, only by the incompetence of the Republican Party.

Stand by.  It's going to be a bumpy campaign.

May 5, 2011       Permalink

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CAMPAIGN STARTS TONIGHT – AT 8:49 A.M. ET:  The 2012 presidential campaign essentially starts tonight, with the first debate among GOP contenders, in South Carolina.  Unfortunately, a good part of the field is staying home, making for an anemic, unimpressive start, as WaPo points out:

Normally, the first debate of the presidential primary season serves as a starting gun. The one that will take place on Thursday night could sound more like a distress call.

Consider the contrast with this very week four years ago, when a field of 10 Republican contenders lined up for the first time, onstage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. It included four former governors, two sitting senators, three members of the House and a former New York City mayor who had become something of a national hero for his leadership in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The group that assembles for the Fox News-South Carolina GOP debate in Greenville, S.C., on Thursday will be half the size — and distinguished more by who isn’t there than by who is. Of the presumed top-tier candidates and most-buzzed-about names, only former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has agreed to show up.

That fact alone speaks to the turbulence and uncertainty of a political party known for the orderly way in which it usually picks its nominee, with its all-but-predetermined outcome.

With the strongest possible contenders holding back — not just from debating, but also from gearing up their campaign operations — a queasiness is setting in among Republicans about whether their field will be strong enough to produce a standard-bearer who can beat an incumbent.

COMMENT:  No Romney tonight.  No Huck, no Sarah, no Michelle, no Mitch Daniels or Newt, and, of course, no Marco Rubio.  We get Pawlenty, but we also get Herman Cain of Godfather Pizza, the terminally unbalanced Ron Paul, some former governor of New Mexico named Johnson, and Rick Santorum.

We yearn for the A-team.  In fact, we yearn for there to be an A-team.  Look, we'll even take a debate with the B- or C-team.  But tonight's debate doesn't have much anticipation factor.  While we'll take a peek, the insignificance of the event is underwhelming.

May 5, 2011       Permalink

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AND BUSH IS RIGHT – AT 8:26 A.M. ET:  President Obama will be at Ground Zero in New York today, which for us New Yorkers means monumental traffic jams.  One person not coming is former President George W. Bush.  The New York Daily News claims to know the reason why:

WASHINGTON - George W. Bush won't be at Ground Zero with President Obama Thursday in part because he feels his team is getting short shrift in the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden.

"[Bush] viewed this as an Obama victory lap," a highly-placed source told the Daily News Wednesday.

Bush's visit to the rubble after the 9/11 attacks was the emotional high point of his presidency, but associates say the invitation to return with his successor was a non-starter.

"He doesn't feel personally snubbed and appreciates the invitation, but Obama's claiming all the credit and a lot of other people deserve some of it," the source added.

"Obama gave no credit whatsoever to the intelligence infrastructure the Bush administration set up that is being hailed from the left and right as setting in motion the operation that got Bin Laden. It rubbed Bush the wrong way."

Bush spokesman David Sherzer said Bush "appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight."

Associates familiar with his thinking say Bush does not believe Obama or his handlers wanted to exploit his presence. But the tag-team idea "was for the benefit of Obama, and Obama withheld credit from people Bush believes deserved it," a source said.

COMMENT:  Obama has never been a class act, and he should have praised President Bush's efforts, and the efforts of the Bush team, in his initial announcement Sunday night.  I can understand Bush's declining the invite.

Maybe it's better.  Bush would have probably gotten bigger applause than Obama from the police, firefighters and military people who'll be there today, creating what the Brits call a bit of bother. 

One Urgent Agenda reader, in a post at our Angel's Corner last night, theorized that Bush feared Obama might say something insulting today.  Recall that Obama invited Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to Obama's recent White House budget speech, then proceeded to disparage Ryan's efforts in the congressman's presence.  And yes, I could easily see Obama making a speech at Ground Zero today, in Bush's presence, and disparaging some of Bush's tactics in the war on terror.

At any rate, we get only one president today, and that will be enough.

May 5, 2011     Permalink

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