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 11, 2011
MINIMAL INTEREST IN THE AMERICAN MEDIA – AT 10:42 P.M. ET: It is just stunning to see how indifferent we've become to what is happening in Syria, one of the most important Mideast countries, and a complete dictatorship. From The New York Times:
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian military intensified a methodical, ferocious march across the country’s most restive locales on Wednesday, shelling the country’s third-largest city from tanks, forcing hundreds to flee and detaining hundreds more in what has emerged as one of the most brutal waves of repression since the Arab Spring began.
Homs, in central Syria near the Lebanese border, has become the latest target of the crackdown, which has already besieged and silenced, for now, the cities of Dara’a, in the fertile but drought-stricken southern steppe, and Baniyas, on the Mediterranean coast. Dozens of tanks occupied Homs, as black-clad security forces, soldiers and militiamen in plain clothes filtered through the industrial city of 1.5 million people. At least 19 people were killed there Wednesday, human rights groups said.
The crackdown in some neighborhoods alternated with the relative calm in the center of a city that is home to a Sunni Muslim majority and a Christian minority.
COMMENT: The only good news on this issue is that Syria has temporarily withdrawn its application to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council. You know, awkward. Not that the Human Rights Council would have minded Syria being there. These guys understand each other.
Some knowledgeable people predicted that the Arab spring might turn into a bitter winter. I'm afraid it's happening.
May 11, 2011 Permalink
TIN EAR SYNDROME, UNCURED AT THE WHITE HOUSE – AT 10:19 P.M. ET: Sometimes I have to wonder how something like this happens. In this White House, it happens quite a bit. From Fox:
The White House on Wednesday defended the invitation sent by first lady Michelle Obama to rapper and actor Common to attend a poetry event amid backlash over some of his lyrics that critics say promote violence.
Common, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., is not considered a gangsta rapper, but some of his songs and poems feature violent imagery.
In one poem, he called for the metaphorical burning of President George W. Bush -- a "burning Bush." And in a song, he praised convicted cop-killer and former Black Panther Assata Shakur.
"While the president doesn't support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, we do think some of the reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for more broadly in order to stoke controversy," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
"He is within the genre of hip hop and rap in what's known as a conscious rapper," he said, adding that President Obama appreciates the way Common tries to get children to focus on poetry, "as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the street."
Carney cited a Fox News report from last October that described Common as a "rap legend" whose "music is very positive."
Carney added that he did not know whether the White House vetted the poetry to be recited at the reading Wednesday night.
"The fact is, Mr. Lynn has participated in other events in the past, including lighting the Christmas tree. I believe he's a multi-Grammy award-winning artist and he's been invited to this event about poetry," Carney said.
Some conservatives have howled in protest over Common's invite.
"Oh lovely, White House," Sarah Palin said sarcastically in a tweet.
COMMENT: Or, as they said several generations ago, Mussolini made the trains run on time, and Hitler had a great social security system. Nice roads, too.
Some in this society are forever trying to clean up the reputations of people who've done some very bad things simply because they've done some good things as well. How about putting the emphasis on people who only do good things.
I think it's hilarious that Mr. Obama is quoted as saying he doesn't support all of this chap's lyrics. Oh goody. Try to tell that to the kids who listen to them.
May 11, 2011 Permalink
DEMS GO BERSERK, BUT MISS THE ASTERISK – AT 10:01 A.M. ET: There is hysteria, glee and chest thumping this morning among Democrats over a new poll that shows Barack Obama almost in a position to be elected king, or at least prince:
President Barack Obama's approval rating has hit its highest point in two years — 60 percent — and more than half of Americans now say he deserves to be re-elected, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll taken after U.S. forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
In worrisome signs for Republicans, the president's standing improved not just on foreign policy but also on the economy, and independent Americans — a key voting bloc in the November 2012 presidential election — caused the overall uptick in support by sliding back to Obama after fleeing for much of the past two years.
Comfortable majorities of the public now call Obama a strong leader who will keep America safe. Nearly three-fourths — 73 percent — also now say they are confident that Obama can effectively handle terrorist threats. And he improved his standing on Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States' relationships with other countries.
Despite a sluggish recovery from the Great Recession, 52 percent of Americans now approve of Obama's stewardship of the economy, giving him his best rating on that issue since the early days of his presidency; 52 percent also now like how he's handling the nation's stubbornly high 9 percent unemployment.
The economy remains Americans' top issue.
COMMENT: In the immortal words of that distinguished philosopher, George Gobel, wait a gosh-darned second. You have to dig down to the last paragraph of this giddy story to find the very big asterisk, and here it is:
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted May 5-9 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Are we serious here? A poll among "adults" is the least accurate, and the one most likely to oversample Democrats. These aren't even registered voters. And they're certainly not likely voters. Maybe they're not even citizens, or even adults. I'd love to know how many 16-year-olds answer their cellphone and think it's cool to say, "Hey, man, yeah, I'm an adult dude."
If I had a desk at Democratic National Headquarters, I'd stay calm and not break out the champagne, or goat's milk, or whatever they drink. Good polls are taken among likely voters, and they're showing a more modest bin Laden bounce for the president.
May 11, 2011 Permalink
THERE THEY GO AGAIN – AT 9:05 A.M. ET: The Democrats in the Senate have come up with a budget plan. Guess what it contains? Take a good guess. From The Weekly Standard:
Senate Democrats finally have a budget proposal that most of the caucus seems to be satisfied with.
According to the Hill, Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) presented a proposal to the Democratic caucus today that contains an even split of spending cuts and tax hikes.
If a "50-50" budget requires $2 trillion in tax increases over the next decade, it's likely going to take a lot more than repealing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, which, according to the White House's numbers from its FY2011 proposal, would only reduce the deficit by around $700 billion. This means tax hikes on the middle class, such as an increase in the federal gas tax as recommended by the fiscal commission, are most certainly on the table. Such a proposal could pass the Budget Committee, but would the Democratic senators seeking reelection next year vote for a budget that would necessarily raise taxes on the middle class?
Just what the nation needs. Higher gas prices. Isn't that what you were thinking this morning?
Besides, while an even split between tax increases and spending cuts might satisfy liberal Democrats in the Senate, historical evidence shows that among developed countries facing severe debt crises, those that cut more in expenditures than they raised in taxes were on average more successful in winding down their debt. And while the details of the "50-50" budget haven't been released, it's unlikely the $2 trillion in spending would address the largest spending driver of our debt--Medicare.
All these details. So much bother.
Frankly, I can't see moderate Democratic officeholders from swing states going anywhere near this plan, unless they want to spend more time with their families.
At the same time, basic math may make some tax increases necessary, as has occurred under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The Medicare cost crisis is real, and Americans are making it clear they don't want benefits reduced. That's a bad combination. I suspect Americans would be willing to accept a targeted increase in Medicare premiums if they honestly believed they were getting something for it, and if they saw real efforts to rein in Medicare costs. I think, given the politics of the country, that it will come to that.
May 11, 2011 Permalink
ANOTHER CASE FOR JUDGE JUDY – AT 8:40 A.M. ET: This bin Laden family, they show such respect for the rule of law. I'm almost moved. I wonder what the jury will say. From London's Daily Mail:
Osama Bin Laden's son has denounced the Al Qaeda leader's killing as 'criminal' and said he reserves the right to take legal action against America.
And the sad fact is that there are probably plenty of lawyers here who would take the case.
The statement apparently made by Omar Bin Laden has appeared on an Islamist website.
Omar, who is Bin Laden's fourth eldest son, claimed he and the Al Qaeda chief's other children are reserving the right to take legal action in the U.S. and internationally to 'determine the true fate of our vanished father', said the SITE Intelligence Group, an online monitoring service.
He also branded his father's burial at sea as a 'humiliation' for his family.
I think we should send him one of our grief counselors. I can understand how humiliated he is that daddy didn't get a funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue.
There was no independent confirmation of the authenticity of the letter. It was published on the website of Islamist ideologue Abu Walid al-Masri.
Several specialists on militant propaganda said the text appeared genuine.
And several members of Pakistan's parliament interrupted proceedings yesterday to hold a prayer vigil in memory of bin Laden.
We learn now that John Kerry is rushing to Pakistan to soothe relations. That should do it. A few hours with John on his yacht, and Pakistani officials should be pro-American once more. Gosh, I wish he'd run for president again.
May 11, 2011 Permalink
HEY MUAMMAR, DON'T YOU GET THE MESSAGE? – AT 8:29 A.M. ET: We wrote yesterday about the need to make clear to the Libyan leader that he will be bin Ladened if he doesn't vacate the premises immediately. Apparently, NATO has the same idea. It's also trying to head off a Libyan plot to flood Europe with refugees: From Britain's Telegraph:
Col Muammar Gaddafi and his armed forces have been directly targeted in a series of precision strikes in Tripoli and the key town of Misurata as concerns grow that the regime is attempting to swamp Europe with refugees.
The new phase of highly accurate attacks, shown in photographs released by the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday, was launched as an increasingly desperate refugee crisis has seen thousands from Libya flee for Europe in just a few days.
In a sign that the regime is trying to force a refugee crisis as a weapon against its Nato enemies, almost 1,900 people from Libya arrived in five boats on the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Linosa this weekend alone.
Another vessel sank – bringing the total lost to four boats.
Hundreds of bodies are now washing ashore along the Libyan coast. Some of the refugees said they were forced on to the boats by Libyan troops and police, the International Organisation for Migration reported. Others were given free passage, in contrast to the normal practice where migrants are charged fortunes for the crossing...
...Early on Tuesday, Nato forces carried out some of their heaviest strikes on the capital, Tripoli, for weeks, attacking targets said to include part of Col Gaddafi's leadership compound.
And this is intriguing:
There was speculation last night that Col Gaddafi had been killed in Nato bombings of his compound, although the Foreign Office said it had received no reports that he was dead.
The Libyan leader has not been seen in public since the air strike 10 days ago in which his son, Saif al-Arab, was killed. He did not attend the funeral. Libya’s prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, has denied that Col Gaddafi was hit in the raid and said that he is in mourning for his son.
I could understand Gaddafi not attending the funeral. He could easily have been targeted at a known location. But I wonder how long it will take him to realize that his days are numbered unless he gets out of power. If he goes, you can be sure Barack Obama will take the credit for it.
May 11, 2011 Permalink
MAY 10, 2011
RUDY STARTS TO MAKE HIS MOVE – AT 11:01 P.M. ET: We've been writing about terror today, and if America has a "Mr. Anti-Terror," it's Rudy Giuliani. It's both his credit and his curse.
Rudy has been acting more like a presidential candidate recently. We've expressed our doubts about a possible second run by the former New York mayor and hero of 9-11, citing his poor showing in the 2008 GOP primaries, and the fact that 9-11 is now ten years past. But national security is Rudy's credential, and he's playing the terror card. From The Politico:
Rudy Giuliani warned that the major party national conventions are obvious terrorist targets during a stop in Charlotte on Tuesday.
The former New York mayor, who's contemplating another presidential run in 2012 and who has made national security a focus of his speeches for years, made the remarks as he spoke to a police foundation luncheon in the city that will host the Democratic National Convention next year.
According to WSCOTV.com, Giuliani said, "You want everyone to leave your city enjoying it, because the benefit to your city is people wanting to come back."
But he also raised the specter of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, and the logistical and security factors involved, given that the city had endured the 9/11 terror attacks just three years earlier.
"The conventions will always be targets," he said. "They always are. Not only because of the presence of the president and presidential candidates, but the presence of so many significant people. It's just a place for terrorists and would-be terrorists to make a statement."
COMMENT: There is a certain grim reality here. Candidates often rise because they meet certain needs. Right now, I don't think the country believes it needs a Rudy. But if we are attacked severely between now and the 2012 conventions, Rudy's stock will rise dramatically. That's simply the way it goes. Whether that, and national fear, will be enough to drive him to the nomination is impossible to predict.
One of Rudy's problems, as former New York Mayor Ed Koch once said, is that he's seen as a cop, and not much more than that. Cops are wonderful, but you don't elect them to solve an economic crisis. So I think Rudy's national future is entirely dependent on whether Americans feel they need a supercop as president. In Giuliani they'd have the best, but I hope it never comes to that.
May 10, 2011 Permalink
MORE SERIOUS THAN WE THOUGHT – AT 10:29 P.M. ET: As we reported earlier, there were a number of "scare" incidents in the United States yesterday, reflecting our nervousness over possible retaliation for our providing rest to Osama bin Laden. But one incident may be more serious than we'd thought. From AP:
SAN FRANCISCO – A Yemen native who disrupted a San Francisco-bound flight was portrayed by prosecutors Tuesday as a dangerous and erratic passenger who tried to barge into the cockpit twice, did not carry any luggage and yelled "God is great" in Arabic.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elise Becker said Rageh Al-Murisi, 28, was carrying several valid and expired forms of identification from New York and California, $47 in cash and two postdated checks totaling $13,000 in his wallet. One check was made out to himself, she said, but did not specify where the other was from.
She also said he didn't tell his relatives in California that he was traveling there.
Al-Murisi faces one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants as pilots on American Airlines Flight 1561 were preparing to land in San Francisco on Sunday, one week after the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of the U.S. military that has raised fears of a possible retaliation.
"He attempted to enter the cockpit right before a critical part of the flight," Becker said in prosecution arguments to withhold bail for Al-Murisi.
The "God is great" stuff really spooks us. God is indeed great, but not in the way that this chap thinks.
Becker said that the same Arabic phrase was uttered by the hijackers of Flight 93 as they took over the plane that eventually went down in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001, and by a Nigerian man who allegedly tried to detonate explosives in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas 2009.
Yeah. It's not the kind of thing you shout to motivate, say, a tennis player. It's a serious kind of shout.
I suspect we'll be hearing more about this case. Expect some kind of mental plea.
May 10, 2011 Permalink
IT'S COME TO THIS – AT 10:23 A.M. ET: Our deteriorating relationship with Pakistan apparently played into planning for the bin Laden raid, according to this report in London's Telegraph:
President Barack Obama ordered the team sent to raid Osama bin Laden's compound be large enough to fight off Pakistani forces should they intervene, according to reports.
Mr Obama raised the prospect of a clash 10 days before the May 1 raid, resulting in an extra two fighter helicopters being sent to protect the commandos raiding the compound, according to officials.
"Some people may have assumed we could talk our way out of a jam, but given our difficult relationship with Pakistan right now, the president did not want to leave anything to chance," an official told The New York Times. "He wanted extra forces if they were necessary."
The Times also reported that two teams of specialists were on standby for the mission: one to bury the al-Qaeda leader if he were killed, and another made up of lawyers, interrogators and translators in case he was captured.
It said the latter team was likely aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.
Bin Laden was buried at sea after he was shot dead in the raid, officials have said.
COMMENT: The slide in our relations with Pakistan has accelerated since the raid. Yesterday the Pakistani prime minister threatened military action against American forces if we try that kind of raid again, without seeking Pakistani permission. I suspect that this threat was mostly for internal consumption, but the fact is that there are very hostile elements within Pakistan. It is inconceivable that someone didn't know that bin Laden was living a few blocks from Pakistan's West Point.
Our problems with Pakistan are a reflection of our problems throughout much of the Muslim world. Given the alarming slippage in Egypt since the revolution there only months ago, and the growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood, those problems don't seem to be getting any better.
May 10, 2011 Permalink
DIDN'T WE FIGHT A CIVIL WAR OVER THIS? – AT 9:28 A.M. ET: What I find so adorable about some liberals is their delightfully apartheid attitude toward the rest of us. Don't feel inferior when you read this:
TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - A long-simmering movement by liberal stalwarts in southern Arizona to break away from the rest of the largely conservative state is at a boiling point as secession backers press to bring their longshot ambition to the forefront of Arizona politics.
A group of lawyers from the Democratic stronghold of Tucson and surrounding Pima County have launched a petition drive seeking support for a November 2012 ballot question on whether the 48th state should be divided in two.
The ultimate goal of the newly formed political action committee Start our State is to split Pima County off into what would become the nation's 51st state, tentatively dubbed Baja Arizona.
Backers have until July 5 next year to collect the 48,000 signatures required to qualify for a spot on the ballot. If they succeed, it would mark only the first hurdle in a long, circuitous process that even the most determined of supporters readily acknowledge has little chance of bearing fruit.
"We at least need to get it on the ballot, as a nonbinding resolution, to ask the people of Pima County if they want to be a part of Arizona," Tucson attorney Paul Eckerstrom, a former Pima County Democratic chairman who launched the campaign, told Reuters. "All the stars would have to align for this to happen, but it could conceivably happen by the fall of 2013."
COMMENT: You know, wouldn't it be great if we had a national referendum on this, and decided to let them go? What would they do then? They're like adolescents who run away from home with five dollars in their pocket.
Incredible, that in this day and age, people still talk about secession. Maybe if they had some better arguments, they could win some elections in the real Arizona.
May 10, 2011 Permalink
SNIPPET OF THE DAY – AT 9:15 A.M. ET:
From the New York Post: LOS ANGELES — Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, announced that they are separating.
Well, let's see: Former governor, former movie star. As the Post says, "Hasta la vista, baby."
May 10, 2011 Permalink
NO BETTER THAN BIN LADEN – AT 8:24 A.M. ET: That's a fair description of Muammar Qaddafi, who remains in power, even as NATO air strikes continue, with no apparent end in sight to the conflict. From Fox:
NATO warplanes struck Tripoli early Tuesday in the heaviest bombing of the Libyan capital in weeks, hours after an uptick in fighting between rebels and Muammar Qaddafi's forces on a long deadlocked front line in the country's east.
NATO struck at least four sites in Tripoli, setting off crackling explosions that thundered through the city overnight. One strike hit a building that local residents said was used by a military intelligence agency. Another targeted a government building that officials said was sometimes used by parliament members.
It was not immediately clear what the other two strikes hit, but one of them sent plumes of smoke over Tripoli. Libyan officials would not say what that strike hit but the smoke appeared to come from the sprawling compound housing members of Qaddafi's family.
Between explosions, an aircraft dropped burning flares. Some residents responded by raking the sky with gunfire and beeping their horns.
The Tripoli bombing came just hours after heavy fighting was reported Monday on the eastern front, south of Ajdabiya, a rebel-held town about 90 miles (150 kilometers) south of Benghazi, the rebel headquarters in the east.
COMMENT: Look, this isn't going anywhere. Obama spoke brave words about getting Qaddafi out of power, then never followed up.
It's known that Qaddafi follows American military action closely, with an eye to self-preservation. It was just after the U.S. captured Saddam Hussein that Libya suddenly gave up its nuclear program, the better to avoid American action that might bring down the house of Qaddafi.
I would hope that the U.S. and its allies would now use the killing of bin Laden as a weapon against the Libyan leader. The message would be clear: "Look, Muammar, you saw what happened to your pal Osama. He got in our way, he sleeps with the fishes. Now, we know where you are, Muammar. You could wind up like Osama, or you could get out of Libya and maybe face some legal charges. But at least you'll have your life and three squares a day. We've got a planeload of missiles pointed at your bedroom, Muammar. So what do you say?"
Given Qaddafi's history, I'll bet he takes the first jetliner out. I hope we do it.
May 10, 2011 Permalink
JITTERY NATION – AT 8:02 A..M. ET: A number of stories that normally wouldn't see print made it into news media yesterday because the country is jittery, fearful of an Al Qaeda retaliation for the forced retirement of Osama bin Laden. From The New York Daily News:
Fears that Osama Bin Laden's followers want payback for his execution fueled a nationwide wave of jitters - causing evacuations, a flight diversion and higher blood pressure.
Part of Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx and a nearby apartment building were evacuated early Monday after the discovery of a parked 1998 Dodge Caravan running for hours with 24 pipelike devices inside.
Police used a robot to blow out the vehicle's windows before giving the allclear just before 1 a.m.
Investigators determined that the pipes were harmless foam tubes used to protect glass. The Caravan's driver, a windshield installer, had abandoned his vehicle to deal with a severe asthma attack and left the tubes behind.
Late Sunday, a Yemeni man who had lived in New York was tackled by passengers on an American Airlines flight to California when he began pounding on the cockpit door about 30 minutes before landing.
The man, Rageh Almurisi, 28, may have thought it was a rest room. "He's not a terrorist, trust me," said his cousin Rageh Almoraissi, 29, who owns a store in Vallejo, Calif. "You don't knock on a door as a terrorist act. I think it was just a misunderstanding," he added, saying that his cousin has a math degree and loves America.
COMMENT: We have no objection to the country being on heightened alert, and "if you see something, say something" is a perfectly logical slogan. These stories will fade away in a few days, leaving us with a simple reality: Al Qaeda is a suicide organization that uses kamikaze tactics. The only answer to a suicide attack is detection and prevention. Once the plan is in motion, it's almost impossible to stop. That is our nightmare.
May 10, 2011 Permalink