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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APRIL 17,  2012


MONEY WORRIES – Output of U.S. factories was down in March, as were housing starts, flashing a yellow light to those who examine the American economy.  It appears that the "recovery," always somewhat vague, is losing strength.  We'll get further data as new jobs reports come out in the weeks ahead.

IS CHRISTIE INTERESTED? – Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey still insists he doesn't want to be vice president, but also says it would be "arrogant" of him not to consider a discussion about it with Mitt Romney.  Translated:  "Yeah, you know, hey, I can be persuaded.  I mean, it's my country.  Besides, who wants to live in New Jersey?"  It remains to be seen if Romney would want the pugnacious Christie on the ticket.

UN NOT GOING TO NORTH KOREA – The UN nuclear watchdog agency says it will not send a delegation to North Korea, since the North Koreans have said they are no longer bound by an agreement to suspend missile and nuclear tests.  The "international community" has failed miserably in its attempts to "engage" North Korea.   The North has broken one agreement after another.  The Obama administration doesn't seem all that concerned.

POLL MESS – There are some new polls out pitting Romney against Obama, but they're all over the place.  Most place Obama ahead, some by as much as nine points.  A few, like Gallup, have Romney ahead, but usually only by a small number of points.  A CNN poll reported that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe Obama will be re-elected, regardless of their own choice for president.  Polls at this stage are of little significance, outside their entertainment value.  Ronald Reagan trailed Jimmy Carter through most of the 1980 campaign.  And, at one point in 1988, Michael Dukakis was well ahead of Bush 41, who went on to defeat Dukakis handily.

April 17, 2012       Permalink 

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WIPEOUT – AT 9:48 A.M. ET:  One of the saddest spectacles in American politics over the last generation has been the transition of the Democratic Party from the once great seat of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy to the shadow that it is today.

Essentially, the transition has seen the return of the fringe left, dramatically cast aside by Harry Truman in 1948, and the decline of the "traditional" Democrats, like Joe Lieberman, who's essentially been expelled from his party.  The Democratic Party today is Barack Obama, not Jack Kennedy.  It's John Kerry, not the great Henry "Scoop" Jackson, one of the great national-defense Democrats.

The traditional party is represented in Congress by the so-called "blue dog" Democrats.  They are the only hope for the party to get back to sanity and sound values.  But the blue dogs are in danger of being wiped out, as The Politico reports:

Just when the Blue Dogs thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

Two years after the 2010 midterm elections decimated their ranks, the coalition of conservative Democrats is poised to get pummeled again in November — moving the Blue Dogs dangerously close to extinction.

Of the 24 remaining Blue Dogs, five are not seeking reelection. More than a half-dozen others are facing treacherous contests in which their reelection hopes are in jeopardy.

It’s a rough time to occupy the right wing of the Democratic Party.

“It’s a tough environment out there,” said former Alabama Rep. Bud Cramer, a longtime member of the House Blue Dog Coalition. “Their numbers are down. Redistricting has not been kind to them.”

Cramer nailed it: Redistricting is at the root of the Blue Dog problem. The once-in-a-decade line-drawing has forced some of them to compete for seats that have become even less friendly to Democrats — and those seats weren’t very friendly to begin with. Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, Georgia Rep. John Barrow and North Carolina Rep. Mike McIntyre are among those who have been thrust into deeply Republican territory after being targeted in GOP-led redistricting efforts in their home states.

COMMENT:  It's sad, because our electoral system depends on two strong parties.  I have always said that I want both parties to put up their best candidates.  Who benefits from mediocrity or rigidity?  In recent years, though, each party has become increasingly ideological, whereas, historically, the strength of our system derived in part from a belief in practicality.  The country would tilt somewhat to the left, then somewhat to the right, always capable of getting back to the middle.  We are center left or center right.

Franklin Roosevelt took some ideas from the socialist movement, but never invited its leaders into his tent.

Ronald Reagan took some ideas from the pro-life movement, but kept a careful distance.

The wiping out of the blue dogs would turn the Democratic Party completely over to the California dreamin' crowd, the believers in George McGovern and Jesse Jackson, the worshippers of sixties values.  The Republicans, although they've moved somewhat to the right, still have a greater sense of American practicality, in part because conservatism tends toward the practical.

But we are in danger if our parties become, like European parties, ideological icebergs.  We wish the blue dogs well.

April 17, 2012       Permalink

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SCARE OF THE DAY – AT 8:59 A.M. ET:   This could ruin even a serving of Edy's chocolate chip ice cream.  From the new Washington Free Beacon:

A CNN pundit who has advocated nuclear containment of Iran and expressed antipathy towards American democracy is said to be on the short list for a top diplomatic post in a second Obama administration—perhaps even secretary of State. That is raising red flags across Capitol Hill and within foreign policy circles.

Fareed Zakaria hosts CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” a weekly program focusing on international issues and American foreign policy. Zakaria is also an editor-at-large for Time magazine and a columnist for the Washington Post, where he regularly praises the president’s policies.

We are talking about a genuine, factory-made left-wing third worlder.  Lifetime guarantee.

“Every column he’s written in the Washington Post for the last two years has been a job application,” said one longtime Washington foreign policy insider who requested anonymity. “He’s just climbing the greasy pole.”


With Zakaria at the helm, things could get “incredibly dangerous” at Foggy Bottom, where the State Department is headquartered, said a senior GOP Senate aide.

“The policy of Barack Obama is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Fareed Zakaria is now to the left of Barack Obama on Iran. There’s no way someone like that is qualified to be Secretary of State,” said the source.

Iran is one of Zakaria’s main areas of interest. Week after week on his television show and in his columns, he dismisses the international community’s fears about Iran, arguing that the regime is rational and that its nuclear program can be effortlessly contained.


America’s system of check and balances, Zakaria maintained, creates political paralysis, damaging the country’s ability to be a world leader.

Zakaria’s remedy: unite the legislature and the executive branch under a single leader who could resolve America’s fiscal issues with unilateral declarations.

Oh, how European.  How...dictatorial.  At least he's open about it.

Zakaria will polish his theoretical credentials next month when he becomes commencement speaker at Harvard.  All Harvard commencement speakers should be banned from high positions of responsibility, except maybe minimal daytime babysitting under the supervision of a mature person.

April 17, 2012       Permalink

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IS THE TRUTH COMING OUT? – AT 8:52 A.M. ET:   We make no judgments, but a new story from Reuters adds to the increasing skepticism about the second-degree murder charge against George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case:

(Reuters) - Neighbors of George Zimmerman say he had bandages on his nose and head the day after he shot dead Trayvon Martin, supporting statements by the neighborhood watch volunteer that he was beaten in a confrontation with the black Florida teenager.

The extent of Zimmerman's injuries could be crucial to his legal defense under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law, which allows the use of deadly force when someone has the reasonable belief he could face death or great bodily harm.

Police said Zimmerman, who has been charged with second-degree murder in the racially charged case, was bleeding from the nose and the back of his head and was treated by medics before being taken to Sanford police station after the February 26 shooting.

But public doubts were later raised by the release of a grainy surveillance video from the police station in which no injuries were readily visible.

Zimmerman later sought medical treatment for injuries including a broken nose, his former lawyers have said.

Jorge Rodriguez, Zimmerman's next-door neighbor, told Reuters that when he saw Zimmerman the day after the incident, "he had two big, butterfly bandages on the back of his head, and another big bandage...on the bridge of his nose." He was talking to a police detective in his driveway.

COMMENT:  Zimmerman now has solid legal representation, but there is still an intimidating atmosphere surrounding the case.  The governor Florida has said that the second-degree murder charge, which many legal observers say is way over the top, was not issued in response to public outrage, but doubts are increasing. 

We'll let the legal process take its course.  This case can effect the presidential race should it boil over in the months prior to the election.

April 17,  2012       Permalink

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MASS CONFUSION – AT 8:41 A.M. ET:  Major literary honors are in store for anyone who can write a coherent essay explaining this story, from USA Today:

WASHINGTON (AP) – While the United States baked to its hottest March by far, the rest of the world took a break last month from ever increasing temperatures.

Baked?  Did you see any baking going on?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the world as a whole had its coolest March since 1999. It was only the 16th warmest March since record keeping began in 1880. Still, the month was 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average.

NOAA's Deke Arndt said though it was cooler than recent years, last month globally was warmer than the vast majority of Marches in the 20th century.

Arndt said the fading climate phenomenon La Niña has had a cooling effect globally.

So, it was cool before it was warm, or warm before it was cool?

Maybe the explanation is a bit more serious.  The New York Times reports what many science observers have been saying...that some aspects of "science" are in serious trouble:

Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct.

“This is a tremendous threat,” he said.

Last month, in a pair of editorials in Infection and Immunity, the two editors issued a plea for fundamental reforms. They also presented their concerns at the March 27 meeting of the National Academies of Sciences committee on science, technology and the law.

Members of the committee agreed with their assessment. “I think this is really coming to a head,” said Dr. Roberta B. Ness, dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health. And Dr. David Korn of Harvard Medical School agreed that “there are problems all through the system.”

Now they tell us.

In his famous farewell address to the nation in 1961, President Eisenhower warned about the effect of federal funds on scientific results, raising the issue of whether some in science will shape results to fit the funding.  And, of course, the gravest questions have been raised about the global warming industry. 

Maybe we need a blue-ribbon panel, like the Challenger Commission, which investigated the loss of the space shuttle Challenger, to report on the state of science.  Indeed, a "state of science" report, like the State of the Union message, may make sense.

April 17, 2012        Permalink

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APRIL 16,  2012


SIGN OF THE TIMES – A group of Islamic supervisors assigned to Egyptian public broadcasting will be in charge of removing "immoral" film footage in the network's archives.  Already banned are scenes involving hugging, kissing, and belly dancing.  The move is viewed by observers of Egyptian politics as indicative of the new power that Islamists have in the most important Arab country.  All the hope brought about by the "Arab spring" seems to have faded.

A TIGHT RACE – Two new polls show a tight presidential race, with Mitt Romney having a very good chance of winning.  A Reuters/Ipsos poll has Obama ahead by four points, 47-43%; this compares with Obama's 11-point lead in the same poll a month ago.   Gallup actually has Romney ahead, 47-45%.  Both polls were taken among registered voters.  Polls of "likely" voters almost always show a higher Republican number.

U.S. STILL CONTROLS WORLD BANK – Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim was elected president of the World Bank today.  There was a unique challenge to the tradition of an American holding the seat, mounted by Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was supported by Brazil and South Africa.  She lost, but we can expect more challenges in the future.

U.S. GROWN-UPS FAVOR STRICTER ACTION AGAINST IRAN – Some American lawmakers, unimpressed (for good reason) with the opening round of new negotiations with Iran, are pressing for increased sanctions.  Led by Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, now recovering from a stroke, the group warns that diplomatic dialogue is no substitute for solid Iranian compliance with international demands regarding Tehran's nuclear program.  There is fear in Congress that Iran will use the current talks to stall for time, allowing further progress toward a nuclear weapon.

April 16, 2012       Permalink

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ROMNEY'S GREATEST ASSET – AT 10:15 A.M. ET:  That's his wife, Ann.  She handles things so well, and has a winning style.  She also knows how to fight back graciously.  From The Hill:

Ann Romney, the wife of GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, told supporters at a private fundraising event on Sunday that last week’s Hilary Rosen controversy was an “early birthday present.”

“It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother,” she said. “That was a really defining moment, and I loved it.”

Ann Romney turns 63 on Monday...

...Last week, HilaryRosen, a Democratic strategist, told CNN that Romney had “never worked a day in her life.” After initially defending her remarks, she issued an apology.

COMMENT:  A potential first lady can't elect a president, but can be an asset, or a deficit.  Most are neutrals.  Hillary Clinton was widely considered a deficit to Bill Clinton in 1992, especially after she made a disparaging remark about homemakers.  (Shades of Hilary Rosen.)  But she has run a successful, for her, independent career. 

Laura Bush was an asset to Bush 43, but not an influential factor.  Michelle Obama was, at first, an asset to Barack, but her lavish vacations have hurt her.  For some reason, she seems to be less "present" than she used to be.  Polls show that she is still more popular than the president.

The two most "public" first ladies of reasonably recent vintage were Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy.  Although Eleanor could be annoying, she was considered by many observers of the time to be a tremendous asset to FDR, who was confined to a wheelchair.  She was his eyes and ears, and, especially during the Depression, she had the common touch that endeared her to struggling Americans.  During the war, she spent much time with troops, even venturing overseas, and they appreciated it.  Her sons were in the service, which gave her a special connection with the millions of American mothers whose sons (and daughters) also served.  Later, following her husband's death, she helped save the Democratic Party, at least temporarily, from the vociferous left. 

Jacqueline Kennedy was more problematical.  She added glamour and class to the White House, and she became a style icon.  But her little-girl voice hurt her, as did a stunning lack of familiarity with major issues.  Her later marriage, after President Kennedy's assassination, to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, tarnished her image. 

What kind of first lady would Ann Romney be?  I think she'd be terrific.  Political reporters note that, at Romney rallies, she's the star, even though her husband is the candidate. 

April 16, 2012       Permalink

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NOT DOING THE JOB – AT 9:48 A.M. ET:  This is something we should think more about...the sheer level of nonproductivity in Washington, especially in Congress.  From the Washington Examiner:

For those who need proof that the Senate was a do-nothing chamber in 2011 beyond the constant partisan bickering and failure to pass a federal budget, there is now hard evidence that it was among the laziest in 20 years.

In her latest report, Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson revealed a slew of data that put the first session of the 112th Senate at the bottom of Senates since 1992 in legislative productivity, an especially damning finding considering that it wasn’t an election year when congressional action is usually lower.

For example, while the Democratically-controlled Senate was in session for 170 days, it spent an average of just 6.5 hours in session on those days, the second lowest since 1992. Only 2008 logged a lower average of 5.4 hours a day, and that’s when action was put off because several senators were running for president, among them Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain.

On the passage of public laws, arguably its most important job, the Senate notched just 90, the second lowest in 20 years, and it passed a total of 402 measures, also the second lowest. And as the president has been complaining about, the chamber confirmed a 20-year low of 19,815 judicial and other nominations.

The Secretary of the Senate’s office didn’t comment on the statistics, but it did provide a comparison to action in 2009, the first term of the 111th Senate, when many of President Obama’s initiatives were considered by the Democratically-controlled House and Senate. By comparison the number of Senate bills offered last year was down 30 percent, the number of amendments offered sank 55 percent, and the number of roll call votes dropped 40 percent.

COMMENT:  What do we pay these chaps for?  Congress already ranks low in public esteem.  You'd think the members would want to do something about it.

One problem is that we have too many members holding safe seats.   Some members of the House have jobs for life because of the way their districts are drawn. So do some senators because of their states’ political tilt.  I normally have opposed term limits, believing elections are the best term-limiting devices of all.  But the work of Congress has become so sluggish, and unimaginative, that perhaps some kind of term limits might be useful.  Also, why not tie the work of Congress to financial incentives?  Salarlies, and staff size, could be linked to a productivity formula, just as Social Security increases are linked to the cost of living.  I'd like to hear from readers on this.

April 16,  2012      Permalink

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I'M SHOCKED, SHOCKED, AT THIS PERFIDY – AT 8:59 A.M. ET:  Apparently, Iranian officials were present to observe last week's launch of a North Korean rocket, just as smiling Iranian diplomats were sitting down with other nations in Turkey to negotiate over Iran's nuclear program.

There have been credible, widespread reports that Iran depends on North Korea for some missile and nuclear technology.  North Korea already has the bomb.  From the Jerusalem Post:

A dozen Iranian officials traveled to North Korea to observe the country's rocket launch, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Monday, quoting a diplomatic source.

The much hyped long-range rocket launch ended in failure on Friday. According to US and South Korean officials the rocket crashed into the sea a few minutes after send-off. Pyongyang had defied international pressure from the United States, the United Nations and others to push ahead with the launch timed to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, the deceased founder of the state, and to coincide with the ascent to power of his grandson Kim Jong-un.

The diplomatic source told Yonhap that the Iranians from the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG) arrived in North Korea a couple of weeks earlier, "undoubtedly there to observe the missile launch and receive test data," from the country...

...According to the news agency, South Korean government officials did not confirm or deny the claims.

COMMENT:  And the Iranian foreign minister said on Monday that his country was ready to resolve all nuclear issues.  He then threw in the clunker:

"If the West wants to take confidence-building measures it should start in the field of sanctions because this action can speed up the process of negotiations reaching results," Salehi was quoted as saying.

Why do I think the Iranians will actually do little, while we'll be expected to relax sanctions, giving the Iranians far more than we get?  I think it because that has been the pattern with North Korea, which engages in endless rounds of negotiations, gets "incentives" in the form of aid, then goes out and does exactly what it wishes in the way of nuclear and missile tests.

Obama wants an agreement badly.  Something to show the base before the election.  That desire may overwhelm common sense, which is why we must be wary.

April 16, 2012       Permalink 

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UNDER THE BUS – AT 8:33 A.M. ET:  We take seriously reports of foul behavior by Secret Service agents accompanying the president to Colombia.

No one does law enforcement, or the military, any favors when misbehavior is treated lightly.  At the same time, I thought President Obama's statement on the possible scandal was, as he often is, lacking in graciousness and good judgment.  From the Washington Times:

President Obama said Sunday that he would be “angry” if accusations prove true that his Secret Service agents hired prostitutes, while congressional Republicans called for investigations of the scandal that exploded over the weekend and overshadowed the president’s three-day Summit of the Americas trip to Colombia.

In a news conference in Cartagena before he departed, Mr. Obama said the charges, if true, would dishonor both the U.S. and the agency charged with his protection.

“If it turns out some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then, of course, I’ll be angry,” Mr. Obama said in his first public comments on the incident.

“We represent the United States,” the president said. “When we travel to another country, I expect them to observe the highest standards because we’re not just representing ourselves. We’re here on behalf of our people. … Obviously, what’s been reported does not match up with those standards.”

COMMENT:  What the president said was entirely true, but incomplete.   He should have noted that these agents are pledged to take a bullet for him, are always in danger of losing their lives while protecting the president, and that charges of impropriety are rare.  He might have noted that a Secret Service agent was indeed shot in the attempt on President Reagan's life in 1981, and that he is grateful for the dedication of those who protect him. 

He might have also stressed that the charges are as yet unproved, and may not apply to all of the agents sent home.  There would have been no problem in his ending with the statements made in the quotes above.  But his reaction required some humanity on his part, the presumption of innocence, and a demonstration of his understanding of the good work done by the Secret Service regularly.  Obama is a cold man, and he's shown it once again.

April 16,  2012     Permalink

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"What you see is news.  What you know is background.  What you feel is opinion."
    - Lester Markel, late Sunday editor
      of The New York Times.


"Councils of war breed timidity and defeatism."
    - Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, to his
      son, Douglas.


"Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred. "
        - Jacques Barzun



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