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JANUARY 14,  2012

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 7:24 P.M. ET:

NEW POLL SHOWS ROMNEY WAY UP IN CAROLINA – Contradicting earlier reports of a Gingrich surge in South Carolina, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Romney up by 21 points.  He stands at 37%, with Paul and Santorum tied for second place at 16% each.  Gingrich is third with 12%.  We should point out that other polls show the race closing, with Gingrich in second place and almost tied with Romney.  However, some political observers believe there is a backlash against Gingrich's attacks on Romney, and that may be what we're seeing in this latest poll.  I'd take all state polls with the well-known grain of salt.

CONSERVATIVE LEADERS BACK SANTORUM – A group of conservative and evangelical leaders meeting in Texas decided to back Rick Santorum for president, hoping to get other conservatives to rally 'round Rick, and avoid splitting the anti-Romney vote in the Republican primaries.  It is impossible to predict what the endorsement of the 150 leaders will mean, but thus far Republican voters seem to be looking for the most electable candidate.  Social issues have played a surprisingly limited role in the campaign. 

EDWARDS REPORTED ILL, TRIAL DELAYED – Former important person John Edwards, a senator, national candidate, and world-class sleazeball, is reported to have a life-threatening heart problem, and thus his trial on corruption charges has been delayed by a federal judge until late March, allowing him to have surgery.  We have no idea what the problem is, but perhaps doctors couldn't find a heart to begin with.  The Edwards case represents a major journalistic failure by the mainstream media.  It took a supermarket tabloid to reveal that the man running for president had fathered a baby out of wedlock while his wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer.  And there were no serious questions ever asked by the mainstream media about the dubious methods that some claim Edwards used to win the medical malpractice cases that made him a wealthy man.  Edward portrayed himself as a liberal, which gave him a kind of immunity.

January 14, 2012      Permalink

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QUOTE OF THE DAY – AT 11:27 A.M. ET:  From Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard, on the Republicans' apparent death wish.  We've expressed concern here regularly about how hard the Republicans work to lose elections, and Barnes sets it up very nicely:

The Republican death wish is back. It’s the habit of Republicans to do something crazy or stupid that diminishes their election prospects. Think of Watergate in the 1970s. In the 2006 midterm elections, the disclosure of Florida congressman Mark Foley’s flirtation with Capitol pages turned a defeat into a landslide loss. A few unelectable candidates denied Republicans a shot at winning the Senate in 2010.

Here we go again. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, with their attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, have gone far toward poisoning the well for Republicans this year—and not only in the contest against President Obama. The endless TV debates have trivialized the race for the Republican nomination. And maladroit moves by congressional Republicans have let Obama pose as a born-again tax cutter.

The result is that Republicans are less well off in 2012 than they would otherwise be. Maybe they’ll recover. Perhaps Obama’s subpar performance in the White House is so palpable that nothing could override it as the dominant factor in the politics of 2012.

But for now, Republicans have reason to worry. Thanks to Gingrich and company, Democrats have been handed a gift that’s likely to keep on giving all year. Their attacks on Romney as a ruthless, uncaring businessman play into Obama’s reelection theme that the rich are the source of America’s economic trouble. Perry calls Romney a “vulture capitalist,” a tag certain to stick in the minds of voters.

COMMENT:   Read the whole piece.  Barnes doesn't let Romney off the hook, noting that he's not presented a single major idea for moving the country forward, but simply presents himself as the solution.  Barnes warns that the attacks on Romney, though, could damage the entire Republican brand – portraying the party as a heartless bunch of numbers crunchers.  It has worked before, and some Republicans seem determined to make it work again. 

January 14, 2012       Permalink

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ELEVEN STATES, D.C., BACK OBAMA ON HEALTH CARE – AT 11:02 A.M. ET:  This will probably be the Supreme Court's most important decision in this term, whether to declare Obamacare unconstitutional.  The powers are lining up.  From the Washington Times:

Eleven states and the District of Columbia are siding with the Obama administration in the legal battle over the constitutionality of the new health care law, as more than half the states prepare to challenge the law before the Supreme Court.

Attorneys general in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on Friday supporting Congress‘ authority to pass the sweeping legislation, arguing that health care is a national concern because the industry constitutes nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy.

“There can be no serious contention that existing defects in the country’s markets for health care and health insurance—markets that accounted for 17.6% of the entire national economy in 2009—are somehow local in origin, in scope, or in effect,” the brief said.

The attorneys general rejected a central argument made by the 26 states challenging the law — that Congress overstepped its authority by passing an “individual mandate” requiring Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a fine.

Instead, they emphasized a key argument made by the administration: that because Americans are legally entitled to health care — and everyone needs health care at some point in their life — Congress can mandate coverage to ensure others don’t have to pay for it.

COMMENT:  I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV, but I think the argument by the 11 is somewhat weak.  If the government can require us to buy health insurance, what else can it require us to buy?

Also, this is a tax, simply presented differently.  The difference is that we can vote in and out of office those who would raise a tax in the future.  Once we're required to buy health insurance, we're at the mercy of insurers who can't be sent out of office and who can collude in setting rates.

January 14,  2012     Permalink

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IRAN BLAMES US, UK, FOR ATTACK ON SCIENTIST – AT 10:29 A.M. ET:  This is rather odd.  Iran, after initially blaming the Israelis, now says the US and UK were behind the recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist.  From AP:

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran said Saturday it has evidence that the United States was behind the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist this week in Tehran, state media reported.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was killed in a brazen daylight assassination Wednesday when two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car in the Iranian capital. The killing bore a strong resemblance to earlier killings of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear program, and has prompted calls in Iran for retaliation against those deemed responsible.

The IRNA state news agency said Saturday that Iran's Foreign Ministry has sent a diplomatic letter to the U.S. saying that it has "evidence and reliable information" that the CIA provided "guidance, support and planning" to assassins "directly involved" in Roshan's killing.

The U.S. has denied any role in the assassination.

Iran delivered the letter to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which looks after U.S. interests in the country. Iran and the U.S. have had no diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

IRNA also reported that Iran delivered a letter to Britain accusing London of having an "obvious role" in the killing. It said that a series of assassinations began after British intelligence chief John Sawers hinted in 2010 at intelligence operations against the Islamic Republic.

COMMENT:  Why would Iran shift the blame from Israel, whose involvement is more likely, to the US and Britain?  It's another provocation against the US, in particular.  The assassination of the scientist is the third act of its kind.

By the way, there's a body of thought – and we stress that this is speculation – holding that these killings aren't being done by outside powers at all.  Some sharp-eyed observers note that the murders are being done in broad daylight, often in heavy traffic...and that no one ever gets caught.  Hmm.  These observers speculate that the Iranian government is behind the assassinations.

Now, we ask, why would the Iranian government murder its own scientists?  The answer is loyalty.  The speculation holds that these scientists are suspected of disloyalty to the regime, and are therefore killed as examples to others who are thinking of jumping ship or perhaps siding with opposition groups within Iran.  There are plenty of precedents:  In the 1930s, Stalin murdered a number of Soviet officers over fears of disloyalty. 

But it is speculation.

January 14,  2012     Permalink

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JANUARY 13,  2012

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 10:44 P.M. ET:

GINGRICH SURGES IN SOUTH CAROLINA – Three new polls show Newt Gingrich surging against Mitt Romney.  This contradicts national polls that show Romney gaining, especially among conservatives.  The South Carolina polls also show Rick Santorum losing support.  Gingrich is vastly better financed than Santorum, and is from a neighboring state, which may explain the polling.  Gingrich is working hard to emerge from South Carolina, which votes a week from tomorrow, as the only viable conservative alternative to Romney.

IRANIAN SCARE – News reports say that Iranian speedboats came within 500 yards of American naval vessels in an apparent provocation in the Strait of Hormuz.  The Iranians broke off, but that is a close distance in the naval combat scheme of things.  The Iranian boats did not respond to radio warnings before breaking off.  One threat our navy is concerned about is swarm attacks featuring a large number of small boats attacking a ship.  It was an attack by a small boat that damaged the USS Cole, which was dockside in Yemen in 2000.

EPA TO FORCE HIGHER GAS PRICES? – Senators of both parties are warning the Environmental Protection Administration about enacting rumored rules that, the senators say, can force gasoline prices up by 25 cents a gallon.  While no new rule proposals have been published, they are expected to be released shortly.  It's no secret that some members of the Obama administration have no problem with higher gasoline prices, which, they hope, will help force Americans away from dependence on gasoline and toward newer fuels...if they exist.

MONUMENT CHANGES – The Interior Department has approved changes to an abbreviated quote from Martin Luther King Jr. on the new King monument in Washington.  The newer version more accurately reflects what King actually said.  That's fine, but no one seems to have an answer to a question that has hung over this major memorial:  Why did we allow a Chinese architect, rather than an American architect, to design it?  And why was it put together in Washington by Chinese labor, housed in a hotel, rather than American labor?  Nobody seems to want to know.

January 13,  2012     Permalink 

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POLL CONFIRMS UNPOPULARITY OF GOP IN CONGRESS – AT 9:33 A.M. ET:  A new Gallup poll confirms that President Obama remains more popular than congressional Republicans, which is one of the reasons that Obama is running against Congress.  From The Politico:

By a slim margin, Americans would rather President Barack Obama have more influence over the direction of the country than Republicans in Congress, according to a new Gallup Poll released Friday.

The survey finds that 46 percent would prefer that the president set the course of the country in the next year, while 42 percent said they would like congressional Republicans to do so.

Obama has been slightly more preferred on this question since the beginning of 2011, prior to which more Americans had thought GOP lawmakers should play the bigger role in directing the country.

COMMENT:  Republicans took control of the House in 2010, and what have they done with it?  Not much.  They botched the Social Security tax cut extension big time, giving Obama a boost in the polls. 

Democrats may not "win" the 2012 election, but Republicans are in danger of losing it, unless they can come up with creative solutions, good candidates, and a winning message.  So far, I give them a C.

January 13, 2012       Permalink

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CHRISTIE DOES SOME TRUTH TELLIN' – AT 9:14 A.M. ET:  Republican favorite and potential vice-presidential candidate, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, has done some truth tellin',  and it would be very wise for members of his party to take him seriously.  From The Politico: 

In a wide-ranging interview with Oprah Winfrey, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has kind words for President Barack Obama, calling him “charismatic,” “genuine” and “as good a politician as I’ve ever seen.”

Winfrey, who is a well-known friend of the Obama family, asked Christie what he thought of the president’s reelection chances. The New Jersey Republican responded with a raft of compliments, according to the AP, which has obtained a full transcript of the interview.

“Those who underestimate Barack Obama, underestimate him at their own peril. He’s as good a politician as I’ve ever seen,” Christie said. “I think he’s very charismatic. And I think he’s genuine. I think what he says he believes, he believes. That’s a very dangerous politician.”

Yup.  No doubt about it.  Obama's political machine is one of the best.  It will be relentless, and it doesn't accept second place.  Will Republicans understand?

And this little tidbit:

Christie also revealed to Oprah that he would be much more ready to run for president in 2016 than he was in this election cycle, noting that his “true compass” just didn’t signal that he was ready for a 2012 bid.

“Is that compass telling you that you may be ready four years from now?” Winfrey asked.

“Who knows? It depends on who wins. Is the president re-elected? Does a Republican win? I don’t know,” Christie said, reports the AP. “But in terms of me, I’ll be much more ready four years from now than I am now.”

COMMENT:  In the immortal words of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the most glorious sports team in history, "Wait 'til next year."

Now I wish the governor would take care of his health.  He is needed.

January 13, 2012       Permalink

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LET'S BE CAREFUL OUT THERE – AT 8:41 A.M. ET:  Mainstream news sources are reporting a possible change in Iranian policy, but two eyes and a magnifying glass are required for this one.  From Fox:

WASHINGTON – Iran has agreed to host a high-level team of United Nations nuclear inspectors later this month, according to Western diplomats.

The surprise development could help to curb building tensions with the West, The Wall Street Journal reported.

However, the U.S. warned Tehran against making good on its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz -- a strategic waterway where 20 percent of the world's daily oil trade passes through -- The New York Times reported, adding that the Obama administration would consider such a move a "red line" and would respond accordingly.

The warning came as diplomats Thursday said Iran had tentatively agreed to receive a delegation from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headed by the agency's chief weapons inspector, Herman Nackaerts, The Journal reported.

The diplomats, who are based in Vienna, said the visit was tentatively set for Jan. 28. Unclear, said the diplomats, was whether Tehran would let the inspectors visit key nuclear sites and interview the Iranian official the U.S. and the U.N. agency believe may head a nuclear weapons program.

An Iranian diplomat in New York declined to comment to The Journal on the trip.

Fears of a conflict between Iran and the West have soared in recent weeks as the Obama administration and European Union began enacting sanctions targeting Tehran's oil exports and its central bank in a bid to persuade it to halt its nuclear program.

On Thursday, the U.S. raised pressure by sanctioned firms from China, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates for doing business with Iran's energy sector, the State Department said.

COMMENT:  "Caution" is the word.  The Iranians are absolutely expert at playing for time, which is what they're seeking right now.  The visit of UN inspectors means nothing unless the inspectors can go anywhere they wish.  And there may even be nuclear plants no one outside Iran knows about.

I must say – we give credit where it's due here – that there's been some very effective action by our State Department in recent days, getting some cooperation from Asian nations in reducing their purchases of Iranian oil.  And the Europeans are moving toward sanctions on the Iranian oil industry, the heart of the Iranian economy.

The sanctions are hurting.  No doubt about that.  A key question is whether they will hurt enough to get Iran to curtail its nuclear development.   Another question is whether Iran, under increasing pressure, will decide to strike first, possibly closing the Strait of Hormuz in an attempt at unifying its restless population around a nationalist cause.  Remember, the first step of many dictatorial regimes is to establish a foreign enemy and concentrate the public's attention on the "threat."

January 13, 2012       Permalink

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ELECTION YEAR CONVERSION – AT 8:32 A.M. ET:  President Obama, after deep thought and much prayer to the god of his choice, has decided that smaller government isn't a bad thing.  From AP:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will ask Congress on Friday for greater power to shrink the federal government, and his first idea is merging six sprawling trade and commerce agencies whose overlapping programs can be baffling to businesses, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

Obama will call on Congress to give him a type of reorganizational power last held by a president when Ronald Reagan was in office. The Obama version would be a so-called consolidation authority allowing him to propose mergers that promise to save money and help consumers. The deal would entitle him to an up-or-down vote from Congress in 90 days.

It would be up to lawmakers, therefore, to first grant Obama this fast-track authority and then decide whether to approve any of his specific ideas.

COMMENT:  A very shrewd and potentially effective political move.  I only wish the Republicans would learn to make shrewd, effective, political moves, but maybe that's asking too much.

Congress should grant the authority Obama asks, then make judgments on his proposals, demanding much greater streamlining of government and reform of the civil service.

January 13,  2012     Permalink

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"What you see is news.  What you know is background.  What you feel is opinion."
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"Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred. "
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