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Scene above:  Constitution Island, where Revolutionary War forts still exist, as photographed from Trophy Point, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
 

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MAY 4,  2012

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 11:29 P.M. ET:

SALVATION IN LONDON – British Conservatives took a beating in yesterday's municipal elections, but there was one beam of bright light.  Boris Johnson was re-elected mayor of London, obviously Britain's most important city.  His opponent was former Mayor Ken Livingstone, a left-wing extremist with openly stated dreams of making London a major Muslim center.  Johnson now becomes a significant national figure.  There is chatter that he might someday challenge sitting Prime Minister David Cameron.

LUGAR FADING – Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana appears to be fading in his primary race for a nomination to a seventh term.  His opponent, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, is ten points ahead of Lugar in the latest statewide poll.  The primary is Tuesday.  If Lugar loses, despite the support of much of the Republican establishment, it may well be because Hoosiers feel he has lost touch with the state.  Lugar's main areas of interest are in foreign policy.

YOUNG GENIUS – A two-year-old girl with an I.Q. of 135 has been admitted to Mensa, the organization that limits its membership to those in the upper two percent on accepted intelligence scales.  I hope her parents are wise enough to keep her away from Mensa meetings until she's a well-grounded adult, though, as they must be utterly obnoxious affairs.  I've only known a few Mensa members, and they proved beyond a doubt that high intelligence and the ability to use it well are two different things.

YEAH, I GUESS SO – It is reliably reported that the now 101-year-old heiress whose cash helped John Edwards cover up his affair with a videographer and the love child that resulted from same, believed that Edwards was using her only for her money, and that he should have spent his own.  Yeah, heiresses can sometimes come to the right conclusions, when presented with the facts.  Rachel “Bunny” Mellon funneled $750,000 to Edwards during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.  She also gave another $6.4-million to a group tied to the Edwards presidential campaign.  She's a charitable woman and deserved better than John Edwards.

May 4, 2012       Permalink 

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TWO DAYS TO FRANCE – AT 9:31 A.M. ET:  The final round of voting in France's presidential election is Sunday, when the future of incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy is decided.  Sarkozy is the most pro-American French president in decades.  He is surging, but will it be enough?

PARIS (Reuters) - The first opinion poll conducted since Wednesday's televised election debate in France showed Socialist Francois Hollande's lead over President Nicolas Sarkozy narrowed by two points to six points, although most people found Hollande most convincing.

The poll by CSA gave Hollande 53 percent for Sunday's decisive runoff, down 1 point from his score on April 26 and compared to 47 percent for Sarkozy, a gain of 1 point.

The survey found 44 percent of respondents thought Hollande was most convincing versus 38 percent for Sarkozy.

The survey was the second to show Sarkozy inching towards his Socialist rival two days from the vote. An OpinionWay poll, conducted half before and half after the TV debate, gave Hollande his smallest margin yet of five points, with 52.5 percent to Sarkozy's 47.5 percent.

An average of other recent polls gives an 8 point margin.

COMMENT:  We can hope for a Sarkozy victory, but it doesn't seem likely.  A socialist president in France is not to our liking.  If it signals a European trend, economic conditions in Europe may become even worse than they are because socialist governments are not inclined to take painful economic steps.  In turn, that will affect our own economy.

May 4, 2012       Permalink

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TROUBLE IN THE COMMONWEALTH – AT 9:04 A.M. ET:  Virginia will be a critical battleground state this November.  At one time it was considered reliably Republican, but in 2008 it went for Obama.  A new poll suggests that Romney is having a tough time in the state.  Demographic factors may be largely responsible.  The state is changing, and not in ways favorable to Republicans.  From WaPo:

President Obama leads former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in Virginia, but voters in the commonwealth are evenly divided on the White House’s major policies, a new Washington Post poll shows.

Obama is ahead of the presumed Republican presidential nominee by 51 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. And Romney does no better against Obama than he did in a Post poll a year ago, despite his emergence as the GOP standard-bearer.

The Democratic president has a key advantage in his bid for re­election: The coalition of Virginians that helped propel him to victory in 2008 — young voters, suburban Washingtonians, women and African Americans — is largely intact. Yet the survey shows that voters in the state are split on Obama’s signature health-care reform law and that they remain deeply pessimistic about the way things are going in the country, creating a potential opening for Romney.

Virginia’s changing electorate and Obama’s 2008 win suggested that the Old Dominion is becoming a reliably swing state.

COMMENT:  Romney does have a chance in Virginia and he should pursue it.  But one demographic, the growth of liberal northern Virginia, is unique to the state, as it is heavily based on federal-government workers, who will tolerate no talk of smaller government.

While Virginia is not absolutely critical to a Romney victory, it certainly would help.  Without it, almost everything else would have to fall perfectly for Romney for him to win. 

Romney might be tempted to put Virginia's popular governor, Bob McDonnell, on his ticket, but there is a danger:  McDonnell, although elected governor, is controversial because of comments he once made about women's proper role in American society.  Romney clearly doesn't need that.  He has enough of a problem with the women's vote.

May 4, 2012       Permalink

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BULLETIN:  JOB CREATION AWFUL – AT 8:46 A.M. ET:  The much-awaited job-creation figures for April have just been released, and they are awful.  From The Wall Street Journal: 

WASHINGTON—U.S. job growth slowed again in April, a fresh sign that the economy could be settling into a sluggish spring.

Nonfarm payrolls grew by 115,000 last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, ticked down a tenth of percentage point to 8.1%.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected a gain of 168,000 in payrolls and for the jobless rate to remain at 8.2% in April.

On a positive note, March payrolls grew by an upwardly revised 154,000 from an initially reported 120,000, and February payrolls posted a gain of 259,000, compared with an earlier estimate of 240,000.

Hardly positive.  It takes 150,000 new jobs every month just to keep pace with population growth.   And the dramatic downward trend since February has just been confirmed by the new figures.

The unemployment rate has dropped since August, when it was 9.1%, though some of the decline has resulted from people leaving the work force. Federal Reserve officials have said that they expect only gradual progress the rest of this year. The Fed last week forecast that the unemployment rate would fall to somewhere between 7.8% and 8.0% by the end of this year.

One source claims that the labor-force-participation-rate has dropped to a 30-year low.

Even Bloomberg, which tries hard to help out the Obamans, puts it this way in its lead, just out:

Employers in the U.S. added fewer workers than forecast in April and the jobless rate unexpectedly declined as people left the labor force, underscoring concern the world’s largest economy may be losing speed.

COMMENT:  If we're in a recovery, we're in a jobless one.  While the administration will spin the unemployment number as progress, it really isn't.  And the underemployment number is somewhere in the teens.

Numbers like this will not guarantee Romney's election, but if Obama is re-elected with an economy like this, one would wonder about the rationality of much of the electorate. 

May 4, 2012       Permalink

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Y'THINK? – AT 8:33 A.M. ET:  As the slaughter in Syria continues, the Obama administration is coming to the profound conclusion that the UN peace plan isn't working.  Don't you sleep better at night knowing this crew is in charge?  From AP:

It may be time for the world to acknowledge that a cease-fire is not holding in Syria, and that it is time to try another approach to stop the violence, the White House said Thursday.

"If the regime's intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

If?  IF?  Is there any doubt?

It was the clearest statement yet that the Obama administration sees little chance for the cease-fire and peace plan brokered by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan last month but largely ignored by Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

"It is clear and we will not deny that the plan has not been succeeding thus far," Carney said.

The Annan plan has done little to stem the bloodshed, but so far other nations that back it have been unwilling to say it is dead.

U.S. officials have said the plain is failing because of Syrian government violations.

The Assad government and the Syrian opposition are blaming one another for torpedoing the truce, with Assad's forces trying to repress demonstrators calling for him to step down. The regime also is facing an armed rebellion that has sprung up as peaceful protests have proved ineffective against his forces.

COMMENT:  We should point out that the administration is still backing the pathetic Annan plan, which has had no effect.  Indeed, old Kofi – dictators never had a better friend – said as recently as yesterday that his plan is on track, although he concedes problems.  Like death on a major scale.

The problem is that there is no Plan B.  Obama has shown little urgency about stopping the bloodshed, and some speculate that he doesn't want to do anything to upset Iran, Syria's closest ally. 

So we are essentially nowhere.

May 4,  2012     Permalink

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MAY 3,  2012

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 9:25 P.M. ET:  

BRITAIN VOTES – Britain voted in municipal elections today, and early returns match the predictions – a major victory for Labour.   Of course, these elections are not for the House of Commons, but for local offices, however they do indicate dissatisfaction with the odd Conservative/Liberal coalition government of David Cameron.  The most important election is for mayor of London, pitting Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson against the former mayor, Ken Livingstone, known as "Red Ken" for his leftist leanings.  Livingstone is also a committed Islamist.  Johnson is expected to be re-elected, making him a major national Conservative figure.

RUSSIA THREATENS – Obama was caught on an open microphone recently, projecting weakness, when he told Russian President Medvedev that he could be more "flexible" in policies toward Moscow when (if) re-elected.  That didn't seem to impress Russia's top military guy, Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov, who is now threatening to strike NATO missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe before they are ready if the U.S. goes ahead with plans to deploy defensive missiles.  Another famous Obama foreign-policy moment.

SERVICE INDUSTRIES SLOWING – A new economic report just released by the Institute for Supply Management says the modest growth in America's service sector is slowing, and that consumer confidence is weakening.  Both trends signal a cooling economy.  As we noted earlier today, financial observers are awaiting, with some apprehension, tomorrow's report on job creation in April.

WHOOPS – A bit of bother, as the Brits say.  NATO will be holding a major meeting in the president's home city of Chicago later this month, but apparently some of our European friends haven't hit the reference books.  A NATO video about the meeting informs us that Chicago is the capital of Illinois.  As Lincoln might have reminded the gents, it's actually Springfield.  The video also says that President Obama wanted to have the meeting in the city he grew up in.  Uh, would that be Honolulu?  Jakarta, Indonesia?  It certainly wasn't Chicago.  I hope NATO is better at identifying hostile targets. 

May 3, 2012       Permalink

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PATHETIC – AT 9:50 A.M. ET:  Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, who earns a mint as a law professor and private lawyer, is running for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts as a kind of "people's" candidate.  Her opponent is Senator Scott Brown, and the race, in the bluest of blue states, is close.

Warren, though, keeps on getting into trouble.  She's heavily into the "race, gender and ethnicity" industry, and has claimed to be part native American.  (It turns out she's 1/32 native American, not exactly a convincing figure, unless you want to go by the racial standards of the old South.)  Apparently, she's used her "heritage" to good advantage, something that's been exposed:  From the Boston Herald:

Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, fending off questions about whether she used her Native American heritage to advance her career, said today she enrolled herself as a minority in law school directories for nearly a decade because she hoped to meet other people with tribal roots.

“I listed myself in the directory in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group something that might happen with people who are like I am. Nothing like that ever happened, that was clearly not the use for it and so I stopped checking it off,” said Warren.

The Harvard Law professor argued she didn’t use her minority status to get her teaching jobs, and slammed her Republican rival U.S. Sen.Scott Brown for suggesting otherwise.

“The only one as I understand it who’s raising any question about whether or not I was qualified for my job is Scott Brown and I think I am qualified and frankly I’m a little shocked to hear anybody raise a question about whether or not I’m qualified to hold a job teaching,” she said, pushing to put Brown on defense. “What does he think it takes for a woman to be qualified?”

COMMENT:  Please note that, having been exposed as a hustler on the racial background issue, Warren immediately plays the gender card.  It's so nineteen-sixties! 

Earlier in the campaign we learned that she earns in the high six figures a year, and has a home in the seven figures in Cambridge.  It's getting tiresome, Elizabeth.  It really is.

But Massachusetts is Massachusetts, and Brown only leads by two points.  Massachusetts will go heavily for Obama, and the presidential turnout can bring in Warren, who would immediately become a presidential favorite of the trendies for 2016.

May 3, 2012       Permalink

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THE NEW EGYPT – AT 9:09 A.M. ET:  Egypt will elect a new president this month, but conditions in the country are chaotic.  The dreams of the "Arab spring" are fading.  From the Los Angeles Times:

CAIRO — At least 11 people were killed Wednesday when unknown attackers armed with guns and firebombs clashed with protesters near Egypt's Defense Ministry in an escalation of violence highlighting political divisions that threaten the country ahead of this month's presidential election.

Assailants stormed about 500 demonstrators at dawn, many of them supporters of Hazem Salah abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist preacher recently disqualified from the presidential race. Police did not intervene for hours, and authorities said as many as 200 people were wounded in the nation's worst violence in months.

The bloodshed exacerbated tension that has engulfed the country since last year's overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. The election scheduled May 23-24 is seen as a critical step in the transition to democracy. But unrest and the military's hold on power have fueled anger and political uncertainty and led to new calls for large street marches.

The clashes prompted presidential candidates, including Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a progressive Islamist, and Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to suspend their campaigns. They criticized the military for a lack of security reminiscent of the soccer riot in Port Said in February that left more than 70 people dead.

COMMENT:  Democracy isn't just one election, which Egypt will have.  It's a way of life, a way of thinking, a way of looking at other citizens.  That concept of democracy isn't emerging in Egypt.  What strikes us is the silence of the United States, which hustled former President Mubarak, who was pro-American, out of office.  Mr. Obama appears content with having a new Islamic state.  It's a strange form of contentment, which American citizens should not share.

May 3, 2012       Permalink

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MUDDLED ECONOMIC REPORT – AT 8:47 A.M. ET:  We mentioned in the post just below that the White House could not take comfort in recent economic reports.  Well, it might take some guarded comfort in numbers released this morning, as it braces for a monthly job-creation report tomorrow:

(Reuters) - New claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, according to a government report on Thursday that could ease fears the labor market recovery was stalling.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000, the Labor Department said. That was the biggest weekly drop since early May last year.

The prior week's figure was revised up to 392,000 from the previously reported 388,000. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, edged up 750 to 383,500 - the highest level since December.

However...

The data has no bearing on the government's closely watched employment report for April, to be released on Friday. Employers are expected to have added 170,000 new jobs to their payrolls last month, a step up from March's 120,000 tally, according to a Reuters survey.

However, there is a downside risk to this forecast as initial claims were elevated for much of April. An independent survey on Wednesday showed private employers added only 119,000 jobs last month, the fewest in seven months, and well below economists' expectations for a gain of 177,000 positions.

COMMENT:   We'll await tomorrow's report.  And always remember that it takes 150,000 new jobs each month just to keep pace with population growth. 

Obama doesn't have much time to pump things up before election day.  It usually takes months for any new initiatives to work their way through the economy.  However, don't be shocked if he makes some major proposals, and that the GOP House turns them down, giving Obama the opportunity to blame "Republican obstructionism" for the economy.  He'll also blame Bush and Cheney, with Herbert Hoover thrown in.

May 3, 2012       Permalink

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KEY STATES TIGHTENING – AT 8:16 A.M. ET:  From the Politico:

Consistent with national polling suggesting the 2012 race has tightened since the end of the GOP primary, Quinnipiac shows Mitt Romney closing the gap against the president in Florida and Ohio.

They are more or less tied in Florida, where Romney had 44 percent to Obama's 43 percent, and Ohio, where Obama has 44 percent to Romney's 42 percent. At the end of March, Obama was ahead by mid-single digits in both states.

Pennsylvania is a different story. There, Obama has an 8-point lead over Romney now, 47 percent to 39 percent, after leading by only 3 points in Quinnipiac's last swing-state poll.

COMMENT:  How significant are these numbers at this point in the campaign?  Not very.  The election is six months away.  But the fact that an incumbent president is in danger of losing some of the critical swing states cannot bring comfort to the White House.  And the fact that economic numbers have not been glowing cannot bring relief either.

On the other hand, the president's flash trip to Afghanistan, complete with an address to the nation, shows the power of  incumbency, a power that will be used over and over by this White House as part of its permanent campaign. 

The formal campaign won't actually begin until after the conventions.  It will be vicious.

May 3,  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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      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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