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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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JULY 29,  2014

CAN WE JUST GET ALONG? – AT 10:56 A.M. ET:  I hope I'm sensitive to issues of religious freedom.  Indeed, I'm always moved when I visit Jefferson's grave in Charlottesville, Virginia, and note the reference on his gravestone that he authored the"statute of Virginia for religious freedom."

But some people are so sensitive to any mention of religion in any public place that they have turned the issue of religious freedom on its head.  Thus, the motto "In God We Trust," the official motto of the United States since 1956, is under assault once more.  There are some people, who claim they feel "excluded," who want it removed from local courthouses and offices.  From Fox: 

Should “In God We Trust” adorn the chambers of Washington state’s Pierce County Council?

That’s the apparently controversial question facing councilmembers on Tuesday, a day after a council committee decided to bring the proposal to a vote of the full seven-member council, the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Councilman Jim McCune, the Republican sponsor of the measure, said the national motto is inspiring and patriotic — and he’s unclear why the proposal has created such controversy.

“’In God We Trust’ is universal,” he told the newspaper. “It doesn’t have ‘In Muhammad We Trust,’ it doesn’t have ‘In Jesus We Trust.’”

Council Chairman Dan Roach said most of the 20 emails he read as of Monday opposed displaying a plaque emblazoned with the motto, which has reportedly become part of a national movement in local government buildings, with nearly 400 cities and counties in 23 states voting to display the motto.

Councilmembers Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, and Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, both oppose the idea, saying it isn’t inclusive.

“I just don’t think that we should be here talking about religion in government,” Ladenburg told the newspaper.

Sam Mulvey, chairman of Humanists of Washington, told the Rules and Operations Committee on Monday that he felt excluded by the proposal.

“It is not inclusive,” he said, according to the newspaper. “It would be a clear sign to me that Pierce County does not care about me and does not care about the people who think as I do.”

McCune, meanwhile, is defending his proposal.

“I’m not doing this for taking a stand or making a point,” he told the Tacoma News Tribune. “I’m doing this because it is our national heritage.”

COMMENT:  McCune is correct.  The motto is not specific to any religion, there is no establishment of religion, and no one is even required to recite it or believe in it.  The term "God" is religiously neutral, as is "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence. 

I have no doubt that religion is sometimes abused in the public square.  But putting the national motto on the wall is not one of those examples.  Put the plaque up.  If people feel "excluded" by its presence, make them feel welcome by treating them equally.  But don't give up our national heritage.  We have too little of it left already.

July 29, 2014       Permalink

 

WELCOME TO THE RECOVERY – AT 9:32 A.M. ET:  This is not a sign of a strong economy.  From AP: 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study released Tuesday by the Urban Institute.

These consumers fall behind on credit cards or hospital bills. Their mortgages, auto loans or student debt pile up, unpaid. Even past-due gym membership fees or cellphone contracts can end up with a collection agency, potentially hurting credit scores and job prospects, said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank.

"Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections," Ratcliffe said. "It can tip employers' hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment."

The study found that 35.1 percent of people with credit records had been reported to collections for debt that averaged $5,178, based on September 2013 records. The study points to a disturbing trend: The share of Americans in collections has remained relatively constant, even as the country as a whole has whittled down the size of its credit card debt since the official end of the Great Recession in the middle of 2009.

As a share of people's income, credit card debt has reached its lowest level in more than a decade, according to the American Bankers Association. People increasingly pay off balances each month. Just 2.44 percent of card accounts are overdue by 30 days or more, versus the 15-year average of 3.82 percent.

COMMENT:  Even as we presumably create new jobs, the dirty little secret is that incomes aren't rising with the times.  We reported last week that household wealth is a third less than a decade ago.  Many of the jobs created are inferior to the jobs that have been lost.

Americans don't feel good about the economy, or optimistic about their own futures, and that's the real bottom line, at least in politics.

July 29, 2014       Permalink

 

AMERICAN OPINION AND THE BORDER CRISIS – AT 9:14 A.M. ET:  What is striking is the number of Hispanics who agree with the majority of Americans on this issue.  From Breitbart:

If you are curious as to why the mainstream media so quickly lost interest in the still-ongoing story of our Southern border crisis, it has everything to do with public opinion and little to do with competing stories in the Ukraine and Gaza.

When this story first broke at Breitbart Texas, the media jumped all over it. At first, it was obvious the media planned to exploit the story of 50-plus thousand unaccompanied Central American children illegally crossing our border as a way to pressure the GOP into caving on amnesty. A new poll from Economist/YouGov shows how badly that plan backfired -- even among Hispanics.

Rather than convince the American people that passing a mass amnesty is what's needed, the burst of border coverage earlier this month convinced 77% of the American people that the kids need to be sent back home. A full 42% want the kids sent back immediately regardless of what's happening in their home countries. Add to that another 35% who want them sent back unless their home country is deemed unsafe.

Only 11% want what Obama, Democrats, and the media want -- which is amnesty for everyone.

The numbers are not all that different among Hispanics. Only 22% want to give the children amnesty. A full 64% want the children deported. Of that 64%, 28% want them deported immediately; 36% want them deported unless their home country is deemed unsafe.

That puts Hispanics almost perfectly in line with the rest of country.

The poll also shows that the media's collective decision to, at least for now, ignore the crisis, is out of step with the American people; 81% of whom see it as a serious problem.

The biggest tell that the media's propaganda campaign backfired is that a full 57% of those polled believe that the jump in illegals is due to the belief the American government will grant children amnesty. Only 29% believe it has anything to do with increased violence in Central America.

The poll also shows that only 40% of Hispanics believe violence is what prompted the flood of illegal children. A full 51% believe it was the promise of amnesty.

What Democrats and the media fail to understand is that what's making the American people uneasy is a sense of chaos. The fact that Obama has already entered his post-presidency phase of golf, celebrity dinner parties, cash-grabs, and lavish vacations, only contributes to that sense of unease.

COMMENT:  Some way must be found to take care of these kids while they're here – we are a Judeo-Christian nation, after all – but repatriate them in an orderly manner, being sensitive to legitimate claims of persecution. 

With a little imagination we could come up with a program to increase immigration from Latin America, but immigration in line with American laws and practices.  There are millions of people, many of them Hispanic, who are waiting to get into this country legally.  What do we tell them if we open the gates to those who choose not to follow the law.

George Will surprised conservatives over the weekend by suggesting that we could absorb all the children at the border into the U.S. by spreading them around the country.  That is true, and Will is speaking compassionately.  But there is still the matter of those children who are parts of families trying to enter legally.  We need the wisdom of Solomon on this, not the wisdom of Barack.

July 29, 2014       Permalink

 

SERIOUS STUFF – AT 8:52 A.M. ET:  The United States has – surprisingly for the Obama administration – has made a grave charge against Moscow.  From Fox: 

The Obama administration has accused Russia of violating a 1987 nuclear missile treaty by testing a ground-launched cruise missile and says the U.S. is prepared for immediate high-level dialogue with Moscow over the matter.

An administration official told Fox News in a statement that the violation "is a very serious matter which we have attempted to address with Russia for some time now." The New York Times first reported the accusation.

President Obama informed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a letter Monday of the U.S.'s determination that Russia broke the agreement. The official said the U.S. is prepared to engage in "senior-level bilateral dialogue immediately" with Russia with the goal of assuring Washington that Moscow will return to compliance with the treaty.

"The United States is committed to the viability of the I.N.F. Treaty," the official said. "We encourage Russia to return to compliance with its obligations under the Treaty and to eliminate any prohibited items in a verifiable manner."

According to the Times, Russia started testing the missiles as early as 2008, and the Obama administration flagged them as a possible violation at the end of 2011.

Russian officials have said they looked into the allegations and consider the matter closed.

COMMENT:  So what now?  That's the question.  The charge is serious enough as it affects the balance of military power.  But simply offering more "dialogue" isn't exactly going to scare the old paint off the Kremlin. 

The U.S. has imposed some sanctions on Russia over its grab of Crimea.  Western Europe is expected to do something as well, although that something may be light.  Russia's attitutes persist.

I'm glad we're speaking out.  But action must be effective in damaging the Russian economy until Moscow comes to its senses.  Don't expect Putin to yield easily when he has President Playdough in the White House.

July 29,  2014     Permalink

 

 

 

JULY 28,  2014

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 11:52 P.M. ET: 

CARSON FOR PRESIDENT? – From Newsmax:  "Dr. Ben Carson told Newsmax TV on Monday that he is getting closer to declaring himself a candidate for president in 2016.  'It is a step closer. I have to consider what's going on, and I have to consider the enormous crowds that I encounter every place I go, and the level of enthusiasm, and what I'm hearing,' Carson told 'The Steve Malzberg Show.'"  We welcome his candidacy, but I have real doubts that he's politically ready for a national campaign.  However, I'm ready to be surprised.  At minimum, he adds intellect, passion and a great life story to the race. 

MITCH SURGES – A big Republican worry is that the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, might actually lose in November to his Democratic opponent.  But Mitch is now moving in the polls.  It's not in the bag, but we're resting a little easier.  From The Hill:  "A new survey shows momentum in the Kentucky Senate race is moving in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) favor, and for the first time this year he leads Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.  The Bluegrass Poll, conducted by Survey USA for The Courier-Journal, WHAS TV, The Lexington Herald-Leader and Lexington's WKYT TV, gave McConnell 47 percent support to Grimes’s 45 percent support among likely voters. Eight percent are undecided.  While McConnell's 2-point lead is within the poll's 4-point margin of error, making it a statistical tie, it marks a consistent decline in support for Grimes in the Bluegrass Poll, which showed her up 4 percent in February and 1 percent in May."  People are finding out that Grimes is really just another liberal Democrat.

OBAMA, STAY AWAY – Polls are consistently showing that President Obama is a liability to Democrats running this year.  From Fox:  "The new poll re-asked a question from 2010 to test the president’s influence: if you were running for office as a Democratic candidate this year, would you want President Obama to campaign for you? While 41 percent of voters say yes, over half -- 57 percent -- say no, they wouldn’t want Obama on the campaign trail with them.  In 2010 the results were much more balanced: 48 percent wanted the president to campaign for them, while 50 percent wanted him to stay home.  Among Democrats, four years ago fully 82 percent wanted Obama to campaign on their behalf. That’s down to 69 percent in the new poll, a drop of 13 points.  Among independents, 38 percent wanted Obama’s help in 2010 and 32 percent would take it today."

IS HE STILL AROUND? – From PC World:  "U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson has called on Twitter to release its employee diversity information, which its Silicon Valley peers such as Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook have already done.  The Rainbow Push Coalition, founded by Jackson, has also asked Twitter to signal its commitment to inclusion by hosting a public community forum to address the company’s plan to recruit and retain more black talent."  Let the shakedown begin.  If Jackson were smart, and wanted to remain relevant, he'd encourage young African Americans to start their own companies.  The key to minority progress is entrepreneurship.

July 28, 2014       Permalink

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GREAT MOMENTS IN NATIONAL DEFENSE – AT 9:48 A.M. ET:   We're certainly getting out of Afghanistan in the best possible way.  From Fox:

The Pentagon has been unable to locate more than 40 percent of the firearms it has provided to Afghan security forces at a cost of $626 million, according to a report by a government oversight agency made public Monday.

The report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) states that the Defense Department's two information systems that track weapons sent to Afghanistan are full of errors. That has sparked fears that at least some of the weapons may be available on the black market, with militants among the potential purchasers.

According to the report and an article in The Washington Times, the Pentagon has sent 747,000 weapons and auxiliary equipment, mostly small arms, to Afghan forces over the past decade. The paper reported that of the 474,823 serial numbers recorded in the tracking database, 203,888 -- approximately 43 percent -- had missing or duplicate information. The Times reported that auditors had discovered that 24,520 serial numbers were repeated at least once in the database, and 50, 304 serial numbers had no shipping or receiving dates recorded for them.

Jeffrey Brown, senior audit manager for SIGAR, told The Times that the agency has "no evidence" that the weapons have made their way to militant hotspots, such as neighboring Pakistan. However, he added, "That wasn’t really in the scope of our audit."

In other words, we didn't look into it, but we're sure nothing is wrong.

In response to the report, Michael J. Dumont, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, told the paper that the department is moving to consolidate the two tracking systems in the hope that such a move will help eliminate discrepancies. The paper also reported that the Pentagon is considering making future transfers of weapons to Afghan forces contingent on inventory checks performed by Afghan soldiers.

Why don't they just send them via FedEx and demand a signature.  Always works.

The report describes the tracking system used by Afghanistan's military as a hybrid of paper documents, records written by hand, and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

COMMENT:  I can teach them Excel.  Reasonable rates.  Guaranteed results.

July 28, 2014        Permalink

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WHERE IS THE FURY? – AT 9:18 A.M. ET:   The silence, like the silence during the Holocaust, is deafening.  But this time it is the silence that greets the oppression of Christians in the Middle East.  From the New York Post: 

Does innocent human life matter in the Middle East if it is Christian?

We ask because while Israel’s efforts to defend itself against terrorism from Hamas have provoked worldwide condemnation and demonstrations, the ethnic cleansing of a Christian community that has been in Iraq for more than 1,600 years continues with only a whimper of protest.

The developments are the latest chapter in a larger story that includes the burning of Coptic churches in Egypt, the jailing of a pastor in Iran and the exodus of Palestinian Christians in the face of growing Muslim intolerance.

Now the Islamic State of Iraq has declared a caliphate — and continues the savage work of ridding the region of all those who do not share its brand of Islam.

When its fighters took Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, back in June, they gave Christians there a choice: convert to Islam, pay a huge tax or die.

Christian homes were marked with an Arabic “N” for “Nazarene,” and the property confiscated.

Crosses have been removed from churches, which have been sacked and desecrated.

The result today is that there are no Christians left in this city.

A year ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki asked for drone strikes on ISIS before it reached the cities — but was turned down by the Obama administration, which downplayed the threat from ISIS.

All of which leaves these Christians the world’s most lonely people: with their own nation unable to defend them, America unwilling to help them and a world that would simply like to forget them.

COMMENT:  The silence among American religious groups is especially embarrassing.  But some of these groups became part of the worldwide left some time ago, despite the beliefs of their parishioners. 

I'm not optimistic that there will be any improvement in the condition of Christians in the Mideast.  The press is notoriously uninterested.  The Barack Obamas of the world probably think the Christians are imperialists, or brought it on themselves.  They're not politically correct, and that's the name of the game these days.

July 28, 2014       Permalink

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OUTRAGEOUS – AT 8:55 A.M. ET:  Our first post-American president is doing it again.  From USA Today: 

President Obama is re-naming an African fellowship program in honor of the late South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.

Please note the automatic use of the term "freedom fighter."  Not really, as we shall see. 

Obama will make the announcement Monday during a town-hall-style meeting with guests who participated in the inaugural — and soon to be re-named — Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, officials said.

Discussing the fellowship program during a visit to South Africa last year, Obama said that "we want to engage leaders and tomorrow's leaders in figuring out how we can best work together."

The meeting is one in a series of upcoming events dedicated to U.S.-African relations, including the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on Aug. 4-6.

The fellowship program to be re-named in Mandela's honor is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative that Obama launched in 2010.

Fellowships are designed to give 500 young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa leadership training at American universities, as well as the chance to meet with government officials, entrepreneurs and civil society members from the United States. Obama announced creation of the fellowship program during the 2013 trip to South Africa.

Obama has often expressed his admiration for Mandela, who died in December at the age of 95. After serving 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities, Mandela went on to become the first black president of South Africa, serving from 1994 to 1999.

At a memorial service held in South Africa, Obama said Mandela was someone who believed in the power of actions and ideas, as well as laws and institutions. Mandela also understood "the ties that bind the human spirit," Obama said.

COMMENT:  Mandela was no doubt distinguished in the fight against apartheid, but that's pretty much it.  He was militantly anti-American, and I'm outraged that any president would name an American program for someone who held anti-American views. 

Mandela was also remarkably indifferent to fundamental human rights.  He was one of Gaddafi's closest friends in Africa, and was a foe of Israel.  In other words, his record is decidedly mixed.

Obama can get away with this because the press reporting on Mandela, and South Africa generally, has been so thin.  When Mandela died I did not see a single objective retrospective on his life.  It was all adolescent adulation, as if he'd just come out with a hot CD.  And South Africa is an appalling hellhole, with some of the worst crime rates and rates of sexual violence in the world.  But hey, who wants to know?  Right?

July 28, 2014       Permalink

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NICE GUYS – AT 8:32 A.M. ET:  The North Koreans are getting testy again.  But only tell the president after his next vacation.  From channelnewsasia.com: 

SEOUL: A top-ranking North Korean military official has threatened a nuclear strike on the White House and Pentagon after accusing Washington of raising military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The threat came from Hwang Pyong-So, director of the military's General Political Bureau, during a speech to a large military rally in Pyongyang on Sunday on the anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Hwang, who holds the rank of vice marshal in the Korean People's Army, said a recent series of South Korea-US military drills, one of which included the deployment of a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier, had ramped up tensions.

"If the US imperialists threaten our sovereignty and survival... our troops will fire our nuclear-armed rockets at the White House and the Pentagon - the sources of all evil," Hwang said in his speech broadcast Monday on state television.

It is not the first time that North Korea's rhetoric has included threats of nuclear strikes on the continental United States and US bases in the Pacific.

But most experts believe it is still a long way from developing a viable intercontinental ballistic missile with the required range.

The North has conducted three nuclear tests, but is not thought to have mastered the miniaturisation techniques necessary for mounting a warhead on a missile.

COMMENT:  I'm always amused at these stories reassuring us that some enemy nation is "a long way" from developing this or that.  Reminds me of the assurances in the late 1940s and early 1950s that the Soviets were "a long way" from becoming a nuclear power.  Strange how "a long way" usually translates into a few years.

North Korea will have nuclear-tipped missiles because our diplomacy with that nation failed.  Iran will have the same weapons, and North Korean help might be a factor.  We learned over the weekend that North Korea is in talks to resupply Hamas.

Nothing to see, folks.  Just move on.

July 28,  2014     Permalink

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