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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DECEMBER 27, 2010
GAS PRICE TO SOAR? – AT 9:43 P.M. ET: Urgent Agenda suggested recently that the price of gasoline could be a major sleeper issue for the 2012 campaign. Here is more evidence, via Fox:
The former president of Shell oil is predicting that the United States will face 1970s-style energy shortages and rationing by the end of the decade, accusing the federal government of turning its back on the country's domestic oil supply.
The dire prediction comes as energy analysts toss out a string of frightening predictions about the rising price of oil in the short term. Oil has topped $90 a barrel, and JP Morgan Chase & Co. earlier this month predicted oil could hit $120 a barrel by the end of 2012. At the same time, the national average gasoline price is about $3 a gallon for the holiday season
But former Shell executive John Hofmeister offered a more aggressive estimate, saying Americans could be paying $5 a gallon in two years.
Hofmeister is critical of the Obaman cutback in offshore oil drilling, and cautions that there needs to be a rational plan for providing energy while new energy sources are developed:
But government-fueled investment in alternative-energy research takes time, while other options, like nuclear energy, are slow and costly to get off the ground. Hofmeister, noting that domestic oil production has dropped from 10 million barrels a day just a few decades ago to about 5 million a day, said the United States could address its short- and medium-term energy needs by expanding drilling at existing sites and exploring new sites. He said that could help bridge the gap toward ultimately implementing alternative energy sources on a wide scale, as well as improving mass transit.
COMMENT: Five-dollar-a-gallon gasoline could be devastating to to Obama just as he's running for a second term. Comparisons with Jimmah Carter will be made. Yes, the Democrats, and their media allies, will try to blame
BUSH (!!) for the cost of gasoline, claiming that he didn't move fast enough to advance new types of fuels, but I doubt if that argument will wash. Obama will have been president for almost a full term.
AMERICA'S MOST ADMIRED – SURPRISES – AT 7:49 P.M. ET: Dissecting the Gallup survey, and finding some surprising names near the top. From Contentions:
Some very interesting things have emerged in Gallup’s 2010 “Most Admired” survey. That America’s most admired man is Barack Obama is not one of them. He is the president, you know...
...Now for the fun part: Guess who has the No. 2 spot. None other than George W. Bush. Normally, there’d be nothing remarkable in the last president being the second-most admired man in the country. But because the anti-Bush attack machine had so doggedly tried to paint him as a frightening historical outlier it’s stunning to see him treated like any American president. So much for the validity of an eight-year long, millions-strong politico-cultural movement. Bush only goes up from here.
And speaking of ex-presidents, Bush beat out Bill Clinton for the No. 2 spot. The modern-day superhero of American politics came in third, one point behind the recent embodiment of political evil (Among independents, Clinton beat Bush by one percentage point).
And the women:
And speaking of Clintons, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton topped the most-admired female list. Again, Americans respect their sitting leaders.
The big surprise:
And speaking of the 2008 election, the Democrats’ national nightmare, Sarah Palin, came in second to Hillary. Palin beat out none other than omnipresent cultural goddess Oprah Winfrey, who came in third (Both beat out First Lady Michelle Obama, who came in fourth).
To my mind, the big win goes to Palin. For all the pundit chatter about her not being a viable contender for president, the public admires her more than the most beloved media personality in the country.
COMMENT: We can derive some satisfaction from the fact that both President Bush and Governor Palin do so well. If this proves anything, it proves that the mainstream media's clout is limited. President Reagan learned to speak above the heads of the anointed media stars. Others can learn the same lessons.
ALASKA FINALLY DECIDED – AT 11:11 A.M. ET: The Senate race in Alaska, which has been in litigation, apparently is over. From WaPo:
JUNEAU, Alaska -- Republican Joe Miller said he won't stand in the way of incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski being certified the winner of Alaska's U.S. Senate race, but he vowed to continue his legal fight over the state's handling of the vote count.
Miller's announcement late Sunday paves the way for Murkowski - a write-in candidate after losing the Republican nomination to Miller - to eventually be declared winner of the race.
Election officials determined Murkowski had the most votes in the November election but were barred from certifying a victory by a federal judge, who issued a stay to give the courts time to rule on Miller's claims the vote count was mishandled.
Sunday's decision means Miller won't file any motions to stop the court from lifting the stay.
COMMENT: Joe Miller was one of those perfect candidates on paper, but whose campaign was highly flawed. He started turning people off, not a way to win elections.
Murkowski's victory is a blow to Sarah Palin. The two are arch rivals, and Murkowski can hurt Palin in her home state.
Elizabeth Warren proved her fiscally prudent bona fides in a recent profile in Vogue magazine, after making a cup of tea with a used tea bag stored in her desk. The profile of the Harvard law professor, who is charged with overseeing the creation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was published in the most recent edition of the magazine, and opens with the anecdote about Warren and the tea bag....Warren acknowledges she can't bring herself to throw away a still functional tea bag.
“I know,” said Warren. “But I just can’t stand the waste of throwing out a tea bag after one use. It’s like a knife in the gut for me.”
A knife in the gut, over a tea bag? I wonder how she reacts to genocide. Do we have a case of misplaced priorities here?
SOBRIETY FROM MICHAEL BARONE – AT 8:51 A.M. ET: Republicans were giddy after the recent elections, and look forward to control of the House, only days away. But the giddiness was dented somewhat by a lame duck session of Congress that turned into a Democratic romp.
Now, Michael Barone, one of our most astute political observers, cautions the Republicans further, pointing out that Barack Obama will be no pushover in 2012. Required reading for serious conservatives, from the Washington Examiner:
Several factors will likely work less strongly against Obama in 2012 than against the Obama Democrats in 2010. Turnout will be different, for one thing. We may see again the record turnout of blacks we saw in 2008. Young people who pretty much shunned the polls in the midterms may turn out and vote -- though the 34-point margin they gave to Obama was halved to 17 points for congressional Democrats in 2010.
The balance of enthusiasm favored Republicans and conservatives in 2010, as it had favored Democrats in 2006 and 2008. It could conceivably shift and favor the Democrats once again.
Another factor is that polls show that most Americans have favorable personal feelings toward the president. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both happened to have personal characteristics that people on the other side of the cultural divide absolutely loathed. Obama doesn't.
And then there's the delicate issue of race:
Moreover, there will be a reluctance on the part of many voters, understandable in light of our history, to reject the first black president. I'm convinced, though I cannot prove, that Americans who feel this way far outnumber those few who cannot abide seeing a black man in the White House.
All of which does not mean that Obama is a sure winner. Polls suggest that if the election were held today he could lose to several possible Republican nominees who are much less well known and have weaknesses of their own. But they also suggest he could win.
The other side:
Working against Obama still will be substantive issues. Most Americans want to repeal Obamacare; he wants to keep it. Most voters rejected his vast expansion of the size and scope of government; he still thinks it's a good idea.
Obama came to office with the assumption that economic distress would increase support for his policies to (in his words to Joe the Plumber) "spread the wealth around." But the 2010 midterms make it about as clear as these things can be that voters reject such efforts.
COMMENT: The conventional wisdom is that, if the economy improves significantly, Obama can drift to victory, especially as there's no obvious Republican candidate who has the charisma and public support to take on an incumbent president who is also a superb campaigner. There is also the matter of serious divisions within the Republican Party.
But conventional wisdom is just that, conventional. Between now and the 2012 election there could be major, unpredictable developments, especially in foreign affairs. A mishandled terror attack here, Iran getting the bomb, North Korea going too far and provoking a military conflict – any of these could impact Obama's reelection.
Nothing is in the bag for the Republicans. They must have two goals: First, establish an excellent, creative, and positive legislative record, based on a popular set of principles. Second, recruit and nurture presidential candidates who can win, rather than depend on "the next guy in line." Tough orders. Mandatory.
TERROR CONCERNS CONTINUE – AT 8:42 A.M. ET: Europe is especially nervous about the possibility of an imminent terror attack:
Intelligence services throughout the Middle East and Europe are scrambling to track down more than two dozen fighters linked to al-Qaida who have recently left their base in southern Lebanon.
The missing men are thought to have gone to Europe by a newly established route through Syria, Turkey and the Balkans, and multiple intelligence sources in Lebanon warn that the group appears to be operational and could be planning attacks in Europe in the holiday season.
"Yes, they have left the camp," confirmed Munir al-Maqda, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official in the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp, where the fighters had been hiding for the past few years. Because the Lebanese army is not allowed to enter the country's 13 Palestinian refugee camps, militants have long sought refuge inside them.
Two Lebanese intelligence service officials – who could only discuss the matter off the record – said Lebanon was co-operating with European intelligence organisations to track down the militants, who are described as "extremely dangerous."
COMMENT: And there are persistent reports that American authorities are going to give increased attention to rail lines and hotels. The fear here is a Mumbai-style attack where a hotel is taken over by terrorists who have checked in as guests. There is also an elevated concern here about malls, which are open and vulnerable.
APPLAUSE – AT 8:15 A.M. ET: Well, the weather forecasters got it right this time, right on the button, in fact. They are now forgiven for their previous strikeouts, when they predicted doom and damnation and we got one snowflake.
We did in fact get a blizzard in New York. Here in White Plains, about 22 miles north of Manhattan, the streets are remarkably clear thanks to overnight crews. Our mayor has recently been charged with abusing his wife, and I worried that he might not have his mind on his work.
Now, of course, we must all understand that this blizzard was caused by global warming. And if it's 70 degrees tomorrow, that, too, will be caused by global warming. If it rains: global warming. Dry spell: global warming. I get the feeling that the global warming religionists are the same people who invented one-size-fits-all waterproof gloves.
Our power remained on. Others in the area weren't so lucky.
EXCITING LITERARY NEWS – AT 10:28 A.M. ET: We bring you the latest in the unending drive to enhance our civilization and lift its cultural level. From Breitbart:
WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said in an interview published Sunday he had signed deals for his autobiography worth more than one million pounds (1.2 million euros, 1.5 million dollars).
Assange told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper that the money would help him defend himself against allegations of sexual assault made by two women in Sweden.
"I don't want to write this book, but I have to," he said. "I have already spent 200,000 pounds for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat."
The Australian said he would receive 800,000 dollars (600,000 euros) from Alfred A. Knopf, his American publisher, and a British deal with Canongate is worth 325,000 pounds (380,000 euros, 500,000 dollars).
Money from other markets and serialisation is expected to raise the total to 1.1 million pounds, he said.
The latest project of Assange's whistleblower website is the gradual release of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables.
Since this latest project began Assange, who is on bail in Britain fighting a bid by Sweden to extradite him over the sex assault claims, has faced problems financing WikiLeaks.
COMMENT: I can just hear the justifications from the New York publishing industry. They'll do the "free speech" dance, not caring at all about the people who'll be hurt or killed by this irresponsible, anti-American fool. The publishing party will no doubt be the literary event of the year.
A MOVING STORY, WORTHY OF YOUR ATTENTION – AT 11:39 A.M. ET: This was forwarded to us by family friend Meryl Resnick:
From an airline captain: My lead flight attendant came to me and said, "We have an H..R. on this flight." (H.R. stands for human remains.) "Are they military?"I asked.
"Yes," she said. "Is there an escort?" I asked.
"Yes, I already assigned him a seat."
"Would you please tell him to come to the flight deck. You can board him early," I said.
A short while later a young Army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier. The escorts ofthesefallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us. "My soldier is on his way back to Virginia," he said. He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no words.I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I told him that he had the toughest job in the military and that I appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He left the flight deck to find his seat.
We completed our preflight checks, pushed back and performed an uneventful departure. About 30 minutes into our flight I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin. "I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying is on board," she said. She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and two-year old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left. We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia.
The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane. I could hear the desperation in theflight attendant's voicewhen she asked me if there was anything I could do. "I'm on it," I said. I told her that I would get back to her.
I decided to contact my flight dispatcher directly. I explained the situation I had on board with the family and what the family wanted. He said he understood and that he would get back to me.
Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family. I sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher and the following is the text:
"Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to load the remains with a secondary van for the family. The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal where the remains can be seen on the ramp. It is a private area for the family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home. Captain, most of us here in flight control areveterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks." I sent a message back telling flight control thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, "You have no idea how much this will mean to them."
Things started getting busy for the descent, approach and landing. After landing, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge, with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway. It is always a busy area, with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.
"There is a team in place to meet the aircraft," we were told. It looked like it was all coming together, then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate I asked the co-pilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers. He did that and the ramp controller said, "Take your time." I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public address button and said, "Ladies and gentleman, this is yourcaptain speaking. I have stopped short of our gate to make aspecial announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private XXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is Army Sergeant XXXXXXX. Also, on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you."
We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures. A couple of minutes later I opened the cockpit door. I found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, all passengers on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft. When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later more passengers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words like"God Bless You," "I'm sorry," "Thank you," "Be proud," and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.
Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I had made. They were just words, I told them, I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.
PERSONNEL NON-NEWS, AT 11:26 A.M. ET: The White House says there will be no major Cabinet changes come January, despite persistent rumors of a high-level shakeup in the Obama administration. Eyes, of course, are always focused on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her political future. From the Washington Times:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Don't look for any big changes in President Obama's Cabinet as the new year gets under way.
The president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told CNN's "State of the Union" that he doesn't expect any major shuffling to take place in the Cabinet.
Mr. Gibbs said that there's much work yet to be done at the Treasury Department to implement financial reform and at the Health and Human Services Department to implement health care reform. He calls the president's team "very talented."
COMMENT: There is a general expectation that Bob Gates will leave his Defense post in 2011, and there is understandable apprehension about his replacement. Will Mr. Obama appoint a capable, solidly pro-defense administrator? Or will he try to appeal to the marshmallow wing of his party? There are some stories circulating that Colin Powell may be appointed, which would be discouraging, and look like a political payoff for Powell's support of Obama in the 2008 election.
Clinton is the star. A report surfaced this last week that outgoing Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico is being groomed as her successor. Frankly, I doubt it. Richardson was to be appointed to the Obama administration when it took office, but his appointment stalled over an ethics investigation. Also, Richardson is suspected in many circles of being a secret, card-carrying marshmallow, something this bowl-of-Jell-o president doesn't need.
OH DEAR! WAS "THAT WOMAN" RIGHT? – AT 10:49 A.M. ET: Remember how Sarah Palin was ridiculed when she warned against "death panels" in Obamacare? Well, we're not quite there, but Sarah's warnings may turn out to be prescient. The Obamans are starting to impose "regulations" on health care that they couldn't get through Congress as part of the Obamacare package. From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.
Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.
Congressional supporters of the new policy, though pleased, have kept quiet. They fear provoking another furor like the one in 2009 when Republicans seized on the idea of end-of-life counseling to argue that the Democrats’ bill would allow the government to cut off care for the critically ill.
COMMENT: The liberal New York Times is to be commended for bringing this to our attention. There is nothing in the new regulations that resembles "death panels," but the possibilities are disturbing. Doctors might, in the future, be pressured to give certain kinds of "economically sensible" advice. And reimbursement structures can be set up that favor one outcome over the other.
This is the kind of trend that must be watched carefully, almost day by day. And the burden for oversight must fall on Republicans in Congress, as well as outside groups and religious organizations.
America differs dramatically from Europe in that, as a society, we take seriously the religious admonition to "choose life." It is one of the elements of "American exceptionalism" that we should revere, and embrace, and defend. And this is certainly the week to reflect on it.
It is perfectly obvious that the Obama administration will try to do through executive fiat what it could not do by seeking approval from the people's representatives in Congress. It is the old totalitarian temptation, and we're seeing it in reports from the Environmental Protection Administration.
All right, Republicans. Put your brains where your mouths are. Get going on this.
DAMN THIS GLOBAL WARMING – AT 10:18 A.M. ET: I am informed that we're about to have a blizzard here in New York. I guess the global-warming priests are re-running the numbers.
But I must admit to skepticism. It may be just chance, but the New York City region has a history of false snowstorm alarms. Last year was particularly bad for the forecasters. We would be told we were doomed, and then TV news crews would fight to get an interview with the one snowflake that descended. The snowflake generally had no comment.
This forecast, however, does look pretty serious. We are awaiting Mayor Mike Bloomberg's statement. He will undoubtedly caution us against blaming the Muslims.
Be not in despair. In case you hear that we're snowed in, with electricity out, Urgent Agenda will still be functioning. We have battery-powered backup equipment, and, as long as cell phone service is intact, can connect to the Verizon network wirelessly. I learned well from the Boy Scouts.
So rest assured that you will not miss any important statements by Nancy Pelosi.
"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
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