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 29, 2011
WHO IS BARACK OBAMA? – AT 10:39 P.M. ET: It's incredible, but we're still asking that question more than two years after President Obama took office. I know of no other recent president who remained such an enigma. John Hughes of the Christian Science Monitor takes a rather dim view of the fact that Mr. Obama is so vaguely defined, despite the massive press coverage that he receives:
The Trump-for-president campaigners have been obsessed with whether President Obama was actually born in the United States. The really intriguing question, however, is not “Where was he born?” but “Who is he?”
During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama sent shivers down the spines of many Americans with electrifying oratory that swept him into the White House on a tsunami of public anticipation and excitement.
By many accounts, he has since proved to be a president of aloofness and withdrawal on issues both at home and abroad – an approach that defies attempts to define his vision and leaves us so far with a fuzzy picture of his leadership.
Is he an overcautious politician, practicing a sphinxlike reticence to avoid damaging his aura? Or is he simply incapable of the resolute decisionmaking that a President Ronald Reagan or even a President Bill Clinton would have brought to these turbulent times?
I vote for the second choice.
In a well-analyzed speech, the president offered a puzzling definition of his foreign-policy doctrine, which seemed to say that the US might or might not intervene in instances of aggression, but only with multilateral support and not for very long, depending on how tough the circumstances were.
Yeah. Not exactly, "We will pay any price, bear any burden..."
f the US is ever to substantially reduce its mounting national budget deficit, the current costs of Medicare and Social Security, which make up a huge proportion of the budget, must be curbed. Beyond brief talking points, Obama is ducking the politically charged issue of entitlement reform while lambasting the Republicans for “asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it.” This may be smart politics in 2012, but it is not the kind of White House leadership required to solve the entitlement problem.
Obama has assigned Vice President Biden to be his point man in the looming battle in Congress over deficit reduction plans. Mr. Biden is a man of irrepressible energy and volubility, but he will have his work cut out for him. He can only move a deal so far forward. In the end, the president will have to demonstrate an involvement and leadership that has so far been elusive.
And, what's more, it never seems to get better. We often hear that outstanding presidents grow in office. Obama has sat in the office. He seems exactly the same person he was when he was inaugurated. We elected a personality, not a leader. We elected a decision examiner, not a decision maker. We are paying a price. With the economy faltering once more, the Mideast in flames, and allies increasingly ignoring the American president, that price can only increase.
MORE MAJOR NEWS FROM BRITAIN – AT 8:17 P.M. ET: Let's not be smug about it, and think that the royal wedding is the only major news coming out of Britain. There is scholarship, deep thought, major research, as London's Telegraph proudly tells us:
Animal lovers should stop calling their furry or feathered friends “pets” because the term is insulting, leading academics claim.
Domestic dogs, cats, hamsters or budgerigars should be rebranded as “companion animals” while owners should be known as “human carers”, they insist.
Even terms such as wildlife are dismissed as insulting to the animals concerned – who should instead be known as “free-living”, the academics including an Oxford professor suggest.
The call comes from the editors of then Journal of Animal Ethics, a new academic publication devoted to the issue.
It is edited by the Revd Professor Andrew Linzey, a theologian and director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, who once received an honorary degree from the Archbishop of Canterbury for his work promoting the rights of “God’s sentient creatures”.
In its first editorial, the journal – jointly published by Prof Linzey’s centre and the University of Illinois in the US – condemns the use of terms such as ”critters” and “beasts”.
COMMENT: Of course they're right. When I one called my Australian Terrier, Misty, a pet, she sat me down and explained that we no longer use the p-word. Dogs, she said, sometimes use it among themselves as a sign of solidarity, but it was rude for humans to use it. I was embarrassed. I really was. But I did pay Misty's Social Security taxes.
HOGGING THE SPOTLIGHT – AT 9:18 A.M. ET: President Obama, who assures us that he's a grownup, as compared with everyone else in town, sometimes acts like a spoiled child. Today he'll be at Cape Canaveral to observe the second to last launch of a space shuttle.
Why this, and why not the last launch? Well, Gabrielle Giffords, still recovering from a grievous gunshot wound to the head, will be there to watch her husband, the shuttle's commander, fly into space. You'd think the president would give Giffords this day alone, but I guess he couldn't resist the chance to share the spotlight with the sympathetic congresswoman. The Politico reports:
President Barack Obama told Floridians more than a year ago that no one was more committed to human space flight than he, an aficionado who appreciates Tang orange drink, Sputnik references and the program’s place in the American imagination.
But Florida still feels a bit lost in his orbit.
Obama returns to the state Friday, where the principal storyline will be his attendance alongside Rep. Gabriel Giffords (D-Ariz.) at the emotional launch of a space shuttle mission led by her husband — her first public event since suffering gun shot wounds to the head.
Yet Obama has a parallel purpose — to ease the political damage of job losses in the space industry and reaffirm his commitment to space exploration, which looms large in a high-unemployment battleground state that looks to the skies for its future, self-image and economic well-being.
Obama sparked a political backlash last year with a fundamental reordering of NASA. He sought to scrap a planned return to the moon and turn to private companies and foreign nations to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. The proposal left the industry feeling uncertain about its future, despite his efforts to protect the agency’s funding and plot a new course to put astronauts on an asteroid and Mars within 25 years.
Depending on foreign nations to ferry astronauts does not sit well with Americans. We have dominated space exploration, and Americans like to be leaders. Someone tell the White House.
Not only that, his trip follows the loss of a promised $40 million grant to help laid-off shuttle workers find new jobs, a casualty of the recent federal budget deal between the White House and Congress. Two weeks ago, NASA’s prime shuttle contractor announced another 2,000 layoffs as the agency winds down the 30-year-old program.
Why is it that this president takes aim at every area of American pride? A journalist said this week in a New Yorker piece that Obama's approach can be called "leading from behind." Yeah, I'm afraid that's right. And staying behind.
Reagan told us it was always morning in America. Obama wonders whether that's a good thing. And that's the difference between a great president and a political misfit.
AGAIN, IN SYRIA – AT 8:41 A.M. ET: Mass demonstrations are erupting in Syria again today, another indication of a Mideast in flames. And again the government is ready to fire into crowds, having received nothing more than a wrist slap from the "international community." The president of the United States, who hustled American ally Mubarak out of power in Egypt, seems entirely detached. From Reuters:
(Reuters) - Thousands of Syrians called on Friday for the toppling of President Bashar al-Assad and pledged support for the city of Deraa where tanks and troops have tried to crush resistance to his authoritarian rule, activists said.
"The people want the overthrow of the regime!" demonstrators chanted in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, a witness said, defying violent repression in which 500 people have been killed since the nationwide protests broke out in Deraa last month.
Demonstrations erupted on Friday in the central cities of Homs and Hama, Banias on the Mediterranean coast, Qamishly in eastern Syria and Harashta, a Damascus suburb. Shots were heard in coastal Latakia and two small protests broke out in Damascus, witnesses, an opposition leader and a human rights group said.
In Deraa, Syrian soldiers fired shots in the air to prevent people attending Friday prayers or protesting, a resident told Reuters. Another said busloads of people were heading to Deraa from nearby villages, trying to converge for demonstrations.
"The snipers are on rooftops of buildings firing at anything that moves. They are preventing people from going to the streets," Abu Mohammad told Al Jazeera television.
As this is happening, the UN Human Rights Council is poised to make Syria a member. Unbelievable.
The news from the Mideast is generally grim, with potential implications for the United States, the price of oil, terrorism, and peace. The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, and the extremist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, have reached a reconciliation agreement, which means the Palestinian "government" will have a faction formally designated as "terrorist" by the United States. That may have to mean a cutoff in American aid. The agreement, which may or may not last, was brokered by Egypt, which is playing an increasingly unhelpful role in Mideast affairs. Egypt is drifting further and further away from pro-Western policies, with Islamists gaining strength all the time. It is moving toward normalizing relations with Iran, a serious blow to American influence.
Libya? Who knows what's happening. It's been pushed off the front page. But NATO is still engaged, and Gadaffi is still in power.
Is anyone in Washington watching? Wasn't Egypt a major ally just yesterday, and a major recipient of American aid? Didn't we just return our ambassador to Syria because we thought the government was reformist?
Anyone know how to play this game? Not the president, apparently.
OBAMA FALTERING – AT 8:23 A.M. ET: The first debate among potential GOP candidates for president will be held next week, and we'll consider that the official opening of the campaign season.For President Obama, the current political news is less than exciting. His numbers continue to slide:
(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama’s weekly approval rating remained at its all-time low for the second straight week, according to the Gallup poll.
In the week of April 11-17 and again in the week of April 18-24, 43 percent of the Americans polled by Gallup said they approved of the job Obama was doing as president.
That matched the all-time low for Obama’s weekly approval in the Gallup poll. Previously, Obama had earned a 43 percent approval rating in the back-to-back weeks of Aug. 16-22, 2010 and Aug. 23-29, 2010.
Obama’s weekly approval rating peaked at 67 percent in the week of Jan. 19-25, 2009—the week he was inaugurated.
COMMENT: Poll numbers won't take on truly serious meaning until the Republicans have a nominee, or at least a frontrunner. Barbour has dropped out, and it appears that Mike Huckabee, who has been among the GOP favorites, may soon follow. Trump is there, but in the end won't be taken seriously. The betting is that Sarah will say no. Ron Paul, who has essentially declared, is a pro-Islamist disgrace. Mitt Romney essentially leads the field, but with remarkably little popular support.
We're not left with much electricity. I see the term "dark horse" being used more and more in political commentary, reflecting the dissatisfaction with the Republican field. True, a party nominee achieves instant status, and even one of the "dull" ones might well surprise us. Mitch Daniels, the ultra-competent governor of Indiana, needs an emergency charisma transplant, but is immensely popular in his home state. Remember, many Republicans thought Ronald Reagan in 1980 was an over-the-hill movie actor who had some nerve running for president.
We'll watch the debate next week. Give us signs of life.
THIS MORNING – AT 7:58 A.M. ET: While all of you were warmly comfy in your beds, dreaming sweet dreams, I was up early as usual, researching Urgent Agenda, and heroically facing down the demons of the left, single-handedly holding them at bay on behalf of American purity.
However, I did take a few minutes out to peek at the royal wedding. It happened to come at an hour when the left was having its tofu breakfast.
Boy, these Brits do those things well, don't they? I mean, the empire is shot to hell, the Royal Navy may soon be down to three rowboats and a rubber ducky, but royal weddings...nobody does it better. They get Westminster Abbey, free of charge I think, and they get these fellas from the Church of England, each one of whom has a voice from the well. The Metropolitan Opera doesn't have better voices.
And those uniforms. I tell you, the Brits do the 19th century with real respect. I haven't seen uniforms like that since striking doormen marched down Fifth Avenue in New York. I looked out at that assemblage, and all I could think of was...that will be some dry-cleaning bill.
Some observations: Kate – I believe that's the bride's name – didn't look particularly happy. It looked as if she were thinking, "What am I doing in a flat like this?" In fact, no one looked happy. As great a show as it was, it could've used a little Italian or Greek spirit. The royals aren't exactly knee slappers.
One person in the crowd stood out – Prince Charles, who looked 107, give or take a few months. He looked almost as old as his mother, the queen. I can't see Charles becoming king. It just wouldn't be good for tourism. The gent who got married today, William, is a better candidate. Seems like a decent enough chap, and looked reasonably human. Charles appeared as if he'd just been done by a discount taxidermist.
MORE ECONOMIC TRUTH – AT 10:59 P.M. ET: More economic truth, from people on the front lines. Via CNN:
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Wal-Mart's core shoppers are running out of money much faster than a year ago due to rising gasoline prices, and the retail giant is worried, CEO Mike Duke said Wednesday.
"We're seeing core consumers under a lot of pressure," Duke said at an event in New York. "There's no doubt that rising fuel prices are having an impact."
Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in.
Lately, they're "running out of money" at a faster clip, he said.
"Purchases are really dropping off by the end of the month even more than last year," Duke said. "This end-of-month [purchases] cycle is growing to be a concern.
COMMENT: It's probably ho-hum at the White House. After all, aren't these the people who cling to their guns and their religion? Why should more advanced specimens of humanity be interested in their plight? They probably want station wagons, too.
MAJOR CULTURAL NEWS – AT 10:47 P.M. ET: If you want to get a hint about where America is culturally, just read this, from Comics Alliance:
After recently undertaking a journey to walk -- not fly -- across the United States in the "Grounded" storyline and reconnect with the country and everyday Americans, Superman appears to be taking another step that could have major implications for his national identity: in Action Comics #900...
...Superman announces that he is going to give up his U.S. citizenship. Despite very literally being an alien immigrant, Superman has long been seen as a patriotic symbol of "truth, justice, and the American way," from his embrace of traditional American ideals to the iconic red and blue of his costume. What it means to stand for the "American way" is an increasingly complicated thing, however, both in the real world and in superhero comics, whose storylines have increasingly seemed to mirror current events and deal with moral and political complexities rather than simple black and white morality.
The key scene takes place in "The Incident," a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President's national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.
Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day -- and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective. From a "realistic" standpoint it makes sense; it would indeed be impossible for a nigh-omnipotent being ideologically aligned with America to intercede against injustice beyond American borders without creating enormous political fallout for the U.S. government.
COMMENT: I personally prefer truth, justice, and the American way. And, somehow, I think most of us can define those things.
THE UN SWINGS INTO INACTION – AT 9:21 A.M. ET: One of the saddest aspects of the Obama foreign policy is the emphasis it places on the UN, a hobbled, corrupt, dishonest and ineffective institution whose greatest feature is the nice views from its building overlooking the East River in New York.
The Syrian government is shooting its own citizens in the streets, and what is the UN's response? You can probably guess, but here it is:
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The deeply divided U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a European and U.S.-backed statement condemning Syrian violence against peaceful protesters on Wednesday, with Russia saying security forces were also killed and the actions don't threaten international peace.
"A real threat to regional security in our view could arise from outside interference in Syria's domestic situation including attempts to push ready-made solutions or taking of sides," Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Alexander Pankin warned the U.N.'s most powerful body during a public session that followed, saying this could lead to civil war.
"It is extremely important to focus all attempts on avoiding such a dangerous turn of events, especially as Syria is a cornerstone of the Middle East security architecture," he said. "Destabilizing this significant link in the chain will lead to complications throughout the region."
China and India called for political dialogue and peaceful resolution of the crisis, with no mention of condemnation.
China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said the turbulence in the Mideast and North Africa has also "dealt a big blow to the stability in this region."
If the underlying issues aren't addressed, he warned, "they will jeopardize peace and stability in other regions. They would also have a major negative impact on the recovery of the world economy."
This is disgraceful. A draft condemning the violence against Syrian protesters was circulated by France, Britain, Germany and Portugal – note the absence of the United States – and failed.
The erosion of American strength is evident by the fact that we have so little influence left at the UN. Condemning the Syrian crackdown should be an easy call, but at the UN nothing is easy.
I'm surprised that India, which had been moving in our direction during the Bush administration, sided with the Syrian government on this. Maybe the Indians see which way the political winds are blowing.
A senior military officer with extensive experience in south Asia wrote to us yesterday pointing out the substantial uptick in violence in Afghanistan, and attributing it partly to the perception of American weakness.
At one time Americans had learned that lesson, based on our painful unpreparedness for World War II. Now we're forgetting again.
WASN'T UNEMPLOYMENT SUPPOSED TO DROP? – AT 9:15 A.M. ET: Added to the grim economic growth figures cited in the post just below is the new jobs report. Americans aren't exactly flocking back to work:
WASHINGTON (AP) — More people sought unemployment benefits last week, the second rise in three weeks, and a sign that the recovery in the job market has been slow and uneven.
The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits jumped 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 429,000 for the week ending April 23. That was the highest total since late January.
The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, rose to 408,500, its third straight rise and the first time it has topped 400,000 in two months.
Applications near 375,000 are consistent with sustained job creation. Applications peaked during the recession at 659,000.
PATHETIC – AT 8:58 A.M. ET: A report just out on the American economy gives no reason for cheers. Where is this recovery we hear about? From Bloomberg:
April 28 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. economy grew at a slower pace than forecast in the first quarter as consumer purchases cooled, home construction fell and government spending declined.
Gross domestic product rose at a 1.8 percent annual rate from January through March after a 3.1 percent pace in the last three months of 2010, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. Economists projected 2 percent growth, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Higher gas prices prompted Americans to limit spending after they ramped up purchases in the prior three months.
It's those gas prices. They'll get worse. The president will urge us to run our cars on discarded Happy Meals.
Some economists are predicting that the figures will improve during the year, but it's hard to see how that can happen if fuel prices keep rising, especially as we get into home-heating season.
Inflation is still reported low, but most Americans are unaware that fuel and food prices aren't included in the inflation index, an absurd way of reporting. We see higher food prices every day.
Obama is going into the election season with a weak economy and promises unmet. He's going in with a confused, losing foreign policy.
But he is still favored to win by most political observers because the GOP just doesn't have, at least for now, a candidate who can out-campaign Obama, and the press will put its very large finger on the scale, as it did in 2008.
IS THE BLOOM OFF THE GOP ROSE? – AT 8:33 A.M. ET: One of the problems of being elected is that you have to do stuff, and some of the people don't like some of the stuff...inevitably. Speaker Boehner, who has done a credible job since taking over in January, is suffering the effects of incumbency. From The Politico:
House Speaker John Boehner has become less popular with Americans across the political spectrum since taking the gavel in January.
A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Wednesday showed that 56 percent of Republicans view him favorably, down from 65 percent in January.
Among independents, his net favorable ratings are down a whopping 27 percentage points. About 29 percent of independents said they hold a favorable view of the speaker.
And 46 percent of Democrats find him unfavorable, up from 34 percent.
“The Speaker is focused on the big challenges facing our country — and, thus far, the Democrats who still run Washington seem more focused on partisan attacks that real solutions,” Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said in response to the numbers.
In the first four months of his term as speaker of the House, the Ohio Republican has been through several epic battles, including a number of short-term government funding measures, extending the Patriot Act and shepherding through a controversial 2012 spending blueprint.
Overall, the poll said that Boehner’s favorable/unfavorable ratings are identical: 34 percent of Americans see him favorably, and 34 see him unfavorably. In January — the last time Gallup polled — 42 percent of people saw him favorably, nearly double the 22 who had the opposite view.
COMMENT: Some of this goes with the territory. However, and this must be said, Republicans who take delight in Obama's falling numbers should understand that the GOP isn't exactly basking in public love. The Republicans are allowing the Democrats to define them as the party of wealth, coldness, kookiness, and indifference to seniors, minorities, kittens and everything good.
The drop in Boehner's standing among independents is instructive. Obama has suffered the same kind of drop. Remember that "independents" have no party loyalty, and are often the most cantankerous and disgruntled of voters. When they turn against Obama we cheer, and hope that it will tip a future election. But they turn against our side just as often.
MR. EFFECTIVE – AT 8:19 A.M. ET: We see things every day to show us why Barack Obama can be compared to Jimmy Carter. Carter himself is the gift that keeps giving – showing us how truly pathetic he really is. The former president, who prides himself on his purity and wonderfulness, has taken a trip to North Korea with Mary Robinson, the Carteresque former president of Ireland, who presided over the infamous Durban conference of 2001, which turned into a hatefest:
SEOUL - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is ready to hold direct talks with South Korea but the isolated state will not apologize for two deadly attacks on the divided peninsula last year, former US president Jimmy Carter said on Thursday.
Sure. We're for peace, but we reserve the right to kill you.
Carter returned from a three-day trip to Pyongyang having failed to meet Kim, but he and three other former state leaders -- known as the Elders -- received a last-minute message from the leader saying he was willing to talk with anyone at anytime without preconditions.
The little North Korean pipsqueak won't even meet with Jimmy Carter, which probably tells us how important Carter really is.
"He specifically told us he is prepared to meet directly with (South Korean) President Lee Myung-bak any time," Carter told a press conference in Seoul.
If Kim was willing to discuss nuclear and other military issues with South Korea, it would mark a change in policy -- the North has previously said it would only discuss them with the United States.
"Chairman and General Secretary Kim Jong-il said he is willing and the people of North Korea are willing to negotiate with South Korea or with the United States or with the six powers on any subject any time and without any preconditions."
Earlier however, Carter on his group's website (www.theelders.org) appeared to suggest that there were preconditions for six-party talks aimed at disarmament.
"The sticking point -- and it's a big one -- is that they won't give up their nuclear program without some kind of security guarantee from the US." he said.
The North has repeatedly stated it wants an assurance the United States will not attack it, as well as a peace treaty.
Carter cannot emotionally accept what North Korea really is. He is the Neville Chamberlain of our time, but Chamberlain dressed better.
"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
THE ANGEL'S CORNER
Part I of The Angel's Corner was sent late Wednesday night.
Part II will be sent over the weekend.
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