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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MARCH 2, 2011
REOPEN PAN AM 103 CASE? – AT 10:30 P.M. ET: Recent comments by defecting Libyan officials about the bombing of PanAm 103 in 1988 have led to some initial actions by the U.S. Government. From Fox:
The Obama administration may seek the prosecution of Muammar Qaddafi for the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, following claims of some ex-Libyan officials that the embattled dictator personally ordered the airline attack that killed 270 people.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress this week that she has asked the FBI and Justice Department to look into the matter in response to lawmakers' requests.
"I think justice must be served," she told a Senate legislative committee Wednesday.
The U.S. has considered the bombing a closed case since a former Libyan intelligence officer was convicted of the bombing and Libya had paid compensation to families of the victims.
But Clinton noted that some Libyan officials who have defected in recent weeks have said Qaddafi gave the instructions to blow up Pan Am Flight 103.
The U.K. Telegraph reported this week that a former Libyan official, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, says Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi blackmailed Qaddafi into engineering Megrahi’s release from a Scottish prison by threatening to reveal the dictator's role.
Megrahi allegedly threatened revenge on Qaddafi unless he was returned home to his family, forcing Qaddafi to spend about $80,000 a month on legal fees in a campaign to secure the terrorist's release, the Telegraph reports.
Megrahi is the only man ever to have been convicted in the bombing, which killed all on board the New York-bound Boeing 747 and 11 people in Lockerbie in December 1998.
COMMENT: I've always believed that the PanAm 103 case was covered, right from the start, by a layer of sleaze. The attack occurred just days before Ronald Reagan left office. The new president, George H.W. Bush, who, unlike his son, saw the Mideast primarily as a place to get oil profits, never showed much interest in the terrorist attack. Even relatives of the victims who'd met with Bush described him as very cold.
There seemed to be a great sigh of relief from various political and commercial establishments when Scotland convicted one Libyan sucker for the entire operation. But common sense tells us he didn't go out and do it as a lark, or to get extra credit in terrorism class. Something that momentous – the downing of an American-flagged airliner – had to have Qaddafi's approval. We and the British just looked the other way. A barrel of oil can buy a lot of indifference. A hundred barrels can buy a birthday party for Qaddafi.
We welcome the new attention to the case, but I doubt if we'll ever have Qaddafi in custody. I take him at his word that he'll go down fighting.
March 2, 2011 Permalink
MORE CHRISTIE – AT 9:33 P.M. ET: There is more yapping about Chris Christie as a possible presidential candidate. He keeps denying he's in, or will get in...but he keeps talking about it, and that feeds the yapping. From NBC News:
Chris Christie said he knows he could win the White House if he ran for president next year.
The New Jersey governor and GOP rock star made the comments in an interview with the National Review last week while he was in Washington D.C., which was published Tuesday night.
"I have people calling me and saying to me, 'Let me explain to you how you could win.' And I’m like, 'You’re barking up the wrong tree. I already know I could win.' That's not the issue."
It's the furthest out there Christie has gone about his thinking about the 2012 race, which many conservative pundits have been pleading with him to join, citing the weakness of the field. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he acknowledged he sees the opportunity, but didn't say that he also clearly sees a road to the White House over a field of more than a dozen potential GOP rivals.
He added, "The issue is not me sitting here and saying, 'Geez, it might be too hard. I don’t think I can win.' I see the opportunity both at the primary level and at the general election level. I see the opportunity. But I’ve got to believe I’m ready to be president, and I don’t. And I think that that’s the basis you have to make that decision."
WHOOPS! That's about a 95% on the amateur meter. You never say you're not ready. It's the kind of quote that gets hung around your neck if you wind up with the nomination. From this point forward, Christie must be very careful about not saying anything that can be used against him. He has to be read his political Miranda rights.
That having been said, there is a gut feeling in the Republican Party that the usual bench of candidates doesn't contain anyone sufficiently juicy to take on Obama. I have doubts about Christie's boxing-ring manner, but the man is alive and exciting, and he's doing a great job. He has also been discussing the presidency more and more, and has spoken out on national issues.
Maybe he will reassess his readiness, and explain that what he really meant was that he wasn't ready to run because he didn't have enough suits, or charged batteries for his laptop. This will be a fascinating story if none of the other candidates catches fire.
March 2, 2011 Permalink
TWO GI's MURDERED IN GERMANY – AT 8:45 P.M. ET: Two American soldiers, about to be assigned to war zones, were shot to death by a presumed terrorist in Germany today. From ABC News:
A gunman shouting "Allahu Akbar" opened fire on a bus carrying U.S. airmen in Frankfurt, Germany, killing two and wounding two others before his gun jammed and he was subdued, officials said.
An ethnic Albanian from Kosovo was taken into custody and the FBI was heading an investigation because U.S. citizens were killed and to determine whether the shooting was an act of terrorism.
President Obama made an unscheduled appearance to say, "I am saddened and I am outraged by this attack" and U.S. investigators would work with German authorities and "spare no effort" to ensure that "all of the perpetrators are brought to justice."
He added that the killings were a "stark reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices" of American servicemembers.
COMMENT: ABC News deserves praise for putting the gunman's rant – "Allahu Akbar" – right in the first paragraph. The New York Times buried it deep in their story. CNN didn't include it at all. The Washington Post, shockingly, hasn't run the story on its website.
Now let us see if we have another Fort Hood moment. You'll recall that after the Fort Hood massacre in 2009, even our own Defense Department jumped through hoops to avoid dealing with the shooter's Islamist ideology. The chief of staff of the Army, who should have been replaced, worried out loud that the incident might increase ill feeling toward Muslim troops. Political correctness won the moment. Well, two more families are being notified today about the deaths of loved ones at the hands of what clearly appears to be an ideology-inspired terrorist. How much truth do you think we'll get?
March 2, 2011 Permalink
WAKE-UP CALL...ABOUT THE 5,000th – AT 9:51 A.M. ET: Another gross airline screening failure shows just how close we are to a potential disaster. From the New York Post:
A passenger managed to waltz past JFK's ramped-up security gantlet with three boxcutters in his carry-on luggage -- easily boarding an international flight while carrying the weapon of choice of the 9/11 hijackers, sources told The Post yesterday.
The stunning breach grounded the flight for three hours Saturday night and drew fury from Port Authority cops, who accused the Transportation Security Administration of being asleep on the job.
"In case anyone has forgotten, the TSA was created because of a couple boxcutter incidents," said one PAPD source, referring to the weapons used by al Qaeda operatives to commandeer the jets they later slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.
The two TSA agents and supervisor who completely missed the blades at a security checkpoint "will all be disciplined and undergo remedial training," said spokeswoman Ann Davis.
COMMENT: I just don't know how any agency can explain this away. Boxcutters are easily detected by screening equipment. And it wasn't just one person who messed up. It was at least three.
There have been serious questions raised about the competence of the people hired by TSA. These are low-paying jobs, and tediously boring as well. Terrorists are constantly testing the system, and trying to develop new ways to beat it. Here, a guy wasn't even trying, had obvious boxcutters, and zipped right through.
We've had several very close calls in recent years – the Christmas airline bomber, the Times Square bomber, and, no doubt, others we haven't heard about. This incident is not reassuring.
March 2, 2011 Permalink
COMBAT IN OHIO – AT 9:24 A.M. ET: With so much attention on the convulsions in Wisconsin, centered in Lenin-loving Madison, we've been ignoring the public-union fight in Ohio. No state is more important in presidential elections than the swing state of Ohio, and newly elected Governor John Kasich is already a national figure. Combat is near, as the Washington Post points out:
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Thousands of union supporters descended on the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday to protest a proposal that would dramatically curtail bargaining powers of government workers, as the state becomes the latest flash point in the fight over union rights.
Like their counterparts in Wisconsin, protesters here accused lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich (R) of trying to use a budget crisis to destroy public-sector unions. Government workers did not cause the crisis and should not bear the brunt of it, protesters said.
But unlike in the standoff in Wisconsin, Democrats don't have the numbers to walk out and delay a vote. Supporters said that a measure, which would go further than the one in Wisconsin by also affecting police officers and firefighters, could emerge from the state Senate on Wednesday.
Kasich, who supports the measure but has let Senate Republicans lead the effort to push it through, said in an interview last week that reform of public-sector unions is only one piece of a far-reaching agenda he plans to pursue this year - some of which he will lay out in his budget proposal, which he is planning to unveil in a few weeks.
"We need changes in the state of Ohio so that we can create economic growth," Kasich said. "The reining in of government can provide a better product to the customer, who happens to be the taxpayer. We need to grow. We've lost more jobs than every state in the country except Michigan and California."
Michigan and California are political poster children for liberal states. California is in particularly bad shape. If Kasich can rescue Ohio, count him as national contender. If he can't, it's back to Fox News as a regular commentator.
March 2, 2011 Permalink
GOIN' HOLLYWOOD – AT 9:07 A.M. ET: Chris Dodd, the ethically challenged former senator from Connecticut, has a new job that will make full use of his dubious talents:
Chris Dodd has gone Hollywood.
The former Democratic senator from Connecticut was named the new chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America Tuesday, nabbing one of the highest-profile lobbyist jobs in Washington. He starts March 17.
Dodd will now sit at the crossroads of Washington and Hollywood, giving him access to the glitterati that turns heads in town. As celluloid’s man in Washington, Dodd controls a private screening room where he can entertain and bend the ears of top policy- and opinion-makers while they mingle with celebrities.
In picking Dodd, the MPAA has gone with an experienced, well-liked Washington insider during a time of great change in the industry.
Get this, on Dodd's predecessor in the job, former Congressman Dan Glickman, who didn't make the cut:
Dodd will be dealing with issues such as Internet piracy, copyright infringement, taxes and ratings. Glickman’s mixed record with Congress drew criticism from the industry. In 2009, insiders grumbled that he got only $246 million worth of tax breaks for the industry in the economic stimulus bill — credits that were later cut from the final legislation after reports that the industry’s earnings had jumped by double digits.
COMMENT: Hollywood is known for cutthroat tactics, deception and ego. Washington is known for... Well, Chris fits right in.
March 2, 2011 Permalink
COMBAT IN LIBYA – AT 8:37 A.M. ET: The conflict in Libya is taking on a distinct international angle, as it becomes clear that intervention may be the only course that will prevent a massive bloodbath and the suppression of the revolt. From WaPo:
BENGHAZI, LIBYA - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi moved to recapture control of a key oil port in eastern Libya early Wednesday, trying to reverse the tide of an uprising that has seen large swaths of the country fall into the hands of the opposition.
Rebel leaders in Libya are calling for international military intervention to help topple Gaddafi, saying they believe that people power alone may not be enough to dislodge the dictator from his last remaining strongholds.
The leaders say they do not want ground forces, but are increasingly coming round to the view that help in the form of a no fly zone, as well as supplies of weaponry and air strikes will be necessary if Gaddafi is to fall.
U.S. military officials said the rebels have not yet asked them for help, and on Tuesday they played down the likelihood of the United States setting up a no-fly zone.
We are on the spot, whether we want to be or not. If we act militarily, there are certainly risks. But if we fail to act, and Gaddafi wins, it will have a devastating impact on our international influence, and may well mean the end for the freedom revolutions going on throughout the Middle East.
The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl reports on some congressional frustration over American inaction:
Diplomats say NATO won't act to stop Moammar Gaddafi from bombing his own citizens unless the U.N. Security Council passes an authorizing resolution -- and Russia and China will not allow that. Pentagon officials are meanwhile warning that any no-fly operation would require preemptive attacks on Libyan air defenses. At a Senate hearing Tuesday Gen. James Mattis, chief of U.S. Central Command, called the potential mission "challenging" and added, "it would be a military operation -- it wouldn't be just telling people not to fly airplanes."
Those comments exasperated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a former Navy pilot who, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), just returned from a tour of the Middle East. "We spend $500 billion on defense, and we can't take down Libyan air defenses?" he asked incredulously in an interview he and Lieberman gave to me and The Post's Fred Hiatt. "You tell those Libyan pilots that there is a no-fly zone, and they are not going to fly."
"I think they [in the Obama administration] are making up reasons" not to act, McCain added. "You will always have people who will find out the reasons why you can't do it. But I don't recall Ronald Reagan asking anyone's permission to get Cuba out of Grenada, or responding to the killings of American soldiers." Reagan ordered a U.S. airstrike against Libya in 1986 after U.S. soldiers were killed in a Libyan-sponsored bombing in Berlin.
Whether you think we should intervene or not, it's great to hear someone with spine speak up. Joe Lieberman said:
"Others in the Arab world are watching Gaddafi practice the most grotesque atrocities," he said. "Insofar as we get involved to stop him, the democratic revolutionaries will understand that we are taking their side." Regimes contemplating similar violence to put down protests will, of course, also take note of whether Gaddafi is allowed to succeed.
Absolutely correct. This may well be a defining moment for the United States, as well as for the Middle East. I see no great sense of urgency coming from the White House.
March 2, 2011 Permalink
MARCH 1, 2011
YOU MEAN, SALVATION HASN'T COME? – AT 9:07 P.M. ET: I'm so disappointed. I figured, now that Barack Obama is in charge of General Motors, the company could do no wrong. Every model would soar above the roads, owners would drive from N.Y. to L.A. in six and a half hours, the cars would increase in value every year, and there'd be no more climate change.
Not so fast. It hasn't quite worked out.
The flagship of the "new" General Motors is the Chevy Volt, an electric car with a backup gasoline (sinful) engine. The hype is that it will revolutionize driving, and is a historic development equal to the parting of the Red Sea. No, that hasn't worked out either, as Reuters reports:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - General Motors Co's (NYSE:GM - News) mostly electric Chevy Volt turned in a lackluster performance for efficiency in its first series of road tests by product raters at Consumer Reports.
"We would have really liked to have loved it," David Champion, director of Consumer Reports auto test center told Reuters on Monday after announcing the organization's top picks for 2011.
"It was fun to drive and the ride quality was pretty good. But when you look at the finances, for us it doesn't make any sense," Champion said.
He said consumers seeking value and top fuel efficiency would be better off buying a top-performing gasoline/electric hybrid like the Toyota Motor Corp (NYSE:TM - News; Tokyo:7203.T - News) Prius or a Fusion by Ford Motor Corp. (NYSE:F - News)
Champion's group rates ownership costs, reliability and performance in assessing value.
Consumer reports found that GM's first generation plug-in hybrid, which is the resurgent automaker's signature entry in the industry's drive for greater fuel efficiency, fell well short of its maximum range potential under battery power.
Champion said the Volt that Consumer Reports bought and tested ran for 26 miles before the vehicle's gasoline engine kicked in.
After promoting a 40-mile electric-only range for most of the Volt's development, GM last year introduced a sliding scale of between 25 and 50 miles.
The Toyota Prius, by contrast, gets 51 miles per gallon and the Ford Fusion gets 41 mpg.
The Volt, which rolled off the assembly line in December, retails for about $41,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit. The baseline Prius sells for $23,000 while the Fusion hybrid costs about $28,000.
Typical. Even with a federal subsidy, the thing is overpriced.
I actually haven't seen a single Volt on the road. If you've had any sightings, let me know. I don't know why, but when I think of Volt the name "Edsel" comes to mind. It's a puzzlement.
March 1, 2011 Permalink
CAMERON AS THE NEW WINSTON – AT 8:30 P.M. ET: In the face of American presidential weakness, British Prime Minister David Cameron, of whom not much had been expected, has stepped forward as a vigorous foreign-policy leader, providing clarity where we provide "consultations." British writer Nile Gardiner explains, in The Telegraph:
In the last few days the PM has projected strong British leadership on the Libya crisis, in marked contrast to his US counterpart, who has been distinctly underwhelming. He is winning plaudits across the Atlantic for his handling of the issue, with influential conservative publication The Weekly Standard praising his “Churchillian” statement in the House of Commons yesterday. Cameron’s recent landmark speech in Munich attacking multiculturalism and throwing down the gauntlet to militant Islamists was also widely praised in the United States, and stood in stark contrast to President Obama’s silence on the issue.
There’s no doubt about it – Britain is once again making its mark on the world stage after a period of decline under Gordon Brown, precisely at the same time that American leadership is sorely lacking. As I’ve written before, Britain may no longer be a superpower but it remains a world power, and still retains a key role in helping shape international affairs.
And in advancing this vision, Cameron is helped by a strong team of pro-Atlanticists with an important understanding of British history and her role in the world, including Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Foreign Secretary William Hague, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Education Secretary Michael Gove. This a group that does firmly believe in British exceptionalism, in contrast to a US presidency that rejects the Reaganite concept of American exceptionalism.
COMMENT: Cheers for Cameron. Of course, he has to face down the British leftists, who'd like to see a socialist, disarmed Britain, and have no problem with Islamic extremism. But Churchill had to face down the Neville Chamberlain crowd, and even parts of Britain's upper crust, who thought Hitler was just a passing nuisance...or who thought he was a great man.
George W. Bush was inconsistent, and is still in the shadow of Ronald Reagan. But he was a giant compared to the high-school philosopher who now occupies the White House. If we don't pay the price for this today, we will certainly pay it tomorrow.
March 1, 2011 Permalink
CHRISTIE ON THE ATTACK – AT 9:13 A.M. ET: Chris Christie of New Jersey, who defines the term, "effective governor," has repeatedly denied presidential ambitions. But an appearance before the board of the conservative Hoover Institution has made a number of observers wonder. From The Politico:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stepped away from the National Governors Association's meeting today for a private talk before the board of the Hoover Institution, a well-heeled Republican-leaning group whose members left, I'm told, impressed -- and with a distinct sense that Christie is eager to keep his name in the national mix.
"It was not just a speech about what he was doing in New Jersey. He went after Obama and Obama’s policies over and over and over again," said one surprised attendee, who noted that Christie had just come from a meeting with the president to the Hoover board's annual winter meeting at the Willard InterContinental hotel. "I came away thinking that he’s trying to keep his options open."
Christie dwelled exclusively on domestic policy, and showed off a detailed grasp that impressed the wonky crowd, the source said. He talked about Medicaid at length, arguing that threats of cuts to children's health care are a red herring, because children's health care is so much cheaper than care for the elderly.
"What was strking was how many times he went after Obama, and not in trivial ways," the attendee said.
COMMENT: Christie may be catching presidential fever, a chronic disease in politics, for which no cure has been developed. He would have to run on a one-term record as governor of New Jersey, and his abrasive manner may not be everyone's cup of herbal tea. And, as we've said here, it may be wrong and even offensive, but his weight will become an issue, if only a quiet one.
And yet, Christie is the kind of officeholder who demands attention. He's done great things as governor of New Jersey, and, before that, as a U.S. attorney. He's had more hands-on experience than Obama had when he ran for president, although Obama set the bar pretty low.
Even though I have some doubts about Christie as a presidential candidate, he would certainly be the bolt from the blue the Republicans need. No one ever accused him of being just the next guy in line.
March 1, 2011 Permalink
WHAT AMERICANS WANT – AT 8:53 A.M. ET: A new poll indicates that most Americans are in tune with Republican demands for smaller government, but a significant number are not. From Investor's Business Daily:
Americans are deeply split on the role of government, but the majority at this point think Washington should be smaller and provide fewer services, according to the latest IBD/TIPP poll.
Overall, nearly six in 10 (59%) Americans surveyed in February think the federal government has too much power, 31% believe it has the right amount of power and 7% say it has too little power.
Not surprisingly, 83% of Republicans and 72% of conservatives believe the government is too powerful. But 64% of independents and 62% of moderates feel the same way. Majorities of Democrats (52%) and liberals (54%) think the government has the right amount of power.
This political alignment of Republicans with independents and the ideological alignment of conservatives and moderates make small-government supporters a force to be reckoned with.
The breakdowns were similar when the 915 respondents were asked how big a government they preferred and how many services they desired. Overall, a majority (54%) prefer a smaller government providing fewer services, and 34% want a bigger government providing more services. Republicans prefer a small government by 80% to 13%, and independents prefer a smaller government by 62% to 27%. By contrast, Democrats prefer a bigger government by a 56%-28% spread.
The ideological composition of the country is 42% conservative, 37% moderate and 19% liberal. By party, 33% are Democrats, 28% Republicans and 35% independents.
COMMENT: Overall, favorable results for our side, although I'm surprised that Democrats still outnumber Republicans by five percent in the party-preference section. Republicans will win their elections through a coalition of conservatives and independents. That is why nurturing the independent vote is so critical for GOP success. And that, in turn, is why Republicans must be wary of ideological absolutism. Draw independents in. Don't repel them.
March 1, 2011 Permalink
THE ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE OF THE UNITED NATIONS – AT 8:34 A.M. ET: It is difficult to believe the mentality that grips parts of the U.N. This is the same organization that seems to have the eternal respect of the man who occupies the White House. From Fox:
As the United Nations works feverishly to condemn Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi for cracking down on protesters, the body's Human Rights Council is poised to adopt a report chock-full of praise for Libya's human rights record.
The review commends Libya for improving educational opportunities, for making human rights a "priority" and for bettering its "constitutional" framework. Several countries, including Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia but also Canada, give Libya positive marks for the legal protections afforded to its citizens -- who are now revolting against the regime and facing bloody reprisal.
Surprised to see Canada listed, as it's been terrific under Prime Minister Steve Harper. Maybe there are still some old lefties in the Foreign Ministry who collaborated with this obscenity.
The U.S. mission in Geneva said it would look into the status of the document in response to a question about whether any efforts are being made to cancel or postpone consideration of the report. But an agenda put out by the United Nations in January said the Human Rights Council, of which Libya has been a member since last year, will "consider and adopt" the document at its session, which is under way and continues to the end of March.
COMMENT: George W. Bush refused to let the United States join the Human Rights Council, as he understood exactly what it was – a front operation for some of the world's worst dictatorships. Obama, by contrast, couldn't wait for the U.S. to join under his administration, arguing that we could "influence" the council. Yeah, right. You'll notice the heavy influence.
March 1, 2011 Permalink
LIBYAN REBELS REPEL GOVERNMENT ATTEMPT TO RETAKE CITIES – AT 8:10 A.M. ET: The level of violence in Libya vastly exceeds any that we've seen in other Mideast countries, where revolution is in the air. From Fox:
TRIPOLI, Libya – Government opponents in rebel-held Zawiya repelled an attempt by forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi to retake the city closest to the capital in six hours of fighting overnight, witnesses said Tuesday.
The rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Qaddafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties in Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli.
A similar attempt was made by pro-Qaddafi forces Monday night to retake the city of Misrata, Libya's third-largest city 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli. Rebel forces there repelled the attackers.
"We will not give up Zawiya at any price," said one witness. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."
COMMENT: More serious fighting is expected today. This has the makings of a civil war, which may be avoided if Qaddafi can be forced from power.
March 1, 2011 Permalink