The Cliffhanger, March 8

Ever since the language of the “fiscal cliff” was appropriated to describe the political battle over a tax increase, it’s become increasingly clear that every issue is a “cliff” now.  Here are today’s snapshots from the edge…

** North Korea tantrum update: There’s a mighty big cliff forming in North Korea, and the Cliffhanger remains committed to dangling from it.  Today’s outburst from dictator Kim Jong Un – the most dangerous brat since Damien Thorn of The Omen – involves canceling North Korea’s non-aggression pact with the South, instructing his people to prepare for “all-out war,” and possibly pulling the plug on the hotline to the United States, although some U.S. officials think the Norks are just refusing to pick up the phone.  This could be a form of psychological warfare, because doesn’t it drive you nuts when you know someone is home, but they won’t pick up the damn phone?  Undeterred, on Thursday the U.N. Security council adopted sanctions that will “bite, and bite hard,” according to America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who will now begin an intensive search for an offensive YouTube video that can be blamed for Kim Jong-Un’s behavior.  Critics wonder if these new sanctions – which include measures, such as a ban on the sale of luxury goods to North Korea, which are designed to make the filthy-rich kleptocrat ruling class uncomfortable – will be effective, noting that China can fairly easily short-circuit them.  A lot will depend on whether China is as exasperated with the Norks as they seem to be.  We’ll know the sanctions are working when something blows up.  The Norks traditionally celebrate each new incoming South Korean administration by murdering someone.

** “Star Wars” is ready to roll: No, not the new films.  Those will hopefully be wonderful too, but they’re still years away.  George Lucas says Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia will all appear.  Are you excited or apprehensive about the prospect of seeing Grandpa Solo climb into the  Millennium Falcon and drive across the galaxy with his left-turn signal on?

But I digress: the “Star Wars” already thankfully ready to debut is missile defense technology, which the White House says makes America “fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack.”  Experts say the Norks probably don’t have a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental United States, but then again George Lucas once said there probably wouldn’t be any more Star Wars movies, and look what happened.  Thank God nobody paid attention to the Democrats who spent decades sneering that missile defense is impossible.

** Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law to appear in New York courtroom: Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is set to appear in a federal courtroom in New York today, where he’ll face charges of conspiracy to kill Americans.  A couple of Republican Senators derided this as a “sneaky” effort to slip an enemy combatant into civilian courts, against the will of Congress.  “The Obama administration’s lack of a war-time detention policy for foreign members of al Qaeda, as well as its refusal to detain and interrogate these individuals at Guantanamo, makes our nation less safe.  We are at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups, and America’s detention policy must reflect that reality,” said Senators Kelly Ayotte and… Lindsey Graham, whose faith in Barack Obama’s wartime judgment is usually boundless.  He’ll have plenty of time to regain it, because the trial will probably last for years.

** Speed cameras struck down in Ohio court: An interesting ruling on Thursday struck down the use of automated camera systems to detect speeding motorists and remotely slap them with $105 fines.  One reason the ruling is interesting is that Judge Robert Ruehlman is a live wire who peppered his decision with caps, boldface, and firework bursts of exclamation points, like this: “Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3 CARD MONTY!”

But even if written by a less entertaining judge, it would still be interesting, because it may have ramifications for the growing movement against automated red-light and speeding cameras across the nation.  Proponents say these systems are necessary to promote public safety in the face of police manpower shortages.  Critics say they’re moneymaking scams for local governments and their private contractors, unfairly violate the procedural rights of motorists, and actually frighten paying customers away from businesses in camera-blanketed areas.

It would probably a good idea to work these issues out right now, before drones take over traffic enforcement.  The drones are already in a bad mood because they think we don’t trust them to take out terrorists at coffee shops.  And they probably are going to enter the public-safety picture in a big way soon, as domestic drone licenses begin proliferating over the next few years.

** President Obama locates perfect official to attend Hugo Chavez funeral: Say what you will about Barack Obama’s general air of incompetence, but sometimes he gets things exactly right.  He found the most absolutely appropriate emissary to dispatch to Venezuela for the funeral of Hugo Chavez: Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY), who allegedly once asked Chavez to use his dictatorial muscle to punish an enemy of a top Meeks donor.  Supposedly that 2006 pilgrimage to Caracas was intended to thank Chavez for donating heating oil to poor Americans trapped in Democrat-run states.  It’s hard to imagine a more fitting courier to convey a farewell salute between the political classes of America and Venezuela.

** Public education triumphs in New York: It looks like one reason Mayor Bloomberg has to keep banning stuff is that many of his constituents can’t read the warning labels.  CBS News reports that “nearly 80 percent of New York City high school graduates need to relearn basic skills before they can enter the City University’s community college system.”  By “basic skills” they mean reading, writing, and math.  That’s about 11,000 high-school graduates who can’t read their diplomas.  Oh, well, we can probably fix all that in college – it’s not as if college tuition rates are wildly inflated and require kids to accumulate gigantic amounts of debt, right?  Or maybe we should just throw another massive pile of taxpayer cash at the people who engineered this educational triumph.  Which is currently higher in New York: per-student spending, or each student’s share of government debt?

** A bold step forward for accuracy in media: A meteorologist who inaccurately predicted a snowpocalypse in Washington, D.C. this week, Tucker Barnes of Fox 5 News, has been made to sit in the corner with his head bowed, live on the air.  If more media organizations follow Mr. Barnes’ courageous example, the quality of reportage in the United States could improve exponentially.  Although… it’s hard to tell from the picture if he’s hanging his head in shame, or maybe he’s got his smartphone hidden in his lap and he’s playing “Fruit Ninja,” while having a laugh at our expense.  It’s too soon to relax our media skepticism.  Maybe it would be better to make wayward journalists wear the Cone of Shame, because that way, they could remain productive while enduring public humiliation.


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