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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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FEBRUARY 3,  2012

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 8:38 P.M. ET:

SYRIA – A human rights group is claiming that a more than 100 people have just been killed by government forces in the city of Homs, adding to the thousands already dead in the violent struggles within the country since early last year.  Tomorrow the UN Security Council will vote on an Arab-approved plan to ease the Assad government out of power, and, but even at this hour, we're not sure whether Russia, which has veto power, will let it pass.  Russia has been defiant in its support of the Syrian regime and insistent that it has the right to sell weapons to that government.  Our influence with Russia, despite the presence of a godlike figure in the White House, has been negligible.

THE UN TAX – The UN now wants a tax on all financial transactions that will fund a global program for helping "needy" people.   You may be sure that, if the tax ever goes into effect, the bureaucracy set up for spending the money will be larger than the number of people served.  And these recipients will never be encouraged to get out of poverty, lest the bureaucracy's usefulness be challenged.  This is clearly a scheme to transfer wealth from richer to poor countries, with no guarantee that the money will ever be well spent.

NEW IRAN FEAR – American officials fear that Iran has given new freedoms to five top Al QED operatives who have been under house arrest in the country, and may have given permission for them to leave Iran.  It is also feared that Iran is now giving material aid to the terror group.  This week Iran prevented UN inspectors from gaining access to sites and scientists involved in the Iranian nuclear program.  Tensions with Iran are increasing, with that country making front-page news every day.  The State Department reiterated the administration's pledge to prevent Iran from getting the atomic bomb, but there does not appear to be any clear route to this goal.

NEVADA – The Nevada caucuses are tomorrow.  Pre-caucus polls show Mitt Romany with a commanding lead, although Ginger continues to campaign vigorously.  On Tuesday, by the way, there's a primary in Missouri, but a strange one.  Because of a dispute within the Republican Party, no delegates will be selected, and Newt Ginger isn't on the ballot Santo rum is, and there's speculation that he could win the primary, even if it's a meaningless one, and thus claim that a single "antimony" candidate can defeat Romany at the polls.

February 3,  2012    Permalink

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ROMNEY RUNNING EVEN WITH OBAMA – AT 10:08 A.M. ET:  Scott Rasmussen reports that, as of today, the presidential race is tied up:

In a potential Election 2012 matchups, it’s President Obama 45% and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney 45%. This is the first time that Romney has been even with the president since late December (see tracking history).  Obama receives 84% support from Democrats while Romney picks up 80% of the GOP vote. The Republican frontrunner has a four point advantage among unaffiliated voters.

And...

Matchups for other Republican contenders are updated weekly on a rotating basis. The latest numbers show former Senator Rick Santorum trailing the president by two points, 46% to 44%. Congressman Ron Paul trails by three, 45% to 42%. However, if former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the Republican nominee, the president holds an eight point lead, 49% to 41%.

COMMENT:  These figures strike me as very tentative and good mostly for entertainment.  The fact that Ron Paul, with his extreme views on foreign policy, is almost even with Romney indicates that many who are polled haven't focused closely on the race.

Frankly, I'd hoped that GOP candidates would be ahead by this point.  The numbers, although tentative, show what a tough fight this is going to be.  Republicans face a well-oiled, Chicago-based political machine, and also face the mainstream media.

February 3, 2012       Permalink

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SNIPPET OF THE DAY – AT 10:03 A.M. ET:

From AP:   LONDON — British leader David Cameron made a third unwanted shake up of his government since 2010 on Friday after Cabinet minister Chris Huhne quit as prosecutors charged him over an alleged attempt to pin a speeding penalty on his ex-wife.  Huhne, who will continue to serve in Parliament with the Liberal Democrat party, will appear in court later this month to face a criminal charge of perverting the course of justice.  The charge follows an eight-month police investigation into an allegation that Huhne persuaded his now ex-wife, economist Vicky Pryce, to accept a speeding penalty on his behalf in 2003, to avoid a driving ban.  Pryce, who is also charged with the same offense, split from Huhne in 2010 after he was exposed as having an affair with his public relations adviser Carina Trimingham.

What this man needs is some good character witnesses – Bill Clinton, John Edwards.  Please make suggestions.

 

ECONOMIC GAIN, AND A PLUS FOR OBAMA – AT 9:31 A.M. ET:  It's widely believed that the upcoming election will be fought on the economy.  Today's economic news must be considered, on the surface at least, a plus for the president:

The nation’s unemployment rate dropped for the fifth straight month to 8.3 percent, its lowest level in three years, the Labor Department reported Friday, with widespread hiring across the economy.

The number of jobs grew by 243,000, the government said.

The Labor Department recorded gains in many parts of the economy including the restaurant business, accounting, health care and retail stores.

In all, the ranks of the unemployed dropped to 12.8 million in January from 13.1 million the month before.

And now the less-attractive details:

But while the hiring was described as an encouraging sign by economists, there seemed to be little movement among the ranks of the long-term unemployed and discouraged workers. The number of long-term unemployed, people have who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more, was little changed at 5.5 million, the report said. They accounted for 42.9 percent of the unemployed.

The number of persons employed part time because their hours had been cut back or because they couldn’t find full-time work also held steady in January, at 8.2 million.

Moreover, the number of people the Labor Department classifies as “marginally attached” to the economy, held steady at about 2.8 million. The government classifies as “marginally attached” people who want to work and have looked for a job sometime in the last 12 months. They are not counted as unemployed because they have not looked for work in the last month.

And there's more concern:

It appears that the people not in the labor force exploded by an unprecedented record 1.2 million. No, that's not a typo: 1.2 million people dropped out of the labor force in one month! So as the labor force increased from 153.9 million to 154.4 million, the non institutional population increased by 242.3 million meaning, those not in the labor force surged from 86.7 million to 87.9 million. Which means that the civilian labor force tumbled to a fresh 30 year low of 63.7% as the BLS is seriously planning on eliminating nearly half of the available labor pool from the unemployment calculation.

COMMENT:  But it's the basic figure, the job growth, that will grab the headlines and help the president politically.  We are far from out of the woods.  The political question is whether there will be enough good news by election day to save Obama's job.

The election is nine months away. 

February 3,  2012     Permalink

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PRESIDENT AND CHURCH – AT 9:05 A.M. ET:  This story is growing, and can become a major campaign issue.  The Obama administration is insisting that religious institutions offer health insurance to their imployees containing provisions that violate their beliefs. 

Many political observers are astounded by this.  It is a fight the Obamans didn't need in an election year, but they chose to have it.  Peggy Noonan, in The Wall Street Journal, believes this can cost Obama the presidency:

President Obama just may have lost the election.

The president signed off on a Health and Human Services ruling that says under ObamaCare Catholic institutions—including charities, hospitals and schools—will be required by law, for the first time ever, to provide and pay for insurance coverage that includes contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures. If they do not, they will face ruinous fines in the millions of dollars. Or they can always go out of business.

In other words, the Catholic Church was told this week that its institutions can't be Catholic anymore.

I invite you to imagine the moment we are living in without the church's charities, hospitals and schools. And if you know anything about those organizations, you know it is a fantasy that they can afford millions in fines.

There was no reason to make this ruling—none. Except ideology.

The conscience clause, which keeps the church itself from having to bow to such decisions, has always been assumed to cover the church's institutions.

Now the church is fighting back. Priests in an estimated 70% of parishes last Sunday came forward to read strongly worded protests from the church's bishops. The ruling asks the church to abandon Catholic principles and beliefs; it is an abridgement of the First Amendment; it is not acceptable. They say they will not bow to it. They should never bow to it, not only because they are Catholic and cannot be told to take actions that deny their faith, but because they are citizens of the United States.

And...

There are 77.7 million Catholics in the United States. In 2008 they made up 27% of the electorate, about 35 million people. Mr. Obama carried the Catholic vote, 54% to 45%. They helped him win.

They won't this year. And guess where a lot of Catholics live? In the battleground states.

There was no reason to pick this fight. It reflects political incompetence on a scale so great as to make Mitt Romney's gaffes a little bitty thing.

There was nothing for the president to gain, except, perhaps, the pleasure of making a great church bow to him.

Enjoy it while you can. You have awakened a sleeping giant.

COMMENT:  The president's actions are outrageous.  They will be tested in the Supreme Court, and he will likely lose.  This court, including its liberal minority, has been sensitive to religious rights.

Of course, the usual suspects are siding with Obama.  The New York Times, never willing to miss a chance to bash religion, is right up front in its gleeful support.  But most Americans, Catholic or not, will, I think, be repelled by this ideological attack on a religious institution. 

The people siding with Obama are the ones who will vote for him anyway.  Those opposed consist of supporters, opponents and independents.  The Republicans, if they handle this issue skilfully, can properly gain support.  Let's see if Romney can handle this political windfall.

February 3, 2012       Permalink

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STRANGE – AT 8:12 A.M.:  Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates said that in all his years of public service, the Iran issue is the most difficult.  It is difficult because there are no good solutions.

If we, or the Israelis, strike Iran militarily, it could set back or even destroy that country's nuclear program.  But it could also unleash economic convulsions and and lead to a wider military conflict.  But if we, or the Israelis, do not strike Iran, Iran will surely get the atomic bomb, placing the most terrible weapon in history in the hands of a fanatical regime whose vision of the world is horrifying. 

There is a lot of Iran news, some of it very strange.  The current secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, has now said – and he refuses to withdraw the statement – that Israel might strike Iran in April, May, or June.  It is extraordinary for an official to discuss such an eventuality and give specific dates.  I don't recall it ever happening before. 

What was the purpose of the statement?  That is being debated across the internet and in the mainstream media.  Was it to warn the Iranians that they'd better get serious about curtailing their nuclear program?  Or was it to give away a critical piece of information in the hope that it would deter the Israelis from attacking?  Or was it something else?

The American "red line" on Iran, and the Israeli red line, are different.  To the United States, the red line is a decision by Iran to actually build a bomb, or information that they've done so.  But to Israel, the red line is the point at which the Iranian nuclear program becomes invulnerable to conventional attack.  Iran is hardening its nuclear facilities, placing many of them deep underground.  It is widely accepted in defense circles that we don't have a conventional bomb, at present, that can penetrate that far.  That leaves the option of using nuclear weapons, and that is just unacceptable to Washington.

So the Israeli red line seems to be the most realistic.  If Iran can make a conventional attack ineffective, we are truly hamstrung.  The Israelis believe, and it appears that our intelligence people agree, that invulnerability will occur this spring or summer.  At the same time, and as we reported here yesterday, our intelligence people also believe that the Iranians are quite willing to strike at American targets, even without an attack on their soil, and they might even strike within the United States itself...a terrorist attack.

Further, there is growing concern that Iran's alliance with Venezuela and its relations with drug cartels south of our Mexican border could give it the ability to smuggle weapons and dangerous materials, like radioactive substances, into the U.S.

We currently have in place some serious sanctions on Iran.  By all accounts they are hurting the Iranian economy.  What they don't seem to be hurting is Iran's nuclear program.  Nothing we've done or proposed has ever stopped that program.  And that program will be invulnerable to conventional attack within months.

Our allies seem to be with us, but whether they'll be with us, or Israel, if a military action is deemed necessary, is problematical.  In a stunning development, the German head of a major international security conference has just said that we can learn to live with an Iranian nuclear bomb.  Germany has disturbingly close relations with Iran.  In another upsetting development, Nick Clegg, whose liberal party is part of the governing coalition of Britain, is making his usual left-wing noises about the danger of war with Iran...exactly the wrong message to send to Tehran.  If Tehran senses fear rather than resolve, it will surely move forward toward a bomb.

There are no good choices here.  But there were no good choices in the late 1930s either.  Resisting Germany and aggressive Japan could have meant war.  Appeasement brought peace – for a time – and dishonor.  Churchill said it best about the policies of his own country.  Britain had a choice between war and dishonor.  It chose dishonor...and it got war.

We live in interesting times.  And we lack greatness in the White House.

February 3,  2012     Permalink

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FEBRUARY 2,  2012

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 8:54 P.M. ET:

THEY JUST DON'T GET IT – The New York Times, presumably the nation's leading newspaper, sometimes called "the newspaper of record," has seen another financial decline.  It lost almost $40-million in 2011, with its fourth-quarter profits down 12.2% from the same period in 2012.  Newspapers are all under pressure because of competing media, but The Times has shown a remarkable refusal to recognize the special source of its own woes – a decline in the quality and objectivity of the paper.  The Times is special.  It should weather a hard economic climate because it has, historically, been seen as indispensable.  It is no longer indispensable because of what it has done to itself, but the illusion hasn't burst yet inside its new headquarters building, which it has been forced to sell.

TRUE BROTHERS – Americans have watched in dismay as American citizens are detained in Egypt by the military government.  They are democracy workers employed by non-profits.  Blame goes to the transitional government, but now the new guys coming into power, the key figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, have expressed their support for the high-profile investigations into the groups, claiming they could be doing more harm than good.  We are being sold a bill of goods by the Obamans that the Brotherhood has "moderated" its behavior, but its support for the military's action will not help with the image makeover.  More liberal activists in Egypt are already accusing the Brotherhood of using old totalitarian tactics to consolidate its power.  Aren't you shocked?

CAVE-IN – The United States and its allies have caved in to Russian pressure at the UN and have withdrawn a demand to impose new sanctions and a voluntary arms embargo on Syria.  Presumably, this is in exchange for a Russian agreement to a resolution that would pave the way for Syrian dictator Assad's departure.  But the Russians have not yet signed on to the plan.  Russia's resolute support of the Damascus regime, which each day is murdering its citizens in the streets, has not diminished, once again demonstrating that the old Russia is returning.  This pretty much wrecks the idea that Obama and Clinton have been able to manage a "reset" in US-Moscow relations.  The only reset button that's functioning is the one pushed by Russia, which is resetting much of the old Cold War.

OBAMA'S ECONOMIC APPROVAL – Only 36% of likely voters grade President Obama as either good or excellent in handling the economy, according to a new Rasmussen poll.  Some 62% rate him as fair to poor, with 45% rating him poor.  The poll shows particular problems with men, middle-aged and senior voters, and independents.  Democrats say they need just six more months to show that the economy is turning around. 

February 2, 2012       Permalink

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TRUMP FOR ROMNEY – AT 5:37 P.M. ET:  After a number of false reports that claimed he would endorse Gingrich, Donald Trump today endorsed Mitt Romney for president.

The endorsement probably won't affect many votes, but Trump made it clear he won't lead a third-party candidacy if Romney is the nominee.  That removes a threat to Romney's potential candidacy, assuming he's nominated. 

“Mitt is tough, he’s smart, he’s sharp, he’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love, so Governor Romney, go out and get ‘em. You can do it,” declared Trump, who briefly flirted with running for president himself, declared.

The Democrats responded immediately, ridiculing the endorsement, saying both Trump and Romney liked to fire people. 

Polls show that Romney is heading for another substantial victory in the Nevada caucuses Saturday.  But neither Gingrich nor Santorum is showing any signs of dropping out of the race.

February 2,  2012    Permalink

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ANOTHER TREK TO THE REAL WORLD – AT 9:37 A.M. ET:   Israel's deputy prime minister has made several revelations that should concentrate our minds.  There are real dangers out there, and we have to be concerned that this is 1939 again.  From the Jerusalem Post: 

Iran was working on developing a missile with 10,000 km range that would put America in reach of a potential Iranian attack, Strategic Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Thursday.

According to Ya'alon, the missile was based on a solid fuel propellant and would have been able to significantly increase Iran's offensive capabilities. Last month, a mysterious explosion rocked an Iranian missile base near Tehran where Iran was working on developing this long range missile.

We can't confirm this independently, but it would be entirely logical for Iran, a large country with a sophisticated engineering base, to be working on such a weapon.

Ya'alon also said that Turkey is helping Iran bypass the sanctions that have been imposed on it in recent months.

That is critically important because Turkey is increasingly falling inside the Islamist orbit, although it is a member of NATO, with access to NATO's classified information.  And Obama recently said openly, in a comment that the mainstream media chose to ignore, that his favorite Middle East leader is Turkey's Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is developing a nasty habit of putting journalists in prison.  Mr. Obama does not seem to care, anymore than he cared about the Iranian freedom fighters in 2009.

And this...

"We need a credible military option. The Iranians understand the West has capabilities, but as long as the Iranians don't think that the West has the political stomach and determination to use it they will not stop," Ya'alon affirmed. "Currently they don't think that the world is determined."

Ya'alon also stated that all Iranian facilities can be reached in a military strike. "Anything built by humans can be destroyed by humans... I say this from experience as a former IDF chief of staff," he said.

And then this...

Ya'alon also said that Iran and Hezbollah were working with drug cartels in Mexico to learn how to smuggle materials into the US, a conduit that could one day be used to smuggle weapons into the country.

This is a real nightmare, also conveniently ignored by the mainstream media.  It would not be difficult to smuggle nuclear materials into the United States.  After all, look at all the drugs that get through.

And this...

Ya'alon said that the West still does not fully understand the severity of the nuclear threat posed by Iran. "America is the larger Satan," he said.

COMMENT:  Plenty to think about in Ya'alon's comments.  And his revelations make clear how frightening a second Obama administration would be.  We are losing our influence in the Mideast and in west Asia.  This president projects weakness and hypocrisy.  We are in danger.

February 2, 2012       Permalink

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GOVERNMENT HEALTH CARE – AT 9:12 A.M. ET:   There are regular horror stories out of Britain about the ways of the British health-care system, the National Health Service, which is government controlled.  This should be a warning to us.  From London's Daily Mail:

A ‘breakthrough’ drug that gives extra months of life to men with advanced prostate cancer has been rejected for use on the NHS.

The once-daily pill was developed by UK scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and trials were partly funded by British charities.

But it has been branded as too expensive by the rationing watchdog the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

Don't you love that name?  And notice the first letters.  It's called NICE.  George Orwell, where are you?

Abiraterone is the latest prostate cancer drug to face an NHS ban despite being proven to extend life for men with advanced disease. Last month another drug – Jevtana – was turned down as ‘not cost-effective’.
It is a fresh blow for doctors and patients who hoped a new era of drugs could lessen the deadly toll of prostate cancer, which has been described in the past as a low-profile ‘Cinderella’ disease.

And...

Campaigners last night condemned the draft decision by Nice. Owen Sharp, chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Charity, which helped fund trials, said: ‘This draft decision is a bitter blow to thousands of men and their families – and must be overturned.’

COMMENT:  How would you like to have NICE controlling your life, or that of a loved one?  But the chilling fact is that there are people around Obama, and possibly Obama himself, who belief that this is the brave new world, a world where "thoughtful, rational" people make our health-care decisions, not those emotional relatives who cling to their guns and their religion. 

Sarah Palin was laughed at when she predicted that Obamacare would include "death panels."  I think she will turn out to be right.  Those panels are in session in Britain.

February 2,  2012      Permalink

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VOLTAGE DROPPING – AT 8:35 A.M. ET:   Silvio Canto Jr. alerts us to another grim story on the Chevy Volt, which is fast becoming a failure of Edsel proportions:

Washington- General Motors extended-range electric Chevrolet Volt had its worst sales month since August, as negative publicity over fire risks hurt vehicles sales in January.

GM sold just 603 Volts - above its sales in January 2011, but far below GM's best-ever sales month in December, when GM sold 1,529 Volts.

Last week, GM North America President Mark Reuss said sales of the Volt have been hurt by bad publicity.

Reuss said bad publicity from the government's investigation into fire risks of post-crash Volts is "definitely a component" of the decline in sales.

GM sold about 7,700 in 2011, below GM's target of 10,000. GM abandoned its sales target of 45,000 for 2012 last month, saying it would match "supply to demand."

GM was outsold by Nissan Motor Co.'s all-electric Leaf in 2011, as the Japanese automaker sold nearly 9,700 last year. Nissan said it sold 676 Leafs in January, down from 954 in December.

COMMENT:  Look, the car is a flop.  It is too expensive, the technology just isn't there, and for the price of a Volt a customer can get a Lexus or an Acura...or come close to getting a Corvette. 

Also, the status factor is zero.  No one admires a Volt owner.  The only reason a Volt could turn your head is that there are so few of them.  I have seen precisely one. 

I think this fits into the "What were they thinking?" category.

February 2, 2012       Permalink

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TRUMPED? – AT 7:51 A.M. ET:  As we reported last night, Donald Trump is promising a world-shaking announcement today that will change all of human history.  Like all such announcements, it will be made in Las Vegas.

The speculation, as we noted, is that Trump will either announce a third-party bid, or announce his endorsement of Mitt Romney.

But wait, there is later speculation.  The Politico and others are reporting from their usual "sources" that Trump will actually endorse Newt Gingrich. 

It does not seem logical.  Trump has far more in common with Romney than with Newt.  Romney is the frontrunner.  Romney, like Trump, has spent most of his life in business. 

However...I think there may be a method to Trump's madness.  I stress that this, too, is speculation, but hear me out:  Trump has said that he would mount a third-party challenge if he didn't feel the Republican nominee satisfied him. Romney is the odds-on favorite to get the GOP nod.  If Trump endorses Romney, and Romney is indeed the party choice, Trump is trapped.  He couldn't very well run a third-party bid if the very man he endorsed is on the ticket.  But, ah, by endorsing Gingrich Trump leaves the door wide open.  If Romney, as expected, gets the Republican nomination, Trump can easily say, "I'm disappointed.  My man wasn't nominated.  I don't think Romney is up to it."  He could then legitimately run.

I know that is utterly Machiavellian, but who are we talking about here?   Donald is not a saint.

Speculation.  But fun, isn't it?

February 2,  2012     Permalink

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"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
      son, Douglas.

 

"Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred. "
        - Jacques Barzun

 

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