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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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AN APOLOGY:  In last night's "Short Takes" there was a paragraph on Nevada that contained a number of spelling errors, pointed out by readers, and other spelling errors occurred in the post.  The errors, among others, involved the spellings of Romney, Gingrich and Santorum, and the same misspellings occurred several times.  This is very odd.  We're trying to figure out what glitch occurred to produce so many errors in this one post.  We thank readers who alerted us. 

UPDATE:  We think we've figured it and will report to readers. 

 

 

FEBRUARY 4,  2012

SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 10:53 P.M. ET:

ROMNEY WINS NEVADA – Mitt Romney is the projected winner of the Nevada caucuses.  This was expected.   Entrance polls showed Romney way ahead among those who value electability, and among evangelical Christians.  He was also helped by Nevada's large Mormon population.  Romney becomes the first GOP candidate this year to win two consecutive primaries, having won Florida earlier in the week.  

FRONT LINE OF DEFENSE – Thousands of stadium workers at tomorrow's Super Bowl game in Indianapolis, from parking attendants to hot-dog vendors, have been trained by the Transportation Security Administration to spot potential terrorists.  The TSA calls it the "First Observer" training program.  So remember, if you're going to the game, your safety may depend on a guy whose first professional obligation is asking, "Mustard or relish?"  I'm so relieved.

THE NEW MUNICH CONFERENCE – The name "Munich" has become synonymous with "appeasement."  It was at the infamous Munich conference in 1938 that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and the French leadership, gave Adolf Hitler the right to annex the Sudetanland.   Chamberlain returned from Munich claiming he had achieved "peace in our time."  He had not.  Now, almost pathetically, Secretary of Defense Panetta and Secretary of State Clinton have appeared at a new security conference held in Munich to assure Europeans that the Obama administration is not abandoning them.  Can you imagine that?  The United States, which has done more to sustain the Atlantic alliance than any other nation, must assure European allies that they're not being abandoned by Barack Obama.  My, how the mighty have fallen.

February 4, 2012       Permalink

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BULLETIN – RUSSIA, CHINA, VETO UN RESOLUTION ENDORSING THE CALL FOR SYRIA'S ASSAD TO STEP DOWN – AT 12:13 P.M. ET:

With this veto, Russia and China are throwing in their lot with the Syrian dictator, amid reports that hundreds more Syrians have died today in the violence that has beset their country.  From The New York Times:

UNITED NATIONS — A United Nations Security Council effort to end the violence in Syria ended in acrimony and a veto by Russia and China on Saturday, hours after the Syrian military attacked the ravaged city of Homs in what opposition leaders described as the bloodiest government assault in the nearly 11-month-old uprising.

The Security Council voted 13 to 2 in favor of a resolution backing an Arab League peace plan for Syria, but the measure was blocked by Russia and China, who opposed what they saw as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty.

With this veto, Russia and China deal a body blow to the Obaman illusion that "engagement" can work with these regimes, in place of the more vigorous approach of big, bad BUSH (!!) and the even bigger, badder CHENEY (!!!!).

So there will be no UN action on Syria.  As Egypt descends into Islamism, as Libya seems to be following, and as Syria descends into Civil War, where is America?  Well, we're pretty much on the sidelines.  We've withdrawn completely from Iraq, we've thrown our friend Hosni Mubarak overboard in Egypt, developed a chill toward our ally Israel, and have been ineffective in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. 

Oh, we've also provided our enemies with a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

And yet, the mainstream media is, even today, parroting the line that Obama can go to the American people this November as a successful foreign-policy president.  After all, he "got" bin Laden.  I'd thought it was the Navy SEALS, but perhaps I'm misinformed. 

As The Politico notes today, the main thrust of this administration's foreign policy is to be sure it doesn't interfere with Obama's second-term dream of transforming America, making into a leftist copy of European nations.  But foreign crises have a way of imposing themselves uninvited. 

A confrontation with Iran is brewing, with the possibility that Israel, if it loses confidence in this wishy-washy administration, may strike Iran to disrupt its nuclear program.  What will Obama do?  No one knows.  Our policy toward Iran is a failure, but no one has told Obama.  Maybe Michelle can be persuaded...

And how do we stop the horror of Syria?  We and the Europeans seem, at least on the surface, to have ruled out any kind of military intervention, after intervening in Libya.  There is no clear policy because there is no clear leadership.  This is what happens when a community organizer becomes president.  The world is not a community, except in the minds of Hollywood actors. 

February 4, 2012        Permalink

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NEVADA VOTES TODAY – AT 11:08 A.M. ET:   The Nevada caucuses are today.  As we've noted, Mitt Romney is expected to win big.

National Journal is reporting that Newt Gingrich, instead of the usual post-caucus party or statement, will hold a press conference:

Instead of the traditional election night party, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will hold a press conference after the Nevada Caucus on Saturday, raising new speculation about his future in the race.

An e-mail sent to reporters on Saturday morning set the Las Vegas press conference for 11 p.m. to midnight Eastern time.

Gingrich has had a rough time on the trail ahead of the Nevada caucuses, the first presidential contest in the West. Sources in or close to his campaign gave reporters incorrect information that Donald Trump would endorse Gingrich (he endorsed rival Mitt Romney). Gingrich also missed a meeting with the Silver State's popular governor, Brian Sandoval, a Rick Perry supporter who was viewed as a possible Gingrich endorsement after Perry dropped out and endorsed the former House Speaker, according to The New York Times.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal—KLAS-TV poll released on Friday gave Romney a large 20-point lead over Gingrich heading into Saturday's caucus.

COMMENT:  It's hard to see a way forward for either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum unless one of them drops out and the anti-Romney forces unite around one candidate.  That doesn't mean Romney has it sewn up.  As we've seen in this contest, anything can happen, including someone new plunging in. 

We'll have to see what Gingrich will reveal at his press conference.  My greatest concern is not that.  It's that, under the radar, Obama is strengthening his position day by day.  Do not underestimate his political operation, which is as professional as it is deceptive.

February 4, 2012        Permalink

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PUTIN POUNDED – AT 10:27 A.M. ET:  Russkie strongman Vladimir Putin, who is giving the United States a very hard time on almost every issue, is apparently not the king of the senior prom in his home town. There soon will be an election in Russia, and Russians are taking it very seriously.  From the Washington Post:

MOSCOW — Tens of thousands of Russians embraced the numbing cold and marched to a frozen river bank near the Kremlin Saturday, demonstrating their determination to keep up the pressure on Vladimir V. Putin for fair elections and honest government.

Gathering near October Square, about 80,000 protesters marched a half hour away to Bolotnaya Square, flags rippling, balloons bobbing, placards waving, chanting “Russia without Putin” and “The longer we freeze here, the longer they’ll freeze in Siberia.”

The temperature was below zero, which only made the crowd more joyful as well as forceful, as if mere weather could prevent them from showing their disdain for Putin. He is expected to win the March 4 presidential election despite the widespread anger over the December parliamentary elections, which were marred by numerous complaints of violations. But Russians have put him on notice that they are no longer content with authoritarian government.

COMMENT:  Putin will, of course, win.  The election practices in Russia were developed in Chicago.  But the question for us is how long we will live the fiction that Obama has "reset" our relations with the Russians.  Will there be any statements from Washington about the condition of democracy in Russia, or will Obama look the other way, as he tried to do during the Iranian uprising of 2009?

Each day we learn again that we are living in a very unfriendly, unstable world, and an increasingly nuclear-armed world.  And yet we cut our defenses and refuse to go ahead with a simple pipeline from Canada that will make us more energy independent.  Sad.

February 4,  2012     Permalink

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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 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, 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 Qaeda 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 Romney with a commanding lead, although Gingrich 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 Gingrich isn't on the ballot.  Santorum is, and there's speculation that he could win the primary, even if it's a meaningless one, and thus claim that a single "anti-Romney" candidate can defeat Romney 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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"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

 

THE ANGEL'S CORNER

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