William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 8:43 P.M. ET:

APPALLING – Chuck Hagel's catastrophic performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee today is, according to CNN, the talk of the Senate.  Hagel, up for secretary of defense, came unprepared, seemed confused, and often couldn't articulate a clear position.  A few of his defenders, and there are fewer by the minute, claim the questions were unfair, but they would say that if you asked Hagel his middle name it would be unfair.  I don't know if today's disaster will change the votes of the potted plants committed to Hagel, or rather to their love for Obama, but it is clear that Hagel lacks the confidence of the Senate.  His nomination should be withdrawn, but won't be.  More on this tomorrow.

A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME – Slowly, Vladimir Putin is restoring the old Communist legacy of Russia.  Even the name of Josef Stalin is being polished up.  There used to be a city called Stalingrad.  Its name was changed to Volgograd in 1961, as a rejection of Stalin's cruelty.  But now the city fathers will call it Stalingrad again, at least on days associated with World War II, when the city's heroic defense against the Nazi invaders inspired the world.  Many Russians are furious with the change, pointing out that Stalin killed million of Russians.  But Putin has tried to soften Stalin's image, part of his campaign to rebuild Russia as a great Communist power.

WHOOPS – We've had several months of declining claims for unemployment benefits.  Obamans boasted that the economy was coming back.  Well, just a sec.  This morning's report burst the bubble.  Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by a dramatic 38,000 last week, to 368,000.  We'll watch the next few reports to see if there's a new, negative trend here.  Economists generally consider 400,000 to be the danger point.

RIDICULOUS – The University of Michigan, following an example set by some other schools, has kicked a Christian group off campus because it requires its leaders to be...Christians.  The university claims that the requirement violates the school's non-discrimination rules.  This is absurd.  I'd like to see the University of Michigan try this with the Muslim Students Association.

January 31, 2013