Thursday, April 29, 2010

POLITICS - Arizona's Gestapo Law, View From the UK

"Arizona's anti-immigrant law: the inevitable result" by Richard Adams, Guardian UK 4/26/2010


We can expect a deluge of stories such as this: only a matter of hours after Arizona's borderline-racist and almost certainly unconstitutional law targeting immigrants was signed by the state's governor, a US citizen is the first to experience life under the new law.

The man, a truck driver, was arrested and handcuffed in Phoenix after he was asked to produce identification.

Here's the coverage from Arizona television channel 3TV:

Abdon was told he did not have enough paperwork on him when he pulled into a weigh station to have his commercial truck checked. He provided his commercial driver's license and a social security number but ended up handcuffed.

An agent called his wife and she had to leave work to drive home and grab other documents like his birth certificate.

Jackie explains, "I have his social security card as well and mine. He's legit. It's the first time it's ever happened."

Both were born in the United States and say they are now both infuriated that keeping important documents safely at home is no longer an option.

Naturally, immigration officials said: "this has nothing to do with the proposed bill or racial profiling". And of course it doesn't, because the reality is likely to be much worse. Rather than merely ICE officers demanding ID from likely immigrants, once the law comes into force then any state officer can do the same of anyone, at any time.

As even the right-leaning blog Little Green Footballs comments: "An honest American citizen is handcuffed and forced to show a birth certificate, in a harbinger of what to expect when Arizona's absurd immigration laws go into effect".

Bold emphasis mine

Zig-Hial! Your papers please.

ECONOMY - Unemployment, More Good News 4/28/2010

"Unemployment falls in a majority of US cities" by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP


Unemployment rates fell or remained level in three-quarters of the 372 largest metropolitan areas, a sign that the economic recovery is widespread.

The Labor Department said Wednesday the jobless rate dropped in 69 percent of metro areas last month from February. It rose in 24 percent of large cities and remained the same in the rest.

That's an improvement from February, when the unemployment rate decreased in 51 percent of metro areas and increased in one-third.

The report follows other recent encouraging news about jobs. Employers added 162,000 jobs in March, the government said earlier this month, the most significant gain in three years.

I am sure people-on-the-street (some literally) wish things would improve faster, but it is happening none the less.


"Psst ... The economy really is on the rebound" by Steve Jagler, 4/29/2010


Way back in July 2008, at a time when many were proclaiming that the fundamentals of the economy were sound, BizTimes Milwaukee was among the first to warn its readers that an economic downturn had begun and it was going to get worse.

In our most recent cover story, we stepped out again ahead of the curve with the pronouncement that a strong economic recovery has begun.

That pronouncement raised more than a few eyebrows. Was it premature? I suppose that is possible. But we documented strong economic data to support this conclusion. Home sales are up. Car sales are up. Temporary hiring is up. Factory orders are up. Retail sales are up. Milwaukee's airport passenger traffic is up. Mergers and acquisitions activity is up. The stock market is up.

We also cited some anecdotal observations that are pertinent to the bigger picture. Schneider National Inc. in Green Bay is hiring 2,500 new truck drivers to meet the rising demand of goods that are being produced.

Public relations offices in Milwaukee are buzzing with more activity, as companies express their pent-up demands for marketing new products and services.

Local companies such as Generac Holdings Inc., Douglas Dynamics Inc. and Quad/Graphics Inc. are confident enough in the market that they have launched initial public stock offerings. That was not happening in the darkest hours of the Great Recession.

HEALTHCARE - More Progress 4/28/2010

"WellPoint and Blue Shield of Calif. to stop dropping sick policyholders" by Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times


Stung by criticism and facing tougher federal regulation, two of the nation's largest health insurers say they will stop the practice of dropping sick policyholders.

The moves Tuesday by WellPoint Inc., the parent of Anthem Blue Cross of California, and Blue Shield of California follow action by Congress and the Obama administration to crack down on the practice known as rescission.

WellPoint Chief Executive Angela Braly said in a statement that the company's "goal is to make reform work for our members and for the country."

Cindy Ehnes, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care and the first regulator to take on the insurers over the practice, said the move would help consumers. "People can have more confidence in their coverage, and that's very exciting," she said.

Even before Tuesday's announcements, however, health insurers in California had all but stopped the number of policy cancellations, state records show.


"Anthem Blue Cross withdraws planned CA rate hike" by JOHN ROGERS, AP 4/29/2010


Anthem Blue Cross on Thursday withdrew plans to raise health insurance rates for California customers by as much as 39 percent, citing errors in its earlier calculations.

The Woodland Hills-based company said it will revise the rate requests it had filed with the California Department of Insurance and the Department of Managed Health Care as soon as possible, possibly in May.

POLITICS - The Light of Dawn, Finally

"Republicans Allow Debate on Financial Overhaul" by DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and EDWARD WYATT, New York Times 4/28/2010


With political pressure mounting, Senate Republicans relented on Wednesday and agreed to let Democrats open debate on legislation that would impose the most far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system since the aftermath of the Depression.

The decision by Republicans to allow floor deliberations came after they voted three days in a row to block the bill, and it suggested that they saw political peril in being depicted as impeding tougher rules for Wall Street.

But Republicans still oppose many aspects of the bill, and a rough floor fight lies ahead.

Senate Republicans control enough votes to filibuster the bill and prevent it from being adopted.

President Obama praised the shift in the Senate at a rally in Quincy, Ill., and later in a rare chat with reporters on the plane back to Washington. “I want to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, to move this legislation,” Mr. Obama said at the rally, adding, “What I don’t want is a deal made that is written by financial industry lobbyists.”

Before the logjam broke, Democrats on Wednesday threatened to keep the Senate in session overnight to dramatize the Republican opposition.

Republicans said they decided to move forward after talks broke down between leaders of the banking committee and it was clear they would win no further changes before debate.

At about 6:15 p.m., the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, requested the unanimous consent of the Senate to begin debate, and there was no objection from the Republican side.

“Now let’s get to work,” Mr. Reid said. “And let’s do the utmost to make the American people proud of our efforts.” He added, “Wall Street needs reforming.”

While the Republicans can still filibuster, they are at a disadvantage during floor debate given the Democrats’ 59 to 41 majority. And the decision to allow floor debate appeared to be a significant retreat by the minority, reflecting a calculation that further delay was politically untenable.

Bold emphasis mine

Ah! The light dawns on the dimwits.

If the GOP fights to prevent regulation of Wallstreet they will be even bigger loosers come November, considering the public sentiment about Wallstreet.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

POLITICS - Goldman In the Hotseat

"Goldman Sachs Denies Misleading Investors in Senate Committee Hearing" PBS Newshour Analysis (with video) 4/27/2010

Transcript Excerpts

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour moderator): Roger Lowenstein, that line from Senator Levin early on that we heard about the conduct of all Wall Street being in question, how much of this was about Goldman, how much about a larger picture? What did -- what did you hear going on today?

ROGER LOWENSTEIN, author, "The End of Wall Street": Jeff, I really think that Levin hit the nail on the head. It really is a question about all of Wall Street. It's not whether Goldman defrauded its customers so much. The courts will decide that.

It's not even Goldman's reputation, which, presumably, in time, will recover. But Goldman, like other firms, structured billions -- tens of billions of securities that added absolutely nothing to the economy. They contributed nothing to real estate. They didn't put a single American in their homes -- in new homes. They just allowed people to take bets.

And, when the mortgage bubble collapsed, they greatly aggravated the losses and the damage done. These firms are running what were in fact casinos. They were off-track betting parlors for the American mortgage industry.

And the question for Congress is, which they have been posed for now 12 years and have been ignored, are they finally going to get these derivative instruments under regulation?

JEFFREY BROWN: Greg Zuckerman, there were many variations on a constant theme here, questions like, who exactly is Goldman serving? What are these -- who and what are these trades for? What is your responsibility to your client? On and on and on.

What were they really trying to get at here?

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN, author, "The Greatest Trade Ever": Well, Goldman, like many other firms, has transformed from an investment banking firm with some trading, to a real trading house with some banking on the side.

And America gets to see the real Goldman Sachs today, which is an investment -- a firm that will sell many things to clients, even things, even securities that it itself doesn't believe in. And the argument is, well, it's like someone comes in for an ugly suit. If they want to buy then it, we will sell it to them. The store owner doesn't look so great, and Goldman Sachs doesn't come off looking so good today either.

This is a prime example of Wallstreet ethics, we'll sell you anything.

This is EXACTLY how ye-old Used Car Salesman got their rotten reputation. Sell the unsuspecting shopper anything, including a lemon.

It is the philosophy of "we have no responsibility to protect customers from bad products (and know they're bad) that we offer." They have no ethical problem with that.

POLITICS - A Conservative Hero

"Senator Lindsey Graham, Our Hero" by DAVID BROOKS AND GAIL COLLINS, New York Times


Gail Collins: David, can we talk about immigration reform? This is not a subject on which we get a whole lot of sensible behavior, so whenever you do see a legislator going out of his or her way to try to solve the problem you have to offer a certain respect. I really did respect John McCain for working with Edward Kennedy to come up with a sane bill in 2007, and it did cost him politically. Although not a whole lot in the end, what with his being nominated for president and all.

I’m not an expert on this issue, but immigration seems to be one of those problems, like fixing Social Security financing or the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off, in which most reasonable people agree on the solution, but not how to make it happen. Employers have to be stopped from hiring illegal workers; the borders have to be made less porous and there has to be some way for people who are already here illegally to earn citizenship.

This year, Lindsey Graham was the one who played the McCain role — not just on immigration but also on global warming, another issue that used to be a McCain badge-of-courage. And Graham has suffered for it mightily. He’s been the target of some loathsome personal attacks by the anti-immigration crowd.

David Brooks: As far as I’m concerned Graham is the bravest politician in the country, bar none. When I get depressed about the nature of politics these days and am looking at the bottom of my nightly bottle of tequila (O.K., I’m exaggerating), I lift a glass to the voters of South Carolina and thank them for sending this guy to Washington. If every senator were like Graham, this country would be in excellent shape.

Gail Collins: Meanwhile, there’s John McCain. He throws his support behind a terrible Arizona law that would put the burden for enforcing the immigration laws on local police officers, who don’t have the capacity — or in most places, the desire — to do the job. And Hispanic Americans are reasonably terrified of being targeted with racial profiling.

David Brooks: I’m completely with you on that one. The Arizona law is an invitation to abuse. You’re asking the government to make a series of decisions with inherently racial content. Then you’re asking that the decision be made at the worst possible level — by a harried cop on the beat in the middle of God knows what stresses. The outcome is bound to be terrible.

POLITICS - Behind the Numbers, Financial Reform

"Most back stricter financial reform, advantage Obama" by Jon Cohen, Washington Post 4/26/2010

About two-thirds of Americans support stricter regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Majorities also back two main components of legislation congressional Democrats plan to bring to a vote in the Senate this week: greater federal oversight of consumer loans and a company-paid fund that would cover the costs of dismantling failed firms that put the broader economy at risk.

A third pillar of the reform effort draws a more even split: 43 percent support federal regulation of the derivatives market; 41 percent are opposed. Nearly one in five - 17 percent - express no opinion on this complicated topic.

President Obama, who traveled to New York last week to deliver his case for sweeping changes to the financial system gets an even-up review of his performance on the issue, with 48 percent of those polled approving of his handling of financial regulation and 48 percent disapproving.

But compared with congressional Republicans, Obama has a clear advantage. A slim majority - 52 percent - of all Americans says they trust Obama over the GOP on the issue, while 35 percent favor the Republicans in Congress. Independents prefer Obama 47 to 35 percent, with 16 percent trusting neither side on the issue.

In the poll, most Democrats back each of the three major elements of the reform legislation and most Republicans oppose them, echoing the congressional showdown expected this week.

The area with the highest levels of cross-party support is on more robust federal oversight of the way banks and other financial companies make consumer loans, such as auto loans, credit cards and mortgages. Here, 44 percent of Republicans approve of stricter guidelines, joining 75 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents on the issue.

In this poll, support for new federal regulation was about the same for "banks and other financial institutions" as for "Wall Street firms." A recent Gallup poll taken before Obama took his case for reform to New York last week showed somewhat greater support for new laws aimed at Wall Street, suggesting the phrase had become a pejorative.

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Obama is handling regulation of the financial industry? Do you approve/disapprove strongly or somewhat? Regulation of the financial industry

--- Approve --___-- Disapprove -- No
NET_Stgly_Smwht__NET_Smwht_Stgly__opinion 48___22_____26____48___14____33____4

Q: Whom do you trust to do a better job handling [ITEM] - (Obama) or (the Republicans in Congress)?

Regulation of the financial industry ________________Both_____Neither___No Obama___Reps___(vol.)____(vol.)____opinion 52______35_______1________11_______2

Q (HALF SAMPLE): Do you support or oppose stricter federal regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business?

__________---- Support ---- __________NET___Much___Smwht___Oppose____No opinion 4/25/10___65_____34_____32_______31__________4 2/8/10____62_____36_____26_______34__________3 2/22/09___76_____49_____27_______22__________2

Q (HALF SAMPLE): Do you support or oppose stricter federal regulations on the way Wall Street firms conduct their business?

__________---- Support ---- __________NET___Much___Smwht___Oppose___No opinion 4/25/10___63_____35_____28_______29________8

Q: Please tell me whether you support or oppose each of these items. Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

a. Having the federal government regulate the complex financial instruments known as derivatives

_________---- Support -----___----- Oppose -----_____No _________NET___Stgly___Smwht___NET___Smwht___Stgly___opinion 4/25/10__43_____16______26_____41_____19______21_____17

b. Requiring large banks and other financial companies to put money into a fund that would cover the cost of taking over and breaking up any large financial company that fails and threatens the broader economy

________----- Support -----___------ Oppose -----____No _________NET___Stgly___Smwht___NET___Smwht___Stgly___opinion 4/25/10__53_____27______26_____42_____18______24______5

c. Increasing federal oversight of the way banks and other financial companies make consumer loans, such as mortgages and auto loans, and issue credit cards

________----- Support -----___------ Oppose -----____No _________NET___Stgly___Smwht___NET___Smwht___Stgly___opinion 4/25/10__59_____36______23_____38_____15______24______2

This poll was conducted April 22 to 25, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Interviews were conducted on conventional and cellular telephones. The results from the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

POLITICS - Our View of Obama

"The Secrets of Obama's Underappreciated Success" by Mark Halperin, Time 4/26/2010


Barack Obama's right-wing opponents cast him as a socialist failure. His left-wing hecklers see him as an overcautious hedger. But, critics notwithstanding, the President is on a path to be a huge success by the time of November's midterm elections.

Before the jabberers on the right (What about the huge debt, the broken tax pledge, the paucity of overseas accomplishments?), the yammerers on the left (Guantánamo hasn't been closed, gays aren't serving openly in the military, and too many policies cater to business interests) and the chides in the media (POTUS and party poll numbers are down, and Washington is more partisan than ever), look at the two key metrics that underscore Obama's accomplishments. It is too early to assess the ultimate measure of victory: whether the President's actions have been prudent and beneficial, domestically and internationally. But by Election Day 2010, Obama will have soundly achieved many of his chief campaign promises while running a highly competent, scandal-free government. Not bad for a guy whose opponents (in both parties) for the White House suggested that he was too green in national life to know how to do the job — and whose presidency began in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis that demanded urgent attention and commanded much of his focus.

Let's start with the competence Obama has shown. As he proved in the campaign, he is a master of personnel decisions, choosing people who are excellent at what they do, but also requiring that they play nicely with others. In the two most vital areas, national security and economic policy, all the President's women and men generally get along well with one another, and have had critical roles in advancing the agenda. It is true that the economics team has some rivalries, and the Administration still hasn't figured out how to overcome its collectively weak public-communications skills on the economy. But overall, the White House is populated by hard workers who are rowing in unison to advance the cause and rarely take their disagreements public through damaging leaks.

Obama's two best personnel decisions are probably the two men serving right below him: Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Yes, Biden still falls victim to caricature as an irrepressible big mouth and is the butt of late-night jokes. And Emanuel can be overly brash and flutter nerves on Capitol Hill and among Administration allies. But Obama knew what he was getting in both men, and they have performed up to or above his expectations. With their West Wing offices across the hall from each other, Biden and Emanuel often work in tandem, each doing more heavy lifting than is publicly seen or commonly known. Obama — who proved during the campaign that he knows how to maintain control of his operation without micromanaging — sets the tone and overall goals, and then allows his Veep and chief, along with other senior advisers, to execute his plans.

Biden has traveled extensively overseas and across the country and has helped coordinate both national security policy and congressional strategy, all while dealing with governors and mayors on the economy. Politically, he is expected to be an asset in the midterms, as he was in 2008, with white working-class voters who appreciate his homely truths and affable manner, and who still haven't warmed to Obama.

It's easy to forget what circumstances could be like, what problems Obama might have encountered. Think back just a few years ago, to the last time a young Democrat was swept into the White House on a message of change. Unlike Bill Clinton, especially early in his presidency, Obama has largely maintained control of his public image, preserved the majesty of the office (a job that has become harder than ever because of the toxic freak-show nature of our politico-media culture) and maintained good relations, in public and private, with the armed services brass, the intelligence community and law enforcement.

The passage of the health care bill and the pledge to help Democrats wherever possible with fundraising and political assistance has (for now at least) quieted the Capitol Hill voices that until recently were questioning the White House's competence and commitment. Control of Congress makes things easier, for sure, but so does an absence of indicted, disgraced or bungling appointees.

In the months ahead, the President will likely pass a financial-regulation overhaul (despite this past weekend's snags), manage the confirmation of a second Supreme Court nominee with relatively little commotion, announce the reduction of the U.S. troop level in Iraq to about 50,000, showcase the undercovered gains on education reform, take advantage of the improving economy to tout his stimulus efforts and sharpen his "Obama-Biden future vs. Bush-Cheney past" argument to help stave off massive Democratic losses in November. He also has a decent chance to pass a small-to-medium-size energy bill. True, some promises, like comprehensive immigration reform, will remain on the sidelines, but most of his major goals will be completed or well under way.

That shouting and ranting you hear from the GOP Far-Right is the sound of desperation. The sound of people scared out of their wits. Of course, fear is a hallmark of the Conservative movement, fear of any change or anyone that they see as different.

Monday, April 26, 2010

WORLD - As They See......

"Obama, Dalai Lama top world’s most popular leaders: poll" by Agence France-Presse, Raw Story 4/23/2010

US President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama are the world's two most popular leaders, according to a poll conducted in six countries and released on Friday.

Obama won 77 percent backing, one percentage point higher than in November, in the poll conducted by Harris Interactive for France24 and Radio France-Internationale.

The Tibetan spiritual leader was at second place at 75 percent, followed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at 62 percent.

Pope Benedict XVI was the seventh most popular leader with 36 percent support.

The survey was carried out on the Internet between March 31 and April 12 and covered 6,135 adults aged between 16 and 64 in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was at fourth position with 54 percent support. She was followed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy who tied for fifth place with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at 37 percent.

The most unpopular leaders according to the survey were Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

POLITICS - Another Very Bad Idea From the Right

"Arizona governor signs immigration bill" by the CNN 4/24/2010


Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill Friday that requires police in her state to determine whether a person is in the United States legally, which critics say will foster racial profiling but supporters say will crack down on illegal immigration.

The bill requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times and requires police to question people if there is reason to suspect that they're in the United States illegally. It also targets those who hire illegal immigrant day laborers or knowingly transport them.

The Republican governor also issued an executive order that requires additional training for local officers on how to implement the law without engaging in racial profiling or discrimination.

"This training will include what does and does not constitute reasonable suspicion that a person is not legally present in the United States," Brewer said after signing the bill.

"Racial profiling is illegal. It is illegal in America, and it's certainly illegal in Arizona," Brewer said.

The rules, to be established in by the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, are due back to her in May. The law goes into effect 90 days after the close of the legislative session, which has not been determined.

What will Arizona's immigration law do?

Previously, officers could check someone's immigration status only if that person was suspected in another crime.

Brewer's executive order was in response to critics who argue that the new law will lead to racial profiling, saying that most police officers don't have enough training to look past race while investigating a person's legal status.

"As committed as I am to protecting our state from crime associated with illegal immigration, I am equally committed to holding law enforcement accountable should this stature ever be misused to violate an individual's rights," Brewer said.

She added that the law would probably be challenged in courts and that there are those outside Arizona who have an interest in seeing the state fail with the new measure.

No kidding....

"Judge Napolitano: Immigration law will ‘bankrupt the Republican Party’" by Andrew McLemore, Raw Story

After Fox News analysts spent most of Friday defending Arizona's bill to target illegal immigrants, Judge Andrew Napolitano offered a different take on the controversial measure, Crooks and Liars reported.

When asked about Gov. Jan Brewer, Napolitano said her signing of the bill into law will have disastrous consequences:

Napolitano: She's gonna bankrupt the Republican Party and the state of Arizona. Look at what happened to the Republicans in California with the proposition --

Cavuto: What happens?

Napolitano: Ah, Hispanics -- who have a natural home in the Republican Party because they are socially conservative -- will flee in droves. She's also gonna bankrupt her state, because no insurance company will provide coverage for this. And for all the lawsuits that will happen -- for all the people that are wrongfully stopped -- her budget will be paying for it. Her budget will be paying the legal bills of the lawyers who sue on behalf of those that were stopped.

This will be a disaster for Arizona -- to say nothing of the fact that it's so unconstitutional that I predict a federal judge will prevent Arizona from enforcing it as soon as they attempt to do so. That will probably be tomorrow.

The new law, which will take effect in late July or early August, was cheered by many, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose tough crackdowns have made him a hero in the anti-illegal immigration community. He said it gives him new authority to detain undocumented migrants who aren't accused of committing any other crimes.

"Now if we show they're illegal, we can actually arrest them and put them in our jails," Arpaio said.

Critics claim the bill will effectively encourage racial profiling. President Barack Obama branded it "misguided." Hispanic groups across the country tend to agree with Napolitano's assessment of the bill.

Immigrant advocates say the bill could worsen an already tenuous relationship between law enforcement and Hispanics in Arizona.

State Sen. Rebecca Rios, a Phoenix Democrat and fourth-generation Arizonan, said she's concerned about her 14-year-old son being harassed by police because of his brown skin, black hair and dark-brown eyes.

"I don't want my son or anyone else's son targeted simply because of their physical characteristics," Rios said. "There's no reason I should have to carry around any proof of citizenship, nor my son."

POLITICS - ...of Wall Street Reform

"Friday Talking Points -- Republicans Chicken Out" by Chris Weigant, Huffington Post 4/23/2010


Democrats had a pretty good week last week. As attention shifts away from unpronounceable volcanoes (more on them in a moment) to the struggle in the Senate over Wall Street reform, the two parties almost seem to have changed their normal methods of playing the political game. The Republicans are all over the map on the issue, and extremely worried about the impression by angry voters that they are doing Wall Street's bidding -- as well they should be. Republicans are, one day, loudly denouncing the reform bill, using their standard Big Lie technique... and then, the next day, saying a deal is very close, and even voting for strong reform in committees. Republicans (some of them, at least) are chickening out of the upcoming partisan battle the Republican leadership seems to want over the issue (more on chickens later on, too). Democrats have, so far, managed both to admirably stay on message and showed an amazing amount of backbone in countering specious Republican arguments. And, so far, polls show the voters are solidly on the Democrats' side on this one, and just not buying what Republicans are telling them. As I said, we seem to have entered BackwardsLand, or something.

What I think is happening in the Republican camp is that they woke up this week to the fact that they are truly painting themselves into a corner. Imagine yourself literally painting a floor, backing your way into a corner while the rest of the room glistens with fresh paint. At some point, you are going to raise your head, look around, and realize what a stupid mistake you've just made. I believe the Republicans just passed that point in time.

Bold emphasis mine

POLICIES - Wall Street, "Barbarians at the Gate"

"Obama's new battleground: Wall Street" by Jonathan Mann, CNN 4/23/2010

Some of the richest and most powerful people in the United States are arguing about money and the world has trillions of dollars invested in the outcome.

The battle is about how Washington should prevent another credit crisis like the one that began two years ago and punished much of the planet.

"I believe we have to do everything we can to ensure that no crisis like this ever happens again," President Barack Obama said this week. "That's why I'm fighting so hard to pass a set of Wall Street reforms and consumer protections."

The reforms will impose new regulations and oversight on U.S. banks and other financial institutions, which do business with investors and governments worldwide.

It's an industry that still has stunning profits and problems.

This week, U.S. regulators charged Goldman Sachs, one of the most aggressive and profitable names in high finance, with a massive fraud that allegedly cheated Goldman's own customers -- among them, some of the biggest banks in Europe.

Goldman said it was innocent of any wrongdoing and found an entirely different way to raise eyebrows.

It announced that its profits for the first three months of the year totaled more than $3.4 billion, despite the sluggish state of the U.S. economy.

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill to change the way Wall Street does business and this week the Senate began its own debate.

Democrats are vowing to adopt the reform and Republicans are adamant they'll oppose it. Lobbyists and executives have crowded into Washington, hoping for a chance to influence lawmakers.

The political parties, along with private organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have spent more than a million dollars a week on television ads arguing their points of view to the American people.

The Obama administration faced much stronger opposition to its health-care reform and managed to get it adopted anyway.

Now, another multi-trillion-dollar industry is in the midst of a big fight over how it makes its money.

And what it may be doing with yours.

We, the ordinary people, know "what they are doing with our money," stealing it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

HEALTHCARE BILL - Still... With the Lies

"More Malarkey About Health Care" by Jess Henig, 4/19/2010


The legislative debate is over, but the false and exaggerated claims just keep on coming


We’ve seldom seen a piece of legislation so widely misrepresented, and misunderstood, as the new health care law. We stopped counting the number of articles and items we turned out on the subject after the total reached 100.

Some of that is understandable. The debate went on for more than a year, while the different House and Senate bills changed their shape constantly. The final law was the product of an awkward two-step legislative dance that first enacted the Senate’s version, then quickly amended it with a reconciliation "fix." No wonder people are confused.

And even now the misrepresentations continue. The new law is no longer a moving target, but some opponents persist in making false or exaggerated claims about it. Our inboxes are filled with messages asking about assertions that the new law:

  • Requires patients to be implanted with microchips. (No, it doesn’t.)

  • Cuts benefits for military families and retirees. (No. The TRICARE program isn’t affected.)

  • Exempts Muslims from the requirement to obtain coverage. (Not specifically. It does have a religious exemption, but that is intended for Old Order Amish.)

  • Allows insurance companies to continue denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions. (Insurance companies have agreed not to exploit a loophole that might have allowed this.)

  • Will require 16,500 armed IRS agents to enforce. (No. Criminal penalties are waived.)

  • Gives President Obama a Nazi-like "private army." (No. It provides a reserve corps of doctors and other health workers for emergencies.)

  • "Exempts" House and Senate members. (No. Their coverage may not be as good as before, in fact.)

  • Covers erectile-dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. (Just as it was before the new law, those no longer in jail can buy any insurance plan they choose.)

  • Provides federal funding for abortions. (Not directly. But neither side in the abortion debate is happy with the law.)

Hard to believe these lies are still out there.

Humm.... on second thought, the purveyors are knuckle-daggers (aka nil intelligence) and cannot read the bill.

SCIENCE - Genetic Future FIRST

"Family become first to have DNA sequenced for non-medical reasons" by Mark Henderson, Times UK 4/16/2010


A family of four has become the first in which every member’s genome has been sequenced for non-medical reasons, opening a debate about the ethics of analyzing the DNA of minors.

John and Judy West, both 53, and their children, Anne, 17, and Paul, 14, paid almost $200,000 (£130,000) to have their entire genetic code read by the sequencing company Illumina.

They are the first family to be named as members of an exclusive club , joining a few dozen individuals who have had their genomes sequenced. Others include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Glenn Close, the actress, and the scientists James Watson and Craig Venter.

Mr West told The Times that he hoped that his family’s DNA data would benefit their health and advance research into genetic contributions to disease. He said that his children were “pretty smart” and had given enthusiastic consent: “They understand why some people might prefer not to know this sort of information.”

POLITICS - In the GOP Bunkers

"Financial reform conversion diversion" by Bob Franken, The Hill 04/21/10


There could be several reasons the Republicans are cooling their jets and peeking out from their bunkers, where they had dug in for another fight to the death against anything Obama. It's possible they decided this time to play along because it was good for the nation. Theoretically possible.

More likely, they probably realize that an overt battle against financial reform could contribute to their deaths, that they'd end up fighting for their political lives this time, not the president and his Democratic buddies.

GOP please, please, go ahead and fight the battle. Obama (and America) can always use another win.

ECONOMICS - The Boring Stuff

"International tax policy, blah, blah, blah" By John Feehery, The Hill 04/21/10


Jobs, American competitiveness and the future of the world economy — and America’s place in it — are not so boring.

The boring stuff has a profound impact on the more exciting stuff.

Ryan (R, Wisconsin) is a policy geek, but he is also a politician, so he has figured out how to talk about this issue in ways that make sense to non-geeks likes me. He uses the example of his home-state manufacturer Harley-Davidson, a company that has to compete with international competitors from Italy and Japan and yet faces the American corporate tax rate, which is the second-highest in the world, and a complex regime of international taxes that more often than not leads to its products being double- and triple-taxed. Ryan, noting that the corporate tax rate actually generates only 6 percent of our national revenue, thinks we should just ditch it and replace it with a business value-added tax, which could be easily removed as our products move overseas, making American products much more competitive on the world stage. That kind of tax simplification would also likely lead to more companies staying here in America, meaning that more jobs would stay here in the States.

While Ryan focused on how we could make our corporations more competitive on the international stage, Sperling (senior counselor to the Treasury secretary) focused on how we could get corporations to pay more in taxes. In fact, he touted, as the lone accomplishment of the Obama administration, its efforts to crack down on overseas tax cheats. For Sperling and the administration, it is all about balance. How do you make sure that everybody is paying his or her fair share while also ensuring that the playing field is tilted in favor of job creation? He acknowledged that finding that balance is difficult, and brought up the issue of tax deferral as a perfect example of those difficulties. Sperling believes that it is unfair for a multinational company that sets up an international subsidiary to be able to defer taxation on overseas sales if those profits stay overseas. He thinks that that gives a perverse incentive to companies to move their manufacturing jobs abroad.

Bold emphasis mine

Boring.... ZZZzZZzzzz.... WAITE! Where did my jog go!

ECONOMY - GM On the Way to Going Public Again

"GM to pay off $5.8B bailout loans early" by David Shepardson, Detroit News 4/20/2010


Move is seen as important step for company to go public again

General Motors Co. is repaying its remaining $5.8 billion in bailout loans to U.S. and Canadian taxpayers two months ahead of schedule.

It's another promising milestone for post-bankruptcy GM, which last month reported better-than-expected earnings for the last quarter of 2009.

GM Chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre Jr. will make the official announcement Wednesday at at the automaker's Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., two people briefed on the plans said Monday. The actual payment could be made as early as today.

The Detroit-based automaker also will announce a new investment at the Kansas plant, which could include adding jobs, a person familiar with the matter said.

The final loan repayment will total $4.7 billion to U.S. taxpayers and about $1.1 billion to the governments of Canada and Ontario.

"Go public again" = no government stake/ownership

HEALTHCARE - At Least Some Providers Got the Message

From Modern Health Care (a subscription news service)

WellPoint and UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s two largest health insurers, said they will begin allowing the uninsured up to age 26 to join their parents’ health plan ahead of the Sept. 23 deadline to comply with a provision of new federal health reform law.


"The American Debate: GOP lacks the luster to overcome Obama" by Dick Polman, Philadelphia Inquirer 4/18/2010


If you trust in the predictions of Dick Cheney - and hey, who doesn't? - then clearly you believe that a Republican restoration is imminent.

The crowd went wild at a recent conservative confab when Cheney confidently decreed that "Barack Obama is a one-term president," but I'd suggest that such giddiness is woefully premature, and that forecasts of an Obama defeat may well prove to be as credible as the seer's old saw about how our troops in Iraq would be welcomed as liberators.

The current polls report that Obama is vulnerable when matched against a generic Republican candidate. In reality, however, he'll be matched against an actual candidate. And all actual candidates are burdened with actual baggage - not to mention the inevitable wounds and scars that any Republican will suffer during a primary season that promises to be downright Darwinian.

Even if one of these Republicans manages to unite all the various overlapping factions - the tea-partiers, the religious conservatives, the deficit hawks, the libertarians, the pro-business country clubbers, the Wall Street types, the neoconservatives - will he or she be sufficiently financed and talented to knock off a charismatic incumbent who's likely to be sitting on $1 billion in campaign funds?

And speaking of talent, have you actually looked at the current crop of Republican prospects? Suffice it so say that one of the front-runners is a guy who once embarked on a family road trip by strapping the family dog to the roof of the car.

OK, dog lovers would probably give Mitt Romney a pass on that one.


"GOP could be heading for a historic slide" By Lewis Diuguid, Kansas City Star 4/18/2010


Ten years from now historians will look back and lament how the Republicans’ “no” strategy on health care reform marked the worsening of a downturn for the party.

Historians also will examine this moment and see a radical shift beginning as the nation moves away from the centuries-old negative view of African Americans to concluding that black people are God’s gift to the United States with the first black president, Barack Obama, ushering in a new era of better health and prosperity.

It is sad that the Republican Party — the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party responsible for the North’s victory in the Civil War and for freeing the slaves and Reconstruction in the 19th century — took a wrong turn on such a vital issue. Instead of seeing good health care as a human right, Republicans viewed it as an expensive entitlement that they and their followers were unwilling to have the government involved in so everyone could be covered.

Outrage against that government involvement is one of the focal points of tea party crowds, which brought their anti-tax and “take back our country” rhetoric to the Kansas City area last week. Historians will see that another mistake the Republicans made was to embrace the tea party anger and contrariness and make it their own.

Historians will examine pictures that ran in the news media of our time showing the tea party throngs. They will note that nearly all were white. A lot of the anger expressed was from everyday folks feeling helpless and voiceless over the awful state of the economy. But it is wrong to scapegoat people of color and immigrants.

Always when people come to their senses, they realize when things went too far. Historians will find that the health care reform bill that Obama signed into law — though not perfect — really did benefit people and families.

What’s not to like about the new health care bill? Eventually the public will see through the pundits’ and politicians’ hysteria. The Republican Party regulars can do that now.

CONSTITUTION - First Amendment, Free Speech

"Justices Reject Ban on Videos of Animal Cruelty" by ADAM LIPTAK, New York Times


In a major First Amendment ruling, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a federal law that made it a crime to create or sell dogfight videos and other depictions of animal cruelty.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority in the 8-to-1 decision, said that the law had created “a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth” and that the government’s aggressive defense of the law was “startling and dangerous.”

The decision left open the possibility that Congress could enact a narrower law that would pass constitutional muster. But the existing law, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, covered too much speech protected by the First Amendment.

It has been more than a quarter-century since the Supreme Court placed a category of speech outside the protection of the First Amendment. Tuesday’s resounding and lopsided rejection of a request that it do so, along with its decision in Citizens United in January — concluding that corporations may spend freely in candidate elections — suggest that the Roberts Court is prepared to adopt a robustly libertarian view of the constitutional protection of free speech.

Friday, April 16, 2010

POLITICS - GOP = Protect the Rich, to Hell With the Rest

"Republican War Against the American People: 'We Will Allow Total Economic Collapse'" by Paul Abrams, Huffington Post 4/15/2010

Today, the debate presaged in "Democrats Losing PR Wars on Banks, Too" that pointed out the far graver risk big banks posed to the rest of us as participants in the economy than as taxpayers (i.e., trillions vs billions) exploded into the mainstream media.

Feckless Democratic strategists were allowing Republicans to appear at once as the champion of taxpayers, purporting to oppose financial reform because it contained what appeared to be a bailout fund, and simultaneously in their traditional role as the handmaidens of Wall Street by opposing any major change to the financial system that would have brought the country to economic ruin had it not been saved by the government.

Get this: Republicans met Wall Street bankers, supposedly telling those crony capitalists that they would oppose financial reform on the fraudulent claim it contained a bailout fund, and Wall Street -- ready for this one -- lavished them with campaign contributions because they really did not want to be bailed out the next time they failed! What honor! What self-sacrifice! What patriotism! What crap!

Before, only Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck had openly stated that they wanted the economy to tank further, sacrificing the American people for the sake of damaging President Obama.

Today, Republican Congressional leadership (McConnell and Boehner) confirmed that they oppose financial reform and they oppose breaking up the big banks. They claim they would just let big banks fail.

That, my friends, is a Republican Declaration of War against the American people, against you and me.

Need proof?

Nineteen months ago, the Lehman Brothers collapse demonstrated with devastating clarity the impact of a big bank failure not just on its own shareholders, employees and creditors, but also on the American economy.

Trillions of dollars were lost. Not just by the banks. By you and me. People who had their entire net worth in their homes -- wiped out. People with retirement accounts to supplement social security -- wiped out. People who had saved to send their children to college -- wiped out.

Nor was this just an economic calamity. Younger peoples' careers -- on indefinite hold as jobs were wiped out and needed experience could not be obtained. Older workers' jobs -- wiped out in a flash flood, with pride of work and paychecks going down the drain, never to return.

Government deficits ballooned (and, without the bailout, would have been worse with a much lower tax revenue base). The country's strength to do what needs to be done to make the world safer and better was sapped.

Republican Congressional leadership declared today, with definitive clarity, that this is the future they will allow by opposing the big bank breakup, and facilitate by opposing meaningful reforms.

And, the feckless Democratic strategists and politicians, what are they doing? They are at it again, arguing over whether their financial reform bill has a bailout fund in it or not.

What is the best result that argument can achieve? That the public becomes convinced there is no bailout fund. BFD.

That is like arguing whether firefighters are combating a brushfire or a barn-fire, instead of pointing to the real conflagration.

Republicans are at war, against you and me.

If the Tea Partiers were true to their claimed heritage, they would realize that the "Divine Right" claimed by kings in the 18th Century, and against which their ancestors revolted, has been replaced by the "Divine Right" theory of banks.

And, today's Benedict Arnold is the Republican Party.


U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think all of us recognize that we cannot have a circumstance in which a meltdown in the financial sector once again puts the entire economy in peril, and that if there's one lesson that we've learned it's that an unfettered market where people are taking huge risks and expecting taxpayers to bail them out when things go sour is simply not acceptable.
(PBS Newshour Transcript)

"Senate Dems pave way for financial reform vote" by Kevin Drawbaugh, Reuters 4/16/2010


The last unfinished piece of a massive Democratic bill -- new rules for the $450 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market -- was expected to take clearer shape on Friday with the release of proposals from the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The OTC derivatives component is crucially important to Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Bank of America, which dominate the unpoliced market.

Lobbyists for the firms were on the defensive after it emerged that Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln planned to propose stricter rules than those approved by the Senate Banking Committee and the House of Representatives.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the main Senate reform bill must accommodate Lincoln's proposals.

"We hope to get it on the floor next week," Reid told reporters at a briefing, referring to a final bill.

The House approved a sweeping reform bill in December. It would have to be merged with whatever the Senate produces before a final measure could go to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. Obama strongly favors reform.

GOP = Greed of Profit, above ALL else. Forget about ethics or morals (but we will continue to claim we are the party-of-values).

Yes, the GOP is the party-of-values, but by "values" they mean $money$.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Reel News, The Onion

(click for larger view)

"U.S. Flag Recalled After Causing 143 Million Deaths" The Onion


Citing a series of fatal malfunctions dating back to 1777, flag manufacturer Annin & Company announced Monday that it would be recalling all makes and models of its popular American flag from both foreign and domestic markets.

Representatives from the nation's leading flag producer claimed that as many as 143 million deaths in the past two centuries can be attributed directly to the faulty U.S. models, which have been utilized extensively since the 18th century in sectors as diverse as government, the military, and public education.

"It has come to our attention that, due to the inherent risks and hazards it poses, the American flag is simply unfit for general use," said Annin & Company president Ronald Burman, who confirmed that the number of flag-related deaths had noticeably spiked since 2003. "I would like to strongly urge all U.S. citizens: If you have an American flag hanging in your home or place of business, please discontinue using it immediately."

Added Burman, "The last thing we would want is for more innocent men and women around the world to die because of our product."

Millions of U.S. flag–related injuries and fatalities have been reported over a 230-year period in locations as far flung as Europe, Cuba, Korea, Gettysburg, PA, the Philippines, and Iraq. In addition, the company found that U.S. flag exports to Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 1970s resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, a clear sign that there was something seriously wrong with its product.

Despite fears about the flag's safety—especially when improperly used or manipulated in ways not originally intended—sales continued unabated over the years, potentially putting billions of unsuspecting people in danger.

"At first, we wanted one of our flags in every home in America," Burman said. "Unfortunately, the practical applications of this product are far outnumbered by the risks it presents. Millions have died needlessly, and when you ask people why, they point to the flag."

"Scientists Finally Prove What Area Dad Has Been Saying For Years" The Onion

A new study published in the science journal Nature has confirmed what area dad Charles Hillman has been saying all along, sources reported Monday. "Observation of a random sampling of participants showed that reduced distances between a viewer and a television set can lead to eye strain and, just like your Dad always told you kids, a greater risk for refractive myopia," the paper read in part, adding that modern science could have reached these conclusions years ago if it had just listened to that Chuck Hillman guy. "In conclusion, all data seem to indicate that maybe your old man isn't the big goofball you thought he was, huh?"

The authors of the study are currently conducting trials that may prove your mother is not, in fact, such a worrywart after all for making you keep a warm blanket in the trunk of your car.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

POLITICS - One for "Ripley's Believe It or Not"

"Poll: Most Find Their Income Tax Fair" by DALIA SUSSMAN, New York Times 4/15/2010

Just ahead of Tax Day, a new New York Times/CBS News poll finds that most Americans regard the income taxes that they will have to pay this year as fair, regardless of political partisanship, ideology or income level.

Sixty-two percent of all respondents in the poll said the income tax they have to pay is fair, while 30 percent called it unfair. That includes 6 in 10 Republicans and independents, and just over two-thirds of Democrats – a display of cross-party agreement rarely seen on any topic. It also includes most liberals, moderates and conservatives.

Majorities across all income groups, moreover, called their income tax fair. Sixty-two percent of Americans in households earning $50,000 or less said so, as did the same percentage of people in households earning more.

Perhaps even more surprising, though, is that even among the 18 percent of Americans who say they support the Tea Party movement, more than half call their own income tax fair. Sentiment turns more sour, however, among the smaller group of Tea Party supporters who are active in the movement. Most of them, 55 percent, regard the income tax they have to pay as unfair. Thousands of Tea Party supporters gathered in Boston today for a rally near the original site of the Boston Tea Party.

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted April 5-12 with 1,580 adults. For the purposes of analysis, Tea Party supporters were oversampled, for a total of 881, and then weighted back to their proper proportion in the poll. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for both all adults and Tea Party supporters. Complete poll results and article will be available this evening at


Before ranting about your taxes, I highly suggest you view the video at the below Newshour link. It is a reminder of the good things taxes allow government to do.

"Tracking Tax Dollar Spending in Florida" PBS Newshour Report

POLITICS - Dems Fist-Time Lead Since 11/2009

"Dems top GOP in 2010 in new CNN poll" by Dave Helling, Kansas City Star 4/13/2010

In a new CNN/Opinion Research poll, 50% of registered voters -- and 50% of all respondents -- say they'd vote for the Democrat in their congressional district this November. Republicans get 46% with registered voters and 45% with all respondents.

It's the first time Dems have led the GOP on that question since last November.

The same poll gives Pres. Barack Obama a +16 favorability score: 57%/41% fav/unfav. (That sounds good, but it's the lowest favorability rating Obama has gotten as president in this particular poll.)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi gets 38%/50% fav/unfav, about the same as Sarah Palin's 39%/55% fav/unfav.

The tea party movement gets a 38%/36% fav/unfav.

Poll PDF

But see this, referring to Gallup poll with GOP generic +4

POLITICS - And the Tea Party Movement

"Obama and Democrats beat the Tea Party Movement in Florida" by Zennie62, San Francisco Chronicle 4/13/2010

See: tea party movement, democrats v republicans, Florida special election, palm beach county

As this blogger wrote earlier in the week, the Tea Party Movement is a media creation with little real bite, but who's life is consistently maintained by a drum beat of stories by Fox News and CNN. Neither cable network will tell you when a Democrat beats a Tea Party-assisted candidate, and that's what happened Tuesday night.

But the real story is one that's to be expected: one of demographics. It's not enough to be a Democrat or a Republican, the candidate has to match the people voting for that person. Ted Deutch did; Ed Lynch didn't.

Democrat Ted Deutch soundly beat Republican Ed Lynch in the 19th Congressional District special election in Broward County, Florida. It was Ed Lynch, 44, who ran on the idea that Washington was "broken" and the "Career politicians" couldn't fit it. Moreover, The Tea Party pointed to this election as one to get behind.

The blog Red County blog entry headline on April 11th read "TEA Party Working for Ed Lynch for Congress in Florida's 19th District" and Dr. Richard Swier, the blog author wrote "Tow the conservative line or else may be the message sent if TEA Party favorite Edward Lynch wins this special election."

So what's the message sent now?

The message is that the Tea Party Movement isn't strong enough to turn an unknown Republican candidate in a district that had 65 percent of its voters back Barack Obama for President, and is replacing a very popular democrat in Rep. Robert Wexler.

Moreover, the 19th Congressional District of Florida has a strong Jewish population. According to the Sun Sentinel, Ted Deutch was firmly behind Jewish causes and lives just west of Boca Raton which is part of Palm Beach County and that's 70 percent of the voting base. Ted Deutch is a lawyer; Ed Lynch is a contractor.

Ed Lynch was outspent and outnumbered. 10,000 Tea Party Movement phone calls didn't help. And where was the anger over the Obama Health Care plan? It never showed up. Ed Lynch was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This not just proves that the Tea Party Movement is overblown, but that you have to pay attention to election demographics.

SUPREME COURT - Food For Thought

"Supreme Club" By TIMOTHY EGAN, New York Times


At last count, there were about 200 law schools in the United States accredited by the American Bar Association, but apparently only two of them — Harvard and Yale — can be a path to serving on the highest court in the land.

It was surprising enough to see that with the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court will not have a single Protestant among its black-robed elite. But equally jaw-dropping was the fact that without Stevens, every member of the court has attended Harvard or Yale law school.

Well-a Boola, Boo, Boola, and Fair Harvard Holds Sway and all that, but enough with the Ivy Curtain. This club needs some air, or at least a breeze from another campus.

Over the years, the nine people with final say over the laws of the land have come to look more like the rest of America. Groups that were long excluded now point with pride to Jews, blacks, Italian-Americans and a Latina on the court. Gays and Asians are clamoring for a voice.

Perhaps it’s time for one more bit of entitled diversity: a seat reserved for somebody who didn’t go to Harvard or Yale.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

HEALTH - Good News, Woman's Health

"Maternal Deaths Decline Sharply Across the Globe" by DENISE GRADY, New York Times 4/13/2010


For the first time in decades, researchers are reporting a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth, to about 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980.

The findings, published in the medical journal The Lancet, challenge the prevailing view of maternal mortality as an intractable problem that has defied every effort to solve it.

“The overall message, for the first time in a generation, is one of persistent and welcome progress,” the journal’s editor, Dr. Richard Horton, wrote in a comment accompanying the article, published online on Monday.

The study cited a number of reasons for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of “skilled attendants” — people with some medical training — to help women give birth. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the overall death rates.

ECONOMY - More UP-News

"AP analysis: Economic pain eases in hard-hit areas" by MIKE SCHNEIDER & MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP 4/13/2010

Economic stress declined in the nation's most troubled areas in February as unemployment stabilized and the pace of foreclosures eased, according to The Associated Press' monthly analysis of conditions in more than 3,100 U.S. counties.

After peaking in January, economic stress dipped in February in half the states and half the 3,141 counties.

"We are not out of the woods yet, and there are still a lot of things that could go wrong, but things are improving," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York.

The AP's Economic Stress Index found the average county's score in February was 11.8. That was down slightly from January's reading of 11.9, the highest average county score since the AP started publishing the index nearly a year ago. The reading in December was 10.8, the previous high.

The index calculates a score from 1 to 100 based on a county's unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. A higher score indicates more stress. Under a rough rule of thumb, a county is considered stressed when its score exceeds 11.

Fewer than 55 percent of counties were deemed stressed in February, slightly less than in January.

The nation's most economically distressed states were, in order: Nevada (21.4), Michigan (17.84), California (16.94), Florida (16.26) and Illinois (15.37). All saw their Stress scores decline from January to February.

Once again, North Dakota was the least stressed state in February with a score of 5.48. Next best were South Dakota (5.97), Nebraska (6.45), Vermont (7.64) and Louisiana. All those states, too, had lower Stress scores in February than in January.

The overall easing of stress was due to two main factors: A slowdown in the pace of foreclosures in battered states like California and Nevada. And a national unemployment rate that's held steady since January at 9.7 percent.

Many economists predict the 10.1 percent unemployment rate reached in October will turn out to be the peak for this downturn, the most severe the country has suffered since the 1930s. But they say the jobless rate will decline only gradually and remain around 9.3 percent by year's end.

In March, the economy added a net 162,000 jobs, the best showing in three years, though the unemployment rate remained stuck at 9.7 percent.

"The economy is stabilizing," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics. "More industries are showing signs of revival, and that is helping to support growth in more parts of the country."

Louisiana led the nation in economic improvement from January to February: Its score declined from 9.60 to 8.16.

The recession struck Louisiana later than it did most other states. And now it appears to be among a handful of states that have rebounded from it. The number of people with jobs is expected to grow more sharply this year in Louisiana than in the nation as a whole.

"We've actually come out a little before the national economy did," said Loren Scott, an economist in Baton Rouge, La., who helps write the state's annual economic forecast.

The state has been aided by Hurricane Katrina-related construction projects that have led to the rebuilding of bridges and levees. A stable energy sector has helped, too.

And Louisiana's manufacturing sector has benefited from its reliance on shipbuilding and the construction of drilling platforms, rather than on more recession-vulnerable durable goods such as appliances and cars. That's helped it avoid the deep losses of factory jobs other states suffered, Scott said.

In California, the pace of layoffs has leveled off. And some growth is being seen in agriculture and transportation sectors.

Recent changes to the state's foreclosure laws, giving homeowners more time to work out loan modifications with banks, are putting off some foreclosures. Modest increases in home prices over the past year are giving banks incentives to accept short sales on distressed properties, said Mark Schniepp, an economist based in Santa Barbara, Calif.

In a short sale, a homeowner is allowed to sell the home for less than the mortgage amount.

"The state is definitely showing much greater signs of recovery," Schniepp said. "Everything seems to be stabilizing ... so there is a lot more optimism about the economy."

The biggest wild card in California's recovery is the drag from the state's more than $20 billion budget deficit, Schniepp said. Already, 200,000 state workers are being furloughed three days a month. State officials are considering extending the furloughs and possibly laying off workers to close the budget gap.

The steepest year-to-year increases in Stress scores in February were in Nevada, Mississippi (Stress score: 13.38), West Virginia (11.82), Idaho (13.24) and Florida.

Once again, counties in Kansas and South Dakota topped the list of economically healthiest counties with populations greater than 25,000 residents. Ford County, Kan., was at the top with a score of 4.08. It was followed by Ellis County, Kan. (4.16); Brookings County, S.D. (4.36); Brown County, S.D. (4.64); and Finney County, Kan. (4.76).

Counties in interior California again dominated the list of distressed counties. Imperial County, Calif. (31.29) led the way, followed by Lyon County, Nev. (28.42); Merced County, Calif. (28.27); San Benito County, Calif.(27.51); and Sutter County, Calif. (26.24).

POLITICS - The Dodo Bird

"The Fascist Conservative Movement" by Tony B., Gather


President Obama has been vilified for reforming the student loan programs by conservatives.

They say it is excessive government involvement, as usual.

What they actually fear is the rise in lower income individuals to the ranks of educated, informed citizens.

The Conservative Fascist movement is in over drive to prevent anyone from attaining an affordable education, even at the expense of national security.

Traditionally, the Conservative Fascist is a social elitist, overly entitled, right-wing religious antagonistic pool of under achievers who survive off the backs of others.

They clearly have an agenda to limit any and all policies that would enable people the opportunity to an affordable education.

This has always been an innate fear of radical Fascist conservative ideologies, which is slowly going the way of the Dodo Bird.

Bold emphasis mine

Yap! Sock-it-to-'em B.

WORLD - On Loose-Nukes, The Summit

"Obama's nuclear wizardry and Iran" by Steve Clemons, Politico 4/13/2010


At the Nuclear Security Summit President Barack Obama is presiding over in a transportation-gridlocked Washington this week, he is achieving a boldness — but not of bravado. Rather, it is one of calculated subtlety and strategic depth.

Obama has brought together 47 world leaders to get them to commit to safer nuclear materials management practices and prevent trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

Obama is changing the direction of global gravity. He is also confronting Iran without the shallowness of bombing vs. sanctions vs. public humiliation that his administration has been flirting with. In the past week, and over the next month, Obama is showing what a U.S.-led world order should look like.

This is a huge shift, for the world hasn’t had much faith in America’s abilities to deliver. For example, in taking on strategic challenges like getting the Israelis and Palestinians on a two-state pathway; or ending the anachronistically simmering Cold War conflict in U.S.-Cuba relations; or persuading Iran to forgo a nuclear weapons track, most of the world has seen an America unable to achieve the objectives it sets out for itself.

In recent years, this has translated into a sense that the United States is a well-branded, globally important but underperforming country, whose influence is weakening — more like a national version of General Motors than Google.

Now, out of the blue, Obama is changing the game.

In a quick succession of deals focused on pre-empting a 21st-century nuclear nightmare, Obama has mended the foundation and infrastructure of a global nonproliferation regime that United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Vice President Dick Cheney and others of the pugnacious nationalist wing of the last administration worked hard to tear down.

And, by bringing together 47 key leaders, Obama is signaling to all stakeholders that a nuclear crisis with Iran and other potential breakout states would undermine the global commons.

Yet he is not vilifying Iran or its leaders. He is not making the same “axis of evil” mistake President George W. Bush did.

Instead, Obama is showing the benign and constructive side of U.S. power to other great states like India, China, Brazil and Russia. He is also inviting Iran to get in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and get back into a club that matters - where Iran could be respected for adopting a sensible course.

See video:

"Summit Wraps With Pact to Secure Stockpiles" PBS Newshour Report

Although I find the Steve Clemons post-title a bit overstated, he has a point.

We did not "win" the Cold War by NOT talking to the USSR. We did win because we engaged them, talked with them, although many times the conversation was heated (to say the least).

The subject of "Loose-Nukes" is of paramount importance to the USA, and the world, and we cannot just let it lay.

Monday, April 12, 2010

ECONOMY - Obamanomics?

"Why the Obama Plan Is Working" by Mike Dorning, BusinessWeek 4/8/2010


It's never easy to separate politics from policy, and the past 18 months have only increased the degree of difficulty. The U.S. has been through a historic financial crisis followed by a historic election and a series of historic federal gambles—from bailing out AIG and GM to passing a $787 billion stimulus and a $940 billion health-care reform bill. All that risk has made policy more complicated and politics more fraught ("You lie," "Babykiller").

A Bloomberg national poll in March found that Americans, by an almost 2-to-1 margin, believe the economy has gotten worse rather than better during the past year. The Market begs to differ. While President Obama's overall job approval rating has fallen to a new low of 44%, according to a CBS News Poll, down five points from late March, the judgment of the financial indexes has turned resoundingly positive. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index is up more than 74% from its recessionary low in March 2009. Corporate bonds have been rallying for a year. Commodity prices have surged. International currency markets have been bullish on the dollar for months, raising it by almost 10% since Nov. 25 against a basket of six major currencies. Housing prices have stabilized. Mortgage rates are low. "We've had a phenomenal run in asset classes across the board," says Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist for Miller Tabak + Co., an institutional trading firm in New York. "If Obama was a Republican, we would hear a never-ending drumbeat of news stories about markets voting in favor of the President."

Little more than a year ago, financial markets were in turmoil, major auto companies were on the verge of collapse and economists such as Paul Krugman were worried about the U.S. slumbering through a Japan-like Lost Decade. While no one would claim that all the pain is past or the danger gone, the economy is growing again, jumping to a 5.6% annualized growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2009 as businesses finally restocked their inventories. The consensus view now calls for 3% growth this year, significantly higher than the 2.1 % estimate for 2010 that economists surveyed by Bloomberg News saw coming when Obama first moved into the Oval Office. The U.S. manufacturing sector has expanded for eight straight months, the Business Roundtable's measure of CEO optimism reached its highest level since early 2006, and in March the economy added 162,000 jobs—more than it had during any month in the past three years. "There is more business confidence out there," says Boeing (BA) CEO Jim McNerney. "This Administration deserves significant credit."

It is worth stepping back to consider, in cool-headed policy terms, how all of this came to be—and whether the Obama team's approach amounts to a set of successful emergency measures or a new economic philosophy: Obamanomics.

POLITICS - Supreme Court Retirement, John Paul Stevens

"Brooks, Marcus on Legacy of John Paul Stevens" PBS Newshour (video) Transcript 4/9/2010

NOTE TO MY READERS: I am posting the long transcripts because, for an unknown reason, the PBS Newshour embedded videos no longer work (as you may have noticed in my older posts).


JIM LEHRER: ...the retirement of John Paul Stevens at the Supreme Court, the announcement he is going to leave after the summer. But what are your thoughts about his departure?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I'm going to stay, thematically, where we have been.


DAVID BROOKS: To me, when you look at the history, it's important to look -- you can sort of see recent American political history in his -- the course of his career.

First, the most exciting thing to me was, he was at Wrigley Field when Babe Ruth called his shot and hit the home run.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, my God. Oh, David.

DAVID BROOKS: So, I had to get that in.

DAVID BROOKS: He also enlisted in the U.S. Navy on December 6, 1941, which is fascinating to me.


DAVID BROOKS: But, in the early part of his career, sort of a Republican family, considered himself a moderate Republican, but worked for a New Deal liberal on the Supreme Court as an intern, and then worked on progressive causes in Chicago to reform the city there.

And so he had done some things on both left and right. And when Gerald Ford was looking for a nominee, Chuck Percy, who was then the senator from Illinois, a moderate Republican, says, what about this guy? He's very smart.

And, in those days, a president could think non-ideologically. I will just pick the smartest guy. This guy seems very smart. Chuck Percy likes him.

And, so, that was like a different era. We don't do that anymore.

JIM LEHRER: Right. Right.

DAVID BROOKS: Now we run through a million litmus tests on each side. And the idea of a Republican picking somebody with that background would never happen -- vice versa.

And then, so, he -- he's part of that era. And then we enter a new era, an era where the country and the court have moved to the right, but where ideology has become much more sharply divided. And, so, the sort of process his successor will go through is 180 degrees from the process he went through.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree; it is going to be a different world for the new person, as opposed to what John Paul Stevens went through, if nothing else?

RUTH MARCUS: It's going to be a different world. And Justice Stevens has pointed out that, with the exception of Justice Ginsburg, every -- every retiring justice, including him, has replaced some -- has been replaced by somebody more conservative than the retiring justice was.

So, this court is shifting. I went back today and looked at The New York Times and Washington Post stories on the day that Justice Stevens was selected.

JIM LEHRER: What did they say?

RUTH MARCUS: And it was fascinating.

"President Ford picks centrist for court."

JIM LEHRER: Centrist?

RUTH MARCUS: A centrist. And then...

JIM LEHRER: That is an old-fashioned word, isn't it?

RUTH MARCUS: And which tells you that -- which was a fairly accurate assessment of him at the time. And he will tell you, he hasn't moved; the court has moved around him.

I think one of the interesting legacies of Justice Stevens' retirement is the odd fact that President Obama -- and, look, all of these predictions are fraught with peril.


RUTH MARCUS: But President Obama is apt to leave, at the end of his first term, to have a Supreme Court that is more conservative than the one that he inherited, because, if you look at Justice Souter and Justice Sotomayor, pretty much a wash is the best guess.

And it's unlikely that somebody who is as liberal as Justice Stevens is now perceived will be...

JIM LEHRER: Will be confirmed?

RUTH MARCUS: ... will be nominated and confirmed by the president.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, that -- that President Obama could not get away with nominating somebody as liberal as John Paul Stevens is tonight?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, they have got an interesting choice.

I mean, on the one hand, Stevens is pretty liberal, by our terms these days. And I think he has also moved to the left a little, as we heard earlier. But, so, on the one hand, the activist groups in the Democratic Party want somebody just as liberal, at least, as Stevens.

And, on the other hand, it is an election year. And Obama is already in trouble in the middle. Does he and all the moderates who are going to be running in states like Indiana and Ohio, do they really want a big ideological fight?

So, he's got these two forces, one that says, no, you -- let's pick a fight, get a liberal, another saying, no, get a moderate, somebody you can get confirmed.

I think, if I were sitting there in the Obama White House, from a Democratic perspective, I would say: Hey, we're going to lose six to eight senators. We're never going to get another shot to nominate a liberal. Let's take our chances with this one.


RUTH MARCUS: The interest groups that are pushing for a liberal nominee have -- are not particularly happy with the judicial nominees they have seen from the president thus far. And if you...

JIM LEHRER: You mean the -- in the other courts?

RUTH MARCUS: In the lower federal courts.

JIM LEHRER: But they liked Sotomayor?

RUTH MARCUS: They like Sotomayor.


RUTH MARCUS: But they're nervous about where she is going to end up. I do think that...

JIM LEHRER: Because she was a former prosecutor?

RUTH MARCUS: Because she was a former prosecutor, and her testimony, if you had taken out her name and put in justice -- Chief Justice Roberts' name, you wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between them.

And, obviously, there will be -- there is and there will be a difference between them in terms of voting record, but they want somebody a little bit more -- one of the things I think we're going to see from the White House -- and you heard this a little bit in the president's statement today -- is to try to recast the liberal-vs.-conservative debate, to not make it about social liberalism, as much as about economic power and trying to even up the playing field between the powerless individual and the powerful corporations and other powerful interests.

And I think that may be a way for them to try to elide that -- that tension that they face.

JIM LEHRER: David, somebody might say to Ruth, good luck on that, right?


DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think we have had -- been having that argument for the year.


DAVID BROOKS: And as I said in the poll statistics earlier, it hasn't gone so well for Democrats so far.


But the word firestorm was used in the earlier discussion that -- about -- at the very beginning, where -- that Judy ran, where the one thing that President Obama is going to want to avoid is a firestorm over this nominee. And he can't do a liberal without having a firestorm.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, but he could do a liberal minimalist, as they say.

One of the people who works for him and who is actually short-listed on the -- to be a nominee is a guy named Cass Sunstein. And he -- he has written about President Obama before, saying he is a liberal, but he's a minimalist, meaning he doesn't believe in judicially activist, getting somebody who is going to try to rewrite the American society through the court.

And, so, he could choose someone who has sort of a liberal pedigree, but not an aggressive personality. I happen to think all of these decisions for -- politically anyway, are done on the basis of personality, not their judicial views.

JIM LEHRER: Ruth, what about the suggestion that has come from other folks that maybe it's time to put some -- a real person on the Supreme Court, in other words, not somebody who is a former appeals court judge, has a long history on the bench, but a lawyer, obviously, but somebody, even a political...

RUTH MARCUS: ... have to be a lawyer, but...

JIM LEHRER: A politician. It has to be a lawyer, but a politician.

RUTH MARCUS: I -- the president is extremely attracted to that idea.

Here is the problem with the real person.


RUTH MARCUS: First of all, the kind of real person that we would be talking about would be a politician person. They have this unfortunate tendency to have enormous paper trails, both voting records and statements, so that -- which could be mined, which would be -- make -- be so much more fun, actually, than reading law review articles, which is what people like me are always stuck doing with these appeals court nominees.

The other problem is that you have to worry about, if it's a politician, what is the consequence? If you find a senator who looks like she would be young enough, smart enough, interesting enough, whatever -- Amy Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota, is somebody who has been mentioned.

Well, guess what? There's a Republican governor in Minnesota. So, you have to deal with those things also. So, as attractive as it is, it's been very hard to find in practice.


DAVID BROOKS: That would be excellent, excellent.

JIM LEHRER: He's not a lawyer. I don't think he's a lawyer.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I don't think he's a lawyer, yes. He has a paper trail.

JIM LEHRER: He does have a paper trail.

RUTH MARCUS: He has a video trail.



Thank you all very much.

Ruth, good to see you.