Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Last Call

Scientists have succeeded in making sperm cells out of stem cells in lab conditions, and the process could be used to help infertile couples.
The breakthrough could give hope to infertile couples and men left unable to have children after having cancer treatment.

But don't worry guys, the scientists who created the sperm using stem cells don't plan to take you out of the baby-making process just yet.

While we can understand some people may have concerns, this does not mean that humans can be produced in a dish and we have no intention of doing this,' said researcher Prof Karim Nayernia.

'The work is a way of investigating why some people are infertile and the reasons behind it.

'It could also allow men who are currently infertile the chance to have a child which is genetically their own but this will be many years away – at least a decade.'

For now, we'll have to settle for the technique being used as a plot device in movie comedies about lesbians wanting kids.


And now we see the other shoe on the public option drop, via Atrios.
Yesterday rumors were flying and some folks are saying they’ve been confirmed. The Senate Finance Committee (SFC), in an effort to make health care into a bi-partisan effort, is considering a restriction on abortion funding with the passage of health care reform. This could mean not allowing a public health insurance plan to cover the cost of abortions for women. It is still unclear under what circumstances this provision would apply, but we want to make sure that you all are aware of what’s going on in the SFC!

This is potentially very dangerous, and poses a great risk for the health and lives of women all over this country. There is no excuse for excluding health benefits from health insurance plans based on politics and ideology. We don’t want politicians deciding what health care services we have and do not have. We need to look out for the women with the least access to resources and capital and ensure that their needs are represented.

You'd better believe that this is going to be a massive issue down the road, and Republicans are going to jump all over this in order to try to kill Obamacare over using public money for abortions. I'm also putting down strong money that Republicans will insist that using the public option be prohibited from paying for contraception of any sort, too...and reframe the debate from "should we have a public option" to "BABY KILLERS!"

Obamacare's chances just dropped like a rock, frankly.

Everybody Just Chill The Hell Out, He's Got This

Obama walks Joe Biden's weekend comments on Israel back, then chucks them in the trash can.
The United States is "absolutely not" giving Israel a green light to attack Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama told CNN Tuesday.

"We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East," Obama said, referring to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Obama has been in Moscow for a summit aimed at trying to reset the U.S.-Russian relationship.

On Sunday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden appeared to leave the door open for Israel to attack Iran if it saw fit.

"Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," Biden said on ABC's "This Week."

Obama said Tuesday that Biden had simply been stating a fact, not sending a signal.

"I think Vice President Biden stated a categorical fact, which is we can't dictate to other countries what their security interests are. What is also true is that it is the policy of the United States to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear capabilities in a peaceful way through diplomatic channels," he said.
And he did it in a way that did not throw the Vice-President under the bus. Well played, old man. Well played, and very, very necessary. When Obama delivers, he delivers big.

[UPDATE 6:28 PM] Not only did Obama walk the idea of attacking Iran back, but so did Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike Mullen.
Well, actually, I honestly didn't even — I didn't see that report. I've been one who have been concerned about a strike on Iran for some time because it could be very destabilizing, and it is the unintended consequences of that which aren't predictable.

Through The Looking Glass

Steve Benen muses on the difficulty the Dems are having in passing their agenda.
It reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with a friend of mine about an alternate universe. Imagine, my friend said, there was a Republican president, working with large, obstructionist-proof Republican majorities in the House and Senate. The Republican president's approval rating was about 60%, and he'd just won a popular electoral mandate on a key issue, which Republicans have prioritized literally for generations.

What are the chances, my friend asked, that Republicans would accept the importance of "bipartisanship" in shaping the policy? What are the odds that GOP leaders would make a series of concessions to Democrats, and tolerate Republican centrists who were toying with the idea of siding with the minority party?

A couple of weeks ago, in response to criticism of the administration from George W. Bush, Robert Gibbs told reporters, "We kept score last November, and we won."

With that in mind, it's tempting to remind Democratic policymakers, as they negotiate with the shrinking minority party and back down on key priorities, "You won."

First of all, Steve's alternate universe there sounds very much like the 108th Congress in 2003 that gave us the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Plenty of Dems went along with that. Let's face it, Republicans haven't given a damn about needing bipartisanship because they can always find Democrats who will fold.

Second, Republicans know they never have to cooperate or compromise, because they can always find Democrats who will fold.

Third, despite the GOP's shrinking numbers, they are confident they can defeat Obama's agenda because...say it with me now...they can always find Democrats who will fold.

Never mind the fact the Dems can go a long way towards winning a long-term majority in Congress by passing smart legislation that Americans want right now. They're too busy figuring out how to fold.

Remember that when Obamacare falls apart. Remember why a public health care option is absolutely necessary. Remember that when the Democrats kill this plan, and youor someone you care about still doesn't have affordable health care, or lose your job, or fall between the cracks and join the one in six of us who have nothing to fall back on, or the other one in six of us who are underinsured.

Sure, Let's Deflate The Economy More

The usual suspects are beginning to complain about the minimum wage hike taking effect this month, giving Americans $7.25 an hour.

The impact of the higher minimum wage will resonate even beyond that group of earners and industries. Economists say there are 2.8 million workers earning between the current federal minimum wage of $6.55 an hour and the new minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which takes effect on July 24 and has had no signs of delay from legislators. But some estimates figure an additional seven million workers are affected because their wages are tied to the minimum and will go up accordingly.

Ryan Arfmann, who owns a Jamba Juice franchise in Idaho Falls, Idaho, is a case in point. He said he will have to boost pay to all of his 18 workers. The ones making less than $7.25 an hour will be raised to the new rate. But he said he will have to give raises to those currently earning more than $7.25 an hour because they have more experience.

As a result, he plans to cut hours for his part-time workers. "I'll definitely have to run a tighter shift each day and watch numbers like never before," said Mr. Arfmann, who estimates his business is down between 3% and 4% this year.

Look, let's step back for a second. The real problem right now with wages is that they are deflating. People are being canned, and their jobs are either being eliminated or being replaced by cheaper contract workers or part-time workers. I'd argue that this is in fact the best time to raise the minimum wage when we're facing a double-deflation strike from falling home prices and tumbling wages. But the same tired arguments dragged out when the bill was signed into law in early 2007: we couldn't raise wages when times were good during the last decade because we were assured that the free market was paying people above that wage anyway, only to discover that millions of Americans were being paid $5.15 an hour because of global competition and the name of the almighty profit margin, and now we can't raise wages when people need them the most because it might hurt the economy.

In other words, we can never raise the minimum wage. Ever. Finally, under massive pressure, Congress and President Bush after ten years finally gave in after real wages fell to their lowest level since WW II. Now however, the cry is coming out that Congress should delay or even repeal the raise scheduled to take effect on July 24th.

Remember, the real problem is deflation. These geniuses want us to make sure we drive down wages even more.

Froomkin Lands On His Feet

As Double G notes, after Dan Froomkin was axed at the WaPo two weeks ago, he has been hired on at the Huffington Post and remarks at the change of seeing one of the major newspaper columnists signing on at an internet venture.
While this pairing is, in some ways, a natural one (even the Post Ombudsman suggested that "Web sites like The Huffington Post or Politico would seem a perfect fit"), there are also potential sources of tension. As a practitioner of what he calls "accountability journalism" -- "explaining how Washington works; pulling no punches" -- Froomkin has been a vehement critic of the Obama administration for the last several months, while The Huffington Post frequently trumpeted (some might say "cheerleading") the Obama campaign and even his presidency (though it has become mildly more critical of Obama in recent months; its screaming, red headline today: "White House May Cave on Public Option"). Will Froomkin's harsh criticisms of Obama alienate an Obama-loving HuffPost readership?

And given the central importance of Arianna Huffington's personal relationships with key media figures and those in power, will Froomkin's unrestrained criticisms of many of those same people undermine a key aspect of The Huffington Post's business and promotional strategies? Both Huffington and Froomkin insist that he will have full editorial freedom, though that commitment is often more easily embraced in theory than in practice.

For all the self-serving talk about how political journalism is dying, it is striking how new and online media outlets continue to thrive. Yesterday, Josh Marshall's TalkingPointsMemo -- which began as a one-person blog -- announced a major investment from Netscape founder Marc Andreesen that is allowing it to double its reporting staff. And now today, a columnist fired by an old, struggling establishment outlet claiming "business reasons" as a motive is not only almost immediately hired by a new media entity, but was inundated with expressions of interest and even other offers from an electic mix of reporting outlets.

Clearly, journalism itself is not dying. What is dying -- and rightfully so -- is the staid, establishment-serving, passion-free, access-desperate, mindless stenographic model to which establishment journalism rigidly adheres. As The Post's Ombudsman reported from personal experience, Froomkin's firing left "an army of angry followers" and "an outcry from a loyal audience." People are obviously hungry for the type of real journalism Froomkin practices. The Huffington Post immediately capitalized on the Post's short-sighted and myopic decision to fire one of their most (and one of their very few) vibrant, passionate and innovative journalists. In this episode lies many insights about the real reasons establishment journalism is struggling severely.

Again, Froomkin is still a Villager, but at least he's willing to open up a can of whoopass on Obama when he's doing wrong. The fact that Froomkin is the exception that proves the rules of the Village is sad enough.

Still, I like Froomkin's work. He went after Bush when he was President and isn't afraid to call Obama out either. I can respect that, I try to do much the same here.

We'll see how it works out.

Banking On The Golden State

The megabanks aren't going to be stuck with California's increasingly worthless IOUs, apparently.
A group of the biggest U.S. banks said they would stop accepting California's IOUs on Friday, adding pressure on the state to close its $26.3 billion annual budget gap.

The development is the latest twist in California's struggle to deal with the effects of the recession. After state leaders failed to agree on budget solutions last week, California began issuing IOUs -- or "individual registered warrants" -- to hundreds of thousands of creditors. State Controller John Chiang said that without IOUs, California would run out of cash by July's end.

But now, if California continues to issue the IOUs, creditors will be forced to hold on to them until they mature on Oct. 2, or find other banks to honor them. When the IOUs mature, holders will be paid back directly by the state at an annual 3.75% interest rate. Some banks might also work with creditors to come up with an interim solution, such as extending them a line of credit, said Beth Mills, a California Bankers Association spokeswoman.

You can bet your bottom dollar that the banks aren't going to be left holding the bag for sitting on these IOUs, they going to make sure that California's people suffer, having to hold onto to checks they basically can't cash for three months. How nice of the banks supposedly making record profits to pitch in to help their customers in California! Why, I'm sure that will help the economy, right?
The group of banks included Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., among others. The banks had previously committed to accepting state IOUs as payment. California plans to issue more than $3 billion of IOUs in July.

Ms. Mills of the CBA said some banks were concerned that there aren't processes in place to accept IOUs, and also worried about fraud issues. She noted that not all banks have set a July 10 deadline, and that dozens of credit unions in the state will keep accepting IOUs.

Wells Fargo's head of community banking, Lisa Stevens, said: "We're very disappointed, as are many Californians, that California has taken the unfortunate step of issuing IOUs in lieu of payments to some businesses and individuals."

State officials said they were disappointed by the banks' decision. Garin Casaleggio, a spokesman for Mr. Chiang, said: "We don't want anybody to suffer who can't redeem them when they need cash."

The banks are disappointed in the state, the state is disappointed in the banks, and the people holding the IOUs are stuck with nothing. Hopefully this will cause a major outflux from the megabanks to credit unions, who still seems to care about their customers.

California is in trouble. they did bring a lot of this mess on themselves. But after the same megabanks that got bailed out by our taxpayer money turn around and pull this stunt, Obama needs to make it clear that this is not acceptable when it becomes their turn to help out those in need.

[UPDATE 1:12 PM] Atrios suggests the Feds should guarantee California's IOUs so that at least the banks will cash them. Not a bad idea in the interim.

Sister Sarah Saga: The Reason

Well, Sarah Palin has finally gone public for the reasons she up and quit regrouped in a rearward direction away from controversy.

Palin conceded many people are still confused about why she made the decision to leave office.

"You know why they're confused? I guess they cannot take something nowadays at face value," Palin said.

But she said a major factor in the decision was the mounting legal bills she and the state have had to incur to fight ethics charges from her political adversaries. None of the accusations has been proven but, she said, the costs of fighting them have been enormous.

"You know conditions have really changed in Alaska in the political arena since Aug. 29, since I was tapped to run for VP. When that opposition research -- those researchers really bombarded Alaska -- started digging for dirt and have not let up. They're not gonna find any dirt," she said. "We keep proving that every time we win an ethics violation lawsuit and we've won every one of them. But it has been costing our state millions of dollars. It's cost Todd and me. You know the adversaries would love to see us put on the path of personal bankruptcy so that we can't afford to run."

Yep, she's playing the celebrity victim card. Now if only we knew who was responsible for thrusting her into the national limelight she clearly wasn't ready for and building a cult of personality around her...

Oh wait, we do. It was John McCain and the GOP leadership, and then Sarah Palin accepted the nomination for veep.

Welcome to the big leagues, rook.

But as for whether another pursuit of national office, as she did less than a year ago when she joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the race for the White House, would result in the same political blood sport, Palin said there is a difference between the White House and what she has experienced in Alaska. If she were in the White House, she said, the "department of law" would protect her from baseless ethical allegations.

"I think on a national level, your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out," she said.

White House Department of Law.

So, Sarah Palin believes the Justice Department's goal is to throw out ethics complaints against the executive branch.

Good lord. Here's the kicker:

Another major reason that Palin said she is walking away from her first term as Alaska's governor is because after she made the decision not to seek a second term as governor, she would be a lame duck and she refuses to "milk" that status. She said most politicians "say it's a paycheck, it's a paycheck and I get to travel around. No, that's politics as usual."

Palin spoke openly about her ideas for the country, national security and energy, and she took a dim view of politicians. "No, I don't really like a whole lot of politicians," she said.

You mean like a Governor who travels around Alaska at the people's expense and milks her status as a "victim of the media"?

The woman is shameless and imperverious to either logic or irony. Alaska should be grateful she resigned.

She's done.

Rahmbo Signals Fold On Public Option

The WSJ is reporting this morning that Obama's Chief of Staff is willing to make a deal on the public option in order to get health care reform passed, pointing to the Medicare trigger option the GOP crafted in 2003.
It is more important that health-care legislation inject stiff competition among insurance plans than it is for Congress to create a pure government-run option, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Monday.

"The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest," he said in an interview. "The goal is non-negotiable; the path is" negotiable.

His comments came as the Senate Finance Committee pushed for a bipartisan deal. To help pay for the package, the committee planned to announce an agreement Wednesday with hospitals and the White House for $155 billion over a decade in reductions to Medicare and charity-care payments for hospitals, according to a person familiar with the agreement. That will help pay for the legislation, expected to cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years.

One of the most contentious issues is whether to create a public health-insurance plan to compete with private companies.

Mr. Emanuel said one of several ways to meet President Barack Obama's goals is a mechanism under which a public plan is introduced only if the marketplace fails to provide sufficient competition on its own. He noted that congressional Republicans crafted a similar trigger mechanism when they created a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare in 2003. In that case, private competition has been judged sufficient and the public option has never gone into effect.

Mr. Obama has pushed hard for a vigorous public option. But he has also said he won't draw a "line in the sand" over this point.

If a public option for health insurance is reduced to a trigger option that will purposely be crafted to never happen, there will be no health care reform. There will still be 50 million uninsured Americans, and most likely there will be a lot more as health care continues to get more expensive and employers simply drop coverage altogther, putting health care out of reach of more and more Americans.

Republicans and ConservaDems now know the White House is now willing to fold on the public option and go with a trigger clause or junk it totally. This could be the death blow to Obamacare.

Less than 48 hours after Sen. Chuck Schumer announced that there would be a public option, we now see that the deal has been struck, a set of trigger conditions that will assure the public option will never happen.

The Dems fighting for a public option win. They put one in. The ConservaDems and insurance lobbyist GOP win, they wisely made sure it would never be activated. The White House wins, they went along with the public calls for a public option.

The American people however, lose. Unless Digby's right and Rahmbo is playing 45 dimensional chess, Obamacare just died on the hospital bed. Lee Stranahan at HuffPo is far less sanguine about it.

In the past few days, a disturbing reality has come into razor sharp focus - the White House may be completely willing to go along with the lobbyist funded Senators on selling out real health care reform for America.

If anyone wanted to hold on to the illusion that perhaps President Obama was actually doing a head fake with 'moderate Democrats' in his call suggesting that they shouldn't be attacked for taking huge amounts of health industry money in exchange for creating faux reform legislation that would entrench and benefit the private insurance industry, Rahm Emanual made it clear on Monday that the compromise is a pre-approved condition at the White House.

It looks like Obama's played his supporters for fools once again, and I for one am getting sick of it.


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