Monday, October 5, 2009

Last Call

The early numbers on the KY Senate race to replace Jim Bunning shows that the GOP is going to have a difficult time keeping the seat.
A new Rasmussen poll in the open Senate race in Kentucky, where incumbent GOP Sen. Jim Bunning is retiring, shows a potentially close race in this red state, with high undecideds all around.

There are currently two Republican candidates, Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist and son of Ron Paul. Competing for the Democratic nomination are Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who narrowly lost as the Senate nominee against Bunning in 2004, and state Attorney General Jack Conway.

Grayson leads Mongiardo by 44%-37%, and Paul leads Mongiardo by 43%-38%. Conway ties with Grayson at 40%-40%, and Conway narrowly leads Paul by 42%-38%. The margin of error is ±4.5%.

If even Rasmussen finds this one close, the GOP is in serious, serious trouble. If the GOP is correct and America is already sick of Obama and the Democrats, then this race should be an easy win and the Republicans should be running away. The fact that this race is within the margin of error says volumes about the GOP right now.

If they can't post a commanding lead now, when Obama has supposedly failed enough to doom the Democrats, how come they are still competitive in Kentucky? Obama hasn't passed any of his agenda yet. This is certainly Teabagger country, too.

Yet both Dems are able to make this a close race against both Republicans. That to me says the GOP's in trouble, even this early on.

Break The Bank

The Independent's Robert Fisk is charging that China, Russia and France are teaming up with Arab oil states in order to ditch the dollar as world reserve currency.
In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.

The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

The Americans, who are aware the meetings have taken place – although they have not discovered the details – are sure to fight this international cabal which will include hitherto loyal allies Japan and the Gulf Arabs. Against the background to these currency meetings, Sun Bigan, China's former special envoy to the Middle East, has warned there is a risk of deepening divisions between China and the US over influence and oil in the Middle East. "Bilateral quarrels and clashes are unavoidable," he told the Asia and Africa Review. "We cannot lower vigilance against hostility in the Middle East over energy interests and security."

This sounds like a dangerous prediction of a future economic war between the US and China over Middle East oil – yet again turning the region's conflicts into a battle for great power supremacy. China uses more oil incrementally than the US because its growth is less energy efficient. The transitional currency in the move away from dollars, according to Chinese banking sources, may well be gold. An indication of the huge amounts involved can be gained from the wealth of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar who together hold an estimated $2.1 trillion in dollar reserves.

If there's any truth to this, America is in deep trouble. I've said that the US dollar will lose its world reserve status, that is a given. But if plans are this far advanced, this soon, it shows the world has no real confidence in the dollar anymore, and that the rush to a transition medium (in this case gold) is on.

Even the appearance that this may be true could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy that wrecks the dollar and ruins our economy. If the dollar goes under now, when America is only now getting its head above water after being swamped by the economic perfect storm, then we may not come back up for air again.

It will be interesting to see how the markets react to this story tomorrow.

The Chinese believe, for example, that the Americans persuaded Britain to stay out of the euro in order to prevent an earlier move away from the dollar. But Chinese banking sources say their discussions have gone too far to be blocked now. "The Russians will eventually bring in the rouble to the basket of currencies," a prominent Hong Kong broker told The Independent. "The Brits are stuck in the middle and will come into the euro. They have no choice because they won't be able to use the US dollar."

Chinese financial sources believe President Barack Obama is too busy fixing the US economy to concentrate on the extraordinary implications of the transition from the dollar in nine years' time. The current deadline for the currency transition is 2018.

The US discussed the trend briefly at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh; the Chinese Central Bank governor and other officials have been worrying aloud about the dollar for years. Their problem is that much of their national wealth is tied up in dollar assets.

"These plans will change the face of international financial transactions," one Chinese banker said. "America and Britain must be very worried. You will know how worried by the thunder of denials this news will generate."

An orderly exit from the dollar. The result will be the end of America's economic superpower well as the end of the US middle class.

Orly? Ya Rly! Part 3

The Queen of the Birthers cannot be stopped, you can only try to contain her insanity with logic.

In a 24-page filing littered with all-caps, bold, and underlined text, Birther attorney Orly Taitz is demanding that a federal judge recuse himself in a case that has morphed from a soldier's attempt to resist Barack Obama's orders to what Taitz sees as a prosecution of herself.

Taitz alleges that Judge Clay Land met with Attorney General Eric Holder, who was allegedly spotted at a small coffee shop across from Land's courtroom in Columbus, Georgia, on the day of a Birther hearing. A strange affidavit by one Robert Douglas describes the putative sighting of Holder, sans entourage, who "probably thought he would not be recognized."

Douglas writes:

I looked up and immediately recognized an individual entering and approaching the serving counter, due to his well know [sic] TV displayed distinguishing features: his trim upper lip mustache, not large of stature and general olive complexion.

That alleged sighting is "circumstantial evidence suggesting that, in fact Judge LAND was influenced by prior association or direct ex-parte communications with Attorney General Eric Holder, acting as agent on behalf of de facto President Obama," Taitz writes in her motion.

Yeah, this dude totally saw Judge Land at a coffee shop with Eric holder, discussing ways to destroy Obama's Kenyan birth certificate.

Why, just last week I saw the Queen of England at Subway. She was totally eating a meatball sub and making a mess.

No really, I'm as honest as Orly here.

Kenneth The Governor Tries Again

Bobby Jindal has some advice for Obama on health care reform.

Washington is the only place in the country that doesn't realize that this debate is over. Democrats may march forward anyway, but they will do so without the people, and at their own peril.

Yet hope for meaningful reform need not be lost. Only two things need to happen. First, Democrats have to give up on their grand experiment and get serious about bipartisan solutions. Second, Republicans have to join the battle of ideas.

To be clear, the Republicans in Congress who have led the opposition to the Obama-Pelosi vision of health-care reform have done the right thing for our country. If they had rolled over, the results could have been devastating for our health-care system and our nation's budget.

But Republicans must shift gears. Conservatives should seize the mantle of reform and lead. Conservatives either genuinely believe that conservative principles will work to solve real-world problems such as health care or they don't. I believe they will.

The people do not want Republicans to offer their own thousand-page plan to overhaul health care, and that is not what the nation needs.

The debate's over! The Democrats have been defeated! The Republicans are in charge and can reform health care any time now as voters have overwhelmingly put the GOP in as our leaders!

Wait, what do you mean the Republicans are the minority party?

[UPDATE 3:03 PM] And his list of fixes is...tada! The Democratic plan!

The Kroog Versus The Olympics

Paul Krugman on Wingers laughing at Chicago's Olympic failure:
So what did we learn from this moment? For one thing, we learned that the modern conservative movement, which dominates the modern Republican Party, has the emotional maturity of a bratty 13-year-old.

But more important, the episode illustrated an essential truth about the state of American politics: at this point, the guiding principle of one of our nation’s two great political parties is spite pure and simple. If Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it — whether or not it’s good for America.

To be sure, while celebrating America’s rebuff by the Olympic Committee was puerile, it didn’t do any real harm. But the same principle of spite has determined Republican positions on more serious matters, with potentially serious consequences — in particular, in the debate over health care reform.
Jules Crittenden on The Kroog:
But Krugman isn’t talking about the Democrats under Bush, and how a party that has been so single-mindedly focused on childish destruction of its opposition for years now, a Party of No, can possibly accomplish anything worthwhile now that it controls both the legislative and executive branches. (The good news is that party has lacked much in the way of skill at tactics period, and puerile spitefulness has proven a poor substitute.) Krugman is instead talking about the opposition party that, joined by Democratic moderates, is seeking to put the brakes on a dangerous and highly disruptive agenda item that is being pushed chaotically at the worst possible time. And all Krugman wants to do is engage in a spiteful, puerile attack on the opposition. Nobel thoughts from an economics laureate who would do better to spend his time thinking of ways to improve our economy that don’t involve debt-burdening it into the Stone Age.
And people wonder why the Republicans lost in 2008 and the Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate now.

My work here is done.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

From CNN:
"Pet bear kills Pennsylvania woman"
I submit to you, dear reader, that the problem stemmed from the first two words in that headline.

Putting Out The Good McChrystal

Irony: Wingnuts like Maklinvania screaming at Obama that he doesn't have a plan for Afghanistan and he should do whatever Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal tells him he should be doing, but Obama's plan on health care is facism as opposed to the invisible, non-existent Republican health care reform bill.
In London, Gen McChrystal, who heads the 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan as well as the 100,000 Nato forces, flatly rejected proposals to switch to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and special forces operations against al-Qaeda.

He told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that the formula, which is favoured by Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to "Chaos-istan".

When asked whether he would support it, he said: "The short answer is: No."

He went on to say: "Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support."

The remarks have been seen by some in the Obama administration as a barbed reference to the slow pace of debate within the White House.

Gen McChrystal delivered a report on Afghanistan requested by the president on Aug 31, but Mr Obama held only his second "principals meeting" on the issue last week.

He will hold at least one more this week, but a decision on how far to follow Gen McChrystal's recommendation to send 40,000 more US troops will not be made for several weeks.

A military expert said: "They still have working relationship but all in all it's not great for now."

BooMan has said that Obama is trying to dial down the Afghanistan war in an effort to begin effecting our exit. Clearly, the good General does not agree with his Commander-In-Chief.

It's one thing to disagree with the President. McChrystal has already threatened to resign, which was fine. But he has no intention of doing so, and he's publicly attacking the President on this, and that, as Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft says, is unacceptable in the extreme.

I have stated previously that I tend to favor Gen. McChrystal's assessment of and recommendations for the situation. But his behavior has been unacceptable. I believe the White House should adopt his recommendations and then sack him.
And I would have to agree. There are some good recommendations that the General has made, but Obama doesn't want to escalate, he wants to withdraw.

If McChrystal can't handle that, then he needs to turn over his command. It really is that simple.

Nobel Gestures

If it's October, it's Nobel Prize season, and this year's prize for Medicine went to three Americans for their work on telomeres, the "end caps" on chromosomes. Turns out the little end caps there play an important role in being able to make exact copies of chromosomes when cells divide.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak will share the $1.4 million prize for research on structures at the end of chromosomes called telomeres and on an enzyme that forms them, called telomerase.

It is the 100th year the prize will be awarded.

Szostak told CNN he got the news Monday in "that classic early morning phone call from Stockholm."

The Nobels keep their selection process top secret.

Szostak described it as "surprising and exciting" -- perhaps particularly for him, because he has not worked on the subject for the last 20 years. "I've been working on other things," he said. "It started off as a collaboration with me and Liz [Blackburn] -- Carol was a student of hers."

The work began as "a long-standing puzzle that we were interested in solving," he said. He added, "It was only over later years that it emerged, through the work of many people, that this was probably important for aging and cancer."

And hey, knowing is half the battle.
The long, thread-like DNA molecules that carry genes are packed into chromosomes. Telomeres are the caps on the ends of chromosomes. Blackburn and Szostak discovered that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation, the Nobel announcement said. Greider and Blackburn identified telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomere DNA. These discoveries explained how the ends of the chromosomes are protected by the telomeres and that they are built by telomerase.

If the telomeres are shortened, cells age. Conversely, high telomerase activity leads to telomere length being maintained and the delay of cellular degradation. That is the case with cancer cells, which do not degrade easily. Certain inherited diseases, in contrast, are characterized by a defective telomerase, which results in damaged cells.

So if telomeres get damaged, cells either break down and die (aging) or grow out of control (cancer). They may very well be the key to genetically beating a horde of diseases, and this research into telomeres could turn out to be absolutely vital.

Here's hoping the world can benefit from mastering telomeres soon.

Stopped Clock Is Right Alert

Even a stopped grandfather clock is right twice a day, and even CNBC knucklehead Dennis Kneale can prove right once in a blue moon when talking about something other than economics and moving on to something he's well versed in: people acting stupidly on television, in this case, David Letterman.
So arm yourself. Herewith a few key points for mounting the Sipowicz defense if you find yourself in salacious trouble:

--Take the hit only when you have to—but then do it immediately. In a perverse way, Letterman was lucky. The alleged extortion attempt by a CBS producer diverted the harshest part of the spotlight away from the show host and toward his accuser.

If that threat hadn’t emerged, should he bother to reveal that, long ago in the past, he had dallied with the staff? Probably not.

--Control the venue. Letterman was able to shape the news by revealing his shocker in the friendliest environment possible: in front of his own fans, on his own CBS show, after 11:30 at night. Soon we’ll see the famous pre-emptively reveal their flaws on their own Twitter accounts. (You can follow me at; brace for confessions.)

--Joking about it is forbidden. But even more important: no tears. David Letterman violated this rule, but the guy is a professional. A CEO might have heard only the deafening chirp of crickets if he had tried the same punchline: that it would be embarrassing if the news got out—especially for the women.

--This last bit is cribbed from an old source of mine, the renowned Thomas S. Murphy, who put together Capital Cities/ABC and ultimately sold it to Disney. The best strategy is to avoid behavior that would lead you to need all this advice in the first place.

As Murphy always put it: Never do anything you’d be uncomfortable reading about on the front page of your local newspaper.

And from a clinical PR point of view, Kneale actually gets one right. Too bad he ruins it by equating Letterman's stupidity to the Big Dog's intern problem, but hey. He's still Dennis Kneale.

Letterman was damn smart getting out ahead of the disaster however.

Obama Derangement Syndrome As Foreign Policy

And people say American exports are dead. Why, the GOP is doing a bang-up job of exporting knee-jerk reactionary Obamahate to all corners of the globe.

An interesting pattern has been emerging in the Republican Party's handling of foreign policy: Individual GOP officials are now making a regular point of not only formulating an alternative foreign policy, to be presented to the American people and debated in Congress -- they're acting on it too, and undermining the official White House policies at multiple turns:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is visiting Honduras in order to support the recent military coup against a leftist president, which has been opposed by the Obama administration and all the surrounding countries in the region. (Late Update: DeMint's office says he is not taking sides during his visit to the current Honduran leadership, denying the New York Times reports that this was his intention.)

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will be going to the upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen, bringing a "Truth Squad" to tell foreign officials there that the American government will not take any action: "Now, I want to make sure that those attending the Copenhagen conference know what is really happening in the United States Senate."

Those are just a couple of examples, but really, at what point do we just wash our hands of these bozos?

Yes, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi went abroad to help conduct American diplomacy, as did Republicans during the Bush years. But Wingnuts screamed that the act of Democratic legislators going overseas itself was an affront to the White House, when the Democrats actually did it to support many of Bush's policies (or at least not to attack them).

The Republicans are going overseas in order to specifically attack the sitting President's foreign policies, and make no apologies for doing so. And when anyone says anything about it, the wingnuts say "At some point a Liberal did it to Bush, so we're 100% exonerated." There's a difference, folks.

The Wingers just think you're too stupid to notice.

StupidiNews Focus

More on this morning's StupidiNews story on health insurance company WellPoint: to sum up, the nation's largest health insurance company is cutting the health insurance benefits of its own 42,000 employees.
WellPoint Inc., the largest U.S. insurer, dismissed a "small number" of workers last week and announced cuts to employee health benefits Friday, in its latest attempt to deal with the recession's toll on enrollment.

WellPoint eliminated the positions last week and expects to let more go before year's end, though the number will be "relatively small," Kristin Binns, a spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview. The company will also raise deductibles and premiums for some of its employee health benefits, the Indianapolis-based insurer told workers in a memo obtained by Bloomberg.

In the memo from Randy Brown, WellPoint's chief human resources officer, the company said it would lower its contribution toward worker premiums and raise deductibles in two of its three benefit plans. "Your cost per paycheck will probably increase," the memo said.

Despite the company's substantial profits, they're taking it out on the employees, just like the rest of America's businesses. Our health insurance industry has gotten so bad that health insurance companies are raising premiums on their own employees. That's how badly health insurance premiums have gotten out of control, and much of that comes from health insurance giants like WellPoint having effective monopolies in areas of the country.
Mergers and acquisitions in the health insurance industry have resulted in fewer and fewer insurers controlling regional markets like Dayton’s, proponents of competition say.

An AMA analysis found that the number of health insurance companies declined by nearly 20 percent between 2000 and 2007, with the result that 94 percent of insurance markets in the United States have become “highly concentrated.” In 13 years, HCAN says, there have been 400 mergers.

“Some insurance companies spend as little as 80 cents of every dollar (they collect in premiums) on health care,” said Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio, a consumer advocacy group based in Columbus.

The remaining 20 percent goes to administration and profit, Levine said, compared to the 2 percent to 3 percent that Medicare pays for its administrative expenses.

94 percent of us live in areas where one health insurance company controls more than 50 percent of the employer health plans in the area. Nearly every American who gets health care from an employer has that health care come from a single insurer that dominates the market and can raise premiums at will...and has raised premiums at will.
A study by Health Care for America Now, a national coalition of labor, community and faith-based groups, says premiums for Ohio’s working families grew 8.5 times faster than their incomes from 2000 to 2007, in part because of a “highly concentrated” insurance market.
The profit motive in health care is killing us. Literally. We need a public option, period.


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