Monday, March 7, 2011

Last Call

As widely expected, Nevada's other senator, Rep. John Ensign (you know, the one that's not Harry Reid) is retiring and won't run in 2012.

"I do not want to put my family, those that I care about, or this state through what would be a very ugly campaign that would ultimately cause a great deal more pain than has already been felt as a result of my actions. For these reasons, I will not seek reelection in 2012," Ensign said during remarks at the Lloyd G. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas.

During the speech, the two-term senator made reference to his extramarital affair with Cindy Hampton, his onetime campaign treasurer, which he admitted to last June. She is the wife of Doug Hampton, a former top aide to the senator.

Ensign and his family were longtime friends with the Hamptons. Doug Hampton has given interviews stating his family has received money and employment offers from Ensign after he and his wife left the Senate staff in April 2008. Ensign admitted his parents gave the Hamptons $96,000 but said the money was a gift, not an effort to suppress word of the affair.

"As I have learned through my mistake, there are consequences to sin." Ensign said during his speech on Monday. "When a person is in a leadership role, those consequences can affect a lot of people in a very negative way."

Guy's under a huge ethics cloud stemming from his alleged cover-up of the affair and still faces a Senate ethics investigation that ramped up last week, no doubt hastening Ensign's decision to retire.  For their part, the DCCC is eager to take a shot at the seat.

They're going to need it.  The Senate picture in 2012 still looks like it's only a question of by how many seats the GOP retakes control of the Senate from first glance.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

John Cole reminds us of the Kung-Fu Monkey Theory of Crazy (aka The Twenty-Seven Percent Solution) that basically states that with all other political variables being essentially equal, about 27% of the voting public will pick the completely effing insane option every single time.

Once again, that number keeps coming up.

The Supreme Court has again rejected an appeal from a "birther" proponent questioning the citizenship of President Barack Obama.

The justices Monday turned aside without comment a request for a rehearing of various claims, after dismissing the original appeal in late January.

The long-shot petition by Gregory Hollister had called on Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to withdraw from considering the constitutional claims, contending a conflict of interest by the president's two high court appointees.

Lower federal claims had dismissed Hollister's claims.

And what's so important about this?  As John Cole points out:

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll in July found that 71% of Americans believed Obama definitely or probably was born in the United States, while 27% said he definitely or probably was not. The sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The larger the population sample, the closer the crazy option gets to that equilibrium point of 27%, most famously Bush's final approval rating.  If you take eleven random voters, odds are three of them are covered in a thin layer of tinfoil.

New tag:  Twenty-Seven Percent Solution.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

The Nation's Katha Pollitt asks:

Not content with depriving women of reproductive healthcare, House Republicans want to starve them and their children too. Their budget cuts the Women, Infants and Children Health and Nutrition program by $750 million and Head Start by $1 billion. It cuts $50 million from a block grant that pays for prenatal healthcare for 2.5 million low-income women and healthcare for 31 million children each year. As Charles Blow writes in the New York Times, proposed cuts to medical research strike directly at efforts to roll back the US infant mortality rate, now the highest among advanced economies. The Republicans seem bent on proving the truth of the bitter joke that “prolifers” care about children only before they are born. As for caring about women? Even as fetal vessels, the ladies just don’t count. After all, one in five women has visited a Planned Parenthood clinic—often for routine gynecological care. Is the GOP going to set up a replacement network of clinics to provide Pap smears and breast exams and STD testing and such? Or is Jesus now the national gynecologist? What on earth is the matter with these people?

Only bad, immoral Dirty F'ckin' Hippie women need Planned Parenthood clinic visits (they have sex) or Head Start (they're bad mothers) or WIC (they're poor).  Good, Christian, Republican women don't need any of this.  Therefore making cuts to these programs doesn't hurt anyone who actually matters.  Why should my tax dollars pay for your gynecology, they say.

Pro-choice women say "This is an assault on all women's rights."  Pro-life women say "Only yours, dear.  I'm a good girl."  In the end, it's about punishing "bad" women.

Maybe Bon can chime in more on this.  That's just my observation.

Food Stamps For Thought, Part 6

Via Digby, the LA Times reports some 20% of Californians had trouble feeding their households at some point in 2010.

One in five Californians struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families last year, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center.

The rate in California was slightly higher than the national average of 18%.

Jim Weill, president of the Washington-based nonprofit, said the figures underscore the need for a strong nutrition safety net — including food stamps and school meals — for families that continue to struggle as the economy begins to recover.

"While the nation's Great Recession may have technically ended in mid-2009, it has not yet ended for many of the nation's households," Weill said in a statement Thursday. "For them, 2010 was the third year of a terrible recession that is widely damaging the ability to meet basic needs."

The report was based on data collected for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which conducted telephone interviews with more than 350,000 people in 2010, including 35,543 people in California.

Just over 20% of California respondents answered yes to the question: "Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?"

That places the state at No. 16 in the nation for food hardship, the report said. The highest rate was recorded in Mississippi, where nearly 28% said they did not always have enough money to buy food. The lowest rate, just over 10%, was in North Dakota.

It's that 18% national average that bothers me.  Roughly one in five Americans couldn't buy food in 2010.  The last 30 years of income inequality is catching up to us in our time of need.  We have people going hungry and the austerity battle is already over, it's just a question of how much more average Americans will suffer as we cut taxes on corporations and the rich and cut spending on programs to help the least of us.

Ireland, Greece, and the UK have shown us brutal austerity plans don't solve the problem, they only make it far, far worse.  And yet, that's exactly what we're heading for at a time when food, gas, and basic expenses are ratcheting up in price.

It's going to get messy and fast, folks.  Strap in.

All Together Now: Awwww

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A California couple whose wedding plans appeared thwarted when a lung infection landed the groom in the isolation ward of a hospital got married anyway over the weekend, in a ceremony conducted over Skype.

Enjoy, it's a nice story.  With so much war and gloom peaking in the news, I thought it was time to lighten up, Buttercup.

What's Up, Doc?

Some doctors are educating parents about vaccines in the wake of a recent study that was soundly discredited.  This study implied that vaccines could be linked to autism among other difficulties.  The only problem is, it has since been found to be something between gross negligence a bid for fame.  After exhausting all efforts to explain, some doctors are now encouraging parents to find new doctors.  Some parents are upset, but doctors have the right to dictate their personal code of ethics.  One doctor points out that he isn't refusing to treat the patient, the parents are instead refusing to allow him to do so.  

"Vaccination has provided relief of diseases such as polio, smallpox, and the various viral -- chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis -- and bacteriologic -- pneumonia, flu, meningitis -- diseases that once plague small children and has contributed in immeasurable ways to the improvement of humanity," Cronan said.

Lieber says he enacted his policy about 11 years ago, "after an unvaccinated family walked into my waiting room with chicken pox." Last week's incident in which a woman with measels flew through Denver put more fuel on the fire for him.

When he explains the science behind the answer, and tries to correct the damage done by the discredited study, doctors like Lieber are doing their duty to teach people how to be healthy.  It raises an interesting ethical dilemma for the medical community.  On one hand, you have the right of an individual to keep control of their medical choices.  On the other hand, there is a completely sound ethical argument for our responsibilities as members of society to protect the public from communicable diseases that are both deadly and easy to prevent. Most disturbing of all, it shows how frustrating it is when misinformation takes hold and conspiracy theories sprout.

Gold Rush, Part 20

Gold has tripped another all-time nominal high of $1,440 an ounce on Libyan unrest and it looks like the metal is heading higher.

"There is all sorts to support gold -- high oil prices, low real interest rates, and the fact that there are constant reminders that we still have debt problems in Europe," said Standard Bank analyst Walter de Wet.

Violence in Libya, where protests over Muammar Gadaffi's 41-year rule are feared to be degenerating into civil war, and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East have boosted gold's appeal as a haven from risk in recent weeks, sending prices to a record $1,440.10 an ounce last week.

Troops loyal to Gaddafi have launched counter-offensives against rebel-held towns, increasing fears that Libya is heading for a civil war rather than the swift revolutions seen in Tunisia and Egypt.

Unrest simmered elsewhere in the region. Saudi security forces detained at least 22 minority Shi'ites who protested last week against discrimination, activists said on Sunday, as the kingdom tried to keep the wave of Arab unrest outside its borders.

The news helped lift U.S. crude prices by more than $2 a barrel to a 30-month high above $106. Saudi Arabia is home to most of OPEC's spare oil output capacity.

Silver and crude oil are up too.   Where people are not putting their investments right now?  The US dollar.  That's disturbing, but it shouldn't surprise anyone that the dollar's no longer considered to be the world's safest investment in times of crisis.

Things are getting ugly out there in the world, and with gas prices up 33 cents from two weeks ago and probably will see another 15-20 cents a gallon before the end of the month, it looks like it's finally our turn to pay the piper.

Will The Wisconsin Fourteen Come Home?

The WSJ is reporting that state Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate are signaling their willingness to come home, but there's a lot of pushback reports that the Dems aren't going anywhere.

Wisconsin state Senate Democrats, who have fled the state in order to block budget quorum on Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union proposals, are walking back reports in the Wall Street Journal that they plan to return to the state.

"We are now looking at returning to the state capitol and requiring the senators to take a vote and have them declare who they're with -- the workers or the governor," Minority Leader Mark Miller told the Journal.

A return to Wisconsin at this juncture would appear to give the green light for Walker's legislation to pass -- that is, a win for Walker's efforts to pass legislation when numerous polls show the state disapproving of Walker, and saying he should compromise. However, at this juncture it is unclear just what is going on.

In response, Miller spokesman Mike Browne released this statement, saying only that they were continuing to negotiate towards an outcome that does not strip the bargaining rights of state workers.

If this is true, and the Wisconsin 14 fold now, they will have pretty much lost everything.  That would mean a total and complete win for Gov. Scott Walker, at least in the short term, but in politics, that's all that matters these days.

It's still possible that Wisconsin Senate Republicans will side with the Dems, seeing the nasty poll numbers signaling a majority of the state's voters are against Walker's brutal plan.  My problem is that if Democrats are worried about Walker's layoff threats, he's going to lay off every single one of those workers anyway as part of his "budget negotiations" anyhow.  The Democrats gain nothing by giving up now.

I hope they understand that.

Greek Fire, Part 27

The Greek Fire continues to burn, unquenchable at the heart of the euro's currency crisis.

Greece’s credit rating was cut three steps by Moody’s Investors Service, which cited the rising risk of default. Greek bonds fell and the Finance Ministry in Athens called the move “completely unjustified.”

The rating was lowered to B1, the same as Belarus and Bolivia, from Ba1 as Moody’s cited concerns that lagging tax collection and “implementation risks” would make it more difficult for the government to reach budget-cutting conditions of a 110 billion-euro ($154 billion) international bailout.

“The risk has materially increased of a default event,” said Sarah Carlson, Moody’s senior analyst for Greece said in a telephone interview from London. “Our central view is that the Greek government will achieve its objectives and it won’t need to impose losses on credits, but there are material risks to that outcome.”

EU leaders are trying to hammer out by the end of the month a package of measures to contain the debt crisis that led to bailouts last year of Greece and Ireland. Optimism that the measures would include using the 440 billion-euro European Financial Stability Facility to allow Greece to buy back some of its debt and pay lower interest rates on aid has receded with growing German resistance to the proposals.

The Greek Finance Ministry slammed the Moody’s decision, saying the multi-notch cut weeks before EU leaders are set to decide on new bailout measures that could affect the terms of the Greek aid was “incomprehensible.” Moody’s didn’t pay enough attention to the progress Greece has made in cutting the deficit by 6 percentage points of gross domestic product last year, the ministry said in an e-mailed statement. 

With Greek bonds now well into junk status, it's clear that the combination bailout/austerity plan has failed completely.  Another bailout will be needed, the only question is when and how much.  And as long as Germany refuses to play ball (Andrea Merkel's party has already paid a brutally high price at the German polls) on another bailout, we have our standoff situation.

Who will blink first, Greece or Germany?  My money's actually on Germany, because if they don't bail out Greece, the euro and the Eurozone economy goes with it.  They don't have too much of a choice.  Either way, Germany's government is unraveling.

And the Greek Fire continues to burn.


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