Thursday, April 21, 2011

Last Call

The big story tonight and tomorrow:  GOP Sen. John Ensign of Nevada is resigning as a direct result of the ethics investigation against him.

Embattled Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) is resigning from his seat in the U.S. Senate. In a statement released by his office Thursday evening, Ensign said his last day as a Senator will be May 3.

"It is with tremendous sadness that I officially hand over the Senate seat that I have held for eleven years," Ensign said in the statement. "The turbulence of these last few years is greatly surpassed by the incredible privilege that I feel to have been entrusted to serve the people of Nevada. I can honestly say that being a United States Senator has been the honor of my life."

Ensign had already announced he wouldn't be seeking a third term in 2012, after his current term was marred by scandal involving an affair with the wife of a longtime friend and former staffer. The scandal put Ensign in the sights of the Senate Ethics Committee.

Now, it seems, Ensign will bring his time in the Senate to an end even earlier than had been expected. In his statement, Ensign eluded to the numerous investigations that have plagued him since he publicly admitted an extramarital affair in 2009.

"While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings," Ensign said. "For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great."

He noted that both Justice Department and Federal Elections Commission investigators have dropped their probes, though the Senate Ethics Committee had continued digging. Ethics Committee rules mean Ensign's resignation will bring an end to that investigation as well.

Ensign took a swipe at the Senate committee in his statement.

"As is its right, the Senate Ethics Committee is continuing its investigation of issues into which it has been inquiring for the past year and a half," he said. "Indeed, the Committee even decided recently to devote more resources to its investigation by hiring an outside counsel even though the issues have been viewed and reviewed by so many others."

Nevada political guru John Ralston first tweeted the news Thursday afternoon that Ensign would step down.

Ralston writes that Ensign's resignation will pave the way for Rep. Dean Heller (R) to take his place. Heller has been the frontrunner in the race to replace Ensign next year, and Ralston writes that appointing him to the seat now could help avoid a painful primary. Democrats have rallied behind Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), who announced her campaign last week.

And by "avoid a painful primary" everyone means "Oh God, don't tell Sharron Angle."   Still, this means Ensign is gone, and so is the investigation against him.  Will we ever find out the dirt that made him quit now rather than weather out the storm?

Count on it.

Bought And Paid For

The National Labor Relations Board investigated Boeing for moving work from its unionized Seattle facility to its non-union plant in South Carolina and found that yes, Boeing was doing so as retaliation for unions threatening to strike.

Boeing was retaliating illegally against its largest union when it decided in 2009 to put a second 787 Dreamliner assembly line in a nonunion plant in South Carolina, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charged in a complaint filed Wednesday.

To remedy the alleged violation, the complaint says, Boeing should be ordered to operate the second line at a union plant in Washington.

Boeing said it would "vigorously contest" the case and proceed with plans to start assembling planes in Charleston, S.C., in July. "This doesn't change anything," spokesman Tim Neale said.

The South Carolina plant could be operating for years before the dispute is decided, a labor-law expert said.

So realistically, this will be tied up in the courts for years if not a decade or more while Boeing continues to get exactly what it wanted.  But the reaction on the right is nothing short of full-blown hysteria.

Despite the possibility of political retaliation on the part of the Obama NLRB, as well as the possible job losses in South Carolina an eventual NLRB decision may cause, the core principle at stake is whether or not an employer has the right to move business away from a unionized location that has repeatedly been the victim of extortive strikes, causing the employer hundreds of days of lost production, customer delays and billions in revenue.

Yes, it's nothing short of the death of business in America.

Workers have the ability to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions in the private sector if they desire.  If they make their labor too costly and businesses can conduct their operations elsewhere, then they have the right to do so, too.  The government has no legitimate role in forcing business owners to be hostages to their workforce.  If the workers price themselves out of their jobs, then they need to deal with the consequences. The ability to collectively bargain does not include a guarantee of a job.

Otherwise, we all pay higher prices for the same product or service — and for Boeing, which competes against the EU’s Airbus, it will mean lost sales and less work altogether in the US.  Prices of flying will increase, while the taxes that flow from both employment and sales will decrease.  Nor will it end there.  Such a decision will lock businesses in their present locations and give local and state governments carte blanche to hike taxes and fees, secure that business owners won’t be able to vote with their feet — and leave taxpayers holding the bag when businesses go under and capital stops flowing to the US for investment.

Yep, our poor businesses, they're reduced to making record revenues and profits this quarter as reporting season rolls on.  Meanwhile these same businesses are happily moving their jobs away from those horrible unions...and moving them to other countries.

U.S. Commerce Department data released this week show that U.S. multinational companies, which employ a fifth of all Americans, cut their U.S. headcount by 2.9 million during the 2000s, while hiring 2.4 million people overseas.

In 2009,  the companies cut 1.2 million, or 5.3 percent, of their workers in the U.S. and 100,000, or 1.5 percent, of those abroad.

The trend is a switch from a decade earlier in which multinational companies created nearly two jobs in the U.S. for every one job they created overseas.

Why is this happening? The WSJ lists several possible reasons: globalization, rising productivity, a "combination of the U.S. tax code, the declining state of U.S. infrastructure, the quality of the country's education system" or possible a "failure of U.S. policies to counter aggressive foreign governments."
Oh, so then it's okay for the US government to intervene in the free market in order to try to keep jobs in the United States, but if it intervenes on behalf of actual American workers, it's communist state planning and Randian collectivist nightmare time. Keep in mind US multinationals are rolling in the green right now, while US worker wages in real terms have remained stagnant since 1979.  In fact, real wages have started contracting again in the last 18 months.

But any effort for Americans to band together and try to improve their lot?  Socialism that must be expunged in order for us to stay competitive...and despite our increased productivity, jobs are going overseas by the millions.

How dare we look out for the American worker, right?

Home, Home I'm Deranged Part 20

Even here in Cincy and the NKY, the housing depression continues unabated.

Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors President Pete Kopf says 44-percent of sales last month were lender involved.

“Some people might say, wow that’s scary. It’s not scary. What it is is the cleansing of the lender involved sales of our inventory. Once we can remove those sales, we can continue to help our real estate market, local real estate market heal.”

He says it’s a domino theory. Foreclosures and short sales bring the market down.

Comparing March of last year to last month, Cincinnati saw a 7-percent drop in home sales. Kopf attributes that to the 2010 first time homebuyers’ credit.

Northern Kentucky home sales were off 11-percent. 

Sorry Pete, when foreclosures are continuing to flood the market,  housing prices will continue to drop, people won't buy these "affordable" homes, lenders will continue to tighten standards and more people will end up underwater on their mortgage and forced out of their homes.  Four years after the housing bubble exploded the bottom of the market is nowhere in sight.  It will take years before the inventory of homes is cleared up, and even then they won't be able to afford putting 20% down as a down payment on even a cheap home as it becomes the new standard.

Game's over, folks.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Steve M. has a point as he dissects David Frum's hand-wringing on the Donald:

Conservatives like liberals have suffered unemployment, the loss of savings, the decline in housing values. Conservatives like liberals find themselves suddenly poorer for reasons they do not understand. Conservatives like liberals fear and dread that Medicare and Social Security will soon be cut to rescue the country's finances. If the GOP wants to finish Trump, GOP candidates had better learn to speak to those anxieties -- to offer a remedy more effectual than the snake-oil now being peddled by Tim Pawlenty.

Steve nails it with his response:

"If the GOP wants to finish Trump, GOP candidates had better learn to speak to those anxieties" -- well, given that the likelihood of that is precisely zero, I guess we have our Republican presidential nominee for 2012:

Congratulations, Donald.
And if it's somehow not the Donald, it will be because somebody else will be trying to drive the GOP clown car through a brick wall. All Obama has to do is show up. When even David Frum is warning about dealing with the "untapped rage" of the GOP base before it blows, I have to laugh. The GOP created this beast, and over the next 18 months it's going to rip the party to pieces. Village Cool Kids like Frum are just as responsible for the Trumpification of the GOP as they were the Palinization of it three years ago, so watching him freak out now is nothing but sweet music to my ears.

You helped make this bed, Frumster. Now burn in it.

If It Walks Like A Duck And It Quacks Like A Duck...

... it could be a sheriff on drugs.

VAN BUREN, Mo. – One county on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks seemed oddly immune to the scourge of methamphetamine ravaging the state, boasting few meth raids or arrests in recent years. Some residents now think they know why, after a meth bust landed the Carter County sheriff himself in jail.
Tommy Adams, county sheriff for a little more than two years, was arrested earlier this month after giving meth to an informant at his cabin on a remote and hilly gravel road, according to a court document. He also allegedly snorted the drug himself with a straw. Authorities would not detail the extent of Adam's alleged meth involvement, but charged him with meth distribution. He is being held in Cape Girardeau County jail on $250,000 bond.

Meth is a huge problem in rural areas, mainly because solitude is necessary to make the drug and avoid detection. It It's a little surprising for someone ln law enforcement to be involved, to this degree at least.  What has really knocked my socks off is that in that corner of Missouri, we have more meth than snow.  One county had freakishly low arrests and documented activity, and nobody wondered what was up.  It's one of few times I'm struck speechless.  I'm on punchline overload. I have to go walk this off.

Epic Fail: Deja Vu All Over Again

It must be the week for repeated mistakes.  I can't think of any other reason to explain this:

Just days after a loyal family dog was credited with saving the life of a missing toddler in South Carolina, the 22-month-old boy wandered off from home again prompting authorities to arrest his parents, the Charlotte Observer reported Monday.

The toddler, and a six-month-old baby have been taken into protective custody while their mother Jacklyn Marie Jacobson, 25, and her boyfriend, 21-year-old Jose Bleckler were in custody on charges of unlawful neglect.

The boy's first disappearance drew national attention after authorities credited the family dog with keeping the boy warm after he went missing in a densely wooded area near his family's home in Elgin, 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Charlotte.

No Longer Dodger-ing The Problem

Major League Baseball has taken over the LA Dodgers day-to-day operations in the wake of the bitter divorce fight between the team's owners, Frank and Jaime McCourt.

Once among baseball's glamour franchises, the Dodgers have been consumed by infighting since Jamie McCourt filed for divorce after 30 years of marriage in October 2009, one week after her husband fired her as the team's chief executive. Frank McCourt accused Jamie of having an affair with her bodyguard-driver and performing poorly at work.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told Frank McCourt on Wednesday he will appoint a trustee to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the club. At the same time, Frank McCourt was preparing to sue MLB, a baseball executive familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because McCourt had not made any statements.

"I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club," Selig said in a statement.

A person familiar with Selig's thinking said the commissioner may choose to force a sale. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because Selig's statement did not mention that.

Baseball officials could not recall another instance in modern times when the commissioner seized control of a team from its owner. Before Tom Hicks sold the Texas Rangers last year, Selig appointed McHale to monitor the Rangers but technically left Hicks in charge of the franchise while McHale worked behind the scenes.

Even when suspending George Steinbrenner from the Yankees in 1990 and forcing Marge Schott to sell her controlling interest in the Cincinnati Reds in 1999, the commissioner's office allowed the owners to choose their successors as the controlling executive.

"This is one of the great franchises. It's hard to imagine a mess like this ever having happened," former Commissioner Fay Vincent said. "It's a very sad situation. I feel very bad for baseball and for Bud."

Just goes to show you that custody battles hurt everyone involved.  Only this time, it's an entire baseball team.

I really don't have a hell of a lot of sympathy for folks in a divorce battle who are using one of the great sports franchises in the country as a chip on the high stakes table.  If you can't treat your franchise correctly, maybe it needs to go to someone who will care for it correctly.  Besides, if you have enough money to buy an MLB team, you're probably doing okay otherwise.

Well, except for the bloody divorce that's threatening to wreck the entire NL West.  First World Problems, we have a winner...

Befriending Barack

President Obama took to Facebook's HQ in California to host a social media town hall meeting and answer questions from America's younger voters on the budget.

The visit, part of a three-day West Coast trip to sell his deficit-reduction plan, is the first by a sitting president to the world's largest social media network.

Obama's trip to Facebook also signals his belief in the growing value of social media to spread his message, organize supporters and raise money as his reelection campaign kicks into gear.

"It would make our jobs a lot easier, if these were the days when a vast majority of the American audience tuned into Walter Cronkite at night and we could just talk to 'Uncle Walter' and get our message out there," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "That's just not the case anymore."

The White House has leveraged an unprecedented array of traditional and new media, on a local and national level, to create greater accessibility to Obama and provide interaction with members of the administration.

The White House Press Office now not only produces a website, blog, YouTube channel, Flickr photo stream, and Facebook and Twitter profiles, but also a mix of original daily video programming, including live coverage of the president's appearances and news-like shows that highlight his accomplishments.

The administration launched an upgraded iPhone app and new Android app Tuesday complete with a feature that alerts users every time Obama is about to speak. The White House says more than 400,000 people have downloaded the app.

"What you're seeing on the Internet is transparency at its finest," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in an interview. "We are giving citizens across the country direct access to decision makers in the government." 

And it's a good thing, something Obama should have been doing since day one in office.  More stuff like this could have countered the Tea Party effect in 2010 if Obama had rolled up his sleeves and sold the health care reform plan more than he did.  Democrats did suffer last year because Obama chose his fights a little too carefully, and didn't vigorously defend his policies as much as he could have.

It is much better however to see Obama coming out with all guns on the deficit plan.  Here's the video of the town hall from ABC7 Chicago:

Obama was relaxed and I thought he really connected with the people there, and he made a lot of frank statements about the budget, education, and yes, once again he shredded the Ryan Unicorn Plan to bits.

More of this, please.

Hands Off My...Wait A Minute

It turns out Tea Party Seniors (you remember those folks yelling "Hands off my Medicare!" while calling health care reform "government socialism") aren't too fond of Paul Ryan's plan to change Medicare at all.  Some 70% of them are opposed to the Ryan Unicorn Plan's provisions cutting Medicaid and replacing Medicare with vouchers that don't cover the cost of health care for seniors at all.

In a McClatchy-Marist poll released this week, 70% of registered voters who identify with the Tea Party opposed making cuts to either Medicare or Medicaid -- the government-run health programs for the elderly and the poor -- to help reduce the nation's deficit. Meanwhile, only 28% of tea partiers said they'd be willing to cut spending on those two programs.

Tea partiers were not alone in opposing Medicare and Medicaid cuts. An overwhelming 80% of all respondents said they opposed such cuts, with a majority of every demographic measured in the survey lining up against them.

Ninety-two percent of Democrats opposed cutting Medicare and Medicaid, as did 73% of Republicans, and 75% of independents.

The survey only broke down the age of respondents into two categories -- above or below 45 years-old -- and found that both groups opposed the proposed cuts by a similar margin. Respondents under 45 years-old opposed the cuts by an 82%-17% split, while older respondents opposed them by an 80%-18% split.

But it's the Tea Party finding which sticks out as the most glaring. The Tea Party has led the charge to slash government spending, but the Marist poll suggests they're loathe to touch what amounts to about 20% of the entire federal budget.

Which means at best, the Tea Party isn't serious about reducing the deficit if it means any of them have to make any sort of sacrifice...that's for the rest of America to make.   At worst, it means they want to throw everyone under 45 under the bus to make sure they get theirs.

Seems about right.


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