Friday, June 24, 2011

Last Call

And the New York Senate has passed gay marriage tonight, 33-29.

New York will become the sixth and most populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage after senators voted 33-29 on Friday night to approve the move.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo signs the bill into law, same-sex weddings can begin in 30 days, though religious institutions and nonprofit groups with religious affiliations will not be compelled to officiate at such ceremonies.

The New York state Assembly passed the amended bill earlier on Friday by a vote of 82-47.

August is going to be a busy month at Tiffany's.  All I'm sayin'.

[UPDATE]  Gov. Cuomo will immediately sign the bill (as in tonight) and the measure will go into effect in 30 days.

[UPDATE 2]  Where we go from here:

Republi-Doves Are Either Chicken Or Turkeys

Hey, here's a shocker.  That House vote to defund and restrict the US participation in the NATO operation in Libya by the Republicans fell flat on its ass.

The Republican-led House of Representatives rejected a bill Friday that would have sharply restricted funding for U.S. involvement in the NATO-led Libya campaign.

The bill, which would have effectively prohibited U.S. offensive operations such as drone strikes, was supported by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other top GOP leaders.

The measure was defeated in a 180-238 vote. Minority Democrats voted solidly against the measure, while the majority Republicans supported it by a more narrow margin.

Earlier in the day, House members delivered a rebuke to the Obama administration by voting down a resolution expressing support for the war. The resolution, defeated 123-295, was similar to a measure introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. 

But don't the Republicans control the House?  Surely they had the votes to pull the plug...if they were ever serious about their opposition to Libya.  I think it's a bad idea to be in Libya, but apparently all the time Democrats were called traitors and enemies of the state for raising much larger and more valid concerns about Iraq and Afghanistan didn't bother the Republicans in the least.

And it turns out it was the Republicans who made sure the defunding measure was defeated.  Democrats did learn one lesson however:  how to use Bush war era rhetoric against the GOP.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met privately with House Democrats on Thursday to urge support for the resolution backing the Libya mission, according to a Democratic source who attended the meeting.

"The bottom line is, whose side are you on?" she said Wednesday. "Are you on Gadhafi's side, or are you on the side of the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been created to support them?" 

Not sure I approve of that in any way from America's top diplomat, that's dangerously close to Condi Rice territory there.  Shocker:  everybody's a hypocrite on Libya.

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 22

Turns out the GOP plan to throw a temper tantrum and leave the debt ceiling talks with Vice-President Biden and the Democrats was something they had been planning for "weeks".

GOP aides and lawmakers said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) decision to exit debt talks led by Vice President Biden was inevitable.

The timing of Cantor’s exit from the talks has been discussed for weeks, and senior House Republicans cast it as a natural progression for the negotiations.

“There have been discussions about when these talks need to end and when the Speaker and the president need to get in the game,” one GOP aide explained.

Democrats suggested Cantor’s decision was meant to undermine House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by forcing him to decide whether the elimination of any tax breaks would be included in a final deal to raise the debt ceiling and reduce annual deficits.

But Republicans pushed back hard at that narrative, describing a coordinated effort that was weeks in the making.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Cantor consulted Boehner Thursday morning before announcing his decision to leave the talks, which puts those negotiations in limbo.

To recap, Republicans are denying they are hanging Orange Julius out to dry with the novel argument that they were never negotiating in good faith in the first place and that they are in fact nothing more than a room full of immature, petulant children.  They are very happy with blowing up the economy so they can blame Obama.

Sure, that's a much better argument.  But hey, for once it's the truth.

But with folks like GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina vowing that any Republican who votes for a debt limit increase will be "gone" in 2012, it's hard to imagine there's any Republican appetite to prevent a double-dip recession and a bond-market meltdown.  Once again Republicans refuse to cut any subsidies and are insisting on permanent tax cuts for the rich as part of any debt ceiling deal, and it's becoming pretty clear that there was never any deal in the first place.

They'll just blame Obama, while the rest of the country goes straight back into the crapper.  If they can't rule America they way they want to, there will be no America to rule, I guess.

Meanwhile President Obama, Harry Reid, and Mitch McConnell will supposedly go to the negotiating table Monday.

Of course conservatives like Ross Douthat think all of this is Obama's fault for bringing up taxes anyway, because the President is either the worst negotiator ever or he's just stringing along progressives to the chopping block. Besides, all he has to do is let the Bush Tax Cuts expire and he "wins".

Oh and speaking of our debt crisis, all Congress has to do in order to balance the budget is A) let the Bush tax cuts expire and B) let the Medicare "doc fix" expire.  We'd have a balanced budget by 2016.  It really is that easy.

Nuked Gingrich, Part 6

His campaign is literally in shambles, but Newt Gingrich keeps the illusion that he's a legitimate threat in 2012 for the GOP.  His latest tactic?  African-American unemployment numbers (which are pretty bad) prove that black voters will go to the polls for the GOP next year.

Here's how the line works: Obama is the food stamp president, Gingrich says, whereas he wants to be the paycheck president. The difference comes down to creating jobs or not, and Gingrich says he knows how to create them.

And that's where the black vote comes in.

"No administration in modern times has failed younger blacks more than the Obama administration," Gingrich said.

He explained that "in May, we had 41% unemployment among black teenagers in America." That means if Republicans can put on a brave face, they might be able to turn the African American vote their way.
Think of the social catastrophe of 41% of a community not being able to find a job. But we have to have the courage to walk into that neighborhood, to talk to that preacher, to visit that small business, to talk to that mother. And we have to have a convincing case that we actually know how to create jobs.
"The morning they believe that, you're going to see margins in percents you never dreamed of decide there's a better future," Gingrich said. "It takes courage, it takes hard work, it takes discipline and it's doable."

Which is funny, because the unemployment rate for black teenagers was a whopping 49% just a year ago.  Obama's managed to drop that significantly, although it's still awful.

So if Republicans are so good at job creation, the Bush years should have been good for teen employment and especially African-American teen employment, yes?  The actual numbers of course tell a different story.

Overall teen employment rates plummeted under Bush.

Table 2:
Trends in the June E/P Ratios of Teens (16-19) by Gender,
Age Group, and Race-Ethnic Group, 2000, 2006, 2010

                                      Change,     Percent
Group       2000     2006     2010    2000 – 2010 Change

All         51.4     42.1     28.6    -22.8       -44%

Men         52.4     42.3     27.7    -24.7       -47%
Women       50.5     42.0     29.5    -21.0       -41%

16-17       40.6     31.8     17.5    -23.1       -57%
18-19       62.3     54.0     40.8    -21.5       -35%
20-24       74.2     70.3     62.2    -12.0       -17%

Asian       35.2     27.4     18.9    -16.3       -46%
Black       31.6     27.0     15.2    -16.4       -52%
Hispanic    40.7     33.5     21.0    -19.7       -48%
White       56.3     46.3     32.1    -24.2       -43%

In fact, these employment to population ratios show that at the end of the Clinton years, teen employment was actually pretty good (although for black and Asian teens, the numbers were still pretty dismal even then.)

But look what happened during the Bush years:  teen employment was basically cut in half across the board for men and women in all ethnic groups among those age 16-24.  Black employment numbers actually fared the worst, especially when the financial crisis hit.   Either way you look at it, the Republican record of "job creation" for young Americans is dismal.  Millions of youth jobs were lost over the last ten years under Republican rule and the financial disaster they caused.

So no, Newt...African-Americans don't believe for a second that Republicans will improve the job picture for young people.  And neither should anyone else.

Lady Blunt Has A New Home

As reported earlier, the Lady Blunt has been auctioned for nearly $16 million to benefit Japan.  Of the remaining Strads, this is considered to be one of the best preserved.  The price is still nearly quadruple the record price, and was accurately described as an act of profound generosity.

A Stradivarius has so much to offer.  Like a well-made car or famous painting, they can be appreciated regardless of how much one knows about them.  Famous for their sound, people know they are the best without even knowing why.  They have become legend, and it's amazing to think one day the last Strad will disappear.  Right now there are about 600 remaining, which is a miracle in and of itself.  Each has traveled its own path through some incredible times and famous hands.  We have just watched one step into a new chapter of its existence, because this isn't something done lightly.  That is just too awesome.  We tend to forget that some relics from the formation of classical music are still among us, waiting to be enjoyed.

For those who have always wondered, here is an excellent article explaining what makes a Stradivarius sing.  There are many factors, not the least of which are the hands that hold it.  I've decided to "collect" Strads by going to as many performances as possible.  Hearing the Gingold, played by Augustin Hadelich, was one of the most amazing experiences in my life.  While each violin is made by the same master, each has its own voice and traits.

Perhaps now that Lady Blunt is back in circulation, I can track her down and add that to my list.  A girl can dream.

StupidiNews: Random Edition!

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut police say they are looking for the source of a 3 1/2-inch bolt that flew through the windshield of an SUV and killed a Waterbury woman.
Forty-year-old Sara Betancourt was killed Saturday afternoon as she was riding in the right front passenger seat of an SUV going south on Interstate 95 in Greenwich. State police say the bolt may have broken off a dump truck that was traveling in the opposite direction.
Something similar happened here with a buckle off a strapped down load of lumber.  It's awful and scary to feel like you were selected for random termination.

A couple restoring an antique sewing machine made a startling discovery when they looked inside.
The Wayne County Sherriff's Office said Thursday that David and Susan Crooks of West Hill Road were working on the machine when they found what appeared to be a grenade in a drawer. 
It really was a live grenade, too.  My first thought was it was fake and intended to be sewn as part of a crafty project, but nope.  It was a live freaking grenade.  The owners have a vague idea of the history of the sewing machine, but have no idea where this came from.

CHICAGO (AP) — A former prison chaplain has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he plotted with convicted Chicago mobster Frank Calabrese Sr. to recover a violin reportedly hidden in a hit man's Wisconsin house. 
Apparently, Calabrese thought there was a Stradivarius hidden in the hit man's house. What's surprising to me is that it might have been the most interesting thing in a Chicago hit  man's estate.

Oil's Away, Folks

The US has announced a release of 60 million barrels of crude oil from International Energy Agency stockpiles, and "stands ready" to release more oil to prevent supply disruptions.

"The US stands ready to do more as is necessary to address this issue," a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity, adding that Washington would review the supply situation after one month.

International Energy Agency countries said earlier Thursday that they would draw down 60 million barrels from strategic oil stocks to make up for the loss of Libyan output.

The drawdown, only the third in the history of the IEA, was intended to complement "expected increases in output" by the major oil producing countries, the IEA said in a statement.

The US Department of Energy said that of the total, it would release 30 million barrels from its stocks, which at 727 million barrels were at a historic high.

That news dropped West Texas Intermediate crude prices to under $90 a barrel yesterday, but the oil price drop was short lived as oil rebounded to $92 a barrel after the news.  The price rally?  "Nothing has changed" in the fundamental global demand for oil, according to market watchers.  Increasing the supply hasn't done much to convince speculators that the price won't continue to go up.

Funny how even supply disruptions cause big price spikes, but supply overages "don't change the price fundamentals."  The usual suspects of course wasted no time in attacking the President.

President Barack Obama took withering fire from the oil industry and Republicans for agreeing to release the nation's emergency oil supplies, a decision that senior officials said was prompted by the need to prop up the ailing economy.

Critics blasted the release of 30 million barrels of oil -- half of a global injection coordinated by the International Energy Agency -- as an ill-timed misuse of reserves at a time when U.S. supplies are relatively high, despite the loss of Libya's exports for the past three months.

Some OPEC officials went further, calling it a political ploy that ignored Saudi Arabia's promise to step up production and the fact that oil prices had already fallen sharply.

But the move fueled questions about the timing and catalyst for releasing the stocks, which in the past have been reserved to address abrupt disruptions like natural disasters.

Remember when Republicans were attacking Obama for oil prices when they were approaching $115 a barrel because he "wasn't doing anything to increase oil supply" and that the American people "deserved relief at the pump?"

Obama does something and Republicans attack him for doing what they wanted him to do.  That's how it works.  And then they blocked Democratic efforts to lower oil subsidy payments to companies making billions.

Oh, and $3.50 a gallon instead of $4.00 a gallon is "a sharp drop" in prices?  We're supposed to feel sorry for the oil industry, which made tens of billions in profits last year.  You know where the GOP stands...whatever the opposite of Obama is doing.

Nuked Gingrich, Part 5

Can we just bury this thing or what, people?

A comeback for Republican presidential candidate appeared less likely Tuesday as two more high level staffers reportedly departed with the campaign carrying at least $1 million in debt.

Fundraising director Jody Thomas and fundraising consultant Mary Heitman both resigned, according to The Associated Press.

The setback comes less than two weeks after 16 other staffers quit en masse.

Officials told the AP that the campaign was facing more than $1 million in debt, which Gingrich may be forced to personally cover if he wishes to continue.

Recent reports have also said that the campaign did not have cash on hand for the $25,000 Ames Straw Poll filing fee or $30,000 for a list of previous Iowa caucus attendees.

Newt's campaign is broke, his financial folks are gone, his credibility is gone, and he's been reduced to a late night punchline.  Couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy, too.  Already a million in the hole and nothing to show for it?  Yeah, we need this guy running the country.

On conservative radio host Neil Boortz’ show this morning, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich concocted an almost endearingly farcical explanation for his campaign’s latest woes, saying the media targeted him because he was best-positioned to beat President Obama. The media desperately wants to reelect President Obama, Gingirich said, and thus he was their “worst nightmare.” “I didn’t think they would realize this early just how dangerous this campaign is and go after it so hard,” he said.

Yep, he's pulling a Palin media victim card here, even though the polls had him nowhere near the "best-positioned" to beat Obama.  Let's see how far that goes.  The only person to blame for how awful Newt Gingrich is at this whole campaign thing is Newt Gingrich.

We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Folks, Part 2

Kansas Republicans (led by Gov. Sam Brownback) are about to finish off the last three clinics that provide abortion services in the state by saddling them with restrictions, licensing and remodeling requirements that will literally be impossible to meet by the July 1 deadline.  MoJo's Kate Sheppard:

Back in April, the state legislature passed a law directing the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to author new facility standards for abortion clinics, which the staunchly anti-abortion GOP governor, Sam Brownback, signed into law on May 16. The law also requires the health department to issue new licenses each year, and it grants additional authority to health department inspectors to conduct unannounced inspections, and to fine or shut down clinics.

The department wasted no time in drafting the new rules, issuing the final version on June 17 and informing clinics that they would have to comply with the rules by July 1, as the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told the AP that inspectors were expected at their clinic in Overland Park, Kansas, on Wednesday. There are only three clinics left in the state: Planned Parenthood's, a clinic in Overland Park, and the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City.

The new requirements require facilities to add extra bathrooms, drastically expand waiting and recovery areas, and even add larger janitor's closets, as one clinic employee told me—changes that clinics will have a heck of a time pulling off by the deadline. Under the new rule, clinics must also aquire state certification to admit patients, a process that takes 90 to 120 days, the staffer explained. Which makes it impossible for clinics to comply. And clinics that don't comply with the rules will face fines or possible closure.

The Kansas restrictions on clinics are part of a national effort called TRAP -- Targeted Restriction of Abortion Providers -- that GOP legislatures are using to drive all clinics that provide abortions out of business. And the anti-choice brigade, that celebrates freedom and liberty and smaller, less intrusive government, is loving every minute of this.

“We have doubts that any of the abortion clinics can meet the safety requirements of the new law,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. “If they cannot comply, all three abortion clinics would be forced to cease abortion operations, making Kansas the first abortion-free state in the nation.

This is the plan for red state after red state: to saddle abortion providers with impossible hurdles and then shut them down for non-compliance.  Lawsuits are of course planned...but they will be a moot point if the clinics are shut down in the meantime as they almost certainly will be without an injunction against the law.

If this works in Kansas, it will be done in as many other states as possible...and with Republicans in Congress wanting to make it as difficult as possible to go across state lines to get an abortion, the plan seems painfully clear to me.

[UPDATE] Rachel Maddow had a segment on this yesterday evening.


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