Senator John Ensign to Resign

An ignoble end to an ignominious career.

From the Las Vegas Sun:

Sources confirmed this afternoon that embattled U.S. Sen. John Ensign will resign from office on Friday, opening the door for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to appoint Rep. Dean Heller to finish out the term.

If Heller is appointed, it would give him a strategic leg up as an incumbent against his presumed opponent in the 2012 Senate race, Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley. Berkley is still expected to run.

Ensign's political star fell two years when he revealed he had an affair with a campaign aide, a scandal for which he remains under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

It's unclear whether the ongoing investigation played a role in Ensign's resignation, or whether he was stepping down early at the behest of the Nevada GOP in order to benefit Heller, the party's presumptive nominee for 2012.

The move is implicitly political on the GOP's part in an effort to keep the Nevada Senate seat. Senator Ensign, a member of the notorious C Street Christian fellowship, had already noted that he would not seek re-election next year in the wake of his lascivious conduct that led to Senate Ethics panel investigation that remains ongoing. Rep. Dean Heller, who represents the sprawling Nevada Second Congressional District that covers most of the state except the southern areas around Las Vegas, was expected to seek the seat. Now rather seek election to an open seat, he'll enjoy the benefit of being the incumbent.

Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, who represents the Nevada First Congressional District that includes Las Vegas, announced earlier this month that she would seek the seat.

 

GOP to Press for Social Agenda in Debt Ceiling Negotiations

Via Politico:

One day after being named to a presidential task force to negotiate deficit reduction, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor fired off a stark warning to Democrats that the GOP “will not grant their request for a debt limit increase” without major spending cuts or budget process reforms.

The Virginia Republican’s missive is a clear escalation in the long-running Washington spending war, with no less than the full faith and credit of the United States hanging in the balance.

In the most recent budget battle — over a six-month spending bill — Republican leaders carefully avoided threatening to shut down the government. Now, Cantor says he’s ready to plunge the nation into default if the GOP’s demands are not met. People close to Cantor say that he hopes to make clear that small concessions from Democrats, including President Barack Obama, will not be enough to deliver the GOP on a debt increase.

You can rest assured when the GOP talks about "major spending cuts," they really mean elimination of the social safety net of programs like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance that the American Liberal Republic of 1933 through 1969 had the foresight to enact. Major spending cuts is GOP-speak for the repeal of the 20th Century.

The Republicans are playing a dangerous and irresponsible game that will have global repercussions should the debt ceiling not be authorized. It is seems bizarre but today's GOP seems so willingly ready to collapse the global economy to test economic theories that were discredited repeatedly throughout the Age of Economic Liberalism, the 115 year period from 1815 through 1929 that saw the rise of industrial capitalism and laissez-faire state.

Financial panics struck the global economy in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1894, 1907, and 1929.  It was only through the financial regulations and the social insurance programs that began to be enacted in response of the last of these great crises that the modern world took shape. This world has been under threat since the rise of Reaganism but not even Ronald Reagan was foolish enough to risk a collapse of the established world order.

The argument to "just let markets function" assumes political stability and social peace. But a system where the gains are concentrated among a few winners, as they have been in the US now for 30 years, won't remain stable. The experience of Latin America has been very clear. In periods where there is a narrowing of social inequality, there has been marked social peace and cohesion. But when the region flirted with either laissez-faire capitalism or its bastardized descendent of neo-liberalism, the region has convulsed. 

Buckle up, we're in for a bumpy ride.

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting our world.

Qaddafi Prepared to Consider Free Elections. Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi told The Guardian that Libya is prepared to considering holding free elections, supervised by the United Nations, within six months of the end of the current conflict. Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, who took over from Moussa Koussa defected last month, added that the regime was prepared to consider an interim national government before elections could be held.

Joint Chief Adm. Mike Mullen Visits Pakistan. The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen arrive in Islamabad for a two day visit amidst a low in US-Pakistani relations. Dawn of Pakistan has more on the visit.

Gold Hits $1,500 An Ounce. In Hong Kong trading, the price of gold rose above $1,500 an ounce for the first time after concerns about global economic recovery lifted the metal's appeal as a safe haven.

End of an Era in Cuba. Fidel Castro was formally removed from the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party for the first time since its formation nearly 50 years ago with the senior post going to his younger brother, Raúl Castro, the current Cuban leader. Despite hopes that a younger generation might come to dominate the Politburo, the old guard remained firmly in charge. José Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, was named as Deputy Chairman. Machado is seen as a hard-liner. More from the Los Angeles Times.

 

The Woes of Newt Gingrich

Via Politico

Newt Gingrich raised a meager $53,000 into his political action committee in the first three months of the year, highlighting potential fundraising difficulties as the former House Speaker girds for a campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.

Gingrich has raised tens of millions in huge donations into American Solutions for Winning the Future, a so-called 527 committee outside the purview of the Federal Election Commission, allowing him to build a robust political operation that has kept him in the spotlight as he flirted with a White House bid.

But his presidential campaign would not be able to accept such large contributions and would instead be restricted to limited hard money donations of $2,500 per individual — half as much as the $5,000-per-individual maximum contributions that can be accepted each year by his leadership political action committee, American Solutions PAC.

Not surprising. He doesn't poll well among non-conservatives and while he is spending considerable time and energy reaching out to social conservatives - his core campaign theme is that "America is in danger of becoming a secular atheist nation" - he's not getting through. It's not that social conservatives disagree with the twice divorced, thrice married former Speaker of the House, Newt's flaws are fairly self-evident. When it comes to Newt's presidential aspirations, social conservatives don't find fault with the message but with the messenger.

His other problem is that others say, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, former Senator Rick Santorum and pizza millionaire Herman Cain, say pretty much the same thing and they don't have the hypocrisy baggage.

I don't see Newt getting past South Carolina after faring poorly in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

The S&P Downgrade

Yesterday, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's put US debt on a credit watch by lowering its outlook for US securities. In essence, Standard & Poor's is warning US policy makers and global investors that the United States risks losing its AAA credit rating unless policy makers agree on a plan by 2013 to reduce budget deficits and the national debt.

“If an agreement is not reached and meaningful implementation does not begin by then, this would in our view render the U.S. fiscal profile meaningfully weaker than that of peer ‘AAA’ sovereigns,” New York-based S&P said today in a report that maintained its top rating on U.S. long-term debt while lowering the outlook to “negative” for the first time.

University of California economist Brad Delong writes in the FinancialTimes:

A spokesperson for Standard & Poor’s said on Monday that there was an “at least a one-in-three likelihood” that the rating agency “could lower” its long-term view on the US within two years. US equities quickly dropped by more than 1.5 per cent. Importantly, however, the dollar did not weaken and US Treasury interest rates did not rise. The reason for this unexpected pattern is simple: the markets think this move is important not because it signals something fundamental about the economy, but because of the political impact it will have in Washington.

So what is going on? A sovereign-debt downgrade is supposed to mean that a government’s finances have become shakier. This means that the likelihood of internal price inflation is higher, the future value of the nominal exchange rate is likely to be lower, and the possibility that creditors might not get their money back in the form and at the time they had contracted for had gone up.

But if this were true the value of the dollar should have fallen on Monday. At the same time nominal interest rates on US debt should also have risen. The value of equities, meanwhile, could have gone either way: macroeconomic chaos would diminish future profits, but stocks have always been and remain a hedge against inflation.

But that is not what happened here. Instead equities fell, the dollar rose and nominal Treasury interest rates were unchanged. Given this, there are two things to bear in mind. First, you can go insane trying to over-interpret short-term market movements. Second, news comes in flavours: new news, old news, no news and political news. And it is important to understand which type this was.

If S&P’s announcement were genuine “new news” to the market, we would have expected to see the standard pattern: equities down, dollar down, rates up.

Meanwhile, if the announcement were old news, we would have expected to see no price movements at all – the smart money would already have taken up their positions. Equally, if it were no news – if the market as a whole simply thought that S&P was irrelevant – then we would have expected to see no price movements at all. But this did not happen: we did see price movements, both in equities, and in the dollar.

Instead what we saw just what might have been expected to see if S&P’s announcement is seen not as a piece of information produced by a financial analyst studying the situation, but instead as a move by a political actor trying to nudge a government toward its preferred policies.

I think DeLong is right. While Standard & Poor's said there’s a one-in-three chance that the rating might be cut within two years, the credit agency also noted its “baseline assumption” is that Congress and the Obama Administration will come to terms on a plan to reduce record deficits. And Standard & Poor's is playing its card hoping that such an agreement is more on the GOP side of the proposal. But this isn't new news. 

Here is Clive Crook on the matter in The Atlantic:

"S&P adduces no new information that I can see. Competent ratings of opaque instruments such as, oh, mortgage-backed securities would be very useful to investors (not that ratings agencies troubled to provide competent ratings in that case, obviously). But why should anybody need that kind of help in judging the soundness of US government bonds? S&P knows nothing about them that you or I don't know."

What is new in Washington is that you have a large contingent in one political party of a rightist persuasion to begin with who thinks that a work of fiction by a third tiered Russian exile is an economic treatise.

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting our world.

Unrest in Syria Growing. Al Jazeera reports continuing and widening unrest across Syria. Gunfire erupted overnight in the Syrian city of Homs where thousands of anti-government protesters had gathered in the main square, a day after activists said at least 25 people were killed there. Homs has been cordoned off by Syrian state security. Gunfire erupted overnight in the Syrian city of Homs where thousands of anti-government protesters had gathered in the main square, a day after activists said at least 25 people were killed there.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the newly appointed Cabinet in Syria has lifted the country's state of emergency laws, which have been in effect since 1963. The official Sana news agency says the government has also approved abolishing the state security court, which handled the trials of political prisoners, and a new law allowing the right to peaceful protests. The bill requires the signature of president Assad to take effect but that is expected to be a formality.

Saudi Oil Did Not Compensate for Libyan Loss. The OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report and IEA Oil Market Report both came out last week. The Oil Drum finds that in March Libyan production plummeted but that Saudi Arabia made no significant move to compensate for the shortfall. Combined with uncertainty in Nigeria in advance of election and speculative forces, oil prices rose.

Saudi Arms Deals in the Works? The Asia Times reports that despite the coolness in US-Saudi relations over the unrest in Bahrain, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is looking to expand its recent $60 billion USD deal to buy additional weaponry from the US.

Death Toll Rises in Uganda. Opposition protests continue amidst a widening crackdown by government forces. Army and police units yesterday used tear gas, bullets and truncheons to break up protests against rising food and fuel prices around the country, leaving at least one person dead in Kampala, and bringing the death toll to four in three days. President Yoweri Museveni, a darling of the US Christian Right, ordered social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Several opposition leaders have been arrested and bloodied for leading a "walk to work" campaign. All Africa has more on this developing story.

Violence in the Islamic North in Nigeria. Violence erupted in the largely Muslim northern part of the country as the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south was declared the winner of the presidential election in this critical but cleft oil producing West African nation. More from All Africa.

In Arizona, Governor Brewer Vetoes Birther Bill

In a move that is bound to displease, to put it mildly, the radical right, Republican Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed HB 2177, the so-called "birther bill" that  have required presidential candidates to provide their birth certificates to appear on the ballot.

From the Tuscon Sentinel:

the "birther" bill, "creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona," Brewer said.

The bill would have required presidential candidates to present their birth certificates or other birth records to be eligible to be on the ballot.

"As a former Secretary of State (sic), I do not support designating one person as the gatekeeper to the ballot for a candidate, which could lead to arbitrary or politically-motivated decisions," Brewer wrote in her veto message to House Speaker Kirk Adams.

"In addition, I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for President (sic) of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their "early baptismal or circumcision certificates" among other records to the Arizona Secretary of State. This is a bridge too far," Brewer wrote.

Candidates could have substituted those records for a birth certificate if the bill had become law.

So-called "birthers," pushing a theory that President Barack Obama is not a native-born citizen as required by the Constitution, want to force candidates to disclose their birth certificates. The irony, of course, is that Obama's opponent in the 2008 election, Arizona Sen. John McCain, was likely ineligible to hold the nation's highest office because of the circumstances of his birth, while Obama was born in Hawaii to a mother who was a citizen.

Governor Brewer also vetoed two other bills of note. Brewer vetoed a bill that would have directed the governor to set up an alliance with other states to regulate healthcare, in a challenge to the Federal government, another that would have allowed guns to be carried on school grounds. She vetoed the guns at school bill "because it is so poorly written," Brewer said.

"Bills impacting our Second Amendment rights have to be crystal clear so that gun owners don't become lawbreakers by accident," she wrote in her veto message to Senate President Russell Pearce.

The Governor added that the bill didn't define the "public right of way" where weapons could be carried on school campuses, and included K-12 schools where firearms are prohibited by Federal law.

 

Long Overdue

Via the Washington Post:

"President Obama will hit the road this week and forcibly deliver his message that a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes on the rich is necessary to rein in the nation's rocketing debt — a high-stakes effort to rally public support ahead of a series of contentious budget battles in Congress."

Our Commander-in-Chief should be a visionary-in-chief. Just last Monday, I bemoaned that "never has the bully pulpit of the Presidency been so more profoundly wasted than on Barack Obama." There is no question that this is a competent Administration and the President himself thoughtful, intensely analytical and intelligent. But when it comes to articulating where he want to take the country, the President has all too often been missing in action.

It is a welcome news that the President is taking his message out across the country.

Jon Huntsman Gets Serious

CNN is reporting that former Utah Governor and soon to be our ex-Ambassador to the People's Republic of China Jon Huntsman is looking at making a serious run at the Presidency focusing his efforts on winning the South Carolina primary. According to CNN, Huntsman's advisers are planning to make a serious play for South Carolina, the early primary state that helped propelled Republican candidates like George W. Bush and John McCain to the GOP nomination.

The conservative-leaning state might seem like a curious place to make a stand for a Mormon ex-Obama administration official who supports same-sex civil unions, but his team is confident that South Carolina Republicans are hungry for a fresh face in a lackluster 2012 field.

“If he gets in the race, from everything I’ve heard, his plan would be to plant a flag in South Carolina,” said longtime Columbia-based strategist Richard Quinn, who helped John McCain win the state’s primary in 2008. “I really think we can win here.”

Quinn is working for Horizon PAC, Huntsman’s campaign-in-waiting, and will steer his presidential bid in South Carolina should the ambassador officially enter the race after his China post concludes on April 30.

He said New Hampshire and South Carolina – two of the four early states that allow independents to participate in their presidential primaries – “are ready for the arrival of a major new player.”

“I think moving from New Hampshire to South Carolina, that’s the traditional path,” Quinn said, mapping out Huntsman’s potential path to the nomination. “No disrespect to Iowa, but New Hampshire and South Carolina are two parts of a three part rocket, along with Florida.”

Huntsman, also a former Utah governor, will return to the United States just before the South Carolina Republican Party sponsors the first Republican presidential debate in Greenville on May 5, but his advisers are doubtful that he will participate.

Jon Huntsman would be a welcomed addition to the GOP field in 2012 if only to provide some adult supervision to that bevy of petulance. And while his chances may seem slim given the GOP electorate's penchant for the sheer insanity of unrepentant birtherism and other inanities, candidates like Jon Huntsman and Mitch Daniels would add some gravitas to the Barnum & Bailey spectacle that the Republican party has become. Without question, unlike the circus the GOP is not the greatest show on Earth despite its entertainment value. It does not serve well the country to have a major political party to simply fly off the rails. 

Still the question on my mind is who leaked the Huntsman love letters to President Obama and Bill Clinton?

Around the World

News from the around the globe impacting our world.

Europe Assesses the Impact of the True Finns. The True Finns' electoral success on Sunday in which the right wing populist party captured 19 percent of the vote becoming the third largest politial force follows a recent trend in the Nordics, which has seen right-wing populist parties do well in a region that was once dominated exclusively by the social democratic center-left. The right-wing Danish People's Party won 13.9 percent of the vote in 2007, and their counterparts in Norway won 22.9 percent in 2009 though a similarly xenophobic party in Sweden fared less well managing to win just 5.7 percent in 2010. Still the specter of right wing populism is casting a deeper shadow across Europe particularly in the Nordic countries, European policy makers wonder about the impact to the European Union while many Europeans consider what happened to values of tolerance and openness. Der Spiegel looks at the debate.

UK to Run Libya Evacuation. Britain to help evacuate thousands trapped in Misrata and provide medical aid across western Libya. The story in The Guardian.

Nigerian Results Trigger Violence in Muslim North. As results in Nigeria's presidential elections continue to trickle showing a commanding lead for incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, protests turn violent across the Islamic north of the country. Some 73.5 million Nigerians had been expected to cast their ballots in Africa's most populous country with international observers finding the elections as "fair and credible." Coverage from the Associate Press, All Africa and the BBC.

Mexico State Police Chief Dismissed. The head of security in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas is replaced after the discovery of 145 bodies in mass graves in San Fernando believed to be the work of Las Zetas drug cartel. More from the BBC.

Communists in West Bengal Face Electoral Test. The Indian state of West Bengal went to the polls Monday in a vote that looked set to end three decades of uninterrupted rule by the world's oldest democratically elected communist government. The Left Front, led by the Communist Party of Indian (Marxist), or CPI-M has dominated electoral politics in the east state of West Bengal that includes Kolkata since 1977. Opinion polls suggest the Left Front may be headed for a defeat at the hands of Mamata Banerjee,a populist who casts herself as a champion of the poor. Elections are also slated for four Indian states against the backdrop of several corruption scandals and a surge in food price inflation. Agence France Presse reports.

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