Blogs

(Slight) Good News in the Israeli Elections: Obama Might Be Forced To Intervene

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 12:09 PM EST

When the chief political correspondent of Ha'aretz says that the Israeli elections have produced a "big mess," you know there's trouble. And that's how Akiva Eldar put it during an interview conducted shortly after exit polls indicated that Tzipi Livni and her centrist Kadima party won 28 Knesset seats to the 26 won by Likud, led by hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu. (Likud ended up winning 27 seats.) You can hear the interview here.

Eldar said he was "confused" by the results, which place tipping-point power in the hands of ultra-hardliner Avigdor Lieberman's radical right/rabid nationalist party, Yisrael Belteinu, which won 15 seats. (Labor finished fourth with 13 seats.) But Eldar did note that these results had a slightly positive element, given that Netanyahu and Likud had been predicted to place first: "The good news is that Tzipi Livni [who supports negotiating toward a two-state solution]...ended up with a couple of more Knesset seats than Netanyahu. That's a big surprise." But it seems unlikely she will be able to form a government. One possible--probable?--outcome is a government dominated by Netanyahu, who will owe plenty to Lieberman and his fanatics. "The next government," Eldar noted, "will have to include the...radical right party [and] that will paralyze it." Translation: there will be no peace process.

But Eldar saw another small--make that, very small--bit of good news in that.

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Dobson's Focus on the Family Out-Hates the Mormons

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 11:16 AM EST

Guess who is just as bad (and possibly worse) than intolerant, fundamentalist Mormons? Intolerant, fundamentalist Christians. The Colorado Independent has the story:

Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family gave $727,250 in cash and services to the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign in California, according to records released by the California secretary of state, including a $100,000 check in late October, just days before the evangelical media empire announced it planned to lay off nearly 20 percent of its employees.

While there has been public scrutiny of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its attempts to influence the campaign to reverse a California Supreme Court ruling allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, Focus on the Family and related donors pumped more than six times as much as the Mormon church did into the ProtectMarriage.com campaign, records show.

In sum, the Independent reports, Focus on the Family and its sister groups gave a stunning $1.25 million to the Yes on 8 movement, including $50,000 in seed money a year before the election. It is worth noting that the largest benefactor supporting Proposition 8 was not Focus on the Family. It was the Knights of Columbus, the Connecticut-based political arm of the Catholic Church.

For more on where the Christian Right is taking the country, see our cover package "God and Country."

Livni or Netanyahu? Israeli Prime Minister TBD by Radical Lieberman (Not That One)

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 4:28 AM EST
After Israel's  tight election for prime minister Kadima Party moderate Tzipi Livni is now just ahead of right-wing Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (with 28 vs. 27 seats in the Knesset). But the real power sits with rising radical Avigdor Liebermanan ultra-conservative who wants to establish a blanket denial of all Arabs for citizenshipwho can throw his support to either to determine who becomes prime minister. (He said he's open to talking with both but will no doubt side with fellow hard-liner Netanyahu.)


This is not good news.

Sirius XM Prepares for Possible Bankruptcy

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 8:25 PM EST

Sirius XM, the satellite broadcaster who only recently combined their previously-competitive channel offerings and cut a whole bunch of the popular stations, suddenly has an even more uncertain future. The company is preparing for a possible bankrupty filing, which "could come within days," according to the New York Times. However, this may just be a crazy high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with EchoStar/Dish Network bigwig Charles Ergen, who controls a whole bunch of Sirius' bulging debt. Ergen would apparently have to make a formal offer to purchase the company sooner than later if he wanted to avoid the bankruptcy mess, so it's kind of like Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin (formerly in charge of former Party Ben employer CBS awesome radio!) is saying pony up or watch us go bye-bye. Gutsy!

Are Non-Stick Chemicals And Aging Dads More Dangerous To Babies Than Cocaine?

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 7:21 PM EST
Last week the New York Times printed good news about a worrisome issue in childhood development. As it turns out, children whose mothers used cocaine during pregnancy have only slightly lower IQ scores than children whose mothers didn't use. The difference between the children's scores was so low it was deemed "scientifically insignificant." In fact, the effect of alcohol on the fetus is more detrimental than cocaine's, while tobacco's is about the same. But potential parents have some other science to consider this week. In the latest issue of Human Reproduction scientists found that women with higher levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs, or the chemicals that make products "non-stick") in their blood had more trouble getting pregnant. Women with higher levels of the two main chemicals—PFOA and PFOS—were up to 154 percent more likely to be infertile. Exposure is a particular problem for developed countries like the US, where eight percent of women of childbearing age have consulted a doctor about infertility. And, like we've said before, Teflon is forever.

Men's Health Worst Foods: Healthy List or Sneaky Ad?

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 6:16 PM EST
Image by flickr user Matt NichollsFrom Men's Health magazine comes a list of the worst foods in America of 2009. By "worst" Men's Health means worst for your body; by "food" the magazine means products or menu items. The list is basically a catalog of the fattest prepared foods in America.

Topping said list is Baskin Robbins' infamous Large Chocolate Oreo Shake, which with 2,600 calories (about 400 more calories than I consume in a day) and 263 grams of sugar (that's equal to about 18 cupcakes), is essentially a heart attack in a disposable cup. Ian Froeb at the St. Louis Riverfront Times tried the Oreo Shake last month and found the taste and color somewhat wanting:

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The Six Worst Tax Cuts in the Senate's Stimulus

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 6:00 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Tue Feb. 10, 2009 6:00 PM EST

After a week of debate and a round of stumping from President Obama, the Senate passed its version of the economic stimulus package on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill outlines $840 billion in spending and tax relief, and just after the votes were tallied, Citizens for Tax Justice released its list (PDF) of the six worst tax cuts—costing $123 billion more than the House bill—in the Senate's stimulus:

Today's Healthcare News

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 5:19 PM EST

TODAY'S HEALTHCARE NEWS....Just in case you've been getting a little too optimistic about the prognosis for serious healthcare reform this year, here's a couple of pieces of light reading to bring you down to earth.

First up, the Wall Street Journal explains that a $1.1 billion provision in the stimulus bill to fund research comparing medical treatments is in trouble. Why? Because pharma and device companies don't really want anyone finding out just how effective their treatments are. Full story here.

Second, Michelle Cottle deconstructs a story about a lobbying war over electronic medical records. Pretty much everyone from Tom Daschle to Newt Gingrich is in favor of this, so what's the problem? Answer: drug companies want to make sure that privacy provisions don't prevent them from paying hospitals and pharmacies to hawk their latest wonder drugs to their customers. Full post here.

Just another day in the healthcare trenches. I can hardly wait til we get to the hard stuff.

GOP's Stimulus Talking Points Contradict Congressional Research Service

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 5:06 PM EST
Are House Republicans reading the reports from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service? Because if the language they used Tuesday at a series of Capitol Hill press conferences on the stimulus is any indication, they are not doing their homework.

Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, kicked the day off with a morning press availability. Reacting to the town hall event President Barack Obama held in his state on Monday to sell the stimulus to ordinary Americans, Pence called the bill a "monstrous wish list of tired liberal spending priorities." Sitting in a well-appointed conference room on Capitol Hill, he insisted that a "so-called stimulus bill" loaded with spending would never get the support of the conservative House GOP caucus. "We're going to dig in, almost irrespective of the polls." He then noted that support for the bill is dropping in the polls.

The one thing that Pence pointed to as a panacea, both for the nation's economic problems and for the bill's lack of bipartisan support, was tax cuts. "The fastest way to jumpstart an economy in a recession," he said, is to give tax relief to families and small businesses. He noted that he too had held a town hall in Indiana, and the biggest rounds of applause always came for tax cuts.

A few hours later, the number two Republican in the House, Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, held his own press availability. "Poll after poll" show that Americans want tax cuts, he said. He claimed that a plan put forward by House Republicans that is heavy on tax cuts will cost half as much as the current stimulus and create twice as many jobs.

More Bailout

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 4:43 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Tue Feb. 10, 2009 12:54 PM EST

MORE BAILOUT....According to the fact sheet accompanying the new bailout plan, all banks with assets over $100 billion will be required to undergo a "comprehensive stress test" to make sure they're solvent enough to continue lending even in the face of future losses. This applies to about the 20 biggest banks in the country. So what happens then?

While banks will be encouraged to access private markets to raise any additional capital needed to establish this buffer, a financial institution that has undergone a comprehensive “stress test” will have access to a Treasury provided “capital buffer” to help absorb losses and serve as a bridge to receiving increased private capital.

....Firms will receive a preferred security investment from Treasury in convertible securities that they can convert into common equity if needed to preserve lending in a worse-than-expected economic environment. This convertible preferred security will carry a dividend to be specified later and a conversion price set at a modest discount from the prevailing level of the institution’s stock price as of February 9, 2009.

Well, that's clear as mud, isn't it? After a thorough investigation that will supposedly force banks to face up to their losses (but not in an "overly conservative" way), they'll then be available for government bailout money. Who qualifies? Apparently everyone. What are the terms? We'll make that up on a case-by-case basis. How long will banks continue to be bailed out? No telling. What restrictions will be placed on bailed-out banks? None, apparently.

I'll wait for smarter people than me to explain this stuff further, but at first glance it sure looks an awful lot like "trust us." But we'll see. A big part of the Geithner plan is a promise to "improve public disclosure by banks," which will "include measures to improve the disclosure of the exposures on bank balance sheets." If that's done honestly, there are likely to be quite a few banks that need more than just a "preferred security investment" from the Treasury. Stay tuned.