Archive for March, 2011

Some Travelin’ Music along the bright Mississippi

I heard this the other night on the radio and reached immediately for a pencil and a scrap of paper so I could scribble down the title. It’s just so damn … New Orleans. Of course, with the great Allen Toussaint at the helm, you’d expect that, but still. The tempo, the horns, the clarinet … It’s a perfect distillation of a distinctive sound, bright and happy with an melancholy undertone (I sound like a damn oenephile).

Anyway, take a moment to just listen. It’ll get you in a good mood for the weekend.

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Japan reports a likely setback in nuclear crisis

After a few days of cautious optimism, the nuclear crisis in Japan has taken a more grim turn. In a speech to the nation Friday evening, Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the situation “very grave and serious,” and residents within an expanded 19-mile radius of the plant have been advised to evacuate.

What changed? After two workers were hospitalized yesterday after wading through highly radioactive water, officials tried to trace the water back to its source. They now believe the water may be coming from Reactor No. 3, suggesting a breach of containment.

As the Christian Science Monitor reports:

If that turns out to be true, the devastated nuclear complex may be much more contaminated with radioactive materials than officials had previously thought.

The suspected reactor breach would mark a major setback for the crews racing to return power to the plant and bring its reactors and spent-fuel pools back under control.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Friday that the …

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The high-stakes labor fight in Wisconsin gets more intense

Wisconsin has seen a lot of political drama over the last couple of months, but in many ways the real fight there has barely begun.

Wisconsin Democrats, for example, are trying to force recall votes against eight Republican state senators, and they claim to be succeeding. They need to throw out three Republicans to regain control of the state Senate, and as the Washington Post reports, they sound pretty optimistic.

“We’re well ahead of schedule,” said Graeme Zielinski, Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman. “I think in mid-summer, you will have a Democratic Senate.”

That would be quite a turn of events.

However, Wisconsin voters won’t have to wait until summer to make their sentiments known. As it turns out, state Justice David Prosser is up for re-election on April 5, a fact that ordinarily might not mean much. But back in December, shortly after the victory of Gov. Scott Walker, Prosser had aligned himself closely with the new governor, telling Wisconsin voters that his …

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In Libyan flip-flop, Gingrich shows his worst instincts

NOTE: This post contains material published earlier on this blog. It is posted here as the electronic version of today’s AJC column.

Gov. Nathan Deal, returning a political favor from last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, has said he would endorse Newt Gingrich once the former speaker makes his presidential run official.
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, who represents Gingrich’s old district, has followed suit, even going so far as to claim that Gingrich “absolutely” would carry Georgia in next year’s presidential primary.
This week, former Gov. Sonny Perdue joined the bandwagon.
“The American people are very hungry for a way back to prosperity,” Perdue told AJC reporters. “Newt Gingrich can articulate that in a way that will appeal to a lot of people. If he runs, I think Newt Gingrich would make a great president. He will be able to count on my support.”
That’s quite a statement: “I think Newt Gingrich would make a great president.” Personally, I can’t fathom the disconnect …

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Budget-cutting Britain may be hurting its own cause

In the dismal science known as economics, there’s no such thing as a perfectly controlled experiment. Too many variables are at work in a real-life economy to definitively tease out the impact of any one factor.

That said, the different budgetary courses taken by Great Britain and the United States do at least offer an intriguing case study.  Under their new Conservative government, the British have slashed public spending across the board, taking the direction advocated by conservative Republicans here in the United States, if not to the degree demanded by the GOP. The United States, at least so far, has taken a different course.

So if “excessive government spending” were really the problem, logic suggests that the British economy should be doing well, while the U.S. economy should be faltering. On the other hand, if government spending offers a needed short-term stimulus in these tough times, the U.S. economy should be outperforming its British counterpart.

So let’s go to …

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Michele Bachmann running away to join the circus

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Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and now … Michele Bachmann!

“Washington (CNN) – CNN has exclusively learned that Rep. Michele Bachmann will form a presidential exploratory committee. The Minnesota Republican plans to file papers for the committee in early June, with an announcement likely around that same time…

Meanwhile, CNN has also learned that Iowa Republican state Sen. Kent Sorenson will likely be hired to be Bachmann’s political director for the state – and that Bachmann aides hope to have a complete team together for Iowa by this weekend.

Sorenson is a prominent Tea Party figure in Iowa and holds sway with evangelicals in the state. He has publicly said he will support Bachmann if she mounts a presidential bid.

The three-term congresswoman and Tea Party favorite hopes to also have political teams in place – very soon – in New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, and South Carolina, host of the first presidential primary in the …

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Oil companies paid Libya’s $1.5 billion fine for Lockerbie attack

Here’s a nice little case study for a business-school ethics class, courtesy of the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — In 2009, top aides to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi called together 15 executives from global energy companies operating in Libya’s oil fields and issued an extraordinary demand: Shell out the money for his country’s $1.5 billion bill for its role in the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 and other terrorist attacks.

If the companies did not comply, the Libyan officials warned, there would be “serious consequences” for their oil leases, according to a State Department summary of the meeting.

Many of those businesses balked, saying that covering Libya’s legal settlement with victims’ families for acts of terrorism was unthinkable. But some companies, including several based in the United States, appeared willing to give in to Libya’s coercion and make what amounted to payoffs to keep doing business, according to industry executives, American officials and State Department …

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Gingrich turns to innermost beliefs, but finds he has none

As I pointed out in a post Monday, Newt Gingrich believes that, frankly, Newt Gingrich is absolutely wrong about Libya.

Not long ago, Gingrich was making the rounds demanding that the United States immediately impose a no-fly zone in Libya. “The United States doesn’t need anybody’s permission. We don’t need to have NATO, who frankly, won’t bring much to the fight. We don’t need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we’re intervening,” he told Greta Van Susteren on Fox.

“This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with.”

And he said that with the absolute, deadpan conviction that is the Gingrich trademark.

However, once President Obama decided to commit U.S. forces to impose a no-fly zone, Gingrich immediately reversed his position, suddenly condemning the policy he once advocated. The contrast with his earlier position was never more blatant than in his remarks this morning on …

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In Georgia, housing woes a long-term drag on economy

As we claw our way out of this recession, it’s easy to forget where it all started: housing. And while other parts of the economy have begun to recover and show signs of health, the housing situation is actually getting worse by some key standards. The Atlanta Federal Reserve has some interesting data and — oh goody! — charts to explain where we are at the moment.

For example, the number of American households who owe more on their mortgage than the house is worth — known as negative equity — continues to grow in many markets, including Georgia. In fact, in the fourth quarter of 2010, Georgia had the sixth highest rate of negative equity in the nation. Three out of 10 Georgia homeowners owed more in loans on their property than their property was worth, which is a remarkable number.

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In the metro Atlanta area, the ratio is even higher. More than one out of three homeowners in this market are “underwater” on their mortgage, making them prime candidates for eventual default or …

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Herman Cain drops ‘friendly’ warning to American Muslims

In an interview with Christianity Today, GOP presidential candidate and metro Atlanta resident Herman Cain was asked about race and discrimination:

“Do people still discriminate in some small ways against certain people because of their color or their religion? Yes. But it is nowhere near where it was 235 years ago.

Whether we will ever reach that utopian level of all men created equal and all men being treated equal, I don’t know. You know, the journey in life is to strive to be better and better every day, to strive to be more Christ-like. Whether or not any of us get to the level of Christ himself, I doubt it, because we are human. You have secret thoughts, and only God and Christ knows those secret thoughts. And they may not be Christ-like.”

That’s well put. Later, however, the interviewer asks Cain about a speech he gave last month at a church in Milner, Ga., in which Cain recounted his successful battle against cancer. (A video of the speech is below; the section in …

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