News Brief’s May 10th 2010

Solicitor General Elena Kagan

Republicans wasted little time this morning staking out turf for challenging President Obama’s nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Senate Minority Leader McConnell said Republicans would not “rush to judgment” and would question Kagan’s “brief litigation experience, as well as judgment and her career in academia.” If “academia” is code for questioning the fact that Kagan has never been a judge, history might work against the GOP leader. The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was never a judge before joining the court. Former California Gov. Earl Warren was another non-judge who not only made it to the high court but ended up as chief justice. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, who will lead confirmation hearings, was among those urging Obama to pick a non-judge.

While McConnell said Republicans would be in no hurry to confirm Kagan, Leahy urged the Senate to act before the start of the August recess. That timetable would put Kagan on the bench in time for the start of the court’s fall term. “Our constituents deserve a civil and thoughtful debate on this nomination, followed by an up-or-down vote,” he said. Democrats are optimistic because seven Republicans voted to confirm Kagan as solicitor general last year, and they are likely to need only one or two votes to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. But some GOP senators say they will apply a different standard for the court nomination than they did when she was up for solicitor general.

The Dems Pullout

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, frustrated that two Democrats are staying in the race and pretty much guaranteeing a Republican victory in the special election to replace former Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, is withholding money from the race. Because Democrats Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa “were unable to work out their differences,” spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said, “the DCCC will save the resources we would have invested in the Hawaii special election this month for the general election in November.” With Democrats splitting the vote, Republican Charles Djou is expected to win the mail-in vote. The results will be announced May 22.

The DEBT

“Greece has cultural problems that contribute to its economic implosion. But there are similarities to the U.S. as well — and because we have elected Democrats, they are growing. By the end of 2011, Greece’s debt will be 150 percent of its GDP. According to a March report by the Congressional Budget Office, President Obama’s 2011 budget will generate nearly $10 trillion in cumulative budget deficits over the next 10 years — $1.2 trillion more than the administration projected — which will increase our debt to GDP ratio to 90 percent by 2020. One in three Greeks works for the government. Government employees enjoy higher wages, more munificent benefits, and earlier retirements than private sector employees. … Public sector unions are growing in the U.S. More than 50 percent of all union members are now public employees who have negotiated sweet deals with local, state, and federal governments. As economic historian John Steele Gordon points out, ‘Federal workers now earn, in wages and benefits, about twice what their private-sector equivalents get paid. State workers often have Cadillac health plans and retirement benefits far above the private sector average: 80 percent of public-sector workers have pension benefits, only 50 percent in the private sector. Many can retire at age 50.’ While private employers were shedding jobs during the recession, state and local governments hired 110,000 new workers. Obama’s new spending will result in a 14.5 percent increase in the number of federal employees in just two years. … And in a corrupt feedback loop that may not be so very different after all from the Greek practice, public employee unions give generously to Democratic candidates, both in cash contributions and by manning phone banks, getting out the vote, and so on. It’s no coincidence that the states with the most powerful public sector unions — New Jersey, California, and New York — are facing the most severe budget crises. Greece is in flames, but if you look around, you can smell the smoke here as well.” –columnist Mona Charen

Holidays Mis-spent

“Cinco de Mayo marks a minor, though first Mexican victory over the French. I guess if you’re Mexican beating the French is a big deal. The fact that it’s more a creation of beer companies’ advertising in this country is sad but it figures. Most people of Mexican ancestry can’t even tell you what May 5th represents, just that it’s a Mexican holiday. The fact we even tolerate it here is tragic. I wonder what the response would be if we had a 4th of July rally in Mexico City. I don’t think Mexicans have any right to expect a more tolerant reaction to Cinco de Mayo celebrations here than they would grant us in an American independence rally in their country.” –Texan

No-Fun Zone

The St. Louis City Museum, described as “a cross between a playground and a theme park,” is a magnet for tourists–and frivolous lawsuits.

The museum transforms items from the city’s industrial history into attractions that can be climbed or touched by children of all ages. MonstroCity, for example, is a three-story slide. The museum also has a five-story jungle gym with two real jets kids can climb on. Its annual attendance of 700,000 is about twice the population of the city.

The museum has been sued some 24 times since 2005. It lost one case, but the jury reduced the award from $500,000 to $100,000, finding the plaintiff mostly at fault. It settled two others. Plaintiffs” lawyers say the museum doesn’t adequately warn of the park’s risks, though the risk of a three-story slide seems obvious. The museum’s founder says lawyers “are taking the fun out of life.”

Even though the litigation has been largely unsuccessful, the museum’s insurance costs have soared from approximately $36,000 in 1997 to about $600,000 this year. The museum recently posted a sign near the admission gate listing the names of law firms that have sued the museum, tagging them as responsible for a 9 percent increase in the cost of admission. Many museum patrons admire such defiance. “You take a risk when you go anyplace,” one said.

Source: Conor Dougherty, “This Museum Exposes Kids to Thrills, Chills and Trial Lawyers; Defiant St. Louis Venue Owner’s Claim: Attorneys ‘Take the Fun Out of Life,” Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2010

Pelosi’s ‘Manifestation of Our Living the Gospels’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she has told Catholic cardinals, archbishops and bishops that she wants them to speak from the pulpit for immigration reform and tell Catholics who oppose it that reform “is a manifestation of our living the gospels.”  In her comments at the Catholic Community Conference on Capitol Hill on May 6, Pelosi specifically referenced illegal immigrants in America, saying as a practical matter, “we can’t say to people, 12 million of you, ‘go back to wherever you came from or go to jail.’” Beltway Civil War!

Six months before Election Day, in what is expected to be a very good year for Republicans, the first congressional incumbent has been defeated–and he is a Republican. Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, seeking his fourth term, was denied renomination at the state party convention over the weekend, finishing third behind businessman Tim Bridgewater and lawyer Mark Lee, one of whom will win the nomination in a primary next month. (Snip) When it was announced that Bennett had been eliminated from the race, a huge ovation swept through the convention hall

OOPS

A Virginia man is suing his local PetSmart store claiming that while shopping he slipped on a pile of dog feces and badly hurt his back, struck his head and knocked out four of his false teeth.  Robert Holloway is suing the Newport News (VA) PetSmart for $1 million, alleging that the store and its manager were negligent the day of the accident because they either knew or should have known there was a pile of feces on the floor. Holloway’s lawsuit further contends that if the store did know about it then its employees should have cleaned it up before Holloway stepped in it, specifically stating that PetSmart and its employees “negligently allowed animals to enter the premises and deposit feces in such a manner as to create a dangerous and hazardous condition.”  Holloway’s lawyer, Michael Goodove of Norfolk, said, “That’s the problem – you can bring your pet on the premises. But that requires a higher level of diligence. You’ve got a duty to remove dangerous substances.”

PetSmart counters that the store and manager were not negligent in the accident and that pet accidents are a fact of life in its stores, where leashed pets are welcome visitors and every store has “oops” stations, clearly marked, with clean-up supplies. PetSmart spokeswoman Jessica White added that employees are trained to clean up messes and customers are encouraged to clean up after their pets.  According to news reports, PetSmart’s annual reports say it is a frequent target of personal injury litigation, but the costs of such suits were not released.  —Source: The Virginian-Pilot

When the Global Debt Shuffle Hits Home

It took the Dow Jones Industrial Average 62 long, grinding years to close above 582.69 for the first time. On Thursday, the Dow plunged by 582.69 points in less than 420 seconds. The market’s terrifying drop was more than a technical trading glitch. It was a warning that the U.S. economy is playing a dangerous game. After all the massive bailouts, the federal debt is exploding. Overall U.S. government debt now stands at 92.6% of projected 2010 gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. now has a heavier debt burden than several of the overleveraged countries…Â

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