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News

Issue: "Gulf toil," June 5, 2010

Primary stunners

At the end of a recent campaign speech Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the five-term lawmaker who last year switched from a Republican to a Democrat to save his career, mistakenly thanked "the Allegheny County Republicans" for their endorsement. Groans from the crowd were embarrassing enough, but on May 19 the very thing Specter switched parties to avoid took place: a primary defeat. Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak's victory over Specter and Kentucky upstart Rand Paul's win in that state's GOP primary provided a double whammy of stunning Senate election results. Paul took the party's nomination despite his opponent's earning the backing of the GOP leadership, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Voters thumbed their noses at establishment endorsements. "I have a message, a message from the Tea Party," Paul warned after his win. "We've come to take our government back." The upsets continued a month-long trend of incumbent busts: West Virginia Democrat Alan Mollohan, a 28-year House veteran, lost on May 11 while Sen. Robert Bennett, who has spent 18 years representing Utah, finished third at his party's May 8 state convention. "They're angry and they're angry at Washington," Bennett said of the voters. "And I'm in Washington."

Haitian frustration

Near the battered gates of the collapsed presidential palace in downtown Port-au-Prince, hundreds of Haitians protested the man who used to live inside the crumbling structure: Haitian President Réne Préval. A May 17 protest was the second against Préval after the Haitian parliament in early May voted to allow him to stay in office until May 2011-three months after his term ends-if the country hasn't chosen a replacement by February. Parliament leaders say the massive loss of civil servants killed and electoral records destroyed by the earthquake may make on-time elections impossible. Demonstrators called for the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, saying Préval has failed the estimated 1.5 million people still homeless after the quake.

Tennessee aftermath

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"The volunteer effort in Nashville is just great," said Patti Fasnacht of Service International, whose organization has sent teams to clear debris from flooded houses: In one six-square-block section they cleared enough ruined furniture and carpet to cover a football field about 30 feet high. David Browning, deacon at Bellevue Church of Christ, said that 45 church families suffered damage and some lost everything. The church served temporarily as a Red Cross shelter and spent two weeks helping victims gut their homes so they can dry out. "It's been a tremendous response both from the church community and the neighborhood community," Browning said. According to the Associated Press, the flood destroyed at least 2,000 homes and will cost an estimated $1.5 billion in damages.

Opening a window

Missouri on May 14 became the fifth state to opt out of taxpayer-funded abortions this year. Since federal lawmakers failed to insert pro-life protections in the new healthcare law, state legislators are stepping into the breach. Groups like Americans United for Life are using the attention abortion gained in the national healthcare debate to convince state legislatures from Arizona to Florida to mandate their own restrictions against taxpayer-funded abortions. Three more states-Louisiana, Ohio, and Oklahoma-are trying to enact similar laws this year, while lawmakers in more than two dozen other states are drafting bills. Missouri's law takes additional steps: requiring that more information, such as ultrasound images, be made available to women considering abortions. Such efforts are proving that when a door closes a window often does open.

Buying time

After European leaders in early May engineered a nearly trillion-dollar bailout plan for Greece and other heavily indebted nations, investors rejoiced. European banks are heavily exposed to these countries' bonds, and the move to guarantee that their investments wouldn't fail brought a feeling of relief. But it didn't last long. Within days the euro began dropping, reaching a four-year low against the dollar, and major European stock markets also started falling. Perhaps investors were alarmed by statements from the European Central Bank head that Europe faced "severe tensions" and fragile markets. Perhaps it was a surprise move by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 18 to ban "naked short sales," which investors use as insurance against defaults, in government bonds. Or perhaps it was the realization that the problems at the root of Europe's crisis-low birth rates, aging populations, and a strong sense of entitlement to checks from the government-remain in place. New cutbacks in Greek public spending brought riots and strikes that killed at least three. A consensus began to emerge that the hugely expensive European bailout had bought nothing more than a little time. "They've poured some water on the fire," Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson told The New York Times, "but the fire has not gone out."

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