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Monday, November 29, 2004
By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Ukraine President Bows to Pressure, Backs New Vote

“If we really want to preserve peace and consensus and build this just democratic society, of which we speak so much but have failed to carry out in a legal way, let us have new elections,” Kuchma said in a statement.

Kuchma signaled a shift in his position away from backing his ally, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, as the official winner of the Nov. 21 poll, as the Supreme Court sat to try to resolve the election stalemate.

His comments marked a concession to liberal presidential challenger Viktor Yushchenko whom he has attacked for bringing tens of thousands of supporters out on to the streets with his charges that he was cheated out of the election by mass fraud.

Kuchma said he himself would not run in any new poll. By referring to a new poll, it suggested that Kuchma wanted a completely fresh set of elections and not simply another run-off between Yanukovich and Yushchenko.

Yushchenko says he wants a repeat only of the second round run-off, which Yanukovich officially won.

That might be a good compromise: a whole new vote rather than just a new second round.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Court Declines to Hear Gay Marriage Case

The Supreme Court on Monday sidestepped a dispute over gay marriages, rejecting a challenge to the nation’s only law sanctioning such unions.

Justices had been asked by conservative groups to overturn the year-old decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage. They declined, without comment.

Not surprising. While there are clearly federal implications for what Massachusetts has done, I am not sure what the federal constitutional question would be in this specific case.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Edwards to End Term With Farewell Tour.

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By Steven L. Taylor

‘Ringback’ Tones May Be Next Big Thing.

OTOH, it is kinda cool (not that I’d pay for it).

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By Steven L. Taylor

Bush Names Kellogg CEO as Commerce Secretary

President Bush on Monday chose Carlos Gutierrez, a native of Cuba and now the chief executive officer of Kellogg Co., to be secretary of Commerce.

If confirmed by the Senate, Gutierrez would succeed Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, a Texas confidant of Bush’s, who announced his resignation shortly after the Nov. 2 election. The president announced the choice of Gutierrez, 51, at the White House, calling him “a visionary executive” and “one of America’s most respected business leaders.”

Gutierrez, whose family fled Cuba in 1960 when he was 6, joined Kellogg in 1975. Known for having a strong work ethic and a seemingly endless stream of ideas, he worked all over the world for the company before being promoted to president and chief operating officer in June 1998.

At some point those who criticize such GOP appointments as nothing more than symbolic are going to have to admit that Republicans aren’t racists. I have not yet looked to confirm the following, but I am certain that Bush has had the most diverse cabinet, both gender-wise and racially, of all time.

I also think that the high percentage of hispanics in his administration is a direct result of his Texas roots where the integration of those of anglo and hispanic backgrounds is widespread and deep.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo: Holiday Shoppers Off to a Fast Start

Holiday shoppers spent 10 percent more Friday than they did a year ago, according to early reports, but Wal-Mart Stores Inc. dampened hopes for a strong start to the key retail season by slashing its November sales forecast by more than half.

Consumers spent about $8 billion at the nation’s malls and stores the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, compared with $7.3 billion a year ago, according to the industry research firm ShopperTrak.

Sounds pretty good to me. Indeed, the gloomy coverage all seems based solely on Wal*Mart.

The funny thing is that the last several years the record spending at discount stores like Wal*Mart have been seen as confirming weakness in the economy because it showed how people aren’t able to shop at more expensive stores.

Regardless, I am alwasy fascinated and often annoyed at the way the holiday shopping season is covered. Not only is there the ongoing attempt at reading the tea leaves but also the fact that usually the issue is one of expectations, rather than making cold, hard comparisons with year’s past.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Ukraine’s PM Agrees to New Vote in Two Regions

“If there is proof of cheating, that something illegal occurred there and if there is no doubt among experts, I will agree with such a decision,” he said in televised comments, referring to two regions in his native eastern Ukraine.

Still, it is a start.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Mixed Start to Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday shopping season began with a solid show of spending on Friday, but consumers faded by the weekend’s close and many retailers were facing decent but hardly impressive sales.

Big chains including J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Sears, Roebuck and Co. were pleased with their sales. But Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was less fortunate — the industry leader said its sales in the seven days that ended Friday were disappointing, and the company lowered its sales forecasts for November.

“Friday overall was strong, but Saturday was weak and disappointing, so together it was only a modest two-day performance,” said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at International Council of Shopping Centers. “Still, I continue to believe that this is not a bellwether for how the season will end up.”

There’s always hype, then the stories about how the weekend didn’t meet expectations, and so forth. And the headlines are almost always more negative than the stories themselves.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo: Bush to Change Economic Team

President Bush plans to overhaul his economic team for the second time in two years and wants to tap some prominent replacements from outside the administration to help sell rewrites of Social Security and the tax laws to Congress and the country, White House aides and advisers said over the weekend.

Aides said changing four of the five top economic officials — including the Treasury and Commerce secretaries, with only budget director Joshua B. Bolten likely to remain — is part of Bush’s preparation for sending Congress an ambitious second-term domestic agenda.

What? No “consolidating of power” by appointing “yes men”–amazing!

Too funny:

One senior administration official said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow can stay as long as he wants, provided it is not very long. He might stay as long as six months into the term, officials said.

And as far as replacements go:

Friends say Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. is one possibility to replace him. Bolten also could move over.

But Republican officials said Bush is also considering well-known officials from outside, including New York Gov. George E. Pataki (R). Conservatives are pushing for former senator Phil Gramm, a Republican from Texas.

Also under consideration is John J. Mack, who stepped down in June as co-chief executive of Credit Suisse Group. Mack has also been considered to lead a bipartisan commission on changing the tax system that Bush will appoint to develop recommendations for the Treasury secretary.

[...]

A possible replacement for Friedman is Tim Adams, who was policy director of the reelection campaign and was chief of staff to Snow and his predecessor, Paul H. O’Neill. But officials said Adams is more likely to become the deputy chief of staff for policy — a job that came open when Harriet Miers, who currently holds the job, was named White House counsel.

Another possible Friedman replacement is Samuel W. Bodman, the deputy Treasury secretary, who has indicated he wants to leave that job. Adams could also succeed Bodman, officials said.

For Mankiw’s slot, the White House has courted Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor James Poterba, an expert on Social Security and taxes.

And in re: the Friedman exit:

Friends said Friedman announced last week that he was leaving because it became clear to him that he would not be named Treasury secretary.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Ukraine Supreme Court Meets on Election Crisis

Legal experts said the Supreme Court was unlikely to be able to satisfy either side in the bitter dispute over whether Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich won the Nov. 21 presidential election by fraud, as alleged by his opponent Viktor Yushchenko.

[...]

The court, Ukraine’s highest legal body, consists of about 100 judges. Some 21 will sit for this case, their names kept secret until the last minute to guard against pressure on them.

About 100 judges, lawyers and reporters squeezed into a small courtroom in the center of the capital, near parliament.

Modern Ukraine does not have a tradition of an independent judiciary but Supreme Court judges have in the past been prepared to rule against the authorities.

And this is always fun:

The election has underscored the divide between western and eastern Ukraine, rooted in differences in history and language.

More of the legacy of Russian/Soviet imperialism, it would seem.

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