John Kerry's absence from the airwaves after he clinched the Democratic nomination in early March may be part of a "rope a dope" strategy to let Bush burn through his fundraising advantage, Ryan Lizza writes in the 5/3/04 New Republic. The Bush campaign has raised $184 million and spent $100 million of it, with half going for TV ads, hoping to put the race away by the end of April. But after eight weeks of concentrated attacks by Bush, the race was still essentially tied. And while Bush burned through over $50 million, Kerry banked $55 million.

"On March 1, Kerry had $2.4 million in the bank and Bush had $110 million. By the end of April, a rough educated guess, based on how both candidates are raising and spending money, put Kerry's cash on hand at about $60 million and Bush's at about $75 million." Bush has seen a bounce in the polls, but even the GOP-friendly Fox News poll released April 23 had Bush 43%, Kerry 42% and most other polls are within the margin of error. As Josh Marshall noted at talkingpointsmemo.com, "by most calculations an incumbent who barely pulls more than 40% is in serious trouble. So there's certainly a way of looking at what's happened over the last month or so and say that Bush has essentially squandered his entire financial advantage over Kerry. And the race is still neck and neck."

Kerry is expected to raise $100 million before the Boston convention but he must spend it before then, when the general election campaign finance rules go into effect. Both Bush and Kerry are limited to $75 million budgets until the election, but Kerry's spending starts July 29 while Bush gets his money Sept. 2. So it is likely that Kerry will be outspending Bush from May through July.

FULL MEDAL JACKET. When Kerry hesitated in making public his military files, GOP operatives smelled blood and got their media surrogates to demand full disclosure. Kelly Wallace of CNN even speculated that Kerry's wounds may have been self-inflicted or that he was "fragged" by his own men. As Charles Pierce noted, "this campaign is nowhere near the bottom of the barrel yet."

When the Kerry campaign put more than 200 documents online at johnkerry.com the Bush campaign probably had second thoughts as they reminded voters again that Kerry volunteered for duty in Vietnam; he won a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts; he displayed conspicuous bravery under fire; he served his country honorably in combat; and he left the Navy when his term of enlistment was up. He still carries shrapnel in his left thigh.

In comparison, Kevin Drum noted at washingtonmonthly.com, Bush got into the Texas Air National Guard because his father's high-level friends pulled strings to get him in; given the option of volunteering for service in Vietnam, Bush declined; in mid-1972, with two years left in his term, he blew off his required annual physical and was grounded from flying; at the same time, he left Houston for Alabama and failed to show up for any kind of drills for a period of over six months; in mid-1973 his commanding officer was unable to give him his annual fitness report because "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of the report." When headquarters asked for more information, they were told yet again that no information was available about Lt. Bush. Still missing from Bush's records are his final Officer Efficiency Report, his pay stubs, the mandatory Flight Inquiry Board report after he was grounded for missing his physical and other documentation that would have placed Bush's whereabouts with more precision. At least one retired Texas National Guard officer claims Bush's files were purged while he was governor.

E-VOTE COMES UNDER FIRE. Failures in primary elections across the nation have shaken confidence in electronic voting machines that at least 50 million Americans will use to cast their ballots in November.

• A California Voting Systems and Procedures Panel unanimously recommended banning a popular Diebold Inc. paperless touchscreen model -- a move that could force Diebold and other makers to overhaul their business practices nationwide. Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, who said Diebold glitches "jeopardized the outcome" of the March 2 primary, has until April 30 to decide whether to decertify Diebold and possibly other touchscreen terminals in California.

• The head of the bipartisan US Election Assistance Commission, charged with overseeing electronic voting, called Diebold's problems "deeply troubling" and will hold a May 5 hearing in Washington.

• Indiana discovered problems with equipment from Election Systems & Software Inc., which apparently installed uncertified software in five counties without notifying the state election commission.

• In presidential primaries last month, modem problems delayed vote counts in Maryland. A power surge made the wrong screens appear on at least half of San Diego County's touchscreens, preventing an unknown number of voters from casting ballots.

Because votes that only exist in electronic form can be altered or deleted, Oregon, New Hampshire and Illinois require paper ballots; and California, Missouri and Nevada will require paper backups on touchscreen terminals by 2006. Officials in Washington and West Virginia are calling for paper trails, while Ohio is reportedly reconsidering the switch to new machines.

Bills that would require a "paper trail" in all federal elections are HR 2239 and S 1980, but so far they have been blocked by Republican congressional leadership. Call your Congress members at 1-800-839-5276 or 202-224-3121. See verifiedvoting.com.

TAX WOES. John R. Luoma reports at MotherJones.com 4/12/04 on the growing difficulties faced by the working poor around tax time. The Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, is meant to aid the nation's poorest taxpayers. Instead it has become a financial boon for tax preparation companies that move into low income neighborhoods with offers of "refund anticipation loans," which promise taxpayers almost instant access to their tax refunds while using the expected refund as collateral. Unfortunately for consumers, these loans come with exorbitantly high interest rates ranging "from 70 to 700 per cent," and "in the most extreme cases, interest rates, including fees, can reach beyond 1,800 percent."

If EITC recipients avoid the traps set by predatory lenders, they still have to contend with the IRS's new "certification" plan that targets audits at EITC recipients, such as "single fathers and filers who care for children but are not their actual parents such as grandparents and other relatives." To be eligible for the EITC filers also must provide affidavits "signed by school officials, ministers, social workers, or landlords verifying that they are indeed acting as parents." Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warns "that the pre-certification requirements are so burdensome that thousands of qualified families will be incapable or intimidated out of meeting them."

DEM SENATE HOPEFULS RAISE MONEY. Democrats led in fundraising in the first quarter of 2004 in at least half of this year's eight open Senate seats -- where control of the Senate is likely to be decided. Republicans had a series of setbacks in February and March, including Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's (R-Colo.) retirement, the emergence of contested GOP primaries in Alaska and Oklahoma and the increasingly heated race between Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), which siphoned dollars and energy from other races.

Democrats with fundraising leads include former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles in North Carolina, US Rep. Chris John in Louisiana, state Sen. Barack Obama in Illinois and US Rep. Brad Carson in Oklahoma. Georgia Dems also have some hopes since US Rep. Denise Majette (D-Ga.) jumped into the Senate race. Majette, who was lionized by the conservative media when she defeated populist Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) in 2002, brings $418,000 from her House re-election fund and opens the way for McKinney to run for her old House seat. Democrats hope to pick up Senate seats in Alaska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Illinois and "possibly Pennsylvania," Democratic consultant Peter Fenn told The Hill (4/20/04).

Also, concerns that Indian activist and newspaper publisher Tim Giago might drain votes from Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) this fall with an independent race for the Senate were eased when Giago decided against the race and said he would support Daschle. Giago said he wanted Daschle to open dialogue on returning the sacred Black Hills to the tribes of the Sioux Nation, and to help remedy the lack of economic opportunities on the state's reservations, the poorest in the country.

CATHOLIC POWER STRUGGLE. Catholic Republicans have been pressing US Catholic bishops to get tough with pro-choice Catholic Democrats, even to the point of denying them communion, but other than a St. Louis archbishop who is said to be running for cardinal, several other bishops and a Vatican cardinal who is said to be running for pope, the Roman Catholic hierarchy appears to be holding off sanctions for maverick Catholic politicians such as John Kerry.

Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) are preparing a "Catholic Voting Scorecard" that compares votes of Catholic members of both parties on issues that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops identified as its legislative priorities, such as partial-birth abortion, human cloning, child tax credit refunds, the Defense of Marriage Act, global AIDS relief and HIV/AIDS funding, assistance to needy families and raising the minimum wage. A preliminary copy of the unfinished scorecard obtained by The Hill shows that 67 Catholic House Democrats received an average score of 76%, while 49 Catholic Republican members averaged 64%. Nearly 27% of House members are Catholic.

The liberal weekly National Catholic Reporter in a 4/30/04 editorial accused Bush of playing "a cynical political game" with abortion, which he has never called to be outlawed, while he pursued other policies, such as welfare cuts, that could force more low-income women to abort babies. NCR outlined "other issues -- war and peace, immigration, tax cuts, housing, the death penalty, economic justice, welfare reform, the federal deficit, civil liberties, education, health care, crime, and on and on" that are also considered "right-to-life issues." It added, "These issues -- it seems strange to have to say it -- matter too. In this election, in fact, they matter more than abortion, which is not on the table in any significant way."

Michael Renato noted at liberalmediaconspiracy.blogspot.com: "In 1960, Republicans insinuated that a Catholic, Democratic candidate with the initials JFK, was unfit for the presidency because he would do the Pope's bidding as president. In 2004, Republicans (with the aid of the buttinsky Vatican) are insinuating that a Catholic, Democratic candidate with the initials JFK is unfit for the presidency because he won't do the Pope's bidding as president. We've come a long way in 44 years, haven't we?"

CHENEY'S MEMORY HOLE. As Vice President Dick Cheney attacked John Kerry on April 26 for supposedly wanting to cut defense spending during the 1980s, facthawk David Sirota of the Campaign for American Progress passed along this quote from the 12/16/84 Washington Post, as Cheney, then a House leader, went on record attacking President Reagan for not cutting defense spending: "If Reagan 'doesn't really cut defense, he becomes the No. 1 special pleader in town ... The severity of the deficit is great enough that the president has to reach out and take a whack at everything to be credible ... If you're going to rule out the other two [Social Security cuts and a tax increase], then you've got to hit defense.'"

MORE OUTSOURCING. Michael Emmons was happily employed as a software developer at Siemens ICN until he and several of his colleagues were replaced by Indian immigrants newly arrived in the US on work visas, Marilyn Gardner writes in the 4/20/04 Christian Science Monitor. As if the loss of a steady paycheck was not insult enough, Emmons was then informed that he would have to train his replacement in order to receive severance pay. Outraged by the experience, Emmons has decided to run for Congress from Florida's 7th District to combat unfair outsourcing practices. He traces the loss of his job to the L-1 visa "which allows multinational corporations to transfer overseas employees to their US subsidiaries for up to seven years." These foreign employees "often work for lower wages and no benefits," violating the spirit of the work visa program, which intends to offer employers options when they are unable to find qualified American workers. In this case it seems the corporations are benefiting from an excess of labor and are using the work-visa program to outsource to the lowest bidder.

STEEL HOPE IN IRON RANGE. Minnesota mining has found an unexpected friend in China, Amanda Paulson writes in the 4/22/04 Christian Science Monitor. Demand for steel in China is revitalizing a flagging industry and offering relief to workers suffering in "one of the most stubborn pockets of unemployment in the United States." Eveleth, Minn., has watched mining jobs decline in number from 16,000 in 1980 to just 4,000 today, but many hope that the low value of the dollar combined with a high demand for steel will make it possible for miners like Bill Matos (whose retirement pension was frozen) to make up for past difficulties. Although the work is hard and the future somewhat uncertain, the hope of steady employment has made a tangible difference here; as mine Superintendent Craig Hartmann says, "We rattle the town with our blasts. We make dust and noise. But I can't tell you how many townspeople were happy to hear those blasts again."

CAFTA BENEFITS AGRIBIZ. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) would erode farmers' rights set out in a international convention on plant breeding and establish the right of agribusiness to sue governments for regulating to protect the environment and public health, according to a new analysis of CAFTA agriculture provisions by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). "This agreement is consistent with the Bush administration's approach to agriculture trade -- set rules that are highly favorable to transnational corporations at the expense of farmers," said Dr. Steve Suppan, IATP's director of research and author of the analysis. In February, Bush informed Congress of his intention to sign CAFTA. But the deal is expected to face fierce opposition in Congress and a vote may be avoided until after the elections in November. See www.wtowatch.org.

WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE? Charles Pierce of Newton, Mass., wrote to Eric Alterman's weblog at msnbc.msn.com on April 23, "I await anxiously the response of the Professional Catholic Class -- which would include Andy [Sullivan], that Donohue guy from New York ["Catholic League" president William Donohue], my good pal Deal Hudson and the gang at Crisis Magazine, and, of course, la [Peggy] Noonan -- to the appointment of John Negroponte to his Mesopotamian satrapy. (And isn't it convenient for all concerned that his appointment coincides with the decision to give some old Ba'athist buzzards a role in forming The New Iraq? I mean, if we're going to be hiring guys with some death-squad experience, it's good that we have an ambassador in place who's equally familiar with the job.) Anyway, Negroponte played a central role in a policy that at the very best winked at, and at the very worst encouraged, the wholesale slaughter of members of the Roman Catholic clergy. The Maryknolls hate him -- and he's damned lucky the Jesuits aren't doing business the way they once did. I'm sure the Guardians of the Gospel can take a break from wondering about John Kerry's relative state of grace in order to be sufficiently appalled by Negroponte's reappearance on the scene."

CONDI'S SLIP. New York magazine reported April 26 that at a recent dinner party hosted by New York Times D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman and his wife, Times reporter Felicity Barringer, and attended by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Maureen Dowd, Steven Weisman, and Elisabeth Bumiller, Condoleezza Rice was reportedly overheard saying, "As I was telling my husb -- " and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, "As I was telling President Bush." Jaws dropped, but a guest says the slip by the unmarried politician, who spends weekends with the president and his wife, seemed more psychologically telling than incriminating. A National Security Council spokesman laughed and said, "No comment."

'CRUSADE' RAISES BUSH FUNDS. Years after President Bush set off alarm bells in the Muslim world by referring to his war against terrorism as a "crusade," the word that Arabs equate with Christian brutality has resurfaced in a Bush campaign fund-raising letter, Reuters reported April 19. The March 3 letter, which Bush-Cheney Campaign Chairman Marc Racicot sent to new campaign charter members in Florida, lauded the Republican president for "leading a global crusade against terrorism" while citing evidence of Bush's "strong, steady leadership during difficult times." However, the word "crusade" recalls a historical trauma for the Muslim world, which was besieged by Christian crusaders from Europe during the Middle Ages.

NORAD DRILLED JETS AS WEAPONS. In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating what the White House says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties, USA Today reported April 18. NORAD, in a written statement, confirmed that such hijacking exercises occurred. A White House spokesman said the Bush administration was unaware of the exercises.

SURROGATES STILL SMEAR KERRY. Bush's measly military record has not stopped his handlers from casting aspersions on Kerry's medal-bedecked record. Houston lawyer John E. O'Neill, a Navy veteran who emerged as a harsh and ubiquitous critic of Kerry's military service, told reporters that he has never really been interested in politics and isn't motivated by partisan interests, but Joe Conason of Salon.com noted that O'Neill first came to public attention as a clean-cut, pro-war protégé of Nixon White House dirty trickster Charles Colson, who put forward O'Neill as a perfect foil to Kerry, whom Nixon and his aides feared as a decorated, articulate and reasonable opponent of the war and their regime. Now O'Neill has re-emerged, roaring denunciations of the likely Democratic nominee. "I saw some war heroes," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on April 20. "John Kerry is not a war hero." O'Neill assured the CNN anchor that he was "never contacted" by the Bush-Cheney campaign. What he didn't mention, Conason noted, is that his law firm boasts long-standing and powerful connections with the Bush White House.

Bush adviser Karen Hughes on April 25 challenged Kerry to explain comments he made in 1971 that he participated in "atrocities" in Vietnam. "I think the press ought to follow some line of inquiry about that," she said. Kerry has since said he regrets using such language.

Josh Marshall noted that the use of surrogates such as Hughes is "the signature pattern" of Bush's life. "When he faces a challenge or a tough scrape, he lets his family and friends bail him out, do his fighting for him. You see it again and again through failed businesses, legal scrapes, the whole matter of ducking service in Vietnam and then getting help cleaning up subsequent unfortunateness while he was serving in the Texas Air National Guard.

"It's even come up again and again on the campaign trail. George W. Bush has faced three opponents (McCain, Gore and Kerry) since he came onto the national political stage -- each served in Vietnam, though each under very different circumstances. He's had his lieutenants attack the service of each one."

Marshall's advice to Kerry: "Don't get mixed up on the details. Take this directly to the president. Tell him to turn over a new leaf in life and stop being a coward. If the president wants to attack or question your war record or what you did after the war, tell him to do it himself. No special deals, no hidden help from family retainers, no hiding behind Karen Hughes. Tell him, for once, to fight his own fights."

POPULIST CATHOLICS cite the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' 1986 pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All," which called, among other things, for fair wages, affirmative action programs in education and employment to overcome the effects of past discrimination, taxation according to ability to pay and the rights to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care and basic education. "The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; the production to meet social needs over production for military purposes," the bishops wrote. The church also "fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions ... Unions may also legitimately resort to strikes where this is the only available means to the justice owed to workers. No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing. Migrant agricultural workers today are particularly in need of the protection, including the right to organize and bargain collectively. US labor law reform is needed to meet these problems as well as to provide more timely and effective remedies for unfair labor practices." [See www.osjspm.org/cst/eja.htm for the text.]

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