Democrats are down five seats in the Senate -- and would need to pick up six seats to regain the majority, but even though they have to defend more seats than Republican in 2006, Chris Bowers of MyDD.com sees a chance for Dems to pick up seats. Most senators with low approval ratings who are up for re-election seem to be Republicans, he notes. Among the top targets are: Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), with a weak recent 44% approval rating, unpopular with right-wingers for being part of the "Gang of 14" compromisers on judicial filibusters and general disgust with scandal-plagued Republicans who have run the state into the ground, but Dems have to come up with a candidate, as Rep. Sherrod Brown ruled out a Senate run and Rep. Tim Ryan leans against a race. Paul Hackett, the Marine reservist who ran an unexpectedly strong race in the Cincy-based 2nd District, might make the Senate race. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), with a paltry 45% approval rating and polls showing him trailing popular state Treasurer Bob Casey (D). Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I) got some help when the National Abortion Rights Action League forced popular pro-life Dem Rep. Langevin out of the race, but Chafee might get a primary challenger and if he gets past that he faces a tough race from the Dem primary winner, either Secretary of State Matt Brown or former AG Sheldon Whitehouse. Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) is in danger with a 48% approval rating and at least one poll showing 2004 Dem governor nominee Claire McCaskill in a dead heat with Talent as GOP ratings are in free-fall. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) in some trouble with a 50% rating but scandals pile up and Dems John Morrison, state auditor, and state Senate President Jon Tester prepare to challenge him. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) with 49% approval and re-elect also under 50 could be vulnerable from Jim Pederson (D), a real estate developer and former Dem chair; the open Tennessee seat Bill Frist is giving up to run for president, as Dems try to reverse a slide to the GOP with conservative Rep. Harold Ford and progressive state Sen. Rosalind Kurita planning Dem primary races. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) with an anemic 49% approval rating after he supported building a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain but no strong challenger stepping up yet and Minority Leader Harry Reid reportedly not pushing to cause trouble for his fellow Nevadan. Seemingly invulnerable, as Bowers ranks them, are George Allen (Va.) as long as Dem Gov. Mark Warner doesn't challenge him, Orrin Hatch (Utah), Kay Hutchinson (Texas), Trent Lott (Miss.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Craig Thomas (Wyo.).
Top Democratic Senate targets in 2006, according Bowers, include the Minnesota seat Mark Dayton is giving up, where Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) likely will face the winner of a Dem primary that includes Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar and child safety advocate Patty Wetterling, both of whom lead Kennedy in polls; the Maryland seat Paul Sarbanes is giving up, where R's hope right-wing black Michael Steele will peel off African-American votes in one of the most Democratic states against the winner of a Dem primary between Ben Cardin and former rep. and former NAACP president Kwesi Mfume; Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) who expects a well-funded challenge from Safeco CEO Mike McGavick; Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) is a political legend but at age 90 probably will get a strong challenge from ambitious Rep. Shelly Capito; Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has a high approval rating but expects a strong challenge from either former GOP chair David Kramer, Ameritrade CEO Peter Ricketts or former AG (and two-time Senate loser) Don Stenberg; the New Jersey seat Jon Corzine would give up if he wins governor this fall, as expected, with interested Dems including Reps. Frank Pallone, Rob Andrews, Rush Holt, Bob Menendez and Steve Rothman; Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has low approval ratings but things will look up if he faces Rep. Katherine Harris, the infamous former Florida secretary of state; Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) also has low approval ratings but high re-elect numbers and no strong challenger has come forward. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is popular but could have trouble if Gov. Jim Hoeven challenges him. Bowers counts as "seemingly invulnerable": Daniel Akaka (Hi.); Jeff Bingaman (N.M.); Tom Carper (Del.); Hillary Clinton (N.Y.); Dianne Feinstein (Calif.); Ted Kennedy (Mass.); Herb Kohl (Wis.); Joe Lieberman (Conn.); and Bernie Sanders, the progressive indy who is odds-on favorite to win the seat centrist indy Sen. Jim Jeffords is giving up in Vermont. "Overall, these races look a lot more fluid than the Democratic target seats," Bowers wrote. "There are still a lot of primaries and recruiting to be done. Also, Republicans will try and force Clinton to spend money in New York, but Pirro won't come within 25 points. Democratic blowouts in New York and California will more then offset a Republican blowout in Texas. Thus, in all likelihood, Democrats will take another Senate popular vote victory. That does not mean we will necessarily gain seats, however. Aaaarrrrgghh."
BUSH POPULARITY LOWER THAN NIXON'S: George W. Bush's overall job approval ratings dropped below 40% in August as more Americans recognized his invasion and occupation of Iraq have made the war on terrorism more difficult and resulted in higher gas prices. American Research Group reported 8/22/05 that 36% of respondents approved of the way Bush is handling his job as president while 58% disapprove. On the economy, 33% approve and 62% disapprove. ThinkProgress.org noted that these numbers were below Nixon's 39% approval ratings at the depths of the Watergate scandal in the summer of 1973.
Survey USA reported 8/5/05 that 41% approved of Bush while 55% disapproved. It found the highest disapproval in Rhode Island (68%), but found "red state" disapproval ratings of 60% in Ohio, 58% in Missouri, 57% in Nevada, 56% in Arkansas and 52% in Virginia. See surveyusa.com.
FUEL ECONOMY FINISHES LAST: In late July, the Environmental Protection Agency blocked release of an annual report on fuel economy on the eve of a final vote in Congress on energy legislation. The study showed that the average 2004 model car or truck got 20.8 miles per gallon, about 6% less than the 22.1 mpg of the average new vehicle sold in the late 1980's. Several attempts to strengthen fuel economy standards for SUVs, minivans and pickups were all rejected. Bush signed the energy bill, which gave away billions to the energy industry, on 8/8/05. Even the administration acknowledges the bill will do nothing to reduce gas prices, AmericanProgressAction.org reported.
The key to avoiding fuel efficiency standards is to classify every new and trendy "crossover" vehicle as a truck. Light trucks " are held to a lower average fuel efficiency standard -- 20.7 mpg as of model year 2003, compared to 27.5 mpg for cars. Manufacturers are also moving vehicles that were once classified as cars to the truck class to sell more of the large trucks on which profit margins have been so high. Today SUVs and other light-duty vehicles account for 40% of the nation's oil use. With only the smallest cars remaining in the "car class" there is no pressure to improve the efficiency of those vehicles either. New regulations set to be released later this month will create up to five classes of vehicles based on height and width. Sierra Club's Dan Becker told the New York Times (8/16/05) the upcoming proposal is "an invitation to game the system," AmericanProgressAction.org noted.
In 2003, Bush proposed extending fuel economy regulations to include Hummer H2's and other huge sport utility vehicles, which are now completely exempt. But as gas prices soar to record levels, the administration has abandoned the proposal. The exemption applies to vehicles weighing over 8,500 pounds. When it was created, vehicles of that weight were generally used for commercial purposes, but now hundreds of thousands sold each year are intended for family use. The exemption, along with potential tax breaks for consumers who purchase them, create powerful incentives to produce such vehicles.
The energy bill kept the tax break for Hummer buyers. It also included tax credits for buyers of hybrid cars -- which uses excess generating capacity to increase mileage and reduce emissions -- but limits the hybrid tax credits to the first 60,000 in any year. Since Toyota expects to sell more than 100,000 of its popular hybrid Prius, many who buy the cars late in the year will not qualify for the credits.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE SON: "Why didn't President Bush feel obligated to meet with Cindy Sheehan during his vacation?" ThinkProgress.org asked. It recalled this statement by his mother, Barbara Bush, on Good Morning America in March 2003: "Why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" ThinkProgress.org concluded: "The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree."
Thedailypick.blogspot.com noted that on 8/19/05 Bush broke Ronald Reagan's record of 335 vacation days, though the blogger noted that Reagan took eight years while Bush took less than five years. "And with another two weeks of vacation on tap, he's obviously not content with simply breaking the record, he's going to smoke that record right out of the hole."
SUIT: TYSON SEGREGATES WORKERS: The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a complaint 8/11/05 against Tyson Foods Inc. on behalf of black employees at the company's Ashland, Ala., plant who claim white workers posted a "Whites Only" sign on a locked bathroom at the facility, Associated Press reported. Thirteen African-American employees claim in the federal suit that keys to the bathroom were distributed only to white employees. According to the suit, plaintiffs were subjected to suspensions and disciplinary write-ups when they complained to management about the segregated bathroom. The plaintiffs also claim that white employees formed a private break room and constructed furniture using Tyson materials. "When I was young, my mother used to tell me stories about segregated bathrooms," stated Henry Adams, a plaintiff. "I never thought that her reality of 71 years ago would become my reality today." Plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (lawyerscommittee.org).
CRITIC: MAD COW INSPECTION RULES IGNORED: While the US Department of Agriculture and the beef industry claim the US regulatory system is adequate to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, the consumer group Public Citizen found significant lapses in the industry's compliance with federal rules. After inspecting 829 USDA "noncompliance records" (NRs) related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), Public Citizen found more than half the violations (460) occurred because slaughter plants did not have an adequate plan for dealing with BSE in their plant's food safety plan, as required by the USDA. Of those 460 violations, 60% described plans that contained no mention of BSE at all. Patty Lovera, deputy director of Public Citizen's food program, said, "If officials running a meat plant cannot be bothered to recognize the risk of BSE when writing their safety plan, how much of a priority is it in daily operations and training of staff?" Violations of rules about removal of high-risk materials, such as brains and spinal cords, most likely to be infectious, occurred at 131 plants in 35 states. Violations occurred through March 2005, long after the rules were issued in January 2004 after discovery of the first case of BSE in the US. In 10% of the NRs, plants incorrectly identified the age of cattle, which is a crucial step in proper removal of high-risk materials. Public Citizen also noted that after the chairman of the USDA meat inspectors union, Stan Painter, raised concerns about the agency's policy for ensuring that cattle age is properly determined, instead of investigating those concerns, the agency opened a misconduct investigation on Painter. See the report at citizen.org.
COURT OK'S CATTLE MONOPOLY: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta let stand a judge's order that overruled a jury's February 2004 award of $1.28 billion in damages for eight years of price manipulation by Tyson Fresh Meats. Some 30,000 cattle producers claimed Tyson used cattle contract buying strategies -- known as captive supplies -- to lower cattle prices in violation of the Packers & Stockyards Act. Tyson said they needed captive supply to maintain a consistent supply of cattle. The Organization for Competitive Markets (competitivemarkets.com) expressed its disappointment with the appeals court agreement with Tyson. "The appellate judges did not hear the testimony of the witnesses or sit through several weeks of trial," said Keith Mudd, OCM president. "Instead, they listened to one hour of argument and decided the jury was wrong." He added that the law did not justify price manipulation. "The court is writing words into the Packers & Stockyards Act that Congress did not choose to include when passing the Act in 1921. If this decision stands, the Act is virtually dead."
With USDA holding hearings around the country on the next farm bill, Mudd said the federal government needs to establish and enforce marketplace rules to increase choice, price and entrepreneurship for independent farmers.
KY. POWER PLANT STOPPED: The day after President Bush signed an energy bill giving massive subsidies for new coal-fired power plants, public health concerns in Kentucky stopped the largest coal-plant proposal in the US dead in its tracks. On 8/9/05, Kentucky State Hearing Officer Janet B. Thompson ruled that the Thoroughbred power plant, proposed in Kentucky, had not considered the most modern pollution reducing technology for its operation. She found that the proposed plant was not going far enough to reduce soot and smog pollution. The 1,500-megawatt plant is the largest new proposed coal-burning plant in the country and is part of a plan -- the Coal Rush -- to build 100 new plants in the next decade using old technology rather than cleaner, new ones. "This is a victory for all Americans who breathe the air, and shows that the Bush administration is moving in the wrong direction with its misguided energy policy. We need clean energy solutions, not more dirty coal plants that put our children at risk," said Bruce Nilles, Midwest Representative of the Sierra Club. Kentucky residents challenged Peabody's proposal because it did not use "Best Available Control Technology" (BACT) and would have added dangerous levels of soot and smog to the air endangering public health.
MEXICAN LABS FILL US 'METH' VOID: Once controlled by West Coast biker gangs or rural "cooks" working out of trailers in the Midwest, the trade in methamphetamine has been moving south in recent years, as two-thirds of the drug sold in the US now comes from Mexican gangs in California or Mexico, the Christian Science Moniter reported 8/16/05. Under political pressure, US pharmaceutical companies have begun reformulating their cold remedies to avoid using pseudoephedrine, one of the ingredients in meth, and 30 states have restricted pseudoephedrine sales in retail stores. "We have successfully moved to cut off the chemicals used to make meth in the US," says White House drug czar John Walters, "But that success in attacking the problem in one place has pushed it across the border."
The war on meth also claimed 49 convenience store clerks, most of them Indian immigrants, who were arrested by federal agents in Georgia this past spring on felony charges that they sold products that they should have known were used to manufacture methamphetamine. A government informant reportedly told a clerk of Indian descent that he needed cold tablets to complete a "cook," a slang term for making meth. (The informant, a convicted thief and forger, among other things mistakenly identified an Indian-American couple as clerks at convenience store in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., when they actually own a couple stores about 35 miles away in Tennessee.) Many of the clerks have limited command of English, and one of them, when asked how he would translate the phrase "finish my cook up," replied, "I would have thought that meant a barbecue."
Among the products that clerks are supposed to watch out for nowadays because they are used to prepare meth are: lye, matches, lantern fuel, household ammonia, baking soda, table and rock salt, iodine, antifreeze, brake fluid, engine starter, gun scrubber, MSM (an ingredient often combined with glucosamine and chondroitin in over-the-counter, nonprescription healthy joint tablets), kitty litter, coffee filters, aluminum foil, udder cream, propane tanks, funnels and rubber tubing.
"We are losing business, losing so much business," Malvika Patel told the Fulton County Daily Report. "I can say that we are afraid to sell anything. In forcing store owners to police legal sales, she said, "we have to make customers mad at us. We are afraid how to do business."
NEIGHBORS FORCE IOWA HOG LOT FINES: Factory farm owner Lawrence Handlos was ordered to pay $50,000 by the state of Iowa for environmental violations committed at several of his hog factory sites near Audubon, Iowa. As neighbors to Handlos' hog factories, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) members in Audubon County have been leading the call for strong enforcement action against Handlos for more than two years. A representative of the attorney general's office reportedly told CCI members that enforcement action would not have been taken without the involvement of citizens. "It's hard to put a dollar amount on the problems Handlos has created in our community," said Audubon family farmer and CCI member Sharlene Merk. "But we are really happy that some justice has finally been served." Handlos admitted to several violations including discharging manure into a tributary of a river; constructing buildings without required permits; and failing to install drainage tiles to lower the groundwater table at three of his hog factory sites. See iowacci.org.
MONSANTO FILES PIG PATENTS: Monsanto has filed patents in 160 nations for ... pigs. The World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva recently published the patent requests, which has left the pork industry squealing with contention. If approved, Monsanto would gain ownership of certain types of breeding techniques that are already in common use by farmers around the world. Although controversial, the profit incentive of this legal maneuver for Monsanto is enormous, as annual pork sales in the US, alone, are $38 billion annually. See organicconsumers.org/monsanto/pigs.cfm/.
CPW FARTS NO JOKE: Thanks to dense populations of cattle in California's heavily factory-farmed San Joaquin Valley, cow burps and flatulence are now creating more smog and greenhouse gases in the local area than cars, the Organic Consumers Association reported. Each of the valley's 2.5 million cows excretes nearly 20 pounds of gas per day, causing new policy debates between air quality regulators and the dairy industry. "This is not some arcane dispute about cow gases," said Brent Newell, an attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. "We are talking about a public health crisis. It's not funny to joke about cow burps and farts when one in six children in Fresno schools is carrying an inhaler." See organicconsumers.org/OFGU/gases080305.cfm/.
SOCIALIST SECURITY: The Republican Party from Rep. Ron Kind's (D) 3rd District in Wisconsin in August blasted Kind for celebrating the 70th birthday of the "Socialist Ponzi scheme" Social Security, Josh Marshall reported at TalkingPointsMemo.com.
COURT OK'S ABORTION DUN: The federal government need not pay for an abortion received by a sailor's wife, even though doctors said the fetus had a birth defect and could not survive, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 8/18/05. The woman got an abortion in 2002 after she learned that her fetus had no forebrain or cerebellum, a fatal condition known as anencephaly. Because her husband was in the Navy, the woman was covered under the military's health plan, Tricare. But Tricare administrators said they were barred from paying, because federal law prohibits payment for abortions except "where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term." The couple had an annual income of less than $20,000 and could not afford the charge of $3,000 for the abortion. The couple sued, and in 2002 a judge ordered Tricare to cover the costs, allowing the abortion to go forward. The government appealed to get its money back from the couple. The Justice Department argued that the congressional restriction furthered the government's interest in protecting human life and warned against a "slippery slope" if courts tried to determine which abnormalities warranted an abortion.