George W. Bush told a German newspaper his best moment in more than five years in office was catching a 7.5-pound fish in his stocked pond near Crawford, Texas. "You know, I've experienced many great moments and it's hard to name the best," Bush told the weekly Bild am Sonntag when asked about his high point since becoming president in January 2001. "I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5-pound (3.402 kilos) [bass] in my lake," he told the newspaper in an interview published 5/7. The newspaper apparently mistranslated the fish as a perch, but Americablog.blogspot.com noted 5/8 that the world record for freshwater perch is 4 pounds, 3 ounces. "So Bush either doubled the world record, and didn't report it, or he's a liar."
The White House later corrected the claimed trophy to a largemouth bass, but it left questions unanswered. A commenter at Americablog wondered if it was one of those bass that sing "Take Me to the River." Dispatches contacted Shannon Tompkins, outdoors writer for the Houston Chronicle, who said a 7.5-pound bass would be "chump change" in a state where the record is more than 18 pounds. "If that's the high point of your fishing career, much less your administration, you might want to aim a little higher," Tompkins suggested. He added, "Now in Connecticut, where he's from, that would be a big bass."
Upyernoz.blogspot.com compared Bush's best moment, catching a fish, with those of two of his predecessors: Jimmy Carter: the Camp David negotiations; and Bill Clinton, resolution of the Kosovo crisis.
With achievements like that, it's no wonder Bush's approval rating slumped to 31% in a USA Today/Gallup Poll (5/8), a new low for his administration. His disapproval rating hit a record 65%.
"This administration may be over," Lance Tarrance, a chief architect of the Republicans' 1960s and '70s Southern strategy, told a gathering of journalists and political wonks in Washington. "By and large, if you want to be tough about it, the relevancy of this administration on policy may be over."
A poll in late April by RT Strategies, the firm headed by Tarrance and Democratic pollster Thomas Riehle, showed that 59% of Americans disapprove of Bush's job performance, while 36% approve -- a finding in line with other recent polls. An overwhelming 73% of independents disapprove of Bush's performance, and two-thirds of those "strongly disapprove."
SENATE R'S VULNERABLE: Chuck Todd of Hotline thinks the Senate is more vulnerable than the House for a Democratic takeover this year. He noted that Senate races are susceptible to national breezes, as a wind blowing in one party's direction made a big difference in the four previous election cycles. With Dems needing six seats to gain he majority, he wrote, "Assuming the pattern we've picked up on holds, no more than 12 seats will be in play going into the final weekend of the cycle. And the odds are the top-ranked race in our final rankings will be considered a no-brainer by that time. For the sake of this argument, Democrats can consider one seat theirs before any votes are cast. So now the party needs to net five seats out of the races we've ranked 2 through 13 in order to gain control. There are six Republican seats in that group, and if Democrats have a good election night (i.e., just a breeze), it's likely they'll win nine of these 12 races. And that would net them, at the worst, another three seats for a four-seat gain. For those wondering, that's the number many handicappers are tossing around right now when pressed about an 'all things being equal' election scenario." Todd's top 12 races, in order of vulnerability, include Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.; Jim Talent, R-Mo.; Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.; the seat vacated by Sen. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn.; Mike DeWine, R-Ohio; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; the seat vacated by Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.; the seat vacated by Bill Frist, R-Tenn.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Bob Menendez, D-N.J.; and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Jay Cost of RealClearPolitics.com has noted that ever since direct elections for the Senate began, the House has never switched hands without the Senate either switching to the same party or staying in the hands of the successful party. But Cost believes the the GOP will hold onto both.
A new Democratic strategy memo from James Carville and Stan Greenberg says discontent with Republicans "has moved now to a new level" and that the GOP's motivation in pushing an immigration bill is "to consolidate and energize their voters in a near lethal environment." Politicalwire.com noted key findings from a new survey: Among self-identified Republicans, 40% say the country is headed in the wrong direction and 24% want to go "in a significantly different direction than Bush." In red counties, those carried by Bush in 2004, 64% say the country is headed in the wrong direction and Republican have only a 48% to 43% lead in the races for Congress. In white rural areas, 61% say wrong direction; and amazingly, Democrats and Republicans are running even in the races for both the House and Senate. To further exploit this fractured GOP base, Carville and Greenberg advise Democrats to also use the immigration issue by offering "realistic solutions to this big problem. This means addressing acculturation and English requirements for citizenship, enforcement and a respect for the law, and paths to citizenship for the law-abiding. They also will do well attacking the Bush administration for failing to enforce the law at the borders and with employers."
HOUSE DEMS LOOK GOOD IN POLL: An AP-Ipsos poll (5/5) found that 51% of Americans want Democrats to control Congress, while 34% favor Republicans. Dems need to pick up 15 seats to regain the majority. That might not sound like much, but computer-aided gerrymandering of House districts has made it exceedingly difficult under normal situations to upset incumbent Congress members. Democrats are hoping voter dissatisfaction with White House incompetence and corruption in House Republican leadership will lead to upsets this fall.
Democrats hope to strongly challenge for at least 50 Republican seats, while they expect fewer than 10 Democratic seats to face strong challenges. Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, told the Post his most expansive estimate classifies 40 Republican seats as unsafe, while 12 Democrats are unsafe. But, he said, only a tidal wave would dislodge the incumbent party from many of those seats, and more realistically, 30 Republican seats and five Democratic districts are vulnerable.
GOP DITCHES MID-INCOME TAX CUTS, FOCUS ON RICH: As Republicans face the prospect of losing control of one or both chambers of Congress, they plan to extend tax breaks that benefit the wealthy and Wall Street at the expense of reductions for middle-income households, Bloomberg News reported 5/8. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois are focusing on extending the 15% rate on investments and repealing the estate tax. They won't push extensions of lower rates for all taxpayers and expanded breaks for married couples and families with children, which expire after 2010. "In politics, timing is everything; you do what you can when you can, and this is what's queued up right now,"' says Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
PHARMAS WROTE VACCINE BREAK: Last December, Senate Majority Leader Bill First (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) inserted a provision in the Defense appropriations bill that granted vaccine manufactures near-total immunity for injuries or deaths (even in cases of "gross negligence") caused by their drugs during a viral pandemic, such as an outbreak of the avian flu. The legislation was "worth billions of dollars" to a small group of drug makers. The provision was inserted in the dead of the night, after House and Senate conferees had agreed the provision would not be included in the bill. According to Roll Call, the brazen move was completely unprecedented. A new report from Public Citizen (citizen.org) reveals that vaccine-industry lobbyists essentially wrote the provision themselves. Pharmaceutical and biotech industrialists gave $465,000 to Hastert, $332,207 and $414,188 to Richard Burr, R-N.C., who drafted a similar liability shield bill that served as a predecessor to the text Frist slipped into the bill with Hastert's approval. Another key component: the vaccine industry was represented by a lobbying team that included three former Frist staffers and Dennis Hastert's son, Joshua Hastert. (Thinkprogress.org.)
USDA DRAFTED INTO IRAQ WAR: President Bush has likened his war in Iraq to World War III and he apparently is mobilizing his administration to spread the propaganda. Al Kamen reported in the 5/8/06 Washington Post US Department of Agriculture staffers were stunned to receive emailed instructions to include Bush administration "talking points" on Iraq in every speech they give for the department. "The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches, including specific examples of what each agency is doing to aid the reconstruction of Iraq," the 5/2 email from USDA speechwriter Heather Vaughn began. Political appointees were instructed to send the USDA's director of speechwriting a weekly report on each speech incorporating recommended talking points, which "will be included in a weekly account sent to the White House."
OUTGOING, INCOMING CIA CHIEFS' SCANDAL LINKS: Porter Goss quit as CIA director in a hurry on 5/5 amid allegations that he and a top aide may have attended Watergate poker parties where bribes and prostitutes were provided to a corrupt congressman. The CIA's investigator general and the FBI reportedly are probing ties of CIA Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo with Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor was was identified as an unindicted co-conspirator when US Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-San Diego) pleaded guilty in a bribery scandal. The New York Daily News reported 5/6 that Wilkes sponsored poker parties at the Watergate and other hotels and may have been involved in a scheme to provide prostitutes to Cunningham and others. Foggo quit on 5/8, shortly after Bush named Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former National Security Agency director and deputy director of national intelligence, to succeed Goss as CIA chief.
TPMMuckraker.com reported (5/8) that Hayden, while at NSA, contracted the services of a top executive at MZM Inc., another company at the center of the Cunningham bribery scandal. Hayden contracted with MZM for the services of Lt. Gen. James C. King, then a senior vice president of the company, the website reported. MZM was owned and operated by Mitchell Wade, who has admitted to bribing Cunningham with $1.4 mln in money and gifts. Wade has also reportedly told investigators he helped arrange for prostitutes to entertain the disgraced lawmaker, and he continues to cooperate with a federal inquiry into the matter. King has not been implicated in the growing scandal. However, he contributed to some of Wade's favored lawmakers, including $6,000 to Rep. Virgil Goode (D-Va.) and $4,000 to Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.).
STUDY: FOX SWUNG FLA.: Two economists found that George Bush owes his controversial win in 2000 not only to the Supreme Court but also to the growth of the Fox cable news network. "Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its audience to shift its voting behavior towards the Republican Party, a sizable media persuasion effect," said Stefano DellaVigna of the University of California at Berkeley and Ethan Kaplan of Stockholm University. In Florida alone, they estimate, the Fox effect may have produced more than 10,000 additional votes for Bush -- clearly a decisive factor in a state he carried by fewer than 600 votes. Richard Morin of the Washington Post noted 5/4 that Fox News debuted in 1996 as a competitor to CNN and four years later was available to about one in five Americans. That allowed DellaVigna and Kaplan to compare changes in the Republican vote share from 1996 to 2000 in 9,256 cities and towns where Fox News was introduced. They also examined election data from 2004.
GOP TARGETS STATE HEALTH REGS: Republicans are promoting a bill in Congress to override state laws that regulate insurance companies. The "Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act" (S.1955), sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is supposed to expand health care access and reduce costs, but Ron Pollack, executive director of the national consumer health organization Families USA, noted that Enzi's bill leaves consumers at the mercy of health insurance companies by overriding a range of state laws that protect consumers and regulate insurance company behavior. Fundamental consumer protections that would be pre-empted in at least 20 states include cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer screenings; mammograms; mental health care; well-child care; emergency services; alcoholism treatment; dental anesthesia; diabetic supplies and education; drug abuse treatment; metabolic disorders; and home health care. The Families USA report, available at familiesusa.org, also shows that the Enzi bill would increase the cost of insurance for small businesses with older and sicker workers. Insurers would be allowed to charge small businesses as much as 67% more for premiums if some of their workers are in less-than-perfect health.
PATRONAGE RULES BUSH CONTRACTS: In case you were wondering, US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson admitted that patronage rules government contracts in the Bush administration. In a 4/28 talk in Dallas at a forum sponsored by the Real Estate Executive Council, Jackson said he denied an advertising contract that had been approved for a minority-owned business after the businessman admitted to Jackson that he did not like President Bush. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president?" Jackson said at the forum, according to the Dallas Business Journal (5/5). "Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."
ThinkProgress.org noted that Jackson's conduct appears to be in violation of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, 48 CFR 3.101-1: "Government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach and, except as authorized by statute or regulation, with complete impartiality and with preferential treatment for none. Transactions relating to the expenditure of public funds require the highest degree of public trust and an impeccable standard of conduct."
GAO FAULTS MEDICARE DRUG INFO: Information provided by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services about the complicated new drug benefit is rife with problems, the US Government Accountability Office reported. According to a report by the investigative arm of Congress released 5/3, the federal handbooks, website and Medicare hotline failed to provide information that was "consistently clear, complete, accurate, and usable." Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., ranking member on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said the report "confirms what we've heard from people across America ... More often than not, operators at 1-800-Medicare are giving incomplete or inaccurate information to people asking for help selecting a plan." He said the report reinforces the need to extend the May 15 enrollment deadline and waive the late enrollment penalty.
MORE BAD NEWS FOR HOUSE GOP: Prosecutors have emails showing Rep. Tom DeLay's office knew lobbyist Jack Abramoff arranged the financing for the GOP leader's controversial European golfing trip in 2000 and was concerned "if someone starts asking questions," the Associated Press reported 5/6. House ethics rules bar lawmakers from accepting free trips from lobbyists. DeLay, R-Texas, reported to Congress that an advocacy group had paid for the spring 2000 trip that DeLay, his wife and top aides took to Scotland and England.
Neal Volz, former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, pleaded guilty 5/8 in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, admitting he participated in a conspiracy to corrupt Ney, other members of Congress and their aides with trips, free tickets and meals.
NPR's Mara Liasson thinks Democrats share the Republican lobbyist's disgrace, saying on Fox News Sunday 5/7 that members of both parties accepted money from Abramoff, who has pled guilty to fraud, public corruption and tax evasion. However, ThinkProgress.org noted that Abramoff has never contributed a dime to a Democrat. Some of Abramoff's clients contributed to Democrats but an analysis commissioned by The American Prospect found that, after hiring Abramoff, most clients "dramatically ratcheted up donations to Republicans." Meanwhile, "donations to Democrats from the same clients either dropped, remained largely static or, in two cases, rose by a far smaller percentage than the ones to Republicans did."
'LIFERS' AIM AT BIRTH CONTROL: Now that abortion opponents see a chance to get the Supreme Court to strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortions, they are more open about the next goal: to outlaw contraception. Russell Shorto wrote in the 5/7 New York Times Magazine ("Contra-Contraception") that social conservatives have broadened the "pro-life" campaign to also target the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut case that legalized birth control. "We see a direct connection between the practice of contraception and the practice of abortion," says Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, an organization that has battled abortion for 27 years but that, like others, now has a larger mission. "The mind-set that invites a couple to use contraception is an antichild mind-set," she said. While the American Life League is a Catholic organization, evangelical Protestant organizations have also joined the movement. Organizations like the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, which inject a mixture of religion and medicine into the social sphere, operate from a broadly Christian perspective that includes opposition to some forms of birth control. President Bush in 2002 named Dr. Joseph B. Stanford, an opponent of contraception, to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. Following the will of conservative Christian groups, the Bush administration has steadily moved the federal family-planning program in the direction of an abstinence-only-until-marriage program and resisted the approval of an emergency contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy. Some conservative groups and Republicans in Congress have waged a campaign against condoms in recent years, arguing that they are not as safe as believed. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D.Y., has sent four letters to the president since last July asking if he supported the right to use contraception, and has not received a response.
AIR FORCE PROBES GOP GENERAL'S FUNDRAISING: The Air Force is investigating whether a two-star general violated military regulations by urging fellow Air Force officers to make campaign contributions to a Republican candidate for Congress in Colorado, the Washington Post reported 5/6. Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr., who is on active duty at Langley Air Force Base, sent the fundraising appeal on 5/4 from his official email account to more than 200 fellow members of the Air Force Academy's class of 1976, many of whom are also on active duty. "We are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress," Catton wrote. Defense Department rules prohibit active-duty officers from using their position to solicit campaign contributions or seek votes for a particular candidate. An Air Force spokesman said that "appropriate officials are inquiring into the facts surrounding these emails."
HMO PUT PATIENTS AT RISK: In mid-2004, more than 1,500 Kaiser Permanente patients awaiting kidney transplants in Northern California got form letters that forced them to change the course of their treatment. Kaiser would no longer pay for transplants at outside hospitals, even established programs with thousands of successes. Instead, adult patients would be transferred to a new transplant center run by Kaiser itself -- the first ever opened by the nation's largest HMO. Within months after Kaiser's kidney program in San Francisco started up, its waiting list ranked among the longest in the country. No other center had ever put together such a list so fast. The patients didn't know it, but their odds of getting a kidney had plummeted. Kaiser's massive rollout in Northern California endangered patients, forcing them into a fledgling program unprepared to handle the caseload, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation based on statistical analyses, confidential documents and dozens of interviews, reported 5/3. In 2005, the program's first full year, Kaiser performed only 56 transplants, while twice that many people on the waiting list died, according to a Times analysis of national transplant statistics. At transplant centers statewide, the pattern was the reverse: More than twice as many people received kidneys than died.
AMERICANS SICKER THAN BRITS: White, middle-aged Americans --even those who are rich -- are far less healthy than their peers in England, according to stunning new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that has experts scratching their heads. Americans had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and cancer -- findings that held true no matter what income or education level. This despite the fact that US health care spending is double what England spends on each of its citizens. The study adds context to the already-known fact that the US spends $5,200 per person on health care -- more than any other industrialized nation -- yet trails in rankings of life expectancy. Only non-Hispanic whites were included in the study to eliminate the influence of racial disparities. The researchers looked only at people ages 55 through 64, and the average age of the samples was the same.
ICE CAPS TURN TO DESERT: Global warming is rapidly melting the ice-bound roof of the world, and turning it into desert, leading scientists have revealed. The Chinese Academy of Sciences -- the country's top scientific body -- has announced that glaciers of the Tibetan plateau are vanishing so fast that they will be reduced by 50% every decade. Each year enough water permanently melts from them to fill the entire Yellow River. The vast environmental changes brought about by the process will increase droughts and sandstorms over the rest of the country, and devastate many of the world's greatest rivers, in what experts warn will be an "ecological catastrophe," the London Independent reported 5/7.