Sen. Russell Feingold visited Austin (4/18/06) to campaign for progressive populist Democrat John Courage's challenge of Rep. Lamar Smith (R). After his re-election in 2004, Feingold, D-Wis., founded the Progressive Patriots Fund (progressivepatriotsfund.com) to support progressive candidates around the country. He said Texas District 21, which includes parts of Austin, the Hill Country and San Antonio and went 61% for Bush in 2004, is the sort of district where Dems should fight.
Courage (see courageforcongress.org), a schoolteacher and Air Force veteran from San Antonio, agreed with most of Feingold's positions, such as a call for voluntary public financing of congressional campaigns, using Arizona and Maine as a model; support for guaranteed health care for all Americans, which would remove health insurance responsibility from businesses; support for alternative energy resources; opposition to "free trade" agreements that are negotiated for the benefit of major corporations with little concern for labor or environmental regulations; support for higher education; and a paper trail for electronic voting machines.
On his resolution to censure the president, Feingold said many fellow Democrats in Washington distanced themselves and called it "a terrible idea," until they went home and found out their consituents liked the idea. That's why elected officials need to get out of Washington and listen to the people, as he has done in more than 1,000 sessions in Wisconsin.
Some criticize that censure amounts to a "slap on the wrist," but Feingold noted that it has not been done since the Senate paassed a censure resolution against President Andrew Jackson in 1834. (The censure was rescinded by a later Senate.)
"I think the president has committed what the Founders called "high crimes and misdemeanors ... I think he probably has committed impeachable offenses, but it may not be enough to bring impeachment," he said. So he pursued censure to at least call Bush to account. "I respect the office and I respect the man but I care about our system of government and we can't just let it go."
To overcome voter apathy, he said, Democrats need to show the party stands for something. "If you think the war is wrong, then vote against it. If the president breaks the law, let's make a statement with a censure resolution that says we oppose the violation of the rule of law. ... If people believe the Democrats are standing up for what they believe in, they'll be excited about getting out to vote. But as it stands now, they feel the Democratic Party lets the Republicans get away with murder."
Feingold said he would wait until after this fall's election before he looks at a possible race for president. "I love being a senator from Wisconsin, but people ask me, 'Can we have a progressive candidate for president,' so I'll be looking at that possibility," he said.
DEMS PROBE WHITE HOUSE PHONE JAMMING LINK: A criminal case involving Republican dirty tricks to suppress voter turnout in a 2002 US Senate election in New Hampshire may reach to the White House. Republican John Sununu beat Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, helping Republicans retake control of the Senate, but state prosecutors found that New Hampshire Republicans paid a consulting company $15,600 to obstruct phone lines so that Democratic voters could not get rides to the polls, Bloomberg News reported 4/24/06. Dozens of phone calls to the White House were made by James Tobin -- who led the Republican National Committee's New England effort in 2002 and later became the region's director for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign of 2004 -- was convicted in December of conspiracy to commit telephone harassment in the case. The Republican Party has paid more than $6 mln in legal bills, according to the Senate Majority Project (senatemajority.com). Democrats say that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff may even be involved, as they found that two of the Abramoff's Indian-tribe clients cut checks to the New Hampshire GOP roughly equal to the costs of the phone jamming. Dems have asked state Judge Philip Mangones to allow them to question Ken Mehlman, who was White House political director in 2002 and is now chairman of the Republican National Committee.
ENVIROS LIKE CHAFEE: The League of Conservation Voters endorsed US Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., after he scored 90% on the environmental scorecard. But Markos Moulistsas of DailyKos.com noted that the scorecard did not include Bush's judicial nominees, such as Janice Rogers Brown on the D.C. Appeals Court and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court, for whom Chafee voted despite LCV opposition. Kos also noted that Chafee voted for the infamous bankruptcy bill, which Sierra Club's Carl Pope noted in April made it harder for ordinary families to declare bankruptcy also made it easier for multinational polluters to get out of cleaning up their mess.
GASOLINE ALLEY: The average household uses about 1,100 gallons of gasoline per year and has a median income of about $44,000, Kevin Drum figured at WashingtonMonthly.com (4/22/06). Take out 20% for taxes and that's a disposable income of $35,000. At three bucks a gallon the average household spends 10% of its disposable income on gasoline. While the White House lately has been denying that anyone in the administration claimed the Iraq war would lead to lower gas prices, ThinkProgress.org noted (4/19/06) that Laurence Lindsey, Bush's senior economic advisor at the time, said in 2002 that "regime change in Iraq would facilitate an increase in world oil" and tend to drive down prices as a result. Crude oil was going for $29 a barrel when Congress approved the use-of-force resolution for Iraq in October 2002. It hovered around $75 a barrel 4/24/06. Drum concluded: "There's a substantial segment of the population that spends a very big chunk of their income on gasoline, and in the past 12 months they've seen gasoline prices increase by 50% -- and that's at a time when household income has been decreasing for five years running and household debt is already sky high. They're probably pretty pissed that that whole Iraq business didn't work out quite the way it was supposed to."
BATTLING INSURANCE INDUSTRY: Cathy Seipp, a writer for the conservative National Review who contracted cancer several years ago, writes in the 4/23/06 Los Angeles Times that if we're in the market for a health insurance policy, we should pay close attention to the policy's out-of-pocket cap. Hers jumped recently from $5,000 to $7,500 in a single year: By law, insurance companies aren't allowed to raise your monthly premiums just because you get sick. But they can raise the out-of-pocket cap for all of their members anytime they like, which amounts to the same thing because it affects only the sick members.
"Policy wonks keep arguing about market competition and consumer choice. But healthcare for the sick isn't a market because choice disappears. You can't shop around for generic drugs when you have cancer. Whatever chemical treatment the doctor suggests, it almost certainly will be a brand name costing several thousand dollars a month," Seipp noted. "... [My latest] oncologist's report clarifies what is the crux of my current problem with Blue Cross -- and the problem any health insurance company has with cancer patients who just don't hurry up and die already. These new therapies may be great for humanity but not for WellPoint [Blue Cross' parent company] executives who don't like the thought of a $2.5-billion annual profit reduced to, say, $2.499 billion."
At WashingtonMonthly.com, Kevin Drum notes (4/23/06): "One of the reasons America spends so much more than any other country on healthcare is because upwards of 30% of our expenditures are for paper shuffling by insurance companies doing their best to deny treatment whenever possible. By contrast, administrative costs in countries where there's only one paper shuffler -- and it's not trying to make a profit from its shuffling -- are closer to 10%. Battling cancer is bad enough. Why should cancer patients have to battle private insurance companies as well?"
DEMS TRY TO KEEP IT SIMPLE: At the Democratic National Committee's spring meeting 4/22/06 in New Orleans, Chairman Howard Dean laid out a six-point Democratic agenda: Raising the minimum wage, tax fairness for the middle class, "a complete ban on gifts and travel from lobbyists," inspection of all cargo coming into US ports, fixing the Medicare drug plan and "transition" in Iraq. It's part of a concerted effort to explain in plain and simple terms what Democrats stand for. DailyKos.com noted 4/22/06 that last fall, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, laid out a five-point plan that included (1) making college education affordable for every American; (2) holding a summit to fix the budget; (3) achieving energy independence in part by switching to a hybrid economy; (4) creating an institute on science and technology to spur American innovation; and (5) universal health care. In April, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., also described in plain terms the Democratic agenda: "Tell the truth. Fire the incompetents. Find Osama bin Laden and secure our ports and our homeland. Bring our troops home from Iraq. Obey the law and protect our civil rights." Stretching it past a dozen points, he added support for health care, education, lobbying reform and alternatives to oil, as well as reducing the deficit.
VULNERABLE SENATORS: Seven GOP senators runnng for re-election this year were below 50%, according to Survey USA poll released 4/20/06: Jon Kyl, Ariz., with 45%; Conrad Burns, Mont., 39%; Rick Santorum, Pa., 39%; Jim Talent, Mo., 48%; Mike DeWine, Ohio, 48%; George Allen, Va., 49%; and Jon Ensign, Nev., 49%. Burns (52%) and Santorum (53%) had disapproval ratings over 50%. Dems need a net gain of six seats to regain the majority, but endangered Dems include Bob Menendez, N.J., 40%; Debbie Stabenow, Mich., 45%; Maria Cantwell, Wash., 48%; and Bill Nelson, Fla., 48%. Joe Lieberman has 57% overall but only 54% in the Democratic primary, where he faces progressive challenger Ned Lamont, a cable company executive. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., was the most popular senator with 73% approval. See surveyusa.com.
ESTATE TAX REPEAL CRITICIZED: Estate tax repeal will cost $1 tln over the next decade, making the tax break for the nation's wealthiest citizens impractical, unnecessary, and too costly. While supporters of the tax break claim it will help family farmers, Robert Carlson, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union cited US Department of Agriculture figures that show that the estate tax affects less than 1% of family farms. Besides gaining no real benefit from repeal of the estate tax, Carlson explained, family farmers would face a very real tax increase, since farmers (and many others) would have to pay capital gains taxes on some farm estates. "There would be many more losers than gainers among the farm community and family farms and ranchers if the estate tax were to be eliminated," Carlson said at a news conference sponsored by OMB Watch (ombwatch.org).
FRENCH LABOR'S UNTOLD STORY: With all the hooplah in the US press about the need to weaken French labor law, David Howell and John Schmitt of the Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School took a look and found that the unemployment to population ratio for male youth in the US was 8.3%, compared with 8.6% in France. The official unemployment rate in France is higher than the US because more French youth are enrolled in college, hence not in the labor force, while US college students are more likely to have part-time jobs. As Max Sawicky noted (4/21/06): "The neo-liberal social policy lesson being trumpeted from all the rooftops of conventional wisdom, kids, is you're much better off in college if you have to work some crap job at the same time." Howell and Schmitt noted that in 2000, the share of young adults (20-24) neither in school nor employed was 14.1% in France and 14.4% in the US.
'RIOTER' GETS WHITE HOUSE POLICY POST: Joel Kaplan, the man Bush tapped to fill Karl Rove's spot as his policy chief, is one of those Washington GOP operatives who took part in the "Brooks Brothers Riot" of 2000 that tried to intimidate officials engaged in the Florida recount effort, Justin Rood reported 4/19/06 at tpmmuckraker.com. Al Kamen reported 1/24/05 in the Washington Post that the "rioters," who claimed to be "local protesters" but actually were mostly Republican House aides from Washington, chanted "Stop the fraud!" and "Let us in!" when the local election board tried to move the re-counting from an open conference room to a smaller space. They proudly note their participation on resumes and in interviews. Matt Schlapp, a former House aide and then a Bush campaign aide, rose to be White House political director. Garry Malphrus, a former staff director of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice, is now deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. And Rory Cooper, who was at the National Republican Congressional Committee, later worked at the White House Homeland Security Council and worked for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Most others became lobbyists. Carol Rosenberg reported in the Miami Herald 7/14/02 that among the nearly 200 GOP lawyers who worked in Florida on the recount fight was John Bolton. His role, on Saturday, 12/9/00, was to burst into a library where workers were recounting Miami-Dade ballots to relay news of the US Supreme Court's stay in the on-again, off-again presidential recount and stop the count. "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count," he was quoted as saying in news reports at the time. In the Bush administration he was undersecretary of state for arms control before Bush named him ambassator to the UN.
POLITICAL LOYALTY OATH: The firing of Mary McCarthy, a senior CIA official who is accused of leaking information to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest about the CIA's secret prisons, may turn out to be an explosive story, David Corn noted 4/22/06 at davidcorn.com, especially if the Bush administration pursues criminal charges against her. He spotted an interesting tidbit at the end of a Washington Post piece on the arrest: "The White House also has recently barraged the agency with questions about the political affiliations of some of its senior intelligence officers, according to intelligence officials." Corn notes, "Seems to me this deserves more than a sentence. Is there now a partisan loyalty oath at the CIA?" McCarthy was a senior official of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and worked for the CIA's inspector general, where she apparently investigated reports of torture of US detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was fired 10 days before her planned retirement. McCarthy's lawyer has denied that she is the source of the Post story. Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted that when former US Rep. Porter Goss took over as Director of Central Intelligence he installed a number of GOP political operatives, including Jennifer Millerwise Dyck as head of CIA Public Affairs. Previously she was a flack from the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, she had worked for Goss on the Hill, and for Ari Fleischer at the House Ways and Means Committee before that. "The administration's response to the ills of the intelligence agencies has been to further politicize them, to put them under more reliable political control. And that's not surprising either since, from the White House perspective, the failures of the intelligence agencies weren't not getting it right on WMD and other issues," Marshall wrote. "It was getting it more right and then wrong and then talking about what had happened to the press.
Meanwhile, a federal judge has approved a defense request to subpoena Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and three other government officials in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are charged with receiving and disclosing national defense information. Rosen's lawyer said Rice leaked national defense information to a pro-Israel lobbyist in the same manner that landed former Pentagon official Lawrence A. Franklin a 12-year prison sentence.
CIA RETIREE CONFIRMS INTEL COVERUP: Tyler Drumheller, the now-retired CIA officer who was head of covert operations in Europe during the lead-up to the Iraq War, confirmed on *60 Minutes* that most folks in the intelligence community didn't think there was anything to the Niger-uranium story. He also noted that the White House was really excited when the CIA managed to turn Naji Sabri, Iraq's foreign minister, before the war broke out. Sabri lost the White House when he admitted that Saddam Hussein didn't have any active WMD programs. So Josh Marshall (TalkingPointsMemo.com) wondered why we didn't hear about this in the reports of those Iraq intel commissions that gave the White House a clean bill of health on distorting the intel and misleading the country about what we knew about Iraq's alleged WMD programs. Drumheller told Marshall he was interviewed by the Robb-Silverman Commission three times, and he told them everything he told *60 Minutes*. He was also interviewed twice by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Roberts Committee). "Now, quite a few of us have been arguing for almost two years now that those reports were fundamentally dishonest in the story they told about why we were so badly misled in the lead up to war. The fact that none of Drumheller's story managed to find its way into those reports, I think, speaks volumes about the agenda that the writers of those reports were pursuing. Drumheller told Marshall he was "stunned" when so little of the stuff he had told the commission and the committee's investigators ended up in their reports. His colleagues, he said, were equally "in shock" that so little of what they related ended up in the reports either. "What Drumheller has to say adds quite a lot to our knowledge of what happened in the lead up to war. But what it shows even more clearly is that none of this stuff has yet been investigated by anyone whose principal goal is not covering for the White House," Marshall wrote.