Republicans hope population shifts from the North to Sun Belt states will help them in future House races and enlarge the GOP's electoral count in presidential elections, Donald Lambro wrote in the 1/8/07 Washington Times. Election Data Services, a firm that studies how population shifts affect redistricting changes under congressional reapportionment, said that population shifts since the 2000 census would cost House seats in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa and Louisiana, gain one seat each in Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, and gain two seats in Texas.
Polidata, a Virginia-based demographic and political research firm, projects even larger "probable changes" by the 2010 census, as 13 seats could shift among 19 states, with eight gainers and 11 losers. "All the gainers are in the South and West and all the losers are in the East and Midwest except Louisiana," the Polidata study said. "Biggest gainers" would be Texas, with four additional seats, two seats each in Florida and Arizona and one each in Georgia, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The biggest losers would be New York and Ohio, with two seats each. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Louisiana each would lose one. House seat shifts will not take place until after the 2010 census, when states redraw congressional boundaries in time for the 2012 elections.
However, the supposed GOP advantage is uncertain, as political analyst Rhodes Cook noted that the demographics of the migration is unknown. "Some of them could be more affluent white conservatives, but they might be Hispanics who tend to vote more Democratic."
Don Rose noted in the Chicago Tribune 12/26/06 that demographic change is working to the Democrats' advantage as more and more Latinos and Asians register and vote. Republicans made inroads into the Latino vote in 2004, capturing close to 45% for George W. Bush, but blew it this year with anti-immigrant campaigning. Dems won 70% of the Latino vote and are likely to gain more in years ahead. "This is a factor not only in the Southwest, but also in the Midwest.
Republicans will have to defend 21 of the 33 Senate seats up in 2008, including several vulnerable senators such as Minnesota's Norm Coleman, New Hampshire's John Sununu and Colorado's Wayne Allard. They also face the possible retirement of several senators, leaving open seats that always are more competitive.
Rose, a political consultant in Chicago, noted that the Southwest and Rocky Mountain states are going "purple if not blue." Montana now has two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor. Democrats have governorships and are making new gains in Arizona and New Mexico. Colorado and Nevada are showing early symptoms of similar change.
"Those shifts are due in large part to the increasing Latino vote, but also because of political change. In the growing suburban areas around Phoenix, Denver and elsewhere, the hard-line, right-wing issues such as opposing stem-cell research are turning many moderate voters from red to blue. Arizona voters actually rejected an anti-gay-marriage referendum question. We've seen those factors turn Illinois as well as most of New England into solidly Democratic states," Rose wrote.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told the New York Daily News (1/7/07) that 11 of the 12 incumbent Democrats have agreed to run for re-election, with Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin uncommitted.
At home, Harkin, if officially undeclared, has suggested he's looking forward to ending another ambitious Republican congressman's career in 2008. Rep. Steve King, a right-wing immigrant basher from western Iowa, is said to be considering a race. Also, it appears any commitment by Sen. Tim Johnson (S.D.) to run for re-election would have been before his brain surgery and therefore might be reconsidered. It also assumes Sens. John Kerry (Mass.) and Joe Biden (Del.) and possibly others will be seeking re-election in addition to the White House.
FOR REPUBLICANS, IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE: Of the 202 Republicans sworn in 1/4/06 as members of 110th Congress, 15 maintained their seats by margins of 3 points or less, CQPolitics.com noted. On the other side of the aisle, just two of the 233 Democrats were winners of contests by similarly razor-thin margins. In the Senate, where Dems claimed a 51-49 majority with a six-seat net gain, only one seat was maintained by the incumbent party by fewer than 3 points, and it too was won by a Republican: Tennessee's Bob Corker, former Chattanooga mayor who edged Democrat Harold E. Ford Jr. for the seat that Republican Bill Frist -- the outgoing Senate majority leader -- left to retire.
QUEEN BEES & ALPHA MALES: The opening of the 110th Congress marked election of the first female House speaker in the nation's history, as Nancy Pelosi, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, broke through the "marble ceiling" to not only preside over the House but also become second in line for the Oval Office. But Ryan Lizza in "Invasion of the Alpha Male Democrat" in the 1/7/07 New York Times noted the election to the House and Senate of "Macho Dems," such as several Iraq, Afghan and Vietnam war veterans, an Indiana sheriff, a former NFL quarterback from North Carolina and a husky Montana farmer with a buzz-cut and missing fingers from farm accidents. "These are red-blooded Americans who are tough," said John Lapp, the former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who helped recruit several of this "new breed" of candidate to appeal to rural and "exurban" voters.
But Clara Bingham noted in "Queens of the Hill" in the January/February 2007 Washington Monthly that women also moved into positions of leadership of key committees and subcommittees. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) leads the Rules committee, which determines which bills reach the floor for a vote; Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) co-chairs the Democratic Steering Committee, which formulates policy for the caucus, and Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) serves as her vice chair. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) have joined the nine-member team of chief deputy whips.
In the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the Democratic conference secretary, the fourth-ranking member in the leadership. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is chief deputy whip and chairs the Environment and Public Works committee (she also hired the committee's first-ever female chief of staff). Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) leads the Rules Committee. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), dean of the Senate women, is chair of an Appropriations subcommittee, and Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) serve on the Senate's most powerful committee: Finance. Bingham wrote that Pelosi's new agenda is family-oriented, and she has shown no signs of shying away from women's priorities, while Slaughter has made a point of stacking the Rules committee with pro-choice Democrats. Sen. Murray's list of priorities read like a feminist's dream: invest in women's health care, help victims of domestic violence, protect women in retirement.
Bingham noted that Democratic lawmakers owe their electoral success to women voters, who make up an increasingly large majority of Democratic voters nationwide and helped decide the two elections that propelled Democrats into the Senate majority. In Virginia, 55% of women voted for Jim Webb, while in Montana, the other Senate squeaker, 52% of women supported Jon Tester.
SURGE PROTECTORS: Some Democrats are shying away from a confrontation over President Bush's war powers, but the House leadership believes Congress has the ability to restrict the Bush administration's ability to escalate the war in Iraq. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CBS' Face the Nation (1/7/07) that Congress may refuse to authorize funding for an escalation of US forces to Iraq if President Bush cannot justify the strategy. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the Foreign Relations chairman, said on Meet the Press (1/7/07) that it was "constitutionally questionable" whether Congress could preempt funding of Bush's desired "surge." Asked about that on Hardball (1/8/07), Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) replied, "No, that's not true at all," adding "we have every ability." Asked why certain Democrats were shirking from this option, he offered, "I'll tell you, it's all political," according to TPMMuckraker.com. Murtha, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, told Arianna Huffington (1/3/07) he wants to "fence the funding," denying the president the resources to escalate the war, instead using the money to take care of the soldiers as we bring them home from Iraq "as soon as we can."
STRAIGHT TALK ON DEFICIT: Ezra Klein of The American Prospect (Prospect.org), following John Edwards on his presidential campaign kickoff tour, noted 12/29/06 that, when asked about the deficit in Des Moines, Edwards acknowledged that there is a tension between the deficits under the Bush administration and our need to invest and make America stronger for the 21st century. "I think that, if we're honest, you cannot -- it's just common sense in the math -- have universal health care, and invest in energy, and make a serious effort to eliminate poverty, to strengthen the middle class, and do some of the work that I think America needs to be leading on around the world, and at the same time, eliminate the deficit," Edwards said. "Those things are incompatible. And anybody who claims -- politicians who say 'I'm going to give you a big tax cut, and give you health care, put more money into education, and oh by the way, we're going to balance the budget in the process,' it's just make-believe, it isn't the truth. So I think there's gonna be hard judgments that have to be made.
"My commitment is to have universal health care, to do things that have to be done about this energy situation and global warming, because I think they're enormous threats, not only to the people of America but to the future of the world, for America to lead on some of these big moral issues that face the world, and I think America has to do something about poverty, I just do. Those are higher priorities to me than the elimination of the deficit. I don't want to make the deficit worse and I would like to reduce the deficit, but in the short-term, if we don't take a step to deal with these other issues, it in my judgment, undermines the ability of America to remain strong in the 21st century."
US OPENS IRAQ OILFIELDS: Iraq's massive oil reserves are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which the US government has been involved in drawing up, the London Independent reported 1/7/07. The US is pressing to give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalized in 1972. "The huge potential prizes for Western firms will give ammunition to critics who say the Iraq war was fought for oil," Danny Fortson, Andrew Murray-Watson and Tim Webb wrote. "They point to statements such as one from Vice-President Dick Cheney, who said in 1999, while he was still chief executive of the oil services company Halliburton, that the world would need an additional 50 mln barrels of oil a day by 2010. 'So where is the oil going to come from? ... The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies,' he said."
OBAMA STRONG IN IOWA: Iowa politicians see Barack Obama as a potentially strong candidate in the Hawkeye State, Douglas Burns noted in the 12/26/06 Carroll Daily Times Herald, in rural western Iowa. While the Illinois Democrat got his exotic name from his Kenyan father, he got his Midwestern accent from his Kansan mother. Burns added that in Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father, it is clear that his white Kansan grandparents formed his view of life more than his absentee Kenyan father. "When you listen to Obama, the substance of thinking, the cadence of his reasoning, his unassuming acceptance of people, you hear a Midwesterner," Burns wrote, adding that Obama's gift for writing, as shown in his two best-selling books, helps him give others a voice. In Indianola, Iowa, this past September, before a mostly white audience of 3,000 people, Obama held the crowd in rapt attention, Burns noted. "In fact, it was so quiet at times that you could hear the leaves rustling in a gentle wind." The Sioux City (Iowa) Journal reported in December that former vice presidential candidate John Edwards is the top choice among Iowa Democrats likely to attend the 2008 presidential caucuses with 36% of those asked, according to an Environmental Defense poll. US Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., finished second with 16%, and Obama had 13%, leading ahead of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who was fourth at 9%.
CORN TOO HIGH? As Congress prepares to debate a new farm bill, Larry Mitchell, chief executive of the American Corn Growers Association (acga.org), notes that the higher demand for corn brought on by ethanol production has brought complaints that corn prices are too high at $3.50 a bushel. But he recalled that the 1981 farm bill set in place a $2.65 price support (loan) rate for corn. "Adding the inflation rate to that loan rate, it could be argued that the prices we see today are by no means high in comparison to historic prices." In 2005, that 1981 $2.65 corn loan rate was worth $5.69 using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or up to $10.55 using the relative share the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The average price of corn paid to farmers in 1980 was $3.11 per bushel. In 2005 the average price was only $1.90. But while the prices paid to farmers for corn and most other crops have been driven down dramatically during the past 25 years, the prices paid by consumers have followed or exceeded almost all price indexes. According to USDA, the farmer's share of America's food dollar was 31 cents in 1981. In 2005 it had fallen to less than 20 cents &endash; a decline of 35%. "We need farm policy that provides a price support to farm families rather than subsidies, an adequate strategic reserve of storable food and feed commodities and a way to curb overproduction of crops now in surplus so that we can plant new energy producing crops to help the nation mover toward energy independence," Mitchell wrote.
THEY FRAMED A GUILTY MAN: In the week following Saddam Hussein's hanging in an execution steeped in sectarian overtones, his public image in the Arab world, formerly that of a convicted dictator, has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe, Hassan noted in the 1/6/07 New York Times. On the streets, in newspapers and over the Internet, Hussein emerged as a Sunni Arab hero who stood calm and composed as his Shi'ite executioners tormented and abused him. "No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed," President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt remarked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published 1/5/06 and distributed by the official Egyptian news agency. "They turned him into a martyr."
Ayman Safadi, editor in chief of the independent Jordanian daily Al Ghad, said, "The last image for many was of Saddam taken out of a hole. That has all changed now."
Safadi added, "In the public's perception Saddam was terrible, but those people were worse. That final act has really jeopardized the future of Iraq immensely. And we all know this is a blow to the moderate camp in the Arab world."
Haroon Siddiqui, editorial page editor emeritus of the Toronto Star, wrote in the 1/6/07 Star from Hyderbad, India, that the spectacle of Saddam's hanging united the world's largest democracy, with 1.2 bln people, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and others as well as the Hindu majority Hindu, with condemnation near universal. "If India is a key barometer of the non-Western world, and it often is, Saddam's hanging will come to haunt George W. Bush," Siddiqui wrote. "Far from being "an important milestone in Iraq becoming a democracy," as he so brazenly put it, the hanging is widely seen as an occupying power's jungle justice against a tyrant whose worst crimes were committed when he was an American ally but who was condemned only after he went against his benefactors."
LEAHY MOVES ON WAR PROFITEERING: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduced a bill to criminalize water profiteering and provide clear authority for the government to seek criminal penalties and to recover excessive profits for war profiteering overseas. The War Profiteering Prevention Act of 2007 would provide punishment of up to 20 years and fines of $1 million or twice gross profits of the profiteering. Leahy also joined Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to introduce a bill extend the statute of limitations for many public corruption offenses, allow federal investigators to use wiretaps when chasing state and local officials defrauding the federal government and boost the FBI's public integrity budget by $100 mln over four years. The US has spent more than $437 billion on the Iraq war, according to the Congressional Research Service. An estimated $100 billion will be spent in 2007, with much of that money going to civilian contractors involved in reconstruction and providing services to the troops.
HACK HEADS CONSUMER AGENCY: When George W. Bush occupied the White House in 2001, he showed his concern for the Consumer Product Safety Commission by naming as its chairman Hal Stratton, a former state representative and attorney general for New Mexico, who earned a reputation for calling few public hearings and lagging on new safety regulations before he finally left his post in June 2006. Now Bush reportedly plans to name National Association of Manufacturers lobbyist Michael Baroody as the new chairman, the *Wall Street Journal* reported 1/6/07. "It's sort of astonishing that the administration would pick someone from a regulated industry," Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America told the *Journal*. Baroody, a staunch opponent of labor unions, has also taken a hard line against lawsuits targeting the asbestos industry, TheCarpetbaggerReport.com noted (1/6/07).
CONN. POLITICAL ACTIVIST ARRESTED: A freelance journalist who has worked on political campaigns was arrested 1/3/07 by Hartford police as he took photos of Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell's inaugural parade in downtown Hartford. Ken Krayeske, who worked on Green Party candidate Cliff Thornton's campaign for governor against Rell, was near the corner of Ford and Pearl Street photographing Rell's inaugural parade when, according to the police report, he was identified as a "political activist" and a threat to the governor. Krayeske was arrested about 1:20 p.m. and charged with breach of peace and interfering with an officer. Bond was originally set at $75,000 before he was released on personal recognizance about 1 a.m. 1/4/07, Ctnewsjunkie.com reported. Norman A. Pattis, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, called the charges "ridiculous" and entered a "not guilty" plea on Krayeske's behalf 1/5/07 in Hartford Community Court. Hartford police said Krayeske was arrested for charging at Pell during the parade, but the Eliot Streim, a Hartford lawyer who was watching the parade with a colleague, told the Hartford Courant police did not intercept Krayeske as he ran into the parade route. On the contrary, Krayeske photographed the governor without incident and was detained by police only after Rell had passed by, Streim said.
REVERSE GOLDEN RULE: Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on new House rules: "What we really expect out of the Democrats is for them to treat us as they would like to have been treated." (Fox News)
US REOPENS TO CANADIAN BEEF: US cattle producers expressed disappointment with the USDA's decision to open the US border to Canadian beef since concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) have died down. "US cattle producers continue to have no assurance that Canada has its BSE problem under control and we expect USDA to prioritize the interests of US cattle producers and consumers over the interests of re-opening beef trade with Canada," National Farmers Union President Tom Buis said. "I am hopeful that the Secretary will use his authority to mitigate any negative economic impact this decision will have on U.S. cattle producers. Further, I encourage the department to fully implement mandatory country-of-origin labeling before implementing the rule regarding additional Canadian beef and cattle imports. Mandatory COOL is the only tool to protect the integrity of the U.S. beef industry if an additional BSE case is discovered within the Canadian herd." See www.nfu.org.
UNION ORGANIZERS FIRED: John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (cepr.net) reported in January that "one in seven union organizers and activists are illegally fired while trying to organize unions at their place of work." Technically speaking, it's against the law to fire a worker for being involved in an organizing drive. In practice, though, employers just have to cop to a small fine -- back pay averaging around $2,500 per firing--if they break this law. Most businesses are happy to pony up and take out a few key pro-union employees, which usually disrupts the campaign and intimidates the other workers. It's certainly cheaper than granting union recognition. Under the Bush administration, Brad Plumer noted at plumer.blogspot.com, illegal firings have risen substantially -- largely because the current National Labor Relations Board has little interest in punishing union-busting employers. "It's no wonder so many unions prefer card-check elections, in which a majority of workers simply have to sign cards signaling their approval in order to win union representation. The current system of NLRB elections drags on for much too long, giving the employer time to stall, figure out who the culprits are, and do a few illegal firings -- which, it seems, happens quite frequently." Unions are promoting the Employee Free Choice Act, which would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards representing union representation.
GLOBAL UNION TALKS: British, American and German unions are to forge a pact to challenge the power of global capitalism in a move towards creating an international union with more than 6 million members, the London Observer reported 12/31/06. Amicus, the UK's largest private-sector union, has signed agreements with the German engineering union IG-Metall and two of the largest labor organizations in the US, the United Steelworkers and the International Association of Machinists, to prevent companies playing off their workforces in different countries against each other. The move is seen by union leaders as the first step towards creating a single union that can present a united front to multinational companies. Amicus plans to merge with the Transport & General Workers' Union in May to create a 2 mln-strong labor organisation. Between IG-Metall's 2.4 mln members, the USW's 1.2 mln and 730,000 at the Machinists', a merger would create an organisation with some 6.3 mln members.
FOREIGNERS OPERATE TOLLWAYS: Fifty years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower put his pen to the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which called for the federal and state governments to build 41,000 miles of high-quality interstate highways across the nation, many state highway systems are being privatized. Daniel Schulman and James Ridgeway wrote in the January/February Mother Jones that Indiana has received $3.8 bln from consortium made up of Cintra and the Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG) of Australia that will operate the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road for the next 75 years. There is talk of privatizing everything from the New York Thruway to the Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes, as well as inviting the private sector to build and operate highways and bridges from Alabama to Alaska. More than 20 states have enacted legislation allowing public-private partnerships to run highways. Another Australian toll road operator, Transurban, paid more than half a billion dollars for a 99-year lease on Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway, and the Texas Transportation Commission green-lighted a $1.3 billion bid by Cintra and construction behemoth Zachry Construction to build and operate a 40-mile toll road out of Austin. Many similar deals are now on the horizon, and MIG and Cintra are often part of them. So is Goldman Sachs, the huge Wall Street firm that has played a remarkable role advising states on how to structure privatization deals -- even while positioning itself to invest in the toll road market. The privatization model has the full backing of the Bush administration.
COAL MINE DEATHS UP 210%: From Jan. 2, 2006, when 12 coal miners were killed in an explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, until Dec. 17, when John Elliot was killed in a roof collapse at a Dana Co. mine near Maidsville, W.Va., 47 coal miners died on the job last year, the deadliest year in the nation's coal mines since 1996. The death toll was a 210% increase over 2005, when 22 coal miners died on the job. The Mine Workers (UMWA) union and other coal safety advocates fear the trend could continue due to the huge demand for coal and its profits; the Bush administration's lax enforcement record since taking over the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in 2001; and a workforce that is expected to grow younger and more inexperienced in the coming years.
TROOPS DISAPPROVE OF WAR: The American military -- once a staunch supporter of President Bush and the Iraq war -- has grown increasingly pessimistic about chances for victory, according to the 2006 Military Times Poll, the Army Times reported 12/29/06. Only 35% of military members polled said they approve of the way Bush is handling the war, while 42% disapproved. The president's approval rating among the military is only slightly higher than for the population as a whole. In 2004, when his popularity peaked, 63% of the military approved of Bush's handling of the war. Greg Sargent of TPMMuckraker noted 12/29/06 the poll questioned 6,000 randomly selected active-duty soldiers, 50% of whom have done at least one tour in Iraq.
HOUSE DEMS LIMIT CHAIR TERMS: House Democrats have decided to keep the six-year term limits that Republicans installed on committee chairs. The move was applauded by Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com, who wrote (1/7/07) "There are far too many talented and exciting young Democrats in the House to relegate them to permanent back-bench status because some unaccountable committee chair 'got there first.'" But Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly.com, for one, questioned the six-year terms. "For my money, it takes three or four years for a committee chair (or legislator) to get good at their job, and they ought to then have seven or eight years to ply their trade. In other words, why not term limits of 10-12 years? It would prevent people from making careers out of their seats, but it would still allow them time to learn how to do their jobs effectively."
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