Yep, Barack Obama is running for president, and he drew an estimated 15,000 people to the old state capitol in Springfield, Ill., in sub-freezing weather on 2/10 to hear his announcement. John Nichols noted at TheNation.com that it sounded like standard Democratic rhetoric. "Obama said most of the right things. And he did so with the rhetorical flourishes that distinguish him from most of the other runners in a crowded Democratic field," Nichols wrote. "But the cautious candidate broke little in the way of new ground, pushed few limits and took no risks with his announcement. He wants the troops home from Iraq by next March, but is he willing to use the power of the purse to make it happen? He wants health care for all by the end of his first presidential term, but is he talking single-payer? He wants to end poverty, but does that mean the United States is going to start redistributing wealth down to those who lack it -- as opposed to the current upward trajectory? Of are we looking at another one of those 'rising-tide-raises-all-boats' scenario?" Obama's the ninth candidate to enter the race, but he's drawing the biggest crowds. He drew 5,000 to a rally in Ames, Iowa, 2/11 and filled a gymnasium with a capacity of 3,500 at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on 2/12.
As more states consider moving up their primaries, the AFL-CIO might announce its endorsement for the 2008 presidential election in March, according to Hotline. According to spokesman Steve Smith, the labor federation is "working out details" to announce the decision 3/6-8 in Las Vegas, at its first executive council meeting since the November 2006 elections. Each of the 54 unions within the AFL-CIO has its own endorsement processes which must be considered in forming the general AFL-CIO endorsement. "This strikes me as way, way too early to make an endorsement," Chris Bowers of MyDD.com wrote, expressing doubt that union membership -- which should be what decides an endorsement -- has formed solid opinions. "Anyone who they endorse will have, at best, extremely soft support from the rank and file," Bowers suggested.
The GOP has long touted itself as the party of "family values," but its 2008 presidential field has recorded four divorces and one annulment, compared to three divorces among the Democrats, Scott Shepard of Cox News reported. "In addition to [Rudolph] Giuliani, who has had one marriage annulled and another end in divorce, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is twice divorced and Sen. John McCain of Arizona has one divorce. Among the Democrats, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has had two divorces and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut has one."
BUSH'S CYNICAL BUDGET: George W. Bush's proposed $2.9 tln budget for 2008 would cut Medicare and Medicaid and other domestic programs but still manages to add $600 bln to the federal debt over the next five years and $1.9 tln over 10 years, by the White House's own figures. And that's without anticipated costs of Alternative Minimum Tax reforms and occupying Iraq after 2008. The $77 bln in proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over five years are unlikely to gain Congressional backing and Democrats have complained that Bush has underfunded the "No Child Left Behind" program, which is up for reauthorization this year. After the lip service to renewable energy in his State of the Union speech, Bush has shorted funding for energy, conservation and rural economic development initiatives, Senate Ag Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said. Bush's budget cuts $360 mln in 2008 from two conservation programs that have been a Harkin priority. The National Farmers Union noted that Bush's budget would cut $32.4 bln from what the 2002 Farm Bill approved for programs to help family farmers and rural communities survive. The budget cuts $500 mln from the National Institutes of Health. While Bush provides a 9% increase in veterans' medical care in 2008, he cuts veterans' benefits 2% the following year and freezes it for three years after that. Bush would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) by $114 mln, nearly 25%. And the White House projects government revenue will be $150 bln higher than what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates for 2012. John Irons, director of tax and budget policy at the Center for American Progress, said the budget proposal does little to address long-term budget imbalances, while continuing to promote policies that benefit wealthy individuals, adding, "The president's claim that his plan will balance the budget by 2012 is simply not credible."
DEMS SEE SENATE GAINS: A 60-seat majority is attainable for Dems by 2010, Stuart Rothenberg wrote in Roll Call (2/12). "A strong '08 could put the party in sight of a 60-seat majority in 2010, and that filibuster-proof majority would change the rules of the game on Capitol Hill," Rothenberg said. Of the 67 Senate seats up in the next two cycles, he noted, Democrats currently hold only 27, while Republicans must defend 40. Next year Rs have tough seats to defend in Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon, Maine and Minnesota, plus potential retirements in Virginia, New Mexico, Nebraska, Mississippi and North Carolina. Rothenberg sees few openings for Republicans in 2008 -- most of the Dem seats up for election are in blue states. To regain control, their best scenario would involve holding all their seats, defeating Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and keeping the presidency for a 50-50 tie.
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.)'s recovery from a brain hemorrhage may have dashed GOP hopes for an easy pickup. While Johnson undergoes rehabilitation at George Washington University Hospital, Roll Call reported that Democratic colleagues are organizing big-ticket fundraisers to help him fill his campaign coffers. Elsewhere, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) appears ready to break her pledge to serve only two terms. If so, she is likely to face six-term Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) in an increasingly Democratic state. And comic Al Franken quit his Air America Radio show on 2/14 to prepare an expected challenge of freshman Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.).
Rothenberg also questioned whether the GOP can snap back in House elections in 2008. He noted in Roll Call (2/5) that most surge elections, during which one party makes sweeping gains in one election, have been followed by a surge back toward the other party two years later. In 1964, during the anti-Goldwater surge, Dems knocked off 39 GOP incumbents and won eight GOP open seats. Two years later, Rs beat 39 Dem incumbents. In 1980, Reagan helped Rs oust 27 incumbent Dems and won 10 open Dem seats, only to see the Rs lose 22 GOP incumbents in 1982. The wave against Clinton in 1994 took down 34 Dem incumbents and turned 22 open Dem seats GOP, but the Rs lost 18 seats in 1996. However, after the Watergate tide of 1974, in which Dems knocked off 36 incumbents and won 13 open GOP seats, two years later the GOP picked up only two seats.
Dems knocked off 22 GOP incumbents and won eight GOP open seats last November. But Rothenberg noted that the 1964 and 1980 surge elections cited above occurred in presidential election years, so the snapbacks occurred in a midterm election. The 1994 surge was in a midterm election, but the Iraq War creates an environment that is unique in the recent history of surges. "The possibility of a GOP snapback also is minimized by the nature of the '06 wave. Almost half of the districts that turned from Republican to Democratic are either competitive or Democratic-leaning, and as long as the freshman Democrats in those districts don't stumble badly, history suggests that they will be difficult to dislodge," he wrote.
E-VOTE REFORM GETS NEW LIFE: US Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has reintroduced HR 811, The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, which would require that electronic voting machines produce a voter-verified paper ballot that is auditable. The bill, introduced 2/6, would require routine random audits of paper ballots by hand count in a sample of voting precincts in each congressional district. It would also take steps to make elections more publicly transparent by allowing for the inspection of voting system software. It would require documenting a secure chain of custody for voting systems and prohibit conflicts of interest involving vendors. It would keep the election process accessible to voters with disabilities and authorize federal funding to help states meet the requirements. Despite having 222 bipartisan co-sponsors in the 109th Congress, the GOP leadership would not allow a similar bill to be brought up for a vote. While many e-vote critics have supported Holt's past efforts, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) endorsed the new bill, some e-vote critics have come out against Holt's bill. Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting.org said, among other things, the bill requires expensive technology conversions, increases the power of the federal Election Assistance Commission, allows continued use of touch-screen voting machines and does not recognize a citizen right to oversight.
WHAT'S NEW ON CLIMATE CHANGE: The good news about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change global warming report, Mark Hertsgaard wrote in The Nation (2/26), is that "from now on politicians will find it harder to do little or nothing to fight this problem. ... As for the bad news in the report, it confirms that the battle to prevent global warming has been lost. Now the race to survive it has begun. Because we waited so long to act, the best humanity can do now is slow global warming down to where we can hope to endure it with relatively manageable damages. How bad things eventually get will depend on how much greenhouse emissions are cut, and how quickly. But the momentum of the climate system -- the fact that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for decades, and oceans store heat for centuries--guarantees that global warming will get worse before it gets better (unless someone invents a miracle technology to strip existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere)." Scientists say we must cut emissions 80% by 2050, which is what the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, sponsored by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and others, mandates. But neither Bush nor the oil giants accept mandatory limits on greenhouse emissions.
MONEY FOR NOTHING: Dems in leadership of Congress have started looking into things the GOP averted their eyes from, such as the 363 tons of newly printed $100 bills -- $12 billion worth -- the Bush administration flew to Baghdad to cover petty cash needs in the occupied country. Nobody knows where the money went, but Ambassador L. Paul Bremer -- who got a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in overseeing the occupation -- told the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee a lot of the cash went to meet Iraqi government payrolls that were patently fraudulent. The Department of Defense's special inspector general for Iraq, Stuart Bowen, said that a 2005 audit he conducted found that in some ministries the payroll was padded with up to 90% "ghost employees" -- people who didn't really work there or perhaps didn't really exist. As Joseph Galloway, retired military affairs columnist for McClatchy Newspapers, wrote: "I can think of no period in American history when we sat idly by while $12 billion just disappeared, poof, without a paper trail; without heads rolling; without someone going to prison. And all this was happening at a time in the war when American soldiers and Marines were going without properly armored vehicles, without lifesaving body armer and even without some of the weapons they needed."
'UNREASONABLE MAN': A new film offering an even-handed look at Ralph Nader's legacy opened 1/31 in New York and is gradually getting a wider release. An Unreasonable Man starts with Nader's beginnings as a consumer watchdog who, as a young lawyer, took on General Motors and not only forced them to design safety features into their automobiles in the 1960s, but also won a legal settlement for the carmaker's harassment of him. He used those funds to underwrite the Center for Responsive Law, whose "Nader's Raiders" worked to get such things as seatbelts, airbags, product labeling, nuclear scrutiny and even the free ticket you get after being bumped from an overbooked flight. But to many people Nader is the man who cost Dems the presidency in 2000. Love him or hate him (and both sides are represented), the two-hour film gives an engrossing background on why Nader did what he did. See anunreasonableman.com.
GOP FAILS TO KILL MINIMUM WAGE: In their effort to kill the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage, 28 Republican senators on 1/24 voted for an amendment by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) that would have left wage rates to each state. Voting to abolish the minimum wage were Alexander (R-TN), Allard (R-CO), Bennett (R-UT), Bond (R-MO), Brownback (R-KS), Bunning (R-KY), Burr (R-NC), Chambliss (R-GA), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Cornyn (R-TX), Craig (R-ID), Crapo (R-ID), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Enzi (R-WY), Graham (R-SC), Gregg (R-NH), Hagel (R-NE), Hatch (R-UT), Inhofe (R-OK), Isakson (R-GA), Kyl (R-AZ), Lott (R-MS), McCain (R-AZ), McConnell (R-KY), Sununu (R-NH) and Thomas (R-WY). The Senate ended up tying business tax breaks to the bill, which would increase the minimum wage from the current $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over two years. The Senate version will have to be reconciled with the House bill, which has no tax breaks. Mike Hall of the AFL-CIO blog noted that the senators make $165,200 a year.
WHAT FOX 'NEWS' WON'T TELL YOU: There have already been some particularly stellar examples of shoddy journalism regarding the administration's claims about Iranian arms flowing to Iraq. But an article from Fox News' website on 2/12 provides an example of how logic -- as well any perspective of the reality of the situation in Iraq -- is simply being thrown out the window. According to the article, "The White House stuck to its guns Monday, insisting it had clear evidence that Tehran approved the shipment of weapons -- including deadly bomb-making materials -- to Shi'ite militants for use against US forces in Iraq." But Alex Koppelman noted at Salon.com, weapons supplied by Iran to Shi'ite militias would be far more likely to be used in sectarian violence against Sunnis than against US troops. As Juan Cole pointed out at JuanCole.com, the majority -- by far -- of US deaths in Iraq are caused by Sunnis, not Shi'ites. Beyond that, the weapons allegedly supplied by Iran are flowing to US allies in Iraq. "That, of course, is what Fox won't tell you," Koppelman notes. Fox refers, obliquely, to "a December raid on the Hakim compound in Baghdad." That would be the compound of Abdel-Aziz Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, a Shi'ite party that is the largest of any in Iraq's parliament. Hakim was White House guest and met with the president in December. SCIRI's militia, the Badr Corps, is a dominating presence in Iraq's police force.
Meanwhile, Newsweek reported that some Bush advisers are looking for an excuse to attack Iran. "They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for," said Hillary Mann, former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs. A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf and Newsweek reported that a third carrier will likely follow.
SOA FACES DEATH THREAT: Turnover in Congress has critics of the School of the Americas hoping to close the US Army's training institute for Latin American military leaders that has been implicated in human rights abuses, Robin Lloyd reported for In These Times 1/24. Last June, an amendment sponsored by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) that would cut funding for the school, now officially called the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation, was defeated by a 15-vote margin. Pat Bowman, legislative coordinator for School of the Americas Watch, noted that 35 defenders of the school lost their seats in Congress, with 23 replaced by Democrats. Protesters have been calling for closure of the school since 1990. On Nov. 19, 2006, some 22,000 people took part in the 16th annual protest in front of the gates of Fort Benning Ga. Sixteen protesters committed civil disobedience by "crossing the line" -- that is, crawling under or through the wire mesh fence that encircles the base to face immediate arrest for trespassing and a likely three-month sentence. In 2005, 32 were arrested and served time as "prisoners of conscience," including Lloyd, who served three months in the Danbury Prison Camp.
JOURNO HELD IN FED PROBE: A freelance videographer who refused to cooperate with a federal grand jury investigation became the longest incarcerated journalist in modern American history on 2/6, the New York Times reported. Josh Wolf, 24, has been in prison since August, with a brief break in September related to his appeal, after refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigation of an anticapitalist protest in San Francisco in 2005 in which a police officer was injured and a squad car was slightly damaged by a small explosive device. Prosecutors have demanded that Wolf give them his raw video, some of which he has posted at www.joshwolf.net, as well as testify about protesters seen on the tape for an investigation into possible charges. Wolf told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! he offered to turn the video over to the judge to determine whether or not there is any evidence on the tape, but the US Attorney objected that it needed to be handed over to the grand jury. Wolf said "all newsworthy material on the video was put out online the night of the incident, because I had no idea this was going to all bubble up when I was shooting the video that night and editing it down later on."
GUFF FROM DOWN UNDER: Sen. Barack Obama said he took it as a compliment that Australia's conservative Prime Minister John Howard attacked him the day after he announced his candidacy, saying that al Qaeda could pray for a victory by Obama or the Democrats in 2008. Obama noted that Howard, a friend of George W. Bush, has deployed 1,400 Australian troops to the Iraq occupation. "So if he's ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he call up another 20,000 Australians. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."
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