With one year remaining in the Bush maladministration, the world is checking off the days on the calendar. In “Just One More Year! Good Riddance to George W. Bush,” in the London Independent (1/20), Rupert Cornwall looks at “what kind of mess will the next president inherit, exactly 12 months from today?”

While Bush jetted about Arabia, hoping to salvage a legacy, Cornwall noted that among the contenders for worst president in US history, “Mr Bush faces stiff competition from the likes of James Buchanan, who watched as America slipped towards civil war, or Warren Harding with his corrupt administration, or Herbert Hoover, who failed to halt the slide into the Great Depression, or, more recently, Richard Nixon, the only President to be forced to resign. But in terms of dogmatism, incompetence, ignorance and divisiveness, Mr Bush surely compares with any of the above.

“By almost every yardstick, the country is in a worse state than seven years ago – a state virtually unimaginable when the new century dawned,” Cornwall wrote. And if Bush can’t be blamed for everything that has gone wrong, Cornwall noted, “the Bush era leaves its own nasty odour. Corporate cronyism has been rife. Globalisation and cuts driven by ideology have turned the wealth gap between rich Americans and the rest from an embarrassment into an obscenity. Since 2001 the real income of ordinary Americans has stagnated. And the mind-boggling losses suffered by such pillars of the financial establishment as Merrill Lynch and Citibank, followed by humiliating foreign bail-outs, suggest something is fundamentally amiss with capitalism, American-style. Like Enron and WorldCom, these colossal financial shipwrecks will forever be associated with Bush’s tenure.”

In foreign affairs, he noted, “the story is the same. The Iraq invasion may not be the greatest foreign policy blunder in US history. But it is among the greatest, utterly discrediting the country’s intelligence services, hugely straining relations with key allies, handing a massive strategic victory to Iran and stretching the country’s military close to breaking point.” In addition, “US policy in Pakistan is in ruins, Osama bin Laden is still at large and the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan. Not only has America lost confidence in itself, but a great tide of anti-Americanism washes across the Muslim world.”

He concludes: “The new occupant of the Oval Office can but hope today’s dislike for America is directed at a leader, not at a country. That may well be, but one thing is for sure. Never again will the US occupy that extraordinary position of supremacy – military, moral and economic – that it held in the interlude between the demise of Communism and the attacks of September 2001.

“To the 44th President falls the task of explaining that truth to the country, as well as dealing with the concrete day-to-day problems left by George Bush. Indeed, one wonders, why would anyone want the job?” See the entire column at CommonDreams.org (1/20).

LOOK WHO’S TALKING. “McCain has done more to hurt the Republican Party than any elected official I know of,” said Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader who is awaiting trial on felony charges in Texas. DeLay was trying to warn South Carolina Republicans not to support the Arizona senator whose probe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff implicated numerous DeLay associates. DeLay was one of a number of right wingers, including Rush Limbaugh, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who tried to derail McCain in South Carolina. Limbaugh opposed not only McCain but also blasted his closest rival in South Carolina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “I’m here to tell you, if either of these two guys get the nomination, it’s going to destroy the Republican Party. It’s going to change it forever, be the end of it,” Limbaugh fumed on his radio show, a line of argument that he kept up all week long, the Washington Post reported (1/20).

Jonathan Singer noted at MyDD.com (1/19) that McCain’s victory in South Carolina was actually fairly underwhelming, since the 134,474 votes he got were more than 100,000 short of what he got in 2000, when he finished second to George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, the national news media continued to treat former New York Mayor Rudy “9/11” Giuliani as a serious candidate for president despite the fact that he averaged less than 5% support in the first four primaries nad caucuses. (The same media counted John Edwards out of the running shortly after he finished second in Iowa with 30% support and averaged 17% in the first three contests.) “Come a cold morning a year from now, some pundit is going to come on my electric television set to explain how the inauguration of a Democrat as president of the United States is the best thing that ever happened to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign,” Charles Pierce wrote at mediamatters.org/altercation (1/18).

RUDY’S VENDETTAS. Giuliani is still admired by many who know him mainly from his performance on 9/11/01, but the New York Times reported (1/22) on some of the many cases of Giuliani’s vendettas against people who have crossed him. “As mayor, he made the vengeful roundhouse an instrument of government, clipping anyone who crossed him,” Michael Powell and Russ Buettner wrote. They led with the case of James Schillaci, a chauffeur from the Bronx, who dialed then-Mayor Giuliani’s radio program in August 1977 to complain about a red-light sting run by the police near the Bronx Zoo. When the call yielded no results, Schillaci turned to the Daily News, which then ran a photo of the red light and the front page headline: “GOTCHA!” That morning, police officers appeared on Schillaci’s doorstep, slapped on handcuffs and took him to court on a 13-year-old traffic warrant. A judge threw out the charge, but a police spokeswoman later read Schillaci’s decades-old criminal rap sheet to a reporter for the Daily News, a move of questionable legality, and said, falsely, that he had been convicted of sodomy. Then Giuliani took up the cudgel. “Mr. Schillaci was posing as an altruistic whistle-blower,” the mayor told reporters at the time. “Maybe he’s dishonest enough to lie about police officers.” Schillaci suffered an emotional breakdown, was briefly hospitalized and later received a $290,000 legal settlement from the city. “It really damaged me,” said Mr. Schillaci, now 60, massaging his face with thick hands. “I thought I was doing something good for once, my civic duty and all. Then he steps on me.” Powell andBuettner wrotethat Giuliani’s “toughness edged toward ruthlessnessand became a defining aspect of his mayoralty. One result: New York City spent at least $7 million in settling civil rights lawsuits and paying retaliatory damages during the Giuliani years.”

In one notorious case, an undercover officer killed Patrick Dorismond, a security guard, during a fight when the police mistook him for a drug dealer. The outcry infuriated the mayor, who released Dorismond’s juvenile record, a document that legally was supposed to remain sealed. The victim, Giuliani opined, was no “altar boy.” The Times noted, “Actually, he was,” adding, “(Mr. Giuliani later expressed regret without precisely apologizing.)”

UNION DUES. John Edwards admitted he got his butt kicked in Nevada, finishing with 4% support after polling in the 20s a few days before the 1/19 caucuses, but another big loser was the Culinary Workers union, whose 60,000 members include most casino workers in Las Vegas and endorsed Barack Obama only to watch Hillary Clinton win seven of the nine at-large caucuses on the Strip and carry Nevada by six points. That showed that the Culinary endorsement did not reflect the wishes of the union’s rank and file, Michael Mishak of the Las Vegas Sun wrote for Politico.com (1/20). Clinton dominated Obama among Latinos, winning by a 2-to-1 margin among that group, which form a large portion of the union. Edwards also had support from national unions with 28,000 members in Nevada but few apparently showed up at the Saturday morning caucuses. Clinton’s main union supporters, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, burnished their street credibility.

IT'S OFFICIAL: MEDIA IGNORES EDWARDS. John Edwards only got 7% of political coverage after his second-place finish in Iowa — less than one-fifth of what Hillary earned, and less than one-fourth of that accorded to Obama, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found in its latest campaign coverage index for 1/6-11. Edwards even got less attention than Mike Huckabee, even though he, like Edwards, finished third in the New Hampshire primary, Greg Sargent noted at talkingpointsmemo.com.

VACANCIES FAVOR DEMS. The conventional wisdom is that Dems, hoping to pad their current 51-49 Senate majority, face long odds in their hopes to gain nine seats this fall, which would put them within striking distance of shutting down Republican filibusters. But the GOP will be defending nine of the 10 most vulnerable Senate seats this year, Chris Cillizza noted at washingtonpost.com’s Politics Blog (1/18). Rated most likely to flip is the open Virginia seat vacated by by John Warner (R), with former Gov. Mark Warner (D) favored to pick it up. Other hot seats include the one given up by New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici (R), which Rep. Tom Udall (D) is contesting; New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R)’s seat, which former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen is challenging; Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D)’s seat, which Republicans hope the depopulation of New Orleans will make competitive; the Colorado seat given up by Sen. Wayne Allard (R), which Rep. Mark Udall is contesting; Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman (R), which has several Dem contenders, including Al Franken; Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R), challenged by Rep. Tom Allen (D); Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith (R), challenged by several Dems, including state House Speaker Jeff Merkley; Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), where Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is leading in polling, Jonathan Singer noted at MyDD.com; and the open Mississippi seat that Sen. Trent Lott (R) gave up to become a lobbyist and the Dems have a strong candidate in former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

Republicans also will defend nine of the 10 most vulnerable House districts. Cillizza rates the district most vulnerable to takeover as Ohio’s 16th District, which Ralph Regula (R) opened with his retirement, followed by the districts left open by retiring Jim Saxton (R-N.J.); Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.); Jerry Weller (R-Ill.); Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.); Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio); Heather Wilson (R-N.M.); Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.); Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.); and Richard Baker (R-La.).

PAPER TRAIL BILL REVIVED. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), whose bill to require counties to replace controversial paperless electronic voting systems before the 2008 presidential election has failed to reach the House floor, now hopes to pass a bill that would provide $500 mln for counties that opt to use paper ballots. The bill also provides $100 mln to pay for hand-counting of 3% of paper ballots to verify the electronic count before winners would be certified. “The overall goal is to have audited elections based on voter-verified paper ballots throughout the country,” Holt said, according to Steven Rosenfield of AlterNet. Across the country, more than 69,000 precincts in 1,142 counties use paperless touch-screen electronic voting systems, according to Election Data Services. To replace these computers with an optical scan device would cost $5,000 to $6,000 each, according to industry estimates. Holt’s bill is supported by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, the Verified Voting Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Last year, Holt introduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (HR 811), which would require a voter-verified paper ballot for every vote cast and routine random audits. The bill, which was reported out of committee in May, has 216 co-sponsors but awaits action on the House floor. The new Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008 (HR 5036) would not require a nationwide standard, but would provide incentives for states to provide a voter-verified, audited election for the 2008 general election. Twenty states — six complete states and some number of counties in 14 other states — will be conducting completely unauditable elections in 2008, Holt said.

UNIONS ENDORSE MEDICARE EXPANSION. The Alabama AFL-CIO became the 31st state labor federation to endorse HR 676, the single-payer health-care bill sponsored by US Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), which would expand Medicare system to every resident and cover all necessary medical care, including prescription drugs, hospital, surgical, outpatient services, primary and preventive care, emergency services, dental, mental health, home health, physical therapy, rehabilitation (including for substance abuse), vision care, chiropractic and long-term care. HR 676 would end deductibles and co-payments but it also would save billions annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private health insurance industry and HMOs, Sam Smith noted at Undernews (prorev.com, 1/12). The bill has been endorsed by 354 union organizations in 48 states but it languishes in House subcommittees.

SAN FRANCISCO HEALTH PLAN PROCEEDS. San Francisco is proceeding with a plan to offer universal health coverage to its residents, but a group of restaurant owners claims the law violates the federal Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA). In December, a lower court judge sided with employers, USA Today noted (1/16). But, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals allowed San Francisco to proceed and begin charging employers a fee, ruling that the city has a “strong likelihood of prevailing” in its appeal. Several states and communities are moving to provide universal health coverage for their residents and require employers either to offer health coverage themselves or pay into a public fund to help cover the uninsured. Some employers say that conflicts with ERISA, which bars states from requiring or regulating employer-provided benefits such as health coverage. California, Colorado, Michigan and Minnesota have proposals pending that rely on partial funding by employers. The 1974 law poses the biggest challenge in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has spent more than a year pushing a $14 bln health plan, which includes a payroll tax on employers who don’t offer coverage. If the 9th Circuit ultimately rules in San Francisco’s favor, the case may end up before the US Supreme Court, since the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2007 threw out a Maryland law that charged very large employers a fee if they did not spend 8% of payroll on health care. The appeals court ruled the measure, which essentially affected only Wal-Mart, violated federal law. Massachusetts, the only state to require all residents to carry insurance, sets a $295 per worker annual fee on employers who don’t offer coverage. The fee’s small size and early support from business prevented a legal challenge, USA Today reported.

BRAIN INJURIES ADD TO TOLL. A new Pentagon report says 1 in 5 American servicemen and women who have been in Iraq are coming back with concussions or other brain injuries.” On the Chris Matthews Show, Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel called it the “real toll” of the war, with more than 250,000 people affected by “mild traumatic brain injuries.” According to the Pentagon, some of the soldiers who sustained concussions “do not realize they need treatment.” Additionally, they may be sent back to the war zone. As recently as 2006, the Pentagon was refusing to release data on how many soldiers have suffered brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, arguing that “disclosing the results would put the lives of those fighting at risk.” At that time, it was estimated that just 10% of combat troops suffered concussions during their tours of duty. Now, in 2008, it’s estimated closer to 20%. (ThinkProgress.org, 1/20).

O’REILLY DISCOUNTS HOMELESS VETS. On the 1/15 O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly challenged John Edwards’ claim that 200,000 veterans “will go to sleep under bridges and on grates” because they are homeless. O’Reilly told progressive radio talk show host Ed Schultz, “They may be out there, but there’s not many of them out there. Okay? … If you know where’s a veteran, sleeping under a bridge, you call me immediately, and we will make sure that man does not do it.” ThinkProgress.org noted (1/16) that the Washington Post checked into Edwards’ claim and reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs does indeed report that about 195,000 veterans are “homeless on any given night.” 

TRADE STANCES UNCLEAR. Global Trade Watch (tradewatch.org) is asking voters to urge candidates to make clear their opposition to expanding free trade deals. The Iowa Fair Trade Campaign and the Iowa AFL-CIO labor federation asked Democratic candidates for their positions on trade and received responses from six Democrats. (None of the Republicans responded, according to Global Tradewatch.) Of the three Dems remaining in the race:

Hillary Clinton said: “... I will not enter into new trade agreements or seek trade promotion authority, until my administration has done two things: reviewed all of our existing agreements to determine whether they are benefiting our economy and our workers; and crafted a comprehensive, pro-America trade policy that will strengthen our country in the 21st Century.” She also said she would appoint a trade enforcement office, make enforcement a priority and promoted legislation to review trade deals every five years. ...”

John Edwards said: “... [W]e need a new way to negotiate trade agreements that ensures they do not overstep into imposing one-size-fits all constraints which limit the domestic health care, education, environmental, safety and other policies that are essential to ensuring our nation’s future. This new trade negotiating system must provide more opportunities for diverse public input in contrast to our current system which relatively advantages business interests while largely excluding non-commercial interests. I will tie both unilateral trade preferences and bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, as well as, future presidential Trade Negotiating Authority, to measurable progress on labor rights in the involved countries. ...”

Sen. Barack Obama said: “... I will replace Fast Track with a process that includes criteria determining appropriate negotiating partners that includes an analysis of labor and environmental standards as well as the state of civil society in those countries. Finally, I will ensure that Congress plays a strong and informed role in our international economic policy and in any future agreements we pursue and in our efforts to amend existing agreements. ...”

For their entire responses see (www.iowafairtrade.org/candidates.php).

(Iowa Fair Trade did not list a response from Dennis Kucinich, who was still in the race at the time and supports the AFL-CIO position on replacing “free trade” deals with fair trade deals.)

MISSING WHITE HOUSE EMAILS MATCH SPY PROBE TIME FRAME. In a federal court filing 1/15, the White House said it routinely “recycled” backup tapes that contained emails between 2001 and October 2003, meaning it does not have a record of emails that may have been sent and received by some administration officials pertaining to the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, the occupation of Iraq, and other historic events for a period of two years. The revelation came in response to a lawsuit filed by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which is representing Wilson in a civil suit against several White House officials, including Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, Jason Leopold noted at Truthout.org (1/22). CREW also sued the White House last year over the loss of as many as 10 mln emails, which Leopold noted violates the Presidential Records Act.

“The dispute over the missing emails may very well have been relegated to the apparent violation of the Presidential Records Act, if not for the fact the time frame in question coincided with the federal criminal investigation into the leak of Wilson’s CIA status, and the fact there was clear-cut documentary evidence that would later be discovered tying Rove and Libby to the leak,” Leopold wrote. “Moreover, at the time Gonzales enjoined White House staffers to turn over evidence in their files about the Wilsons, the White House had publicly exonerated Rove and Libby for playing a role in the leak.” Leopold added that the White House disclosures about its email retention policy and the recycling of backup tape “calls into question the integrity of the leak investigation conducted by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, particularly as it relates to Karl Rove, in that it appears Fitzgerald may not have obtained all of the evidence in the case because the ‘recycled’ backup email tapes may have contained further documents implicating other officials in the leak or, at the very least, discussed the matter.”

According to CREW, the White House’s Office of Administration determined 473 days of emails between 2003 and 2005 are missing from more than a half-dozen White House agencies. In some instances, the White House has only found records of five emails on days where there should have been at least 60,000 email communications between staffers. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), House Oversight and Government Reform chaiman, has called a hearing for 2/15 to hear testimony about the missing emails and the position maintained by the White House that there is “absolutely no reason to believe that any e-mails are missing,” despite evidence to the contrary. One document Waxman has been trying to obtain, without success, is a letter Fitzgerald sent to Robert Luskin, Rove’s attorney, in June 2006 apparently clearing Rove of criminal exposure for his role in the leak.

CANADA BACKS OFF US TORTURE FINDING. The Canadian government, under heavy pressure from the US government, has backed off from putting the US on a “torture watch list.” The US joined countries such as Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, China and Israel on the watch list, CTV News reported 1/16, and Canadian diplomats were told to watch for abusive US interrogation techniques, such as “forced nudity, isolation and sleep deprivation” when they visited Canadians in US jails. The US made the list after US authorities intercepted Maher Arar — a Canadian of Syrian ancestory — during a brief stopover in New York in 2002 and wrongly accused him of having links to terrorism in large part because of information provided by Canadian authorities. Arar was sent to a Syrian prison where he was tortured for nearly a year before he was released and sent back to Canada. The US denied that it tortures prisoners and on 1/19 the BBC reported that the Canadian Foreign Minister ordered the manual to be rewritten to exclude the US because it “wrongly includes some of our closest allies.” Amnesty International Canada criticized the move, stating, “When it comes to an issue like torture, the government’s main concern should not be embarrassing allies.” (ThinkProgress.org, 1/20)

KATRINA RESPONSE FAILED HUMAN RIGHTS. Hurricane Katrina was not only a domestic tragedy: The US government’s insufficient efforts to prevent families from being uprooted, its inadequate emergency response, and the still-lagging recovery are at odds with internationally recognized human rights principles that the Bush administration has promoted in other countries, the Institute for Southern Studies reported, as Walter Kälin — representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons — began a series of meetings with local officials and residents in New Orleans, Houston and Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina displaced over a million people when it struck in August 2005, and tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents are still displaced from their homes. UN standards spell out the obligation of the national government to prevent displacement, to protect human rights during displacement, and to help displaced people return home to safe and humane conditions. Based on interviews with hundreds of Gulf Coast leaders and residents and an analysis of reams of data and research reports, the institute concludes that the US government failed to live up to the UN standards during all stages of the disaster — with many Katrina victims still suffering the consequences. See the report at southernstudies.org.

UNNATURALLY 'NATURAL' FOOD. A 2007 Consumer Reports survey found that 83% of consumers assume a “naturally raised” label on meat means it came from an animal raised in a natural environment. In stark contrast, the Organic Consumers Association noted, the USDA, bowing, as usual, to pressure from corporate agribusiness, has released a standard for “Naturally Raised” meats that is so weak and misleading it would apply to a cloned animal, weaned on pig or cow blood plasma, raised in the confines of a factory farm, and fed a steady diet of genetically engineered grains. The public comment period on this labeling standard expires 1/28. See www.organicconsumers.org.

EU ETHICS PANEL QUESTIONS CLONING. Just days after being told that milk and meat from cloned livestock were safe for human consumption, Europeans were warned 1/17 that cloning causes suffering to the animals, the New York Times reported (1/18). The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies reported that the risks of negative effects were grave enough to keep cloned products off the European market. There are “doubts as to whether cloning animals for food supply is ethically justified,” the group said in a statement. “At present,” the group said, it does “not see convincing arguments to justify the production of food from clones and their offspring.” A separate preliminary report by the European Food Safety Authority, which advises members of the European Commission, found that cloned products appeared to be safe for human consumption. The food authority’s definitive report is expected in May.

WIND POWER SURGE. US wind power capacity surged 45% in 2007, for the third consecutive year of record-setting growth, establishing wind power as one of the largest sources of new electricity supply for the country, the American Wind Energy Association (awea.org) announced. Windmills will generate an estimated 48 bln kWh of wind energy in 2008, just over 1% of US electricity supply, enough to power 4.5 mln homes. But production tax credits and other tax incentives for renewable energy sources are in danger of lapsing at the end of this year. “The US wind industry calls on Congress and the President to quickly extend the PTC — the only existing US incentive for wind power — in order to sustain this remarkable growth along with the manufacturing jobs, fresh economic opportunities, and reduction of global warming pollution that it provides,” said AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher.

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2008

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