<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Dispatches 11/15/14



For all the twists and turns of this midterm campaign season, one constant has held true – the Republican Party is well-positioned to retake control of the US Senate.

But Luke Brinker writes in Salon (10/21) that a GOP majority may not materialize on election night. The party may well have to wait for runoffs in Louisiana (12/6) and Georgia (1/6/15) before it nets the six seats necessary to win power in the chamber. But the sheer number of Democratic seats up for grabs – RealClearPolitics rates seven as tossups and forecasts that Republicans will pick up another three – gives the GOP multiple paths to capturing the majority. Meanwhile, Georgia, Kansas and (to a lesser extent) Kentucky are the only GOP-held seats in danger of slipping from the Republicans’ grasp.

A lot would have to go right for the Democrats to maintain their grip – and their best-case scenario at this point is probably a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Joe Biden breaking the tie. But a Democratic victory isn’t out of the question, as even some of the party’s most vulnerable candidates have displayed surprising strength throughout the cycle.

With precisely two weeks until Election Day, here are 10 vital questions in the contest for Senate power:

1. Can Bruce Braley (D) make the Iowa Senate race a referendum on the issues? The bottom line: If this race is a referendum on Washington, Braley’s in real trouble. If he can make it a referendum on the issues, he has a real shot.

2. What is going on in South Dakota? Pundits spent most of the 2014 cycle assuming that former GOP Gov. Mike Rounds was a shoo-in to replace retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. No more. Dogged by questions over an immigration investment scandal that has engulfed key members of his administration, Rounds finds himself in an unexpectedly competitive three-way race against progressive Democrat Rick Weiland and independent Larry Pressler, who held the seat as a Republican from 1979 to 1997. (A minor independent candidate, conservative Gordon Howie, threatens to siphon right-wing votes from Rounds.) This one is maddeningly difficult to peg, but if Weiland or Pressler (whom many Democrats expect would caucus with the party within the Senate) prevails, the Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate will increase sharply.

3. Will Colorado Sen. Mark Udall outperform the polls? After narrowly leading GOP challenger Cory Gardner for most of the cycle, Sen. Mark Udall saw his lead vanish in mid-September. While Gardner was a vocal supporter of last year’s Tea Party-led government shutdown and harbors hard-line conservative views on women’s rights, the environment and economic policy, he has managed to convince many credulous media figures – including the Denver Post editorial board – that his moderate tone is indicative of moderate politics. Gardner leads Udall by 3 points in RealClearPolitics’ polling average. But Democrats have a history of outperforming the polls in Colorado.

4. Can Michelle Nunn avoid a runoff in Georgia? In the wake of GOP nominee David Perdue’s tone-deaf boast about his record outsourcing jobs, Democrats feel increasingly optimistic about Michelle Nunn’s chances in the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. Perdue’s lead has vanished, and Nunn’s internal polls reportedly show her inching closer to the 50% threshold required to avoid a 1/6 runoff. Perdue would probably be favored in a runoff, particularly if control of the Senate is at stake.

5. How serious is Scott Brown? Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s decision to move to New Hampshire and challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen looked like a fool’s errand for most of the cycle. But Brown may be making inroads with his fear-mongering over the Islamic State militant group and Ebola, having narrowed Shaheen’s lead to just 2 or 3 points in recent polls. This is a race Democrats have been counting on winning, and if Brown scores an upset here, that’s an ominous sign of what will be happening in other contests around the country.

6. Will Kay Hagan’s narrow lead in North Carolina hold? Once considered the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbent, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has capitalized on popular discontent with North Carolina’s right-wing Legislature and strong support among women voters in fighting back against state House Speaker Thom Tillis. Since early September, Hagan has led in all but two public polls, although her edge has narrowed of late, in the midst of a new $6 mln GOP ad blitz. The persistence of Hagan’s small lead and her proven ability to withstand withering, well-financed attacks from outside groups give her a narrow but distinct edge.

7. Can Bill Clinton save Mark Pryor in Arkansas? In 2008, Sen. Mark Pryor (D) glided to reelection, winning 80% of the vote against a Green Party opponent. What a difference six years make. Weighed down by an unpopular president and facing an electorate that’s increasingly Republican, Pryor, scion of an Arkansas Democratic family, is in the fight of his political life against first-term congressman Tom Cotton, a Harvard Law graduate and military veteran. Native son Bill Clinton has been barnstorming the state to save Pryor and the rest of Arkansas’ Democratic ticket. A Pryor loss wouldn’t necessarily indicate that the Clintons’ reservoir of goodwill in the state has dried up, but the popular former president’s passionate appeals to the state’s voters will almost certainly be credited with pushing Pryor over the top if he manages to eke out a win.

8. Does Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu have a path to victory in the runoff? Polls in Louisiana have told a consistent story this cycle: Sen. Mary Landrieu leads her Republican challengers in the state’s Election Day “jungle primary,” but she lacks the 50% support required to avoid a 12/6 runoff and trails likely GOP finalist Bill Cassidy in head-to-head polls. Landrieu won squeakers in 1996 and 2002, defying many pundits’ expectations. This year, however, it’s a midterm in the sixth year of an incumbent president who belongs to the same party as Landrieu – never an ideal situation for a vulnerable senator. And Obama is deeply unpopular in Louisiana – except among African-American voters, who will be crucial to Landrieu’s coalition. Whether Landrieu can thread the needle of distancing herself from the administration while getting enough of its most fervent supporters to the polls remains to be seen. But, as with Georgia’s Nunn, a runoff presents Landrieu with two key challenges: Runoffs tend to have lower turnout, and Republicans will likely be far more motivated to show up, assuming Senate control is within sight.

9. Can Mark Begich’s ground game save him in Alaska? Democratic Sen. Mark Begich sustained a heavy blow when Alaska Republicans this August opted not to nominate their disastrous 2010 Tea Party Senate nominee, Joe Miller. Instead, Begich faces former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan, who’s as close to a generic Republican as you can get. And a generic Republican should be about all you need to defeat a Democrat like Begich, whose narrow 2008 win over Sen. Ted Stevens was largely seen as a fluke. (Stevens was under indictment for ethics charges of which he’d later be convicted, but his conviction was soon vacated.) Begich has proven remarkably resilient, building up a formidable ground operation and cultivating ties with Alaska Native voters, who could prove decisive in a close race. Begich, however, hasn’t led a poll since August, and while polling in the state is notoriously tricky, the fundamentals of the race make Sullivan the favorite. If Begich triumphs, however, expect his vigorous voter turnout efforts to become much-ballyhooed.

10. Whom do Kansans dislike more – Pat Roberts or Harry Reid? Three-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts wasn’t supposed to find himself in a competitive race this year. A party stalwart who’s served the state in Congress since 1981, Roberts won his 2008 reelection campaign over former Rep. Jim Slattery by nearly 25 points. But Roberts – badly damaged by the revelation that he doesn’t actually live in the state and dogged by accusations of insufficient conservatism – barely even survived the GOP primary. Then Democrat Chad Taylor exited the race, leaving wealthy businessman Greg Orman, the independent, as Roberts’ sole major challenger. Polls showed Orman with a decisive edge over the incumbent, and while Orman has refused to say which party he’d caucus with if elected, Democrats salivated at the prospect of defeating a Republican senator in Kansas for the first time since 1932. Roberts has waged a relentless fight to keep his seat, portraying Orman as a liberal foot soldier who will vote to keep Harry Reid in the Senate majority leader’s office. Voters may not be enamored of Roberts, but this is rock-ribbed Republican Kansas, and recent polls show that the incumbent has pulled even with Orman. A fourth Roberts term is far from assured, but the senator is betting that Kansans will revert to their GOP mean come 11/4.

POSTAL SERVICE PROPOSES SERVICE CUTS. The US Postal Service in January plans to shut down as many as 82 mail processing plants, eliminate up to 15,000 jobs and end overnight delivery for first-class mail and otherwise degrade mail delivery. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has teamed up with Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) to prevent the Postal Service from making these devastating cuts when Congress reconvenes in November. Already, 51 senators signed onto a letter, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and six Republicans — James Inhofe (Okla.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Thune (S.D.), Susan Collins (Maine), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah). They want at least a one-year moratorium to give Congress time to enact a comprehensive postal reform bill.

The Postal Service says it needs to make cuts because it is going broke, but Sen. Sanders said the Postal Service has made nearly $1 bln in profits since the fall of 2012. What puts the Postal Service in the red is a $5.5 bln annual payment Congress required in 2006 to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits. No other government or private sector entity in America is burdened with this mandate, Sanders said. In fact, the Postal Service has not made the payments for years and the fund already has enough set aside to cover the health benefits. Sanders has introduced a bill in the Senate that would end the pre-funding mandate and allow the Postal Service to sell new products and services.

GOP HAS NOTHING TO FEAR. Columnist Tina Dupuy had the best comment on the Ebola panic, in a 10/15 Tweet: “So far every case of Ebola in this country got it by helping people. So relax, Republicans, you’re in the clear.” Second place goes to whoever came up with “Americans are four times more likely to marry Rush Limbaugh than contract Ebola and die. Which are you more scared of?”

CNN MOST TRUSTED; RUSH LEAST. CNN is America’s most-trusted news source, a new survey from Pew Research found (10/21). Rush Limbaugh is least-trusted.

The Pew survey, conducted 3/19-4/29, found the five major news networks top the trust spectrum, with 54% saying they trust CNN, 50% saying they trust ABC and NBC, 46% saying they trust CBS and 44% saying they trust Fox News.

Least trusted are Limbaugh, with 39% saying they don’t trust the bombastic right winger; Fox News, 37%; and Glenn Beck, 24%.

Aaron Sharockman noted that PunditFact, which he edits and is affiliated with PolitiFact and tracks the accuracy of claims made by news networks and pundits, found 61% of claims fact-checked on Fox News have been rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire, the most among any of the major networks. As for the rest:

• 45% of claims made on NBC and MSNBC rate Mostly False or worse;

• 38% of claims made on CBS rate Mostly False or worse;

• 36% of claims made on ABC rate Mostly False or worse;

• 22% of claims made on CNN rate Mostly False or worse.

And 82% of claims PunditFact has checked from Limbaugh have been rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.

The Pew survey also found that conservatives overwhelmingly consume news from sources with which they agree politically, Aaron Blake reported at WashingtonPost.com (10/21). Of “consistent conservatives,” 84% said they had consumed news from Fox in the previous week. Another 50% cited local news, while between 29 and 45 percent cited conservative commentators or their associated websites — the radio shows of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and Beck’s news site, The Blaze.

On the left, MSNBC doesn’t carry near the same weight as Fox with “consistent liberals.” Just 38% say they had consumed news from the liberal-leaning cable news outlet. Liberals have more mainstream tastes, consuming news from NPR (53%), CNN (52%), local TV (39%), NBC News and PBS (37% apiece), the BBC (34%), ABC News and the New York Times (33% apiece).

The only other outlet approaching the kind of ideological, commentator-driven news of the Hannitys, the Becks and the Limbaughs on the left is The Daily Show, which 34% of “consistent liberals” cited as a news source they had tapped in in the past week. And while The Daily Show certainly has a liberal-leaning point of view, its express purpose is entertainment — not news.

CNN NOT TRUSTED BY EVERYBODY. Charles P. Pierce noted at Esquire.com (10/21) that, “having sunk virtually all of its self-respect into the fathomless depths of the southern Indian Ocean, CNN has very little left to lose by turning its studio shows over entirely to trolling the news. For example, Don Lemon, the CNN anchor who in March asked former US Transportation inspector general Mary Schiavo if it was preposterous to think the lost Malaysian airliner might have been swallowed by a “black hole” (“It is”, Shiavo replied), asked Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown, former FEMA head under George W. Bush who was forced to step down after the botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, if the Ebola outbreak in Dallas amounted to President Obama’s Katrina. (Brown replied that it’s a bad idea for anyone to be “comparing one disaster to another.” He added, “Better to speak to the systemic problems we have inside the government when we see these kinds of issues arise, Don.”

Pierce noted, “This is, by my count, the president’s 33rd Katrina, although some counts very. And, thought Don and his bosses, who better to discuss that than Michael Brown, the man who oversaw the last president’s ‘Katrina moment,’ which, as it happens, actually involved Hurricane Katrina.”

“Let’s be crude, shall we? Let’s start with the body counts.

“This president’s ‘Katrina’: One.

“The last president’s ‘Katrina’: 1,833.

“Everybody just chill ... out, OK?”

‘DARK MONEY’ MAY SHATTER RECORDS. Outside spending by undisclosed “dark money” groups is on track to shatter previous records, the Brennan Center for Justice reported in “Election Spending 2014: 9 Toss-Up Senate Races”. According to newly-released data from the Federal Elections Commission, of the nine hotly-contested senate races this year — Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina — all but one is expected to beat the previous record for most outside money spent in a senate race, $52.4 mln in Virginia in 2012.

The most expensive race in terms of overall spending, North Carolina at $64.8 mln, is set to beat the record “several times over,” Lauren McCauley reported at CommonDreams.org (10/21).

“[We]ak campaign finance laws and Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United have made possible new means of pumping money into elections while avoiding regulation or scrutiny,” said report author Ian Vandewalker. “These tactics are gradually becoming the national norm, and give wealthy spenders more power than ever to buy influence over our political process and elected officials.”

According to the nonpartisan law and policy center at the New York University School of Law, nonparty outside spending through 9/30 amounts to $158.6 mln in these nine most competitive races. “Outside groups have spent at a furious rate,” the authors note, especially when compared with the $97 mln spent on all 37 contests in the 2010 midterms.

While the biggest spender overall is a Democratic-aligned Super PAC, the Senate Majority PAC at $29,083,280, the report found that outside spending in favor of Republicans is much more likely to be dark money, which thus far make up 80% of nonparty outside expenditures.

KARMA IN ALABAMA CORRUPTION BUST. Mike Hubbard, the speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives and a powerful leader of the state Republican Party, was indicted by a state grand jury and charged with 23 class B felonies, including using his office for personal gain and soliciting things of value, AL.com reported (10/20).

Ever-vigilant Charles P. Pierce of Esquire.com noticed that one of the guys from whom Hubbard solicited something of value is Bob Riley, who was governor from 2003 to 2011, and Riley’s daughter, lobbyist Minda Riley Campbell, who helped set up a political action committee to elect truly conservative Republicans. Hubbard allegedly solicited or received assistance in gaining clients for Hubbard’s Auburn Network from Riley and consulting work from Campbell.

Where the whole thing gets really interesting for Pierce is Hubbard’s connection with Billy Canary, CEO of Business Council of Alabama, whose PAC gives heavily to state candidates and helped fuel the Republican takeover of the Legislature in 2010. Hubbard is charged with soliciting or receiving assistance for Auburn Network from Canary.

“Some of you may recall the sad and rage-inducing case of former Democratic Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who remains currently a guest of the [federal government] despite what a number of people regard as a politically motivated prosecution inspired by Karl Rove in a kangaroo suit. In 2002, Siegelman lost to the aforementioned Bob Riley by a handful of votes under preposterously dubious circumstances. It was widely believed that Siegelman would win the rematch, but he got indicted in 2004. This indictment was almost instantly dismissed, but the people pursuing Siegelman went judge-shopping and found one that would sustain the indictment, conduct a trial, and sentence Siegelman to prison. Then the kangaroo suit began showing some curious holes when the US Attorneys scandal broke around the Bush White House.

“It happened that one of Rove’s best friends in Alabama politics, where Rove got his start as a bigtime ratf***er by organizing a whisper campaign that a certain judge was a pedophile, is ... wait for it ... the aforementioned Billy Canary. Billy Canary’s wife was US Attorney Leura Canary, who prosecuted Siegelman. And around and around we go.

“Canary declared confidently that ‘his girls would take care of’ Siegelman. When Canary was asked who ‘his girls’ were, he said they were his wife Leura, and Alice Martin, the same US Attorney who previously brought the unfounded indictment against Siegelman. Rove and Canary have denied these allegations, but have refused to be interviewed under oath.”

Pierce also noted that the federal judge to whom the Canarys allegedly shopped the case, Mark Fuller, got busted earlier this year for punching out his wife in an Atlanta hotel. “History is cool,” Pierce noted.

Siegelman is appealing for a new trial. “And now,” Pierce noted, “here’s Billy Canary again, along with Bob Riley, and they’ve both got their hindquarters stuck in a crack over how much they allegedly paid for the favors of Speaker Mike Hubbard. The discovery process in this one ought to be delightful.”

FOLLOW THE MONEY ON EBOLA CARE DEFICIENCY. Texas Health Presbyterian is organized as a non-profit, but Steven Brill noted at Blogs.Reuters.com (Oct. 16) that the hospital reported $613 million in revenue and an operating profit of $89 million in 2012, the latest year for which figures are available. That’s a profit margin of 14.5%, Brill noted, which is “amazing for a people-intense service business, let alone a supposed nonprofit.” And the hospital was able to realize those profit margins while paying seven executives more than $600,000 each and three more than $1,000,000.

The Dallas hospital is a subsidiary of a 25-hospital system called Texas Health Resources, which had revenue of $3.7 billion in 2012, with operating income of $473 million. Brill counted 20 executives on the parent company’s tax form earning more than $600,000, with the highest earner topping out at $2,685,000.

The hospital hired the global PR firm Burson-Marsteller to help it recover from the damage done to its reputation.

“Why am I laying out all these compensation numbers? Because any good reporter should want to put Burson and its new client to the test by asking how much of the large bonus portion in each compensation package is based on the executives’ attention to quality control,” Brill wrote.

“Burson seems to have encouraged hospital officials to end their early silence and engage with the press, and even to own up to their early mistakes,” Brill wrote. “Burson obviously believes this will take some of the heat off. It shouldn’t.”

Brill, who has written “America’s Bitter Pill” about Obamacare and the politics and economics of healthcare, said the hospital should be asked how the bonuses are determined; how much does the quality of care — for which federal regulators now have multiple, comparative measures — count; whether any executive compensation based on the rate of infections contracted in the hospital; and whether there is a separate quality-control committee that monitors this aspect of the hospital’s performance.

“Those questions should be followed by asking for specifics related to how often the hospital did drills for dealing with infectious diseases, who was in charge of those drills and how were they documented.” [Presbyterian nurses say there were little or no drills before Duncan was admitted and limited training even after he was admitted, and they did not include having every nurse practicing the proper way to put on and take off, the appropriate personal protective equipment to assure that they would not be infected or spread an infection to anyone else.]

“With the original mistake in mind — that Duncan, who obviously had no insurance, was sent home from the emergency room when he should have been admitted — any good reporter should ask if any policies or incentives were in place at the hospital to discourage potential nonpayers from being admitted,” he wrote.

“A hospital that, like most, has enjoyed a relatively easy ride in the media has now been thrust into the international spotlight in a horribly negative way.  It’s time for the media not to record its apology and move on, but to look at this institution, and others like it, as the aggressive — and vitally important –businesses that they are.”

The CDC and the National Institutes of Health have been hit hard during the last four years of austerity enforced by the Republican House of Representatives. CDC’s discretionary budget was $5.8 bln in 2014, down from $6.4 bln in 2010. Its total budget was $6.9 bln in 2010 and is projected to be $6.6 bln in 2015, Politico reported (10/2). A program for hospital preparations for infectious disease outbreaks was built up to $515 mln in 2003, after the 9/11/01 and anthrax attacks. But Congress had cut that program down to $358 mln last year, according to Trust for America’s Health. State and local health departments’ disaster preparation funds were slashed by roughly a third, from $1 bln to $623 mln, in the same period. The Trust estimates that more than one in five state and local health department jobs — more than 50,000 — were lost between 2008 and 2012, Politico reported. The budget for the National Institutes of Health has fallen from $31 bln in 2010 to $29.9 bln last year, the Associated Press reported. The budget for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where research on fighting Ebola is centered, dropped from $4.5 bln in 2010 to $4.4 bln last year.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2014


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