Ohio Daily Blog

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Yellow Dog Sammy's First White House 2008 Cattle Call

(Well, why not. I guess I'm just in the mood. Next time I'll do the Republicans.)

Here's a complete roster of Democratic presidential hopefuls, with some background information about each, listed in order of their prospects for winning the nomination ... all as scientifically determined by everyone's favorite political prognosticator, Yellow Dog Sammy.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) - The former First Lady, best-selling author, and member of the National Women's Hall of Fame is clearly the front-runner for the nomination. She has enormous name recognition, commitments from a large number of Democratic fundraisers and major donors, a superior campaign organization, and a proven ability to endure and excel in gruelling campaigns (I'm counting when she was the spouse rather than the candidate). Many Democratic activists at the grass roots level are upset that she has gravitated to the political center and avoided taking aggressive stands on critical issues (especially the one that ends in "q"), but in the general milieu of Democratic voters she is exceedingly popular. Since we're talking about the nomination here, there's no need to get into her standing among non-Democratic voters.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) - Yes, I place the former presidential and vice presidential candidate, personal injury trial lawyer, director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, and People Magazine's "Sexiest Politician Alive" in second place, not third. He is a very compelling speaker (I loved his speech at Antioch Baptist Church the day before the 2006 election, although I didn't find it quite as inspiring as Obama's later that evening). Edwards has big-time name recognition, the critical experience of a national campaign, huge support from organized labor, and a strong populist message. There's a lot of time between now and the primaries, and I feel that Edwards will endure and eventually mount the strongest challenge to Clinton.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) - I LOVE this man, this brilliant former Illinois state senator, organizer, civil rights attorney, member of the Harvard Law Review, and gifted author. He is also a tremendous orator, as proven with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (and the speeches I personally heard at the ODP 2006 State Dinner and the night before the 2006 election at the Civic in Cleveland Heights). Right now the media and the portion of the public that is aware of him are enthralled, and if this campaign were short he'd be a formidable threat to Clinton. However, this contest is a marathon, and his prior campaigns are nothing like what he (and his spouse) will endure. Eventually his relative lack of experience and some controversial things in his past (e.g., admitted cocaine use in his youth) will take their toll. I think that he may drop out of this round and mount another presidential try in the future, and that will be fine. If he stays in, my sense is that his star will fade somewhat. (And, by the way, if I'm wrong I will be thrilled about it.)

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) - The best political resume in the field. Former congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, and Secretary of Energy. One-time major leaague prospect (he pitched in high school and at Tufts University, but arm trouble ended his professional aspirations). Being a governor, and in a purple state, is huge. The Latino vote is increasingly important in Democratic politics. (For the record, his mother was born in Mexico and his paternal grandmother in Nicaragua.) I've only been around him in person once, but he was impressively smart and appealing. There has been at least one complaint that he is too touchy-feely -- as in with a woman, who didn't appreciate the attention. I think that as he travels the country his stock will rise, but I don't see any sign of traction in the earliest polling.

Former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) - If presidential candidates were used automobiles, then this two-term governor and former mayor, state senator, and leader of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (and graduate of ultra-cool Hamilton College) would be like a really good deal on a four-door sedan, no rust or dents. He's a very nice man (I've met him), and in terms of the car metaphor he'd get you everywhere you want to go with room for luggage and kids. The problem is that he just lacks sizzle. His advantage, however, is ... Iowa. If the polls showed Iowans responding strongly to his candidacy (which I guess could still develop but hasn't yet), then he'd be in position to use an early win there to ramp up his campaign for New Hampshire and the rest. I just don't think it's going to happen.

Former Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) - Polls show sizable support for this non-candidate, the environmentalist Vietnam vet and former Congressman, Senator, vice presidential candidate, teacher, author, and documentary filmmaker. It's a combination of name recognition and a feeling that he really deserves the presidency that he "won" in 2000. Also, replacing Bush with Gore would be the ultimate, cathartic act of contrition for a country that deeply regrets installing a hugely unpopular leader, and his signature issue (global warming) seems to be coming into vogue (and rightfully so). However, my friend Pho helped convince me that if he got into the race those feelings would be dispelled and the nation would suddenly remember the awkwardness and inept campaigning that plagued this brilliant man in the 2000 race.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark (D-AR) - I don't think that this retired four-star general and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO is running. He has significant netroots support left over from his 2004 run, but I don't think the dynamics that made him seem formidable then exist now.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) - Why is this former Peace Corps member, Army Reservist, and Congressman running? I don't get any sense of urgency from the way he's handled it, and I don't see what about him is likely to capture the popular imagination. Good legislator, though.

Sen. Joe Biden Jr. (D-DE) - I don't see the campaign of this lawyer and former city council member (a surprise winner in his first Senate race in 1973 and the longest-serving Delaware Senator) going anywhere. Yes, it is unfair that his 1988 presidential bid was cut short by a brain aneurysm, and it's neat that he's becoming one of the few presidential candidates to try again after 20 years, but I don't think he has the charisma or compelling message to attract wide support. (I have to confess, I would have ranked him higher if it weren't for today's appalling gaffe about Barack Obama. If you think that's unfair, consider him placed two positions up.)

Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton (D-NY) - I don't think that this Pentecostal minister, political and civil rights activist, speaker, and actor (cameo appearances in movies and on TV) is going to get into the race. (By the way, he preached his first sermon at age four and became famous in Brooklyn as the "wonderboy preacher," and even toured with gospel great Mahalia Jackson.) His presidential bid in 2004, including that great speech at the Democratic convention, are sufficient to insure that he stays in the spotlight and can advocate his opinions on the issues, obviating the need to be an actual candidate. If he does run, however, he will get (and deserves) a small but loyal following.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) - Ah, bless him. Can't help but admire and like the former municipal court clerk, city council member and mayor -- certainly one of the few vegans of Croatian-Irish descent in American political history. I want to write his biography, but I can't imagine that his campaign is anything but quixotic. He's going to go through the whole process espousing unflinchingly anti-war, pro-environment, anti-death penalty, pro-universal health care, pro-gay marriage positions. I have no problem with that.

Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-VA) - First in the race (he declared last April 17th), this former Alaska state representative, army Counter-Intelligence Corps vet, and upstart vice presidential candidate at the 1972 Democratic Convention is off the national radar but has been campaigning incessantly in New Hampshire. He is best known for reading the entire 4,000-page Pentagon Papers into the Congressional record and blocking the renewal of the draft with a five-month filibuster. After leaving Congress he advocated for voter-initiated federal legislation similar to state ballot initiatives. His campaign platform includes a national sales tax, abolition of the IRS, and term limits. Right.

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Ohioans Trending Blue

The Gallup Poll has released a study of partisan identication in 2006 polls, concluding that:
Democrats averaged a nearly four point advantage over the Republicans on national party identification and an even larger 10-point advantage when independents' partisan "leanings" are taken into account. ... Democratic strength in the United States has grown in each of the last three years. The trends are fueled more by movement away from the Republican Party and into independent status than by movement toward the Democratic Party.
In Ohio, the results for 2006 are 53% Democratic or leaning Demoratic, 8% independent (not leaning either way), and 39% Republican or leaning Republican. That's a 15 point spread in favor of the Democrats, significantly higher than the national margin.

The report also has a chart showing party orientation by state over the last five years. Ohio was deemed Republican in 2002, "competitive" in 2003, and Democratic in each of the last three years.

Biden Inserts Foot in Mouth

How bad is this? In an interview in the New York Observer today, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) says of presidential rival Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), before going on to criticize him for lack of experience:
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
Even at first blush it seems patronizing, in a way that sets off alarm bells in a comment by a white about a person of color. When you think about it, however, it gets worse. Is Biden implying that most African Americans lack those qualities, thus making Obama distinctive? Is he saying that past African American candidates (e.g., former Sen. Carol Mosely Braun (D-IL), Rev. Jesse Jackson (D-IL), Rev. Al Sharpton (D-NY)) are dumb, dirty, and/or bad-looking? (Or perhaps, as acknowledged in this post on DailyKos just now, that those candidates weren't "mainstream"?)

Very troubling comment.

UPDATE: Forgot about Alan Keyes (R-?) and Shirley Chisholm (D-NY).

2nd UPDATE: Lots of discussion in the blogs. Atrios thinks we've just seen the shortest presidential run ever. Will Bunch reminds us that Biden appeared to brag about how he can win southern states because he is from a "slave state" ... check out the video here. I like Biden's resume, but nobody who commits serial acts of racial insensitivity deserves to win.

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Johnson Withdraws From Race for ORP Deputy Chair

Mark Naymik of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on Openers that central committee member David Johnson of Columbiana County has dropped out of the race to become Deputy Party Chair of the Ohio Republican Party, and therefore successor-in-waiting to long-time Chair Bob Bennett (who will step down at the end of 2008). Johnson runs a title company and said that he doesn't have time to take on a full-time party position.

The others in contention are Stark County Chairman Curt Braden, Lake County GOP Chairman Dale Fellows, and State Rep. Kevin DeWine (R-Fairborn). DeWine is an ally of House Speaker Jon Husted (R-Kettering), who (acording to Naymik) has statewide ambitions for 2010. The intra-party election will occur in April.

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New and Notes: The National Scene

What's going on today in D.C.?

Plan for Reduced Farm Spending Proposed - This sounds good to me. The Bush administration has proposed a plan that would reduce federal farm spending over the next five years by $18 billion compared to the last five years (roughly, $87 billion versus $105 billion). Among other changes, the proposal will reduce farm subsidies, but not by changing what crops are covered or the basic structure of the payments. Instead, it reduces the income eligibility cap from $2.5 million in adjusted gross income to $200,000. The change would rule out about 80,000 recipients who currently take in about 4.5% of the subsidy payments. "I don't know if there is anywhere in the country you can go where $200,000 adjusted gross net income is not a lot of income," Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Connor said. "You're the richest guy in the county."

No COLA Pay Increase for House Members - Democrats criticized Republicans heavily this past election season for accepting pay increases in past years without raising the federal minimum wage. That apparently violated a gentlemen's agreement not to use Congressional pay increases as a campaign issue, so when Democrats wanted to delay the deadline for enacting the COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment) increase this year - hoping to buy some time to get the minimum wage increase through Congress so they could accept the raise - the Republicans refused to go along. Now there is no longer the possibility of a COLA increase this year, and Democrats and Republicans alike miss out. The increase would have been about $2,800 on top of the $165,200 they already make. I don't feel sorry for them.

Kerry Assails Global Warming Bill
- Yesterday Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) blasted S. 280, a global warming measure cosponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), for not going far enough to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

Libby Case a 'Virtual Impeachment' of Cheney? - Craig Crawford's "Trail Mix" on CQPolitics explores the notion that the criminal trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby is a virtual stand-in for an impeachment of the vice president. Apparently Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told radio host Don Imus this morning that what independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is doing is “putting the pieces together” to showcase “the tremendous power the vice president had” in outing a CIA agent. As Crawford notes, Democrats promised this fall not to impeach the President, but they didn't say that about the Veep.

Bush's Spy Chief Nominee To Be Questioned About Consulting Work - Retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, Bush's choice to replace John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence, will face serious ethics scrutiny at his confirmation hearing starting tomorrow over his $2 million-a-year employment as a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he has worked for many of the same senior military and intelligence officials that he would now supervise. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has already indicated his intention to grill McConnell on the implications of that employment for his performance of his new duties.

Obama Knows History, Obama Knows Symbolism

Wow. Word has leaked out that presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has reserved the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois for the day he is expected to formally announce his candidacy. More from Alexander Mooney on the CNN Political Ticker:
Abraham Lincoln served in the Old State Capitol when he was a state representative. It was the site of his famous "House Divided" speech warning that America could not remain half slave and half free.

If Obama decides to run, making the announcement there would help reinforce his message that America should set aside partisan differences. It would also invite comparisons to Lincoln, another lanky Illinoisan who served in the state legislature and in Congress.
As they used to say on South Park, "he's sma-a-a-art."

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Look Ma, No Earmarks!

More good news about the massive spending bill that Congressional Democrats hope to bring to a House floor vote tomorrow:
House and Senate Democratic leaders agreed yesterday to a $463 billion spending plan for the remainder of the fiscal year that would freeze many federal agencies at 2006 levels but include more money for veterans' health, education, scientific research, HIV programs and public parks, among other things.

In an unusual move, the congressional leaders stripped the spending bill of all earmarks, or narrow, special-interest provisions. The measure had to be cobbled together now because Congress did not finish its work last year and failed to pass nine of 11 spending bills.
No earmarks. Fancy that.
By declaring a one-time moratorium on earmarks, the Democratic leaders are granting the Bush administration more leeway in spending. The Army Corps of Engineers construction budget, for instance, typically outlines funding for specific projects. But under the no-earmarks pledge, Obey and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) decided that Congress cannot spell out spending, so they opted to give a lump sum of $2.3 billion to the Army Corps -- about $38 million less than it received in 2006 -- and to allow the agency to decide which projects deserve the money.

"They really delivered on their promise to wipe out earmarks," said Richard Kogan, a federal budget expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
So we get ethics reform AND more spending on important social programs like veteran's benefits, Pell Grants, Head Start, and Section 8 housing aid -- I am really liking this new Democratically controlled Congress.

UPDATE: The bill passed, 286-140. Now it goes to the Senate, where passage will take much longer and many amendments are likely.

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Five GOP Congressional Seats in Ohio in Play?

Yesterday Markos Moulitsas put up a post at DailyKos.com about states that might offer multiple House pickup opportunities for Democrats in 2008, based on 2006 results and/or perceived incumbent weaknesses. His principal examples were Michigan and New Jersey, but at the end of the post he notes in passing that Ohio has five such opportunities: the 1st, 2nd, 14th, 15th and 16th Districts.

Are these five seats really such great opportunities? Let's take a closer look:

1st: Incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot (R) defeated second-time challenger and city council member John Cranley (D) by 52.25% to 47.75%. This was a painful loss because a number of polls showed Cranley ahead, the state and national parties seemed to be providing good support, and Cranley ran an excellent, aggressive campaign. Although the margin was close, I feel that the Democrats took their best shot in a favorable year and still couldn't dislodge the incumbent. Cranley won't necessarily jump in for a third attempt, and I don't know of any similarly promising challenger waiting in the wings.

2nd: Incumbent Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) defeated Dr. Victoria Wulsin (D) by 50.45% to 49.39%. Achingly close, and not decided until after a protracted recount. Lots of little things (like better support from the national and state parties) could have swung this race the other way, and this was the second very narrow win for Schmidt. However, with two terms behind her and probably some lessons learned, I think Schmidt will be stronger next around and the district is and always has been very Republican. Paul Hackett fans will insist that he can win the district, but remember that he did not come as close as Wulsin. Worth fighting, but a very uphill battle despite the close result.

14th: Incumbent Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Painesville) beat law professor Lew Katz (D-Pepper Pike) by 57.55% to 39.05%. Katz is a tremendous person and was enthusiastically received wherever he went during the campaign, but he had no help from the party and was unable to raise enough cash to get on TV. He was also a novice and had to learn a lot about running for office as he went along. LaTourette limited debates and other joint appearances with Katz to a bare minimum and essentially coasted to victory because Katz got little media coverage and no paid TV time. There are things about LaTourette that are widely disliked, but he has a reputation for bringing federal money to the district. It could be a close contest with a well-financed and otherwise strong challenger, but it's really hard to say since LaTourette hasn't really been tested.

15th: After extended recount drama, incumbent Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Upper Arlington) eked out the closest Congressional victory in the state over Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Columbus). Kilroy spoke at Ohio Rootscamp last weekend and sounded like she's fired up for a rematch. However, the dynamics in this race may change greatly due to Pryce's decision to step down from her Congressional leadership post and "pay more attention to the district." A dominant theme in the race was Pryce as "rubber stamp" for Bush and that won't work in 2008. She has already shown more independence from the party line in her voting, and I expect that to continue. The gay community in Columbus is huge, and being out of party leadership will help her be more receptive and responsive to that constituency. Kilroy is a terrific candidate, but I'm not seeing why her chances would be better next time than they were in the fall. On the other hand, Kilroy almost won, so she has a legitimate shot in a re-match.

16th: Dinosaur veteran Ralph Regula (R-Navarre) defeated political novice Rev. Tom Shaw (D-Wooster) by 58.34% to 41.66%. Shaw's campaign, however, was practically invisible. Regula's vulnerability is also demonstrated by his relatively narrow (58.40% to 41.60%) primary victory over up-and-coming county commissioner Matt Miller (R), a surprising result for a long-standing incumbent. The big factor here, however, is the prospect that Regula may retire. The rumor was that he was keeping the seat warm for his son Richard, whose star has dimmed because he lost his county commissioner re-election bid. Primary opponent Miller seems like a more likely GOP candidate in 2008. State party committee member Michael Todd (D) has already declared on the Democratic side. This race does indeed seem like a prime pickup opportunity.
So, is Kos right -- are these five districts pickup opportunities? It depends what you mean by that. Sure, they're all races that deserve quality candidates and good support. However, I don't see Democratic chances as being especially stellar in the 1st, 2nd or 14th. Why are those districts any more vulnerable than the 12th, where incumbent Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Westerville) resorted to ugly campaign tactics to fend off former Congressman Bob Shamansky (D-Bexley) by 57.30% to 42.70%? Or the 5th, where incumbent Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-Dublin) defeated third-time challenger Robin Weirauch (D-Napoleon) by the relatively narrow margin of 56.85% to 43.15%? That is not a good showing by Gillmor at all. Weirauch deserves credit for running a much better campaign this year than before, but she has had three tries and I believe that a candidate better suited to this conservative, largely rural district could be found. So, I don't see all five of the races Kos mentioned as being distinguishable from other districts in the state.

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Biden on Daily Show Tonight

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) is officially announcing his candidacy for president today, but he will start his day by presiding over a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about Iraq at which former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright will testify. He'll do a teleconference with reporters sometime later today, and will appear on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central at 11:00 pm tonight.

The campaign site is now live, and it is very impressive. It has integrated video, a blog, and links to campaign outposts at YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Flickr. Biden has posted four "current intiatives," including a Plan for Iraq and a Plan for Energy Security.

UPDATE:
Redhorse notes on Psychobilly Democrat that Biden has already come out firing against Hillary Clinton, so "Biden might have a purpose afterall." Ouch!

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Ohio News Roundup

Selected top news stories around the state:

Kaptur to Lead Fight Against Renewing 'Fast Track' Trade Authority - The Toledo Blade reports that Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) will lead the fight against Bush's request for Congressional renewal of his "fast track authority" to negotiate international trade agreements. Kaptur noted that the U.S. trade deficit has more than doubled (to $800 billion) since Bush took office. "Fast track has facilitated the failed trade policies of the Bush administration," Kaptur said. "In Ohio and heartland states, we know well what fast track means for our constituents: it means lost jobs and lost industries. It means unemployment and a lower standard of living." If the Bush administration were doing a good job negotiating trade agreements, "the United States would not be hemorrhaging jobs and racking up larger and larger trade deficits each succeeding year."

Ney Paid Wife 'Campaign Salary' After Dropping Out - Jonathon Riskind reports in the Columbus Dispatch that Elizabeth Ney, wife of the convicted former Congressman, received her salary from his re-election campaign at least through the end of the year, despite the fact that Ney dropped out of the race on August 7th. She collected about $6,800 during that time.

Hoover Sale Now Official - Jim Mackinnon reports in the Akron Beacon Journal that the sale of North Canton-based Hoover Co. is official as of today. The future of 1,000 jobs in North Canton remains "unresolved" until Hong Kong-based buyer Techtronic finishes evaluating all Hoover facilities.

Foltin Busted - Jennifer Bracken reports in the Lorain Morning Journal that Mayor Craig Foltin (R) got stopped yesterday doing 43 mph in a 25 mph zone on Broadway near 13th Street. "I do a lot of driving around Lorain, I'm on the go, sometimes my energy gets the best of me," said the former Congressional candidate. He'll pay a fine of $140. I can't wait to read the reaction to this news in the excellent Lorain-based Word of Mouth Blog.

Hobson Calls For Diplomacy and Transition Planning for Iraq - Just returned from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other Democrats, Rep. Dave Hobson (R-Springfield) says in an interview with Bob Dart of the Dayton Daily News today that Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki should be held to his statement that Iraqi troops could begin to relieve U.S. combat troops within six months, and U.S. troops should be redeployed on that timetable. "The United States has done its part and is continuing to do its part to bring stability to this region," Hobson said. "Now it's time for other countries in the region, the Iraqi people and NATO countries to step up and fulfill their responsibilities." He also says the trip "convinced him that the United States is lagging in its diplomatic outreach in the region and that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria and Iran need to be engaged in efforts to stabilize Iraq."

Race to Construct Ethanol Plants Underway - John Jarvis reports in the Marion Star that three companies are competing to establish ethanol plants in Marion County. The story is fascinating because it details the planning, tax credits, and government approvals that precede actual construction. It's a high stakes race because the county probably can't produce enough corn to operate all three plants. The project that appears to be ahead of the others will use an estimated 34 million bushels of corn to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol and 300,000 tons of a by-product called "distiller corn" (used for livestock feed) per year. It will also emit about 260,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Chabot and Gillmor Call for Registration of Online Identity of Sex Offenders - Malia Rulon reports in the Cincinnati Enquirer that Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) and Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-Dublin) have joined with Democratic lawmakers to co-sponsor a bill that would add online identity (email addresses, IM names, etc.) to other information that sexual predators are required to register with the government. The information would be made available social networking sites like My Space so it can be compared with user profiles.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More on Cordray's Inventory of Unused State Property

Rich Cordray will hold another press conference tomorrow to talk about his efforts to track down and catalog unused state-owned real property.

More information about the effort is available on the State Treasurer's web site. More than half of the 446 real estate parcels identified as having potential for community or private development are located in Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, and Stark counties. Gov. Ted Strickland is quoted as saying that "Treasurer Cordray truly understands the challenging budget we are facing and is creating an opportunity through his office to achieve real savings. This a good example of what everyone in Ohio government can do to bring greater accountability to state resources."

Cordray's first interim report and a listing of the top ten properties are available for download. The property listing is fun because it includes satellite photos with the state-owned parcels of vacant land outlined in red. There's one in Geauga County (108.6 acres valued at $629,000) that I know I have driven past.

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News and Notes: The National Scene

It just keeps coming:

Feingold Proposes Bill to Cut Off Iraq Funding in Six Months - Not content with the proposed non-binding resolutions opposing Bush's surge strategy in Iraq, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has called for a bill that would cut off all funding for the war in Iraq effective six months after passage. The six month period would allow for redeployment of U.S. troops.

Obama Introduces Bill to Redeploy U.S. Troops Out of Iraq by March 2008 - Taking an aggressive stance on Iraq, Obama is proposing binding legislation that would start withdrawing troops May 1, 2007 and complete the process by March 2008, consistent with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. TPM Cafe Election Central has the whole press release.

Pelosi and Reid Agree to Bipartisan Panel on Iraq - In a sudden reversal of position, the Democratic Congressional leaders agreed to Bush's proposal to form a bipartisan Congressional panel to advise the president on the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq. A senior Democratic aide said that Bush had wanted to dictate the terms of the panel and even select its Democratic members. Pelosi and Reid initially objected to the panel, then relented but only on condition that they could select their party's own members.

Democrats Unveil Massive Funding Bill - The new Democratic House leadership rolled out an enormous federal spending bill today. It spells out the budgets for 13 cabinet-level agencies while increasing aid for lower income college students (Pell grants) and battling AIDS overseas, but cuts Bush's requests for foreign aid and closing military bases. Republican legislators complained about Democratic plans to push for a vote on the complex bill on Thursday without allowing amendments from the floor. Democrats responded by reminding the Republicans that they failed to deal with the budget before the election or during the lame duck session.

Increases to Public Financing Proposed - With the cost of presidential campaigns expected to top $1 billion and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) already opting out of the existing public campaign financing system, it comes as no surprise that legislators have introduced bills to raise the amounts available and spending limits under that system. Rep. Martin Meehan (D-MA), Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), and David Price (D-NC) have introduced a measure in the House, and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Essentially, the proposed legislation would triple the amount available for the primary season, increase the amount available for the general election to $100 million, offer more money to candidates whose opponents opt out of the system, and pay for it all by increasing the public campaign financing checkoff on individual tax returns from $3 to $10.

Biden Will Also Do Live Video Webcast - Yup, when Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) formally announces his candidacy for the White House tomorrow, he will also announce a video web chat on Thursday evening. He is accepting questions now, according to an email sent to supporters. Check his campaign site for details.

Miller Testifies Libby Told Her About Plame Twice

The New York Times has a story up about former reporter Judith Miller's testimony in the Scooter Libby trial today. She detailed two conversations with Libby, one on June 23 and another on July 8, 2003, in which he disclosed that Plame worked in the C.I.A. non-proliferation bureau. Libby told investigators that he didn't learn of Plame's identity until July 10.

The devastating aspect of Miller's testimony is not just the dates, but the character of the conversations. For example, in the June 23rd meeting:
Mr. Libby was “agitated and frustrated and angry” during the meeting, [Miller] testified, because he thought the Central Intelligence Agency was beginning to “back-pedal to try to distance itself” from discredited assessments of Iraq’s weapons capabilities in the buildup to the American-led military invasion of the country. The C.I.A. was waging “a perverted war of leaks,” Ms. Miller said Mr. Libby told her. ... Miller said Mr. Libby discussed how “a clandestine guy” had gone to Africa in the winter of 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger to further its nuclear programs. ... “He said that his wife – referring to Wilson – worked in ‘the bureau.’”
Remember, Libby's defense is that he just "forgot" about learning of Plame's identity before July 10 because he was so busy. Miller is portraying the whole matter as something central in Libby's mind at the time of their talk. How could he forget learning a key fact like Plame's identity?

Libby's in trouble.

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Surge Strategy Doomed by Dual Command Structure?

This article by Mark Benjamin at Salon.com highlights a fundamental flaw in Bush's surge strategy that commentators have largely overlooked. The plan calls for U.S. soldiers to be embedded with Iraqi troops, who will take the lead. However, the Amerians will take orders from U.S. officers, while the Iraqis take orders from Iraqi officers.

This dual command structure, apparently the result of a political deal with reluctant Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, violates basic military doctrine. Especially in a counter-insurgency operation, the resulting who's-in-command nightmare could quickly undermine the whole operation. It has drawn criticism from the Uber-Surge-Meister himself, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), as well as hawkish commentator Frederick Kagan. Military experts are stunned:
"It just shows you how flawed the whole scheme is," said retired Lt. Gen. William Odom, who was once the Army's senior intelligence officer, in an interview. Odom lamented that Iraq has been "just a bad nightmare" from the start. He said this White House continues to make mistakes that are "so painfully clear that sometimes I think I might be crazy."

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Breaking News Items on the National Political Scene

A lot going on today:
UPDATE: Minimum Wage Filibuster Ended - The Senate voted 87-10 this afternoon to cut off debate on the Senate minimum wage bill, which now includes tax cuts for small businesses. The minimum wage would be raised from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour over two years. A vote on the measure is now expected in the next few days. Since the House bill didn't include the tax breaks, that difference will have to be resolved before a bill could be sent to Bush for signing.

NIE Out Monday - Former Intelligence Director John Negroponte, now seeking confirmation as Deputy Secretary of State, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that the long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq will be delivered to Congress by Monday.

Bush Not Sole Decider - Sen. Arlen Apector (R-PA), ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, disputed Bush's claim to be The Decider in a hearing dealing with the constitutional power of Congress to halt a war. "I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider," said Specter. "The decider is a shared and joint responsibility."

White House Accused of Distorting Global Warming Evidence - Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of a House panel examining the government's response to climate change, said today there is evidence that senior Bush administration officials sought repeatedly "to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming." Waxman and the ranking Republican on his committee, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), have long sought documents on climate policy from the administration, but have been rebuffed. "The committee isn't trying to obtain state secrets or documents that could affect our immediate national security," said Waxman. "We are simply seeking answers to whether the White House's political staff is inappropriately censoring impartial government scientists."

Bush Iran Aims Questioned - Craig Crawford writes at CQPolitics.com today that "either Bush is again laying the foundation for military action, or he is setting up Iran to share the blame that he also lays at the feet of Democrats and the news media for helping cause a U.S. failure in Iraq." He is reacting to Bush's statement on NPR yesterday that the U.S. will "respond firmly" if Iran escalates its military involvment in Iraq, and a leak by Pentagon officials to CBS News of what they call “proof positive” of such involvement: Iranian serial numbers on powerful explosive devices found in Iraq.

Miller On Stand - Marcy Wheeler of Fire Dog Lake is live-blogging the testimony of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller in the Scooter Libby criminal trial.

Peace Signal in Pelosi-Dingell Tussle?

At a press appearance to mark the completion of the 100 Hours legislative push by the new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced her intention to form a Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence, with the goal of developing a package of legislation by July 4, 2007. It was a shot across the bow of Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that overseas the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, who has been protective of his home state's automobile industry.

Dingell didn't take it very well. “We should probably name it the committee on world travel and junkets,” Dingell told the AP. “We’re just empowering a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs to go around and make speeches and make commitments that will be very difficult to honor. ... They’re going to get under the feet of and interfere with those who are trying to do a decent job of legislating."

Paul Kane has an interesting item on the Washington Post blog Capitol Briefing today, pointing to signs that the two powerful legislators may be working around their disagreement. In particular, Pelosi's daughter Cristine Pelosi and Dingell's wife Debbie Dingell, both committee members of the DNC, have collaborated on a resolution staking out a party platform pushing for energy independence at its annual winter meeting later this week. Party Chairman Howard Dean and Vice-Chairman Rep. Honda (D-CA) are supporting it.

The resolution seems to step gingerly around any actual mention of the automobile industry, but it declares strong support for measures that "promote energy security and a safe, clean environment by reducing our dependence on oil, eliminating billions in tax breaks for big oil companies, and increasing research and development into clean renewable energy and efficiency technologies." And the fact that family members of the sparring legislators worked together on it may be a very good sign.

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Cordray Preliminary Inventory Identifies Valuable Unused State Property

One of the key initiatives espoused by Rich Cordray (D-Grove City) in his campaign for State Treasurer is a statewide inventory of unused and uncatalogued state property. Today he announced that his preliminary inventory of just 20 counties has turned up 446 parcels of unused state-owned real estate that could be sold for private development or community use.

Cordray's team looked at a total of 7,364 parcels of property in this initial study, according to the newspaper item. Among the ones that Cordray figures could be sold is a 12 acre plot on McKinley Avenue in Columbus where prisoners quarried stone to build the Statehouse. It is valued at about $312,000.

Cordray commented that years of "disorganization and lack of accountability" means the state does not even know all of the property that it owns. Just imagine the revenue and cost-savings that could ultimately result from finding that out. It's called good government.

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Clinton and Giuliani Lead Poll of Ohioans on Presidential Prospects

Hat tip to Jerid at Buckeye State Blog for first posting the results released today by Quinnipiac University on 2008 presidential preferences among Ohioans (download). Not sure why they took the poll, since Ohio's March primary is unlikely to have much bearing on the nomination races. Nevertheless, here is the result for Democratic contenders:
38% Clinton
13% Obama
11% Edwards
6% Gore
2% Biden
2% Kucinich
1% Richardson
1% Clark
-% Dodd
-% Vilsack
On the GOP side:
30% Giuliani
22% McCain
11% Gingrich
4% Romney
1% Brownback
1% Thompson
1% Huckabee
1% Hagel
1% Pataki
1% Tancredo
-% Hunter
-% Gilmore
At this point it's all about name recognition, and levels of support are likely to change dramatically as the candidates become better known. However, Democratic leader Clinton may have the least ability to move up because she has the lowest favorability ratio among major candidates (49% up/38% down), compared to to 35%/12% for the relatively underexposed Obama and 46%/24% for Edwards. Gingrich has the worst favorability ratio among Republicans at 24%/50%. Kucinich is at 18%/37%.

An odious but unmistakable racial contrast emerges in the head-to-head matchups, where white Democrats Clinton and Edwards edge out white potential GOP rival McCain but African-American Democrat Obama does not:
46% Clinton
42% McCain

44% Edwards
41% McCain

38% Obama
41% McCain
I sincerely hope that this differential merely reflects lower name recognition for Obama, but put together with the fact that all of the African-American statewide candidates failed in Ohio in 2006 (Blackwell, Sykes, Espy, and Bradley) it seems a very disturbing result to me.

Clinton also edges out Giuliani (46% to 43%) and wallops Romney (52% to 31%).

Looking at relative numbers for male and female voters, Clinton does better among women (43%-31%) while Edwards and Obama do better among men (14%-10% and 17%-11%, respectively). I actually would have guessed that Clinton's disparity would be greater than that. (Looking at the numbers another way, Clinton outperforms both Edwards and Obama among male voters by a big margin.) Among Republicans, Giuliani does significantly better among men (35%-27%) and so does Gingrich (15%-7%), while McCain is relatively even (23%-21%).

Women were much more likely than men to fall in the "Don't Know" category, among both Democrats (21%-12%) and Republicans (28%-9%). They are the more sensible gender, without a doubt.

The continuing prominence of Gore and Gingrich in various presidential candidate polls is interesting, isn't it?

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News and Notes: Ohio

Some items of interest from the best damned state in the land:

Ted Creates Panel to Screen Judicial Appointments - In a very welcome development, the new Governor acts to elevate actual qualifications over political considerations in interim judicial appointments. Gov. Taft (R) acted strictly on recommendations from local GOP leaders, and all twelve of the judges he appointed just before leaving office are Republicans. The Ohio State Bar Association applauded the move, saying the panel will help build "trust and confidence in Ohio's courts."

New Black Caucus Leaders - Congratulations to Rep. Tyrone Yates (D-Cincinnati), elected president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus last week to replace former Rep. Barbara Sykes (D-Akron). Freshman Rep. Tracy Heard (D-Columbus) is secretary. The caucus has 17 current members, with veteran Sen. Ray Miller (D-Columbus) as its unofficial "dean."

Auditor Issues Finding on Missing School Money - New State Auditor Mary Taylor (R-Green) today released a finding for recovery against a Toledo-area school district secretary and her bonding company for $5,587 that the secretary had collected from various teachers, parents and students over a six month period. The money was later reported to police as stolen. "The deposits were kept in a walk-in vault which was typically left both open and unlocked during the school day. In addition, the cash collections procedures were not followed and deposits were not always made on a daily basis," Taylor's report states. Also in the news, Taylor has finalized her staff, announcing that she is retaining veteran chief deputy auditor Robert R. Hinkle. Taylor previously installed campaign manager Christina Haddad as chief of staff, former Taft aides Karen Huey and Susan Raber as legal consel and director of public affairs, respectively, and former Department of Public Safety official Gary Joseph as director of administration.

Interviews with New Members of Congress - The Mansfield News Journal has an interview with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana), who replaced retired Mike Oxley (R) in the 4th Congressional District, and the Zanesville Times Recorder talked to Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover), who replaced Bob Ney (R) in the 18th. Jordan is really drinking the Kool-Aid on Iraq, supporting Bush all the way. Space is planning district offices in Zanesville and Chillicothe to go along with his office in Dover, acknowledging that accessibility to constituents is a key part of his agenda.

Sherrod Brown at City Club - The new senator spoke at the hallowed forum of free speech here in Cleveland and I'm sorry to say that I missed it. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that he focused on the economy, saying "Our economic house is not in order, not nationally and not close to where it needs to be in Ohio." In an excerpt on WCPN this morning I heard him say that the U.S. must use its influence to pressure China to improve conditions for its workers, which will make trade competition more fair. He also said that he has been working with Sen. George Voinovich (R) to convene meetings of the entire Ohio Congressional delegation to talk about economic development. Also, Brown is counting on his close relationship with Gov. Ted Strickland (D) to help develop "a state and federal partnership in Ohio that you have not seen in history." As to Iraq, he predicted that a resolution opposing the surge will pass by 80-20, but if it were a secret ballot it would be 90-10, due to Republican legislators who oppose the war but are afraid to say so publicly .

News and Notes: The National Scene

What's shakin', baby?

Presidential Hopefuls At Global Warming Hearing - In a few minutes the Environment and Public Works Committee starts a hearing on global warming, and get a load of who will be testifying about their proposals to tackle the problem: White House aspirants Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). Also making her presence known will be Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who is on the committee.

Miller to Testify - The retired New York Times reporter, who spent three months in jail for refusing to testify to the grand jury, will take the stand today. She is expected to further contradict Scooter Libby's statement to investigators that he learned about the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame from reporters on a particular date.

Baker to Testify on Iraq War
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold an afternoon hearing on alternative plans for Iraq. After weeks of avoiding speaking publicly about the war, James Baker will join Iraq Study Group Co-Chair Lee Hamilton in testifying. (The group's report called for troop redeployment, not an increase.) The Senate Judiciary Committee will also hold a hearing about Iraq, titled "Exercising Congress's Constitutional Power to End a War."

Pelosi Speaks About Trip - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress who travelled to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan hold a 3:00 pm news conference. She has indicated that the trip confirmed her opposition to Bush's surge strategy.

Edwards Admits He Was Too Inexperienced in 2004 - But now, boy, he's really been around the block. (* sigh * John, now, really ...)

Executive Order Throttles Agency Action - President Bush issued a directive last week that will greatly increase White House control over agency rules and policy statements on issues like health, safety and the environment. As reported in the New York Times, "each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities. This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts." That's one way to push back against a Democratic Congress -- tighten your grip on the reins of government and choke off any bothersome input from experts and scientists. Just terrific.

Air America Rescued, Sans Franken - The liberal radio network will be acquired by real estate financier Stephen Green, brother of long-time New York advocate and politico Mark Green. The plan is to push the operation more toward internet release of content, including podcasting. Al Franken, however, will broadcast his last show on February 14, and word on the street is that he is gearing up for a run at Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN).

Monday, January 29, 2007

News and Notes: The National Scene

Items of interest:

Bush at 30% - According to the latest Newsweek poll, Bush's approval rating has slipped since the State of the Union to 30% - the very precipice of the terrible 20's. Moreover, 58% said "they wish the Bush presidency was simply over" (including 86% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and 21% of Republicans). The poll also indicates that Bush's sagging approval may seriously impact the race for his replacement (48% say that their opinion of The Decider will be at least "somewhat important" in deciding their vote in 2008).

Maine's Senators Back McCain - Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), two notable moderates, have endorsed presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), despite their opposition to what's been called "The McCain Doctrine" (i.e., increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq). Snowe said she has known McCain "for many years," and finds him to be "genuine, straightforward, and honest." Collins said, "I can think of no better person to lead our nation than John McCain."

Fleischer Testifies - Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer testified today in the Scooter Libby case under a grant of immunity. He said that Libby told him over lunch that the wife of war critic Joe Wilson worked at the CIA, and that this happened before the date that Libby told investigators he was surprised to learn about the CIA operative from a reporter. Fleischer said that Libby used the name Valerie Plame and told Fleischer that it was all "hush hush."

Schumer Says Candidate Recruitment Was Key - Democratic Senate Campaign Committee head Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says that the biggest reason for his party's success in 2006 was aggressive candidate recruitment ... including intervention in primaries to get the right candidate into the general election. Ohioans recall Schumer's role in first urging then-Congressman Sherrod Brown to run, then giving Iraq vet Paul Hackett the green light when Brown hesitated, and switching back to Brown later when Brown jumped into the race.

Huckabee Jumps In - Former governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee (R-AR), noted for his dramatic weight loss, announced on yesterday's "Meet the Press" show that he is getting into the presidential race. His strategy is to "establish himself as a candidate who can rally conservatives while attracting a fair share of moderates with a message of can-do bipartisanship." He criticized Bush for not fulfilling his 2000 campaign promise of being a "uniter" rather than a "divider," and declined an opportunity to bash Bill or Hillary Clinton.

Drinan Passes - Rev. Robert Drinan (D-MA), the first Roman Catholic priest elected as a voting member of Congress, died yesterday. He was 86. A committed anti-war and human rights activist, he served for ten years (1971-81).

Ohio News Roundup

What's happening on the nation's north coast today?

Poll Worker "Draft" Idea is National News - The proposal by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D-Columbus) for compulsory poll worker service, modeled on jury duty, is reverberating around the country's news outlets. The AP story is picked up by the Toledo Blade here. Brunner is working on draft legislation, but Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted (R-Kettering) was cool to the idea when they met to discuss it. ''The first reaction is that we think voting and the democratic process is voluntary and not mandatory,'' Husted said. ''We agree on the goal. But this is not the only way to do it.''

Bush Presidential Library Proposed for ... Cleveland? - There was a spontaneous tribute to Munch's masterpiece "The Scream" at a meeting of the Cleveland State University Board of Trustees last Friday when Forest City Enterprises Co-Chairman Sam Miller suggested that CSU host George W. Bush's official library. As reported by Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Michael McIntyre, Miller admitted that the reaction to his proposal was not favorable. "Everybody fell under the table," he said. However, Miller added, "I would go out and raise money for it. May God kill me if I'm lying. ... In 20 years, he will go down as a president great."

Kindergarteners Raise Money to Save School - Children are going door-to-door to try to raise $200,000 needed to save the Boyer Kindergarten Center in Springfield Township (in Summt County), according to a story by Stephanie Warsmith in today's Akron Beacon Journal. The local school board, on the verge of falling into the "fiscal emergency" category, will vote next month on $1.5 million in cuts, including the popular Boyer school.

DeWine and Flowers Fail to Block Special Counsel Contract - At a meeting of the Controlling Board last week, Rep. Kevin DeWine (R-Fairborn) and Larry Flowers (R-Canal Winchester) were unsuccessful in their attempt to block a request by Attorney General Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township) for authority to award a $695,000 contract for special counsel to represent the Development Department in several matters without competitive bidding. The vote was 5-2. DeWine argued that Dann should not award the contract until after he finished his publicly announced review of such contracts, which were the subject of pay-to-play allegations under former Attorney General Jim Petro (R-Rocky River).

Ted's Delay of Executions Stirs Up Backlash - Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) hasn't imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in Ohio, but he has expressed reservations about unfairness in adminstering the death penalty and has delayed three scheduled executions in order to consider clemency petitions. Today Sharon Coolidge and Jon Craig report in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Barbara Raines, the mother of a murdered child who has waited 15 years for the killers to be killed. She is turning her anger toward the governor because she is concerned that he will delay the execution process.
"You can't put it behind you until it's over," she said. "And it's not over as long as they're still alive." Attornies for the two men convicted of the crime claim that they are mentally retarded, and therefore should not be executed. "I don't believe that a person who is mentally retarded, a person who has a documented, serious mental illness, should be subject to this penalty," said the governor. "I think there are those circumstances where it is inappropriate."

Bush and Space Collide - Loren Gensen reports in the Chillicothe Gazette that Bush ran into freshman Congressman Zack Space (D-Dover) after the State of the Union address - literally. Space had stepped into the hall to call his wife when the president, mobbed by legislators and journalists, turned abruptly and walked right into him. "Good speech, Mr. President," said Space. "Thanks, buddy," replied Bush.

Lorain County Leaders Point Fingers At Each Other - Cindy Leise reports in the Elyria Chroncle Telegram that Lorain County officials are squabbling about who deserves blame for almost one half million dollars in EPA fines the county incurred for failing to make upgrades at six faulty sewer plants for more than two decades.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Photos from Roots Camp

RootsCamp Ohio took place on Saturday at the YWCA in Columbus. It was a valuable and enjoyable eight hours of sharing and networking. I especially appreciated learning from the experiences of Anna Landmark, who managed the successful minimum wage amendment campaign, and campaign organizers Allie Petonic and Lauren Groh-Wargo, who discussed their work in rural counties during this election cycle.

Here's a shot of the group gathered at 9:00 am for registration, breakfast, and introductory remarks. There were about 100 people signed up. Some of Ohio's best bloggers were there, including Lisa Renee of Glass City Jungle, Jill of Writes Like She Talks, Pho of Pho's Akron Pages, Cindy Zawadzki of As Ohio Goes, and George Nemeth of Brewed Fresh Daily. A better photo of most of us is here.

Eric Vessels of ProgressOhio.com spoke to the group first. He is leaving in a few days to pursue an exciting business opportunity and will be replaced by Dave Harding, formerly of the Upper Arlington Progressive Action blog and the Mary Jo Kilroy for Congress campaign.

Karen Gasper of America Votes also helped organize the event and explained procedures at the outset.

Here's Cindy Zawadzki starting a breakout session in the morning.

One of the popular breakout sessions was "Testosterone-Free Blogging." In this view are Lucie Pollard, the photographer who accompanied Lisa Renee (didn't catch his nameMiguel Roman, her spouse), Eric Vessels, Lorraine Bieber of the League of Young Voters-Columbus, and Lisa Renee.
At the same session, here are Brian Rothenberg of ProgressOhio, Jill, Leesa Brown of Treasurer Rich Cordray's office, Anastasia Pantsios, and a fellow whose name I did not getJohn Spalding.
Another shot of attendees, including George Nemeth second from right.

Pho spelled out the intricacies of the proposed school funding constitutional amendment.

Jason Barnett came from Minnesota to explain DFL Links, a network of 30 groups of progressives who meet monthly throughout the state, facilitated by software from Zanby.

An excellent photo of Eric, moderating a discussion about the progressive blogosphere in Ohio.

Ryan (D) at Akron Press Club

I drove down to Akron for the appearance by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) at the Martin Center at the University of Akron on Friday, January 26th. Here is a video clip with excerpts from his talk:

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Education Amendment Explained - With Style

Pho of Pho's Akron Pages is doing a wonderful job of unpacking the proposed school funding amendment, and he's doing it readably and with a beat you can dance to (while burning down the house).

Read the whole series:
Education Amendment Check-In
Education Agenda, Pt. 2
Unpacking the Amendment, Pt. 1: Know Your Rights.
Education Notes
The Amendment Sec. (C) and (D): Three Boards, Two New
School Funding Reset.
Education Amendment Sec. (D) -(E): GSM

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Jim Rokakis Meets the Bloggers UPDATED

The evening before last I attended one of the best Meet the Bloggers interviews ever, a fast-paced and highly substantive talk with Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis.

Comments on the interview have been posted by Tim, Gloria, and Wendell, and George (the coolest guy in the known universe) has posted the audio.

Rokakis is an exceedingly bright and committed public servant. He has been in office so long (ten years) and has assembled such a competent staff that he is able to focus his attention on pressing policy issues and even write and help pass important legislation. Most recently, he headed up a gubernatorial transition team looking at the Ohio Housing Financing Agency.

Much of our discussion centered on Cuyahoga County's foreclosure crisis. In 1995 there were 3,400 private mortgage foreclosures in the county, and by last year that number had swollen to 12,000. Vacant housing units all around the county suck the property values out of surrounding parcels, deter development, and are a magnet for vandalism and crime.

Rokakis is in the forefront of efforts to combat this urgent problem. I will supplement this post with more details on the situation and Rokakis' ideas for addressing it, but right now I must rush off to Akron for an appearance by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) so I am going to leave this as is for now and promise to come back to it in the next few days.

UPDATE: As promised, some more thoughts from the Rokakis MTB interview. The guy just loves being treasurer. He helped persuade Rich Cordray to run for Franklin County Treasurer, pointing out that when you deal with the money you deal with everything. As Cuyahoga County treasurer he has revolutionized delinquent tax collection, taken decisive action against the foreclosure crisis, and obtained stellar performance for county investments, but he is also brimming with ideas for more improvements and new initiatives.

Rokakis traces the roots of the foreclosure crisis to the growth of collateralized debt obligations, essentially the pooling of mortgage loans so that they can function as an investment on Wall Street. $2.6 trillion worth of mortgages are now held by investors. This was supposedly a good thing, promoting the "American Dream" of home ownership, but it has resulted in the proliferation of "creeps" in the lending industry who lowered the bar for loan approval -- no credit score needed, no down payment needed. Issuing loans on a "stated income" basis (otherwise known as "liar's loans"), they have ignited an explosion of loan defaults by people who had no business even getting their loans.

One principal culprit in the Cleveland area is Argent Loans (formerly affiliated with AmeriQuest), 50% of whose loans wind up in foreclosure within one year. In the Slavic Village area there are 900 houses standing vacant. Of these, 58% are owned by one company, and 90% of those are so deteriorated they need to be levelled. The effect on local property values has been devastating. There are similar problems in other areas, and in other cities. Rokakis said that by 2011, Toledo will be larger than Cincinnati, due to the latter's economic problems. An official in Cincinnati told Rokakis that Cleveland and Toledo are "lucky" because their residents "can't move north" -- i.e., the lake cuts off one direction of exodus.

There are other factors aggravating the situation, including the prevalence of adjustable rate mortages. Rokakis said that when those loans are recalibrated in 2007 ... "look out."

Rokakis is excited by the innovative approach to this problem by Genesee County, Michigan (home to the city of Flint, whose economic decline was the subject of Michael Moore's Roger & Me). The county buys back it's own tax debt, Rokakis said. In other words, instead of selling tax liens, the county buys them, using "tax anticipation notes." I'm not sure how this ultimately works, but the county winds up getting profits that the buyers of the tax liens would otherwise get. The Genesee County landbank wound up owning 9% of the residential real estate there, but with the funding needed to fix up or demolish it as needed. He'd like to see the same thing here, figuring that Cuyahoga County would reap $10 million a year that could be used to tear down derelict structures that depress real estate values.

A couple of things that Rokakis finds appalling are when certain serial defaulters become quasi-celebrities, appearing on national TV shows and web sites. Another is the targeting of young people by the financial industry. He recommended the documentary Maxed Out, by filmmaker Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame, which includes a heart-rending interview with parents whose child committed suicide after getting into severe debt.

On other topics, we talked about the fact that 36% of the property in Cleveland is non-taxable because it is owned by churches, hospitals, and other non-profits. We also talked about the proliferation of payday lenders, which he said now outnumber fast food vendors. They charge exorbitant interest from people who can't quite get from one paycheck to the next. He has talked with Cordray about the possibility of using state treasury money to help those consumers with reasonably-priced emergency loans. We also talked about Rokakis' 19 years on city council, going back to the short and tumultuous mayoral term of now-Congressman Dennis Kucinich. He described the city then as "in free fall" due to crises like forced busing, the indictment of half the council for carnival kickbacks, and of course the city's default on its loans in 1978.

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Ohio News Roundup

What are the big stories in Ohio this morning?

Jesse Jackson Speaks - Clyde Hughes reports in the Toledo Blade about Rev. Jesse Jackson's speech to about 1,000 in Bowling Green last night. Jackson said it is premature to endorse any particular presidential contender. He is looking for one "who will support issues that will help the poor, rebuild America, and bring U.S. soldiers home from Iraq." He praised the Democrat's 110 Hours measures but said that they do not go far enough. In Columbus earlier in the day, Jackson criticized the firing of minority-owned fund managers who had previously done work for the troubled Bureau of Workers Compensation.

Foreclosure Epidemic - One out of every 60 homes in Toledo is in foreclosure, writes Jon Chavez in a Toledo Blade story today. An economic slowdown in the housing market is accelerating already toxic trends in the mortgage industry, contributing the the ongoing foreclosure/vacant structure crisis.
Cleveland is 14th in the nation in foreclosures, Dayton is 15th, Akron is 16th, Columbus is 19th, and Cincinnati is 49th.

Death Penalty Examination Needed - Regina Brett's column and the lead editorial of today's Cleveland Plain Dealer both welcome Gov. Ted Strickland's decision to postpone several scheduled executions so he can carefully consider clemency applications, and urge the new governor to initiate an overall study of the fundamentally flawed capital punishment system in this state.

Connie is Back! - Pulitzer prize winning columnist Connie Schultz publishes her first column since returning from a leave to help get spouse Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon) elected, and it's terrific - funny, poignant, moving.

WP Reveals U.S. Policy of Confrontation Against Iran

An important story in today's Washington Post reveals that since the Israel/Hezbollah conflict last summer the administration has moved from a "catch and release" policy toward Iranian operatives in Iraq to killing or capturing them, part of an "aggressive strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program."

Unidentified skeptics within the administration opposed this lethal new approach, pointing out the grave risk that instead of intimidating Iran it will merely escalate tensions between the U.S. and that country, leading to greater and perhaps open hostilities. "This has little to do with Iraq. It's all about pushing Iran's buttons. It is purely political," one senior intelligence official said. Speaking of U.S. efforts aimed at Iran general, the official indicated "that the United States is escalating toward an unnecessary conflict to shift attention away from Iraq and to blame Iran for the United States' increasing inability to stanch the violence there."

In other words, our government is deliberately pursuing policies of confrontation that could propel us into broader military conflict in the region, despite overwhelming popular opposition to the military conflict that already exists in Iraq.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Clinton (D) Heads to Iowa for the Weekend

Chris Cilizza of The Fix reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) will make her first visit to Iowa in three years this weekend. She has five events -- two "house-party style" events, a town hall meeting, a meeting of the Iowa Democratic Party Central Committee and a press availability -- but the press contingent for most of them is being strictly controlled. No packs of 200 reporters trailing her.

Several polls have shown Clinton trailing former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) in Iowa, so a series of visits is to be expected. Clinton made a significant move in the state by signing up the former chief of staff to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), JoDee Winterhof, as state director.

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Global Warming "Smoking Gun" Report To Be Issued

The days of disputing the evidence about global warming are over. On February 2nd the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will officially release an authoritative 1,600 page report -- the first part of a four part series -- that proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that human-caused global warming is here and is destined to get much worse in the future. This part of the report was written by 600 scientists, reviewed by another 600 experts, and edited by bureaucrats from 154 countries.

The "smoking gun is definitely lying on the table as we speak," says top U.S. climate scientist Jerry Mahlman, because the evidence is "compelling." "This isn't a smoking gun; climate is a batallion of intergalactic smoking missiles," says Andrew Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist and study co-author.

A serious attitude adjustment among our leaders and media outlets is required by this irrefutable evidence. No more mocking of global warming by Willard Scott on NBC's Today show (January 2nd). No more uncritical airing of false claims by a U.S. Senator that it was warmer in the 1930s than today (Fox News' Special Report, December 6th). Enough with right wing ridicule of former Vice President Al Gore's global warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth" (CNN's Situation Room, December 15).

I saw TV hosts on Fox News minimizing and mocking global warming just a few days ago. The time for all of that is long past. This is a crisis that needs the full and immediate attention of the entire community of nations, not just ours. The time of winking it away is over.

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Glenn Greenwald Gets it

If you read nothing else about the Iraq "surge" and how the White House is trying to regroup resist the manifest will of the people, read this.

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Diversion: Five DVDs to Buy or Rent

Borders thoughtfully sent me a list of "overlooked movies" that I might want to buy and, you know what ... they look really good! In case you too have overlooked them:

SherrybabySherrybaby - Maggie Gyllenhaal is an emotional tour-de-force in her role as an ex-con struggling with addiction and seeking redemption in her young daughter. With both aching tenderness and sobering frankness, writer and director Laurie Collyer brings new life to a familiar storyline and deftly avoids the pitfalls of cliché.

The Death of Mr. LazarescuThe Death of Mr. Lazarescu - When the curmudgeonly Mr. Lazarescu seeks medical help for a pounding headache and aching gut, the treatment of his seemingly minor maladies quickly unravels into a claustrophobic nightmare. At once a satire on socialized medicine in Romania and a gentle study of a rather unlikable character, the film finds relief in black humor and writer-director Cristi Puiu's compassion toward his subject.

Thank You for SmokingThank You for Smoking - Nick Naylor is a morally bereft tobacco lobbyist determined to restore to the world its right to smoke. He travels to Hollywood to convince a prominent director to have actors smoking in his movie, only to be kidnapped by fanatical anti-smoking activists. Oh, and here's the spin: Naylor's moral elasticity might not be enough to convince his 12-year-old son of the dangers of tobacco. A stellar cast including William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Adam Brody, Katie Holmes, Rob Lowe, and Robert Duvall elevates this dangerously addictive satire.

QuinceañeraQuinceañera - With her 15th birthday fast approaching, Magdalena discovers that she is pregnant. Forsaken by her family, she is forced to move in with her great-granduncle and her gay cousin. With them, she embarks on a rocky path to womanhood. Quiceañera is a touching coming-of-age tale of one girl whose family strives to assimilate into American culture while holding fast to traditional, old-world values.

The Science of SleepThe Science of Sleep (available Feb. 6) - Michael Gondry has relationship issues. Following his brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes this wildly creative and psychically disorienting tale of an emotionally stunted man-child whose rampaging imagination frequently overpowers his ability to reason with the outside world. Gael Garcia Bernal handles the character of Stephane with confidence, as his life is further complicated by a troubled romance with new neighbor and struggling artist Stephanie.
Clearly, I don't see enough films.

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Tancredo (R) Calls for Abolition of Race-Based Congressional Caucuses

Presidential hopeful and immigration extremst Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) said today that the existence of the Congressional Black Caucus and other race-based groups of lawmakers amounts to segregation and should be abolished. "It is utterly hypocritical for Congress to extol the virtues of a colorblind society while officially sanctioning caucuses that are based solely on race," said Tancredo.

Amazing. The "colorblindness" referred to by Tancredo and people like him is blindness to racism in society, and blindness to the reality that disadvantaged groups have interests contrary to those of the advantaged white majority. They want the concerns of legislators of color to be unseen and unheard.

This is a "why we fight" moment.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of "why we fight," Vice President Dick Cheney (R-Undisclosed Location) says that talk of "blunders" in Iraq that undermine White House credibility is "hogwash," because of all the great successes that have occurred there. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) says (correctly) that Cheney is "delusional."

As Craig Crawford notes at CQPolitics today, "Jim Baker lost and Dick Cheney won." Friends of Jim Baker now say that there was a behind-the-scenes effort by Baker to "pry the president away from an addiction to the vice president’s war mongering" that "did not work."

Time to fight on. We had the election, the Iraq Study Group, the firing of Rumsfeld ... and yet nothing has really changed.

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McCain (R) to Introduce Senate Resolution Calling for Benchmarks and Oversight

Presidential contender Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Wednesday that he will introduce a Senate resolution on Iraq, calling for benchmarks and more Congressional oversight. McCain has been a vocal supporter of Bush's "surge" strategy, and in fact called for an even larger troop increase long before Bush's Iraq strategy speech, leading Democratic presidential hopeful former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) and others to call escalation of the Iraq conflict "the McCain doctrine."

This will be the third Iraq resolution in the Senate, coming on the heels of two resolutions that oppose sending in more troops. It appears to be coordinated with a recent call by House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-West Chester) and other GOP Congressmen for strategic benchmarks and oversight.

UPDATE: This CNN story makes it sound like Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) is likely to join in McCain's resolution, despite his misgivings about the troop escalation:
"The goal is to try to salvage this situation and not send the additional troops with a message of disapproval," said Sen. John McCain . . .

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said he believed the Democratic resolution could be viewed as a political attack on Bush and misinterpreted "by our enemies as abandoning Iraq." But, he added, he was skeptical that additional troops in Baghdad would be successful.
It will be a very bad thing if McCain's resolution succeeds in siphoning enough GOP legislators away from the resolutions opposing the war to keep them from passing. The key is public pressure. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) have both sent mass e-mails today calling on supporters to express oppposition to the troop escalation.

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Is Hillary Clinton (D) an Elitist with an Iraq Problem?

I recommend this long piece by Matt Stoller on MyDD.com yesterday titled "Hillary Clinton's DLC Problem," not because I necessarily agree with all of it but because of the magnitude of the stakes and the apparently short time frame before someone (and in all likelihood, her) becomes the "inevitable" nominee, given the amped up financing and accelerated primary schedule that shaping up for 2008. Clinton has the lead in fund-raising, in name recognition, and in supportes among the party elite.

Stoller's thesis is that Clinton's position on Iraq is "mushy untrustworthy glop," portending a disastrous campaign (in the style of Kerry in 2004) that seeks to avoid Iraq as an issue instead of taking it head on, as Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) did in his stirring rebuttal to the State of the Union address. Also, he sees signs that Clinton is heading toward a reprise of her disastrous health care reform effort as First Lady. He regards her as bound up with the party and Democratic fundraising elite and antagonistic to the progressive, activist wing of the party.

A presidential candidate who campaigns on ending the war and combatting inequality in society could profoundly transform the political map, Stoller argues, installing a stable and enduring Democratic majority. A polarizing figure without a strong anti-war stance could open the door for the GOP to recover from the disaster of 2006. Scary stuff.

It is certainly unsettling that we are only in January 2007 and the 2008 nomination seems to be moving toward an early resolution. Clinton's high-powered fundraising and party networking has the potential to generate a self-fulfilling sense of inevitability. This despite the fact the many, many Democratic activists and rank-and-file members are deeply uneasy about her candidacy. (Witness the Ohio blogosphere straw poll on Psychobilly Democrat.)

We Democrats owe it to ourselves to be cautious and to carefully consider arguments like Stoller's.

UPDATE:
Kos notes that Clinton's campaign is trying to spin a lukewarm reception of her internet-based campaign launch as strong netroots support, part of her "Shock and awe" effort to create an impression of insurmountable momentum.

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Oh, So THAT'S What Tubbs Jones (D) Said

Watching the State of the Union, I heard Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland) talking to the President as he made his way to the podium, and although she had a lot to say (and spoke quite loudly) I couldn't make it out.

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer blog "Openers" today, Sabrina Easton and Mark Naymik clear up the mystery:
"Tubbs Jones briefly sidelined the president to make a pitch for her 'Second Chance Act' legislation, which would direct federal money toward programs to smooth the transition for prison inmates who are re-entering the community. Tubbs Jones has spent years trying to pass the bill, which is designed to reduce recidivism.

'President Bush has been supportive of it in the past,' said Tubbs Jones spokeswoman Nicole Williams. 'We hope it will pass this Congress.'"

SOTU Guest a Scam Artist?

The online magazine Slate has an amazing piece about Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Co., who was a featured guest of President George Bush at his State of the Union address. Lauded by Bush as a "talented business entrepreneur and generous social entrepreneur," writer Timothy Noah reveals that experts (including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) regard the whole viedotapes-for-infants market as a scam. "There's no evidence that the videos are educational for babies, and a review of the research on babies and videos concludes that while older babies can imitate simple actions from a video they've seen several times, they learn much more rapidly from real life," said Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan Lynn. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under 2 years of age shouldn't even watch TV.

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Obama (D) Calls for Universal Healthcare

"I am absolutely determined that by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country," Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) said. "I am absolutely determined that by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country," the Illinois senator said. He went on to say that it's wrong for 46 million to lack health insurance when this country spends more than any other on health care, and \Americans pay $15 billion in taxes to help care for the uninsured. "We can't afford another disappointing charade in 2008, 2009 and 2010," he said. "It's not only tiresome, it's wrong."

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Hunter (R) Makes Announcement

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is officially in the race. At his announcement appearance he criticized Democrats for trying to "cut off reinforcements and supplies in a shooting war," saying that if they are successful they would "never be forgiven by the American people," and praised the border fence under construction in Texas and Arizona. "We have to secure the border for national security reasons," he said. His web site proclaims that he is "the most conservative Republican in the presidential sweepstakes."

The theme of his campaign appears to be "the BEST way for AMERICA to stay safe in this dangerous world is to remain STRONG." A strong candidate strongly advocating strong strength. A bit of a one-noter, though.

UPDATE: Yoy!!! Hunter is running ads in Iowa, already. Dean ran the earliest ads in the 2004 cycle, and they weren't up until June 2003.

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Ohio News Roundup

What's happening in the ol' Buckeye State today?

Brunner Has Big Ideas - Mark Niquette reports in the Columbus Dispatch on Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's speech yesterday at a gathering of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, in which she proposed voting by mail only in elections that involve only school levies or ballot issues, and testing voting machines all across the state to assure voters about accuracy. She also talked up recruiting poll workers the way jurors are summoned, and instituting eight hour shifts to make the job less taxing. By the way, Brunner and her staffers will stay away from evening events at the conference, which are sponsored by vendors of voting equipment, to avoid any public perception of too much coziness between state election overseers and those companies.

School's Out in Columbus! - Classes cancelled because a contractor refused to send out school buses and the district couldn't pick up the slack. Apparently it has to do with the arrest of a driver on drug charges two days ago.

Schuring Fights Noxious Dump - Akron Beacon Journal reporter Bob Downing writes that State Sen. Kirk Schuring (R-Jackson Township) is fighting to delay an Ohio EPA operating permit for an enormous (258 acre) private landfill in southern Stark County because there are reports of an underground fire burning there that poses health and safety risks.

Empty Big Boxes - Jane Prendergast writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer about dozens of former big box stores -- Wal-Marts, K-Marts Thriftways -- that stand vacant around the area, causing blight and headaches for businesses and developers. "Seeing the ripple effect of an empty big box, some cities are requiring retailers to make more attractive the sites they want to leave. Others are buying the sites with city funds, hoping that having control over the locations themselves will be better than relying on absentee landlords."

Ted to Select PUCO Member - Alan Johnson writes in the Dispatch today that Gov. Strickland can begin to put his stamp on the five-member Public Utilities Commission of Ohio when he selects a replacement for Judy Jones, whose term expires April 10. The five-member panel now has three Republicans and two independents; by law it can have no more than three members from one party. Past governors have installed their first appointee as chair of the panel, increasing the impact of the appointment.

Election Workers Convicted - Jim Nichols reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on the conviction of two Cuyahoga County Board of Elections workers of criminal negligence for pre-selecting precincts for the 2004 general election recount, in violation of the requirement that the precincts be chosen randomly.

Ted Rattles Faith-Based Advisory Panel - Mark Rollenhagen reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that members of a panel that advises the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives are alarmed because Gov. Strickland "wants to change its focus from strengthening marriages and re-entry programs for felons to determining how to care for Ohio's poor children and how to better use federal aid for poor families."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Federal Minimum Wage Increase Hits Major Snag in Senate

Damn. The Democrats couldn't muster enough Republican votes to avoid debating an amendment that would add tax cuts to the minimum wage bill. They needed 60 votes to defeat the measure and got 54, which included at least 3 five Republicans. In a separate vote, however, the proposal by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) to add a modified line item veto to the minimum wage bill died an ugly death.

Reid forced the minimum wage amendment vote just to establish where things stand. Given the situation, it looks like the Senate will in fact pass a minimum wage bill with tax cuts of some kind, and then the question is whether the House can stomach approving the combined bill. Really a shame.

UPDATE: Kos calls it a Republican filibuster. The Republicans who voted with the Democrats were Coleman, Collins, Warner, Snowe and Specter.

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Jesse Jackson in Columbus Tomorrow CANCELLED

Wish I could be there. Rev. Jesse Jackson (D-IL), leader of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, will hold a press conference with State Sen. Ray Miller (D-Columbus) tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in the Ohio Senate Minority Conference Room in the Ohio Statehouse.

Jackson will announce an initiative to increase the participation of minorities and women in the management of Ohio public pension fund investments. Ohio has some of the largest such funds in America, such as the State Teachers Retirement System, the Public Employee Retirement System, the School Employee Retirement System, and the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund. He'll also discuss his organization’s commitment to ending predatory lending, and the need to redirect the billions of dollars now spent on Iraq toward addressing the educational, environmental, health, and employment needs of the American people.

Reginald Fields notes on the Cleveland Plain Dealer blog "Openers" that Jackson was in Columbus back in September to talk about the pension fund management initiative and to campaign for Gov. Ted Strickland. Jackson's other plans include a prayer breakfast and a meeting with the new governor.

CANCELLATION: Family emergency. Will be rescheduled.

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Senate Panel Passes Resolution Opposing Iraq Surge

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed the resolution drafter by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) by a 12-9 vote. Hagel was the only Republican joining Democratic members in favor. The resolution was changed to use the word "increase" instead of the politically-charged term "escalation." This resolution will compete with the one prepared by Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), all members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, which is considered likely to draw more Republican support.

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Obama Calls Out Fox News on "Madrassa" Smear

Greg Sargent at The Horse's Mouth has the full text of an appropriately aggressive memorandum issued by the office of presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), calling out Insight Magazine (owned by the conservative Washington Times) and Fox News hosts for pushing that ridiculous and patently false smear that Obama was raised as a Muslim and attended a "madrassa" in Indonesia. The story was thoroughly debunked by CNN, but Obama isn't content to leave any lingering doubts:
Insight Magazine published these allegations without a single named source ... . Fox News quickly parroted the charges, and Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy went so far as to ask, “Why didn’t anybody ever mention that that man right there was raised — spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father — as a Muslim and was educated in a Madrassa?” ...

If Doocy or the staff at Fox and Friends had taken [time] to check their facts, or simply made a call to his office, they would have learned that Senator Obama was not educated in a Madrassa, was not raised as a Muslim, and was not raised by his father – an atheist Obama met once in his life before he died.

Later in the day, Fox News host John Gibson again discussed the Insight Magazine story without any attempt to independently confirm the charges.

All of the claims about Senator Obama’s faith and education raised in the Insight Magazine story and repeated on Fox News are false. Senator Obama was raised in a secular household in Indonesia by his stepfather and mother. ...

To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago. Furthermore, the Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa.

These malicious, irresponsible charges are precisely the kind of politics the American people have grown tired of, and that Senator Obama is trying to change by focusing on bringing people together to solve our common problems.
As Sargent notes, the key thing is that Obama calls out the people who spread the rumor by name. His aggressive response sets a good tone for the rest of the campaign.

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Hagel (R) Lays It on the Line in Hearing on Iraq Resolution

Very strong words from Vietnam veteran Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) in the hearing today on a resolution disapproving Bush's surge strategy in Iraq:
"We'd better be damned sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder," [said Hagel]. "We better be as sure as you can be, and I want every one of you -- every one of us 100 senators to look in that camera and you tell your people back home what you think. Don't hide anymore. None of us." ...

"We fail our country if we don't debate this -- if we don't debate this we are not worthy of our country," Hagel said. "We fail our country."

"Stop the impugning of people's motives," Hagel added. "Stop the political stuff -- all of us. All of us. This is much bigger than that. And if we're not adult enough to understand that, we will loose the confidence of the American public. That's what's happened right now."

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Kerry (D) Will Not Seek Presidency

This according to two sources close to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), per CNN. Original story in the Boston Globe.

As Martha would say, it's a good thing.

UPDATE: I watched Kerry's announcement, which he made in a floor speech about an hour ago. His voice choked up a bit. He really, really wanted this thing, and he isn't fundamentally a bad guy or a bad candidate. However, after the ugliness thrown his way in the last election, and the fallout from his disastrous "botched joke" just before election day last November, there was just no way he could overcome the presumption against second chances for presidential candidates.

A number of good questions are swirling about, such as: To whom will Kerry's supporters turn? Who will Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) now support? What will Kerry do with the $13 million in his campaign war chest?

UPDATE:
From Kerry's email to supporters, here is his explanation of his decision -- tying it to his statement against the Vietnam War which kicked off his political career:
35 years ago, I got into public life to end a war that was wrong. I believe now as strongly as I did then that it is wrong to ask more young Americans to die for anyone's mistakes. And I believe that a Congress that shares responsibility for getting us into this war must bear responsibility for getting us out.

Americans went to the polls and voted for change in Iraq. They sent a strong and clear message to all of us, on both sides of the aisle, that they wanted real change in Iraq. They certainly did not vote for us to sit by while some national leaders actually advocate escalating the war and sending more American troops into the middle of an Iraqi civil war. We must stand for a change in Iraq, or we don't stand for anything at all.

This mission, this responsibility, is something all of us must accept. As someone who voted for the resolution that gave the president the authority to go to war, I feel the weight of a personal responsibility to act.

I sought the presidency to lead us on a different course. There are powerful reasons to want to continue that fight now. But I've concluded this isn't the time for me to mount a presidential campaign. It is the time to put my energy to work as part of the new Democratic majority in the Senate, to do all I can to end this war and strengthen our security and our ability to fight the real war on terror.
By the way, a timely CNN poll shows that Kerry supporters tend to shift to Clinton or Gore, and to a lesser extent to Edwards.

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Ohio News Roundup

What's happening in our home state today?

Petro's New Gig - James Nash writes in the Columbus Dispatch that the big law firm former Attorney General Jim Petro (R-Rocky River) has just joined (he will be in the Columbus office of Cincinnati-based Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley) was the recipient of lucrative contracts for state legal work and had previously hired two of Petro's top deputies. The firm states that Petro and his former deputies "won’t work on any of the pending state cases they helped negotiate."

Ohio Job Growth Lags
- Kristin McAllister of the Dayton Daily News reviews a Bureau of Labor Statistics report issued yesterday, indicating that Ohio experienced the second lowest December job growth compared to one year ago. More from the Toledo Blade here.

Ohio Reactions to the SOTU - The Dispatch has a good roundup of reactions by Ohio federal lawmakers.

Ted Says "Insure the Kids" - Jim Provance of the Toledo Blade has a good story on Gov. Ted Strickland's assertion yesterday that extending health insurance coverage to all of Ohio's children is doable, largely through seeking permission to use federal Medicaid funding for that purpose. The governor also pans Bush's proposal to deal with the health crisis by making health benefits taxable and offering a standard deduction for them. The statement came at a meeting of health experts and professionals sponsored by OSU's School of Public Health. As detailed by Suzanne Hoholik and Mark Niquette in the Dispatch, Strickland got an earful of health policy ideas from the esperts.

Inspector Keeps Job
- James Drew and Steve Eder write in the Toledo Blade that Gov. Strickland's reappointment of Inspector General Tom Charles will keep the investigation into Bureau of Workers Compensation investment practices on track.

Garrison on School Funding - Leeann Moore writes in the Zanesville Times Recorder about the two school funding proposals introduced by Rep. Jennifer Garrison (D-Mariettta) yesterday, one to increase the amount of parity aid available to school districts with low property values and the other to fund full-day kindergarten throughout the state. More on this in the Plain Dealer blog "Openers."

College Applications Surging - Some of Ohio's public universities and colleges are experiencing record number of applicants for fall admission, as reported by Janet Okoben in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

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Yellow Dog Sammy Responds to SOTU

Inspired by this, here are my off-the-cuff thoughts on last night's speech:

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Richardson Reacts to SOTU

Presidential hopeful Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) tonight assailed Bush's speech on three key areas: energy efficiency and independence, healthcare, and climate change. As a governor and former Secretary of Energy, he has authority on those issues.

"Welcome to the party, Mr. President, the rest of the country and the world have been talking and doing something about these issues for years," said Governor Richardson. "In addition to being years behind, what the President is proposing doesn't go far enough and isn't realistic."

On energy, Governor Richardson pointed out that the President's proposal on renewable fuels is not broad enough. "Ethanol is a critical part of the solution, but not the only part. Our approach must be comprehensive, exploring all opportunities with renewables, including solar, wind, biomass, fuel cells, and distributive generation, to name a few," said the Governor. "In New Mexico we're requiring 10% of all energy produced must come from renewable sources, and we're moving toward 20%. We're providing tax credits for companies developing renewable energy and we've taken action to reduce and limit carbon dioxide emissions. It's time for serious action, not lip service."

Governor Richardson agreed that the nation must dramatically improve vehicle fuel efficiency but noted the President's plan does not provide enough specifics. It also leaves too many loopholes to achieve the kind of improvements necessary to wean the country off foreign oil and reduce vehicle emissions.

"Ultimately we need a 'man-on-the moon' effort focused on energy independence," added the Governor. "Anything less will not create the change necessary to make a lasting difference."

Governor Richardson applauded the President for addressing the healthcare crisis facing the country but believes the proposals don't go far enough to help the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance.

"The burden of having so many patients unable to pay is crushing the healthcare system, and all of us are paying the price," said the Governor. "In New Mexico and in other states we are finding ways to provide our citizens access to affordable healthcare. We need leadership and funding from the federal government to make sure our working families, and especially our children get the care they deserve."

Another urgent area of concern where states are taking action in the absence of federal leadership or support is climate change.

"It is the gravest environmental threat the world faces. The administration has done little to reverse the effects or causes of global warming and time is running out. We must engage with the rest of the world in this effort, and we must implement a meaningful strategy that will make a difference. States like New Mexico and California, not the federal government, are leading the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the innovation in the states must take place on a national scale."

And finally, Governor Richardson reiterated his opposition to the President's Iraq strategy and believes the United States can and must get our troops out of Iraq by the end of 2007.

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Betty Sutton Responds to SOTU

Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Copley Township) jumped right into the fray on Bush's State of the Union address tonight, and she didn't pull any punches. "Tonight the President had a chance to address the reality of increasing violence and a growing civil war in Iraq," Sutton said. "Instead we heard a plan that ignores the strong statement made by the American people in November, and that military experts and the majority of Congress believe takes us in the wrong direction."

Bush repeated his arguments for a troop surge in Iraq, but Sutton is unswayed. "His proposed plan will put more of our brave men and women into harms way, even after military experts have said that there is no longer a military solution in Iraq."

On the domestic front, Sutton said that Bush simply repackaged his same failed agenda. "His health care solution is to increase taxes on those lucky enough to have health insurance to cover those who don't," Sutton points out. "He continues to support education proposals without adequate funding, leaving millions of children behind. He says he favors energy independence, but continues to support subsidies to oil companies over investing in domestic renewable and alternative energy development."

"The President is trying to foster a belief that he is proposing change, but the empty rhetoric is rooted in failed policies that do not heed the call the American people have mandated," Sutton concluded. "As a new member of Congress I heard the call for real change and progress and I am committed to moving us in a new direction with sound policies and responsible governing."

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Jim Webb Delivers Stinging Rebuttal to SOTU

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union Address tonight, was especially sharp on the decline of the middle class and the debacle that is Iraq.

On the economy:
When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. ... When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it s nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being sent along with them.

In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. ... [T]heir government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace.

In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

And under the leadership of the new Democratic Congress, we are on our way to doing so. The House just passed a minimum wage increase, the first in ten years, and the Senate will soon follow. We've introduced a broad legislative package designed to regain the trust of the American people. We've established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond party lines. We're working to get the right things done, for the right people and for the right reasons.
On Iraq, Webb said that "this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years," a war that many warned was unnecessary, would "take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism" and "would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world." He talks about his family's history and military service:
I want to share with all of you a picture that I have carried with me for more than 50 years. This is my father, when he was a young Air Force captain, flying cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift. ... I still keep it, to remind me of the sacrifices that my mother and others had to make, over and over again, as my father gladly served our country. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine inVietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. ...

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable and predicted disarray that has followed.

The war's costs to our nation have been staggering.
This is the right response and Webb is the right person to make it.

UPDATE: The end was the best part. Webb invoked two Republican presidents, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, to call for closing the gap between the economic classes and bringing the Iraq War to a close, respectively. Roosevelt fought the "robber barons" and called on his party to look out for the people at the bottom rung of society. Eisenhower, he noted, ended the "bloody stalemate" of the Korean War shortly after he reached the Oval Office, for the good of the American people. At the very end, he said:
"Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way."
No ambiguity there.

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Sherrod Brown Responds to SOTU

Using the excerpts released by the White House and a comment just sent out by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon), here's a blow-by-blow critique of tonight's speech.

On what the American people want from their leaders, Bush will say that:
“Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on – as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and help them to build a future of hope and opportunity – and this is the business before us tonight.”
Brown, on the other hand, says that the people want change:
“Tired of a government that betrayed them, weary from policies that benefited the wealthiest one percent of Americans, and disillusioned by a war of choice with no exit strategy, middle class voters in my home state of Ohio this November sent a loud and clear message for change."
Bush will talk about his education initiative, No Child Left Behind, in glowing terms:
“Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act ... And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap. Now the task is to build on this success, without watering down standards ... without taking control from local communities ... and without backsliding and calling it reform ... And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future, and our country is more competitive, by strengthening math and science skills.”
Brown has a darker take on this statute, and broadens the discussion to other pressing education issues:
“Six years later, No Child Left Behind remains an unfunded mandate and unfulfilled goal. The only thing teachers want to hear tonight is that they will finally have the resources and tools they need. College tuition has grown out of reach for too many families hoping for a brighter future for the next generation. They want affordable tuition and increased funding for Pell Grants, and they want the president to live up to his promises."
On the topic of health care, Bush will emphasize patient choice:
“[I]n all we do, we must remember that the best healthcare decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors.”
In reply, Brown skewers Bush's pet project (HSA's) and his proposal to jigger the income tax laws regarding health insurance costs:
"Ohio families want real relief from soaring health care costs and that has to start with lowering prescription drug prices. Millions of Americans rejected the president’s risky scheme last year for health savings accounts. Only this president would follow that up by taxing health benefits and expecting applause."
Bush will pay more lip service to energy independence:
“Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America’s economy running and America’s environment clean. For too long our Nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists – who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments ... raise the price of oil ... and do great harm to our economy. It is in our vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply – and the way forward is through technology.”
Brown is clear about what Ohioans want in the area of energy policy, and that's alternatives to oil and no more big tax breaks for big oil companies:
"With the opportunity to turn Ohio into the Silicon Valley of alternative energy, Ohioans expect more than new drilling opportunities from the White House. They expect, and deserve, a plan that will invest meaningfully in renewable fuel development from component manufacturing to fuel processing and delivery. New ideas mean little without follow-through. Ohioans expect priorities in Washington this year to focus on job creation and community development, not tax cuts for billionaires and subsidies for oil companies."
Here's Bush on the Iraq mess:
“[O]ur military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq – because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching. The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. That is why it is important to work together so our Nation can see this great effort through.”
Brown is stark in his appraisal of Bush's Iraq strategy:
“Recently, the president chose to ignore voters, his military experts, the Iraq Study Group, and growing bipartisan opposition in Congress to the failed Iraq policy when he suggested a surge in troops. Ohioans are very clear about their demands on this issue. Bring our troops home from the War in Iraq and return our focus to the War on Terror."
Bush will call on legislators to be "bipartisan" by accepting Bush's way of thinking. Brown points out that bipartisanship of a more genuine character is already happening:
“Congress is already working in a bipartisan manner to better the lives of middle class families everywhere. Earlier today I stood with Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham as we called for a new direction in trade that will strengthen our economy instead of unraveling it. We welcome the president to work with this Congress as part of a new era in Washington.”

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SOTU Excerpts

The White House has released excerpts from tonight's SOTU, downloadable here.

Here's my condensation: "Whatever my partisan past ... heck, forget at all that. Folks want us to work together. Now the ball's in your court, Democrats, so come on over to my ideas about things already."

Bush to Push Temporary Worker Program Again in SOTU

On CNN just now they showed a leaked excerpt from the speech. Bush is going to argue that the borders cannot be secured unless there is a temporary worker program to "take the pressure off." House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) is saying "Let's wait and see what the President has to day." Wolf Blitzer joked that it will draw applause from at least one side of the aisle ... and he didn't mean the Republican side.

Blunt is talking up the bipartisan commission idea again. He also echoes Boehner's statement today that "we should know in 60 to 90 days" if the surge is working.

UPDATE: If you want to see Karl Rove's talking points about tonight's SOTU, they're at TPM Muckraker. Basically, the President will be "exuberant and determined" as he tackles big domestic issue "in an innovative and bold way that will capture people's imagination" and says things about immigration "in a visionary way" that "should unite both parties." Americans want their leaders in Washington to work together, and the President believes the parties can find common ground. "The Democrats' reaction will be a test of their imagination, determination, and political courage."

Sheesh.

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House Republican Leadership and Their Iraq "Benchmarks" UPDATED

Yesterday House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-West Chester) and other key House Republican leaders who support the president's proposal for a surge indicated that they will demand that the president report every 30 days to Congress on the progress that the Iraqi government and the U.S. administration are making in the war. The GOP leadership have laid out a series of benchmarks that they expect will be met, much of it tied to Iraqi cooperation. "This message from Congress to both the Administration and the Iraqi government is that Congress' commitment is not open-ended either and we expect real, tangible results," a senior GOP aide said.

It was also reported that Boehner will send a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to propose forming a new bipartisan panel devoted exclusively to Iraq oversight. This fits in with Bush's mention of a bipartisan Congressional panel about Iraq during his announcement of the new Iraq "surge" strategy a few weeks ago.

At first glance it seems like this posturing by House GOP leadership fits in with the idea that Republicans are breaking with the president on Iraq. Unlike the Warner resolution announced yesterday, however, I don't see this as a real break. Boehner and his group insist that they believe in and support the surge. The "benchmarks" seem like window dressing, and perhaps groundwork for blaming the Iraqis when the new strategy fails.

In any event, the proposed bipartisan panel seems like a totally pernicious idea. As with Bush's comment in the speech, it looks like an effort to shift some of the ownership of the Iraq debacle over to the Democrats. Hopefully that's a non-starter, as it should be.

UPDATE: Today Boehner told CNN that the U.S. should know if the increase in U.S. troops in Iraq is working "in the next 60-90 days." Boehner also said Republicans were "skeptical" the surge plan would work because of the track record of the Iraqi government.

Okay, now this looks like more of a break with Bush. I'd say the Republican revolt has now become general and official.

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Libby Trial Will Be Trouble for Cheney and Rove

The opening statements in the federal trial of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby have begun, and all indications point to the evidence at trial being very damning to Vice President Dick Cheney and Special White House Advisor Karl Rove.

Marcy Wheeler ("Empty Wheel") is liveblogging the trial at FireDogLake. In essence, she reports that the prosecution will attempt to prove that Libby lied and even destroyed a damaging document in order to protect Cheney from disclosure of his early involvement in the disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. In effect, Libby was to take the fall to protect his boss. (Also reported by MSNBC here.) The defense asserts that Libby was made into a scapegoat by the White House in order to protect Rove.

Atrios quotes this excerpt from defense counsel's opening statement, as reported in The Guardian:
"They're trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb," Wells said, recalling the conversation between Libby and Cheney. "I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected."
Digby reports that NBC Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell "is asking Andy Card and Leon Panetta if the president is going to have to ask Dick Cheney to resign as a result of what's being alleged at the Libby Trial."

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly admits error -- he thought the Libby trial would be a "snoozer," but instead it is "heating up nicely."

Indeed.

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The Best Campaign Announcement Platform Ever?

Today Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" was nominated for two Oscars, Best Documentary and Best Song (Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up").

Just picture it! Obama and Clinton had skillful campaign roll-outs, and Edwards had a dramatic backdrop in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, but what more perfect announcement could there be than one coupled with an acceptance speech on the most-watched TV event of the year?

"I'd like to thank the Academy and my lovely wife Tipper, and now I have an announcement to make . . ."

Wow. Just don't kiss your wife, Al, and it's a winner.

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Romney (R) Adds Hastert (R) To Growing List of Congressional Supporters

While former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) has slipped in recent polling against front-runners Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY), he certainly hasn't stopped picking up notable endorsements. MSNBC reports that former House leader Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has joined Romney's "Congressional Team." In Romney's press release, Hastert calls Romney the "right kind of leader for America" (emphasis on "right," apparently).

Other Congressional supporters in the Romney camp are Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), Rep. Jim McCrery (R-LA), and Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA).

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Angry Space (D) Protests Idea of Highway Program Cuts

Freshman Congressman Zack Space (D-Dover) issued a stinging press release last Friday, stating that he is "[a]ngry that a landmark highway bill that has brought jobs and highway construction to Ohio may not be funded at the levels agreed upon two years ago," which would be "devastating for the Buckeye State." Space points out that he is the only Ohio Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He says that a proposal to cut costs by holding funding of the SAFETEA-LU Act of 2005 (it stands for the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users") to FY 2006 levels during FY 2007, instead of levels promised when the law was passed in 2005, could cost Ohio "up to $109,827,609 and 5,217 jobs."

The press release suggests the image of Space in single-handed combat with Congressional leadership (perhaps including a showdown with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo), recently appointed to the Appropriations Committee), but it isn't really so dire. First, Republican Reps. Steve LaTourette (R-Painesville) and Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) are also on the transportation committee, so despite the party difference Space will presumably have allies in this battle to save Ohio. Second, it appears that the crisis may already have passed - the idea of restricting highway and mass transit funding unleashed such a storm of protest that it is apparently dead-on-arrival.

Nevertheless, it is an important issue, linked to the even more important budget deficit mess, and Space is correct to highlight it. The basic problem is that Congressional leaders are stuck with massive Republican deficits and no federal budget yet passed for FY 2007. With all that money going out by special appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan, there is tremendous pressure to hold the line on domestic spending somewhere. A report issued in December by the Democratic staff of the House's Committee on Appropriations stated that the 110th Congress encounters “a fiscal challenge of historic proportions” because of the “disastrous fiscal policies of the past several years” of Republican control.

The alert that Congress might pass a continuing spending resolution to hold highway and mass transit spending at FY 2006 levels came earlier this month from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). As a group, the states would get $3.4 billion less than Congress promised when it passed SAFETEA-LU in 2005. Jack Basso, chief operating officer at AASHTO, protested as well that it would be unfair to cut highway spending because it is linked to a “Highway Trust Fund” created in 1998 and paid for by the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax on gasoline. It doesn't seem right to use that money to address the federal deficit in general.

There has already been a big political backlash against the proposed highway spending restriction, and the most recent newsletter from AASHTO (also issued last Friday) suggests that the Congressional appropriators have already backed away from the idea. "Facing the prospect of a possible $4 billion cut in the Fiscal Year 2007 funding levels Congress had guaranteed for federal-aid highway and transit programs, House and Senate transportation authorizers this week urged their colleagues to fully fund the programs at authorized levels," it said.

So, Rep. Space can presumably calm himself just a little, at least for now. However, the Budget Wars are just beginning. Space isn't the only member of Congress who will be losing his or her temper.

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Are We Headed For a "National Primary" on Feb. 5, 2008?

Here's a chilling thought. Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, has a post on Real Clear Politics suggesting that the first Tuesday in February may become a de facto "national primary," determining the presidential nominees six months before the nominating conventions begin and nine months before the election.

It used to be that long-shot candidates could use early victories in smaller (and therefore less expensive) states to build their fundraising and organizations and vault themselves into contention in later large-state primaries. (The last best example is probably Jimmy Carter in 1976). However, the national parties don't really control the schedule, and large states have long resented the prominence given to New Hampshire and Iowa as the traditional kick-off smaller states. As interest and voter turnout in late primaries have dwindled in recent election cycles, more and more states have moved their primaries forward.

The Democratic National Committee tinkered with the traditional lineup as well this past year, moving the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary up into the same January time frame as the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. The rest of the states are supposed to take their places in a "window" that starts with the first Tuesday in February. That would make the basic framework for 2008 as follows:
Jan. 14: Iowa caucuses (both parties)

Jan. 19: Nevada caucuses (Democrats)

Jan. 22: New Hampshire primary (both parties)

Jan. 29: South Carolina primary (Democrats)

Feb. 2: South Carolina Primary (Republicans)

Feb. 5: One or more other states, followed by the rest on later dates.
However, the framework is not stable. New Hampshire is threatening to move its primary earlier. Several states have threatened to move their primaries earlier than Febuary 5th, although they are unlikely to do so because the national parties have said that they won't recognize delegates chosen in such primaries. And, a number of large states are all determined to move up to February 5th (including California, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, and Illinois), joining more than a half dozen already scheduled for that date (including Arizona, North Carolina and Missouri).

That latter development is what Brown writes about. He says we'll know in the next several months whether February 5 will become in effect a national primary that determines the nominees. If so, "long-shot candidates need not apply" because they "won't have the money, organizational support or name recognition to compete in that many states at the same time." To name names:
A de facto national primary would likely help Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and John McCain of Arizona, the presumed front-runners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. They are likely to enter 2008 with more money, higher name recognition and endorsements from state political leaders and interest groups. Their money advantage would allow them to compete - and buy television ads - everywhere, while the endorsements would supply the foot soldiers for their campaigns.

There are candidates on both sides of the aisle who would be competitive with the front-runners under such a scenario. They include Democrats Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards; and Republicans Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor. They already have the required name recognition (except for Romney) and have demonstrated fund-raising ability.

But there are almost a dozen other potential candidates in the two parties -- senators, congressmen and governors well known in their home states, but strangers to the national electorate -- who would be severely handicapped by a massive Feb. 5 primary.
Brown suggests that long shot candidates could drop out of the race just a few months from now if state legislatures do in fact put enough primaries on February 5th to make that a make-or-break date. It occurs to me that this situation may have played a big role in the thinking of several promising candidates who have already bowed out, such as Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA).

OH Sen: Zurz (D) May Take Job in Strickland Administration UPDATED

State Sen. Kimberly Zurz (D-Green), who lost out to State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) in the contest for Ohio Senate Minority Leader, admitted to the Columbus Dispatch that she is being considered for a position in the administration of Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon). No word on what position or when an announcement might be made, and Sen. Fedor said that she has not begun to discuss who might replace Zurz.

Zurz was appointed to the Ohio Senate in September 2003. She is the president of a funeral home in Akron and graduated from the University of Akron. She is eligible to run for another term if she stays in the senate.

The Democratic contingent in the Ohio Senate already includes two young, relatively inexperienced appointees (Capri Cafaro and Jason Wilson). However, those two are regarded as having political strengths that will help them win election to their seats. Another appointment may mean another fresh young face, or it may mean a veteran gets moved up. The 28th Ohio Senate District includes much of Akron and southern Summit County and all of Portage County. Any thoughts on who might be chosen?

All three State Representatives in the 28th Ohio Senate District are Democrats: newcomer Stephen Dyer (D-Green) and veterans Bob Otterman (D-Akron) Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) and Kathleen Chandler (D-Kent). Otterman is term-limited in 2008.

CORRECTION: Paul points out in a comment that it is Rep. Sykes, not Rep. Otterman, whose district is in the 28th Ohio Senate District. This brings up another name -- former Rep. Barbara Sykes (D-Akron), who occupied her husband's seat for a time and lost a close race for state auditor in November. I'm aware that she is set to take the reins as president of the Ohio United Way, but could she be persuaded to resume her public service as an Ohio Senator, replacing Zurz?

UPDATED: Zurz will be Strickland's Director of the Ohio Department of Commerce. (h/t Jerid at BSB.)

UPDATED AGAIN! Here is coverage from the Akron Beacon Journal. They mention Reps. Sykes, Dyer, and Chandler as being on the short list for appointment to the seat.

I'm hearing that this Senate seat has a history of going back and forth between Summit and Portage county. Leigh Herington (D), who preceded Zurz, was from Portage county, so now the focus shifts back there. Chandler is certainly a possibility, but Portage County Commissioner Chuck Keiper (D) is a good prospect. He won re-election convincingly and he's done well as a commissioner.

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Brunner (D) Asks Taylor (R) For Audit of SoS Office

Jennifer Brunner (D-Columbus) relieved Ken Blackwell (R-Cincinnati) of command of the Secretary of State's office and found the sails torn, the rigging ahoo, and the crew members drunken and brawling. Well, okay, perhaps the nautical metaphor is lame. As detailed in the Columbus Dispatch today, however, she has found disheartening signs of disruption and mismanagement since taking over the office:
* Blackwell gave bonuses totallng more than $80,000 to 19 departing staff members. Bonuses are not forbidden in government agencies but are very unusual.

* Blackwell left Brunner with only about a third of the annual budget to get her through the second half of the fiscal year, which will probably force her to seek additional state funding.

* Of the 52 staff members departing, 21 have already filed claims for unemployment benefits, including several who received bonuses. Unlike private employers, state agencies pay those benefits directly. Brunner says she has not been left with enough funds to pay benefits to all the workers who were not kept on staff.

* Blackwell had 50,000 letters printed up to send to corporations whose charters had been canceled, but the envelopes apparently were destroyed. This bit of incompetence leaves Brunner wondering what other acts of mismanagement remains to be uncovered.
Accordingly, Brunner has asked new State Auditor Mary Taylor (R-Green) to conduct a complete financial and peformance of the office. "We figured we probably better have someone from the outside look at what the state of affairs is here at the point we took it over so we know what we’re dealing with," Brunner said. Taylor's office acknowledged that such a converation occurred and said that they are "awaiting a formal request."

This will be an interesting test of the ability of these two state officials from opposing political camps to work together. Of course, Taylor will not want to generate negative publicity about a former Republican office holder. However, she is a professional accountant (the first CPA to hold the office of state auditor), and Brunner also has a professional background directly relevant to her duties (she served as legislative counsel to Sherrod Brown when he was secretary of state, practiced election law, and was a common pleas judge). I want to believe that their professionalism can rise to the surface here. There is at least the potential for these two to put aside their partisan differences and work together to do a thorough audit and get the secretary of state's office on a solid footing.

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On Tap: Political Events Today UPDATED

What's happening in the world of politics today? Here are a few items:
  • Bush gives his State of the Union address at 9:00 pm. Newly elected Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) gives the Democratic rebuttal.
  • Lt. Gen. David Petraeus testifies at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Forces Committee to be General and Commander of Multi-National Forces in Iraq, starting at 9:30 am.
  • A Senate vote is likely on adding the modified line item veto proposed by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) to minimum wage legislation.
  • Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker will testify before the House Armed Services Committee starting at 10 am on the implications of Bush's Iraq policy on total force readiness.
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), Rep. John Larson (D-CT) and James Clyburn (D-CS) hold a press conference on the State of Union Address at 1:00 pm.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

On Eve of SOTU, Bush Drops Into the 20's

CBS has a poll out showing that Bush has actually plunged all the way down through the 30's and into the 20's on approval of his job performance:

28% Approve
64% Disapprove

Almost identical numbers for his "surge" strategy in Iraq (29% Favor, 66% Oppose), whether he shares the respondent's priorities (28% Yes, 69% No), and whether the country is on the right track (26% Yes, >66% No). The war is most frequently rated as the nation's most important problem (33%), far outpacing the economy (8%) and health care (7%), and three-quarters of Americans feel the war is going badly.

ADDENDUM: Matt Stoller at MyDD points out that Bush's approval rating is 4 points lower than Nixon's when he left office.

2nd ADDENDUM: The BBC has released a poll showing that the regard for the U.S. around the world is also dropping. A year ago, 36% of respondents in 18 countries said the U.S. had a mainly positive influence in world affairs, and 47 said it was negative. Today, 29% said the U.S. has a positive influence, 52% said nagative.

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CNN Debunks "Madrassa" Smear Against Obama

On the CNN show "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" just now, Senior International Correspondent John Vause reported from the Islamic elementary school in Jakarta, Indonesia attended by presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for two years when he was about 6 to 8 years old. (The print edition of the story is here.) Hopefully this debunking will put to rest the absurd right-wing whisper campaign about Obama being a closet Muslim and/or brainwashed Islamic agent.

Some highlights:
* The source of the rumors, Insight Magazine, is owned by the conservative Washington Times. The magazine cites no named sources, but attributes the story to the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY).

* The Clinton campaign repudiates the allegations.

* The students in the school include Christian and Buddhist children as well as Muslim children. It is located in a well-to-do neighborhood, and the U.S. Ambassador lives down the street.

* The teachers wear Western garb and the curriculum includes Western-style science and social studies classes as well as Koranic studies.

* One of Obama's classmates said that not a lot has changed at the school since the two men were pupils.

* The head of the school appeared in the story and dismissed the notion that the school is a "madrassa" or anything like it, or that extreme religious dogma is taught there.
The allegations about Obama were mentioned on the Fox News morning show on Friday. A Fox News executive, Bill Shine, defended the coverage by saying that Fox hosts were simply expressing their opinions, and repeatedly cited Insight as the source of the allegations.

In short, there is no substance to any of this at all. Let there be an end to it.

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Richardson Calls For Troop Withdrawal From Iraq in 2007

At a press conference today, presidential hopeful Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) stated flatly that he thinks U.S. troops should be pulled out of Iraq this year. "I believe we need to withdraw from Iraq this calendar year," he said. He also called for redeployment of troops to Afghanistan and other hotspots throughout the Middle East to deal with international terrorism threats, and for an international conference to explore a political solution to the sectarian conflict in Iraq.

Watch the video here.

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I Am Pro-Choice

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007
I am pro-choice because women have the right to control their own bodies. If they didn't have that right, they would be less than human. Chattels, perhaps. Besides, the result of trying to outlaw abortion is illegal back-street abortions, which are unsafe and kill women. We must never go back to that.

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GOP Senators Unveil Resolution Opposing Baghdad Surge

Prominent GOP Senators John Warner (R-VA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Norm Coleman (R-MN), joined by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), are on C-SPAN right now describing their entry in the resolution derby going on in opposition to the Iraq escalation strategy advanced by President Bush. They are describing this version as expressing firm opposition to increased troop levels, but in less partisan language than the resolution drafted by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). The new resolution draws on the conclusions of the Iraq Study Group and avoids the politically-charged term "escalation." The sponsors hope that this version will gain broader bipartisan support than other versions under consideration.

The involvement of Sen. Warner will help embolden other GOP legislators to distance themselves from the Bush strategy. Warner is saying that the sponsors agree with Bush that failure in Iraq overall would be a disaster, but object to inserting U.S. troops into the sectarian conflict in Baghdad. Warner and Collins have both said that additional troops are needed in Anbar Province to combat Al Qaeda-supported insurgents there, but putting more troops in Baghdad is not likely to do any good.

Collins is saying that Prime Minister al-Maliki doesn't want the additional troops in Baghdad, and she doesn't think the increase there will work, where the only possible solution to sectarian violence would be political rather than military.

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Early Candidate Announcements in Ohio Legislative Races

Just so you know, it's not just the 2008 presidential race where early candidate announcements are taking place. There are a few names already in play for 2008 legislative races in Ohio.

My big source for this post is the excellent resource website Reclaim Ohio, set up by Paul Ackerman and Ryan Fissel at Columbus-based Linwood Campaign Services. It collects great information on incumbents and challengers in Ohio elections, including campaign web sites and past Democratic performance in each district. Plus, the site has color-coded, clickable district maps.

So, who are the new candidates?

* Lawyer, township trustee, and Army veteran Michael Todd (D-Medina Township) has announced his candidacy for the 16th Ohio Congressional District seat of Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Navarre). Todd is the Democratic State Central Committee Member for Medina, Wayne, Ashland, and Holmes Counties.

* State Rep. Jim Carmichael (R-Wooster), unopposed in his 2006 re-election campaign in the 3rd Ohio House District, will run for the 22nd Ohio Senate District seat of term-limited Ron Amstutz (R-Wooster).

* Pro-life advocate and former legislative aide Nathan Burd (R-Reynoldsburg) is a declared candidate for the 19th Ohio House District seat of term-limited Rep. Larry Flowers (R-Canal Winchester).

It's going to be a very long campaign season in Ohio legislative races.

In other Ohio General Assembly news, a screening committee has recommended that House Republicans pick Mercer County Commissioner Jim Zehringer (R-Fort Recovery), owner of the Meiring Poultry and Fish Farm, to replace State Sen. Keith Faber (R-Celina) as State Representative for the 77th Ohio House District, which encompasses Mercer and Preble counties and part of Darke County.

Ohio Senate: Committee Assignments for New Dem Members

The rosters for Ohio Senate committees have been released, and it's pretty interesting to see where the new Democratic Senators are assigned. Each is the ranking minority member of one committee.

Sen. John Boccieri (D-New Middletown), who won the seat of Sen. Bob Hagan, is the new ranking Democratic member of the State & Local Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. (Boccieri is a C-130 pilot in the Air Force Reserves.) He is also on the Agriculture Committee and the Insurance, Commerce & Labor Committee.

Sen. Capri Cafaro (D-Hubbard), appointed to replace Attorney General Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township), is the ranking Democratic member of the Highways and Transportation Committee, where the other Democrats are also newcomers (Shirley Smith and Jason Wilson). She is also on the Health, Human Services & Aging Committee and the State & Local Government and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Ass't Minority Whip Lance Mason (D-Cleveland), elected to outgoing Sen. Eric Fingerhut's seat, is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee. (Mason has been an assistant county prosecutor and is a criminal defense lawyer at the big law firm Baker & Hostetler.) He is also on the Energy & Public Utilities Committee, Environment & Natural Resources Committee, Judiciary-Civil Justice Committee, and Rules Committee.

Sen. Dale Miller (D-Cleveland), appointed last year during the campaign season and then elected as an incumbent, is the ranking Democratic member of the Finance and Financial Institutions Committee. He is also on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Health, Human Services & Aging Committee, Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee, and Ways and Means & Economic Development Committees.

Sue Morano (D-Lorain), elected on her second try for the seat of outgoing Sen. Jeffry Armbruster (R), is the ranking minority member of the Environment & Natural Resources Committee. She is also on the Education Committee and Health Committee, and is a member of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.

Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland), who won the seat of former Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss (D-Cleveland Heights), is the ranking Democrat on the Health, Human Services & Aging Committee, where the other Democrats are also newcomers (Cafaro, Miller, and Morano). She is also on the Highways Committee, Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee, and State and Local Government & Veterans Affairs Committee.

Sen. Jason Wilson (D-Columbiana), appointed to replace father Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-St. Clairsville), is the new ranking minority member of the Agriculture Committee. He is also on the Energy & Public Utilities Committee and Highways & Transportation Committee.

Campaign Organizations Brace for Long Haul

Chris Cillizza has posted a "who's who" of Sen. Hillary Clinton's formidable roster of campaign staffers at The Fix . This is just the latest in his "Inner Circle" series. Previous entries dealt with Sam Brownback (R-KS), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY), and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). Very interesting reading all around. Did you know that Detroit pizza magnate Tom Donahue Monaghan is in the Brownback camp? That Dodd picked up two key advisors who would have worked for Mark Warner (Jim Jordan and Amos Hochstein)? That Giuliani scooped up recent gubernatorial candidate Rep. Jim Nussle (R-IA), despite their deep differences over abortion and gay rights?

Overall, the lists are very impressive. There's nothing tentative about these campaign organizations, even though we're a year away from the first primary. The candidates are scrambling to load up with staffers and start raising money because they know that they are in for a significantly longer and more expensive battle than ever seen before. A front page story in the New York Times today details the "breathtakingly fast start" to this presidential election cycle, which is "exposing an ever-growing field of candidates to longer, more intensive scrutiny and increasing the amount of money they need to remain viable." Clinton has signalled that she will opt out of public financing for both the primary and general election parts of the cycle, which may lead most or all of the other front-runners to do the same.

The pressure felt in this early part of the process has also been intensified by the increasingly front-loaded nature of the primary calendar. South Carolina and Nevada have officially been moved up to the first few weeks along with Iowa and New Hampshire, and many other states are considering moving their primaries to earlier dates (California, Michigan, New Jersey and Illinois are mentioned in the Times article, but I've also heard rumblings about Florida). Consquently, the campaigns have to jockey for a strong position at the outset. It's hard to picture any late entrant to the field gaining significant traction.

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Brownback, Tancredo, Hunter -- Whom Shall The Faithful Anoint?

I love this post by Screwy Hoolie at Scrutiny Hooligans, reviewing the right-wing fringe of the GOP presidential field. Having Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) all in the race sets up a "competition that ought to get red-meat Republicans in steel-cage match feuds for the next two years," because "barring some chimeric fusion resulting in a Hunter Tanback Browncredo" the far-right base has a tough choice to make:
Brownback has staked out the position of the most fervently anti-choice candidate while Tancredo has sole ownership of the most unforgiving anti-immigration stance. Hunter, whose website campaign slogan is "America: The Strength of Freedom", is a strong-on-defense fiscal watchdog.
Which way to go, when each candidate highlights one dimension of the anti-abortion/xenophobia/militarism trifecta?

All three oppose stem cell research and "purpurt to be anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-income tax, anti-Islam, and anti-gun control." However, there are big differences as well. Brownback is opposed to the "surge," Tancredo is non-committal, and Hunter is all for it. Brownback supports a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, while Tancredo wants to lock'em all up. Hunter is by far the strongest on fiscal discipline rhetoric, but while he is a Baptist he is much less in-your-face about his religiosity than the others

Hard to call, but Screwy Hoolie concludes that the Righties will come home to the steadier, quieter Hunter as their standard bearer.

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Shocking "Surge" In Iraq Violence, But Kristol Tells Bush Critics to Just Shut Up

Violence in Iraq is escalating, with 27 U.S. troops killed in bombings and the shooting down of a helicopter over the weekend and at least 100 Iraqis killed in market bombings in Baghdad and the northeast town of Khalis early today. Nevertheless, Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard and commentator on Fox News, said yesterday that the critics of Bush's surge plan should just shut up for the next six to nine months.

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SOTU Will Focus on Global Warming and Health Care

Unbelievable. Eager to change the subject from Iraq (where every new poll shows even less support for the president), Bush will plunge into the health care crisis and global warming in his State of the Union address tomorrow night. These are topics he has studiously avoided for six years, except to promote the non-solution of Health Savings Accounts for the former and to undermine scientific evidence as to the latter. In tomorrow's speech, however, each topic will receive the full Bushification treatment.

As to health insurance, it's more On-Your-Ownership Society. Bush is expected to propose a standard deduction on federal income taxes for health insurance ($7,500 for individuals, $15,000 for families), coupled with treating employer-provided health insurance as taxable income rather than a non-taxable fringe benefit. Thus, people with health benefits worth more than the deduction would pay taxes on it, in theory paying for the tax benefits otherwise doled out. The deductions are expected to encourage those without health insurance to go and buy it. In other words, the government would tax those with insurance to encourage other people to get some. "Bad policy," declared Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee that writes tax legislation. Back in 1986 Rangel led the opposition to a similar scheme proposed by Reagan.

On the whole, another ineffective and poorly reasoned approach. Most low and middle-income families just don't have enough income to purchase health insurance even with tax breaks. "Tax deductions do little or nothing for those people who are uninsured and devastated by high health care costs," said Bill Vaughan, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union. "When an individual family policy for decent health coverage costs about $11,000 a year, tax credits of $1,000 to $3,000 to buy insurance are almost meaningless."

Bush is also expected to praise states that have implemented or proposed plans to achieve universal health care coverage (Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania), which is anther way of saying that the federal government won't be getting into that arena.

On the global warming front, Bush is expected to call for higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, lower emissions standards for power plants (but not as aggressively lower as Democrats want), and tax incentives to encourage the use of renewable energy sources. Fuel efficiency standards for cars haven't been raised since 1995 and increasing them is long overdue, so that part is welcome news. However, Bush's proposals will be far too weak to significantly impact the global warming problem. What is needed is a true crisis mentality and strong mandatory regulation, and that is simply not to be expected from a president who has talked up energy independence before but never backed it up with real change. (The percentage of oil that the U.S imports has increased from 53% to 60% since Bush took office in 2000.) Significantly, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is downplaying any real impact from tomorrow's State of the Union Address on energy policy. Barton said he expects the president to add fresh "nuances" to his energy policy but not to risk economic damage with drastic pollution reducing measures. "I don't think that you're going to see any great change in his position," Barton said.

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On Tap: Political Events Today

What's going on today? Here are a few items:

  • Senators John Warner (R-VA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Susan Collins (R-ME), all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, hold a news conference at 3:00 pm today on their version of an Iraq War resolution. Warner has been a stout defender of Bush's war policy in the past, but his resolution is expected to "call on Bush to keep U.S. troops out of sectarian fighting in Iraq, a step that would be seen as an important signal from Republicans that they are willing to restrict the president's command." Gen. David Petraeus, the new comander of Iraq ground forces, will testify before the Senate Armed Forces Committee tomorrow.

  • Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) conducts the first of three live video webcasts tonight at 7:00 pm.

  • Al Gore gives the keynote address at a conference on global warming at Boise State University at 9:00 pm our time, 7:00 pm out there.

  • Today is the anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade. Republican presidential contender Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) will particiate in the "March for Life" Washington, and Bush will do a phone call to march participants at noon from Camp David before flying to the White House on Marine One at 1:30 pm or so.
  • Saturday, January 20, 2007

    Stunning Newsweek Poll: Two-Thirds of Americans Oppose Surge

    A Newsweek Poll released today shows that a staggering 68% of Americans oppose Bush's troop surge strategy in Iraq:
    Bush’s call for a “surge” in troops is opposed by two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans and supported by only a quarter (26 percent). Almost half of all respondents (46 percent) want to see American troops pulled out “as soon as possible.”

    Bush’s Iraq plan isn’t doing anything for his personal approval rating either; it’s again stuck at its lowest point in the history of the poll (31 percent). Meanwhile, the new Democratic-controlled Congress is getting relatively high marks. And 55 percent actually trust Congressional Dems on U.S. policy in Iraq, far more than the 32 percent who trust their commander in chief.
    Bush has lost ground on all aspects of his leadership and character:
    Sixty-two percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. For the first time, more than half of the respondents (53 percent) disapprove of his approach to deterring terrorism. More than half of the public thinks he is not “honest and ethical” (54 percent) and lacks “strong leadership qualities” (57 percent). Just before the last election, 55 percent said Bush was honest and 63 percent saw him as a strong leader.
    Not surprisingly under the circumstances, Democrats are looking good in 2008 according to the poll, with Hillary Clinton essentially tied in head-to-head matchups with McCain and Giuliani:
    Looking forward to 2008, a generic Democratic presidential candidate has a 21-point lead over an unnamed GOP challenger. The race becomes much closer, however, when voters are asked to choose among actual names. The new poll finds statistical dead heats in different scenarios involving John McCain or Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards. In a hypothetical match-up, Clinton gets 48 percent while McCain gets 47. A Giuliani-Clinton race finds the same numbers but with the former New York City mayor as the hypothetical victor.
    And, by the way, this week's New Yorker cover depicts Bush as crazed emperor Nero playing a lyre while the nation burns.

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    Floodgates Open: Brownback In, Richardson to Announce

    When it snows, it's a blizzard. Following Hillary Clinton's announcement this morning, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) has officially declared, and Gov. Bill Richardson will do so on ABC's "This Week" tomorrow morning.

    If this all seems kind of early, it is. And it's not just the announcements that are ahead of schedule, the smear machine is in full swing as well. Just Google the terms "Obama" and "Madrassa" and you'll see the groundwork that's being laid on the wingnut blogs. Just like they smeared John Kerry as a homosexual European socialist war criminal, they're going to try to smear Obama as an Islamist Manchurian candidate. It would be funny, except it isn't.

    PS: It's not just the wingnut blogs, it's the wingnut MSM too -- i.e., Fox News.

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    Clinton Declares UPDATED

    Just announced. “I’m in and I’m in to win,” she says on her web site:
    The stakes will be high when America chooses a new president in 2008.

    As a senator, I will spend two years doing everything in my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can do. But only a new president will be able to undo Bush's mistakes and restore our hope and optimism.

    Only a new president can renew the promise of America -- the idea that if you work hard you can count on the health care, education, and retirement security that you need to raise your family. These are the basic values of America that are under attack from this administration every day.

    And only a new president can regain America's position as a respected leader in the world.

    She will be hosting a series of live video web chats over the next several days to solicit input and support. "Starting Monday, January 22, at 7 p.m. EST for three nights in a row, I'll sit down to answer your questions about how we can work together for a better future. And you can participate live at my website."

    UPDATE: Armstrong points out at MyDD that the video web chats bracket Bush's State of the Union address. Very nice move.

    Watch the video of Hillary's announcement here.

    2nd UPDATE: A new Washington Post-ABC poll -- just in time for Hillary's announcement! -- shows HRC at 41% among a field of a dozen Democratic hopefuls, far ahead of ostensible first-tier contenders John Edwards and Barack Obama.

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    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Where Do Ohio Members of Congress Stand on Iraq Escalation?

    Think Progress has a great scorecard on where Senators and Representatives stand on Bush's plan to plunge more U.S. troops into the fray in Baghdad and Anbar Province. Where do Ohio's federal lawmakers stand? All the Democrats are opposed except Wilson, whose views are not known. Among the Republicans, three are in support, two oppose or lean oppose, and six are keeping mum so far:

    Sen. George Voinovich (R) - OPPOSE: “At this point I am skeptical that a surge in troops alone will bring an end to sectarian violence and the insurgency that is fomenting instability in Iraq,” Voinovich said. “The generals who have served there do not believe additional troops alone will help. And my faith in Prime Minister [Nouri] al-Maliki’s political will to make the hard choices necessary to bring about a political solution is fragile at best.” [Link]

    Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) - OPPOSE: “‘I’m against an escalation in this war, and sending more troops is an escalation,’ [Sherrod Brown] said.” [Link]

    =======

    Rep. Steve Chabot (R-1st) - REFUSED TO ANSWER: “‘There are serious consequences to our security if we fail in Iraq. It is important for Congress and the President to work together to address the challenges we face in Iraq and the War on Terror. Clearly, our troops are doing a tremendous job and deserve our full support. However, we must also hold the Iraqi government accountable and insist that they step up and take the lead in securing their nation.’” [Link]

    Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-2nd) - UNKNOWN

    Rep. Mike Turner (R-3rd) - UNKNOWN

    Rep. Jim Jordan (R-4th) - UNKNOWN

    Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-5th) - SUPPORT: “In his speech, President Bush committed more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to stabilize Iraq. Personally, I do not know whether committing additional U.S. troops will aid Iraqi Security Forces in quickly assuming control. However, as Commander-in-Chief, it is the President’s sole responsibility to direct our military operations.” [Link]

    Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-6th) - UNKNOWN

    Rep. Dave Hobson (R-7th) - LEAN OPPOSE: “Springfield Republican David Hobson questions whether this is the right time to be deploying more troops.” [Link]

    Rep. John Boehner (R-8th) - SUPPORT: “Leaving Iraq to the terrorists would be a direct threat to the safety and security of the American people. I commend the President for recognizing that recent strategies have often failed to meet our expectations.” [Link]

    Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-9th) - OPPOSE: “I do not support an escalation of US troop levels in Iraq. President Bush cannot lead America to military victory in Iraq absent a viable political solution that puts Iraq back together and redeploys our soldiers from that of an occupying force.” [Link]

    Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-10th) - OPPOSE: “The American people voted for new direction. That direction is out of Iraq. Let us rescue our troops. Let us rescue a domestic agenda. Let us reverse policies that created chaos, massive civilian causalities and destruction in Iraq”. [Link]

    Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-11th) - OPPOSE: “Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Democrat of Cleveland, proposed that Bush escalate ‘the truth level’ rather than the troop levels. ‘He should be escalating how much truth he’s giving to the American people’ about lives lost, about war injuries, and about contractors who have been enriched, she said.” [Link]

    Rep. Betty Sutton (D-12th) - OPPOSE: “Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley, is opposed to sending more troops. Her spokesman Linden Zakula said Sutton believes Americans ’spoke loud and clear on election day that they’re against the escalation.’” [Link]

    Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-13th) - UNKNOWN

    Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-14th) - OPPOSE: “‘Like many Americans, I desperately want America to succeed in Iraq and I would welcome a fresh approach,’ LaTourette said. ‘This isn’t a fresh approach. This is more of the same.’” [Link]

    Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-15th) - UNKOWN: “Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Upper Arlington, who narrowly won re-election, said Bush ‘must convince me and the American public that security in Iraq is attainable, and that his proposal marks the beginning of the end of our presence in Iraq and not an acceleration of the status quo.’” [Link]

    Rep. Ralph Regula (R-16th) - SUPPORT: “‘Essentially he (Bush) is saying that the Iraqis have to take responsibility for their country and their government,’ Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said after the speech. ‘We will be there to help them. And that’s the reason we need some additional manpower.’” [Link]

    Rep. Tim Ryan (D-17th) - OPPOSE: Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, called on Bush to ‘end our occupation of Iraq, not escalate it.’
    ‘Sending more of our service men and women to police Iraq’s bloody civil war will do little to overcome the many problems President Bush’s failed policy has created,’ he said in a statement. [Link]

    Rep. Zack Space (D-18th) - OPPOSE: “‘The president … did not provide real answers to the real questions Americans are asking about how a troop surge will bring about success in Iraq,’ Space said. ‘Without a clear plan and a clear objective, I fear that a troop increase will only deepen the disaster that our Iraq policy has become.’” [Link]

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    Is 2007 The Year for Action on Global Warming?

    Al Gore's documentary movie "An Inconvenient Truth" may have set things in motion, and Democratic gains in the 2006 mid-term election certainly accelerated them. Whatever the cause, there seems to be a crescendo of political activity around the issue of global warming.

    Felicity Berringer and Andrew Levkin reported in Wednesday's New York Times that four Senate bills to control global climate change by restricting carbon dioxide emissions have been proposed, with more on the way. At yesterday's press conference on the completion of the Democrat's 100 hour legislative push in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced a new select committee to work on climate change as a facet of energy independence, with the goal of passing a package of legislation by the Fourth of July. Today comes news that ten major business corporations have banded together to support the growing momentum for federal regulation of harmful carbon emissions.

    Here in Ohio, as reported by Bill Sloat on the excellent blog The Bellwether, Gov. Strickland signed an executive order aimed at curbing carbon emissions and promoting alternative energy in state government activities, and also appointed Mark Shanahan, executive director of the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority, as his new energy advisor.

    Just recently Al Gore and his movie were the subject of much ridicule, and legislative action on greenhouse gases seemed a distant fantasy. Now public awareness and political leadership seem to be converging in a propitious way. 2007 could prove to be a watershed year for the climate change issues.

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    Ney Sent Away

    The AP is reporting that disgraced former Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, who traded political favors for gifts and campaign donations from convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, will be spending 30 months in federal prison in Morgantown, WV. He also must pay a $6,000 fine and after prison will face two years of probation, and he must pay a $6,000 fine.

    The sentence was somewhat harsher than the prosecution recommended. U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle justified the stiff sanction based on Ney's abuse of the trust placed on him as a public official.

    Ney's attorneys and supporters had argued for leniency on the ground that his malfeasance stemmed from his drinking problems. A former aide had written that Ney "was a functioning alcoholic who could rarely make it through the day without drinking and would often begin drinking beers as early as 7:30 a.m." Judge Huvelle didn't accept alcohol addiction as fully explaining Ney's wrongdoing. "It wasn't an isolated aberration. It had a consistency to it: It involved significant and serious abuses of the public's trust," Huvelle said. Supporters had hoped that the judge would commit Ney to a treatment facility rather than prison. Instead, she recommended that Ney attend a prison alcohol rehabilitation program. Successful completion of that program may shorten his imprisonment.

    Ney will still receive his Congressional pension, which could be about $29,000 per year if he starts collecting it in 2016. A pending measure to block convicted lawmakers from receiving such benefits will not be retroactive in its effect.

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    14 Million Online Political Activists in 2006

    The Pew/Internet & American Life Project has released a study of internet use during the 2006 mid-term election. Not surprisingly, twice as many Americans reported that the internet was their primary source of political news in 2006 than in the last mid-term election cycle (2002).

    Micah Sifry summarizes and reacts to the report's findings in an excellent post on the Personal Democracy Forum blog. A few highlights regarding the 2006 cycle:
    * 60 million Americans (31% of those with online access) used the internet to get political information or exchnge political views, and this group trended young, affluent, and well-educated;

    * 14 million Americans (23% of the above group) were online activists, meaning that they posted their views online or otherwise created or forwarded political content;

    * A larger proportion of liberal internet users (15%) engaged in such online activism than conservative internet users (9%);

    * The favorite destinations for political information were big news portals (like Google) and major TV sites (like CNN.com), outpacing political blogs by a 3-1 margin.
    Sifry points out that a substantial minority (between a fifth and a fourth) of both the online activists and the less engaged political internet users reported that they visited sites that challenged their views, not just ones that reinforce their views. This is significant in light of the frequent criticism that internet political sites operate only as "echo chambers" that merely amplify the pre-existing views of participants. The report indicates that this complaint is true for many but not nearly all users.

    With broadband internet access in over 40% of American households, and that figure expected to keep going up, the numbers of political internet users and online activists figure to keep getting larger. Whether blogs will increase their share of such activity, or merely grow as a smaller subset of overall activity, is less clear.

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    Job Loss From International Trade Widespread and Mounting

    The federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program certifies laid-off workers to determine eligibility for assistance. A new report from Policy Matters Ohio uses adminstrative data from that program to assess the scope and cause of Ohio job loss from international trade (i.e., from import competition or moving production overseas). The report confirms that the problem is widespread (affecting 53 of Ohio's 88 counties) and growing (13,432 workers were certified in 2006, the highest annual total in the 12 years of available data).

    Prepared by Research Analyst Jon Honeck, the report cautions that the TAA data provides only a "minium estimate" of trade-related job loss because of inadequacies in the TAA program (it is underfunded and investigation of petitions is deficient). However, even as a minimum estimate, the figures are very troubling. As summarized in the press release, between August 2004 and December 2006:
    * The TAA program certified petitions from 150 Ohio workplaces covering 18,977 Ohio workers.

    * Over half of the job losses occurred because Ohio employers shifted production to foreign facilities or replaced Ohio-made products with foreign imports. Traditional import competition, in which companies lose market share to foreign-made products, accounted for 37 percent of the job losses.

    * Ohio companies were most likely to shift production to Canada or Mexico. Shifts in production to these two countries combined led to 4,964 Ohio workers losing their jobs.

    * The TAA program certified workers in 53 Ohio counties. Twenty-nine counties had two or more workplaces certified, led by Cuyahoga County with 12. More than 3,000 workers in Montgomery and Trumbull counties, and more than 1,000 in Franklin and Hamilton were certified.
    Once manufacturing jobs are lost, the workers are unlikely to find new employment at equivalent pay. National statistics show that just 65% of such workers laid off from 2003 to 2005 found new jobs by January 2006, and a third of those took a pay cut of 20% or more.

    The report also explains the devastating impact of the huge U.S. trade deficit on industrial production, which in turn lowers our overall rate of economic growth. Ohio's sluggish manufacuring sector has largely missed out on the recent national economic expansion. On the national level, the report calculates that the worsening trade deficit since 2001 has cost our economy about 2.5% in real growth (it would have expanded by 14.1% instead of the actual 11.7%), resulting in a loss of $236.7 billion in inflation-adjusted U.S. GDP (gross domestic product).

    The report concludes by calling for improvement of trade adjustment assistance programs and a major revision of current trade policy. In particular, the U.S. must stop implementing new free trade agreements while it is burdened with the current massive trade deficit:
    In the long run, we should create a national trade policy that benefits domestic manufacturing and its workforce, and not just corporate insiders. In part, this means taking a clear stance against currency manipulation and aggressively ensuring market access for U.S. exports. It also means using access to the U.S. market as a way to leverage better treatment of foreign workers. Incredibly cheap goods come at someone else’s expense – U.S. workers who lose their jobs, and foreign workers laboring in sweatshops for sixteen hours a day, seven days a week for wages that keep them in poverty. The development of a stable middle class in Latin America, China, and other countries would allow them to be less reliant on export-led growth, and it would also create more consumers who could buy U.S.-made products.

    All too often supporters of our current trade laws portray our policy options as a false choice between “free trade” and “protectionism.” This portrayal gets us nowhere in confronting the hard choices ahead of us. First, the costs of the current set of policies are extremely high. Negotiating new free trade agreements in the context of gigantic trade deficits flies in the face of reason. Second, “free trade” is a completely inaccurate description of our evolving relationship with China and other nations with export-led development policies. China’s government represses basic human rights, and provides massive subsidies to exporters through preferential loans and currency manipulation. There is limited room for meaningful change within the current framework even if the U.S. vigorously enforces its antidumping laws and aggressively uses WTO dispute resolution provisions. The current framework appears to be inadequate to enforce labor and environmental standards, and actually threatens to undermine such standards where they exist. We need to rethink current trade policies. Ohio’s workers deserve a better deal than they are getting.

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Obama Reaches Out to George Forbes

    Mark Naymik reports on the Cleveland Plain Dealer blog Openers that the exploratory committee for the nascent presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has contacted former Cleveland city council president and current NAACP president George Forbes for help, although the scope of his involvement is unclear. Forbes met with Obama last fall during a campaign visit in support of Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Forbes received a call this week about participating in a conference call next Wednesday. “They just wanted to alert everybody to what steps he is taking and say that things were going well [and] that he reached $100,000 in his first hour,” Forbes said.

    Deal Likely on Senate Ethics Bill, at Expense of Minimum Wage Bill

    Andrea Koppel just reported on CNN's "Situation Room" that legislative aides from both parties report a deal is close to pass the ethics and lobbying reform bill stalled by GOP senators last night. The Republicans had blocked the bill by moving to attach an amendment that would add a presidential line item veto to the law. Under the proposed deal, the ethics bill would go forward to an up or down vote without the line item veto, but the line item veto will be attached as an amendment to the upcoming minimum wage bill.

    The minimum wage inititiative is already likely to be freighted with tax breaks for small businesses, a trade-off that Bush advanced when the legislative session began. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) was just on the show basically conceding that the tax breaks would be necessary to garner the necessary 60 votes to cut off debate and get the minimum wage law passed.

    UPDATE: Reported on CNN Political Ticker here.

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    Retired Generals Criticize Escalation

    Wow. This is devastating. The New York Times is reporting that retired generals testifying before a Senate committee today have slammed the Bush escalation plan:
    * “Too little and too late,” said Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, former chief of the Central Comman. “The solution is political, not military.”

    * “A fool’s errand,” said Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, troop commander in the first Gulf War. “Our allies are leaving us and will be gone by summer.”

    * The principal beneficiary of the war was Iran and Al Qaeda, not the United States, said Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, former director of the National Security Agency. “There is no way to win a war that is not in your interests.”

    * Even withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq carries the risk that armed Iraqis will step up the level of attacks, said Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army. “We will be shot at as we are going out.”
    These blunt assessments are going to make it very difficult for GOP legislators to rally around the Bush plan. Count among the skeptics Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), who pointed out at the hearing today that he raised questions about the effort in Iraq back in 2003. “Today, I don’t have an understanding about how it will work militarily,” Lugar said.

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    Congressional GOP Divided Over Iraq Issue

    The AP is reporting that two Republican Senators, Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), will sign on as co-sponsors of a proposed Senate resolution opposing the unpopular war in Iraq. Hagel helped draft the resolution with Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI ) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE). It calls for the U.S. military in Iraq to switch from major combat to training Iraqi troops, counterterrorism, and keeping foreign fighters out of Iraq, and states that it "is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq."

    The AP story also reports that ten GOP legislators were unable to forge a consensus on Bush's Iraq policy in a closed-door meeting with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) held for that purpose yesterday, and several of the GOP skeptics called to the White House by Bush yesterday to gain their support said afterward that they still oppose sending more troops.

    Kagro X at DailyKos has a roundup of 11 bills that have been introduced in opposition to military action in Iraq and/or Iran, including the first one introduced and cosponsored by Republicans (H. J. Res. 14, by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)). The AP story reports, however, that other Republican legislators are considering resolutions in support of the war, or in the case of Sen. John Warner (R-VA) to breathe life into the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.

    Of course, there are damned good reasons for GOP reluctance to support Bush on the Iraq war. In addition to the bad polls, Republican strategist Bob Novak warned readers in the latest Evans-Novak Political newsletter that Iraq could doom the GOP in 2008:
    The gloom pervading the Republican Party cannot be exaggerated. The long-range GOP outlook for 2008 is grim. The consensus is that U.S. troops must be off the ground of Iraq by next year to prevent an electoral catastrophe in the next election . . .

    Iraq, one of Bush's top political advisers now notes, is a black hole for the Republican Party. A nationally prominent Republican pollster reported confidentially on Capitol Hill after the President's speech that if U.S. boots are still on the ground in Iraq and U.S. blood is still being spilled there at the end of the year, the GOP disaster in 2008 will eclipse 2006.
    UPDATE: Liberal_Dem at Politics in Mudville links to this good article at Slate, discussing the GOP reaction to the Bush surge plan. The author counts Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Gordon Smith (R-OR) as compelled to oppose the surge because of tough election prospects in purple states in 2008; first-tier presidential hopefuls Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) as compelled to support the surge by tactical considerations; second-tier presidential hopefuls Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as compelled to oppose the surge in order to separate themselves from the front-runners; and Congressional leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as supporting the surge because their leadership roles require it ("If your job is to keep order on a sinking ship, you can't very well run for the lifeboats yourself").

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    Fresh Polling: Public Opposes War, Escalation

    An LA Times/Bloomberg poll released today shows that "a strong majority of Americans opposes President Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq, and about half of the country wants Congress to block the deployment." Specifically:
    * 60% disapprove of Bush's escalation plan, 36% approve;

    * 62% think the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war over, a new high for this poll;

    * 65% disapprove of Bush's handling of the war (including 27% of Republicans), and more people think Democrats in Congress can do a better job with it than Bush (43% to 34%);

    * 65% think the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq (19% say immediately, 46% say within one year); and,

    * 51% think Congress should attempt to prevent Bush from sending more troops (25% by refusing funding, 26% by some other legislative measure).
    Just as a point of reference, opposition to the Vietnam War never topped 61%, per Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly.

    The LA Times poll also includes this fascinating data: asked whether the U.S. has a "moral obligation" to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq, 39% said yes and 55% said no. However, the proportion of Democrats who said yes (42%) is higher than Republicans (34%) or independents (41%). Imagine that. Democrats are leading the charge to oppose the escalation and get our troops out, but they are actually more likely to feel moral qualms about the mess that we have created there.

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    OH-13: Sutton Named Communications Director of "Class of 2006 Caucus"

    In a very interesting development, the 42 freshmen Democratic members of Congress have formed the "Class of 2006 Caucus" with Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH) as president, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) as vice president, and our own Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Copley Township) as communications director. According to a press release from Hodes' office:
    The Class of 2006 Caucus will hold weekly meetings to coordinate message, discuss policy, and formulate strategy. Speaker Pelosi will attend the meetings. Hodes, Walz, Sutton, and other members will hold a press conference next week to unveil the caucus's leadership and goals for the session, once the caucus is officially registered with the Committee on House Administration.
    I visited Sutton's Congressional website to try to learn more, but like many such sites it isn't up and running yet. (The only item under "news" is the text of her oath of office, and the contact info for her district office is "0000 District Drive City State Zip ph: (888) 555-1212." Somebody needs to get on that.) I called her office and learned that she has hired a press person, Linden Zakula, who was not in when I called. I will keep on it and try to find out more about this development.

    UPDATE: Press Secretary Linden Zakula confirms the story and reports that there will be a press conference next Thursday to announce the new caucus and discuss its focus and goals.

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    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Bush Administration Submits Domestic Surveillance Program to FISA Court

    The Bush administration publicly announced today that its controversial program of warrantless wiretapping of telephone calls and emails involving American citizens will be turned over to the court established by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (i.e., the FISA Court) for supervision. Bush will cease signing orders every 45 days reauthorizing the program, as he had been doing.

    This is an enormously significant change of position for the White House, which has adamantly proclaimed its authority to conduct the program without court supervision since the New York Times broke the story of the program's existence one year ago. As far as I can recall, the Bush administration has never before yielded on any of its anti-terror initiatives that have been challenged on civil rights grounds, except as compelled by adverse rulings in the U.S. Supreme Court.

    UPDATE: Postpone the celebration. The court supervision may not be all one could wish. In today's New York Times, Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) disputes the White House claim that key legislators had been briefed on this change, and also indicates that the FISA court may have granted blanket rather than case-by-case supervision, and it sounds like Democrats are suspicious and intend to keep the pressure on:
    Ms. Wilson, who has scrutinized the program for the last year, said she believed the new approach relied on a blanket, “programmatic” approval of the president’s surveillance program, rather than approval of individual warrants.

    Administration officials “have convinced a single judge in a secret session, in a nonadversarial session, to issue a court order to cover the president’s terrorism surveillance program,” Ms. Wilson said in a telephone interview. She said Congress needed to investigate further to determine how the program is run.

    Democrats have pledged to investigate the N.S.A. program and other counterterrorism programs they say may rely on excessive presidential authority. Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York said the announcement appeared to be intended in part to head off criticism Mr. Gonzales was likely to face at Thursday’s judiciary committee hearing.

    “I don’t think the timing is coincidental,” Mr. Schumer said in a telephone interview. “They knew they had a very real problem, and they’re trying to deflect it.”

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    Chilling Report on Civil War Outside Baghdad

    Bush's troop escalation has focused public attention on the sectarian violence within the capital city of Baghdad, but the civil war between Sunni and Shi'a also rages elsewhere. NBC news correspondent Richard Engel has a post today on the MSNBC "World Blog" describing ethnic cleansing in towns and villages, which as a result are even more dangerous than Baghdad. He reports that Sunni gunmen supporting Al Qaeda have taken over large parts of the town of Baquoba, northeast of Baghdad, and a Shiite village called Hweidar has been subjected not only to mortar fire from surrounding Sunni towns but now has had all power lines and land access cut off, so the only food and supplies arrive by way of boats on the river.

    I hear people saying that the U.S. is obligated to attempt to stop the civil war, even at long odds and tremendous cost, because our invasion of Iraq caused it. I don't agree with that. I think that this is a conflict that was just waiting to happen, with deep roots in the way that the new nation of Iraq was cobbled together out of disparate communities by the European powers in the aftermath of World War I. If Saddam had died or been deposed without U.S. intervention, the same civil struggle could have emerged from the succession of power. I think we should take our cue instead from the will of the Iraqi people, a majority of whom want us to leave.

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    Jennifer Brunner Swearing In w/Photos UPDATED

    Last Friday I went to the William Green Auditorium in the building that houses the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation in Columbus for the official swearing in of new Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, and afterward to the nearby Hyatt for a huge reception for her, Attorney General Marc Dann, and Treasurer Rich Cordray.

    This was a very sweet and emotional inaugural ceremony and I absolutely loved being there. The great affection and sense of humor in the Brunner family was on display throughout. After a presentation of the flag and pledge of allegiance led by representatives of Boy Scout Troop #101 from Alliance, Ohio, and an invocation by Monsignor John K. Cody of St. Christopher's Catholic Church in Grandview (who emphasized family in his prayer), daughter Laura Brunner delivered a masterful a capella performance of the national anthem.

    Laura Brunner is a graduate of the Berklee School of Music and is an award-winning jazz vocalist and composer in Boston. (Hear her sing four of her original compositions here.) Her rendition of the anthem was especially powerful because of her assured and stately tempo and expert phrasing. For example, she pulled up slightly and paused after "o'er the ramparts we watched," giving it an almost narrative quality, and then soared majestically on the following "rockets red glare." Just stupendous. She also delivered an original and gorgeous treatment of America the Beautiful later in the program, and she sang a set with the jazz band at the reception afterward.

    John Brunner, shown here with his proud father, welcomed the audience and introduced his dad. John took a quartter off from school to work on the campaign. He joked that many in the audience knew him as "the driver." (I met him at the Labor Day Parade in Cleveland, and on that occasion Rick drove the car and John walked along with his mom.) He remarked on what a great experience it was to travel all over Ohio during the campaign, and how meaningful it was to him personally to participate in a fundamental change in government.

    Rick Brunner was very personal and funny, presenting his wife with a bouquet of flowers (white roses for Sigma Nu) and telling numerous family anecdotes, some to the consternation of his spouse and children. He described himself as "that old boy who wandered off a dairy farm in Columbiana County and was lucky enough to end up Mr. Jennifer Brunner." After introducing members of his family and the dignitaries on stage (with Gov. Ted Strickland eliciting a huge standing ovation), he told the story of how the Brunners "came to be on stage today." That story began with first meeting his wife, when she so impressed him with her knowledge and wisdom that it took him a while to realize that she was "kind of a babe." After marriage, law school, children, and Jennifer becoming a judge, the idea of running for Secretary of State was first suggested to them in 2004 by their friend Judge John Bender. At a dinner at the Democratic National Convention that summer, sitting at a table with Ted and Frances Strickland, Vernon and Barbara Sykes, and labor leader Tim Burga, they had their first serious discussion of what would be involved in running a statewide campaign. The Columbus Dispatch leaked the story on Christmas eve that Jennifer Brunner was thinking of running, and on September 1, 2005 she resigned her judgeship to begin her campaign. Richard reminisced about the campaign trail and thanked friends and supporters, and talked about family members who took on important roles. For example, daughter Kate gave up a position working for Ohio Supreme Court Justice Stratton Evelyn Lundberg Stratton in order to work on the campaign, including raising about $1.5 million during the last six months after having never done campaign fundraising before. He concluded by introducing Sherrod Brown, noting that they have been acquainted since they were each new fathers about 25 years ago. He said that his pleasure in introducing the junior senator from Ohio will only be surpassed "when I get to introduce him as the senior senator from Ohio."

    Sherrod Brown was perfect as the keynote speaker, having hired Jennifer Brunner to work for him on the Secretary of State's staff after she helped with his campaign to win that office in 1982. After thunderous applause, Sherrod greeted prominent guests (after acknowledging Gov. Strickland he said "how cool is that?" and "I knew Governor Strickland when he was a Congressman!") and then said it was "such a great day" to see his "friend of 25 years" sworn in as Secretary of State. He praised her "incredible family" who "gave up so much" to run this race, and said that "the devotion of Richard Brunner to his wife is ... um ... equals the devotion of Connie Schultz to me" (drawing laughter and applause). He recalled that Jennifer Brunner told him in February 2005 that she was definitely running, and Sherrod told Connie that night that she would win because "nobody knows how to work harder, nobody knows how to work smarter, and nobody's more focused than Jennifer Brunner when it comes to serving the public and doing what she knows is best for her family and for the people of Ohio." He said that he saw her work in the Secretary of State's office 25 years ago, he saw her work as a judge, he saw her win two elections (the first of which "she probably had no business winning, frankly"), and he knew that she would win her race to become Secretary of State. She has such a commitment to public service, to social and economic justice, and to justice, fair play, honor, and integrity that she will be "the kind of Secretary of State that this state has never seen." He said that he often pointed out on the campaign trail that Jennifer is much more qualified to be Secretary of State in 2006 than Sherrod was in 1982. He related that as he and Connie traveled the country during the campaign he heard over and over the question whether Jennifer Brunner would restore integrity to Ohio elections, and he was able to say unequivocally that once she was in office there would be "no more concerns about Ohio elections no matter which party you belong to." Recalling that during her campaign Jennifer promised to perform her duties in such a way that there would be no reason for her to become as well known as her predecessor Ken Blackwell, Sherrod said that "Jennifer brings great humility to this job, she brings great integrity to this job, and all of us are so confident about the great work that she will do."

    After taking the oath of office, Jennifer thanked her family members individually and especially her mother for providing the kind of upbringing that gave her the courage to do things like run for high office. She noted that the position her daughter Kate gave up in order to work on the campaign involved helping courts around the state set up drug and mental health courts, a project near and dear to Jennifer's heart because she set up the drug court in Franklin County. "I know that some of my graduates are here today," she said, "and I'm very proud of them." She related that her daughter proved to be very good at fundraising and said "there is nobody I would rather spend six hours a day in a room with making phone calls asking for money." She also acknowledged the support of her other daughter Laura, about whom she promised on the campaign trail that she would sing at her swearing in, and her son John, who put up with her being constantly on the telephone or the computer all day while he drove her around the state, but talked things over with her late at night when they drove home. She also thanked friends and staff members, in particular campaign manager Kate Anderson and media consultant (and lifelong friend) Antoinette Wilson of Triumph Communications. She especially singled out organized labor for stepping up in 2006, recalling that she formerly represented the AFL-CIO and taught campaign finance classes to member unions, and said that "we are so proud of labor this year."

    In thanking contributors to her campaign, she said it was "an unusual year" and remarked that her predecessor Ken Blackwell "certainly was a lightning rod for raising money." She pointed out that her campaign raised money from people in all fifty states and from Americans living in Japan, France, Canada and Mexico, as well as serving in the military overseas. She said that she could not have waged the campaign she did "against the money machine" she was running against without the support of not just Ohioans but "good people all over the country" who care very deeply about our rights to fair elections and what happens "right here in Ohio." At the outset of her campaign, she said, she was "pretty much of a nobody," with people in her campaign looking at her signs and struggling to pronounce "Brunner." By the second month of her campaign, she said, people began to pronounce her name right, and she began to feel that they were willing to give her a chance. She expressed her gratitude to the people of Ohio for allowing her to win by 15 percentage points, and even to win in Hamilton County (home of her opponent) and to do "what I really wanted to do, which is to provide them with the best elections that they will never, ever have to doubt again." She said that she is looking forward to "working across party lines as well as with my fellow Democrats" because she understands very clearly that "we have been given a public trust." She said that all she and other office holders can do with their time in office is to "do their very best to improve the lives of others, because that is the essence of public service." She also thanked Sherrod Brown, who "gave me a chance 23 years ago," when she was in law school and a young mother with a part-time job at a law firm. She started out working part-time in the Corporations Section ("the most boring job in the world," she said, and then assured staffers in the audience "it's a lot different than that now!") and elevated her to Legislative Counsel. If Sherrod had not given her that chance, she said, she "would not be here today, and I am so grateful for that."

    She then introduced various staff members and concluded that she was very conscious as she assumed her duties that the Ohio presidential primary is just 14 months away, when the eyes of the nation will once again be on this state. She and her staff will be working very hard to put things in place for that event. She reported that she has told the Boards of Election of Ohio, "I will do everything that I can to make you look good, so that you make me look good." She ended by saying that the first step in this process was the statewide campaign, then came the transition, and now taking office. The campaign "was a privilege," she said, despite the sacrifices, because we have "such a great state" and "such great diversity" in Ohio, and we are a microcosm of the country. "We have a state in which the people are really hungry and needing change," she said, "a state that has been the cradle to president, a cradle to innovators, a cradle to inventors who have changed the world. ... I will work with my heart and my soul, along with these other office holders you see on the stage, and we will make [Ohio] great again."

    Must See TV - Stewart Puts Moves on Condi Rice

    I've been unable to blog the past few days due to a family medical emergency, but this is just too fabulous -- if you haven't already seen Jon Stewart's performance from Monday night, you MUST click here to view the clip. In short, since Sen. Barbara Boxer intimated last week that Secretary of State Condoleeza doesn't have a personal stake in the war because she lacks children who might be subject to military service, Stewart decides to serenade Rice with a view to fixing the problem and thus ending the war.

    H/t Kevin Hayden at American Street and Crooks & Liars.

    Friday, January 12, 2007

    CBS Poll: 70% Say Bush Should Have To Get Congressional OK For Surge

    A new poll from CBS News indicates that 70% of respondents think Bush should have to get approval from Congress before sending additional troops to Iraq. Also among the findings, only 37% approve Bush's proposals in the speech in general, with 50% disapproving. About a third of Americans saw the speech, with Republicans, Democrats and Independents watching about equally.

    My New Favorite Photograph

    I just went to the Ohio Secretary of State web site for the first time this week and saw this wonderful image:


    I'm leaving in a few hours to see her inaugural ceremony. What a wonderful day!

    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    Washington Post-ABC Poll: Bush Speech is a Flop

    In a post-speech poll of 502 randomly selected adults (4.5 point margin of error), 61% oppose the troop escalation and 52% strongly oppose it. Only 36% support it, and of those only 25% strongly support it. The Washington Post calls it "an initial public rebuke" of Bush's new "strategy."

    UPDATE: A new poll from AP-Ipsos is about the same even more damning:
    The public is strongly opposed to a troop increase. Only 26 percent of Americans favor sending more troops to Iraq and 70 percent oppose. Equally high skepticism: 25 percent think sending more troops will help stabilize the situation in Iraq, 70 percent don't think so. Only 35 percent now think the U.S. made the right decision in going to war in Iraq; 62 percent say it was a mistake. This is a new low. In June 2006, 38 percent called it the right decision and 59 percent said it was a mistake. That's a reversal of opinion since December 2004, when 64 percent said the war was the right decision and only 34 percent called it a mistake.

    . . .

    Republicans are divided on sending more troops to Iraq. About half, 52 percent of Republicans, favor sending more troops, while 42 percent oppose the idea. Democrats, on the other hand, overwhelmingly oppose sending more troops to Iraq. 87 percent of Democrats oppose sending more troops. A majority of some key Republican constituencies oppose sending more troops, including white evangelical Christians, 60 percent, and self-described conservatives, 56 percent.

    2008 Presidential Hopefuls React to Bush Speech

    The Los Angeles Times has a roundup of where the 2008 White House contenders stand on Bush's proposed escalation of the war.

    On the GOP side, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was for sending more troops long before Bush publicly announced his "surge." Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) dodged the question for weeks but now says he supports it. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is in Iraq right now, announced his opposition yesterday. Former Mayor Rudy Guiliani (R-NY) had been silent but is now on board with the Decider.

    Among Democrats, all are opposed but they differ in what they are willing to do about it. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) are edging toward cutting off funds needed for the escalation. Kerry said he will support the bill introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), which would require Congressional approval for any troop increase in Iraq. The early and adamant position of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is to cut off funds for the Iraq war altogether, not just for the escalation.

    Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) told Larry King last night that "We cannot impose a military solution on the problem; there has to be a political accommodation," noting that Bush had offered no plan to reconcile Shiites and Sunnis. "I think we are making a very bad mistake." However, he hasn't endorsed Kennedy's bill and said that his staff is looking at ways to put conditions on the troop increase that won't undercut support for troops already there. Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) said,"Sending more American troops to the epicenter of a vicious civil war is not the answer." He supports a nonbinding resolution against the escalation, but says there are constitutional and practical barriers to stronger Congressional action against it.

    Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has been slow to criticize the war but after the speech said, "I cannot support his proposed escalation of the war in Iraq." She repeated her support for "phased redeployment of U.S. troops." Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) said, "The only surge we need in Iraq is a diplomatic one." He called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq this year.

    UPDATE: Former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) has sent an e-mail indicating that as one of his final acts as Governor he challenged the Iowa State Legislature to pass a resolution formally rejecting further escalation of the war in Iraq. He urges his supporters to help enact similar resolutions in their hometowns across America.

    Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a decorated Vietnam Ware vet, had the quote of the day when he told Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice during a Congressional hearing that Bush's escalation would be the "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

    W's Hail Mary Pass UPDATED

    I forced myself to watch a contemptible little man's last-ditch effort to salvage his legacy last night. He opened by declaring that "[t]he new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror." Nothing thereafter seemed to fit that description. He's going to send 21,500 more Americans into harm's way, but this escalation amounts to a mere variation of existing tactics rather than a new strategy. I'm not seeing any change of course in it, and it doesn't seem the least bit likely to lead to "success" against terror.

    Things are not shaping up well for public acceptance of Bush's plan:
    * Some prominent GOP voices are already rejecting the plan. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said, "This is a dangerously wrong-headed strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp at a great cost. We should be focused on helping the Iraqis find a political solution and creating a policy that allows us to leave Iraq honorably, has the sustained support of the American people and does not further destabilize the Middle East." Presidential hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) denounced it in advance, as did Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Max Baucus (R-MT).

    * Aides to Iraqi leader al-Maliki have said that they don't want more troops. For example, parliament member and Maliki associate Haidar al-Abadi said yesterday, “The government believes there is no need for extra troops from the American side. The existing troops can do the job.”

    * A coalition of labor and anti-war organizations are moving ahead with a multimillion-dollar advertising and grass-roots campaign against the escalation.

    * A new AP-Ipsos poll found approval for Bush's handling of Iraq at a record low 29% approval and 68 percent disapproval.
    Reaction to Bush's "New Way Forward" is going to make the reception of the Iraq Study Group report seem like a standing ovation.

    GOP presidential hopefuls Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), and former Mayor Rudy Guiliani (R-NY) have all spoken in favor of the escalation. Despite notable dissenters, a majority of GOP members of Congress appear to be cautiously supportive. There will be political consequences for their support, but whether the White House has just been handed to the Democratic Party remains to be seen.

    UPDATE: Wow, this analysis by Prof. Juan Cole is fantastic:
    To listen to Bush's speech on Wednesday, you would imagine that al-Qaeda has occupied large swathes of Iraq with the help of Syria and Iran and is brandishing missiles at the US mainland. That the president of the United States can come out after nearly four years of such lies and try to put this fantasy over on the American people is shameful.
    Read the whole thing.

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    McAuliffe Trashes Kerry in New Memoir

    The Columbus Dispatch reports here that a new tell-all book by former DNC chief Terry McAuliffe rips Sen. John Kerry for "polical malpractice" in his failed 2004 presidential campaign. He calls the Kerry campaign "gun-shy, distracted and incompetent," and particularly upbraids him for scrubbing the speeches at the Democratic convention of any Bush-bashing. (McAuliffe says that he personally encouraged Al Sharpton to go off-script and attack Bush in his rousing speech.) McAuliffe is a Clinton ally, providing a motive for him to be especially harsh on Kerry as the 2008 presidential campaign heats up.

    Titled "What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals," the book goes on sale January 23rd.

    Tuesday, January 9, 2007

    Cordray Inaugural Ceremony

    It was an honor and a thrill to attend the swearing in ceremony for Treasurer Rich Cordray at the Statehouse Atrium in Columbus yesterday. The crowd easily overflowed the allotted chairs, leaving many to stand around the perimeter or on the catwalks. I snagged a seat in the third row and juggled my camera and digital voice recorder. A chamber music quartet that includes Cordray's niece Ruthie Cordray, called "Chrysaora" (it has to do with jellyfish; I looked it up) provided a musical prelude.

    Sen. Ray Miller, the new Democratic Whip, was the Master of Ceremonies for the occasion. He is a genial man and handled the occasion with a light touch, calling it an historic day and us a magnificent crowd and joking that State Rep. Tyrone Yates had told him that "he would be having a fund-raiser himself, right after this program." Seriously, there was an air of excitement and delight at the gathering of so many new and long-time Democratic faces for such an occasion. After the pledge of allegiance, an invocation, and a strikingly complex choral rendition of the national anthem (by the Grove City Chorale), Sen. Miller noted the customarily spare introductions used for Presidents of the United States before thrilling the audience by saying simply, "Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, the Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland."

    After a very long standing ovation, the new governor thanked Sen. Miller and the singers (the Grove City Chorale) and quoted scripture: "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." Speaking without notes, he said he was "pleased and proud" to share the occasion with Cordray and his family and friends, and that Cordray represents a "new generation of leadership in Ohio" and is a "person of exceptional talents and intellect and commitment to public service." Ohioans, he said, can be proud of Cordray as someone who is absolutely trustworthy and who has "time and time again proven himself to be dedicated to public service." "Richard, we are all a part of the team," he said, promising to do everything possible to enable Cordray to "perform his duties with honor and integrity," and turning back to the the crowd he said "Welcome to the people's house." Afterward, Sen. Miller led the audience in saying in unison "Thank you, Governor Strickland," and noted how nice it was to hear that. "It's been sixteen years," he said.

    Gene Harris, Superintendent of the Columbus Public Schools, praised Cordray for his leadership as Franklin County Treasurer in promoting financial literacy training in schools and in collecting millions of dollars in delinquent taxes, much of which was ultimately allocated to the public schools. She ended by saying "This is a win for the State of Ohio." John O'Grady, Clerk of Court for Franklin County, followed Harris. He talked about working for former State Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow and praised Cordray's intellect and dedication. He also chided Cordray for his selection of neckties and failure to keep his shoes tied. (Cordray obliged O'Grady by ducking down in his seat as if to tie his shoelaces.)

    House Democratic Leader Rep. Joyce Beatty recalled that the first Ohio Treasurer was not elected or appointed but selected by the legislature, and noted that Cordray served in the General Assembly. She praised his efforts to promote financial literacy in schools and his innovative ideas as county treasurer. Speaking for the members of the Ohio House of Representatives, she pledged "our commitment," "our support," and "that we will always want something."

    Lee Fisher walked to the podium to follow Rep. Beatty, but Sen. Miller intercepted him and told the audience that "we couldn't have the new Lieutenant Governor to speak without having a full standing round of applause," which we provided with enthusiasm. Fisher began by greeting the governor and noting that since first speaking the words "Governor Ted Strickland" eleven hours before (at their official swearing in just after midnight), the new governor had not let him sleep a wink, but that he hoped for gubernatorial permission to take a nap "some time tonight." He also jokingly referred to Sen. Miller as "I. Ray Miller," in response to being called by him "Lee I. Fisher." He noted that he knows Richard Cordray well from campaigning with him statewide "not once but twice," and said that they are "much happier about the outcome this time." (Cordray ran for attorney general in 1998, the year that Fisher lost a close gubernatorial race to Bob Taft.) Fisher recalled that as attorney general he created the position of Ohio Solicitor and after a national search selected Cordray to fill it. He said that as Solicitor Cordray served the people of Ohio, and as Treasurer he would do the same. "The word Treasurer means something, and it's more than just about money," Fisher said. "It's about people's hopes and spirits, and that's what Richard Cordray represents."

    Mary Ellen Withrow prepares to swear in the new Treasurer, with spouse Peggy Cordray holding the bible and their seven-year-old son standing by. Ms. Withrow is the first and only person to serve as treasurer at all three levels -- county (Marion County 1976-84), state (Ohio 1982-1994), and federal (1994-2001). As U.S. Treasurer she was involved in the "State Quarters" project, the Sacagawea dollar coin project, and the first issue of two dollar notes in nearly 20 years. She also was Treasurer when the redesigned $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 notes were introduced in the 1990s. Since retiring in 2000 she has been an activist for women in government and is in the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame.


    Peggy Cordray is a member of the faculty at Capital University School of Law. Rich Cordray argued six cases before the U.S. Supreme Court while in private practice.

    In his remarks, the new Treasurer said that in this election "the people clearly demanded a new direction -- a restoration of trust, and a renewed recognition of who really serves whom in our democracy." He said that his responsibility will be to "place the Treasury of this State in the service of Governor Strickland and
    Lieutenant Governor Fisher who, together with the legislature, will
    decide when and how to spend the people's money," and "above all" in service to "the people of this State, whose funds we are bound to protect and increase, carefully and within the boundaries of the law and sound financial policy." In addition, he proposed to "shape an effective course in personal finance education for young and old and in-between; to help those who face the anxiety of debt or foreclosure or bankruptcy; to join our new Governor and Lieutenant Governor in stimulating the economy of this State; and to assist our many local officials in better governing their fiscal affairs." These "are not partisan objectives," and Cordray pledged to "serve all Ohioans, be they Democrat or Republican or independent or uncertain." He also promised to "try to harness the 'wild spirits' of human ingenuity and imagination for the cause of reform" and to "bring friendship and good will to all our tasks in the government."

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    A Note to My Readers

    When I started Ohio2006 Blog last January I envisioned a one-year project that would be followed by my happy retirement from the blogosphere and return to the painting studio. It was my mission to generate public attention and support for good progressive candidates up and down the ticket in 2006, and it was my great privilege and pleasure to advance the cause in any way I could.

    I have caught the blogging bug, however, and instead of putting blogging aside after November 7th I began to envision a more comprehensive and multi-dimensional approach to blogging about Ohio politics and public affairs. I'm still working on realizing that concept, but while struggling with the scope and logistics involved I decided to resume light posting at this location. I carried the look of the former blog over to the new place while I continue to get things worked out.

    I want to thank the many readers who have offered encouragement and support over the past year. I look forward to getting back into blogging on a larger scale in the near future.

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    Early Confrontation Comes REALLY Early - Strickland Vetoes Anti-Consumer Law

    Yesterday at the inauguration of State Treasurer Rich Corday (D-Grove City) in Columbus I had a chance to chat briefly with freshman State Representative Matt Lundy (D-Elyria), a former TV political and investigative journalist. We agreed that an early confrontation between the GOP-controlled General Assembly and new Governor Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) was likely, and that whatever form that confrontation took it would be important for the new governor to assert his authority by taking a very tough stance. "He's got to show them that they are not on his level," I think were Lundy's words.

    What we didn't know is that the confrontation was developing even as we spoke. As reported in the Columbus Dispatch yesterday and discussed on Buckeye State Blog today, the new governor yesterday issued a veto of Amended Substitute Senate Bill 117, which outgoing Gov. Bob Taft had decided to allow to become law without his signature.

    Among other things, SB 117 granted immunity to manufacturers of lead-pigment paints against public nuisance lawsuits. Such companies would still be subject to personal injury suits, but those suits are virtually impossible to win because of the difficulty of proving which company manufactured the lead-based paint in a particular dwelling. Municipalities had begun to use public nuisance suits to try to collect money to pay for lead-based paint abatement in impoverished urban neighborhoods. Sensing that the GOP's opportunity to help out their friends and contributors in the paint industry was coming to a close with Strickland's inauguration, the General Assembly rushed this provision through the lame duck session.

    The bill also severely limited damages that consumers can collect under consumer protection laws (capping non-economic damages at $5,000), crippling the new measures against predatory lending. Former Attorney General Jim Petro (R-Rocky River) joined new Attorney General Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township) and local leaders and consumer advocates in opposing this aspect of the bill, but it was railroaded through the lame duck session on a party line vote without a hearing.

    Gov. Taft did not object to the lead-based paint aspect of the bill, but opposed the cap on consumer damages. Hence the decision to allow it to become law without his signature.

    Under the Ohio constitution, a bill becomes law if the governor does not sign it within ten days after it is delivered to the governor, Sundays excepted. Taft interpreted this ten day period as beginning the day the General Assembly adjourned, not the day that the bill was actually sent to his office. Thus, Taft figured the time period ended on Friday, January 5 , but Strickland (in consultation with Dann, new legal counsel Kent Markus, and new Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner) concluded it didn't end until Monday, January 8.

    Jerid at BSB did some legal research and sets out his findings. It looks like there is legal support for Strickland's interpretation of when the ten day period begins. However, the unprecedented circumstance that Strickland is attempting to veto a bill submitted to a prior governor may complicate the issue. It is certain to be litigated, and Dann has vowed to vigorously defend it. (He also offered to counsel GOP legislative leaders on their rights as far as opposing the veto. No word on whether they will seek his input.)

    The public comments by the players are very telling. GOP leaders, of course, are screaming foul. Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), a primary backer of the bill, said the veto "went a long way towards draining whatever reservoir of goodwill would have otherwise attended his first day in office. It damages (relations) in the way that we would prefer to have it damaged, which is the first act of war being declared by them. If that’s the bed they want to make, they can lie in it."

    In his veto message Strickland wrote, "I will not allow this legislation in its current form, which drastically undermines current consumer protections, to go into effect during my administration." At a press conference yesterday he said, "What I think this bill represents is hasty action during a lame-duck session, where there is not sufficient discussion, input or deliberation." Ohio Democratic Party Chair Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island) hailed the action, saying "The people of Ohio won, and we now have a governor who will stand up to the special interests and put families first."

    These are critical early developments that will shape the relationship between Strickland and GOP legislative leaders and largely set the tone for the next two years. By ramming controversial bills through the lame duck session, the GOP had already laid down the gauntlet. The question was whether Strickland would act decisively and boldly in response, and he has. In this one act he has upstaged the GOP leadership, turned the political tables, and signalled that he will not back down from a fight.

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    Sunday, January 7, 2007

    Obama Podcast in Opposition to Escalation in Iraq

    I really like this podcast on the official website of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). In about seven minutes, he lays out the array of expert opinion against the McCain/Bush desperation tactic of sending additional troops into a civil war and makes an eloquent plea for Americans who share his grave concerns to speak out against it. Here are a few excerpts:
    In other words, the President is defying good counsel and common sense. He is also defying the express concerns of the American people. … [T]here is little reason to believe that additional troops are going to make a significant difference in the absence of a significant change in political strategy. Moreover it's not clear that these troop levels are even sustainable for a significant period of time given the enormous strains that our military are already under, and according to our commanders on the ground, adding American troops will only relieve the Iraqis from doing more on their own. …

    The bottom line is this: there is no military solution to the war in Iraq. Our troops can help suppress the violence, but they can't solve it's root causes. All the troops in the world won't be able to force Sunni, Shi'a and Kurd to sit down at the table and forge a lasting peace. …

    Back in November the American people sent a resounding message of change to the President. But apparently that message was not clear enough. So I urge everybody who listening … to call or write or email the President, contact your Congressman, contact your Senator, and make sure that your voices are heard. You need to tell everybody in Washington that our soldiers are not numbers to add just because somebody could not think of a better idea … .
    Once again Obama shows us not only that he gets it, but he knows how to say it. And, he knows how to lead.

    I am reading Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, and I'm impressed anew with his ability to recast familiar issues and ideas in fresh, inspiring ways. He's got something that I'm not quite seeing from the other 2008 hopefuls.

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    Saturday, January 6, 2007

    Photos from DC Trip for Sherrod Brown's Swearing In

    This week I rode to Washington, DC on one of the half dozen or so buses arranged by newly elected Senator Sherrod Brown (D) to bring out about 650 Ohioans to witness and celebrate his swearing in.

    I rode on one of two buses that started in Bedford, a Cleveland suburb. It was about 7:20 am when I snapped this shot, featuring a cameraman from Cleveland's NBC affiliate, WKYC-TV.

    There were only a few passengers on board when I arrived, but as you can see the mood was upbeat, almost giddy. It wasn't like riding a bus with strangers, because we were all Democrats and we were all ready to party.

    Reporter Obie Shelton interviews a passenger about the significance of Sherrod's election before the bus departed. This particular passenger is a teacher who has done a lot of election work for Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and others.

    Our bus driver Duane gave us a salty running commentary on the sights as we entered DC. He pointed out this monument to Sen. Robert A. Taft, an Ohioan and grandfather to the absolute disastor of an Ohio governor who just left office, Bob Taft. Good riddance!

    The dinner was in an enormous ballroom at the Hyatt Capitol Square. Shortly before things got started, Sen. Ted Kennedy caused a furor by stopping by to congratulate Sherrod and spouse Connie Schultz, with a hundred people crowding around to get a picture. Once things got started, former Congressman Dennis Eckerd was the master of ceremonies. Sen. Chuck Schumer spoke, as did campaign manager John Ryan. A slide show of photos from the campaign ran continuously on either side of the stage, and at one point there was a video consisting mostly of campaign commercials and text from newspaper coverage. Connie introduced Sherrod. The two of them thanked their staff and their supporters, with Sherrod asking large groups of people to stand and be acknowledged. It was a huge love fest, it was very emotional, and it was wonderful. Connie wept openly at one point on stage, and Sherrod did too when he mentioned his close friend John Kleshinski who died after the election. If there were any dry eyes in the audience they certainly weren't mine.

    The picture above was after the speeches, with staff posing behind Connie and Sherrod for photographs. Sherrod promised that he would stay and talk to everyone who wanted to see him personally, and that he'd sign anything. He did just that, for literally hundreds of people. After they shooed us all out of the ballroom at 10:00 pm he was still shaking hands and signing things in the lobby.

    After the dinner there were evening bus tours available. I didn't go on one, but Eileen from Akron send me some pictures including this beautiful shot that she calls "Blue Years Eve."

    The next morning I legged it across the grounds of the Capitol to the three House office buildings. I was a splendid, clear morning so I took this shot of the west side of the building. I haven't been this close to the building since I was a child so I was very struck by the presence of barricades and fences and guards armed with automatic weapons.

    I went to the office of newly elected Rep. Betty Sutton and met various members of her staff, but Betty herself wasn't there. After twenty minutes or so I moved on. However, Eileen stayed, and of course Betty arrived shortly thereafter and Eileen was able to take this photo.

    Betty and newly elected Rep. Zack Space, who won Bob Ney's seat, spoke on the House floor that afternoon in support of changes to House ethics rules. I caught Betty's remarks on C-SPAN later and she was terrific. "Trust is fragile" is a theme from her campaign, and she and Space each are appropriate champions of ethics and clean government.

    This sign was posted all around the walls of Sutton's office. My immediate interpretation was that she planned to rely on her predecessor heavily for guidance during her first term, but it actually had to do with the fact that she moved into his old office and was getting all his telephone calls, so the staff needed to know the new numbers.

    Eileen also sent me this photo of women writing personal notes to the New Girl in Town, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D), on sign boards created by women from NOW.

    At noon, Sherrod Brown's contingent all gathered for lunch in the same ballroom at the Hyatt, where we watched his swearing in on TV, projected onto two large screens. I took the remaining pictures by crouching on the floor by the projector. Sherrod was in an alphabetically-determined group of four, along with Akaka, Bingaman, and Byrd. There were ceremonial re-enactments later, with friends and family and picture taking.

    Signing the register. Sherrod told reporters later that his hand shook, so the signature isn't especially legible.

    Lots of cheering from the audience, along with applause from the other Senators in the chamber when each batch of oaths had been administered.

    No cheering from the audience for him. Other kinds of noises were made.

    You couldn't help but feel the historical gravity of the occasion, along with the thrill of seeing an absolutely terrific person like Sherrod take office. It was a marvelous thrill and a great celebration.

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