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Friday, August 31, 2007

Cordray Not Impressed by Bush's Proposal to Assist Mortgage Borrowers at Risk

This morning President Bush outlined a relatively modest proposal to assist some of the mortgage borrowers at risk of losing their homes. (He also urged passage of helpful tax changes proposed by Sens. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI.) However, Bush minimized the extent of the overall problem, saying that the "recent disturbances" in the subprime mortgage industry are "modest in relation to the size of our economy," and emphasizing that it is "not the federal government's job" to bail out the mortgage lending industry. The Bush administration continues to oppose measures such as new laws to prevent lenders from steering low-income borrowers into riskier loans or raising the investment limits on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so they can buy more mortgages.

Ohio Treasurer Rich Cordray (D-Grove City) was quick to react to the President's proposal. While "somewhat heartened," Cordray is "concerned that action by federal agencies is long overdue and will be far too little":
I have been immersed in the foreclosure problem at the local and state level and I can say with confidence that its effect on the economy is in no way "modest" ...

The U.S. Census Bureau earlier this week ranked the poorest cities in America. The only state with two cities in the top five was Ohio. This is not surprising for a state that has been a national leader in foreclosures for the past decade and experiences at least one foreclosure filing for every 71 households in the state.

The greatest tragedy is when families lose their homes, but the cascade of problems is extensive. Neighborhoods with vacant foreclosed properties decline. Property values sink. Other homeowners cannot afford to sell their homes. Local government services supported by property values suffer greatly as the need for services spikes. There are other less obvious problems: in some Ohio counties, for example, sheriffs must devote up to half of their work week to conducting foreclosure sales. ...

Some authorities - including those at the federal level - may say this is a ripple effect which can be handled. I see that ripple building to an economic and social tsunami: In Ohio, between 150,000 to 200,000 borrowers hold subprime mortgages with so-called ‘exploding ARMS’ which are beginning to reset now and which will continue to reset at large levels.

The president’s plan will help 80,000 homeowners across the nation and I can say with certainty every one of them will need it. But it will not be enough: in 2006 there were 79,072 new foreclosure filings - in Ohio alone.”
Cordray gets it. The foreclosure crisis in Ohio is like nothing seen here since the Great Depression. Strong measures are needed, and soon, or Bush's rosy comments about the strength of the overall economy eventually may be inducted into the same Hall of Shame as President Herbert Hoover's announcement in February 1930 that the preliminary shock of the stock market crash had passed and employment was on the mend.

Sen. Warner (R-VA) Will Retire

It's official. This means that popular former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) becomes the likely next senator if he runs, as expected. There are now six Senate races where Democrats stand a very decent chance of picking up seats:
Colorado - Sen. Wayne Allard (R) is retiring; Rep. Mark Udall (D) takes on former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R).

Maine - Sen. Susan Collins (R) looks vulnerable to Rep. Tom Allen (D).

Minnesota - Sen. Norm Coleman (R) is on shaky ground against a wide open field that includes Al Franken (D).

New Hampshire - Sen. John Sununu (R) is in real trouble if former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) gets in.

- Sen. Gordon Smith (R) has a tough race against Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D).

- Sen. John Warner (R) is retiring; it will probably be Mark Warner (D) against Rep. Tom Davis (R), former Sen. George Allen (R), or former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R). [UPDATE: Rep Davis has officially declared.]
2nd UPDATE: Stuart Rothenberg now rates Colorado, Virginia and New Hampshire as "toss up" races and Maine, Minnesota and Oregon as "narrow advantage to incumbent party." The only Democratic seat in either category is Louisiana, where Rothenberg says that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has a "narrow advantage." Her probably opponent is state treasurer John Kennedy (R), who just switched parties.

Thompson: Too Little, Too Late?

I agree with Jerid on Buckeye State Blog that former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN), who will be announcing his official campaign with a web video and a whirlwind tour on Thursday, is probably entering the race too late. He is unlikely to mount a successful campaign at this point.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) has a huge lead in Iowa and has spent heavily to create a strong organization on the ground. Since his strong showing in the Ames straw poll, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) has emerged as a "conservative alternative," undercutting Thompson's appeal on that basis. Thompson's fund-raising has been disappointing, so it is unclear how much he can pour into this state. Nevertheless, Thompson must make a very strong showing in Iowa - probably a second place finish - to do well in later contests.

Thompson is skipping the New Hampshire debate next week, and neither his rigid social conservatism nor his southern roots are helpful there. It is also virtually a home court for Romney, who is polling well. So don't look for Thompson to finish strong in the Granite State.

As pointed out today on The Trail, that makes South Carolina and Florida critical contests for Thompson. He has to win one or both convincingly. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) has been polling well in both states, especially in Florida. Romney will be a strong opponent in South Carolina if he wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire as expected. It's a high hurdle for Thompson, and I don't see Thompson as such a stellar performer as to be expected to pull it off. His testing-the-water phase was hardly error-free, his staff turnover has hindered the creation of a solid foundation, and there are hints that he is not the kind of hard-charging campaigner who can make up a lot of ground quickly. I expect him to be a top tier candidate and to shake up the dynamics of the GOP race, but I do not expect him to become the eventual nominee.

Troop Fatalities Have NOT "Fallen Because Of The Surge"

They keep saying it, but it isn't true. The above graph, courtesy of Kevin Drum based on information from Juan Cole, shows us the reality. YES, U.S. troop deaths have declined from May through August of 2007. They do that each year, because scorching summer temperatures bring activity in general to a halt. But, NO, the number of deaths are not down. Compared to 2006, they are consistently up, month after month. They are higher this August than last August, and were almost as high this August as they were in January, February, and March of this year when the surge was just getting set up. As Dr. Cole puts it:
I mean, how brain dead do the Bushies think we are, peddling this horse manure that US troop deaths have fallen? (There are always seasonal variations because in the summer it is 120 F. in the shade and guerrillas are too heat-exhausted to fight; but the summer 2007 numbers are much greater than those for summer 2006; that isn't progress.) And why does our corporate media keep repeating this Goebbels-like propaganda? Do we really live in an Orwellian state?
When you hear the puppets in the pep parade repeating the lie that U.S. troop deaths have fallen because of the surge, remember this post!

UPDATE: Here is a new graph provided by Kevin Drum, along with additional discussion of the point, which includes data from other years as well:

As anyone can plainly see, U.S. troop fatalities have fluctuated seasonally twice each year, and specifically have declined from spring to late summer each year. Thus, attempts to pass of this year's recent decline as "caused by the surge" are utter nonsense.

Breaking Story - Tony Snow Resigning

Announcement at 12:45 pm. Not unexpected, but another major departure from the Bush administration.

UPDATE: CNN says Snow is leaving September 14th and Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino will replace him.

2nd UPDATE: It ain't the cancer, it's the dough. Snow says his cancer recovery is going well, but his $168,000 salary (highest level among White House staff) is not sufficient. He made a lot more as a commentator on Fox News and syndicated columnist, etc.

3rd UPDATE: Snow has three children. Can't afford to raise them on $168,000. The White House opposes letting states extend SCHIP Medicaid eligibility to children in families of four with household incomes any higher than $51,625.

Snow says it "was a blast," he had "fun."

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy ... More Subprime Lending Woes

I read a lot of newspapers online, but we still get the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the New York Times in paper form and that's what we read during breakfast. This morning I turned to the business sections in each and was struck once again by the number of stories that relate to one degree or another to the crisis in the subprime mortage lending industry. From the PD:
* Mortgage worries are hurting automakers because "consumers were in no mood to buy a car this month as they faced rising mortgage payments and roiling financial markets, and some analysts already predict 2007 will be the worst year for U.S. auto sales in nearly a decade."

* The Gross Domestic Product grew by a healthy 4% in the second quarter, but economists expect it to slow to around 2% in the present quarter due to the current housing and credit woes arising from the subprime lending fiasco;

* Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz predicts a "prolonged economic downturn," although probably not a recession, due to the crisis. "Mortgage payments are going up, house prices coming down, incomes are stagnating. It's not a pretty picture. So the dynamics could unravel more and where it stops, we can't be sure," Stiglitz told reporters during a conference in Malaysia.

* Fairview Park-based Colony Mortgage Corp., employer of 88 at nine locations, is closing in September.
Turning to the Times:
* The Bush administration finally will announce several steps to help low-income mortgage borrowers with credit problems. Included is a change that will make borrowers who fall behind due to payment increases incorporated into adjustable rate mortgages eligible for mortgage insurance from the Federal Housing Administration, which may help them obtain refinancing. Previously Bush had insisted that market fundamental are strong and that no intervention is necessary, despite urgent pleas from Democratic leaders.

* The reason that the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States has been felt so strongly all around the world is the explosion in the global financial market of new finance vehicles like derivatives and structured products. Structured products are pooled assets that have been sliced into small, specialized pieces. The investments are so complex that international investors failed to appreciate the potential risks involved.

* H & R Block announced yesterday that the sale of its subprime lending unit, Option One Mortgage, might fall apart as credit markets deteriorate.

* The Mortgage Bankers Association, an industry group, has released a study showing that a significant portion of mortgage foreclosures involve investors seeking to turn a quick profit rather than homeowners paying for their primary residence. However, a big majority of foreclosures do in fact involve homeowners. The national average revealed in the study is 16% of defaults among loans based on strong credit relate to investors, while 12% of defaults among loans based on weak credit relate to investors.
That's a lot of news, most of it bad, and it shows how pervasive and troubling the crisis has become. In sum, the experts don't think the crisis will propel the country into another recession, but it is likely to result in at least a sustained economic downturn, with negative effects felt around the world.

News and Notes: Ohio

It's Friday before a holiday in the Buckeye State - what's going on?

Strickland, Brown, and Brunner to Return Donations Related to Hsu - Joining a national wave of Democratic candidates, Gov. Ted Strickland (D), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D) are all giving to charity the amounts of contributions received from New-York-based donor Norman Hsu (or in Brown's case individuals connected to him). Hsu is the subject of a 1991 warrant in California arising out of a fraud case, and is suspected of improprieties in bundling contributions purportedly from others.

Death of Two Prominent Ohio Democrats Mourned - Charlie Vanik, an outspoken liberal and 26-year member of Congress from Cleveland, died Wednesday in Florida, and Joe Shump, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party for a quarter-century ending in 1994, died Wednesday at Kettering Memorial Hospital.

Smith Promotes "Second Chance" Bill - State Sen. Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland) held a forum yesterday to promote S.B. 197, her proposal to allow low-level repeat felons who have stayed out of trouble for five years to have their records sealed or expunged in order to help them find employment. Smith's proposal has gained national attention, not all of it favorable. Critics assert that multiple offenders don't deserve another chance, that employers are entitled to know the record of people they hire, and that there may be liability issues if such an employee commits another crime. However, there is broad support for the proposal among inner city residents and from those working in corrections and re-entry. Also supporting the bill is Sen. Jon Peterson (R-Delaware), who said "This bill is about redemption. There is a reason we call is the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections -- there's a redemptive quality to it, and we should be able to move forward."

Strickland Renews Vow to Reform Ohio Education System - On a visit to Kent State University to discuss Ohio's troubled education system, Gov. Strickland said "I'm owning this problem." He restated his pledge to reform Ohio schools and provide adequate, equitable funding. To date his focus has been higher education rather than elementary and secondary education, including naming former State Sen. Eric Fingerhut to the new position of chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, creating The University System of Ohio to foster collaboration and cooperation among public institutions of higher learning, and increasing funding to such institutions while restricting tuition increases.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

News and Notes: Ohio

Newsy bits from our fair state:

Strickland Announces Wind Project Grants; Coal Plants Opposed - Mark Niquette reports in The Daily Briefing that today Gov. Ted Strickand (D) followed up yesterday's speech presenting his energy plan by announcing grants worth up to $5 million from the Ohio Wind Production and Manufacturing Incentive Program for two wind energy projects, one in Champaign and Logan Counties and the other in Wood County. Environmentalists are in favor of renewable alternative energy sources like wind and solar, but are deeply skeptical about "clean coal" and coal gasification. ActForChange.com is conducting a campaign that calls on Ohioans to contact Strickland and local lawmakers and urge them to oppose two coal-fired plants planned for Meigs County. However, coal is a huge resource in Ohio and Strickland is from coal country. There is tremendous pressure on Strickland and the legislature to include coal technologies in Ohio's energy plan.

Homeownership Preservation Clinic Underway in Cleveland - The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development is sponsoring a six-hour clinic today (2:00 pm to 8:00 pm) at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland, where borrowers who are having difficulty making their monthly mortgage payments can meet with representatives from fifteen area loan servicers, as well as attend workshops and meet with housing counselors about ways to prevent foreclosure. The clinic is being supported by the Ohio Treasurer, Ohio Department of Commerce, and Ohio Housing Finance Agency, who note that "the number of foreclosures is expected to increase in the next two years as many adjustable rate mortgages with lower 'teaser' rates are reset to higher interest rates and higher monthly payments." If unable to work out terms with their lender, borrowers at risk are encouraged to call the HOPE Hotline at 888-995-HOPE (4673).

Fedor Endorses Union-Backed Fuel Economy Measure - Ohio Senate Minority Leader Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) today filed a resolution in the Ohio Senate backing passage of a bill in Congress to raise the corporate fuel economy (CAFE) standard from the present 27.5 mpg to 32 mpg by the year 2022. Former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater hosted a press conference to praise the measure. However, as pointed out today on The Daily Briefing, environmental groups favor a stronger measure, already passed by the U.S. Senate, that would raise the CAFE standard faster - to 35 mpg by 2020. Fedor (and the United Auto Workers) say the slower measure is needed avoid harming the domestic auto industry, and thus protect jobs. However, a recent analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that switching to the higher 35 mpg standard by 2018 would "increase US employment by 241,000 jobs in the year 2020, including 23,900 in the auto industry."

Petraeus and Crocker Threaten $9 Gas If U.S. Leaves Iraq

Unbelievable. The latest scare tactic for prolonging the war in Iraq is gasoline at $9 per gallon, a consequence of U.S. withdrawal suggested to Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV) by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker during a recent visit to Baghdad. So call your legislator to support the surge, or you might not be able to take your SUV on that vacation trip you've been planning.

Ohio Carnival of Politics #80

The Carnival of Ohio Politics has hit the 80's, and Pho celebrates the occasion with a rousing tribute to "the Me decade," replete with hilarious cultural references and a decade's worth of links to quality blog posts.

Go read and enjoy!

Rate Finalists in the DSCC Bumper Sticker Competition

Here are the four contenders, submitted by rank and file Democrats in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee-sponsored competition to come up with a nationwide DSCC slogan for 2008. What do you think?




Vote for your favorite here. Then come back and tell me what you think in the comments.

Here are some initial thoughts:
1) Why so much red? The red/blue symbolism has prevaded popular culture pretty strongly. All else being equal, shouldn't the Democrats use blue as part of the Democratic brand?

2) All the slogans are grounded in reacting to the mess created by Republican rule. Given the dismal approval ratings for Bush that makes a certain amount of sense, but wouldn't it be better to convey a positive message as well?

3) Is it possible to distill the Democratic jobs-health care domestic agenda to a slogan?

4) No graphics! Where's the donkey?

5) Why just one slogan?
Tell me what you think.

Hey, how about adopting this comment by the arresting officer in the Sen. Larry Craig (R) airport bathroom incident as a slogan?
"Embarrassing. Embarrassing. No wonder we're going down the tubes."
Okay, just kidding.

Strickland's Energy Plan

Faced with a utility deregulation policy that has failed to produce lower rates, and threatens to cause much higher rates if things go as they have in several other states, Gov. Ted Strickland unveiled a hybrid energy plan yesterday in a speech at the Ohio Statehouse. The governor's office is working with the Legislative Service Commission to put his plan into a bill, with hopes of getting some version of it passed by the end of the year.

Interestingly, some of the pressure to go back to complete regulation of utility rates is coming from business interests, faced with the frightening prospect of skyrocketing electricity prices. However, Strickland's plan does not do that. Instead, as reported in the Dispatch, utilities are given "the choice of returning to a regulated environment by having the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approve their rates or opting for market pricing -- but only if they can prove to the PUCO that a competitive market exists."

However, the plan doesn't stop there. Strickland also calls for requiring that one quarter of the energy sold in Ohio by 2025 come from 'advanced energy technologies,' which would include fuel cells, so-called "clean coal," and nuclear power as well as renewables like wind, solar, low-impact hydroelectric, and geothermal power. As noted in the Toledo Blade story, at least half of the alternative energy would have to come from renewables. Also, half of the total alternative energy would have to be generated within Ohio, in order to boost the Ohio economy.

The plan lacks detail at this stage, and the general reaction from all sides has been "let's wait and see." However, there are some elements that set off alarm bells even at this stage. The alternative energy sources advanced by the plan include nuclear power and coal gasification, and both of those alternatives raise serious environmental concerns. The target of 25% alternative energy may seem impressive now, but given the trend to green energy it may actually be behind the curve by the year 2025. However, the general direction of the plan is encouraging, and there does appear to be potential for broad support for the plan.

UPDATE: Todd Hoffman has video from Strickland's speech on the Ohio Democratic Party Blog.

Craig Cratering

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), who is NOT GAY and NEVER HAS BEEN GAY, is disappearing into political quicksand. Facing a difficult reelection battle, and possibly offended at the misuse of a Minnesota public bathroom, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) has followed up his call for Craig's resignation with an announcement that he will return a contribution from Craig's political action committee, Alliance for the West PAC. Will fellow recipients Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Pete Domenici (R-NM) and John Sununu (R-NH) follow suit?

Meanwhile, Craig has been stripped of his committee assignments, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and a variety of GOP House members have joined the call for his resignation, the White House says it is "disappointed," and the matter has been referred to the Senate ethics panel.

Dan Abrams pointed out on MSNBC last night that ten out of fifteen recent major political sexual scandals have involved Republicans rather than Democrats. Why the disparity? The most interesting suggestion made by his guests was that persons with information about sexual improprieties are more likely to come forward when the subject is a perceived as a hypocrite, for example by demagoguing about family values while having an extramarital affair or denouncing gays while secretly engaging in gay sex.

Incidentally, have you been wondering why the GOP is being so noisy about the Craig incident while it has been so silent about the D.C. Madam scandal involving Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)? It could be because one incident involved straight sex while the other involves gay sex. However, Kevin Drum points out that Craig's replacement would be nominated by a Republican governor, while Vitter's successor would be nominated by a Democrat.

News and Notes: The National Scene

The political pulse of the nation (ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump):

GAO to Report Failure by Iraqi Government - The AP says that a General Accounting Office report ordered by Congress will conclude that the Iraqi government has failed to achieve 15 out of 18 political and security goals laid out by lawmakers to assess Bush's new war strategy. The Bush administration will argue that it was unfair of Congress to instruct the GAO to count only full completion of each benchmark as "success."

Clinton to Give Up Contributions From Donor Wanted for Fraud
- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) will give to charity $23,000 received from businessman Norman Hsu, subject of an arrest warrant in California stemming from a 1991 fraud case. Hsu had been scheduled to co-host a Clinton gala next month featuring Quincy Jones.

Conservative Media Watchdog Group Complains About Network News Coverage - Unbelievable. A right wing group is complaining that Democratic candidates get more airtime on network morning news shows than Republicans. The networks say Republicans are less interested in appearing on their shows. Why should they? They're too busy being fawned over on Fox News Channel and conservative talks shows across the radio dial. If we're going to consider whether the amount of airtime is fair, let's take all of that into account, please.

Wyoming GOP Moves Caucus Up to January 5th - Now that's a move that seems certain to shove Iowa and New Hampshire's presidential nominating contests into December.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Edwards: No More War Funding; Plight of Uninsured "Outrageous"

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) jumped on the news that Bush will seek an additional $50 billion in Iraq war funding in September, calling on Congress to refuse:
"The Congress will be coming back next week and I think the American people have had enough excuses," Edwards said in a speech at Georgia Southwestern State University.

"And what the Congress should do when they come back next week is make it absolutely clear: no timetable, no funding. And there should be no further excuses. Congress needs to stand their ground."
I like hearing that from Edwards, but I also really like seeing this moving video clip of John and Elizabeth Edwards responding to a question from a casualty of our flawed health care system at a campaign appearance in New Hampshire:

The right wing noise machine, more afraid of Edwards than of Clinton or Obama, has been very carefully perpetuating the myth that Edwards and his spouse, who are wealthy, are "hypocritical" and out of touch with the problems of lower-income Americans. They are indeed rich, but they get it. They not only empathize with and understand the plight of the impoverished and the struggling middle class, they are appropriately outraged by the health care mess. It shows.

News and Notes: Ohio

Posting delayed four hours by service interuption at web host:

Caught my eye:

Jean Schmidt Gets Testy With War Protesters - A shouting match broke out between and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and "Take a Stand Day" war protestors outside her office. Schmidt was backed by pro-war counter-protestors. The groups reportedly shouted at each other while passersby honked their horns and yelled.

Franklin County GOP Endorsements - The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing reports on endorsements by the county GOP in Ohio House races: Cheryl Grossman over Brett Sciotto in the suburban 23rd, county coroner Bradley Lewis over Nathan Burd in the 19th, Tim Rankin in the 24th, and Bill Schuck in the 22nd.

LaTourette Moves Closer to Challenger - This is ... odd. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R) has relocated from rental property in Concord Township (Lake County) to a $218,900 home in Bainbridge Township (Geauga County). That move puts him very close to challenger William O'Neill (D), who lives in adjoining South Russell. Keeping an eye on the competition?

Strickland to Unveil Energy Plan Today - Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) is about to announce his new energy plan, formulated after months of consultations on replacing Ohio's disappointing deregulation policy. He is expected to call for investor-owned utilities and a statewide strategy for using more renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and biofuel.

News and Notes: The National Scene

Posting delayed four hours by service interruption at web host:

Items of interest from outside Ohio:

Bush To Add New $50 Billion Request For Iraq - From the Washington Post:
President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.
This is on top of an already pending $147 billion supplemental. Bush figures that Democrats will fold after Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker deliver their pep talk in Congress on September 11. Is he right - to the tune of another $50 billion wasted on this insanity?

Americans Doubt New Orleans Recovery - A new CNN-Opinion Research Poll indicates that a majority of Americans (55%) don't think New Orleans will ever completely recover from Hurricane Katrina. A slimmer majority (52%) think the federal government is not doing enough to assist with the recovery; only 10% think it is doing too much.

Elizabeth Edwards Says Democrats Don't Try Hard Enough to Win in the South - Speaking to supporters a fund-raiser in a Nashville restaurant, the spouse of candidate John Edwards (D-NC) said she doubts that rivals Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) will spend much time in the South, and she blasted the Democratic party for ignoring southern states in past campaigns:
Edwards said Democratic values parallel more closely with Southern values than those of the Republican Party, because of emphasis on family and small community issues, such as child care credits and universal health insurance.

But the Democratic Party isn't bothering to spend the money needed to connect to Southern voters, Edwards said, which she said showed it had written off the region.

Edwards said a Democrat is electable in the region where there are five states with Democratic governors — Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Obviously Something on His Mind? - The first words out of the mouth of Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) at his news conference yesterday, held to deny that he is gay and to proclaim his innocence despite pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of creating a public nuisance disorderly conduct at an airport bathroom in Minneapolis by engaging in suggestive behavior toward an undercover police officer, were:
"Thank you all for coming out today."
By the way, 55% of Idahoans think he should resign.

Helmsley Left Millions to Dog, Nothing to Two Grandchildren - Yikes. The will of deceased hotel billionairess Leona Helmsley creates a $12 million trust fund for beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, but leaves nothing for two out of four grandchildren "for reasons known to them."

The Great Flood of 2007

As Kyle points out in an email this morning, it's not on the scale of Hurricane Katrina (the anniversary of which we mark today), but the flooding across north central and northwest Ohio has spread devastation and suffering through at least eight counties.

Local chapters of the Ohio Red Cross have opened shelters for hundreds of people who evacuated their flooded homes. Over 700 Red Cross disaster workers are serving hot meals and snacks, as well as distributing clean up supplies and comfort kits to affected residents.

Please click this link and make a generous donation to help make sure that the recovery in Ohio (unlike that in New Orleans and the Mississippi coast) is swift - and then email the link to your friends:


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More on SCHIP

Following up on my posts earlier today on SCHIP and depressing economic statistics, I see that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has posted an item on her blog, The Gavel, pointing out that the U.S. Census Report released today illustrates why Congress needs to pass legislation strengthening SCHIP:
The report shows that for the second year in a row, the number of uninsured children increased, leaving a total of 8.7 million children without health care coverage. That is unacceptable.

Democrats urge the President to end his veto threats and join the vast majority of Americans in supporting our efforts to ensure that all eligible children have the health insurance they deserve.
On a related point, you may be wondering how the public in general feels about expanding SCHIP. Jason Sanford at the excellent blog Ohio Health Policy Review has the data:
The 2007 Ohio Health Issues Poll asked Ohioans if they favored expanding SCHIP (or Healthy Start, as the program is known in Ohio) to include all uninsured children in the state. 86% of Ohioans said they would favor the expansion. The poll was completed as part of the Ohio Poll and complete results and methodology are available in a PDF download from the Health Foundation's website. These results mirror a new poll on the same issue from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
So, public support for expanding SCHIP is very strong.

It's a Banner Day for Depressing Statistics!

Quick - what do housing prices, SAT scores, earnings, and the percentage of Americans with health insurance all have in common?

Aaaaaugh - they are all dropping! In a perfect storm of really depressing statistical measures, we learn today that:
* United States home prices fell 3.2% in the second quarter, the steepest decline since Standard & Poor's began keeping track in 1987. "The decline in home prices around the nation shows no evidence of a market recovery anytime soon," states the report at CNN.

* Combined math and reading SAT scores for the high school class of 2007 were the lowest in eight years.

* Median earnings for individuals are down, according to the U.S. Census Bureau report issued today. "For men, earnings slipped 1.1 percent to a median of $42,300, while for women, earnings sank 1.2 percent to a median of $32,500." Now, this statistic is tricky, because median income of households actually went up slightly (0.7 percent to $48,200, adjusted for inflation). But that's because more people are working within each household.

* The U.S. Census Bureau also reports that the number of Americans not covered by health insurance rose to 47 million (15.8% of the population) in 2006 from 44.8 million (15.3%) the year before
. The percentage of people covered through their employers fell from 60.2% to 59.7%, and the percentage covered by government health programs fell from 27.3% to 27%.

OH-10: "Cleveland in Poverty, Dennis in Disney World"

Seizing on today's news that the U.S. Census Bureau has again ranked Cleveland as one of the poorest cities in the nation, and the fact that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) has scheduled a presidential campaign appearance at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the campaign of challenger Rosemary Palmer (D-Cleveland) has released this deadly bit of video:

Spitzer Threatens S-CHIP Lawsuit; Can Dann Be Far Behind?

During his campaign for attorney general, Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township) sometimes mentioned crusading state attorney general (and now governor) Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) as a personal inspiration. Yesterday, Spitzer threatened to sue the federal government over new regulatory restrictions on the S-CHIP program, which provides Medicaid coverage to children of lower-income working families). The lawsuit would contend that the regulatory changes are void as fatally inconsistent with the controlling statute.

I have written about the new S-CHIP regulations here. The regulatory changes, issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on August 17th, impose virtually impossible preconditions on states that wish to raise the income limitation on families eligible for S-CHIP above 250% of the federal poverty level. The recently passed Ohio budget contains a plan to raise the eligibility to 300%. Other states are considering plans to raise the limit to 350% or even 400%.

Reaction to the changes has been swift and harsh. Gene Sperling wrote in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
What is most inexcusable about the White House stance is what they don't say. They offer nothing -- no better idea, no alternative, no plan -- that has been shown to keep even a chunk of these 5 million to 6 million children from going to sleep every night without health insurance.

They are content to keep the status quo even with heartbreaking reports that uninsured infants with congenital heart problems are 10 times more likely to die because of delayed treatment than those with coverage.

Before, "compassionate conservatism" may have seemed like a political bumper sticker. Now it seems like the punch line of a sad joke, at the expense of millions of impoverished children.
Amy Swanson, Executive Director of Voices for Ohio's Children, wrote to me in an e-mail message last week:
[The CMS letter is] yet another example in the SCHIP debate that the White House is out of touch with America. Ohio passed a bipartisan child health expansion, and these decisions should be left to states and not to the whims of partisan politics in Washington. ...

The requirements create nearly impossible hurdles for states to overcome. ...

With passage of recent legislation [i.e., the SCHIP extension bills passed by both chambers of Congress], it is clear that Congress does not agree with the administration’s policies for SCHIP. ...

This policy restricts state flexibility – a cornerstone of the program – sets a bad precedent – what else with the administration due to undermine the current program for our children—many of these children we are talking about have lost access to employer coverage because of chronic care needs or worse, they never had access to the employer coverage. Middle-income families are being priced out of the private market due to escalating health care costs.
Last week, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) joined in a strong protest letter to the Bush Administration, which includes the assertion that the changes "contravene the fundamental objectives underlying SCHIP and may overstep your Department's authority." That wording suggests that Ohio's new leadership concurs with Spitzer's assessment about the validity of the changes. Something tells me that Marc Dann might be working on draft pleadings for Ohio's SCHIP lawsuit at this very moment.

Chertoff Credibility Issues

It now appears that the positioning of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as a nominee to replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was a mere feint or ploy, but if Chertoff does become the nominee he will face stiff challenges to his credility. Mark Benjamin writes in Salon today that Chertoff mischaracterized Pentagon interrogation methods in testimony before Congress:
Just as Gonzales, under oath before Congress, failed to recall whether there was dissension within the Bush administration over a controversial war-on-terror-related policy, so Michael Chertoff seems to have suffered a similar lapse of memory while under oath before Congress when pressed on a different terror-related policy. Gonzales pleaded ignorance of a rift within the administration over warrantless wiretapping; Chertoff has denied knowledge of interrogation techniques that are tantamount to torture, despite regular attendance by his top aides at meetings on the subject.

"If Mr. Chertoff is nominated, the Senate needs to ask him some very tough questions about what he knew about the abuses at Guantánamo," said Hina Shamsi from Human Rights First.
In a similar vein, David Fiderer on Huffington Post details false statements by Chertoff in Congressional testimony about Katrina, including referring four times to non-existent newspaper headlines that said 'New Orleans Dodged the Bullet.'

Although Gonzales has been roundly criticized for a variety of failings, the flaw that weighed most heavily in eventually sinking him was his inability to speak plainly and truthfully to Congress. With that backdrop, these credibility issues would almost certainly doom a Chertoff nomination.

DeWine (R) a Potential Nominee for Attorney General?

Okay, this is the second time I've heard the name of the recently defeated Ohio senator, Mike DeWine (R-Cedarville), mentioned as a possible nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General. I can't remember where I saw it the first time (and Googling didn't turn it up).

My instinct is to want to call DeWine for a reaction, but I'm having some trouble coming up with a number to call. Working on it. Will update.

Presumably, the minimum qualifications (at least for a consensus-type candidate) are someone with notable public stature, great skills as an administrator, independence from the White House, and a proven commitment to putting the interests of nation ahead of party politics.

UPDATE: Mike DeWine replied by email that he has no comment.

2nd UPDATE - I am told, by a person very familiar with the nomination process for federal judges, that when a putative nominee says "No comment" -- rather than, for example, "Are you out of your mind? No way!" -- it usually means that the person is in fact under consideration.

3rd UPDATE: See? What did I tell you! U.S. News & World Report also mentions DeWine as a possible nominee, citing a Fox News report.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reid and Pelosi: Resignation Does Not End AG Inquiry

Both Democratic Congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), have emphatically stated that today's announcement of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation effective September 17th will not end the Congressional inquiry into the Department of Justice, including the matter of the firing of nine United States Attorneys last year. "This resignation is not the end of the story," said Reid. "Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House." Referring to the nominee to succeed Gonazles, Pelosi said he or she "must also pledge to cooperate with ongoing congressional oversight into the conduct of the White House in the politicization of federal law enforcement." Other key Democrats are chiming in as well.

There is talk that the removal of Rumsfeld, Rove, and Gonzales from the Bush administration takes away the high-value targets for Congressional wrath (save Bush and Cheney themselves). But those people can still be subpoenaed to testify, and there is even precedent for impeaching a cabinet member after he resigns. In any event, the Congressional inquiries are clearly unfinished business.

Compare How Ohio's Senators React to Gonzales Resignation

Very instructive. From senior Senator George Voinovich (R), who sometimes deviates from the White House in word but rarely in deed:
“While the senator believes Congress has a duty to conduct oversight, he also understands the president has the right and responsibility to fill his own cabinet. He is looking forward to reviewing the future nominee and will work with his colleagues to help ensure a thorough but speedy process.”
From newcomer Sherrod Brown (D), who won his campaign largely by tying incumbent Mike DeWine (R) to Bush:
“Senator Brown believes the attorney general's resignation is long overdue. His tenure has been marred by incompetence at best and outright deceit at worst. Senator Brown hopes President Bush will put politics aside and nominate someone we can all be proud of for this important position. The American people deserve an attorney general whose first allegiance is to them, not the President.”
Both statements were issued through spokespersons.

By conspicuously not praising Gonzales in the statement, Voinovich hints at some level of disapproval of Gonzales' incompetence and partisanship. So much for preserving some minimal appearance of being a moderate. However, the substance of what he does say is that he is already an automatic "yes" vote for whoever Bush puts forward.

OH-15: Neither Petro Nor Lashutka Will Run

It's a nightmare scenario playing out for the Ohio GOP as the top two remaining prospects to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Upper Arlington) -- former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro (R-Columbus) and former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka (R-Columbus) -- have now both rejected the idea of jumping into the race. Two other possibilities, State Sen. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) and State Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Clintonville), previously turned it down.

Former Franklin County Commissioner Dewey Stokes (R-Columbus) has also been mentioned. He was defeated in his re-election bid by Marilyn Brown (D-Columbus) in 2006. However, Stokes has said that he is more likely to run for county commissioner again than for Congress.

More on Bush's Iraq-Vietnam Comparison

I commented before on Bush's analogy of Iraq to Vietnam in a speech before the VFW last week, asserting that:
[O]ne unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.’
The best reactions I think I've seen came not from professional pundits but from seven pithy letters to the editors of the New York Times, published on Saturday, which essentially noted that:
1. Iraq has added painful vocabulary terms of its own, like "Abu Ghraib" and "I.E.D."

2. It's hypocritical to evoke Vietnam now, after warnings of a Vietnam-like quagmire were ignored before going to war in Iraq.

3. Bush's declaration that a free Iraq "is within reach" is "not that much removed from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s 'Peace is at hand' remark, and we know how many more lives were lost needlessly after that statement."

4. The appropriate comparison is not to the aftermath of Vietnam but "the flawed policies that led us to these battles in the first place."

5. Bush's "deeply flawed thinking invites the question: Why didn’t [Bush] step up and go?"

6. Bush's "contorted and inaccurate" analogy invites the critical question of "how long we Americans will accept this level of dishonesty from our president."

7. Perhaps Bush will recall that "after we left Vietnam, none of the predicted dominoes fell and Vietnam became a tourist destination welcoming Americans."
Of course, implicit in Bush's analogy to Vietnam is the notion that the United States could have "won" that conflict if only it had stayed the course. This is a blatant revision of history that originated during the Reagan era and is perpetuated by some right wing pundits, despite the consensus of expert opinion to the contrary. For an authoritative example, read a paper written by Dr. Jeffrey Record, a professor in the Department of Strategy and International Security at the U.S. Air Force’s Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, entitled "Vietnam in Retrospect: Could We Have Won?" His conclusion:
The United States could not have prevented the forcible reunification of Vietnam under communist auspices at a morally, materially, and strategically acceptable price.

AG Gonzales Resigns; Chertoff Likely Replacement

Alberto Gonzales is resigning. This is a breaking story; details to follow.

UPDATE: Still nothing much to add. The New York Times broke the story, but reports only that Gonzales a senior administration official will make a statement later today.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards has issued a statement pointing out that he called for Gonzales' resignation on March 13, 2007, and saying "Better late than never."

2nd UPDATE: CNN is reporting that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will be nominated to replace Gonzales. Chertoff has background as Assistant U.S. Attorney, Assistant Attorney General, and U.S. Court of Appeals judge. He also clerked for Supreme Court justice William Brennan.

3rd UPDATE: The news conference is set for 10:30 a.m. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who led the charge against Gonzales, seemed sort of noncommittal about Chertoff on CNN just now, neither praising nor condemning him outright.

4th UPDATE: Solicitor General Paul Clement is being named as a likely temporary replacement. Other names I've heard for a permanent replacement are former Sen. John Danforth, former Solicitor General Ted Olsen, and corporate attorney and former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.

Chertoff has competency issues because of the bungling of Hurricane Katrina during his watch (FEMA is part of Homeland Security). I don't think that would be enough to prevent his confirmation outright, but if the Bush administration wants a really quick and smooth confirmation process and Democratic senators object to Chertoff on this basis, it might prompt the White House to name someone else.

5th UPDATE: Although the traditional media has jumped on Chertoff as the virtually certain nominee, I'm not so sure just yet. One thing I will say is that this is an interesting test as to how Bush will handle the last part of his presidency. If he nominates Chertoff or anyone else closely associated with his administration, it's a sign that he will continue his combative style even as a lame duck. If he goes beyond his inner circle and nominates someone who was prominent before Bush took office, like Ted Olsen, that's a sign that he will be more cooperative with moderate elements within his own party and with Congress in general.

The GOP presidential candidates presumably don't want the White House to pick fights and create controversies, and generally draw attention to the unpopular current GOP president, during the next year while they are trying to sell themselves to the public as representing a new direction for the country. However, stubbornness and devotion to ideology have been the hallmarks of this administration, so it would represent a huge change of tone for the White House to seek a consensus nomination for AG. We'll just have to wait and see.

6th UPDATE: Cleverest reaction to Gonzale's resignation yet, from Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL):
Alberto Gonzales is the first Attorney General who thought the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth were three different things.
7th UPDATE: Bear in mind that the U.S. attorney general firings were only the tip of the iceberg. Andrew Cohen lays it out on the Washington Post blog "Bench Conference":
And all the while, Gonzales' Justice Department was crumbling from within, devastated by a cynical strategy of minimizing the role of career nonpartisan professionals within the Department in favor of young ideologues, mediocre attorneys and just plain party hacks. The U.S. Attorney scandal is just the most publicized example of this daring effort to make the Justice Department a house organ for the Bush administration. Less visible career attorneys were pushed out at the expense of rank partisans willing to toe the company line. Even the internship programs for law students were schooled to favor "right" thinking attorneys at the expense of others. One law school, founded by Pat Robertson and rated among the worst in the nation, became a feeder school for the Department. And it was all part of a plan.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Add Skindell, Celeste and Hagan to List of Potential Dem House Leaders?

If the Democratic Party wins four seats and therefore control of the Ohio House of Representatives, their caucus leader will be House Speaker rather than just Minority Leader. Their current leader, State Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), is term limited in 2008. So, the hunt for a new leader is on.

I reported previously that the Toledo Blade had suggested State Reps. Todd Book (D-Portsmouth), Jennifer Garrison (D-Marietta), and Matt Szollosi (D-Toledo) as possible choices. Today, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Mark Naymik identifies three more possibilities: State Reps. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood), Ted Celeste (D-Grandview Heights), and Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown).

Skindell is an interesting prospect. He is in his third term and is the ranking minority member on the powerful Finance and Appropriations Committee. I heard him speak at a forum on the state budget and his grasp of substantive issues is impressive. However, the other two newly mentioned contenders have powerful political credentials. Celeste, in his first term after whipping incumbent Geoff Smith (R-Upper Arlington) last fall, is the brother of the former governor and ambassador Richard Celeste. He was a campaign manager for his brother and ran for U.S. Senate himself in 2000. Celeste has bolstered his position with solid fund-raising since taking office. And Hagan was a state senator (and minority whip) before running for his current seat in the House due to term limits. Hagan's father was a county commissioner and primary candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and his brother is a commissioner for Cuyahoga County.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Duelling Videos on Iraq

A group calling themselves Freedoms Watch, composed of prominent Bush supporters, is running ads in the districts of vulnerable GOP Senators and Representatives, urging the public to call the group's switchboard and tell their legislators to "vote against surrender." The ads are powerful, with Iraq vets and family members of the fallen passionately defending the war, including a woman who lost both an uncle in 9/11 and a spouse in Iraq :

However, what happens if you call that number to OPPOSE the war? Nothing doing, as demonstrated in this counter-video by Americans United for Change:

The group VoteVets isn't going to let the challenge go unanswered. They are preparing to run TV ads of their own, urging Americans to put "country ahead of party" and oppose the war:

I think the ads on both sides are effective. The Freedom Watch effort may be just enough to help keep wavering Republican legislators from abandoning the president on continuing the war -- who knows? However, as frustrating as that outcome would be for war opponents like myself, I don't see how these kinds of commercials could ever turn the tide of national public opinion that runs so strongly against the war, and this continuing focus on the war will further erode GOP prospects as we move into 2008. The end to all of this madness in Iraq is coming, sooner or later, one way or another.

New and Notes: The National Scene

Try them on crostini with arrugula and truffle confit (sorry, Top Chef moment):

Edwards Clings to Iowa Lead - A new Strategic Vision poll has former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) holding on in Iowa at 23%, virtually tied with Sen Barack Obama at 22% and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) at 21%. Gov. Bill Richardson is at 14%. Like Romney, who has a bigger lead in Iowa on the GOP side (31%, compared to Thompson at 15% and Giuliani at 13%), Edward's big hope is to pivot upward from an Iowa victory in terms of fund-raising and momentum going into later races. Thus, it is very bad news for the Edwards camp that Michigan Republicans are trying to advance that state's primary to January 15th. That move would cause New Hampshire to move up its primary to the first week of January, and Iowa's state law requires that its caucuses be held both before any other state and within the same calendar year as the election. If the Iowa caucuses are held on or around the New Year's Day holiday, they are likely to be of diminished significance.

Time Magazine Pokes Some Holes in Giuliani's "Tough on Terror" Image
- The latest issues looks closely at the question of how well Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) prepared for a terrorist attack before 9/11:
Giuliani spent eight years presiding over a city that was a known terrorist target. ... On 9/11, he earned the trust of most Americans; one year later, 78% of those surveyed by the Marist Institute had a favorable impression of Giuliani. ... The evidence also shows great, gaping weaknesses. Giuliani's penchant for secrecy, his tendency to value loyalty over merit and his hyperbolic rhetoric are exactly the kinds of instincts that counterterrorism experts say the U.S. can least afford right now.
NIE Report Says Iraqi Leaders "Unable to Govern Effectively" - Edwards and Richardson are sparring with Clinton over her comment in a speech to the VFW that new tactics have produced some limited success in parts of Iraq, but the political situation in Iraq seems to be washing out from under our military forces like so much beach sand at high tide. The latest National Intelligence Estimate released today says that civilian casualties remain high, sectarian groups are fighting, al Qaeda in Iraq is still committing high-profile attacks, and "to date, Iraqi leaders remain unable to govern effectively." What is the significance of a little military progress when the political reconciliation that this "surge" was supposed to produce remains as unlikely as ever?

Dumping al-Maliki to Stay the Course? - Uh oh. A scary piece by Craig Crawford at CQPolitics suggests that Bush's mixed signals about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could presage a shuffling of political leadership in Iraq, as a predicate to arguing that the new leadership needs more time to achieve success, much as "rearranging the military uniforms on the ground" last winter became the basis for buying more time for the military campaign.

Mapping Clinton vs. Giuliani
- Wow. Chris Bowers at OpenLeft has taken state-by-state polling information on the head-to-head matchup of Clinton and Giuliani and created a map showing the results if the election were held today, and it looks like this:

Clinton wins the election, 335 electoral votes to 203. And this is the "least electable" of the Democratic front runners.

Gov. Ted Strickland on Clinton Supporters' Short List for VP

I can't get at the underlying source yet, but Taegen Goddard says that according to the latest Evans-Novak Political Report
"[I]mportant supporters" of Sen. Hillary Clinton "are laying the groundwork for a campaign against Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for Vice President on grounds that he adds nothing to the ticket. Prominent names offered as alternatives: Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.”
This is far from the first time that I have heard Strickland's name bandied about as a VP prospect. I have a few off-the-cuff thoughts about this:
1. Since Clinton is a Senator, it helps to have a Governor on the ticket. That is a plus for Warner as well as Strickland. (Why isn't Richardson on this list?)

2. Ohio figures to be one of the two or three most important swing states again in 2008. Location is in fact Strickland's most desirable feature.

3. Strickland provides "personality balance" to the ticket. He is genial and sincere and has inspired trust in rural voters (i.e., southeastern Ohio). Clinton has provided support for Strickland in the past and the two of them seem to have a genuine high regard for each other.

4. Although liberal on many issues, Strickland is more conservative on some social issues like guns and gambling. Another balancing factor? (Clinton has already staked out a few conservative social positions of her own, like that flag-burning nonsense.)

5. Strickland strikes me as a good -- but not stellar -- campaigner. He ran an excellent campaign for Governor, but he always seemed to come off more as solid and dependable than inspiring and visionary. If I had to guess, I'd say that the campaign was a very gruelling experience for both him and his spouse. Which leads to my last thought ...

6. I really, really don't think Strickland would want to run for Vice President. He has said that he wants to serve and retire as Governor and I believe him. He hasn't said or done anything during this run-up to the presidential nomination to indicate that he is paying any attention to it at all.

OH Hse 19, 22, 23, 24: GOP Candidates Reported

The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing has a post up about potential GOP candidates for Ohio House seats in the Columbus area.

In the northwest suburban 19th District, where Rep. Larry Flowers (R-Canal Winchester) is term-limited, the screening committee of the Franklin County GOP is endorsing two candidates, former legislative aide Nathan Burd and county coroner Bradley Lewis. Burd is a pro-life zealot and rabid supporter of Mitt Romney; his opponent had ties to a group called "Ohio Republicans for Choice" so he may be pro-choice unless he has had a Romney-esque miraculous conversion. The challenger in 2006, Marian Harris (D-Columbus), plans to run again.

In the 22nd, which goes from Dublin to Clintonville, Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) is term-limited and former State Rep. Bill Shuck (R-Columbus) figures to get the nod. (Former State Rep. David Robinson was interested in this race but dropped out.) Health care attorney John P. Carney (D-Columbus) deserves and should get another shot at this district, a real pickup opportunity for the Democrats.

In the west-to-southwest suburban 23rd District, where Rep. Larry Wolpert (R-Hilliard) is term limited, the GOP candidate will be either Mayor Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City), who has been endorsed by the screening committee, or Councilman Brett Sciotto (R-Hilliard). Grossman appears to be up for re-election as mayor in 2007, opposed by Bill Ferguson.

State Rep. Ted Celeste (D-Grandview), brother of the former Ohio governor, ousted Geoff Smith (R-Upper Arlington) handily in the westside 24nd District in 2006, and he has been very busy with fund-raising for 2008. The GOP candidate will be city councilman Tim Rankin (R-Upper Arlington), who spoke out against displaying Outlook Weekly and Gay People's Chronicle in the Upper Arlington Public Library as "offensive and inappropriate." (h/t Dave Harding at ProgressOhio.org)

Bush Jumps the Shark on Iraq?

I have to say, George Bush's invocation of Vietnam in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars strikes me as a sign of desperation. If he felt that he had any chance of persuading anyone outside of his ultra-conservative base to support a continuation of the war, why would he draw parallels to a conflict that anyone but a right wing hardliner regards as a blunder and tragedy? The painful memory of Vietnam isn't going to help him turn around moderates and independents.

In addition, it irks me when Bush resorts to the notion that the slaughter of innocent civilians is a justification for continuing the war. He says that we must stay in Iraq to avoid the kind of suffering that plagued the Vietnamese after we left that country. But the suffering of foreigners wasn't given as a reason for us to go to Iraq in the first place. WMDs and the supposed support of Al Qaeda by Saddam were about protecting the U.S.A., not civilians in Iraq. Also, the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis killed so far in this war have never provoked remorse from Bush to date. If humanitarian catastrophes called for military engagement, why aren't we sending soldiers into Sudan to stop the genocide there?

In any event, I agree with what Democratic candidate Gov Bill Richardson (D-NM) said in Nevada yesterday:
"The correct conclusion to draw from our experience in Vietnam," said Governor Richardson, "is that dragging out the process of withdrawal will be tragically worse in terms of U.S. lives lost and worse for the Iraqis themselves in terms of the ultimate instability we will create by staying longer."
The lesson of Vietnam is that it took us too long to get out. The suffering might well have been less if we got out sooner, and the suffering in Iraq might well be greater if we prolong our occupation.

"My President Will Be ..."

This is cute:

It is remarkable how sometimes the simplest, least expensive idea for a video is the one that makes the strongest impression. This couldn't be any more low budget, but it hits home. (Well, the snarky business about Wisconsin doesn't hit home so well, not outside the Dairy State, but in general the video is very striking.)

The Progressive Patriots Fund, the PAC of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), is collecting ideas for additional qualities that you want to see in your next President. And those would be?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

News and Notes: Ohio

Tasty tidbits in spicy commentary sauce:

Massive Flooding Across North Central Ohio - Record-breaking rainfall and flooding across north central and northwest Ohio closes part of I-75, causes many evacuations, as reported here, here, and here.

Foreclosure Statistics Grim - Ohio is a national leader as the number of foreclosures continues to spike upward. And the number of ways that the subprime mortgage lending crash and housing slump are hurting the economy keeps growing too - add real estate agents to home builders, hedge funds, and mortgage bankers as professionals who are feeling the pain.

Wagoner and Coley Defer to Dolan on House Speaker Position - The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing reports that Rep. Mark Wagoner (R-Toledo) and Rep. Bill Coley (R-West Chester) have decided to yield to Rep. Matt Dolan (R-Novelty) in the contest for House Speaker to replace Rep. Jon Husted (R-Dayton), based largely on Dolan's fund-raising clout. Rep. Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) is still contending for the job.

Stokes New Political Director for OHDC - Toledo native A. J. Stokes, who has a 2001 political science degree from OSU and experience working with unions and on the gubernatorial campaigns of Ted Strickland (D-OH) and Time Kaine (D-VA), is replacing Adam Hewit as political director for the Ohio House Democratic Caucus. Hewitt is leaving to work for lobbyist Darryl Deaver.

Ohio Unemployment Higher Than One Year Ago - There were 14,000 more unemployed Ohioans in July 2007 than in July 2006. Ohio's unemployment rate is at 5.8%, compared to the national rate of 4.6%.

Ashford Replaces Ludeman as President of Toledo City Council - After weeks of posturing and discord, Democrats united behind Robert Ashford (D) to replace Michael Ludeman (R). Mayor Carty Finkbeiner criticized the move.

Mine Owner Angrily Dismisses Safety Criticisms - Robert Murray of the Ohio-based Murray Energy Corporation angrily denies criticism by the United Mine Workers that he knowingly operated an unsafe operation at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah, where six miners are missing (and probably lost) and three would-be rescuers were killed.

Carnival of Ohio Politics - Biggest Ever

The latest Carnival of Ohio Politics entry is the biggest ever, the submitted posts look terrific, and thanks to Jill's highly entertaining meta-narrative it's great reading.

Go there and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fed Rules Threaten Proposed Expansion of Ohio SCHIP Program

Late last week the Bush administration announced new policies that will make it impossible, or at least extremely difficult, for states to expand Medicaid eligibility to children in families with incomes above 250% of the federal poverty line. (The poverty line is about $20,650 for a family of four, so 250% is about $51,625.). The rule changes are explained in articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post today.

SCHIP is a program with broad bipartisan support that provides health insurance for about 6.6 million children with parents who work but do not earn enough to afford private health insurance. Families under the poverty line qualify for Medicaid without resort to SCHIP, but this $5 billion-per-year program extends that eligibility for children in families up to 200% of the poverty line. Some states have already extended the eligibility to 250% or 300% using certain administrative waivers available to the states, and some propose to raise it even higher. Ohio has incorporated a plan to raise the limit from 200% to 300% in the recently passed 2007-2009 biennial budget.

However, SCHIP is scheduled to expire on September 30th unless renewed by Congress, and Bush and the legislature have been fighting about how much additional funding to include with the renewal. Bush has threatened to veto any renewal legislation that exceeds his proposal to renew with $30 billion in funding over the next five years, a total increase of $5 billion. The Senate has passed a bill to renew the program with $35 billion in funding (a $10 billion increase), and the House has passed a more complicated extension that would renew the program with $75 billion in funding (a $50 billion increase).

The Bush administration says that it is trying to re-focus the program on uninsured children in low-income families, and to avoid the possibility that middle-income families will choose free public insurance instead of paying for private insurance. Advocates for children argue that families above 200% frequently cannot afford the health insurance that they need, so the fear of expanded SCHIP coverage as crowding out potential purchasers of health insurance is a myth.

The rule changes impose three basic restrictions on states who wish to extend eligibility above 250%, as Ohio does. First, the state must have achieved an Medicaid and SCHIP participation rate of 95% for families under the 200% level. Second, SCHIP enrollment should require copayments or premiums that approximate private insurance, and should impose a one-year waiting period (i.e., the state must determine that the each child is uninsured for that long before enrollment). Third, states must first show that the number of children in the target population covered by private insurance has not decreased by more than 2% in the preceding five years.

This morning I called Amy Nicholls Swanson, Executive Director of Voices for Ohio's Children, and Ericka Thoms, Policy and Planning Associate at the Center for Community Solutions, for their initial reaction to the changes. They both said it is too soon to provide a detailed response (the changes were announced late Friday and public policy advocates are just now meeting to assess the situation). However, when I asked Swanson if the new procedures seem drastic and punitive she freely agreed. She was driving from a meeting with a state official involved in the administration of Medicaid funds and promised to deliver a more detailed appraisal of the changes later.

Thoms pointed out that no state has achieved 95% participation, and that the level of SCHIP funding increase supported by the Bush Administration appears to be insufficient for states to afford that level of participation. She also pointed out that the one year waiting period strikes her as "dangerous." Right now there is a thirty-day turn around period. Asking families to go without health insurance for children for a year means that you could have children who are sick not getting the care that they need.

In the Post article, Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL), an architect of the SCHIP program, comments that he thinks "states will see the letter [announcing the rule changes] for what it is, and that's a political ploy by the president. This is a political attempt by the administration to try to intimidate states." Thoms agreed that it may be a ploy, but worries that it may be a very effective one. What puzzles her is that the changes seem to be "kind of thumbing their nose at bipartisanship." There is broad bi-partisan support for the goal of covering children whose families can't otherwise obtain insurance, but these changes seem to be much more about protecting the profits of private insurers than achieving that goal. There is "much more support in Congress for covering kids than there is for this kind of really punitive regulatory procedure."

During the recess, Thoms said, members of Congress have been hearing about how important SCHIP is to their constituents. The concern among advocates for children has always been to come up with a compromise SCHIP extension bill that would garner enough bipartisan support to withstand a veto, and that is more likely to be at the Senate level of funding than the more expansive House bill, but both bills endorse expanding coverage for kids. "I don't see how Bush has support in Congress for blocking the expansion of coverage," she said.

It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks as policy experts react to the rule changes and members of Congress return from the August recess. I hope to post much more on this issue soon. What is clear already, however, is that the goal of approaching universal health care coverage for Ohio children is hanging in the balance.

Black Swamp Review brings up the ideological underpinnings of this political conflict -- fear that the success of an expanded SCHIP program will pave the way for public acceptance of universal health insurance.

Voinovich Under Fire over Iraq Vote UPDATED W/ VIDEO

Senator George Voinovich (R) is being hit hard for reversing course on Iraq, i.e., voting against troop withdrawal after expressing skepticism about the prospects for the war. Yesterday Americans United for Change (an umbrella group with major union backing) unleashed TV ads against four lawmakers on the issue, including Voinovich. (The others are Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN).) Today, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq and ProgressOhio.org launch Voinvovich Doubletalk Express, a mobile 10' by 20' billboard that will visit 11 Ohio cities in a three-day tour. Here is the sign:

If you'd like to experience the tour in person, here is the schedule:

10a: Elyria- Ely Park Corner of Middle Ave and Broad Street
12:15p: Cleveland- Voinovich Park, 800 E 9th Street
3p: Painesville- In front of LaTourette’s district office, 1 Victoria Place
5:30p: Youngstown- Youngstown Federal Plaza


8a: Akron- Federal Courthouse Plaza, 2 South Main Street
10a: Mansfield- Hamilton Park, off Route 30 and Fern Road
1p: Columbus- ProgressOhio office, 251 S. 3rd Street
4p: Cincinnati- City Hall (Plum Street side), 801 Plum Street


10a: Dayton- Cooper Park, E. 2nd Street and St. Clair Street
1p: Lima- Town Square in front of City Hall, 50 Town Square
3p: Toledo- In front of the Toledo Blade, 541 N. Superior Street
UPDATE: Here is the TV ad:

News and Notes: The National Scene

What's up?

Levin Calls for Maliki's Ouster - Fresh back from Iraq, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) describes the Iraqi government as "non-functional" and says the Iraqi parliament should remove Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they can't arrive at a political accommodation with their political rivals immediately.

Obama Claims He Would Win Southern States By Increasing Black Turnout - Responding in New Hampshire to questions about his electability and a comment that it would require a "leap of faith" to vote for him, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) made some startling electoral predictions if he is the eventual Democratic nominee:
* Black voter turnout will increase by at least 30 percent across the country.

* Young people's percentage of the vote will go up 25-30 percent.

* He will carry southern states like Mississippi and Georgia, and put South Carolina in play.
Obama says that he is the only candidate who can actually "redraw the electoral map." He pointed out that he fares best among independent voters, that he has lower negative ratings than his Democratic rivals, and is leading Giuliani, Romney and Thompson in head-to-head matchups.

Congressional Approval at All-Time Low - A new Gallup Poll shows approval of Congress at 18%, tied for lowest ever for this poll. The nine point drop since the last poll is due to a decrease in approval among Democrats and Independents. Bush's approval is still dismal at 32%, up three points from the last poll.

CIA Director Failed to Prepare for Al-Qaeda Attack - A long-classified report by the CIA Inspector General, released today, concludes that former CIA Director George Tenet did not marshal CIA resources to deal with the recognized threat posed by al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks. The report says it cannot identify a "single point of failure nor a silver bullet" that would have prevented the attacks, but "[t]he agency and its officers did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner," thus failing to come up with a comprehensive approach to battling the threat.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Can We Finally Put "Al-Qaeda Would Follow Us Home" To Rest?

One of the most widely repeated -- and most disingenuous -- arguments for maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq is this familiar false choice: "If we don't fight them in Baghdad we will have to fight them on the streets of America." Today Foreign Policy has released the third installment of its periodic "Terrorism Index," a survey of over 100 of the most respected experts on foreign policy (including both Republicans and Democrats), and among other things the experts aren't kind to this "follow us home" argument:
It’s a scenario that the index’s experts say is unlikely. Only 12 percent believe that terrorist attacks would occur in the United States as a direct result of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Eighty-eight percent of the experts said that either such a scenario was unlikely or that they see no connection between a troop withdrawal from Iraq and terrorist attacks inside the United States. This line of thinking was consistent across party lines, with 58 percent of conservatives saying they did not believe terrorist attacks would occur at home as a result of a military drawdown in Iraq.

That could explain why a bipartisan majority, 68 percent, of the experts favor redeploying U.S. forces from Iraq during the next 18 months. Although most oppose an immediate pullout, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated to the point that 1 in 5 experts, including 25 percent of conservatives, now favor an immediate withdrawal. If opinion continues to move in this direction, it will become much harder to explain why the troops aren’t homeward bound.
It's long past time to for the media to stop aiding the GOP in perpetuating the "follow us home" canard. It's a logical fallacy, the experts disagree with it, and when conservative pundits and candidates trot it out reporters should challenge them on it.

The other parts of the report are just as damning to White House policy. A majority do not think the "Surge" is helping matters:
[53%] say the surge is having a negative impact on U.S. national security, up 22 percentage points from just six months ago. This sentiment was shared across party lines, with 64 percent of conservative experts saying the surge is having either a negative impact or no impact at all. When the experts were asked to grade the government’s handling of the Iraq war, the news was even worse. They gave the overall effort in Iraq an average point score of just 2.9 on a 10-point scale.
In addition, the experts are extremely alarmed about Pakistan. Asked which country is most likely to transfer nuclear weapons to terrorists, they picked Pakistan by a huge margin (74%, compared to North Korea as the next choice at 42%), and a plurality (35%) picked Pakistan as the most likely country to become the next safe haven for Al Qaeda (Iraq was next at 22%). A majority feel that current U.S. policy toward Pakistan is having a negative effect on U.S. national security.

RETRACTED - Reagan Dissed 40-Year-Old George W. Bush as "Ne'er Do Well"

I must apologize to my readers for falling for this - it is apparently satire, and has been removed from the site where I found it (Taegen Goddard's Political Wire).

Hat-tip to Taegan Goddard for this choice bit from the diaries of Ronald Reagan, written on May 17, 1986 (emphasis added):
"A moment I've been dreading. [Vice President] George [H.W. Bush] brought his ne'er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work."
The Gipper was perceptive, you have to grant him that. Too bad George W. didn't get the easy job Reagan had in mind ... and stay there.

News and Notes: The National Scene

A few items of interest from outside Ohio:

Giuliani Spent More Time at Baseball Games Than at Ground Zero - So reports Alex Koppelman in Salon, referring to the three-month period after 9/11 during which a New York Times study shows that Rudy spent only 29 hours there. The candidate has compared himself to rescue workers, asserting that he spent about as much time at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center as the workers now reporting health issues from their exposure to toxic dust.

Biden Runs First Iowa TV Ad - Sen. Joe Biden (D-IA) is running the first of two 30 second TV ads in Iowa that are designed to distinguish himself from the other candidates on foreign policy experience and how he would handle withdrawing from Iraq. Here are both ads, which are quite good:

Biden proposes to divide Iraq into three autonomous regions and keep a residual force of U.S. troops there to prevent chaos and fomenting of a regional war.

Reporter Disputes Rove's Characterization of Valerie Plame Episode
- During his weekend media blitz, retiring White House political guru Kare Rove minimized his role in disclosing the identity of Valerie Plame (wife of former ambassador and White House nemesis Joseph Wilson) as an undercover CIA operative. However, former Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper said today that Rove's account is "dissembling, to put it charitably." Rove denied columnist Bob Novak's assertion that Rove confirmed Plame's CIA status to him, but Cooper responds that "[t]o imply that he didn't know about it or that this was all the leak by someone else, or he heard it as some rumor out in the hallway, is nonsense."

White House Blows Off Another Deadline for Turning Over Subpoenaed Material on Warrantless Surveillance - White Counsel Fred Fielding has indicated that the deadline of 2:30 p.m. today for the material to Congress (originally due on July 18th and pushed back at the White House's request) will not be met. Fielding wants until after Labor Day. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, is in no mood to grant more time.

News and Notes: Ohio

What's happening out there?

Clancy Out; Seitz to Run - The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing reported Friday evening that State Sen. Patricia Clancy (R-Cincinnati) will step down from her 8th Ohio Senate District seat, and term-limited State Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) of the 30th Ohio House District will run for the open seat. Clancy will become assistant chief probation office for Hamilton County in October, a job apparently arranged for her in order to avoid a Clancy-Seitz primary next year.

Sykes Replaces Donaldson at OCRC - Former State Rep. Barbara Sykes (D-Akron) has been appointed by Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) to replace Jeanine Donaldson, who served only four months, as chair of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Since her narrow loss to then-State Rep. Mary Taylor (R-Green) in the 2006 race for State Auditor, Sykes has been CEO of Ohio United Way. (I saw Sykes and her husband, State Rep. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), at the 20th Annual Urban League of Greater Cleveland banquet on July 13th, where retiring chief Myron Robinson was honored. I told them then how much I admire and appreciate their leadership, and I'm thrilled to see her back in government service.)

Blackwell Out and About - Former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R-Cincinnati), looking for ways to revive his political career after his dismal showing in the 2006 gubernatorial race, is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference in Indianapolis on August 24-26. GOP presidential contenders will be showcased at the conference.

Brown Denounces SCHIP Veto - Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Avon) is making public appearances today in Cincinnati to oppose President Bush's threat to veto legislation to continue and expand the Children's Health Insurance Program. He was at the Children's Hospital Medical Center this morning and will attend a discussion on covering the uninsured at the Lincoln Heights Health Care Center at 2:30 this afternoon. The Cincinnati Enquirer has a good story today on what's at stake for Ohio, i.e., the expansion of Medicaid coverage for children proposed by the governor and adopted by the General Assembly in the state budget.

Party at New Wulsin Headquarters
- Dr. Victoria Wulsin (D-Indian Hill), challenger to Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) in the 2nd Ohio Congressional District, will hold a party at her new campaign headquarters in Anderson Township at 5:30 pm on August 29th to thank volunteers and supporters from her last campaign, and to lay out her vision for the country and her plan to take back the district from the GOP.

Space Secures Federal Funding for Southeast Ohio - One of the key items on the re-election "to do" list of freshman Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover) is securing federal funding for projects in his district, and it looks like he has done a good job of it. His office recently announced that he has secured more than $7 million for projects in Southeastern Ohio. Moreover, Space says, “These projects are good, they’re worthy of federal funding, and they make sense for our region." The biggest items listed in the press release are $1,000,000 each for "Biorefining for Energy Security" in Athens and training equipment for the Ohio National Guard, $800,000 for airport improvement for Ohio University, $750,000 for Country Road 29 upgrades in Harrison County, and $500,000 for West Pike Sanitary Sewer upgrades in Muskingum County. No "Bridges to Nowhere" in that lineup. UPDATE: After posting this item, I received a notice that Space announced today he will introduce legislation after the August recess to provide a federal tax break to rural commuters to help them defray the cost of gasoline used in connection with employment. Rural residents are especially hard hit by high fuel prices because they typically drive longer distances than urban dwellers.

Friday, August 17, 2007

VIDEO - Giuliani Explains Why Giuliani's Immigration Stance is Nuts

Watch this clip from a 1996 speech at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:

This is the same man who promised earlier this week that he would "end illegal immigration." But a decade ago he said:
"[W]e're never, ever going to be able to totally control immigration into a country that is as large as ours, that has borders that are as diverse as the borders of the United States ... As a society that wants to be a country that values freedom ... that values freedom of movement, [and] freedom to do business ... if you were going to totally control the flow of people into the United States, you might very well destroy the economy of the country, because you'd have to inspect everything and everyone in every way possible. ... You're never totally going to control it, so we're going to have to accept that, if we want to be the kind of country that we are."
Giuliani is trying to justify his change of position on "new technologies," but that doesn't address the excellent point he made about how our society wants to be a country that values freedom. In any event, technology hasn't changed THAT much in just ten years.

News and Notes: The National Scene

The latest:

Mine Rescue Effort Claims Three Lives - Rescue operations at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah came to a temporary halt yesterday when an "underground seismic bump" caused a partial collapse and killed three rescuers. Six others were injured, including one in critical condition. Six miners are trapped in the mine, although the chances of them still being alive are slim. Drilling of another hole into the mine is continuing.

GOP House Resignations Continue - The latest veteran Republican Congressman to decide against running in 2008 is Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering Jr. (R-MS), regarded as a potential successor to Sen. Trent Lott. (R-MS).

Thompson's First Iowa Visit Too Little, Too Late? - At least one commentator thinks so.

Giuliani's Claims About Time Spent at Ground Zero Challenged - The leitmotiv of former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani's bid for the GOP presidential nomination is his post-9/11 leadership, but his repeated comparisons of himself to actual first responders and rescuer workers is drawing heavy fire. Today, the New York Times announced the results of studying available records, which show that the mayor spent only about 29 hours at Ground Zero during the three month period of September 17 to December 16, 2001.

Clinton Ahead in USA, But Edwards Leads in Iowa - A new CBS News poll shows Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) leading in the Democratic nomination race nationally with 45%, well ahead of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at 25% and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) at 14%, but a new poll in Iowa show Edwards leading there with 30% of caucus-goers while Clinton is at 22%, Obama is at 18%, and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) is at 13%.

News and Notes: Ohio

What's going on in the Buckeye State today?

Coughlin Announces Bid to Oust Summit County GOP Chair - The Akron Beacon Journal reports today that State Sen. Kevin Coughlin (R-Cuyahoga Falls) has released a three-page, no-holds-barred letter calling for the removal of county GOP chair and power broker Alex Arshinkoff. Coughlin complains that the county party "has slipped into a pathetic state" despite Coughlin's belief that the "demographics of Summit County are more favorable than ever." The letter includes a list of lost elections that Coughlin calls "Arshinkoff's Losing Streak."

More Details on Petro as Possible OH-15 Candidate - The Columbus Dispatch reports that former Attorney General Jim Petro, formerly of the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River but a Columbus resident for twelve years, is the favored candidate of Ohio Republican Party Chair Bob Bennett. However, State Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) and former Franklin County Commissioner Dewey Stokes (R-Columbus) are also interested. State Sen. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) says he will run for re-election in 2008 with a view to becoming Ohio Senate president. Some sources told the Dispatch that any endorsement is likely to wait until after a poll is taken in the district. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Petro's hesitation has to do with his desire to run for Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court in 2010. Several current Justices on the all-Republican panel are also interested, but if any of them vacates a seat to run for Chief Justice then Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) would presumably appoint a Democratic replacement.

Redfern to Meet with Lucas County Democrats Today - Lisa Renee reports on the blog Glass City Jungle that Ohio Democratic Party Chair Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island) will attend a meeting of the Lucas County Democratic Central Committee today at 4:00 pm, apparently in a continuing effort to quell the ongoing Turmoil in Toledo which has seen local Democrats divided into warring factions.

Space on a Roll - Don't call the August recess a "vacation," at least not for freshman Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover). Well aware that the 18th Congressional District is a top takeover target for the GOP, Space has been working the district hard. His Healthcare Ohio Tour will take him to all 16 major health care facilities in his district this month, he just finished a four-stop Farm Bill Update Tour with a stop at the Muskingum County Fair, and his office has announced that he is sponsoring a bill to make local communities eligible for up to $25,000 in matching funds for revitalization assistance, and another bill to support innovative approaches to combating diabetes.

Subprime Mortgage Lending Crisis Claims 450 Ohio Jobs at Bank - The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports today that the tanking mortgage investment market has led to the closing of the home equity department at National City Bank, putting 450 jobs in jeopardy. (More in the Dayton Daily News.) The Plain Dealer also reports that local home building companies are being forced into home renovation work by the building slowdown. The stock market rebounded this morning after the Federal Reserve cut its discount rate by half a percentage point, but this foreclosure mess is a long way from getting better.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Poll Shows Most Americans Don't Trust September Report on Iraq

There is a very interesting new poll from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. By a margin of 53% to 43%, Americans don't trust the upcoming "Petraeus" report (actually being written by White House aides) to assess the military situation in Iraq accurately. Also, 72% said the report would have no effect on their view of the war.

It's not that people refuse to accept the idea that the "surge" might result in some military progress there. Almost half (47%) already think that our military is making some progress. It's just that they don't think the effort is going to amount to anything in the end, and it's definitely not worth the cost. Only 33% support the war. As to whether the Iraq government is making any progress, only 26% think it is and 69% think it is not. So what is the value of demonstrating "some progress" by soldiers on the ground?

News and Notes: The National Scene

Big news day:

Jose Padilla Verdict to be Announced at 2:00 pm - UPDATE: Verdicts are being announced at 2:24 pm - Padilla and both co-defendants are guilty on all counts. Prosecutors are breathing a big sigh of relief, the evidence on Padilla was thin. The defendants all face up to life in prison on the charges.

Stock Market Crashing - Concerns relating to the troubled subprime mortgage market have sent the Dow Jones average down over 300 points (2.3%) this afternoon.

Biden's Son Going to Iraq - Beau Biden, a captain in the Army National Guard and the son of presidential contender Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), will be deployed to Iraq. “He’ll go ... I don’t want him going,” the senior Biden said. “But I don’t want my grandsons or granddaughters going back in 15 years. So how we leave makes a big difference.”

Brainiacs for Obama
- A new Gallup poll shows Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) with much higher support among highly educated voters while Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) leads among those with a high school diploma or less.

No Prison for Ney Aide - William Heaton, former chief of staff to convicted Republican Congressman Bob Ney, received two years probation and a $5,000 fine for his role in his disgraced bosses' corruption. Heaton, who went on the infamous Scotland trip paid for by convicted GOP influence peddler Jack Abramoff, wore a wire and leaked documents to the FBI.

Petraeus and Crocker To Appear Before Congress Only in Closed Hearing? - That's what Congressional aides say the White House has proposed. By the way, the "Petraeus Report" will not be that - it has been revealed that White House aides are writing it.

Skipping Iowa Straw Poll a Good Call for Rudy - CQ Politics commentator Craig Crawford opines that former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) made the right decision in skipping the recent straw poll in Iowa. Although former governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) won handily, he had to "share the limelight" with surprising second place finisher Mike Huckabee (R-AR). So, it was worth it for Rudy to save the time and money.

Clinton Edges Giuliani in National Poll - Now it's the Quinnipiac Poll showing Clinton with a slight lead in the head-to-head matchup, reversing former results from this pollster.

Giuliani Earns "C-" Grade on Foreign Policy Essay - Columnist Fred Kaplan at Slate.com says that Rudy's latest essay in Foreign Affairs is very bad:
"Had it been written for a freshman course on international relations, it would deserve at best a C-minus (with a concerned note to come see the professor as soon as possible). That it was written by a man who wants to be president—and who recently said that he understands the terrorist threat "better than anyone else running"—is either the stuff of high satire or cause to consider moving to, or out of, the country."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

VIDEO - The Hillary Ad That Provoked the White House

Everybody is talking about the new ad for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that calls struggling Americans and returning veterans "invisible" to President Bush. The White House excoriated the ad as "outrageous," "absurd," and "unconscionable." Retiring political guru Karl Rove called Clinton "fatally flawed" as a candidate. Commentator Pat Buchanan said on MSNBC tonight that the ad will hurt Clinton with independents and moderates.

Here is the ad:

It's a good ad. Is the reaction from the White House really about the substance of the ad, or is it (as some have suggested) more that the GOP really, really hopes Clinton will win the nomination, and they know that an attack by Bush and Rove will only help her with Democrats? Certainly, the Clinton campaign wasted no time in sending out an email to supporters crowing about the attacks:
Within hours the White House was on the attack -- calling our ad "outrageous," "absurd," and "unconscionable." What's outrageous is the White House attacking Hillary for standing up for ordinary Americans who are invisible to this administration, from Americans without health care to single mothers to veterans returning from Iraq. ...

"The White House just attacked me a few minutes ago saying how dare I say that Americans weren't visible to the president. I've said it and I will keep saying it because I happen to believe it."
It's an interesting question.

VIDEO - Cheney Predicted Iraq Quagmire

This is an amazing video tidbit from 1994, publicized in an email from MoveOn.org to its members today:

Cheney's explanation of the reasons why the U.S. did not push on to Baghdad in 1991 is perfectly applicable to the mess we find ourselves in today, and his smug assurance is shockingly contradictory to his categorical dismissal of criticisms of the war today. I agree with Nita Chaudhury of MoveOn, who writes in the email that "if you're as amazed, saddened, and angered as we are — pass it on to a friend, neighbor, or co-worker and help make sure people all over the country see it."

Six Ohio Cities Among Nation's Worst in Foreclosures

Ohio Treasurer Rich Cordray (D-Grove City) has sent out a bulletin reporting that according to a new list of the nation’s metropolitan areas with the greatest home foreclosure rates, Ohio has the appalling distinction of placing six cities among the top 35.

Cleveland is the 10th-worst in the nation with 18,844 foreclosure filings during the first half of this year. Dayton was 16th, Akron 18th, Columbus 20th, Toledo 26th, and Cincinnati 34th.

Cordray and Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis (D-Cleveland) have been far out front in warning about and trying to temper the effects of the foreclosure crisis. The Governor's Foreclosure Prevention Task Force, established at the urging of these two officials, is working with community leaders in more than 40 counties to establish local anti-foreclosure coalitions that provide information and referrals to homeowners at risk.

Cordray issued the following statement in today's bulletin:
“With many adjustable rate mortgages held by Ohio homeowners, experts expect that the numbers of foreclosure filings will rise even further as those rates continue to reset to higher levels over the next year and a half. I encourage Ohio homeowners to review the terms of their mortgage loans, keeping an eye out for adjustable rates or balloon payments. It may make sense to pursue alternatives for more sustainable mortgage financing.

“The most important message we can send to Ohio homeowners is to reach out and make contact with their lender as soon as possible if they do begin to have problems making their payments. Workout terms can often be reached allowing that person to stay in the home or minimizing the potential financial damage of a foreclosure action.”

AUDIO - OH-10: Paul Hackett Endorses Challenger Rosemary Palmer, Says Kucinich Preferred Schmidt in OH-2

Earlier today, Iraq vet and wildly popular 2005 Congressional candidate Paul Hackett (D-Indian Hill) endorsed challenger Rosemary Palmer (D-Cleveland) against incumbent (and persistent Presidential contender) Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) in Ohio's heavily Democratic 1oth Congressional District. Palmer co-founded the nonprofit anti-war group Families of the Fallen for Change with her husband, Paul Schroeder, after the death of her son Marine Lance Corporal Edward “Augie” Schroeder in Iraq in August 2005. In conjunction with Hackett's endorsement, Palmer announced her plan to reform the Veterans Administration in order to provide better care for returning veterans.

According to Jerid at BSB and reporter Stephen Koff on the Cleveland Plain Dealer blog Openers, Hackett said during the conference call today that Rep. Kucinich called him on the day that Hackett won the Democratic primary for the 2005 special election in the 2nd Congressional District and told Hackett that Kucinich would prefer ultra-conservative Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) to win the election (as she subsequently did). Hackett said that Kucinich called Hackett a "Democrat in Name Only" and complained about his military service in Iraq.

Listen to the conference call here.

OH-7 & OH-15: GOP Incumbents Hobson and Pryce To Retire

In rapidly developing news, it looks like the entrenched incumbents in Ohio's 7th and 15th Congressional Districts, Rep. Dave Hobson (R-Springfield) and Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Upper Arlington), are both about to announce that they will be retiring.

Jerid at BuckeyeStateBlog broke the Pryce story within the last few hours, with a story now up at the Columbus Dispatch. The Hobson story appeared on the blog DaytonOS yesterday.

In the 7th, State Sen. Steve Austria (R-Beavercreek) is reportedly the favored GOP candidate. Repeat challenger William Conner (D-Beavercreek), who lost the overall contest 61%http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif to 39% in 2006 but did carry Franklin and Perry counties, says he will run again. State Rep. Chris Widener (R) of the 84th Ohio House District is reportedly gunning for Austria's 10th Ohio Senate seat, with former Greene County Commissioner Reid Madden also in the mix. Clark County Commissioner Roger Tackett (D) may run.

Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Columbus) is in the catbird seat in the 15th. She lost by around 1,000 votes to Pryce in 2006 after a recount. Fellow County Commissioner Paula Brooks (D-Columbus) considered running but dropped out. Jerid reports that State Sen. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) and former Attorney General Jim Petro (R-Rocky River) have already rejected running for Pryce's seat.

Looks like Petro has changed his mind and will run?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

OH-14: Coal Baron Murray Supports LaTourette (R); You Can Support O'Neill (D) at Events Sunday and Monday

A commenter pointed out that bellicose coal mine owner Robert Murray, whose disgraceful rants at the site of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster against mine regulation and efforts to contain global warming are a national embarrassment, has made substantial campaign contributions to Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Concord Township). Checking at OpenSecrets.org, I find at least the following contributions:
9/24/94 - $1,000
5/30/95 - $500
3/14/97 - $1,000
12/15/97 - $1,000
7/29/04 - $2,000
9/24/04 - $1,000
11/5/06 - $2,000
That's a total of $8,500 donated by Murray to a legislator that Murray sees as sympathetic to Murray's twisted values. LaTourette has been a reliable "pro-business" vote, as reflected in the huge support he gets from corporate PACs and wealthy corporate executives.

Now is your chance to do something. Appellate Judge William O'Neill (D-South Russell), the challenger to LaTourette, will appear with Attorney General Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township) at fundraisers in Chagrin Falls on Sunday and in Geneva-on-the-Lake on Monday. Here are the details ($50 minimum contribution):
Sunday August 12, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Auburn Lakes Clubhouse
One Clubside Drive
Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Monday August 13, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
The Old Firehouse Winery
5499 Lake Road/State Route 531
Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio
If you can't make it to either of the fundraisers, make your campaign contribution at O'Neill's campaign web site!

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What Local Ohio Races Are You Watching?

Bonobo at Blue Bexley has an intriguing post up today, listing the people who have pulled petitions for Bexley mayoral and city council races. Coincidentally, I spent some time yesterday visiting county party and board of elections web sites, and googling for media stories, trying to assemble a list of significant mayoral elections on the ballot in Ohio this year. I'd like to have a resource of names and websites to track these races more closely as November approaches.

Unfortunately, I find that the info isn't so easy to compile! The county party and BOE sites are very inconsistent and not necessarily up to date. So, naturally, I'm turning to you. What races are you following this fall? I picked mayoral races as a starting point, but I'm also curious what city council, city officer, judicial, school board, or special elections are on peoples' minds as well.

Here is my list of mayoral races, so far (including Bexley, thanks to Bonobo) -- please let me know what to correct and what to add! Asterisks indicate incumbents:
Mayoral Races

John M. Brennan
William G. Harvey
Travis M. Irvine
Robyn, Jones
Matt Lampke
Bill Minckler
Scott E. Weinblatt
Eugene P. Weiss

* Janet Weir Creighton (R)
Rep. Bill Healy (D)

* Mike Coleman (D)
Bill Todd (R)

* Richard Homrighausen (R)

* Bill Grace (D)
John Howard (R)
Timothy Quinn (I)

* Tom George (D)
Councilman Ryan Demro (R)
Councilman Ed FitzGerald (D)

* David Smith (R)

* Mike Walsh (D)
Steve Shatz (R) (?)

John Romoser (R)
Councilman Tony Krasienko (D)
Paula Tobias (I)

Doug Verslaw (R)
Don Culliver (D)
Bill Anliker (I)

North Royalton
Council President Robert Stefanik
Councilwoman Denise Bobulsky
David Perry

North Ridgeville
Anthony Nici (D)
David Gillock (R)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

News and Notes: The National Scene

Afternoon update:

Obama Runs Inspirational Ad in Iowa - Slick biographical ad portrays him as the candidate who can bring unity and replace fear with hope. Watch it here.

Romney Questioned About Sons' Lack of Military Service - Asked at a campaign stop in Iowa whether any of his five sons were enlisted in the military and what they were doing to help support the war on terror, Mitt Romney said that they were supporting America by helping to get him elected, and that "my sons are all adults ... They’ve made their decisions about their careers and chosen not to serve in the military and I respect that decision." Romney himself escaped serving in Vietnam through a deferment. The questioner has blogged the experience.

Clinton Target of Massive Smear Campaign? - Akron native Dan Moldea, famous as Larry Flynt's investigator for uncovering sexual secrets of public servants, said to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post:
"I have it on very, very good authority that major opposition research has already been conducted on Bill Clinton, and it's going to be a massive smear campaign against him," he says. A group of former intelligence officers, he says, is "going to try to cripple Hillary through Bill."
South Carolina To Move Primary Ahead of Florida - Responding to Florida's bid to move its primary up to January 29th, South Carolina will advance its own contest from February 2nd to January 19th. Will Iowa or New Hampshire respond by moving up as well?

AFL/CIO Makes No Endorsement At This Time - In the wake of last night's Democratic candidates forum, the AFL/CIO has announced that it will make no endorsement now, reflecting a lack of consensus among member unions, which can proceed with endorsements on their own.

Utah Mine Disaster Linked to Ohio

Thanks to Bill Callahan, the Dean of Cleveland bloggers, for examining the Ohio ramifications of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster in Utah. Mine owner Murray Energy Corp. is based in Cleveland and owner Robert Murray, whom Callahan accurately describes as "a spotlight-hogging, blame-shifting, anti-union, anti-regulator, anti-environmentalist Throwback Mine Owner" lives in the nearby suburb of Pepper Pike. And thanks also to the anonymous blogger at Ohio 15th District for noting that Murray is an active contributor to Republican candidates, including Ohio's Sen. George Voinovich, Rep. Deborah Pryce, and Rep. Pat Tiberi.

Among other outrageous statements during the Crandall Canyon mine crisis, Murray has insisted that the accident was caused by an earthquake despite contrary statements by government seismologists, and railed against the campaign against global warming. The non-union Crandall Canyon mine has been cited for numerous safety violations, including 15 in July.

But here is the most disturbing aspect of this for Ohio, as explained by Callahan:
Murray owns and operates Ohio’s two biggest underground mines, Powhatan #6 in Belmont County and the Century Mine on the Belmont/Monroe border. In 2005 (the last year for which the state has data online) these two mines employed over 600 of Ohio’s 1,700 coal miners, and over 900 of the state’s 2,500 total coal industry employees. Murray’s operations accounted for almost 75% of Ohio’s underground coal production, and 45% of all Ohio coal mined that year.
Yes, it could happen here next.

New Ohio Poll Shows Clinton Increasing Lead Over Obama, Tied With Giuliani

A new Qunnipiac poll shows Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) tied with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) at 43% to 43%, marginally down from last month's result of 44% to 42% in favor of Clinton. The same poll shows Clinton ahead of Giuliani by tiny margins in Florida (46% to 44%) and Pennsylvania (45% to 44%). The pollster regards this overall showing as a small but important improvement for Clinton:
"Sen. Clinton is inching ahead. Not only does she lead by a nose in two of the most important swing states in the Electoral College, but she is turning around independent and Republican voters who previously viewed her negatively," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
In other Ohio findings, the poll shows Clinton with a 25 point lead over her nearest Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL):
41% Clinton
16% Obama
11% Edwards
8% Gore
Among the GOP candidates, Giuliani is maintaining a steady lead over Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN):
29% Giuliani
11% McCain
11% Thompson
8% Romney
8% Gingrich
In other general election head-to-head matchups, Giuliani leads Obama narrowly at 42% to 39% but Obama leads Thompson by a substantial margin at 44% to 32%. Clinton also has a big lead over Thompson at 47% to 36%.

Ohioans give Clinton a 49%/41% favorability rating, up from 47%/44% in June. That puts her above McCain but below Obama, Giuliani and Edwards in favorability marks. Here are the favorability ratings for the other leading contenders:
48%/29% Giuliani
44%/25% Obama
46%/29% Edwards
33%/35% McCain
More than half said they haven't heard enough about Thompson or Romney to form an opinion.

News and Notes: The National Scene

Some tidbits that caught my eye:

Graham Photographed With Sign Linking Obama and Clinton to Osama bin Laden - TMZ.com yesterday published this photograph of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) posing with a printed sign endorsing presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and a handwritten sign connecting "Obama" and "Chelsea's Moma" with "Osama." Former governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) was criticized for appearing in a photograph with an almost identical sign last month. Graham immediately apologized, which Romney refused to do.

"Bonddad" Sees Possibility of Economic Downturn - Hale Stewart, the economist/blogger who writes at DailyKos.com as Bonddad, published an intriguing piece on Huffington Post this weekend arguing that he sees signs of a possible economic downturn, which might cause the economy to replace Iraq as the #1 issue on the minds of voters as the 2008 election cycle proceeds.

Giuliani Declines To Discuss His Religion - At a town hall meeting in Iowa yesterday, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) was asked whether he considered himself a "traditional, practicing Roman Catholic" and to discuss the role his faith played in making decisions on issues such as abortion. He refused, citing personal privacy. "My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I am a good or not so good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests," Giuliani said.

Taliban Attempts to Storm U.S. Base - Just one day after President Hamid Karzai, while visiting the White House, proclaimed it a "defeated" force, the Taliban tried a rare frontal assault against Firebase Anaconda in the southern part of Afghanistan.

President of National GOP Organization Resigns Amid Sex Inquiry - The newly elected president of the Young Republican National Federation resigned yesterday after authorities began to investigate a charge that he performed unwanted sexual act on a man while the man slept.

UPDATE: Gingrich Predicts Democratic Victory in 2008 - The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich (R-GA) told the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce early Monday morning that "If you’re a betting man, you have to like Democrats’ chances of taking over the White House next year." Audio of part of Gingrich's remarks is available here (5 min.) - but it doesn't include the money quote.

News and Notes: Ohio

Some items of interest:

Noe's Wife Dropped From Civil Suit - A Franklin County judge has dismissed the wife of convicted Republican power broker and fundraiser Tom Noe from the state's civil lawsuit seeking to recover millions of dollars on behalf of the defrauded Bureau of Workers Compensation investment fund.

Voinovich Rewarded For Iraq Flip-Flop - George Bush Sr. visits Ohio today to raise money for Sen. George Voinovich (R), an event that was announced the same day that Voinovich reversed course and voted against an amendment that would have required a gradual withdrawal of troops from Iraq. ProgressOhio.org has details on the protest demonstration planned for 7:00 pm tonight.

Democratic Legislator Cosponsors Vile Abortion Restriction - Freshman State Rep. Matt Barrett (D-Amherst) has always been clear about his pro-life views, but joining extremist social conservatives to cosponsor HB 287, a vile bill that would ban abortions unless the woman first locates and obtains consent from the "father," is going too far. No Democrat should promote such a regressive, patriarchal, patently unconstitutional measure, especially one who is a lawyer.

School Levies Fared Poorly - Yesterday was an election day for local levies, and most appear to have failed. It was a wipeout in the Toledo area, as school levies failed in Allen, Putnam, Sandusky, and Seneca counties. In the area around Cleveland, five school levies failed while two of three police/safety measures passed. I see that Westerville, a Columbus suburb, passed a library levy. Voters in southwestern Butler and Warren counties rejected a three-year levy for Middletown schools, and in Portage County the Streetsboro school levy failed by just 97 votes. In Miami County voters rejected a levy for Covington schools but passed one for Milton Union, and in the Marietta area the Wolf Creek school levy passed after failing by eight votes in May.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Live Blogging AFL-CIO Democratic Candidates Forum

Impressive theatrics - Soldier Field, packed with wildly cheering union members. The AFL-CIO wants to demonstrate that they are still a strong political force, and this is an excellent way to telegraph that. (John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, says "this crowd came out because we are so ready to change the direction of the country.")

Olberman is totally in his element - joking about lightning, joking about the heat. He will ask questions in the first round, the audience will ask in the second. How much is that a bow to the success of the YouTube debate?

UPDATE: Dodd doesn't have a chance, but I like him. He understands the event - he's treating it like a pep rally.

Clinton brings up her Chicago connection - her father was a Bears fan. Trying to be likeable.

Good point -- investment in infrastructure is part of improving national security. Connecting Minneapolis bridge disaster to "what happened to us on 9/11."

2nd UPDATE: Obama won't let Clinton's reference to Chicago roots go unanswered. Wait for it ---- yep, brings up the NFC championship won by the Bears. Gosh, these 90 second answers are short.

Jumps right on the Iraq-is-the-wrong-battle field theme.

Tough question for Biden - he has to defend his record as a Senator on protecting the infrastructure! Biden says, "We don't need any more studies. ... We need to put people to work and make this country safe."

"I can't wait to debate Rudy Giuliani on national security." That's a visual.

3rd UPDATE: Edwards looks like he ate something sour. "Who's going to change what has failed to happen in the past two decades in Washington?" ... now there's a dig at the Clintons.

ALREADY with the "no lobbyists' money." Cheers are not as big as I expected for the "stop a system that is rigged ... no more lobbyists' money" line.

4th UPDATE: Great, Kucinich wants governments to buy teams instead of just financing the building of stadiums. When is this guy going to figure out that he has to stop this campaign if he wants to keep his seat?

Richardson does a good job of seeming Presidential. He could play one on TV.

5th UPDATE: Whoa ... Clinton trying to distance herself from NAFTA. Good luck with that. (Nor fair to associate NAFTA with Clinton because of her spouse?)

Clinton says NAFTA is "part of the answer, but not the whole answer." Okay. Now everyone gets to jump on that.

Obama brings up lobbyists in the context of NAFTA. Everybody is saying they would fix NAFTA rather than scrap it. Is that good enough for this audience? I don't hear any cheering.

6th UPDATE: Ahhh, Kucinich would abrogate NAFTA, and withdraw from the WTO. Wild cheering from the audience. "I am your candidate!"

Clinton says she has "noticed that the other campaigns are attacking her." If you want someone to take on the Right Wing Machine, "I'm your girl!" Good idea for her to focus on defeating the GOP, since all the Dems are attacking her.

Obama is going all professorial. Look at the camera, not at Olberman! Stop lecturing! But he still gets cheers, makes good points.

7th UPDATE: Smart of Clinton to bring up the notion of dangerously tainted Chinese products. "We've got to be tougher on China going forward!" gets a big cheer. (No cheers for Edwards bringing up human rights abuses by China to its own workers - hmmm.)

Cute line by Kucinich - "If we dig a hole deep enough, you get to China ... and we're there!" I remember thinking about the idea of digging down to China as a kid, don't you?

8th UPDATE: Ah, good question for Obama and Clinton -- why did it take them so long to signal how they would vote on the Iraq supplemental last spring? Obama's not really answering the question. Clinton concedes that it was not an easy vote. She never stops looking beyond the primaries to the general.

Dodd is trashing Obama over his comments about acting unilaterally in Pakistan against Al Qaeda. Key moment - and he does not fumble. Obama reminds the audience that Dodd voted for the war, and tries to clarify his speech. "I think that's just common sense," he says. Gets a pretty big cheer. And, Obama goes over his time ... to more cheers.

Clinton is all over it. "You should think big, but if you're running for President don't telegraph what you are thinking. ... Don't destablize the Musharaf regime, when Al Qaeda-like successors could inherit nuclear weapons." Boos to that line, for some reason. Dodd apologizes again for his Iraq vote.

9th UPDATE: Whoa. Biden is faced with a question from a Sago Mine widow about workplace safety, and he tries to change the subject to talk about chasing Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Big boos. He deserves it. With this audience? How could he not know that he had to answer that question?

Richardson says he'd give veterans a "Hero's Card" that allows them to get health care anywhere, not just at the VA. Attractive idea, but a promise he probably couldn't keep.

Very moving question about vanishing pensions, from a retired worker who can't pay for his wife's health care. Great counter to the continual GOP assertion that everything is great with the U.S. economy. Perfect softball question for Edwards. "I want to be the U.S. President who walks out onto the White House lawn and explains to the American people how important unions and labor organizing are to the future of our country." He is cheered for going over his time limit. "Who was with you at crunch time?"

Clinton does a decent job of turning it around, reminding the crowd that she and Dodd helped pass legislation about mine safety after Sago.

Obama brings up a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants - why did he do that? But he gets in his background as an organizer, actively involved when the LTV plant in Chicago closed.

10th UPDATE: Biden again changes the topic instead of answering a question. Strike two. I'm sorry, but he is just too full of himself. He has to be more responsive to what's going on around him.

Clinton manages to squeeze two substantive answers into 30 seconds. She is the analytical one.

The "Lightning Round." Richardson gets a softball question about choosing a Vice President, handles it fine.

Clinton and Obama get questions about contributions from lobbyists. Obama denies getting money bundled by lobbyists. Clinton doesn't really answer the question. Obama does better ... "I'm running for you, not the people writing the checks."

Edwards distinguishes trial lawyers from lobbyists ... kind of complicated for a 30 second response. Always a tough sell, anyway. People don't like trial lawyers, until they need one.

Biden decries partisanship, says "We can't accomplish anything with a 51% solution." Good line. Present himself as being able to work across the aisle. Good pitch, wrong venue.

Ooooooh! Asking Kucinich what he has accomplished in Congress this year. Good question. He tries to portray himself as a leader in Congress. Good luck with that.

Obama: would you honor Barry Bonds at the White House? He talks about meeting Henry Aaron this week. "Sports should be something that kids can look up to." Olberman tries to get a direct answer, and Obama says he doesn't have to answer because Bonds hasn't broken the record yet. Sounds like a politician.

Biden has thirty seconds to say if he would stop no-bid contracts, says only "Yes." Even prodded by Olberman, remains silent. The crowd loves it.

Richardson says he represents "change, experience, and electability." He says that America elects governors. There is some truth to that.

Obama calls for improving the Democratic party, not just getting the Republicans out of office. he is clearly the visionary in the room.

FINAL THOUGHT: Clinton held her own. Most of them did well, but nothing happened that would dramatically shift the race. Some of the questions from audience members were the most moving moments in the event.

New National Presidential Poll Shows Giuliani Holding His Lead, Clinton Increasing Hers

A new national poll released by USA Today/Gallup last night shows Clinton increasing her lead over Obama (results from mid-July in parens):

48% (40%) Clinton
26% (28%) Obama
12% (13%) Edwards
4% (5%) Richardson
3% (3%) Biden
1% (1%) Kucinich
-% (1%) Dodd

Clinton's favorable/unfavorable rating at is 47%/49%, compared to 47%/35% for Edwards and 48%/34% for Obama.

The poll also shows Clinton leading Obama 59%/36% in a head-to-head matchup. Asked specifically whether Clinton or Obama would do a better job as President with respect to the following areas, Clinton leads Obama by about the same margin: national security 60%/33%, dealing with nations that are unfriendly to the United States 60%/35%, the war in Iraq 56%/36%, and the role of commander-in-chief of the military 56%/36%.

On the Republican side, the poll shows former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) maintaining a strong lead over his nearest rival, not-yet-announced candidate Fred Thompson (R-TN):

33% (33%) Giuliani
21% (21%) F. Thompson
16% (16%) McCain
8% (8%) Romney
2% (2%) Huckabee
2% (2%) Paul
2% (3%) T. Thompson
1% (2%) Brownback
1% (-%) Hagel
1% (-%) Tancredo
1% (1%) Hunter

McCain's favorability rating has declined to 41%/42%. McCain and Clinton are the only two major candidates in negative territory. Giuliani is at 55%/32%.

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Duelling Memos - Clinton vs. Obama

Darn - I don't have time to do this justice right now, but it is just too fascinating to let it wait.

Short version (and telling you what you probably already know), a major split has developed since Saturday between Democratic frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and closest rivals Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) over the former's insistence that she will continue to accept campaign contributions from persons registered as lobbyists at the federal level, while the latter decline to do so. Edwards and Obama both need a way to set themselves apart from Clinton, and they are both indicating a willingness to jump on this distinction for that purpose. There are lots of ways of looking at this issue, and all of them bear further thought (such as, is it really contributions from lobbyists themselves, as opposed to contributions from others that they solicit or bundle, that make a difference; is it true, as suggested in the new Roger Moore movie Sicko, that contributions from the health care industry to Clinton have muted her advocacy for universal health care covereage; is it too simplistic to equate lobbyists in general with "special interests," since lobbyists advocate for so many different causes and groups; is it counterproductive to cripple fundraising on behalf of Democratic candidates, since one of them must eventually compete with a Republican adversary who will welcome contributions from all sources). However, the immediate result of this new, more confrontational atmosphere is the release yesterday of a memo from the Clinton camp, and a responding memo from the Obama camp, that together shed a great deal of light on the two candidates and their respective strategic thinking.

The Clinton memo, written by strategist Mark Penn, relies heavily on recent national polling showing her pulling ahead of her Democratic rivals and performing better against Republicans in head-to-head matchups, and portrays her as "the candidate of experience and change, a combination no other candidate can match." The notions that Clinton can't win in November or that voters don't want another Clinton in the White House are likewise addressed by referring to polls, in this case showing that New Hampshire and Iowa voters regard Clinton as the most likely Democrat to win the Democratic elections, and a national poll indicating that most respondents are positive or neutral about the fact of her being the spouse of the former president. Penn attributes Clinton's polling to increasing voter confidence that she is "steady and sure-footed" and that she can be a president who can "end this war [in Iraq] responsibly and yet continue to defend America's security."

The much longer Obama memo, written by David Plouffe and released immediately after the Clinton memo, dismisses national polls as "irrelevant and wildly inconsistent" and instead argues that Obama's success in attracting a legion of small donors (as against Clinton's larger amounts from fewer donors) shows an "enthusiasm gap" that will result in a surge for Obama in the early primary states going into January and February. Plouffe also argues that Obama has a superior organization on the ground and more momentum. The Obama strategy is to "focus like a laser on the early states to create the momentum crucial to later contests," and to position Obama as the candidate of "change versus more of the same." As to polling, Plouffe points to Iowa polling that shows Obama tied with Clinton and Edwards, and that a larger number of likely caucus goers seek change and a new direction rather than strength and experience. The memo also stresses polls and pundits indicating that Obama performed well in debates and does better than Clinton in head-to-head matchups in the fall.

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Monday, August 6, 2007

Frankie Coleman to Plead to Misdemeanor Charges

The Columbus Dispatch blog Daily Briefing is reporting that Frankie Coleman, wife of Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman (D), will plead guilty at a court hearing on Tuesday to two misdemeanor charges, falsification and attempted theft in office, arising out of about $2,000 she received as pay for hours she did not work while employed at $70,000-a-year job at the Ohio development department, and for lying about it to investigators. She could face up to 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for each offense.

Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher was criticized for hiring Coleman, who entered a rehabilitation facility after the problems were exposed in a report in the Dispatch in May.


Democrats Launch TV Ad Hailing Accomplishments, Assailing Bush

Here's the video:

The ad is the beginning of a month-long campaign by the DSCC, DCCC, and DNC:
"Congress is making progress on the new direction the American people demanded," said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen. "There is more work to do, this August we're going district by district to urge Republicans to stop obstructing progress and work with us to end the war in Iraq. Republicans who continue to vote in lock step with the President Bush's failed policies will be held accountable."

"The American people want a new direction in Iraq yet President Bush and his Republican allies are stubbornly supporting a policy that is making America less safe," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. "Time and again, Democrats have passed legislation to end Bush's war of choice in Iraq but Republicans refuse to change course. Democrats will continue to hold them accountable but one thing is clear?Democrats have accomplished more for the American people in the past six months than Republicans accomplished in six years."

The ad campaign kicks off a Month of Action on Iraq calling on Bush and Republicans in the House and Senate to change direction by ending the war. The Committees will also spend the month of August targeting Republicans in their home states and districts for their support of the President's failed Iraq policy and their continued obstruction of Democratic proposals to end the war.
I think it's a pretty good ad. It covers a lot in 30 seconds and hits the high points, especially for the largely non-politicized majority of the audience who only know that the don't like the war or the direction in which the country is headed.

Kaptur (D) and Kucinich (C) Cosponsor Resolutions to Censure Bush, Cheney and Gonzales

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) are among 19 cosponsors of House censure resolutions introduced today by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), denouncing President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for misconduct regarding the U.S. military involvement in Iraq and for repeated assaults on the rule of law at home. Identical resolutions have been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) cosponsoring both resolutions and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) cosponsoring the Iraq resolution.

The full text of the Iraq resolution is here and the rule of law resolution is here. As to Iraq, that resolution seeks to condemn Bush and Cheney for:
* Misleading the nation about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime and about Saddam’s links to al Qaeda and 9/11;

* Inadequate planning for military action in Iraq;

* Overstraining the military and undermining homeland security; and,

* Misleading the nation about the strength of the insurgency.
The other resolution seeks to condemn those two plus Gonzales for:
* Authorizing the illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping program;

* Pursuing extreme policies concerning torture and the treatment of detainees

* Detaining enemy combatants indefinitely without charges, access to a lawyer, or habeas rights;

* Unilaterally authorizing flawed military commissions that were subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court;

* Misleading Congress and the public about, and obstructing investigations into, the firings of U.S. Attorneys;

* Making misleading statements regarding civil liberties abuses under the Patriot Act; and,

* Undermining acts of Congress with signing statements based on extreme theories of executive power.
You can register your support for the censure resolutions here.

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Foreclosure Crisis Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better

American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection, becoming the second-biggest residential lender in the U.S. to close down this year. New Century Financial Corp., which filed in April, was the biggest.

These companies got rich by assembling sub-prime home loans into packages that could become investments on Wall Street. The pressure to generate more such investments led to massive changes in lending practices, resulting in far too many loans (many with abusive credit terms) going out to people who couldn't really afford them. Now there are a record number of people losing their homes through foreclosure and a record number of houses standing vacant. Property values are down because of the vacancies, county revenues are down because of the reduction in property taxes and the expense of dealing with the vacant structures, the stock market is sagging because of the collapse of the lenders, and the house building industry is stalled because builders constructed too many houses to meet demand during the lending boom.

Amid all the chaos and gloom of the crisis, State Treasurer Rich Cordray (D-Grove City) and Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis (D-Cleveland) deserve a lot of credit for putting together a statewide task force to address the situation, and for advocating for changes like one reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week. I'm not clear whether it was a piece of legislation or a rule change that accomplished this, but the State of Ohio authorized Cuyahoga County to take $3 million from a fund that it had been required to set aside for collections and instead use it to combat the foreclosure crisis. Half of the money will be devoted to emergency loans for struggling homeowners, the rest will go toward demolition of or repairs to empty houses. It will take a lot more than that to make a real dent in the crisis, but it's a positive development that should be roundly applauded.


Early Hints on Ohio House Leadership Candidates

Both House Speaker Jon Husted (R-Kettering) is term-limited in 2008. The Toledo Blade reported last week that Rep. Mark Wagoner (R-Ottawa Hills) and Rep. Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) area the leading contenders to replace him (as Speaker if the GOP holds their majority, or as Minority Leader if it does not). Wagoner's candidacy is buttressed by his fundraising prowess (he transferred $150,000 to the Ohio House Republican Campaign Committee on June 30th, raising his total contributions since 2003 to $373,500). In contrast, Batchelder gave $166,450 in first half of 2007.

However, a reporter John McCarthy writes in the Dayton Daily news today that Rep. Matt Dolan (R-Novelty) is the front runner to replace Husted, followed by Rep. Bill Coley (R-West Chester) and Wagoner, based primarily on fundraising. McCarthy acknowledges that Batchelder wants the position, but discounts his bid because he has not raised much. (h/t Matt Hurley of Weapons of Mass Discussion)

On the Democratic side, the same Toledo Blade story hints that Rep. Todd Book (D-Portsmouth), Jennifer Garrison (D-Marietta), and Rep. Matt Szollosi (D-Toledo) might vie for the Minority Leader position held by Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus).

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News and Notes: The National Scene

What's going on out there:

Pelosi and Reid Commit to Revisiting FISA Amendment - And good for them:
In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "many provisions of this legislation are unacceptable." The speaker, who voted against the bill, asked the committee to draft a new bill "as soon as possible after Congress reconvenes."

The law expires in six months, but Pelosi said she did not think "the American people will want to wait that long before corrective action is taken." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also promised to revisit the law, which has provoked widespread outrage from civil liberties groups who said it would impinge on Americans' privacy.
UPDATE: The text of Pelosi's letter is here.

Clinton Defends Lobbyists at YearlyKos - In what could become a major faultline between Democratic frontrunners, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on Saturday declined to reject contributions from lobbyists, as Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and former Sen. John Edwards (NC) have done.
Clinton said she had to raise money to be competitive and that her 35 years of public service proved she would fight for ordinary Americans. "I have stayed true to my core principles," Clinton said. "A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans" such as nurses, teachers and others who need a voice in the halls of government, she added.
More in the Washington Post. UPDATE: Blogger David Sirota sees this as the new major theme of Edwards' campaign, and posts must-see video of the exchange between Edwards and Clinton:

Now, Let's See, Which Party Is It That Supports the Troops? - The Pentagon spending bill passed by the House early yesterday morning includes a 3.5% pay increase for service members. The administration objects and says its recommended 3 percent increase is sufficient. (That bill, by the way, does not cover continued funding for the war in Iraq, which the House will take up in September.)

Warner to Replace Warner? - Bob Novak reported yesterday that Republican insiders in Virginia now think that Sen. John Warner (R-VA) will retire, leaving an open seat that former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) is likely to win in 2008.

Guiliani's Daughter Supports Obama - At least that's what 17-year-old Caroline Giuliani indicated on her Facebook page, until a reporter from Slate queried her about it.

U.S. Arms Iraqi Insurgents
- Lots of our weapons have gone missing, and there's little doubt who will be firing them at whom:
The Pentagon cannot account for 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, or about half the weapons earmarked for soldiers and police ...
Boehner Too Genial For GOP Colleagues? - In the Cleveland Plain Dealer today, reporter Sabrina Eaton portrays House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-West Chester) as polite and positive:
"There is a way you can make your point and differentiate it from your opponent without cutting their legs off," Boehner says. "And to the extent that we act like adults and sound like adults, more people might want to listen to us."
Too much of that, however, and the GOP ranks may begin to complain. Patrick O'Connor writes on Politico.com that angry Republican members (including Steve LaTourette (R-Concord Township)) chastised Boehner for being too conciliatory toward Democratic leadership after the dustup on Thursday night over the handling of a procedural vote.

Democratic Congress Gives Bush Administration Tools Necessary to Defeat FISA Court

I've spent much of the weekend stewing over the utter capitulation by the Democratic-controlled Congress to the Bush administration in passing a totally unacceptable revision to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA is supposed to check government overreaching and invasion of privacy in conducting electronic surveillance. The revision just made not only authorizes warrantless eavesdropping on calls and emails between persons outside the U.S. that happen to be routed through this country, it permits warrantless surveillance between a U.S. resident and anyone overseas (whether a U.S. citizen or not) when the "target" is "reasonable believed" to be outside the country. Voila! The Bush Administration will now eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant. Moreover, the revisions largely emasculate the FISA court, a secret judicial panel that is supposed to review requests to conduct surveillance and issue warrants when appropriate. Now the court will have no role except reviewing procedures employed by Administration officials (the Attorney General and the Director of National Security) in authorizing such surveillance. Even if the Attorney General were a person of integrity, it would still be a ludicrous and disastrous scheme.

Even the bill initially offered up by the Democratic leadership of the House (and excoriated by the GOP) went much too far in yielding oversight and permitting invasion of privacy. The bill actually passed effectively legalizes the entire enhanced surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency since 9/11, despite all of the warnings raised about it and the FISA court ruling against it. The track record of this administration in abusing its power should have been warning enough not to expand its legal authority even a little. Instead, Congress gave it everything it wanted.

The only good thing I can think of about this law is that it is temporary. (I cannot say that passing it will prevent the GOP from playing the "soft on terror" card against the Democrats. No amount of capitulation would do that.) However, the temporary nature of this odious law may well be an illusion. The chances of it not being made permanent are about as dim as reining in the Patriot Act, and for much the same reason. When the six months have run, the GOP will again speak of 9/11 with quavering voices and hiss that the Democrats hate America and love terrorists, and the Democrats will once again fold.

Unless. Unless there is an outpouring of protest over this unAmerican assault on our civil rights. Unless everyone who treasures liberty, everyone who agrees with our nation's founders that government must be restrained by checks and balances and limits on government authority, exercises the constitutional right to petition Congress about it. In other words, heed what OhDave wrote this morning:
This Friday, everyone needs to call their Congressperson's home office (since they're on recess) and express their outrage over this FISA bill. Let them know how we feel. If they voted the right way, tell 'em good job. If they didn't, tell 'em what you think.

It's not hard. Go to house.gov or senate.gov and find your Senator or Representative, and look for their contacts. It takes 2 minutes or less. And it takes about that long to call, or you can find a comment form on their site if you would rather do that.

We have to make our voices heard.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Dems Cave to Administration Demands on FISA But Bush Objects Anyway

It is difficult to blog a breaking story with clarity and assurance, but this one is just too amazing to resist the effort. Right now the House of Representatives is debating a Democratic revision to FISA that the White House and GOP legislators are strenuously attacking as putting America at risk of imminent destruction by terrorists. As detailed on TPMmuckraker here and Balkinization here, however, the Democratic bill tracks an agreement negotiated with Bush's Director of National Intelligence earlier in the day. Yesterday DNI McConnell presented a list of what was needed in the bill, and this morning the House Intelligence Committee and Democratic leadership agreed to those points and incorporated them into their draft. When McConnell reported back to the White House, however, Bush rejected the agreement.

Democratic legislators are repeating over and over that the bill tracks what the Bush Administration asked for, and Republicans are denying that there is any agreement and insisting that the bill is fatally flawed and unacceptable. McConnell issued a statement late today that the bill would not allow him to do his duty to provide warning and protect the country, ignoring his prior support for its terms, and GOP legislators are piously quoting the letter over and over.

It is not clear that the Democrats can pass the bill because in addition to unified opposition from the GOP, civil libertarians decry it as cutting too deeply into constitutional guarantees. Marty Lederman on the blog Balkinization describes the provisions of the bill at issue as follows:
(1) Foreign to foreign communications will not require a warrant, without regard to whether the communications are routed through the U.S.;

(2) The Attorney General can apply to the FISA court for an order authorizing electronic surveillance for up to one year "directed at" persons "reasonably believed to be outside the United States." The court would grant the order if it finds that the methods (not individual cases, but the procedures) described by the Attorney General are "reasonably designed to determine whether the persons are outside the United States" and that "a significant purpose of the electronic surveillance is to obtain foreign intelligence information" and certain minimization procedures are acceptable.

(3) The judge may (not must) review compliance with the minimization procedures at any time before the order expires; and

(4) The Attorney General must establish guidelines "reasonably designed to ensure" that an application to conduct surveillance is filed when it is required by the law to be filed.
I'm not thrilled with any of that, but the last one is really scary. The Attorney General will create "guidelines" that are "reasonably designed" to ensure compliance with the law? What does it say about the people doing all this surveillance that such a provision would even be contemplated -- that they can't be counted on to follow the law without it? And the best that the government can be expected to do is promise to "reasonably design" a "guideline" to ensure compliance with the law?

In the debate, the legislators are referring to the warrants based on procedures as "basket warrants." The Democrats are pointing out that basket warrants are less strenuous than individual warrants, while Republicans are calling it a "terrorist protection" requirement that will cripple intelligence gathering and even interfere with operations on the battlefield.

UPDATE: Chris Strohm of CongressDaily just said on C-SPAN that while debate in the House proceeds toward a vote on the bill advanced by the Democrats, the sides are negotiating behind the scenes to come up with a compromise bill. He also says that whatever the House does, the Senate cannot as a practical matter proceed without cooperation from the GOP. Reid has apparently signalled his willingness to have the Senate return next week to continue work on this.

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US Anti-Heroin Efforts in Afghanistan "Unrealistic"

You know that $420 million that the US committed this year to a program to combat the resurgence of the heroin popply crop in Afghanistan? Forget about it. A new government report concludes that it's goals are hopelessly unrealistic, and the 2007 crop is likely to exceed the enormous 2006 crop.

Way to step up and prevail in the war on terror, Bush administration!


News and Notes: The National Scene

What's going on today:

Weak Jobs Report Triggers More Stock Losses - After experts had predicted 130,000 new jobs in July, the Labor Department this morning reported only 92,000 new nonfarm jobs and the unemployment rate edged up 0.1% to 4.6%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average promptly dropped 101 points to 13.336.

FISA Amendment Stalls, Bush Calls on Congress to Stay in Session - Negotiations between Bush and Congress over amending the law that governs warrantless surveillance have stalled, and Bush has called on Congress to stay in session until an amendment is passed. A judge on the secret FISA court ruled early this winter that a component of the National Security Agency's enhanced surveillance since 9/11 is illegal, causing the administration to seek changes to the law. The specific area in dispute is warrantless tapping of calls between two persons outside the country when the call itself is routed through the US. The Bush administration contended that the NSA activities were legal and did not agree to submit them to FISA court review until January, so the contrary ruling is a political blow to the administration. A key point of contention in the negotiations is whether the law should require the disputed NSA activity to be reviewed by the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or by the FISA court. Democrats will not agree to review by Gonzales, who has been criticized for (and is the subject of proposed articles of impeachment about) making misleading statements if not outright false statements to Congress about the activities of the NSA.

Energy Bill Still Pending - One of the major pieces of legislation that the House is still not getting to because of the spat over last night's procedural vote is the energy bill, passage of which is somewhat uncertain because Democrats from big oil states are balking at $16 billion in new taxes on oil companies. Another item in suspense is the Udall/Platt amendment, heavily promoted by environmentalists, farmers, and the wind energy industry, that would require electrical utilities to generate 15% of their electricity from renewable energy sources.

Big Drama on CSPAN: GOP Protests Voting Snafu, Moves to Adjourn, Vote Machinery Fails

At this moment, the House of Representatives is voting on a motion offered by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) to adjourn. However, the board that shows the voting tally is not working, so members are debating how to finish the vote, or whether to cancel the vote and start over.

This is the last working day for the House of Representatives before the August recess, with a number of important bills on the schedule. However, the House floor has been shut down today by continuing disagreement between the parties over a bizarre incident last night. On a vote to send the agriculture appropriations bill back to committee so that the GOP could attempt to insert a provision to forbid illegal immigrants from receiving benefits under programs affected by the bill, Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY) ruled that the motion had failed at a time that the current vote tally showed the motion passing 215-213. Republicans shouted "fraud" and accused the Democrats of an abuse of power. Democrats say that McNulty just acted too quickly, as members were still in the process of switching votes and the final tally was 212-216 against. McNulty has apologized for the incident and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has expressed regret, but the GOP members are still fuming and complaining.

One hundred GOP members walked out last night and put on a press conference today lambasting the Democrats. Meanwhile, the bills that the House was trying to pass are languishing. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) met earlier today to try to iron out the differences over the vote, but to no avail.

UPDATE: This is really unbelievable. Listening to Republican legislators complaining about the procedural vote last night, they are accusing the Democratic majority of stealing from senior citizens and giving the money to illegal immigrants.

2nd UPDATE: The Dispatch political blog "Daily Briefing" reports that Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover) was one of the members who switched his vote after McNulty prematurely declared victory and brought down the gavel.

It seems incredible, but this looks like the outset of a coordinated campaign to portray the Democrats as anti-senior citizen and pro-illegal alien. In fact, the cuts to Medicare in the SCHIP bill were limited to payments to HMOs under the Medicare Advantage program, which are grossly inflated compared to regular care, and the proposed GOP amendment to the agriculture appropriation bill was redundant because giving food stamps to illegal immigrants is already prohibited by existing law.

3rd UPDATE: A detailed account of what happened with the vote is up at CQPolitics. McNulty was looking at the board when he declared the motion had failed and gavelled down the vote, and the board said 214-214 at that moment (ties on procedrual votes fail). He was unaware that members were still switching their votes, and one of the switches registered as the gavel came down. At that point the board showed "215-213 FINAL." Subsequent vote switches changed the result to 212-216. Majority Leader Hoyer asked for unanimous consent to vacate the vote (the GOP objected) and then moved to reconsider the vote. Minority Leader Boehner then moved to adjourn, a motion which was not in order at that point in the proceedings. Among much jeering and quarreling, the GOP contingent then walked out.

OH-18: Ethics Reform Law Big Boost for Space (D)

Yesterday the Senate joined the House in passing far-reaching rule changes on ethics and lobbying. The measure passed by large, bipartisan margins in both chambers, although some GOP members objected that the provisions on disclosure of earmarks did not go far enough.

Although I am personally disappointed that the package does not include an independent commission to participate in Congressional ethics investigations, and in some other ways is not as strong as it could be, it is an extraordinary and important advance. Among other major provisions, the law:
* Attacks the "revolving door" between Congress and lobbying firms by increasing the waiting time to two years for Senators (House members stay at one year), requiring departing members to disclose employment negotiations and recuse themselves from voting where there are conflicts, and denying former members acting as lobbyists access to the floor, parking areas, and exercise facilities;

* Prohibits gifts from lobbyists and requires candidates to pay charter rates for travelling on privately-owned airplanes;

* Requires disclosure of bundling of contributions by lobbyists;

* Requires disclosure of earmarks (pet projects) in spending bills; and

* Ends retirement benefits for members convicted of bribery, perjury or conspiracy while in office.
Not getting as much attention are some other important changes buried in the bill. The practice of slipping last-minute provisions into major bills will be deterred by changes to Senate rules that will allow Senators to object to single elements of the bill (so dead-of-night additions can be attacked without opposing the entire bill). Also, the revolving-door rules will apply to top aides as well as elected officials themselves.

Passage of these reforms are important to the Democratic party as a whole, since ending the Republican "culture of corruption" was a major feature of successful 2006 Democratic campaigns all across the country. However, nowhere is a strong record on ethics reform more important than in Ohio's 18th Congressional District, where freshman Zack Space (D-Dover) won the seat of convicted former Congressman Bob Ney (R-Heath) in a largely rural, heavily Republican district. Space campaigned heavily on the issue of ethics and has striven mightily to establish himself as a reformer in Congress, as well as an independent voice not tied to the Democratic party line.

Significantly, Space is seen as a top target by the National Republican Campaign Committee, which will run radio ads against Space and five other Democratic incumbents during the August recess. The ad against Space will assert that Space's voting record during his first half year in office is out of step with his conservative district. However, the new ethics reform law enables Space to respond that he has delivered on the principal campaign promise that got him elected. Space has issued a press release today titled "SPACE BRINGS LOBBYING REFORM TO CONGRESS - Congressman Keeping his Promise to Bring Independence to Congress." In the release Space says:
My constituents sent me to Congress to clean house, and this legislation is another step along that path. Because I’m a fresh voice in Washington, I’m not beholden to the entrenched lobbyists. We have much more work to do in this effort, but we are making bold steps.
I am very proud of my staunchly independent record. I am not, as I have promised, here to follow my party. I am committed to bringing about real reform, and I refuse to let party politics get in the way of my efforts.
Space also gets a boost from the "Dean of the Ohio Congressional Delegation," Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo), who is quoted as congratulating Space on his "refreshing independence" and adding that Space "has proven himself an aggressive and dedicated advocate for change in Congress" and "has brought new life to the efforts to reform lobbying rules, and his independence and leadership serve his constituents very well."

Space has drawn four announced GOP challengers already (Mike Carey, Fred Dailey, Jeanette Moll, and Paul Phillips), but none so far are particularly prominent or experienced.

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P2008: New Poll Shows Edwards, Obama & Clinton Tied in Iowa

Six months out from the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic presidential race there is shaping up to be a nail-biter, even as national polls show front runner Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) consolidating her substantial lead. Released today by the Washington Post, the poll shows Clinton virtually tied with Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC):

27% Obama
26% Edwards
26% Clinton

Among the others only Gov. Bill Ricardson (D-NM) breaks into double digits at 10%, with everybody else at 2% or less.

The Iowa caucuses have tended to influence the subsequent New Hampshire primary, and such early contests have dramatically swung national polls and subsequent primaries in past presidential cycles. Such a scenario in 2008 is clearly the best hope for the candidates pursuing Clinton, especially Edwards (who has generally polled in third place).

The internals of the new Iowa poll are fascinating. Among the half of likely caucus goers who are looking primarily for new ideas and a new direction, Obama leads at 37% over Edwards at 30% and Clinton at 14%, and among voters under 45 years of age Obama also has a big lead (39% compared to 24% for Clinton and 22% for Edwards). However, among the 37% of likely caucus goers who are looking primarily for strength and experience, Clinton has a big advantage at 38% over Edwards at 21% and Obama and Richardson at 14%. Among voters over 45, Clinton is tied with Edwards at 28%. Older voters historically have made up a much larger proportion of caucus attendees (and of voters).

Only 14% of likely caucus goers regard Clinton as the most likeable or as the most honest and trustworthy. Interestingly, however, 35% rated her the most electable among the Democrats, with Obama and Edwards in the low 20s.

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OH-1 & OH-16: Driehaus (D) and Boccieri (D) Rated Among 10 Best Recruits

Chris Cillizza of the Wahington Post blog "The Fix" today lists the ten best House candidate recruitments by both parties, assessed on the basis of "candidate skills, fundraising ability, national party support and the type of district in which they are running." Two of these stars are from Ohio, both Democrats:
OH-2: "[State Rep. Steve] Driehaus is off to a sound start, raising $166,000 in his first three months as a candidate and banking $157,000. Geography is everything for Driehaus; his electoral base is in the western part of the district and Democrats believe he can cut into [Rep. Steve] Chabot's margins there. ..."

OH-16: "On paper, [State Sen. John] Boccieri is an ideal candidate to take on Rep. Ralph Regula (R) ... Boccieri played semi-pro baseball before joining the Air Force. The question is whether Boccieri will run be running against Regula, who has held the district since 1972 [and] is at the head of almost every list of potential retirements we've seen. Regardless, Boccieri, who raised $156,000 between April 1 and June 30, will have a good chance to come to Congress."
Another strong Democratic recruit in Ohio, Appellate Judge William O'Neill (D) in OH-14, did not make the list.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

SCHIP Votes in House and Senate Critical to Ohio Budget

Last night the House of Representatives, ignoring a veto threat by President Bush, voted 225-204 to reauthorize and pump another $50 billion into the popular ten-year-old SCHIP program, which allows children of the working poor (above the poverty line, but unable to afford private insurance) to enroll in Medicaid. The ceiling for eligibility would be raised from 200% to 300% of the federal definition of poverty. The money would come partly from slashing Medicare payments to HMOs under the Medicare Advantage program, which Democrats say has resulted in massive overpayments, and increased taxes on tobacco products. It is estimated that the change would increase the number of children participating in SCHIP from 5 million to 11 million. In Ohio, all seven Democrats voted in favor and all 11 Republicans voted against.

Passage of the SCHIP expansion is critical to provisions in the state budget proposed by Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly. Strickland sent a letter to Ohio's Congressional delegation on July 18th, pointing out that "more than 145,000 children in Ohio currently receive health care services under SCHIP, totaling $290 million per year" in combined state and federal funding. Without "adequate federal funding in the SCHIP reauthorization bill," Ohio will "likely experience shortfalls of $6.8 million in federal fiscal year 2008 and $98.6 million in federal fiscal year 2009." Moreover, the recently passed biennial budget "includes an expansion of SCHIP coverage to children in families with incomes between 200 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level," which is "expected to provide health coverage for 20,000 additional Ohio children." That provision is dependent on passage of the expansion by Congress.

Republicans appear to be banking on opposition by seniors (a reliable voting bloc) to the cutting of Medicare payments to HMOs as cover for opposing expansion of the popular program. They also insist that the expansion of SCHIP coverage is a step toward government-run national health care or "socialized medicine." Advocates for children's health applaud the expansion of coverage to families who could not otherwise obtain health insurance for their children.

If Bush follows through on his veto threat, Congress will presumably take up the matter of reauthorizing the program again before it expires on September 30th.


Nation is Trending Democratic

Make no mistake. The Democratic wave of 2006 was no fluke, and signs are emerging that there may be another blue tide in the critical presidential cycle of 2008.

The headline news in yesterday's MSNBC/WSJ presidential poll was that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) have widened their respective leads over their nearest rivals (Clinton now leads Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) by 43%-22%, Giuliani now leads former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) by 33%-20%). However, the poll also reveals that both Democratic front runners lead Giuliani in head-to-head matchups (Clinton by 47%-41%, Obama by 45%-40%). Although Clinton has a higher unfavorable rating than other candidates, her ratio has been steadily improving. She was 39% favorable/43% unfavorable in March, even at 42%/42% in June, and is now pulling ahead at 44% favorable/39% unfavorable. The MSNBC reporter writes that the poll adds up to "an edge for Democrats heading into the 2008 presidential election," with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart commenting that "the Democrats have the advantage of the perfect environment for them.”

GOP strategists and some media pundits have focused on the decline in approval ratings for the Democratic-led Congress (down to about 28%) and predict that alienated voters will blame the Democrats for Congressional gridlock and partisan bickering. However, generic Congressional ballot polling shows that Democrats lead Republicans by ten points, and an analysis released two days ago by Democracy Corps (a nonprofit outfit run by former Clinton aides Stan Greenberg and James Carville) argues persuasively that the public blames the GOP for the gridlock and looks to Democratic candidates to fix the nation's problems. Democracy Corps conducted national and battleground polls and determined that while disdain for Congress has deepened and 55% of respondents feel that the Democrats have not made progress on their election pledges, nevertheless the Democratic advantages in Presidential and Congressional races have consolidated and Democratic members in key races have gained in strength. Asked if the gridlock in Congress leads them to want to see more Democrats elected to Congress, 50% agreed and 40% disagreed. The same question applied to the Presidential race resulted in 52% agreeing that they want to see a Democrat in office, 39& disagreeing.

The Democrats' advantage is plainly fueled by deep and growing dissatisfaction with the Iraq debacle, but it is important to point out that Democratic views on a wide variety of issues are more widely supported than Republican views. This reality flatly contradicts the frequent and incorrect assertions by media pundits that America is basically a conservative country, and/or that Democrats have "lost the debate" on major issues to Republicans. The opposite is true. Media Matters and the Campaign for America's Future issued a joint report on July 5th called "The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth." They reviewed nonpartisan public polling data from the last twenty years and determined that a majority of Americans believe in a strong and active government, not unfettered free markets and smaller government (for example, 67% say that we need a strong government to handle complex economic problems, while only 33% say that free markets can handle complex economic problems without government involvement, and 69% believe that government should care for those who can't care for themselves). Although most Americans think their taxes are too high, the issue actually ranks relatively low on the scale of importance. And get this: even on the hot-button social issues on which conservatives love to dwell, the majority are in line with progressives. A solid majority of 56% oppose making it more difficult to get an abortion, and only 29% want to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. An overwhelming majority favor equal job rights for gays, and while a majority still oppose gay marriage the trend is going the other way, and already a majority do not want to see a gay marriage ban added to the U.S. Constitution. Most Americans want to see more restrictions on guns. And in perhaps less surprising results, a solid majority of Americans like labor unions, favor increasing health care coverage, and want more financial assistance for public schools.

The Democratic base is energized, as reflected in the superior overall fundraising performance by Democratic campaign organizations since 2006. The country is appalled at the Iraq conflict and the direction of the country in general, and still looks to the Democratic party for change. And, the ideological orientation of the nation is not more favorable to Republican policies, despite frequent statements to the contrary in the press. The conditions are good for another big year for Democrats in 2008.


Key Elements Missing From End-of-Session Congressional Legislation on Ethics and Energy

It's a very good thing that the Democratic-controlled Congress is pushing ahead with ethics and energy legislation, but key elements of both laws seem to be slipping out of their grasp as the bills move toward final passage. The House passed broad ethics reform legislation two days ago on a 411 to 8 vote and the Senate will vote on cutting off debate on a parallel measure this morning, and the measures promise much greater disclosure of lobbying activities (such as bundling of contributions) and legislative earmarks (pet projects in spending bills). However, as Paul Kane explains in the Washington Post blog Capitol Briefing today, the badly needed ethics reform component of an independent commission to handle ethics complaints is not in the bill and "not even close" to consideration by the House. The current system is dysfunctional because the House ethics panel is evenly divided between the parties and often is slow to act if not deadlocked. The new commission, to be composed of former members and/or experts, would receive public complaints and initiate proceedings before the panel, thus alleviating the gridlock. However, entrenched members of both parties regard the change as interference with the legislature's autonomy, and the task force in charge of studying the proposal has been unable to garner support for any of its proposals. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), head of the task force, thought he was close to a deal in June, but now thinks that the task force isn't likely to formulate an agreed proposal until October or November.

As to the energy bill, which the House will take up tomorrow (the last day before the August recess), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has persuaded Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) to withdraw his proposed amendment that would have boosted fuel economy standards, which have not changed since 1975, from 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 22.2 for small trucks and SUVs to 35 mpg for both categories of vehicles by 2019. The GOP had tried to counter the Markey amendment with a much slower increase (32 to 35 mpg by 2022). The saving grace here is that the Senate has already passed a version of the energy law that includes an increase in the mileage requirements similar to Markey's, which Pelosi hopes will be retained in the final version of the legislation.

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