BLS Inflation Report: Don't Be Fooled By Headlines

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics released consumer price inflation figures for October today. Here is the report from the New York Times:

Inflation Was Tame In October

... Consumer prices grew 0.3 percent last month, holding steady from September, the Labor Department said today. The closely watched core index, which excludes the prices of volatile food and energy products, rose 0.2 percent for the fifth consecutive month. ...

As noted by the economist blogger Bonddad here, the media tends to focus on the so-called core inflation index, which excludes food and energy. It makes inflation sound tame, even though food and energy prices have spiked. Petroleum-based energy prices jumped up 1.5% in October, five times the "core" increase. Both energy and food are up sharply for the first ten months of 2007, at an annualized rate of 12.3% for energy and 5.5% for food. So if you are feeling the pinch despite the cheery headlines about prices, that is why.

By the way, the overall inflation rate includes declining home prices, a trend that doesn't provide consumers any relief on day-to-day expenses (although it reduces their credit). The housing slump thus tends to mask the true extent of price increases in ordinary consumer goods.

Call Now To Demand Override of Bush Veto

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote today on overriding the president's veto of the Labor-Health-Education funding bill. Bush's veto threatens:

* $300 million from the Head Start program, affecting over 30,000 preschool children;
* $800 million from special education programs for children with disabilities;
* Half of the funding for career and technical education programs: and,
* $100 million from Teacher Quality grants.

These are the Ohio members of the House who voted against the bill before Bush vetoed it, all Republicans:

Steve Chabot - 202-225-2216
Jean Schmidt - 202-225-3164
Jim Jordan - 202-225-2676
John Boehner - 202-225-6205
Pat Tiberi - 202-225-5355

Call now!!!!

News and Notes: Pakistan

Latest reports on the crisis in the only country in world created specifically to be a homeland for Muslims:

Caretaker Government to be Announced - Gen. Pervez Musharraf, his official term as president ending today, is expected to announce a caretaker government to oversee parliamentary elections he has scheduled for January 9th. However, he does not plan to lift his emergency crackdown on the media or opposition parties, or to restore deposed judges or free jailed activists. Opposition parties plan to boycott the elections.

Imran Khan Moved to Prison - Popular opposition leader Imran Khan was moved to Lahore's Kot Lakhpat prison after being arrested yesterday and charged under anti-terrorism laws. Some other prominent opposition figures are under house arrest rather than in prison.

Two Boys Killed In Police-Protestor Clash - Shots from an unidentified source killed two teenagers at pro-Bhutto rally in a poor Karachi neighborhood.

NY Times Reports Bush Faith in Musharraf Faltering - A front page story in the New York Times suggests that the Bush administation is beginning to prepare for the possiblity that Musharraf won't survive this crisis. “They don’t want to encourage another military coup, but they are also beginning to understand that Musharraf has become part of the problem,” said one former official with knowledge of the debates inside the Bush administration. A U.S. consul in Lahore visited with Benazir Bhutto, who is still under house arrest.

Bhutto Bashed by Niece - Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was excoriated by niece Fatima Bhutto in a guest op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, deriding her "hijacking" of the democracy movement and hinting of her involvement in the unsolved police shooting of her father, Bhutto's younger brother. This might be an appropriate place to mention that Bhutto's base of support is definitely not the educated classes in Pakistan, many of whom regard her with suspicion and hostility. The Harvard-educated Bhutto is the darling of American media and the Bush administration, but in Pakistan her political support comes primarily from the poor and illiterate classes and she has substantial competition for the role of principal opposition leader.

Letter from Jailed Lawyer - The blog Pakistan Politics reprints a very moving letter from a lawyer who was tossed into a Karachi jail for reporting to the Sindh High Court on the day the courts were disbanded:

As I write this article, I am sure that I too will be charged for treason. I do not care. I’d rather be tortured to death by Musharaff and his men than bow down before him. This is a sentiment that is shared by the entire legal community barring few spineless men.

What further disappoints us is the role played by the main stream political parties and countries like the United States who are always harping about democracy. Sitting on the fence waiting to see which way the movement initiated by the lawyers goes. ... I was stunned that Bush is only “mildly disappointed” by Musharaff’s emergency rule. Mr. Bush, you were one of the most hated characters in Pakistan – the people now despise you.

Video of Student Protest in Islamabad - The gathering was reportedly broken up by the police right afterward:

OH-10: Kucinich (D) Voted Against Iraq Withdrawal Bill; Palmer (D) Pounces UPDATED

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) was the only Ohio Democrat to vote "no" on yesterday's $50 billion war funding bill that called for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He is also heading out to Las Vegas for tonight's Democratic presidential debate tonight, opening the door for another hilarious satirical video from the campaign of challenger Rosemary Palmer (D-Cleveland):

UPDATE: Bill Callahan helpfully links to Kucinich's explanation for voting against the bill:
“For the past 11 months, all the House Leadership has done is play into President Bush’s hand. They have approved every war funding bill the President has asked for.

“Leadership could have told President Bush they will not continue to fund the war. They could have said: Use the money you already have to bring the troops home. That is what the American people want.

“They did not have to bring a bill to the floor. They could have forced the President to bring the troops home by refusing to provide any money for the war. Enough money exists to bring the troops home -- without further appropriations.

“But by offering the emergency supplemental appropriations bill today, the House Leadership is taking this Congress and this country down the same path: a path of destruction, chaos and death.

Ohio Poll: Republicans and Democrats Polarized on War

Ohio Poll results released today [pdf] show that attitudes among partisan voters toward the war in Iraq are almost mirror opposites to each other.

Republicans say that the war effort is going well (68%), the U.S. made the rights decision to start the war (77%), and U.S. troops should keep the troops there until the situation is stablized. Democrats say the war efforts is not going well (75%), the war was a mistake (76%), and the troops should come home as soon as possible (76%).

Independents are inclined somewhat more to agree with Democrats on these questions, but the poll sample of independents was so small (only 75) that the pollster cautions against relying on it.

The poll also shows that 54% of all voters expect bad consequences (civil war, terrorist bases, and Iranian incursion) if the U.S. pulls out. Men in general are more likely to say that the war was a good decision and the troops should stay, while women in general tend to say the opposite.

News and Notes: Ohio

What's going on in the state whose worst weather disaster was the Great Dayton Flood in 1913, leading to the creation of the first major flood plain engineering project in the nation (the Miami Conservancy District):

Space Switching Accommodations for Four-Day Trip to Greece - The Dispatch queried the freshman legislator Zack Space (D-Dover) about luxury hotel reservations in Athens for a planned Congressional trip to Greece that ORP Chair Bob Bennet calls a junket. Space announced he will find cheaper quarters. Space's aide calls the trip government business and Greece a strategic ally on the war in terror, but Bennett questions how the trip will benefit residents of the 18th District. Space's grandfather emigrated from Greece.

Hard Times at Cincinnati Food Pantries - The Enquirer reports that relief agencies are cutting back. Requests for help at an area food bank are up 18% since last year but donations are down 30%.

UAW Approves Ford Contract - Union says 79% of workers voted "yes" on four-year pact. Ford promised future products to six U.S. assembly plants and will keep open facilities including one in Avon Lake, but will proceed with previously announced closings in Batavia, Maumee, and Brook Park. An engine facility in Cleveland will be idle for a year.

Ohio Fifth Worst State in Carbon Dioxide Emissions - According to a report by the policy group Carbon Monitoring for Action, Ohio also emits more than Mexico, Iran, or France. Meanwhile, Ohio Citizen Action is enlisting doctors and nurses to help establish the negative impact on health of nearby Cleveland residents of noxious emissions from Mittal Steel.

Ohio Senate Passes Crime Bills - Bills would stiffen penalties for callers making bomb threats to schools and sexual predators who use the Internet to lure children would face tougher penalties. It certainly is easy to pass laws making prison sentences longer. Too bad the prisons are already over capacity and no new ones are being built.

Lancaster Attorney Establishes Foundation to Pay for School Activities - Public schools are too strapped for cash to pay for extracurricular activities that used to be provided free of charge. Attorney Craig Vandervoort started the Lancaster Public Education Foundation to raise money for things like sports, field trips, and classroom projects that parents can't afford, with $40,000 raised since this summer. Is this what it's coming down to, private charities supporting student activities for public school students?

Frances Strickland on Hillary Clinton - Cindy highlights a Dayton Daily News story on Strickland's remarks to a women's group about the Democratic front-runner and women in high-ranking government jobs generally. She tells Bill Clinton to "stay off the offensive. She can handle this."

Rudy's First TV Ad

He has built up a national lead in the race for the GOP presidential nomination without running any TV ads at all, so people have been wondering what they would look like. Here is the very first TV ad for Rudy Giuliani (R-NY), slated to run in New Hampshire:

It's a strong ad, good message and good visuals. The central claim, however, is suspect. Giuliani's claimed success in governing New York City is debatable (and he did nothing to help struggling public schools), and the notion that running a city is like running a country is not particularly convincing. Nevertheless, a formidable foe if he pulls off the nomination.

Free-Market Ideology Caused the Sub-Prime Mortgage Debacle

Today the Plain Dealer reprinted this important op-ed by Robert Kuttner in the Los Angeles Times, arguing that the "deepening calamity" of the sub-prime mortgage crisis "results from the failed fantasy that markets can regulate themselves." Kuttner connects mortgage lending abuses in the 1990s to the deregulation of financial markets sought by free-market economists since the 1970s. That deregulation scaled back the "dynamic system of managed capitalism" that had been created in response to the stock market crash of 1929, a product in turn of the laissez-faire 1920s:

In the sub-prime [mortgage boom], unregulated mortgage lenders threw away underwriting rules and made teaser loans to people with sketchy credit histories. ...

But in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of financial deregulation, a Wall Street bank could turn the loan into a bond; a credit rating agency using obscure alchemy could bless the bond with a triple-A rating, and some consenting adult could be found to buy it. ...

The whole daisy chain was unregulated and opaque -- to investors, to regulators, even to the investment bankers who orchestrated it. Nobody really knew what these bonds were worth if they ever had to be sold. Now we are finding out.

Had regulators simply required all mortgage lenders to use prudent underwriting standards, the sub-prime crisis never would have happened. ... Congress, in a rare bout of pro-consumer regulation, passed a law in 1994 requiring exactly that. But the Federal Reserve, a devout believer in the magic of markets, refused to issue regulations.

This is an important point and deserves more attention. The lending industry and to some extent the federal regulators are largely treating the crisis like it is just some bad thing that happened, like the wind and the rain, with nobody really to blame. But there are people to blame. Unregulated lenders fudged the rules to generate a wave of unsustainable loans, and Wall Street entities hid behind the complexity of newly created complex investment vehicles to get away with massive conflict of interest and deception. Rating agencies were paid by the very investment banks who sold ostensibly safe but highly risky investments based on the rating agencies' approval. (42% of Moodys' income from 2002 to 2005 was from rating residential mortgage backed securities and similar exotic instruments.) Everybody made money on each step of the transactions until the bubble burst. It was a bonanza built on lack of oversight and lack of transparency.

Last Thursday Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis gave a presentation to the Cleveland Heights Democrats that tied the mortgage crisis in Ohio specifically to opposition by Republican-led state government to regulating the lending industry. When the state wouldn't step in to crack down on abusive lending practices, he said, the City of Cleveland passed its own predatory lending ordinance in 2001. Within two weeks the General Assembly, after having ignored the subject for years, passed a law that forbid Ohio cities from regulating lenders. (House Speaker Chuck Blasdel (R-East Liverpool) was awash with campaign contributions from the financial industry. Read all about it in this Free Times article by Charu Gupta.) The legislature took no action against abusive lending until 2006, when it finally passed a predatory lending law. During the intervening time, Rokakis reported, foreclosures in Cuyahoga County mounted from about 3,500 in 1995 to over 7,000 in 2000 to over 13,500 in 2006. This year the county is on a pace to exceed 17,000.

Obama's Speech at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Iowa

Here is the full 20-minute version of the "turning point" speech by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Iowa on November 10th:

This really is an excellent speech. Vintage Obama. Well worth watching the whole thing.

Carnival of Ohio Politics #91: Hammer Time

The Carnival is up and Jill did a great job with her tribute to formerly famous entertainer MC Hammer, now a preacher and talk show host.

Did you know MC Hammer got the name "Hammer" from Reggie Jackson when Hammer was a 13-year-old batboy for the Charlie Finley-owned Oakland A's? He was also called "Pipeline," since Finley used him as an informant on clubhouse activities. "MC Pipeline" doesn't have the same ring to it.

Photo From Pakistan: Candlelight Vigil at Lahore University of Management Sciences

The candles spell out "Free Our Judiciary and Media."

Scary New Poll: Independents Prefer Giuliani (R) to Clinton (D) by Ten Points

Providing more support for the electability arguments against Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a new RT Strategies/Cook Political Report poll (cross-tabs in pdf format here) shows independent voters favoring former mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) over Clinton by a 48% to 36% margin. Although Clinton wins the overall head-to-head match-up by 46% to 43%, that gap among independents is extremely troubling.

Kerry lost to Bush in 2004 while winning independents by one point, and when the Democrats did very well last fall they won independents by 18 points (57% to 39%). If Giuliani wins the battle for the middle, Clinton is unlikely to prevail.

A friend emailed this morning to remind me of the results of the recent Mason-Dixon/Plain Dealer poll on whom Ohio voters would not consider supporting under any circumstances:

43% Giuliani (R)
44% Obama (D)
44% McCain (R)
46% Thompson (R)
48% Edwards (D)
49% Romney (R)
55% Clinton (D)
68% Kucinich (D)

Obama is the best Democrat on this list, Clinton is far back and nearly the worst.

The numbers for Clinton in today's Quinnipiac poll are considerably less dire, but my friend has an excellent point. Resistance to voting for Clinton is very real and very widespread. Democratic voters considering whom to support need to confront this reality in making up their minds.

OH-18: Space (D) Broadband Initiative Passed

Congress has passed a bill that incorporates provisions proposed by Rep. Zack Space (D-Dover) in an effort to expand broadband internet access in rural Ohio. Modeled on a program in Kentucky, the new law would cause the Federal Communications Commission to develop a yearly "coverage map" to determine the extent of broadband deployment. It would also authorize $275 million over the next three years to provide grants to support local public-private broadband development partnerships, aimed at making coverage available in areas not currently served. Space calls the effort critical to developing southeast Ohio's economy:

"Southeastern Ohio is going to find it harder and harder to attract new businesses if we lack the basic infrastructure that a modern company needs to conduct business. Every day that goes by without proper broadband access is another lost opportunity.

"The economic future of our region relies upon our ability to offer the tools that companies need. This legislation will go a long way in ensuring we catch up with the rest of the nation in the deployment of this vital infrastructure."

This program isn't the whole answer to the broadband availability challenge, as it does not promote competition among providers and does nothing to advance free internet access opportunities, but it is nevertheless a good thing and definitely a winning issue for Space as he builds his case for re-election in the Republican-leaning 18th Congressional District.

Pakistan: Harvard to Honor Chief Justice Chaudhry With Freedom Award

Pakistan's deposed and detained Supreme Court Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, has been selected by Harvard School of Law to receive its highest honor, the Medal of Freedom. Chaudhry was removed from the high court by Gen. Pervez Musharraf as the court appeared ready to rule that Musharraf was ineligible to fill the office of president that he won in an election earlier this year. Chaudhry refused to take a new oath of office that would compel him to support Musharraf's declaration of emergency powers and suspension of the constitution. He was put under house arrest after he attempted to convene the court and rule that the emergency powers are invalid. New justices who are willing to take the new oath of office have been installed, and a ruling upholding Musharraf's actions and declaring him eligible to be president are expected.

"As lawyers who value freedom and the rule of law, we at Harvard Law School want Chief Justice Chaudhry and all of the courageous lawyers in Pakistan to know that we stand with them in solidarity," said Dean Elena Kagan. "We are proud to be their colleagues in the cause of justice, and we will do all we can to press for the prompt restoration of constitutionalism and legality in Pakistan."

To raise awareness and further promote discussion about the events in Pakistan, the Harvard South Asia Initiative will be hosting campus-wide events on Friday, November 16th.

To grasp the immense scope of the travesty that is being perpetrated in Pakistan, just imagine that President Bush had disbanded the United States Supreme Court in order to prevent it from invalidating indefinite detention without trial of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay. Or, if you like, imagine that President Clinton had sacked the Justices to prevent them from awarding the 2000 presidential election to Bush. That is the order of magnitude of the abuse that is occurring in Pakistan.

OH-14: Katz (D) Letter on LaTourette-Wide Open Debacle Published on

Law professor Lew Katz (D-Pepper Pike), the 2006 challenger to Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Bainbridge Township), teamed up with his wife Jan (a professionally trained writer) to pen the following letter about my firing from Wide Open after LaTourette complained. It was not published in the print edition of the newspaper, but is now online in a separate "blog" for unpublished letters to the editors:

Do we have this right? According to Sunday's Plain Dealer, Jeff Coryell was terminated from the Open Blog because he donated to Democratic candidates and, therefore, might not be impartial? And, you said on Sunday, even though Congressman Steve LaTourette called the Plain Dealer to complain about the modest donations, and even though Coryell was told by editors not to write about LaTourette again -- well, gosh, LaTourette had nothing to do with Coryell's termination. Uh huh.

A highly respected blogger, Coryell, and another blogger had been hired by the PD to reflect liberal political opinions, while two others were to present more conservative thinking. The four weren't hired as reporters ingrained to be unbiased. So what's the big surprise that in his personal life Coryell donated modest amounts to Democratic candidates? Perhaps the surprise lies in the fact that Congressman LaTourette was miffed that the donations went to his opponents both times and called the paper to complain. In response, PD editors ordered Coryell to cease writing about LaTourette. Coryell, citing freedom of expression, declined and was fired.

Our unsuccessful 2006 race against LaTourette received very thin coverage from the PD and from the Lake County News Herald, laughingly called the "The LaTourette Gazette" by Steve LaTourette himself. As a result, we learned that getting out campaign news and messages to the public fell to responsible, ethical bloggers like Jeff Coryell.

News and Notes: Pakistan

New developments in the political crisis in the sixth most populous country in the world (more than twice as big as Iran and six times bigger than Iraq):

Imran Khan Arrested - The last major opposition figure who was neither detained nor exiled was apprehended when he tried to lead a rally at a university. Khan, considered a moderate, is a celebrity because he was a cricket super-star and married a British socialite. Students affiliated with the religious Jamaat-i-Islami party, which also opposes the emergency but disagrees with Khan politically, turned him over to the police. Khan has been charged under Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Act. Interesting how that works.

Here is a video report from Reuters:

John Negroponte Heading Over - The veteran diplomat and deputy to Secretary of State Condi Rice will go to Pakistan on Friday to urge Musharraf to undo his suspension of the constitution before holding elections, but Musharraf has already rejected Rice's public call to do so. The Bush administration has resisted calling Negroponte a "special envoy" and it is unclear whether he will even meet with Musharraf personally. Cutting off aid does not appear to be on the table, so I don't see this visit as having any real impact on the situation.

Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif Talking - The two former prime ministers, long bitter rivals, are each making public indications that they will form an alliance to oppose the Musharraf's declaration of emergency powers. Bhutto is under house arrest and Sharif is in exile.

Bhutto Op-Ed in Washington Post - She compares Musharraf's proposed elections under emergency rules to Soviet "elections" and blasts Musharraf's justification for his abuse of power:

Musharraf knows how to crack down against pro-democracy forces. He is, however, unwilling or unable to track down and arrest Osama bin Laden or contain the extremists. This is the reality of Pakistan in November 2007. The only terror that Musharraf's regime seems able to confront is the terror of his own illegitimacy.

Opposition Widespread - USA Today reports that opposition to Musharraf is widespread, although the numbers participating in protests have been limited due to fear of the police and over 7,500 arrests of activists.

Bhutto Interview on "Informed Consent" - Prof. Juan Cole's blog has a translation of an interview with Benazir Bhutto conducted in Urdu. She is less guarded than in most media coverage, criticizing Musharraf's mismanagement of the insurgency in tribal areas, talking of an interim caretaker government if Musharraf steps down, detailing her proposed alliance with other opposition parties, invoking the battle of Karbala (an early turning point in the history of Islam) to explain the importance of a free media, and revealing that she has heard hints of being moved to Karachi or even deported.

Edwards Has First Dem TV Ad in South Carolina

Hoping to shake up the race and capitalize on his native roots, former senator John Edwards (D-NC) is the first Democratic candidate to air a TV ad in the early primary state of South Carolina and it is very good:

There is also a good Edwards TV ad about health care running in Iowa, featured today on the right sidebar. He looks and sounds good in these spots, and the message in each is simple and strong.

The Edwards camp, like Obama, is trying to make a move.

News and Notes: Ohio UPDATED

What's shakin' and bakin' in the state whose elegant traditional abbreviation "O." was changed by the U.S. Postal Service to the quizzical or comprehending (depending on your intonation) "OH," but the USPS will still deliver your mail if you use "O." they just don't like it:

Casino Ballot Issue Petition Rejected - So reports Eric at Plunderbund; it was the summary language, not the signatures, that AG Dann found deficient.

Ohio Among 3Q Foreclosure Leaders - A report out yesterday puts Ohio fifth in third quarter foreclosures and Cleveland seventh among cities (1 out of every 57 households filed during the quarter). Ohio has five other cities in the top 30: Akron (11th), Dayton (17th), Toledo (20th), Columbus (23rd), Cincinnati (30th).

Big Data Company Chooses Ohio - The "global leader in enterprise data warehousing and analytic solutions," Teradata Corporation, which spun off recently from NCR, has chosen Ohio as the site for its "business growth and expansion plans."

Sandusky Lawyer Considers Ohio Senate Run - Daniel McGookey (D-Sandusky) is considering a run for the 2nd District seat of term-limited State Sen. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green). State Rep. Mark Wagoner (R-Ottawa Hills) is running on the GOP side.

Brunner Imposes Oversight on Putnam County BOE - Unbelievable. The Board of Elections used borrowed machines because their own had been damaged in the big flood, but they didn't report problems they were having using the machines on election day to the Secretary of State - they just told voters to come back later. A court ordered the polls held open until 9:30 p.m. Putnam County must get its act together to hold the Congressional special election on December 11th.

Akron City Council President Tried to Board Plane with Loaded Pistol - Read about it on newsman Eric Mansfield's personal blog, then the AP story. The blog is better, isn't it? Definitely more interesting.

UPDATED: Clout of Ohio GOP on Capitol Hill Waning - An interesting piece at CQ Politics, noting that the decline "mirrors the national change in partisan fortunes and the challenges faced by moderates within an increasingly conservative Republican caucus," as "it is getting tougher for Republicans to hold swing districts, and less attractive to try." Having House Leader John Boehner (R-West Chester) helps the Ohio GOP delegation retain some of its clout, however.

GOP and Ohio Christian Alliance Raise Fuss Over Dann Email - They are calling for a public apology for an interoffice email uncovered in an open records request, in which AG Marc Dann (D) kidded close aide Leo Jennings about negative comments on a newspaper web site by saying "Jesus had it better on good friday." They compare the private email to public racist comments that have brought down comedians and talk show hosts. Give me a break. Are these guys grasping at straws, or what?

Ohio Prison Population Tops 50,000 - Mostly due to nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug violations. The Lorain Correctional Institution is at 263% of capacity. There has got to be a better way.

New Ohio Poll: Bush Approval Lowest Ever; Clinton (D) and Giuliani (R) Tied

More from the new Quinnipiac Poll:

1) Bush approval is at 29%-67%, lowest ever in Ohio for this pollster. However, voters disagree 61%-33% with the idea that no Republican can be elected President in 2008 because of Bush's low approval and the war in Iraq. (If you turn that around and focus on a third of the electorate saying NO Republican can be elected, that actually seems like a very bad number for the GOP.)

2) Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) leads big on the Democratic side and former mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) leads big on the GOP side, and the two are statistically tied in a head-to-head matchup:

42% Clinton (D)
17% Obama (D)
14% Edwards (D)
4% Kucinich (D)
3% Biden (D)
1% Richardson (D)
-% Dodd (D)
-% Gravel (D)

(Clinton has slipped five points in the last month and Obama has slipped two points, while Edwards has gained three.)

27% Giuliani (R)
14% McCain (R)
13% Thompson (R)
11% Romney (R)
7% Huckabee (R)
2% Paul (R)
1% Tancredo (R)
1% Hunter (R)

(McCain has gained four points in the last month, Romney has gained three, and Huckabee has gained two. Giuliani has lost two points and Thompson has lost four.)

44% Clinton (D)
43% Giuliani (R)

(Clinton led Giuliani the last two months by at least six points, but was tied with him the three months before that.)

I noted yesterday that the Obama campaign is making a big push to overtake Clinton in the wake of her recent missteps and his strong speech last weekend in Iowa. This is not a good poll for Obama, however, and is much better for Edwards. Obama is tied with Giuliani in a head-to-head match-up (41% to 41%) after leading him last month (44% to 38%). Edwards, on the other hand, leads Giuliani this month (46% to 40%) and led him last month (46% to 38%).

Most Ohioans Don't Want Strickland (D) to Run for VP

The Dispatch reports on a Quinnipiac poll of Ohioans that finds they don't want Gov. Ted Strickland (D) to run for Vice President by a 2-to-1 margin. What's more suprising isthat about half say he is not qualified (49% to 29%). More than two-thirds say his presence on the ballot wouldn’t make them any more likely to vote Democratic, although 17% of independents say it would (9% of independents say otherwise).

I am highly skeptical of polling on how voters say they will react to something that hasn't happened yet. Those attitudes are very subject to change over the long haul. Take this one with a big grain of salt.

Obama Makes His Move

The once indomitable campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) slipped a bit when she performed poorly in a debate on October 30th, and then again when it was revealed that questions were planted at an Iowa campaign event. Then Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) seemed to rise to the occasion by soaring to oratorical heights at the pivotal Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Iowa on November 10th. It seems that if anyone is going to challenge Clinton at any time, Obama is the guy and now is the time.

I had a brief e-chat with Eric of Plunderbund about it this afternoon. He commented that Obama is "making waves" and pointed out that it was a bonus that Obama got to go last at the Iowa event.

Then, after our chat, I received my SECOND email from the Obama camp since the Iowa speech, titled "The Fierce Urgency of Now," this time over the signature of Michelle Obama herself. Both emails highlighted the speech and urged me to help raise $850,000 online this week. I went and watched an excerpted version of the speech here, and yes, indeed, it was very good. ("When I am this party's nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq, or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, or that I support Bush/Cheney policies on not talking to leaders that we don't like ...") Will we all look back on that speech as the turning point?

It looks like the Obama campaign is going all out to seize the moment. Mike Dorning of the Tribune Washington Bureau has just posted an item on The Swamp that reprints a memo sent by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to reporters today, laying out the strategic situation. Plouffe argues that Obama is gaining at Clinton's expense, not only in Iowa but in other early states like Nevada and South Carolina:

The decisive factor for the majority of voters in the 2008 primary season will be determining which candidate can really deliver change they can believe in. Barack Obama believes that to bring about fundamental change three things have to be accomplished. First, the next President must have the ability to unify the country, bringing Republicans and Independents together with Democrats to solve the nation’s most pressing problems. Obama has a track record and approach suited to this challenge while Senator Clinton is likely to unite the GOP against her candidacy as well as her Presidency. And Senator Edwards does not show an inclination toward unity, suggesting compromise is a dirty word.

Thompson (R) Falling, Can't Get Up

Former senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) gained an important endorsement from the National Right to Life Committee today, but political prognosticator Chris Cillizza spells out on The Fix how the polls show him fading and unlikely to recover:

The most recent data comes from New Hampshire where two surveys were released over the weekend. The first ... put Thompson in sixth (yes, SIXTH) place with just three percent of the vote. [In the second] Thompson again took sixth place with just five percent support. ...

Thompson's shrinking support is apparent in other early states as well. The last three polls taken in Iowa put Thompson in fourth, fifth and fourth place, respectively, and his high water mark in any of those surveys is 11 percent. In Florida, too, Thompson appears to be fading. ...

It's clear the initial fervor and excitement over the TV-star-turned politician has worn off and voters have not flocked to Thompson as many people expected.

The problem for Thompson is that there isn't an obvious way to turn this narrative around. He is not a flashy campaigner and his fundamental message -- competent conservatism -- isn't the sort of thing that builds a grassroots movement. ...

Thompson has 51 days to turn things around before the Iowa caucuses, not a promising scenario given his lackluster performance to date.

Pakistan: Musharraf Releases Top Taliban Captive

Newsweek reports that one of the captives released by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a prisoner exchange shortly after declaring emergency rule was:

Mullah Obaidullah Akhund—the highest-ranking Taliban official ever captured by the Pakistanis. As one of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's closest confidants and his defense minister until the post 9-11 invasion of Afghanistan, Obaidullah was No. 3 in the group's hierarchy and a member of its ruling 10-man shura (council).

Obaidullah was among more than two dozen prisoners swapped for the 211 survivors of 250 Pakistani soldiers who surrendered to a warloard in Waziristan after their convoy was ambushed.

A blogger at accuses Musharraf of deliberately releasing Obaidullah in order to fuel the insurgency and prolong the justification for emergency powers. Whether the act was intentional or not, it sets a very dangerous precedent, as the Taliban and militant warlords now know that prisoners are the means for getting what they want. And it is certainly infuriating to lawyers, human rights activists, and political activists who are getting thrown into jail while a high-value Taliban prisoner goes free.

OH-15: Hard-Liner Wagner (R) to Contest Stivers (R) in GOP Primary

We have ourselves another GOP Congressional primary challenger contestant who calls himself the true conservative in the race.

State Sen. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) is the GOP establishment candidate to replace retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Upper Arlington), but OSU economics professor and portfolio advisor Robert Wagner (R-Columbus) is jumping into the race because he is "tired of politicians who dodge tough issues and avoid conservative stances." Among the planks in his political platform:

* Social security should be privatized.

* Income tax should be replaced with a national sales tax.

* The Iraq War was necessary and a good thing for America.

* Al Gore is wrong about global warming.

Will Republican primary voters heed the clarion call of conservative principles? They did in the GOP primary for Ohio Treasurer last year, choosing under-qualified right-to-lifer Sandra O'Brien (R-Ashtabula) over pro-life incumbent Jeanette Bradley (R). However, a primary challenge to Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Cedarville) from fiscal conservative Bill Pierce (R) failed badly.

Wagner has no apparent big money backing now, but he seems like a perfect candidate for Club for Growth support -- Wagner says he decided to run because of the "entitlement tsunami coming down the road." Will they jump into this primary like they did in the 5th Congressional District special on behalf of State Sen. Steve Buehrer (R-Delta)?

Repeat candidate Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Columbus) will take on the GOP primary winner.

Bush Vetoes Health & Education Bill; Veto Override Possible

NOTE: I just had to add this terrific chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, comparing the relative spending increases of the bills signed and vetoed today:

Today the president approved a $40 billion spending increase for the military but vetoed a $10 billion spending increase for education and health. Bush had sought to decrease the education and health budget in prior years but signed spending increases passed by the GOP-controlled Congress anyway. Now that the Democrats are in charge, the veto pen is out.

The $10 billion increase is modest compared to the $606 billion size of the overall bill, but Bush is accusing Democrats of "acting like a teenager with a new credit card." However, this bill passed by an even larger biparisan margin than the vetoed SCHIP bills. The final vote was 274-141, only four votes shy of overriding a veto. The SCHIP bill was about two dozen votes short.

According to the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, Democrats will seek a handful of moderate Republicans to turn the tide. There is some basis for optimism because three different versions of the bill received floor votes, and if you add all the people voting yes on one or more versions it exceeds the required 2/3 margin. If that effort fails, some spending will likely be removed from the bill to win over enough extra votes.

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