Democrats need a net gain of six seats to regain control of the Senate. They hope to beat Republicans such as Jon Kyl in Arizona, Jim Talent in Missouri, Conrad Burns in Montana, Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, Mike DeWine in Ohio and Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania and take the seat Bill Frist is giving up in Tennessee. Democrats also hope James Webb, former secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, will give Sen. George Allen Jr. (R) a serious race in Virginia. Republicans hope to beat Maria Cantwell in Washington, Bob Menendez in New Jersey and take the seats Paul Sarbanes is giving up in Maryland and Mark Dayton is giving up in Minnesota.
In the House, where Democrats need a net gain of 16 seats, OurCongress.org records at least 425 contested races as of 7/8, with only seven races where Republican incumbents definitely will not be unopposed, compared with 40 unopposed Democrats in districts where filing has closed. That is a disappointment to some who hoped to have Democrats running in all 435 districts, but in 2004 Democrats contested only 396 seats.
Moderate Republicans are not happy that the House leadership has embarked on a summer push on conservative causes such as gun rights, new restrictions on abortion and human cloning and a ban on gay marriage that the Senate already has rejected. The "American Values Agenda," a list of initiatives heavy on ideological themes, seems short-sighted and ill-timed considering that few conservatives are at serious risk in November, the New York Times reported (7/8). "It was stupid and gross," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.). "They have this obsession to satisfy conservative Republicans who will probably be re-elected no matter what happens. They get job satisfaction, but they are making it more difficult for me to win my race."
The Cook Political Report reported that more than 20 of the 35 Republican seats considered most threatened were districts in Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania and districts in Arizona, Colorado and Florida where independents could be crucial. Thirteen of the 35 were carried by the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, the Times noted.
Louis Jacobson at Rothenberg Political Report (7/7) notes that the issue looming over the 2006 legislative elections is the fight to control House and Senate lines after 2010, when the next legislative and Congressional lines will be drawn (or even sooner, under the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Texas gerrymander by Republicans). Of the 36 states in which legislatures control redistricting, 20 are within four seats of switching party control. Democrats hope to retake chambers in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Jacobson sees 10 vulnerable Dem-held chambers, compared with only eight vulnerable GOP-held chambers. But, he added, "Republicans acknowledge that President Bush's problems are being felt at the local level, and they know that if Democratic voters want to send a message this fall, state legislatures could be a key venue for that message." Over a dozen incumbent governors are considered vulnerable, including Democrats in Michigan and Wisconsin and Ohio, where scandal-plagued Republicans expect a hard time keeping the office.
Redistricting experts do not expect that the 6/28 Supreme Court decision will unleash a torrent of mid-decade redistricting because there are relatively few states were one party is in a position to do so, Charles Babington wrote in the 7/5 Washington Post. There are four states where Dems could try a mid-decade gerrymander comparable to that of Texas's: Illinois, North Carolina, New Mexico and Louisiana. "In each one, however, such a move seems unlikely because of factors that include racial politics, Democratic cautiousness and even a hurricane's impact," Babington wrote. Republicans could follow DeLay's blueprint in other states that they control. But they appear to have maximized their opportunities in the biggest targets, including Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, said Tim Storey, a redistricting expert for the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
By the way, DailyKos.com notes that a recent Zogby poll showed why generic ballot polls that show Democrats with a double-digit lead over Republicans can be misleading. While likely voters in Virginia's 5th District in June preferred a Democrat over Republican by 48.5 to 37%, when names are used, they preferred Virgil Goode (R) over Al Weed (D) 49.2% to 35%. (Weed noted that's good news because the incumbent had less than 50% support.) Kos notes: "Here we have a race in which the district wants a Democrat by double-digit margins. Yet given the question with actual names attached, the Republican incumbent still pulls in a nice lead. That dynamic will play in just about every district. Incumbency has its (huge) advantages. That's why taking back the House is so tough, and probably why observers like Charlie Cook peg Democratic chances better in the Senate."
ARIZONA GETS VOTER-VERIFIED ELECTIONS: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) signed a bill (6/28) to require voter-verified paper records of votes, random audits and other reforms to ensure a fair count. SB 1557 passed the House unanimously and the Senate passed it 25-3 (6/20). The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, and Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa. It requires each electronic voting machine to produce a voter-verified paper record of every vote, and mandates a hand-counted audit in 2% of precincts, with expansion of the hand count if discrepancies are found. Concern about the current unauditable system in Arizona stems from a 2004 Republican legislative primary race in the Phoenix area, where a candidate's four-vote victory there triggered an automatic recount, giving a 13-vote victory to another candidate and uncovering nearly 500 additional votes, according to VoteTrustUSA.org. Pima County also made the controversial decision to buy Diebold touchscreen voting machines.
A similar bill by US Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., to require paper records and random audits in federal elections has been bottled up by Congressional Republican leaders. The Government Accountability Office in 2005 concluded that electronic machines "hold promise" but have security and reliability questions. Activists have sued at least seven states, including Arizona, New Mexico, and California, to block their use of electronic machines without an accompanying paper trail. US News reported (7/9) that 26 states have passed laws requiring a voter-verified paper audit trail. Still, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law recently concluded that the three most common electronic machines are susceptible to more than 120 security threats.
SOCIAL SECURITY PRIVATIZERS BIDE TIME: Grover Norquist said at a breakfast sponsored by The American Prospect in June only five senators prevent Congress from privatizing Social Security. "I believe that when there are 60 Republican senators we will move Social Security from the present Ponzi scheme to a fully-funded, individually-held system," he said, according to columnist Marie Cocco (6/27).
DEMS: TIE REP PAY TO MINIMUM WAGE: More Democrats are joining Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)'s fight to make members of Congress more accountable for their pay raises. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said (6/27) he'll use parliamentary rules to block a $3,300 annual pay hike, to $168,500, approved by the House (6/13) if it's not accompanied by a minimum-wage increase from the $5.15 that has remained unchanged since 1997, while Congressional pay has increased $31,700. Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) have introduced a bill linking pay raises to the minimum wage. A Senate Republican aide told Newsday the Clinton-Kennedy bill is "dead," but the majority would likely kill any congressional raise this year to protect vulnerable incumbents. Dems in both houses want the federal minimum wage to rise in 70-cent increments to $7.25 by January 2009. In July, 52 senators approved a similar raise in a test vote, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to avert a GOP filibuster.
CONGRESS EYES MORE TRADE DEALS: An Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA) was headed for a House vote in late July after passing 60-34 in the Senate (6/29). Five Republicans joined the majority of Democrats in voting against the deal, while 11 Dems voted for the agreement. They include Max Baucus (Mont.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), John Kerry (Mass.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Barack Obama (Ill.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.). Vermont's Sen. James Jeffords (I) also voted in favor. The Bush administration is sending Congress a similar trade deal with Peru. The Oman deal is similar to the other free trade deals, but it would provide special access to US markets for clothes made in sweatshops located in Oman, a Mid-East sultanate where trade unions are illegal. Global Trade Watch said more indentured workers would be trafficked from Bangladesh, China and other countries to slave away in Omani sweatshops, and more jobs will be lost in the US. "Plus, OFTA provides even more power than NAFTA or CAFTA for multinationals to attack our health and environmental laws." OFTA also threatens national security, as it goes beyond NAFTA in explicitly promoting rights for foreign companies -- including government-owned companies -- to operate sensitive infrastructure, such as electricity grids, port operations and more. OFTA allows foreign investors to take the US government to secret tribunals if the profitability of any foreign investment in these sensitive sectors is threatened by an act of the US Congress. See citizenstrade.org and blog.aflcio.org.
NLRB GUTS LABOR RIGHTS: Nurses rallied across the country (7/10) to protest a likely decision by the National Labor Relations Board that would declare most registered nurses (RNs) to be "supervisors" and therefore stripped of protection under labor law. Bush's NLRB has refused to hear any oral arguments as it considers three cases, known as the "Kentucky River" cases, that could reshape basic workplace rights and erode the freedom to form unions. The AFL-CIO noted the labor board has refused to hold oral arguments since 2001, when Bush took office. If these rulings go as expected, Nathan Newman wrote at TPMCafe.com, hundreds of thousands of RNs across the country could be fired at will if they say anything positive about unions or are even suspected of being in favor of unions. Newman said the attack on RNs could cascade through other workplaces as employees are given nominal supervisory roles to strip them of labor rights. He notes that Bush's NLRB has been overturning decades of rules to deny workers rights, such as a July 2004 ruling that graduate teaching assistants and research assistants are students and ineligible for labor protection; September 2004 ruling that disabled workers who receive rehabilitative services from employers are ineligible to form unions; and November 2004 ruling that employees of temp agencies were barred from organizing with regular employees without both employer and agency permission. See aflcio.org and unionvoice.org.
BUSH ECONOMICS NOTHING TO BRAG ABOUT: A White House fact sheet issued (7/7) on President Bush's economic record is headlined, "5.4 Million Jobs Created Since August 2003." The sheet suggests recent job growth proves Bush's economic strategy is a smashing success. Judd Legum notes at ThinkProgress.org (7/7), "Let's set aside for a moment that the 'fact sheet' conveniently ignores the 22 months of jobs losses that proceeded August 2003. Instead, let's put Bush's job record since August 2003 in perspective:
"1. Monthly job growth since August 2003 is 50% lower than the average of President Clinton's entire term. Since August 2003, job growth has averaged 160,000 per month. During Clinton's eight years in office job growth averaged 236,000 per month.
"2. Real wages have fallen since August 2003. The average worker's real wages were 20 cents lower in June 2006 than they were in August 2003.
"Any way you slice it, Bush's economic policy has resulted in slower job growth and lower wages. That's nothing to brag about."
ThinkProgress.org also noted (7/11) that the $296 bln federal deficit the White House projects for 2006, which Bush argued vindicated his economic policies, actually would be the fourth-largest deficit of all time, settling in after his record deficit of $413 bln in 2004, $378 bln in 2003, $318 bln in 2005 and just ahead of his father's $290 bln deficit in 1992. Bush inherited a $284 bln surplus from Bill Clinton in 2001.
ILLINOIS KIDS GET INSURANCE: Illinois began offering health insurance for uninsured children (7/1). Some 43,000 children who now go without insurance were enrolled for the All Kids program at the debut. Within five years it is expected to cover 250,000 children of working families who make too much money to qualify for other state programs but not enough to afford private insurance. Families will pay for coverage on a sliding scale that increases with their income and family size. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has proposed to pay for All Kids by shifting 1.6 million beneficiaries enrolled in KidCare, FamilyCare and traditional Medicaid to a managed-care system for an estimated savings of $56 million in the first year.
BUSH SPIES ON YOUR CHECKS: A government program designed to track down terrorists and money launderers is frightening bank customers, frustrating financial institutions and inundating federal agencies with secret reports of dubious value, Laura Bruce of Bankrate.com reported at cbs.marketwatch.com (7/4). Critics say the Suspicious Activity Report, or SAR, victimizes honest citizens who are conducting legitimate financial activities through legitimate banking channels, while generating a flood of useless paperwork and burdening financial institutions with billions of dollars in costs. Experts predict nearly 1 million will be filed in 2006, a bit more than half by depository institutions, the rest by money-services businesses, casinos, card clubs and the securities and futures industries. Insurance companies had to begin filing in spring 2006, and mutual fund companies will have to establish anti-money-laundering programs and file SARs in fall 2006. In total, 919,230 SARs were filed in 2005. You cannot find out if one has been filed on you; anyone revealing that information is breaking the law. What can trigger a SAR? Almost anything out of the ordinary that rouses the suspicion of the personnel where the transaction took place, including any group of transactions totaling $5,000 or more that "is not the sort in which the particular customer would normally be expected to engage." Rreports are filed with The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN, a division of the Department of the Treasury, and shared with law enforcement.
CONS CUT EACH OTHER UP: Garance Franke-Ruta of The American Prospect is among the liberals looking forward to reading conservative icon Richard Viguerie's new book, *Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause*, set for publication in July. "He's setting up his loyalty to conservatism against Karl Rove's loyalty to Republicanism, and the clash of those two titans should be fun to watch in the months ahead." Franke-Ruta wrote at prospect.org 7/10.
SPANISH McD RILES MAYOR: Mayor Steve Lonegan (R) of Bogota, N.J., is calling for a boycott of McDonalds if the fast-food chain does not take down a Spanish-language billboard advertising iced coffee. Jodi Senese, an executive for CBS Outdoor, which owns the billboard, told the Newark *Star-LedgerHispanic residents of Bogota make up 20% of that town's population. ThinkProgress.org noted that the US Army launched a major Spanish-language ad campaign in 2001. The tagline is "Yo Soy El Army" (I Am The Army). The US Navy and Air Force also operate Spanish-language recruitment sites. "So when does Mayor Lonegan launch his boycott against the US. military?"
WHITE HOUSE LINKED TO ELECTION PHONE JAM: An accused GOP phone-jamming conspirator says he believed his actions were authorized by the Republican National Committee and/or the White House, his attorney said. Papers filed in US District Court in New Hampshire said Shaun Hansen of Spokane, Wash., directed his former telemarketing firm workers to jam the phone lines of Democratic and firefighters union offices with hang-up calls on Election Day 2002 because he had been assured by political operatives and an attorney it was legal, the Manchester *Union Leader* reported 7/7. Hansen, who headed the Idaho telemarketing firm Mylo Enterprises, was paid $2,500 to place the hang-up calls by GOP Marketplace, a Virginia consulting firm. Its president, Allen Raymond, had been paid $15,600 to arrange the phone jam by Charles McGee, executive director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee at the time. McGee later admitted masterminding the operation, which Democrats say may have influenced a US Senate contest won by Republican John Sununu over Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. McGee and Raymond have admitted their roles in the scheme and have served time in prison. Former Republican National Committee official James Tobin has been convicted of conspiracy to violate a federal telephone harassment law after a jury found he had put McGee in touch with Raymond to carry out the operation. Tobin is appealing. Hansen, the fourth man indicted in the scheme, has been charged with conspiracy to commit and aiding the commission of telephone harassment. His trial is scheduled for Oct. 3. Tobin reportedly made many calls to the White House political affairs office in the weeks -- and hours -- leading up to the election-morning operation. The reports were based on telephone records filed as part of Tobin's trial.
WAR TRIAL FOUNDER: US GUILTY OF WAR CRIMES: Benjamin Ferenccz, a former chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials and a founding father of international war tribunals, believes that a "prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation." Interviewed by Jan Frel of Alternet from his home in New York, Ferencz laid out a simple summary of the case: "The United Nations charter has a provision which was agreed to by the United States formulated by the United States in fact, after World War II. Its says that from now on, no nation can use armed force without the permission of the U.N. Security Council. They can use force in connection with self-defense, but a country can't use force in anticipation of self-defense. Regarding Iraq, the last Security Council resolution essentially said, 'Look, send the weapons inspectors out to Iraq, have them come back and tell us what they've found -- then we'll figure out what we're going to do. The US was impatient, and decided to invade Iraq -- which was all pre-arranged of course. So, the United States went to war, in violation of the charter." See alternet.org/story/38604/.
BUSH ORDERED SPY LEAK: President Bush told federal prosecutors in the CIA leak case that he directed Vice President Cheney to lead an effort to counter allegations made by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that his administration had misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, Murray Waas reported in the 7/3 *National Journal*. Bush told prosecutors he directed Cheney to disclose classified information that would not only defend his administration but also discredit Wilson. But Bush told investigators that he was unaware that Cheney had directed Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, to covertly leak the classified information to the media instead of releasing it to the public after undergoing the formal governmental declassification processes.
ULTRA-RICH ALSO STINGY: Financier Warren Buffett got headlines with his announcement that he would give away 85% of his $44 bln fortune. But David Cay Johnston repored in the 7/2 New York Times that giving by the richest Americans has fallen in recent years, with the biggest declines at the very top, based on deductions Americans taken on their income taxes. Among Americans who at death left a taxable fortune of $20 mln or more, the average charitable bequest fell by $2 mln, or 9%, from 1995 to 2004. While Buffett argues that estate taxes should be increased, not eliminated, few ultrarcih families agree, and 18 have spent $500 mln since 1994 lobbying for estate tax repeal, according to disclosure records examined by Public Citizen (citizen.org) and United for a Fair Economy (faireconomy.org), which want to keep the tax.
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