Neither party's officials want to talk about it, but challengers in the Heartland are forcing a debate on the effects of free trade, using a populist message to take on pro-free-trade incumbents. CQ Weekly noted 2/27 that Ohio may be the place where the US most directly confronts globalization -- and where Rust Belt sympathies overwhelm the tide of free trade. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D), one of the staunchest pro-labor, anti-globalization members of the House for the past 13 years, is challenging Mike DeWine (R). Trade also may play a role in Vermont, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Rhode Island and even Tennessee. In each of these states, a free-trade-voting incumbent senator is either stepping down or likely to face an opponent whose tendencies are decidedly the opposite. Just over a decade ago, the Senate approved NAFTA by the relatively comfortable tally of 61-38. But last July, the Central America Free Trade Agreement won by a closer 54-45 vote. A few seat changes and that pact might have gone down to defeat.

In his new book, The Global Class War, economist Jeff Faux, founder of the Economic Policy Institute and a resolute NAFTA critic, contends that trade deal was the first skirmish in an expanding war over globalization, a turning point in the politics of trade that for the first time pitted labor against multinational capital, rather than one sector of the economy against another. He blames Bill Clinton's embrace of the agreement for destabilizing the Democratic Party and electoral politics in the US. CQ Weekly noted that a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll showed more Americans see trade as a threat than as an engine of growth. That reflects a reversal in perceptions from the past decade. Americans are increasingly apprehensive that not only production but service jobs are shifting to India and other developing countries in Asia. China, in particular, is seen as abusing the privileges of the more open trade environment it has been granted in the past decade, especially in the way it manages its currency. CQ concludes, "The challenge for politicians who favor a more open trading system -- and who want to confront the more antagonistic views of those like Sherrod Brown -- is to find ways to ensure that the benefits accrue to everyone and not merely to the elites."


AT&T/BELL SOUTH MERGER BAD FOR CONSUMERS: AT&T's proposed $67 bln purchase of Bell South, coming on the heels of AT&T's merger with SBC and Verizon's acquisition of MCI, is "terrible news for consumers, said Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press (freepress.net) on 3/6. Concentrated ownership of the nation's digital networks eliminates any real chance of vigorous competition or innovation and lower prices for consumers. At best, the new network giants in telecommunications will square off against the cable behemoths -- a cozy cartel of two companies in each market divvying up the profits from telephone, broadband and video services." He noted that on 1984 and 1996 Congress broke up the telecommunications monopolies to enhance competition and innovation. In exchange, the industry received dramatic loosening of consumer protections in rates and quality of service. "Now the telecom monopoly is being reconstituted, but the consumer protections we swapped for competition have not returned with the network giants. This proposed merger represents a giant leap backward -- trading a regulated monopoly in telephone service for an unregulated duopoly in telephone, broadband, and video. At a moment marked by a precipitous American decline in the ranks of the world's broadband leaders, the FTC, the FCC, and Congress should act swiftly to correct our problems -- not exacerbate them. This merger must be stopped."


HEALTH 'REFORM' MAYBE: The Massachusetts Legislature has worked out a compromise on health reform that would assess businesses that do not provide health insurance to their workers. Representatives of the business community agreed with Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, both Democrats, to assess companies with 10 or more employees that do not provide health coverage $295 a year for each worker. The only problem, as Ezra Klein writes at Prospect.org, is that it's "so manifestly awful." Klein wrote that the focus should be, as it is in Oregon, on severing the link between health care and employment. If you're going to impose an employer mandate, he noted, $295 "won't buy you any insurance I've ever heard of. In fact, the only thing $295 will do is alleviate some guilt over stiffing your employees." Those who are pushing a ballot initiative to raise the cigarette tax and impose a payroll tax to provide universal healthcare withheld judgment, the Boston Globe reported 3/4, but John McDonough, executive director of Health Care for All, said he was happy there was a breakthrough.

Meanwhile, Illinois, which last year promised medical coverage for all children, is considering extending medical coverage to all state residents. A 29-member task force plans to deliver a report on various reform proposals to the legislature as early as August, the Chicago Tribune reported 2/26. Options to be considered include expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, providing health insurance subsidies or tax incentives to small businesses and letting the uninsured buy coverage through new insurance pools, several task force members said. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has made health reform a signature issue and he has found the Democrat-controlled legislature receptive.


US SCRIMPS ON N.O. LEVEE REBUILD: Experts monitoring the US Army Corps of Engineers' $1.6 bln levee reconstruction project in New Orleans "say large sections of the rebuilt levee system will be substantially weaker than before the hurricane hit," the Washington Post reported 3/6. The monitors cite shortcuts in the construction process and "weak, substandard" building materials.


INTEL CZAR FILLS DAYS AT THE CLUB: The life of an intel czar has its perks. CQ Homeland Security reported 3/3 that on many workdays John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, can be found at the University Club in downtown D.C., getting a massage, taking a swim and having lunch, followed by a good cigar and perusal of the daily papers in the club's library. "He spends three hours there [every] Monday through Friday," a senior counterterrorism official griped to the newsletter, noting that the former ambassador has a security detail sitting outside all that time in chase cars. CQ's Jeff Stein wrote that close observers suspect that Negroponte, who earned a reputation as a very demanding boss as ambassador to Honduras when it was base camp for US-backed attacks on Nicaragua's left-wing government in the 1980s, and more recently as the US proconsul in Baghdad, has figured out that, despite the professed reasons for creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, he really doesn't have much control over the 16 US intelligence agencies.


CONDI OUT OF LOOP: Shortly after Hamas won a majority of seats to take control over the Palestinian Authority Legislative Council, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "I've asked why nobody saw it coming." ThinkProgress noted that apparently Rice simply wasn't paying attention. "A State Department-commissioned poll taken days before January's Palestinian elections warned US policymakers that the militant Islamic group Hamas was in a position to win," Knight Ridder News reported 3/3.


JOURNO FINDS BUSH-GITMO CREDIBILITY GAPS: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last June told reporters, "If you think of the people down there (at Guantanamo), these are people, all of whom were captured on a battlefield. They're terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers, (Osama bin Laden's) bodyguards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the 20th 9/11 hijacker." But Corine Hegland, who pored over the court files of 132 detainees at Guantanamo and examined the redacted transcripts of another 314 cases that had been heard by military tribunals, wrote in the National Journal (2/3) that most of the detainees were not captured in Afghanistan (contradicting President Bush), and most are not accused of any hostile acts (as White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan claimed). Fewer than 20% of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members. The others are accused of "associating" with terrorists, often based on implausible accusations from fellow inmates or on admissions of having done things such as sleeping in a Taliban house or seeing bin Laden on television. Some of the prisoners were captured by Pakistani or Afghan warlords, who were paid large bounties for each "terrorist" turned over. Attorney Thomas Wilner, writing in the Los Angeles Times, described one of his clients as a young Kuwaiti who was teaching in Pakistan. He and four other Kuwaitis were invited to dinner by a Pakistani tribal leader, then sold into captivity. The Bush administration apparently made very little effort to corroborate the plausible claims of innocence detailed by many of the men who were handed over.

Meanwhile, Bush administration lawyers argued that the new law that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in US custody does not apply to people held at Guantanamo. Government lawyers have argued that another portion of that same law, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, removes general access to US courts for all Guantanamo captives. Therefore, they said, Mohammed Bawazir, a Yemeni national held since May 2002, cannot claim protection under the anti-torture provisions.


WHITE HOUSE TARGETS JOURNOS: The Bush administration, seeking to limit leaks of classified information, has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources, the Washington Post reported 3/5. Bush's Justice Department has warned that reporters who publish embarrassing secrets could be prosecuted under espionage laws. In recent weeks, dozens of employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by agents from the FBI's Washington field office, who are investigating possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with the two cases. Numerous employees at the CIA, FBI, Justice Department and other agencies also have received letters from Justice prohibiting them from discussing even unclassified issues related to the NSA program, according to sources familiar with the notices. Some GOP lawmakers are also considering whether to approve tougher penalties for leaking.


IMPEACHMENT: The Wall Street Journal (3/6) checks in on the calls to impeach George W. Bush, and its findings are about what you'd expect: A lot of people are in favor of the idea, and there's no chance that it's actually going to happen. As Tim Grieve noted at Salon.com, the cold water is reality -- with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, Rep. John Conyers' resolution calling for a select committee to investigate the possibility of impeachment is going exactly nowhere. But the Journal reminds us that it's not just Republicans who are standing in the way. Only 26 of 201 House Democrats have signed on to support the Conyers resolution, and a lot of establishment Democrats are keeping their distance. The Journal says that Democrats remember what happened to Republicans as they pushed the impeachment of Bill Clinton: They actually lost seats in the House, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to step aside. But there's also a significant difference in Americans' views this time around: In August 1998, only 27% of the public thought Clinton should be impeached if he lied about a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. In November 2005 -- before the Dubai Ports World deal undermined Bush's national security credibility and before sectarian violence moved Iraq to the edge of civil war -- 51% of the public said that Bush should be impeached if he lied about the reasons for going to war.


GOP POLITICIZES MILITARY: Robert Novak on 2/9 reported that the White House has been urging Republican county officials to arrange local speeches by active-duty military personnel to talk about their experiences in Iraq, in an apparent effort to sell the president's position without having to deal with members of Congress. But Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted that the military, for good reasons, has detailed regulations about how active-duty military personnel can and cannot participate in political events. It explicitly prohibits military personnel from appearing at political events in uniform. But the Larimer County, Colo., GOP website shows at least two Marines in uniform at a 3/3 party event with US Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo. "In the United States, hearing from soldiers fighting in foreign wars has long been a way to maintain morale on the home front," Marshall wrote. "But soldiers (and sailors, airmen and marines) aren't supposed to be dragooned by the president's political operatives into the GOP spin operation. It seems that they are."

Meanwhile, Wonkette.com noted that it was among websites being censored by the Marines. Other websites that are blocked from viewing in Iraq and marked "Forbidden" for various reasons include liberal AirAmericaRadio.com as well as talk show host Al Franken's website. Websites that are available for Marine viewing include Bill O'Reilly's, Rush Limbaugh's and G. Gordon Liddy's sites.


GOP FEARS KATRINA BACKLASH: Despite conventional wisdom that the Katrina-forced evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Democratic-leaning African Americans from New Orleans would turn Lousiana into solid GOP terrority, many Republicans now fear a backlash. In fact, Robert Novak wrote 3/6 "the performance of the last six months may return the state to Democratic blue. Quite apart from who was at fault for an inadequate immediate response to the storm, Republicans are blamed for what has happened since then." Said Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., "The backlash is unknowable, but it is a big concern. When we go from a Republican White House to a Republican Congress to a Republican Senate to a majority of Republicans in the state congressional delegation, we are viewed as in charge. We are being measured by this storm response and by what Republicans do to help poor people."

Meanwhile, a federal judge refused to order Louisiana officials to provide out-of-state polling places for tens of thousands of New Orleans evacuees who are scattered across the country but eligible to vote in New Orleans city elections set for 4/22. ThinkProgress.org on 3/7 noted that Iraqis living in the US were allowed to vote in satellite polling places but New Orleans evacuees -- 75% of whom are black -- are denied that right. Some out-of-town polling places are being set up in Louisiana, but the NAACP estimates that 66% of displaced voters are outside the state and must apply for absentee ballots by mail.


REDISTRICTING REFORM BILL UP: Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., has signed onto a bill to streamline redistricting and make it less partisan. Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., introduced the bill last year, but Republican congressional leaders did not give it a hearing. HR 2642 would require each state to establish an independent redistricting commission of at least five nonpartisan members to draw that state's congressional district map once every 10 years. The bill is deisgned to cut down on gerrymandering, the process by which dominant parties redraw district lines to benefit their own partisan interests, rather than allowing constituents to select their representatives. Tanner has 45 co-sponsors -- including two Republicans -- as well as Johnson.


PATRIOT REDO STILL NEEDS WORK: The American Civil Liberties Union expressed profound disappointment with the 3/2 Senate vote to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act without "common sense" reforms to bring that law in line with the Constitution by restoring checks and balances. The bill passed 89-10. Only 10 senators voted against the renewal: Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.; Russ Feingold, D-Wis.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Jim Jeffords, I-Vt.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, did not vote. The House also approved the amended PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill, despite protests from civil libertarians. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (bordc.org) noted that the reauthorization bill does not prevent FBI "fishing expeditions" into sensitive business, medical, library and other records of innocent Americans. It also threatens Americans' rights to demonstrate by criminalizing conduct considered disruptive by the Secret Service. "The PATRIOT Act debate is far from over: secret record searches must be reformed so they are focused on suspected foreign terrorists and not used to invade the private records of ordinary Americans," said Caroline Frederickson, director of the ACLU Washington legislative office (aclu.org). "Congress can, and must, take steps to fix the PATRIOT Act to keep America both safe and free."

Meanwhile, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Judiciary Committee, has rolled out a bill to make the NSA's domestic spying program legal. Under Specter's bill, according to Marty Lederman of TalkLeft, the government no longer would have to show that the subject of the wiretap was a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. Instead, the bill would permit domestic electronic surveillance targeted at US persons upon showing of "probable cause" that the surveillance program as a whole -- not even the particular targeted surveillance -- will intercept communications of anyone who has "had communication" with a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.


US CREDIT MAXED OUT: US Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., who as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee helped reverse the budget surpluses of the Clinton era with tax cuts for the wealthy, has announced that he will retire at the end of this year. His profligacy at the behest of President Bush has grown the national debt to the point that the GOP Congress must increase the debt limit from the current $8.18 tln -- or risk shutting down government entirely. "If you've ever felt a little shame when calling your credit card company to beg for a larger credit line, then you've got a pretty good sense of how Senate Republicans are feeling just now," Tim Grieve wrote at Salon.com. "Going back for more is a tacit admission that the president's fiscal policies aren't working so well -- you can't deliver massive tax cuts, finance a costly war of choice and cut the deficit at the same time -- and the GOP wants to make it as quietly as it possibly can."

David Sirota noted that as videos proved that Bush was warned about levee problems on the eve of Hurricane Katrina (despite Bush's claims that he had not received any warning), the White House also had ignored warnings that New Orleans needed to strengthen the levees and beef up hurricane preparedness. Instead, as Sirota wrote in the 9/27/05 In These Times, Bush opted to cut taxes for the rich, which spent the "rainy day fund," the surplus that the Clinton administration built up in the '90s. "When the rainiest day of them all came, our country was left totally -- and unnecessarily -- vulnerable."


"CHRISTIAN' HONCHO WAS GAMBLING FIXER: Ralph Reed said he didn't know it until last year, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported 3/4 that emails between Reed and disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff suggest Reed was informed that eLot -- a firm in the online lottery business -- was behind his effort to fend off a ban against Internet gambling in 2000. Reed, the former Christian Coalition executive who is running for Georgia lieutenant governor, claims to be a lifelong opponent of gambling and said he did not know in 2000 he was actually working on behalf of eLottery. But Abramoff included the company's name -- referring to "the elot project" -- in an email he forwarded to Reed in May 2000, as the two worked out details of Reed's contract for the campaign. (He was paid $20,000 a month, plus expenses, in a deal that allowed him to keep his activities secret.) And in a 1/30/01 email, after Abramoff asked about the White House's choice for a new "technology czar," Reed teased: "Tell your elottery friends that the next czar will be an anti-gambling [Pentecostal] Christian whose main interest in life is banning smut from the Internet." At the time Reed was also conducting anti-gambling campaigns across the South on behalf of two Indian tribes that feared the expansion of gambling would generate competition and harm their interests.


BILL WOULD REMOVE STATE FOOD REGS: Powerful, well-connected food industry lobbyists are trying to sneak through Congress a bill that would eradicate over 200 state food-safety laws. House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., are among the leading supporters of HR 4167 that would keep states from adding warnings that go beyond federal rules. They moved the bill to the House floor without public hearings. Among the lobbyists are Blunt's wife, Abigail; Boehner's former staffers; and Brad Card, brother of White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.


QUESTIONS IN IRS PROBE: The IRS investigated a Texas public interest group that has been critical of Tom DeLay, at the request of one of DeLay's cronies, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who it turned out was put up to making the request by a lawyer tied to DeLay's fundraising schemes, the Washington Post reported 2/27. Justin Rood of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted the IRS may not have followed its rules to preven political abuse of the tax agency. According to IRS rules, a request like Johnson's must be reviewed by a three-member panel set up to ensure that investigations are conducted for fair, nonpartisan purposes. But there doesn't appear to be any evidence that such a review ever took place. Under the rules, the committee must keep a record of each of its decisions. As the Post reported, Texans for Public Justice Director Craig L. McDonald asked for all documents relating to his group's case. Those documents contain no record the IRS committee had reviewed Johnson's letter or referred it for investigation.


WHO'S MOST LIBERAL? During the 2004 presidential race, Dick Cheney claimed that the National Journal had taken a look at John Kerry's two decades of service in the US Senate and declared him to be the country's "most liberal" senator. Like much of what Cheney has said over the years, Tim Grieve noted at Salon.com, it wasn't true. Among sitting senators, Kerry's lifetime voting record put him at 11th on the National Journal's list of sitting senators -- liberal, but not the "most liberal," as Cheney had insisted. National Journal's new "top 10" list of "most liberal senators" for the year 2005 puts Ted Kennedy at #1, followed by 2) Jack Reed; 3) Barbara Boxer; 4) Paul Sarbanes; 5) Frank Lautenberg; 6) Tom Harkin; 7) Dick Durbin; 8) John Kerry; 9) Debbie Stabenow; and 10) Barbara Mikulski.

"Eighth most liberal" doesn't have quite the same stinging ring as "most liberal" does, and the rankings of other would-be Democratic presidential contenders are even clankier: Russ Feingold checks in at 14, Joe Biden at 19, Hillary Clinton at 20 and Evan Bayh at 33.

At the other end of the list? National Journal says the most conservative senators in 2005 were: 1) Tom Coburn; 2) Wayne Allard; 3) Jeff Sessions; 4) Jim Bunning; 5) Trent Lott; 6) Johnny Isakson; 7) Saxby Chambliss; 8) George Allen; 9) Robert Bennett; and 10) Orrin Hatch.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2006

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