Can Democrats regain control of the House and/or the Senate? A gain of 15 seats in the House would give the Democrats a majority and control of House committees, along with subpoena power to force the Bush administration to account for its activities. A gain of six Senate seats would give Dems control there.
President Bush's popularity is polling well under 40% and rivaling the unpopularity of disgraced former President Richard Nixon. Among independents, the number approving of Bush's job performance has fallen from 47% in January 2005 to 26% in March, according to the Pew Center for People and the Press.
Chris Bowers of MyDD.com noted that Democrats have their largest lead among independents in 24 years, and historically is only surpassed by the advantage they held among independents in the post-Watergate election of 1974. Dems are running in 412 of 435 House districts. That's nine seats better than the recent Democratic record of 403 in 2000 and approaches the Republican record of 419 candidates in 1994, the year the GOP captured control of the House.
PROGRESSIVE DEMS ON TAP: In the past, Democratic leadership has been undermined by conservative Democrats who often align with the GOP, so progressive Democrats are challenging incumbents who are felt to be more conservative than their districts. Marcy Winograd, a schoolteacher and president of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, jumped into the Democratic primary race against Jane Harman, a six-term Congress member and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, after Harman said on Meet the Press 2/12/06 that she was upset not with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretaps, but with the leak in the New York Times that informed the public about the secret project. In the runup to the war, Winograd noted, members of the Intel panel knew there were doubts about the stated reasons for going to war. "She should have known the war was based on lies." Harman also voted for the bankruptcy deform bill, infringements on civil liberties in the PATRIOT Act and suspension of due process in the detention of prisoners without charges or counsel at Guantanamo and other prisons.
"I don't believe she reflects the values of the district," which runs along the Los Angeles beach from Venice to San Pedro and was redrawn in 2002 to make it more Democratic. Harman "should be the voice of questioning, the voice of investigation, not acquiescence," Winograd said. "I will vote to cut funding for the war and restore civil liberties and gut the PATRIOT Act," Winograd said. "We should refocus the budget to provide for quality education, universal health care and environmental protection." She said the choice in the 6/6/06 primary is between "a Bush Democrat and a progressive Democrat" and she said more progressive Democrats should be challenging conservative Democrats in primaries.
Winograd prevented Harman from gaining endorsements from United Teachers of LA, the California Federation of Teachers and the state party. Progressive Democrats of Wilmington rescinded its previous endorsement of Harman and endorsed Winograd. The United Auto Workers Western Region endorsed Winograd.
Progressive Democrats of America has endorsed Chuck Pennacchio, who faces Bob Casey in the Democratic primary to challenge Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.; and John Bonifaz for Massachusetts secretary of state against incumbent Dem William Galvin. PDA also endorsed Christine Cegelis, who lost a March primary to Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth in open IL-6 (retiring GOP Rep. Henry Hyde's district). Cegelis later threw her support to Duckworth. PDA also has endorsed Jeeni Criscenzo in CA-49 (vs. Rep. Darrel Issa, R); Tony Trupiano in MI-11 (vs. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R). PDA has endorsed incumbent Dem Reps John Conyers, Mich; Barbara Lee, Calif.; John Olver, Mass.; Maxine Waters, Calif.; Diane Watson, Calif; and Lynn Woolsey, Calif. PDA also has "point persons" in many congressional districts. (See pdamerica.org.)
As co-founder of the California Election Protection Network, Winograd also has called on Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to scrap a controversial rule that makes California one of nine states that require voter registration to be an exact match of the driver's license or other ID. The Los Angeles Times reported 3/29/06 that the "exact match" standard already has disenfranchised almost 15,000 potential voters in L.A. County. "If I register to vote as Marcy Winograd and my DMV application reads Marcy A. Winograd," I may not be able to vote for myself in this congressional race," said Winograd. "At a time when we want to engage the electorate, to encourage young people to vote, to reach out to new citizens, this sends the exact opposite message &emdash; Don't bother voting because your vote may not count." Winograd also lobbied for a bill requiring a paper trail for electronic voting, to allow recounts. As Media Reform Chair of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, Winograd hosts They Say/We Say &emdash; a public access television show
In Connecticut, Ned Lamont, a former Greenwich selectman and cable TV entrepreneur, is challenging Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary. PDA has not endorsed in that race, but Walter Shapiro of Salon.com noted that the state party convention in May could turn the national spotlight on the primary challenge of Lieberman, who has been a vocal Bush supporter. Lieberman acknowledged that he has become a lightning rod for what he said was Democratic hatred towards Bush, whom Lieberman has defended. "It is something that speaks to this moment in our politics, which is very partisan and very much are you with us 100% or are you not with us? And there's a lot of &emdash; I can't think of a softer word than hatred. In the Democratic Party there are a lot of people who have the same kind of hatred &emdash; which I find is self-defeating and almost certainly wrong &emdash; towards Bush that a lot of Republicans had toward Clinton."
DELAY THUGS WRECK EVENT: Thugs from Tom DeLay's campaign broke up a 4/6/06 press conference called by DeLay's Democratic opponent and in the process roughed up an elderly woman who was there to support Nick Lampson. DeLay's campaign manager had called for volunteers to "wreck" Lampson's press conference in Sugar Land, DeLay's home town near Houston. Several showed up with signs and air horns and at least two reportedly assaulted Marsha Rovai, 69, while Sugar Land police watched from a distance. DeLay campaign manager Chris Homan acknowledged organizing the protesters. "Nick is Nancy Pelosi's liberal lapdog from Beaumont, and he should get used to being confronted for the next seven months," Homan told the Houston Chronicle.
RADIO 'WINGER URGES SHOOTING IMMIGRANTS: Right-wing radio host Brian James of KFYI AM 550 in Phoenix advocated murder as a way to deal with undocumented immigrants. ''What we'll do is randomly pick one night every week where we will kill whoever crosses the border,'' James said in the March 8 broadcast on the Clear Channel station, according to the Mojave Daily News. ''Step over there and you die. You get to decide whether it's your lucky night or not. I think that would be more fun.'' James said he would be ''happy to sit there with my high-powered rifle and my night scope'' and kill people as the cross the border. In a letter to the FCC, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and US Attorney Paul Charlton called the remarks irresponsible and dangerous. James refused to apologize and claims his comments were "satire," though ThinkProgress.org noted that James told a caller that he did mean he wanted to shoot and kill immigrants and he engaged the next caller in a discussion about the correct ammunition to use. Later, for a story on the KFYI website, James said "KFYI does not advocate shooting illegals. It might be fun, but they don't advocate it."
IMMIGRATION NUMBERS: While Republicans slipped a little-noted rider in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 prohibiting undocumented immigrants from getting medical care under Medicaid, the Boston Globe reported 4/11/06, undocumented immigrants pay $1.5 bln in Medicaid taxes each year as well as $7 bln in Social Security taxes. But immigration authorities have no access to the Social Security Adminstration's records, which would show where payroll tax payments do not match known taxpayers, the Los Angeles Times reported 3/30/06. The number of federal workers charged with finding illegals on the job has plummeted from 240 in 1999 to 90 in 2003. In 1999, 417 employers were fined for knowingly hiring an undocumented immigrant. In 2004 it was three.
On the other hand, Tim Smith, a senior economist and immigration expert at the Rand Corp., a research center in Santa Monica, Calif., noted that unemployment is 4.8%, which is close to what economists view as full employment. So immigrants are filling empty jobs, not taking them away from US citizens. With the first baby boomers &emdash; those born in 1946 &emdash; turning 65 in 2011, immigrants will be needed in the workforce.
As for questions about the divided loyalty of immigrants, 5% of US armed forces are immigrants and one of the first casualties of the invasion of Iraq was Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, who entered the country illegally as a teenager in the mid-1990s after his parents were killed in the Guatemalan civil war.
E-VOTE BIGGER RISK THAN SLOTS: It's easier to rig an electronic voting machine than a Las Vegas slot machine, says University of Pennsylvania visiting professor Steve Freeman. That's because the slots are better monitored and regulated than voting machines, Freeman writes in a book, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count, due out in July that argues, among other things, that President Bush owes his re-election to an unfair vote count, Richard Morin reported in the Washington Post 3/16/06. Among the contrasts, Freeman contends: The state of Nevada has access to all the software that runs slots, but voting machine software is a trade secret of the companies that produce them. Slots may be surprise-inspected by gaming regulators at any time, while election machines aren't required to be checked. Slots are certified publicly by an independent public agency, while voting machines are certified by for-profit companies paid by the machines' manufacturers, and information on the process is not public. Slot manufacturers and their employees are subjected to background checks, while citizens have no way of knowing whether voting machine programmers have been convicted of fraud or other crimes.
In other e-vote news, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell owned stock in Diebold, the manufacturer of electronic voting machines, when he was in charge of electoral issues in the state. Blackwell, who is running for governor, claims purchse of the stock was an accident. Then the Columbus Dispatch reported 4/7 that although he opposes a potential November ballot initiative to permit slot machines at Ohio's horse-racing tracks, Blackwell holds stock in International Game Technology, the world's leading maker of slot machines.
MASS. HEALTH FIX 'FALSE PROMISE:' The Massachusetts Health Reform Bill provides a false promise of universal coverage, Drs. Stephanie Woolhandler and David U. Himmelstein said in a 4/6/06 column at CommonDreams.org. The new bill modestly expands Medicaid eligibility for low-income residents; it offers subsidies for the purchase of private health insurance for the working poor and it requires those making at least three times the poverty income to buy their own health coverage or pay a fine. Businesses that employ more than 10 people and fail to provide health insurance would be assessed a fee up to $295 to subsidize care. But the legislature assumed only about 500,000 people in Massachusetts are uninsured, when the Census Bureau says 748,000 are without coverage. The plan also assumes that uninsured people will be able to find affordable plans, when a typical group policy costs $4,500 annually for an individual and more than $11,000 for family coverage. "A 25 year old fitness instructor can find a cheaper plan. But few of the uninsured are young and healthy. According to Census Bureau figures, only 12.4% of the 748,000 uninsured in Massachusetts are both young enough to qualify for low-premium plans (under age 35) and affluent enough (incomes greater than 499% of poverty) to readily afford them. Yet even this 12.4% figure may be too high if insurers are allowed to charge higher premiums for persons with health problems; only half of uninsured persons in those age and income categories report that they are in 'excellent health,'" wrote the physicians, who are associate professors at Harvard Medical School and co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program (pnhp.org).
A single-payer universal health coverage plan, which PNHP advocates, would cut costs by taking insurance companies' overhead out of the picture and allow the state to cover all of the 748,000 uninsured and improve coverage for the rest of the state with the savings. "Study after study &endash;- by the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office and even the Massachusetts Medical Society &emdash; have confirmed that single payer is the only route to affordable universal coverage," they wrote. "And single payer is popular. The Massachusetts Nurses Association supports it along with dozens of other labor, seniors and consumer groups; so do 62% of Massachusetts physicians according to a recent survey. National polls find that almost two-thirds of Americans favor a tax-funded plan like Medicare that would cover all Americans. But single payer national health insurance threatens the multi-million dollar paychecks of insurance executives, and the outrageous profits of drug companies and medical entrepreneurs. It's time for politicians to stand up to the insurance and drug industries and pass health reform that can work."
NY POST GOSSIP AND $220G SHAKEDOWN: A longtime contributor for the *New York Post*'s Page Six gossip column is under investigation for allegedly trying to extort $220,000 from a California businessman to keep embarrassing items about him out of the newspaper. In two 90-minute meetings in March, Jared Paul Stern, a fixture on the city's gossip scene who also edited *Page Six The Magazine*, asked for a series of payments from Ron Burkle, managing partner of Yucaipa Cos., a conglomerate with interests in supermarkets, celebrity clothing lines, and media, the New York Daily News reported 4/7/06. Stern outlined various ways Burkle, who had complained about inaccurate items, could buy protection on the gossip page. He suggested $100,000 up front and $10,000 a month for a year. On 4/3/06 Stern, 36, emailed instructions to a designated Burkle employee for the $100,000 down payment to be wired to his New York City bank account, and during the week sent more emails wondering where his money was, the Daily News reported. But it was all a setup monitored by law enforcement, including the US attorney's office and the FBI, who are now investigating the extortion attempt. The Post suspended Stern pending the outcome of the probe.
DIRTY MONEY TALK BACKFIRES: Less than a week before the 4/11/06 special election the National Republican Congressional Committee dumped $330,000 into the 50th Congressional District in California when it appeared Democrat Francine Busby might win outright the race to succeed disgraced former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R) in the San Diego-area 50th District. The GOP TV campaign accused Busby of being hypocritical in advocating tough ethics reform in Congress while she took money from "employees of companies with government contracts," Calitics.com noted 4/7/06. It turned out one of the companies NRCC was talking about was Qualcomm, a cell phone maker and one of the biggest employers in the San Diego area. The NRCC also criticized Busby for taking contributions from former Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., who was one of the Keating Five that was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee. (John McCain is another senator admonished for his connection to Keating, who was the chairman of a failed California savings and loan in the 1980s.) Calitics also noted that Cunningham contributed over $640,000 to the NRCC since 1998, including $2,000 just before he went to jail. In addition, Cunningham co-conspirators Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade have been generous contributors to the NRCC, giving over $40,000 including a recent $15,000 donation from Wade this election cycle.
IRS WOULD LET TAX PREPARERS SHARE RETURNS: THE IRS proposes to allow tax preparers to share the contents of a consumer's tax return with an unaffiliated business, provided the consumer consented. Under current law, tax preparers are prohibited from sharing information in a consumers' tax return with an unaffiliated third party. The proposed rule would require expressed written permission from the consumer to allow information to be sold, but Beth McConnell of PennPIRG has argued that's not good enough. The IRS proposal does not contain any clear prohibition against tax preparers offering consumers incentives for signing the permission form, such as a discount on their tax service. Consumers' personal information has become a billion-dollar business, with data brokers like Choicepoint and others collecting and selling consumers' personal information to marketers. Breaches of security at major corporations, including Choicepoint, MasterCard and dozens of others over the last year have affected hundreds of millions of Americans and put them at risk of identity theft. See www.pennpirg.org.
N.O. FACES SHOWDOWN OVER FREE 'NET: A free wireless Internet network that New Orleans set up to boost recovery after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the city might have to be shut down soon because of a state law that permits its full operation only during emergencies. The system, established with $1 million in donated equipment, is the first free wireless Internet network owned and run by a major city. It uses hardware mounted on street lights. It lets laptop users connect even in areas where the wireline phone network has not been restored. Touted at first as much for its symbolism of New Orleans' recovery as for its utility, the system's usefulness now far exceeds early projections, New Orleans technology chief Greg Meffert told the Associated Press. He estimates that the network gets thousands of users a day. But phone and cable TV companies around the country have poured money into bills aimed at blocking competition from government agencies, and a Louisiana law, passed two years ago in response to other attempts to establish government-owned Internet systems, dictates the network can run at 512 kbps only as long as the city remains under a state of emergency. Once the state of emergency is lifted &emdash; and no one has said when that might take place &emdash; state law says the bandwidth must be slowed to 128 kbps, which Meffert says will make the service virtually useless for businesses and others trying to re-establish commerce in the city. Bills to allow New Orleans to keep the network operating full-time at 512 kbps failed during a recent special legislative session because of opposition from the telecommunications lobby, which insists that Internet service be provided by private businesses. But Meffert said many devastated areas of the city likely will not have private Internet service for years. He said the city is prepared for a showdown &emdash; new law or not. The system will stay up, regardless, though Meffert said he expects court challenges.
DETAINED IRAQIS LOST IN US JAILS: Iraqis arrested by coalition forces have disappeared into a "black hole" with no records of where they are being held, Tony Blair's personal envoy on human rights has warned. In an interview with the London *Observer* (4/9/06), Ann Clwyd said the US has not taken seriously the abuse of detainees in their jails. Clwyd noted two alarming cases highlighting the issue of the missing. The first involved an elderly woman arrested shortly after the war in the middle of the night by US soldiers. With her family unable to find her, relatives in Britain sought Clwyd's help. It took a visit to the White House and a series of meetings with national security officials before she got former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz to order an investigation that finally traced the woman to a US-run prison near Baghdad airport. She later told Clwyd she had been abused in custody. The second case involved an elderly man who disappeared in 2004, and was reportedly sighted in a US prison. His son, a British resident, contacted Clwyd, who raised the case in Washington last autumn but so far there has been no trace of him. Clwyd admitted she did not know how many other similar cases there could be among those arrested on suspicion of being an insurgent or a security threat. "Mistakes were being made," she said. "People were being scooped up &emdash; [although] that was all at a time when they were still looking for some of the most wanted." Clwyd suspects incompetence, not malice, in the disappearances. Detainees' names were noted by US officials "sometimes in Arabic, sometimes not, sometimes in bad Arabic," making matching them with the missing difficult.
HARRY'S FRIENDS: Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, thinks most of his GOP colleagues do not represent mainstream Republicans in this country. Asked by *US News* which of the 55 GOP-ers he likes, he replied: "Someone asked me the other day, 'Who are the moderate Republicans?' Hmm. Well, you've got Lincoln Chafee [of Rhode Island], sometimes the two senators from Maine [Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins], and Arlen Specter [of Pennsylvania] whenever you don't need him. That's it."