US carmakers are working to scuttle Democratic proposals for tougher fuel economy requirements, an issue that pits powerful Michigan Dems against some national leaders of their own party, the New York Times reported (6/6). Chiefs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler had lunch with Senate Dems on 6/6 to argue that a sprawling energy bill being prepared for Senate debate would gravely damage the automobile industry by increasing mileage requirements for cars and light trucks. The bill would increase the average mileage requirement for passenger cars to 35 mpg by 2020, up from 27.5 mpg now, and would apply to light trucks and sport utility vehicles as well.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., have a bill that calls for 36 mpg passenger cars and 30 mpg light trucks by 2022, but they include escape hatches if car companies show the requirements would be difficult to meet. Dingell and Boucher also set up a clash with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with their proposal to revoke state authority to impose emission requirements that are tougher than federal regulations. Pelosi warned that she opposed any provision that jeopardized California's rules, which many other states have expressed interest in copying.
Requirements for gasoline efficiency in passenger cars have not been raised since 1983. The Bush administration has imposed small increases in mileage requirements for light trucks -- to 24 mpg on average for trucks by 2011, up from 22.4 mpg now.
Meanwhile, a decade after the first Prius went on sale, Toyota's global sales of hybrid vehicles have hit a landmark 1 million, underlining the Japanese automaker's lead in "green" technology that has changed the face of the auto industry, the Associated Press reported 6/7. Demand for hybrids, which deliver superior mileage by switching between a gasoline engine and electric motor, has soared amid higher fuel prices and greater consumer concern about pollution and global warming. Toyota began selling the Prius in North America in 2000. Last year, the model, which gets 55 mpg on combined city and highway driving, made up more than 40% of hybrid sales in the US. Coincidentally, Toyota surpassed GM as the world's top carmaker in 2006.
US BRASS PRESSES IRAQ OIL DEAL. The US military commander for the Middle East, Adm. William Fallon, warned Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki 6/10 that the Iraqi government needs to complete a law on the division of oil proceeds by July to counter the growing tide of opposition to the war in Congress, the New York Times reported (6/12).
The oil law law that the Big Four oil companies -- the American firms ExxonMobi and Chevron, the British BP Amoco and Royal Dutch Shell -- have been pressing for. Joshua Holland of Alternet.org noted (10/16/06) that the Associated Press reported a universal belief among Iraq's oil ministry staff and consultants that the major US companies will win the lion's share of contracts under much better terms than with other oil producers.
"McJoan" at DailyKos.com noted (6/12) that Fallon's blunt talk with Maliki dispels doubt about the real agenda of the Bush administration in Iraq. Remember when critics of the Iraq invasion were ridiculed for suggesting that it was undertaken for the benefit of oil companies?
LATINO VOTE COULD BE KEY. Democratic presidential candidates are courting Latino voters like never before, the New York Times reported 6/10. Roughly two-thirds of the nation's Hispanic residents live in nine states holding Democratic primaries or caucuses on or before 2/5/08, including California, Florida and New York, the Times noted. Hispanic voters account for 16% of the Democratic primary electorate in California, 11% in New York, 17% in Arizona and 9% in Florida, all states that will hold early primaries next year. Democrats are optimistic about their prospects of making large gains among Hispanic voters. In 2004, George W. Bush got 44% of the Latino vote, according to nationwide exit polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky.in the 2004 race, after Sen. John Kerry did not assemble a Hispanic outreach and media operation until about five months before the general election. While Bush made an effort to draw Latinos to the Republican Party, many appear to be returning to the Democratic fold as conservative efforts gained momentum last year to restrict immigration and build a wall along the Mexican border. In the 2006 midterm elections only 26% of Hispanics voted for Republican congressional candidates.
SPLIT IN SPORTSMEN VOTE. A new poll of sportsmen finds that most hunters and anglers voted for Bush by more than a 2 to 1 margin in '04, but the constituency swung to about even between the two parties in '06, Hotline reported 6/7. The poll, conducted by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (trcp.org), found that the biggest reason GOP sportsmen voted Democratic in 2006 was because of the "conservation platform of a specific candidate." Conversely, Dem sportsmen who supported Republicans cited gun rights as their main reason. Overall, sportsmen told pollsters that they were looking for pro-gun, pro-conservation candidates.
GOP LOSING RURAL BASE. Republicans have not made up ground they lost among rural voters in the 2006 election, according to a poll commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies (ruralstrategies.org). Rural voters remain more conservative than the nation as a whole, but negative views about the Bush administration, the war in Iraq and the economy are eroding the GOP rural base. Rural voters, who supported Bush by 19 points in '04, favor a generic Democratic candidate for president: 46%-43%. At the congressional level, voters prefer Democrats in named trial heats 46%-44%. Iraq poses challenges for both parties. While a narrow majority opposes the war, nearly 60% are close to someone serving or who has served in the fighting. This is not a "television war" for rural families.
COURT SIDES WITH BILL OF RIGHTS. An appeals court that apparently has been exposed to the Bill of Rights ruled (6/11) that the Bush administration cannot order the military to seize and indefinitely detain a Qatari national suspected of being al Qaeda operative. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Richmond, Va., ruled 2-1 that the US government could not hold Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri in a US Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., for more than four years without charges as an "enemy combatant," Reuters reported. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, "The government cannot subject al-Marri to indefinite military detention. For in the United States, the military cannot seize and imprison civilians -- let alone imprison them indefinitely." The ruling sent the case back to a federal judge in South Carolina with instructions to direct the secretary of defense to release al-Marri from military custody within a reasonable period of time. The government can transfer al-Marri to civilian authorities to face criminal charges, initiate deportation proceedings, hold him as a witness in a grand jury proceeding or detain him for a limited period of time under the Patriot Act. The government intends to ask the full 4th Circuit to hear the case, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd told the Associated Press.
HABEAS RESTORATION ADVANCES. Guantanamo prisoners and other foreigners got a step closer to regaining the right to challenge their detention in US courts in a bill approved 11-8 by the Senate Judiciary Committee 6/7. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., was the lone Republican supporting the limit on executive power. Congress last year revoked the rights of foreign terrorism suspects labeled "enemy combatants" to challenge their detention by the United States. The Bush administration said it was necessary to prevent them from attacking Americans if freed. According to Reuters, the move affects about 380 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban captives held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, as well as 12 mln legal residents of the US who are not citizens, said Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The proposal would restore the right of habeas corpus, which has been the foundation of Anglo-American justice. It prevents the government from locking people up without review by a court. Leahy said the bill removing that right violated the Constitution, ignored centuries of legal practice and conflicted with US calls for other nations to respect human rights.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER. Gen. Colin Powell condemned the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, calling it "a major problem for America's perception" and charging, "if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo -- not tomorrow, this afternoon." On Meet the Press (6/10), Bush's former secretary of state also called for an end to the military commission system the Bush administration has created to try Guantanamo detainees. "I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system," Powell said. He scoffed at criticism that the detainees would have access to lawyers and the writ of habeas corpus: "So what? Let them. Isn't that what our system's all about?" He added, "[E]very morning I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere, is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds," Powell said. "[W]e have shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open ... We don't need it, and it's causing us far more damage than any good we get for it." (ThinkProgress.org)
US 'GHOST JAILS' DETAILED. At least 39 people from a half-dozen countries have been held in secret US detention centers worldwide for three or more years, and their fates remain unknown, human-rights groups reported 6/7. In five instances, the report says, US authorities detained the wives or young children of suspects held in secret prisons. And in four instances, terrorism suspects in US custody may have been transferred to Libya, once a major adversary of Washington. Warren P. Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers noted that President Bush publicly acknowledged last September that terrorism suspects had been held in clandestine prisons, and defended the practice and CIA interrogation methods as legal.
An inquiry by the Council of Europe, a human rights agency, concluded that the CIA operated secret prisons in Europe where terrorism suspects could be interrogated and were allegedly tortured, the London Guardian reported 6/8. Senior Polish and Romanian security officials confirmed to the Council of Europe that their countries were used to hold some of America's most important prisoners captured after 9/11 in secret. None of the prisoners had access to the Red Cross and many were subject to what George Bush has called the CIA's "enhanced" interrogation, which critics have condemned as torture. Although suspicions about the secret CIA prisons have existed for more than a year, the council's report offers the first concrete evidence. It also details the prisons' operations and the identities of some of the prisoners.
GOP THREATS OVER JUDGE NOMINATIONS. Republican leaders on 6/7 threatened a "total shutdown" of Senate business if Democrats keep holding up President Bush's appointments to the federal bench, the Washington Times reported 6/8. "It could cause major meltdown," Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., said after Democrats postponed a committee vote on the nomination of Leslie H. Southwick to the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Lott said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was "very mad" about judicial appointments and could bring the narrowly divided chamber to a standstill if Democrats don't speed up the confirmation process. "It could be total shutdown here pretty soon." Steve Benen noted at Thecarpetbaggerreport.com (6/8) that since Democrats took control of Congress in January, the Senate has confirmed three of Mr. Bush's nine circuit court nominations and 15 of his 38 district court nominees, according to the Justice Department. When Orrin Hatch ran the Judiciary Committee during Clinton's presidency, 60 Clinton nominees never even got the courtesy of a hearing. In the seventh year of Clinton's presidency, 1999, the Republican Judiciary Committee only held seven hearings on nominees over the course of the entire year. Hatch created new rules as he went along, such as allowing one senator to object to a nomination, which made it easier to obstruct Clinton's nominees. In 2001, when Bush became president, Hatch reversed course and decided that it should take two objections after all, which made it harder for Democrats to obstruct Bush's nominees. In 2003, Hatch went further: Even if both senators objected to a nomination, it would still go to the floor for a vote. A few weeks later, Hatch did away with a longtime rule that said at least one member of the minority had to agree in order to end discussion about a nomination and move it out of committee.
POLITICAL JUSTICE. A Republican attorney from Alabama, Dana Jill Simpson, has sworn out an affidavit claiming that in 2002 a close associate of Karl Rove claimed that Rove had told him that he d gotten the Department of Justice to investigate then-Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) and that the investigation would eventually take Siegelman out of politics.
In May 2004, federal prosecutors indicted Siegelman on charges of participating in a bid-rigging scheme with his former chief of staff, and Phillip Bobo, a major contributor to his political campaigns. After the case went through three judges, prosecutors were forced to drop all charges against all three men in October 2004 when the third judge threw out much of the prosecution's evidence. In October 2005, Siegelman was indicted again on charges of racketeering, bribery and extortion, alleging that bribes were made in exchange for official favors from Siegelman during his term as governor. After a nine-week trial in 2006, a jury acquitted Siegelman on 25 counts and convicted him on 7, almost all tied to accepting money from Richard Scrushy, former chairman of HealthSouth, though Siegelman was not convicted of pocketing any money himself. The jury convicted him of persuading Scrushy to pay $500,000 to retire the debt of a political group that had campaigned to win voter approval for a state lottery, the New York Times reported (6/1). Siegelman had championed the lottery as a way to raise money for education, and he had co-signed a loan to the group that tried to win voter support for it. "The only act I did was to try to get kids a free college education," he said.
The White House and the Department of Justice refuse to answer questions about Rove's contacts with the DOJ about investigating Siegelman, who is set to be sentenced later this month. Prosecutors are seeking 30 years in prison. Scott Horton of Harpers.org noted that Justice denied a FOIA request for documents focusing on the interaction of the White House with the Alabama federal prosecutors. "Time was when we could trust a federal prosecutor to act with professional detachment and avoid even the appearance of political gamesmanship," Horton wrote. "That time has clearly passed."
NOT MUCH CONFIDENCE IN GONZO. Although Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said that there is "no confidence in the attorney general on this side of the aisle," Senate Republicans largely held together on 6/11 in blocking an up-or-down vote on a resolution expressing the Senate's lack of confidence Alberto Gonzales. Senate Dems needed 60 votes to prevail on a cloture motion and bring the no-confidence resolution to the Senate floor. In the end, they got 53 votes. Republicans voting with Dems: Specter, John Sununu, Gordon Smith, Norm Coleman, Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Among the 38 senators voting no: Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
AIR FORCE SOUGHT 'GAY BOMB.' The Pentagon considered a proposal to create a hormone bomb that purportedly could turn enemy soldiers into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex than fighting. Pentagon officials confirmed to KPIX-TV in San Francisco that military leaders had considered, and then subsquently rejected, building the so-called "Gay Bomb." Documents show an Air Force lab in 1994 asked for $7.5 million to develop a non-lethal bomb that would disperse strong aphrodisiacs that would cause homosexual behavior. "The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soliders to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistably attractive to one another," said Edward Hammond of Berkeley's Sunshine Project, who used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.
DEEP DEMOCRACY PROMOTED. Humboldt County, Calif., on 6/6 marked the first anniversary of the passage of the Ordinance to Protect Fair Elections and Local Democracy. Known locally as Measure T, the groundbreaking citizens initiative forbids out-of-county corporations from making political contributions in local elections. Communities from across the country have expressed interest in passing similar measures, inundating Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (the organization that wrote the ordinance) with inquiries and requests for help. Measure T, which passed with 55% of the vote, received national attention because it included a direct challenge to "corporate personhood," which is the legal doctrine that allows a corporation to claim constitutional rights. The group is holding a three-day workshop on "Community Organizing for Deep Democracy" August 10-12 that will offer activists "tangible strategies for to effectively organize in their own communities to reclaim the constitutional promise of a sovereign citizenry." See www.DUHC.org or call 707-269-0984.
SPECIAL COUNSEL: FIRE GSA CHIEF. The head of a federal investigative agency has recommended President Bush fire General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan for encouraging top agency officials at a staff meeting in January to find ways to help Republican candidates in the 2008 election, CongressDaily reported (6/12). Special Counsel Scott Bloch advised the president that Doan should "be disciplined to the fullest extent for her serious violation of the Hatch Act." Under administrative statute, the "fullest extent" for a political appointee such as Doan is termination, CongressDaily noted. "Despite engaging in the most pernicious of political activity prohibited by the Hatch Act, Administrator Doan has shown no remorse and lacks an appreciation for the seriousness of her violation," Bloch wrote Bush, referring to the law barring executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activity. Because Doan is a political appointee and serves at the pleasure of the president, it is up to Bush to decide how to respond to Bloch's recommendation, including ignoring it altogether. Bloch's letter did not include a request for additional information or a formal response. (ThinkProgress.org)
BORK SEEKS PUNITIVE DAMAGES IN DAIS FALL. Robert Bork, one of the fathers of the conservative judicial movement whose nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected by the Senate in 1987, is seeking $1 mln in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages, after he slipped and fell at the Yale Club of New York City, ACSBlog.org reported (6/8). Bork, a former federal appeals court judge, was scheduled to give a speech at the club, but he fell when mounting the dais, and injured his head and left leg. He alleges that the Yale Club "wantonly, willfully, and recklessly" failed to provide staging he could climb safely. The progressive law blog noted that Bork has been a leading advocate of restricting plaintiffs' ability to recover through tort law.
Bork also was among 12 law professors who sought leave to file an *amicus* brief arguing that former Vice-Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby should be allowed to remain free pending the appeal of his four felony convictions.ÝIn a 6/8 order granting leave, District Judge Reggie Walton indicated he expected to find the conservative legal activists reaching out to other, more indigent, criminal defendants soon.
HOUSE DEMS' RECORD UNITY. For all the talk of Dem disunity on Iraq, a study by blog.washingtonpost.com's Paul Kane of House Democrats (6/1) shows them maintaining a record level of unity in their newfound majority. The average House Dem votes with the caucus 94% of the time. Compared to the previous record level of partisan cohesiveness -- the first two years of the George W. Bush administration -- the GOP majority at the time showed an average party-line voting record of just 90.4%. (Electioncentral.tpmcafe.com)
LOBBYING DISCLOSURE ADVANCES. The US House passed a bill (5/24) that will require congressional candidates and their political action committees to disclose their contribution "bundlers" -- frequently high-powered lobbyists like Jack Abramoff who wield influence by the number of maxed out contribution checks they deliver to a campaign. Though less ambitious bill than what the Democrats promised when they assumed the majority, it does indicate some forward progress, said Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign Action Fund (campaignmoney.org). "Lobbyists and political insiders still depend on the campaign finance system to win favor with and attention from members of Congress. Though better disclosure is an important first step in severing the link between big money and public policy we still need legislation that will fundamentally overhaul the system." The "gold standard" bill is the Fair Elections Now Act, sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), which would bring full public financing to congressional elections. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) is expected to introduce similar legislation in the House.
SETTING UP DESTINY. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other American diplomats met Memorial Day weekend with Iranians in Baghdad. But Georgie Anne Geyer reported in her syndicated column that President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness. "Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated 'I am the president!' He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of 'our country's destiny '."
SOAK THE RICH, NOT MIDDLE CLASS. The alternative minimum tax (AMT) was originally intended to assure that high-income people were not able to escape paying any taxes. It has morphed and mutated over time, and now is on track to hit 23 mln households in 2007. The Urban Institute's Leonard E. Burman and Greg Leiserson propose replacing the AMT with an add-on tax of 4% of adjusted gross income (AGI) above $100,000 for singles and $200,000 for couples. The option is budget neutral, highly progressive and would lead to most families under the $500,000 mark bearing a lighter tax load. The option is approximately revenue neutral over the 10-year budget window. It would reduce revenue by about $92 bln between fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2011, but would gain roughly the same amount from 2012 through 2017. This option is highly progressive. Most taxpayers with incomes less than $500,000 affected by the proposal would pay lower taxes through 2010. Most taxpayers with higher incomes would pay more. After 2010, when the Bush tax cuts expire and AMT liabilities decline under current law, the break-even point shifts down somewhat, but by 2017 the distribution is very similar to that in 2007. See the report at taxpolicycenter.org.
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