After five years of trade expansion deals enabled by "Fast Track" negotiating authority, George W. Bush's blank-check trade authority expired (6/30). And Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders announced that they have no intentions to give Bush more Fast Track authority, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch noted. But before Fast Track expired, the administration released the final texts of four proposed trade expansion pacts with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea. This means they will try to use Fast Track procedures to try to ram those trade deals through Congress. Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders announced they will oppose the Colombia and Korea deals and put off a vote on agreements with Peru and Panama until those countries revamp their laws to comply with new labor and environment standards in the accords. Many Democrats say they won't support those or any other agreements reached by the Bush administration, Bloomberg News reported. "We need to play defense against all these agreements," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said. But the New York Times reported (7/8) that Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) is publicly reassuring Bush officials and K Street lobbyists that he is still trying to pass the deal over the objections of his own party. Global Trade Watch (tradewatch.org) fears that if the Peru and Panama deals are allowed to pass by wide margins, as Rangel hopes, the other "NAFTA expansions" and Fast Track would be given a new lease on life.

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope wrote at HuffingtonPost.com (7/2) that "the advocates of free trade, far from welcoming [recent] Chinese effort to 'harmonize' American and Chinese standards, have been viciously lobbying China not to enact these laws and saying that, if China raises its standards, they will move their factories elsewhere. " In other words, he wrote, "the very voices that in the US say, 'we can't have high labor and environmental standards because we must compete with China's lower rules' are also working to prevent the Chinese from raising their own standards." Pope adds, "If there is any doubt that the real story is that these companies want to use trade as tool to lower environmental standards and worker protections, this incident should put that doubt to rest." The recent spotlight on this hypocrisy, he wrote, "explains why the Democrats in Congress announced that they would oppose pending trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea, and delay votes on parallel agreements with Peru and Panama."

David Sirota also noted that the Republican base was showing cracks related to trade doubts. The Birmingham News reported 7/3 that while "a temporary extension of a trade deal won swift approval from Congress last week, within the lopsided votes was evidence of lingering frustration" with lobbyist-written trade policies among core Republican lawmakers from the Deep South. "The natural inclination our office has is that these trade deals are bad for the Third District unless proven otherwise by not harming any major employer or commodity," said a spokeswoman for Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.). Similarly, a spokesman for Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), said "history has repeatedly shown that past trade bills have been poorly negotiated, failed to live up to their promise of promoting American jobs and were of little or no direct benefit to southeast Alabama."


HOUSE BANS 'FAIRNESS' AFTER RIGHT-WING RADIO ID'D. The Center for American Progress and Free Press released a report (6/20) confirming the stunning lack of balance in talk radio. According to the report, 91% of talk radio broadcast by the top five commercial chains is conservative and 76% of the news-talk formats in the top 10 radio markets is conservative. The report spawned a debate over the imbalance in talk radio, with conservatives raising false claims about free speech, claiming "bloody murder ... censorship ... and propaganda." The right wing twisted the debate about the structural imbalance of talk radio into one about free speech, claiming progressives "want to revive a policy to require broadcasters to present multiple viewpoints on controversial issues."

What the report actually recommended was more diversity in radio station ownership. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 eliminated ownership caps, there has been a 34% decline in the number of radio station owners, allowing conglomerates like Clear Channel to buy more than 1,200 stations. As a result, women, minorities and local owners have been deprived of opportunities to participate.

Ed Schultz, a leading progressive radio talker with about 100 affiliated stations, recently debunked the right-wing claim that there is a "free market." He explained that the market is controlled by a few ownership groups that refuse to program liberal talkers. "I beat Sean Hannity in Denver. I beat him in Seattle. I beat him in Portland. I beat in San Diego. How many markets do I have to beat Hannity in before I get 200 or 300 stations? It's an ownership issue," Schultz said. "The fact is, it's market opportunities and liberal talkers, progressive talkers are being held to a totally different standard than conservatives." Congress should address the ownership problem, promoting diversity by restoring local and national ownership caps, for instance, allowing no entity to control more than 10% of total commercial radio stations.

Instead, Mike Pence, R-Ind., a conservative former radio talk show host, proposed an amendment to the bill funding federal financial entities (HR 2829), to bar the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the broadcast "Fairness Doctrine." The rule, which the Reagan-era FCC repealed 20 years ago, required broadcasters to present controversial issues in a balanced manner. On a 309-115 vote, the House accepted Pence's amendment, with Dems splitting 113-115.

(When it came to Rep. Rahm Emanuel's amendment to the same bill to defund the Office of Vice President, after Cheney denied he was part of the executive branch, enough Dems balked to sink that amendment 217-209.)

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) has introduced the Local Community Radio Act (HR 2802), potentially prompting "hundreds of new low-power [local] FM radio stations to sprout up around the country." Said Doyle, "We have announced legislation that we believe has the potential to revolutionize what Americans hear on their radio."


SENATE OUTLOOK: In the US Senate, the graveyard of progressive initiatives, where debate rules allow 40 senators to block substantive bills, Democrats appear likely to pick up at least a few seats to pad their 51-49 majority next year. The current majority includes two independents, one of whom is Joe Lieberman, the former Dem who increasingly sides with the GOP and threatens to defect. Top targets for Dems are Sen. Susan Collins (R), who is expected to face Rep. Tom Allen (D) in Maine; Sen. Norm Coleman (R), who is expected to face either comic Al Franken or lawyer Mike Ciresi in Minnesota; and Colorado, where Sen. Wayne Allard (R) is retiring and Rep. Mark Udall (D) is the likely Dem nominee and early favorite. Other Democratic targets include Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H), who faces a possible rematch with former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), if Dems can come up with a credible candidate. In Virginia, Sen. John Warner (R) appears to be heading toward retirement, which could give Dems another pickup opportunity, particularly if popular former Gov. Mark Warner (D) runs. If Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) seeks the Senate seat, his suburban D.C. House district could be difficult for the GOP to defend. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M) has seen his approval rating fall from 68-25 in November 2006 to 51-42 in June, primarily as a result of his role in the US attorney purge scandal. Another longshot is Texas, where Sen. John Cornyn (R) had a 42-43 negative rating in a recent poll.

Dems figure to have their work cut out for them to re-elect Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Republicans are trying to persuade Louisiana state Treasurer John Kennedy, a conservative Dem, to switch parties and challenge Landrieu in a state where hundreds of thousands of Democrats were driven out of the state by Hurricane Katrina and George Bush's FEMA. In South Dakota, Sen. Tim Johnson (D), who is recovering from brain surgery, has drawn a GOP challenger but is expected to be in good shape by next fall.


SHEEHAN TO CHALLENGE PELOSI? Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan said she will run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the next election as an independent if Pelosi doesn't move to impeach President Bush in July. "I think all politicians should be held accountable," Sheehan told the Associated Press on 7/8. "Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership. We hired them to bring an end to the war."


VIRGINIA PURPLE? A Washington Post poll published 7/7 suggests that Virginia, "usually a reliably Republican state in presidential elections, may become a key battleground in the 2008 election as broadly negative views among independents of President Bush and the war in Iraq have altered the presidential race." Virginia has not supported a Democratic presidential nominee since 1964. But, eight months after Jim Webb (D) narrowly beat incumbent Sen. George Allen Jr. (R), this poll shows that four in 10 voters prefer that a Democrat be elected to the White House in 2008, compared with 33% who said they favor a Republican.


WELL-KNOWN, NOT WELL-LOVED. A national Mason-Dixon Poll (6/29) found 52% of Americans would not consider voting for Hillary Clinton for president. While 48% said they'd consider voting for Clinton, 60% said they'd consider voting for Barack Obama and 59% said they'd consider voting for John Edwards. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) was second in the "can't-stand-'em" category, with 46% saying they wouldn't consider voting for him. Clinton was the only candidate with a net-unfavorable rating (39-42). The poll had a 4-point margin of error.


EDWARDS' POVERTY TOUR. John Edwards on 7/9 announced plans for a three-day tour of eight states and 12 towns and cities to bring attention to the 37 mln Americans living in poverty. He was to kick off the tour 7/16 with a walking tour of the 9th Ward of New Orleans and travel more than 1,800 miles, with stops in the Rust Belt and the Deep South before ending 7/18 in Prestonsburg, Ky., where Sen. Robert F. Kennedy concluded his 1968 200-mile tour of impoverished regions in Southeastern Kentucky. Edwards, who was born to working-class parents, has outlined detailed plans to lift up working families by guaranteeing quality, affordable health care for every person, rewarding work by raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2012, protecting workers' right to organize and making college more affordable. But Todd Beeton of MyDD.com noted (7/9) that the cynicism of journalists questioning Edwards' motives "was a bit sickening. Is it too much to believe that Edwards' super secret plan is to raise awareness of an issue that doesn't get nearly enough media coverage simply because he feels 'it's not ok' that '1 in 8 Americans wake up in poverty?' At some point, you gotta think Edwards's sheer persistence would wear the media down. It'll be interesting to see if they can manage to cover the tour without mentioning haircuts or hedgefunds."


FRED THOMPSON'S GHOSTS. Republicans thought they had another president from central casting, calling in folksy Fred Thompson from his supporting role as the redneck Manhattan DA from the Law and Order TV show. But it turns out, according to the Boston Globe, as an aide to Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., during the Watergate hearings, Thompson was a mole for Richard Nixon's White House. Then Thompson rented a pickup truck and dressed in boots and blue jeans to portray himself as a populist when he ran for the Senate in 1994. After one term he quit the Senate to pursue a lucrative lobbying turn, taking money to lobby the first Bush White House for a pro-choice group before he turned to acting. A spokesman for Thompson denied that he did the lobbying work, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the minutes of a 1991 board meeting of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assn. confirm that the group hired Thompson that year. He also probably didn't help his chances in Florida when, on a recent campaign stop in South Carolina, he equated Cuban immigrants with terrorists.


IMMIGRANT BASHING HURTS GOP. Latino voters are returning to the Democratic Party, a Gallup Poll indicates, with GOP immigrant-bashing rhetoric getting much of the blame. The survey released 6/27 found that 42% of Hispanics self-identify as Democrats while a mere 11% call themselves Republican and 39% identify as Independent. When asked which party, if either, the indies lean toward, the Dems' numbers go up to 58% while the Republicans' climb to just 20%. Hillary Clinton gets 59% support in the Democratic presidential race. In 2004, Jonathan Singer noted at MyDD.com (6/29), Dem House candidates carried the Latino vote by a 55-44 margin, according to exit polling, but in 2006 Dems carried the Latino vote by 69%-30%. Singer also noted that GOP presidential candidates snubbed a recent major conference of Hispanic elected officials in Florida. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials was forced to cancel its 6/29 Republican forum when Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) was the only candidate who agreed to show up at Lake Buena Vista, Fla., embarrassing state Rep. Juan Zapata (R), who helped bring the NALEO event to the state. Laura Wides-Munoz of AP noted that Florida is one of the few states with a large Hispanic Republican base, due largely to Cuban immigrants and business-oriented Puerto Ricans. A Democratic forum went on as planned.


PAUL HAS MORE CASH THAN McCAIN. One of the biggest surprises in the second-quarter presidential campaign reports is that Rep. Ron Paul, a longshot for the Republican presidential nomination, had more cash on hand than Sen. John McCain, the onetime favorite, CNN reported (7/6). Paul reported having $2.4 mln in the bank compared to just $2 mln for McCain.


PUBLIC SPLIT ON IMPEACHMENT. American Research Group reported (7/6) that a recent poll found 45% of Americans favor the House of Representatives beginning impeachment proceedings against President Bush, while 46% are opposed. Some 54% favor the House beginning impeachment proceedings against Vice President Cheney, while 40% are opposed.


WSJ UNDER MURDOCH: 'HORROR SHOW'. Attempts by the Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones Co., to preserve the Wall Street Journal's editorial independence if Rupert Murdoch takes over are "absurd," and merely an attempt to "assuage their guilty conscience" for accepting Murdoch's money, Tina Brown told the Financial Times (7/6). "In two years from now you will run into the Bancrofts wringing their hands like Banquo's ghost and saying 'we was duped' while spending their cheques in Monte Carlo," predicted Brown, journalist and wife of Harold Evans, who was editor of the London Times when Murdoch took over in 1981 with similar guarantees of editorial independence. Evans was forced out months later and "famously claimed Murdoch dismissed the measures put in place to prevent him interfering with the *Times*' editorial content as 'not worth the paper they are written on,'" Wighton wrote.


'LIB MEDIA' BOSSES FUND GOP. Bill Dedman made some waves when he reported for MSNBC (6/21) that 143 journalists made political contributions from 2004 through the 2008 campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. He found that 125 gave to Dems or liberal causes, 16 gave to Republicans and 2 gave to both parties. Right wingers pounced upon it as proof of liberal media bias. But Matthew Yglesias of TheAtlantic.com noted (6/21) that MSNBC's parent GE PAC gave $807,282 to Republicans and just $474,118 to Dems. According to Opensecrets.org, essentially every corporate media PAC backed the GOP over the Dems. Communications and electronics PACs donated $21mln in 2005-06, with two-thirds going to the GOP. Printing and publishing bosses were most Republican, with 72% going to the GOP. And Eric Alterman, in his MediaMatters.org blog, noted (6/27) that, with roughly 100,000 staffers in newsrooms across the nation, the 143 people named in the MSNBC report represent less than 0.2% of journalists in this country.


NOW HE TELLS US. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed in July that he spent 2.5 hours vainly trying to persuade President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq and believes today's conflict cannot be resolved by US forces, the London Times reported (7/8). "I tried to avoid this war," Powell said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. "I took him through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers." In terms of the current situation in Iraq, Powell said: "It is not a civil war that can be put down or solved by the armed forces of the United States."

Spending on the Iraq war could top $1.4 trillion, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service reported (6/28). In the first half of this fiscal year, the Defense Department's "average monthly obligations for contracts and pay is running about $12 billion per month, well above the $8.7 billion in FY2006," CRS noted. "Additionally, depending on troop levels, total funding could reach "about $980 billion to $1.4 trillion by 2017." (ThinkProgress.org, 7/6)


PRIVATE CONTRACTORS OUTNUMBER GI'S IN IRAQ. The number of US-paid private contractors in Iraq now exceeds that of American combat troops, newly released figures show, raising fresh questions about the privatization of the war effort and the government's capacity to carry out military and rebuilding campaigns, T. Christian Miller reported in the *Los Angeles Times* (7/4). More than 180,000 civilians -- including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis -- are working in Iraq under US contracts, according to State and Defense department figures obtained by the *Times*. Including the recent troop buildup, 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq.


ENERGY CHAIR FLOATS CARBON TAX. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that he planned to propose a steep new "carbon tax" that would raise the cost of burning oil, gas and coal, in a move that could shake up the political debate on global warming, the New York Times reported (7/7). Dingell's proposal runs directly counter to the view of many Democratic leaders that any tax on energy would be a politically disastrous approach to slowing global warming. But Dingell, in an interview with C-Span, suggested that his goal was to show that Americans are not willing to face the real cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. "I sincerely doubt that the American people will be willing to pay what this is really going to cost them," said Dingell, whose committee will be drafting a broad bill on climate change this fall. House and Senate Democrats are writing bills that would require factories and power plants to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases through a so-called cap-and-trade system of mandatory requirements and tradeable pollution credits.


RETURN TO DMV HELL. Many states have streamlined the driver's license application and renewal process so that endless DMV lines of the past -- which fueled public hostility toward government -- became far shorter and less hassle-laden in most places, Greg Anrich wrote at Tpmcafe.com (6/19). But the REAL ID Act of 2005, which will begin to take effect next year, will trash that progress. Since the Department of Homeland Security issued regulations in March, states have been rebelling at unworkable rules guaranteed to make trips to the DMV more Kafkaesque than ever before, Anrich wrote. According to *Governing* magazine, state DMVs will be required to verify the validity of documents like birth certificates and utility bills that individuals must present to obtain a REAL ID that will be needed to fly on a commercial plane, enter a federal building, open a bank account or other activities in which the federal government is involved. That verification process would require huge increases in state personnel and spending on new technological capabilities, while forcing drivers who now receive their renewed licenses in the mail to come armed with documents in person. An additional 30 mln people are expected to show up at DMV offices around the country over the next five years, increasing the workloads of those departments by 132%. The overall additional cost to the states is estimated to be between $10.7 bln and $14.6 bln, plus an additional $7.8 bln to be paid directly by individual ID applicants. The act allocates just $120 mln in new federal funds.


FEDS IGNORE 30% OF LAWS. Federal agencies ignored 30% of the laws Bush objected to in signing statements last year, according to a Government Accountability Office report (6/18). In 2006, President Bush issued signing statements for 11 out of 12 appropriations bills passed by Congress, claiming a right to bypass a total of 160 provisions in them. In a sample set of 19 provisions, the GAO found that "10 provisions were executed as written, 6 were not, and 3 were not triggered and so there was no agency action to examine." Since taking office in 2001, President Bush has issued signing statements challenging over 1,100 laws, claiming that he has the right to bypass them if they interfere with his alleged presidential powers, ThinkProgress.org noted. Though signing statements have been utilized by most presidents, Bush has used them to object to more laws than all previous presidents combined.


REP SEEKS SIEGELMAN REVIEW. Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) wants the House Judiciary Committee to look into former Gov. Don Siegelman's case at a hearing on selective prosecution by the Department of Justice, according to TPMMuckraker.com (7/6). Davis, a Judiciary member, wrote Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) on 7/6, noting that the case against Siegelman has been called "unusually weak," with only one witness corroborating bribery charges with second-hand information. He noted that Siegelman did not receive money, that no witnesses claimed direct knowledge that Siegelman solicited or exchanged favors in return for donations and that Republican lawyer Dana Jill Simpson implicated Karl Rove playing a role in the investigation. Siegelman was convicted of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud and he was sentenced to 88 months in prison, fined and ordered to pay restitution. A politically-motivated prosecution is not "implausible," Davis said, citing how former US attorneys David Iglesias and Jack McKay said they were pressured to bring indictments against Dems. Davis also reminded Conyers of how the Seventh Circuit tossed out a conviction of a former Democratic governor's aide in Wisconsin, calling the case "beyond thin."

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2007

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