Nancy Pelosi was a hit in her debut as House speaker, according to several polls that found her approval rating above 50%. The Washington Post/ABC News (1/22) found 54% approval and only 25% disapproval. The Post/ABC poll also showed approval of Congress at 43%, up 7 points since the election, compared with George Bush's 33% approval/65% disapproval. A majority also thinks Bush is dishonest.

Former GOP speaker Newt Gingrich debuted at 40% approval and 48% disapproval in January 1995 and hit a high of 41% approval/44% disapproval in 1998.

The Post/ABC poll reported 1/22 that 65% of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq. With 48% of Americans calling the war the single most important issue they want Bush and the Congress to deal with this year (no other issue rises out of single digits), the public trusts congressional Dems over Bush to deal with the conflict by a margin of 60% to 33%. Only 40% believe Bush is honest and trustworthy, while 57% said he is not; 56% said he could not be trusted in a crisis.

Glenn Greenwald of glenngreenwald.blogspot.com noted (1/21) that the D.C. punditocracy jumped on Pelosi after she backed Jack Murtha rather than Steny Hoyer for majority leader and decided she didn't want Jane Harman as Intelligence Committee chair. Among them, The New Republic commentators at tnr.com agreed heartily that Pelosi's first week after the election had been a "real embarrassment" and a "disaster" and fretted in unison: "How can Pelosi recover?"

Turned out she did just fine, as the Associated Press noted (1/21): "Sworn in just over two weeks ago as the first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi wasted no time showing who's boss.

"The California Democrat rammed six major bills through the House at breakneck speed, stomped out smoking privileges near the House floor, partially sidelined a powerful Democratic committee chairman and decided she liked traditionally Republican office space so much she claimed it for herself. By Democrats' timekeeping, she did it all in far under the 100 legislative hours she had allotted. ...

"Pelosi's initial agenda, completed [1/18], included measures with wide popular support: increasing the minimum wage, broadening stem cell research, allowing government bargaining on Medicare drug prices, cutting student loan costs, putting in place terrorism-fighting recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission and rolling back energy company tax breaks.

"Each bill passed with bipartisan majorities and Pelosi triumphantly gaveled down the votes, at one point banging the gavel so enthusiastically that it left a small dent in the podium. ..."

An AP-AOL News poll taken 1/16-18 put her approval rating at 51% -- much higher than that of Congress (34%) or Bush (36%).

Pelosi also exercised some muscle when she announced she would create a select committee on energy independence and climate change, in what was widely seen as an end-run around Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), a defender of the carbon-emitting auto industry of his home state. He had made it clear that he expected to lead the global-warming debate in a rather leisurely fashion.


PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS START: As more Democrats explore presidential races in 2008, sensing the GOP in freefall, Newsweek (1/21) reported a generic Democratic presidential candidate "has a 21-point lead over an unnamed GOP challenger" in the magazine's poll two years out. The race becomes much closer, however, when voters are asked to choose among actual names. Among named hypothetical matchups only former N.C. Sen. John Edwards wins all pairings: Edwards 48%, McCain 43%; Clinton 48%, McCain 47%; Obama 46%, McCain 44%; Edwards 48%, Giuliani 45%; Giuliani 48%, Clinton 47%; Giuliani 47%, Obama 45%.

California, Florida and Illinois legislators are among the states considering moving their states' primaries to 2/5/08, which probably means the nomination would be decided at that early date. Currently, the schedule opens with Iowa caucuses on 1/14/08, Nevada caucuses 1/19/08, New Hampshire primary 1/22/08 and South Carolina primary 1/29/08. Alabama, Arkansas, Utah and West Virginia already are set for 2/5/08 and Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New Mexico are considering 2/5/08. Florida might even try to hold its primary on 1/29/08. The Los Angeles Times noted (1/21) that the huge cost of competing in California -- estimated by one veteran strategist to be $6 mln to $8 mln per candidate -- would require all contenders to accelerate their fundraising and possibly give an edge to candidates who have already amassed sizable war chests, such as Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., according to operatives in both parties.

Clinton became the first candidate to declare that she will not seek public matching funds for her campaign because of the spending limits that come with the federal money. Democratic candidates include Clinton, Edwards, Del. Sen. Joe Biden, Conn. Sen. Christopher Dodd, Ill. Sen. Barack Obama, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson, former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Republican candidates include McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who also ran as a Libertarian nominee in 1988, former Wis. Gov. Tommy Thompson, former Va. Gov. James Gilmore, Calif. Rep. Duncan Hunter, Colo. Rep. Tom Tancredo and former Cook County, Ill., GOP president John H. Cox.


NEW GROUP AIMS TO DISCIPLINE DEMS: A coalition of labor, trial lawyers and liberal groups is launching lobbying and campaign organizations to keep Democratic lawmakers from straying on populist issues. Dems who don't hew to the party's economic agenda could draw well-funded primary opponents -- an aggressive strategy to counter moderate and conservative blocs within the party, the Associated Press reported (1/22). They Work For Us is led by Steve Rosenthal, former labor strategist and head of America Coming Together, which mobilized voters in the 2004 election. Members include SEIU, the United Steelworkers, MoveOn, the American Association for Justice (formerly the American Trial Lawyers Association), and DailyKos.com. The first three targets are Reps. Ellen Tauscher (Calif.), Al Wynn (Md.), and Henry Cuellar (Texas).

Rosenthal noted that the new coalition would not single out members with moderate to conservative constituencies, but Democrats must support an agenda that includes a "living wage for all workers," unionization rights and protecting retirement security. Cultural and social litmus tests are not included in the package, Rosenthal told Hotline, because the groups recognize that different districts have different cultural morés.


FED CHIEF RAISES SOCIAL SECURITY ALARM: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has bought into the neocon diagnosis of the Social Security in crisis, warning the Senate Budget Committee 1/18 that the economy could be gravely hurt if the nation's fiscal house is not put in order and Social Security and Medicare aren't revamped. The Associated Press, reporting on Bernanke's remarks, said that President Bush wants to address the "looming insolvency of Social Security."

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security can pay all promised benefits for the next 39 years, with no changes whatsoever. He said that "definitely gives new meaning to the word 'looming' or perhaps 'insolvency.'

"The real headline for this article should have been that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is apparently suggesting that the federal government default on some of the government bonds held by the Social Security trust fund. That would seem to be the implication of his suggestion that we restructure Social Security and presumably not pay the full benefits mandated under current law," Baker wrote at Prospect.org.

What is depicted as a "cash-flow" problem as soon as 2017 is actually the date the government would have to start repaying the money it borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund. "Of course, if Mr. Bernanke wants to go in the direction of defaulting on US government debt, the default should not just be on the government bonds held by the country's workers through the Social Security trust fund. Any default should also hit the bonds held by wealthy people, large corporations, and central banks. Personally, I don't think that default is a good strategy for the United States at this time, but the fact that Mr. Bernanke appears to advocate it is certainly newsworthy."

Democrats are expected to stand against such nonsense, but Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) alarmed progressives when he indicated, in a 11/28/06 Manhattan breakfast talk, he is open to tax increases and benefit cuts. "All of these things are on the table to find some way to make certain that Social Security is solvent," said Rangel, according to the New York Daily News (11/29/06). And the Washington Post reported 1/12 that Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D) and outgoing Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) want to assemble a bipartisan panel of lawmakers and administration officials "to deal with the skyrocketing costs of Social Security and other entitlement programs, with the goal of bringing a reform proposal to a vote in Congress later this year." Conrad declined to provide many details of the panel, saying too much information could "kill this baby in the crib."

Barkley Rosser, an economics professor at James Madison University, commented at Maxspeak.org (1/13), "KILL THIS BABY IN THE CRIB!"


BUSH REPLACES PROBERS WITH CRONIES: The Bush administration is clearing out several of its top federal prosecutors, including the US attorney in San Diego who nailed corrupt US Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), in order to pad the resumes of GOP cronies.

US Atty. Carol Lam of San Diego has been overseeing the investigation of Cunningham and his main bribers: Mitchell Wade, who has been cooperating with authorities, and Brent Wilkes, who has refused to cooperate, according to TPMMuckraker.com. The Wall Street Journal reported 1/22 that Lam has ordered her prosecutors to take Wilkes down before she leaves on 2/15. Prosecutors chasing Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) also think Wilkes holds secrets that would help make a case against the former House Appropriations Committee chairman, the Journal says. One of his companies also received a questionable earmark courtesy of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who is also under scrutiny by federal investigators.

When Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) complained about the replacement of US Atty. Dan Bogden of Nevada for no stated reason, he was told that the decision to remove US attorneys, primarily in the West, was part of a plan to "give somebody else that experience" to build up the back bench of Republicans by giving them high-profile jobs, Jane Ann Morrison wrote in the 1/18 Las Vegas Review-Journal.

When US Atty. Bud Cummins of Arkansas was pushed out by the Bush administration in December, he was replaced with Timothy Griffin, formerly the research director of the Republican National Committee and opposition research director for White House political adviser Karl Rove during the past election cycle. Cummins told the WSJ a top Justice official asked for his resignation in June, saying the White House wanted to give another person the opportunity to serve.

Dems objected that under a provision that was slipped into the USA Patriot Act by then-Senate Judiciary Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) when it was reauthorized last year, the president is allowed to replace US attorneys with interim appointees without Senate confirmation.

While Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales denied political motivations, ThinkProgress.org noted 11/19 that it would not be the first time the administration has punished US attorneys for going after White House allies. In 2002, US Atty. Frederick A. Black of Guam launched an investigation into Jack Abramoff's "secret arrangement with Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill then pending in Congress." A day after Black issued a grand jury subpoena to the Guam Superior Court on 11/18/02 to turn over records involving the lobbying contract with Abramoff, Black was demoted. The probe into Abramoff's activities in Guam died shortly after Black was replaced.


RADIO FREQUENCIES UP FOR GRABS: The Federal Communications Commission is expected this spring to take applications for full-power radio frequencies for community-based nonprofit organizations, mainly in rural areas that are underserved by commercial radio. The FCC will provide 30 to 60 days' notice of a five-day window to apply for a frequency between 88.1 and 91.9 mHz. Interested groups should have their applications ready to go when that notice is published, probably in April and May. Anthony Mazza, administrative director of Prometheus Radio Project, which supports community radio efforts, said it costs approximately $5,000 to file an application, mainly for a lawyer and an engineer to help make the application watertight, and probably another $25,000 to get a station on the air. The process is competitive and evangelical churches and right-wing groups are expected to make applications for what likely will be the last full-power radio licensing for the foreseeable future. For information see prometheusradio.org or call 215-727-9620.


SEN. ALLARD TO RETIRE: Democrats hoping to pad their majority in the Senate in 2008 got good news when Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) said he would honor his pledge to retire when his second term ends in 2009. Colorado was already one of the Dems' top pickup opportunity, with a Blue wave sweeping the Rocky Mountain state, and Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), popular scion of a long-serving political family, announced his candidacy in 2005 when he bowed out of the governor's race.


OHIO PROSECUTOR SAYS '04 RECOUNT RIGGED: A prosecutor in Cleveland argued 1/18 that three Cuyahoga County election workers "rigged" a preliminary recount of ballots cast in the 2004 presidential election that sent George W. Bush back to the White House. As the Associated Press explained, Ohio law requires each county participating in an election recount to choose 3% of its ballots at random and then count them by hand. If the hand counts match machine counts, the county is allowed to carry out the rest of the recount using machines. County prosecutor Kevin Baxter says three Cuyahoga County election workers short-circuited that process by conducting a secret pre-count to find precincts where the hand count would match the original machine counts. They then used those precincts for the 3% sample test, freeing the county from the risk of a second test or, possibly, a hand recount of all of the ballots cast. The three workers -- the county's elections coordinator, a manager and an assistant manager -- are charged with a variety of election-related offenses, the most serious of which comes with a sentence of up to 18 months in prison.


E-VOTE CRITIC GETS CAL OVERSIGHT: New California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) named Lowell Finley, a key critic of unverifiable electronic voting systems and lead attorney for the nonpartisan voting machine watchdog group VoterAction.org, as her deputy in charge of voting systems technology and policy. Finley will oversee testing and certification for all voting machine technology in the State of California. Bradblog.com noted 1/8 that Finley and VoterAction have filed lawsuits in several states, including in California, demanding a halt to the use of touch-screen voting systems and decertification of many of those systems. VoterAction supports federal legislation requiring a paper ballot for every vote cast in America. Bowen, a former state senator, was elected 11/7/06 in a campaign that promoted a "Voters Bill of Rights," which includes a right to vote in a tamper-proof election, the right to vote on a paper ballot, the right to have each vote counted accurately and the right to have election results properly audited.


NO INTEL FOR SURGE: The Bush administration stalled on the completion of a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq as it proceeded with the "surge" of more troops into Iraq, Ken Silverstein reported (1/21/07) at Harpers.org. The previous week, during a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which expected to be briefed on the long-awaited NIE, an official from the National Intelligence Council told senators that the intelligence community hadn't been able to complete the NIE because of the demands placed upon it by the Bush administration to prepare the new military strategy on Iraq. "Apparently these 'dog ate my homework' alibis were badly received by both the Democrats and the Republicans on the Committee," Silverstein wrote, "and those in attendance now believe that senior intelligence officials are stalling because an NIE will be bleak enough to present a significant political liability."


HOW BAD FOR GOP IN '06? VERY: Hotline's Quinn McCord reported (1/19/07) that Dems won 54.1% of the two-party vote in '06, much better than the GOP's 52.5% win in '02. That fueled Dem advantages in 27 states last year, compared to only 19 in '02. Most importantly, Dems carried the net vote in several swing states (Ohio, Pa., Mich., Nev., N.H.), some of which they hadn't carried in more than a decade. Even in the reddest states, GOPers struggled to win more than 55% last year. They lost Tenn. and N.C. outright. Also, Dems let only 10 GOPers go unchallenged in '06, compared to 45 uncontested Dem seats. It remains to be seen whether '06 was a blip of good Dem news, or the start of a long-term improvement in the brand name "Democrat." But heading into '08, McCord wrote, "this is good news for a party whose White House nominee hasn't carried a majority of the popular vote since '76."


'BROWNIE': POLITICS DICTATED KATRINA RESCUE: Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown said party politics influenced decisions on whether to take federal control of Louisiana and other areas affected by the hurricane. Brown told a group of graduate students in New York 1/19 that some in the White House had suggested the federal government should take charge in Louisiana because Blanco was a Democrat, while leaving Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, in control in his state. Brown, speaking at the Metropolitan College of New York, said he had recommended to President Bush that all 90,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast affected by the devastating hurricane be federalized -- a term Brown explained as placing the federal government in charge of all agencies responding to the disaster. "Unbeknownst to me, certain people in the White House were thinking, 'We had to federalize Louisiana because she's a white, female Democratic governor, and we have a chance to rub her nose in it,'" he said, without naming names. "'We can't do it to Haley (Barbour) because Haley's a white male Republican governor. And we can't do a thing to him. So we're just gonna federalize Louisiana.'"


STAR WARS PROMPT CHINESE ANTI-SATELLITE WEAPON: The Bush administration expressed concerned at the lack of diplomatic response from China over its successful test of an anti-satellite weapon in January. Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos.com (1/22/07), "it's pretty hilarious to hear this grumbling considering the administration's own designs on controlling space and its absolute refusal to put a permanent ban on live testing of space weapons, including satellite killers like the Chinese one." He noted that the US military's "Star Wars" space policy, announced in October 2006, is to "develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries."


GONZALES: NO RIGHT TO HABEAS CORPUS: Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales stunned members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 1/18 when he claimed there is no express right to habeas corpus in the US Constitution. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) replied, "Wait a minute. The constitution says you can't take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn't that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?" Specter told Gonzales, "You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General."

Tim Grieve of Salon.com (1/19) said Gonzales might be right, technically speaking, but he wondered where the nation's top lawyer is headed with his novel legal theory. "By Gonzales' logic, after all, the Constitution doesn't offer an 'express grant' of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms or the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; it simply says that the government shall not take those rights away."


FOX SMEARS OBAMA AS MADRASSA MUSLIM: Fox News featured a segment on 1/19 highlighting a right-wing media report that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) attended an Islamic "madrassa" school as a 6-year-old child. Fox & Friends aired callers who questioned whether Obama's schooling means that "maybe he doesn't consider terrorists the enemy" and failed to correct another caller's false claim that Obama is a Muslim. ThinkProgress.org noted that Obama is Christian, a member of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ since 1988. As a child, he spent four years in Indonesia with his step-father, a non-practicing Muslim, and his mother. Between ages 6 and 8, Obama attended a local Muslim school in Jakarta; after that, he was enrolled in a Roman Catholic school. CNN's Senior International Correspondent John Vause checked the facts and, in a 1/22 report from Indonesia, said, "I've been to those madrassas in Pakistan … this school is nothing like that." He noted that the school was founded in 1934 by the Dutch. He interviewed a classmate of Obama's who said the school was not even strictly Muslim; it also taught Christian, Buddhist and Confucian students.


WHAT WOULD $1.2T BUY: What could we have done with $1.2 tln instead of spending it on the war in Iraq? David Leonhardt of the *New York Times* put pencil to paper and noted (1/17) that a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children's lives would use up less than half the money pot. We could pay for universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place -- better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation -- could be enacted. Financing for the war in Afghanistan could be increased to beat back the Taliban's recent gains, and a peacekeeping force could put a stop to the genocide in Darfur. Instead, we're stuck in Iraq and Bush's planned surge will cost another $20 bln or so.


From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2007

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