Politicization of the Department of Justice was enabled by a 2002 decision by then-Att'y Gen. John Ashcroft to change longstanding rules for hiring lawyers to fill vacancies in the career ranks. Previously, the Boston Globe reported, veteran civil servants screened applicants and recommended whom to hire, usually picking top students from elite schools. Under the new rules, political appointees have more influence in the hiring process as the Bush administration sought to remake the federal bureaucracy along partisan lines. The Globe in 2006 reported that only 42% of the lawyers hired since 2003 have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77% of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds. The administration has hired 150 alumni of Regent University, whose law school was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson in 1986 to provide "Christian leadership to change the world." One of those graduates is Monica Goodling (Class of '99), who despite her lack of prosecutorial experience became a top aide to Att'y. Gen. Alberto Gonzales. Goodling, who was responsible for evaluating US attorneys, asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before Congress. She resigned 4/6.

While the administration has made a priority of prosecuting voter fraud, TPMMuckraker.com noted that during the first five years of the Bush administration, the Justice Department's voting section only filed a single case alleging voting discrimination on behalf of African-American voters. But during that same time period, the section managed to file the first ever "reverse" discrimination case under the Voting Rights Act. That case, United States v. Ike Brown and Noxubee County, alleges that Brown, the chairman of Noxubee County's Democratic Executive Committee in Mississippi, has been trying to limit whites' participation in elections in the predominantly black county. The case, filed in 2005, was being tried as we went to press. Joseph Rich, the chief of the voting section until he resigned in 2005, signed the complaint against Brown and told TPMMuckraker's Paul Kiel that he thought that the case did have merit. But he said that it was "really a question of priority" for a section with limited resources. The political appointees in the section aggressively promoted the case, he said: "clearly they were very interested in this particular matter when it came up." A similar shift has occurred in the employment litigation section, which is tasked with preventing discrimination in employment. That section managed to file two "reverse" discrimination cases alleging discrimination against whites under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, while filing only one alleging discrimination against African Americans in the past six years. The shift in priorities is no accident, Kiel noted. As the Washington Post and others have reported, career staff like Rich have left the division in droves after being marginalized by political appointees, a house cleaning far more comprehensive than the recent firings of eight US attorneys.


OBAMA DOOMS FOX DEM DEBATE. Barack Obama's withdrawal from the proposed Democratic presidential debate co-sponsored by the Congressional Caucus and Fox News effectively dooms the 9/23 debate, Politico.com reported (4/9). Obama is the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus running for president, and his decision allows other candidates to skip the debate without facing criticism that they are turning their backs on a leading black institution. John Edwards on 4/6 was the first candidate to announce he'd skip the 9/23 debate. "[We] believe there's just no reason for Democrats to give Fox a platform to advance the right-wing agenda while pretending they're objective," the Edwards campaign explained. All candidates are expected to participate in the debate the CBC Institute is hosting with CNN in January.


TERROR IN EYE OF BEHOLDER. Eminent political scientist Walter F. Murphy recently found that he was on the Terrorist Watch List when he was scheduled to fly to an academic conference to discuss his latest scholarly book, Constitutional Democracy on 3/1. According to Mark Graber at balkin.blogspot.com (4/8), Murphy, a professor emeritus of jurisprudence at Princeton University (and a retired Marine colonel) said at checkin he was told he was on the Terrorist Watch List and was "asked a question and offered a frightening comment: 'Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that.' I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. 'That'll do it," the man said.'" After TSA officials examined his credentials, Murphy eventually was given a boarding pass but he was warned that his luggage would be ransacked (it was lost on the flight home, but that might not have been the TSA's fault). Murphy concluded: "I confess to having been furious that any American citizen would be singled out for governmental harassment because he or she criticized any elected official, Democrat or Republican. That harassment is, in and of itself, a flagrant violation not only of the First Amendment but also of our entire scheme of constitutional government. This effort to punish a critic states my lecture's argument far more eloquently and forcefully than I ever could."


DEMS SEIZE FUNDRAISING ADVANTAGE. For decades, Republicans have swamped Democrats in fundraising for federal elections, Chris Bowers noted at MyDD.com (4/5). But a Democratic advantage in fundraising totals released in April could represent a shift in the balance of electoral power. Politico.com reported that Democratic candidates for president raised about $80 mln, compared with roughly $50 mln collected by their GOP adversaries. In 1999, the last presidential race without an incumbent, Republicans raised $33 mln in the first quarter, compared with $13 mln by Dems, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. In 1988 R's reported $19 mln in first-quarter fundraising, compared with $3 mln by Dems. The Republican National Committee is expected to report $25 mln in first-quarter revenue later in April. That's down from $32 mln the RNC raised in the same quarter last year. The DNC raised more than $14 mln in the first quarter -- up $6 mln over the same quarter in 2003. Bowers noted that the the Democratic edge in presidential fundraising could free the DNC to focus on the 50-state strategy of supporting down-ticket candidates. Under Terry McAuliffe, the DNC functioned almost entirely as a surrogate to the Democratic presidential campaign. Dems did not do well in the congressional elections of either 2002 or 2004, Bowers noted.


DEFAZIO EYES OREGON SENATE RACE. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to recruit Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., to run against vulnerable Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). DSCC polling shows DeFazio leading Smith and Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com wrote, "I've had two political reporters in DC tell me that a DeFazio candidacy is Smith's worst nightmare." Asked if DeFazio was someone Oregon grassroots would fight for, Kari Chisholm of BlueOregon.com replied, "Think Wellstone. First, DeFazio's a progressive. He once was the chair of the congressional progressive caucus. He's an economic populist on trade and tax issues.  He sponsored the bill to blow the regressive cap off Social Security taxes and led the fight against MFN for China. Second, he's charted an independent course. For example, he's opposed to gun control and been independent on timber cutting. He was the lead sponsor of the 'airline pilots can carry guns' bill that became law, despite Bush's initial objections. Battling Clinton, he campaigned against NAFTA and GATT before that was cool among the Dem establishment.

"And finally, he can win, dammit. Oregon-4 is a lean-GOP swing district. Bush carried it by 5% in 2000, and Kerry only won it by 1,100 votes. [political analyst Charlie] Cook calls it a D+0 district. But DeFazio has held it since 1986, with huge winning margins -- never dipping below 60%, despite tough opposition. And he's done it as a progressive and a liberal: 95% ADA, 100% LCV, 16% ACU, etc." David Sirota chimed in, "DeFazio is one of the strongest progressive populists in Congress, building up a profile and voting record on working-people issues that is the antithesis of that prescribed by the likes of the Democratic Leadership Council." Sirota sees the DSCC's focus on DeFazio as an admission that "progressive populism is far and away the better model to win swing states than the corporate sellout model."

In other potential Senate matchups, it's beginning to look like the GOP will give Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) a pass for the first time in his career, David Yepsen reported in the Des Moines Register's blog (4/9). Harkin has retired a record five Republican members of Congress, including three who gave up safe seats to challenge his past three re-elections because his popularity never got much above 50%. But he still managed to win with between 52% and 54%. Some Dems were hoping that Harkin this time out would draw either Rep. Steve King, the right-wing xenophobe from western Iowa, or Rep. Tom Latham, whose north central district would be up for grabs, but the $2 mln Harkin already has banked and his key assignment as ag chairman may have cooled GOP heads.


TARGETED HOUSE RACES. Congressional investigators gained access to a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Karl Rove's deputy, Scott Jennings, and shown to General Services Administration personnel in January. The staffers, who are supposed to be nonpartisan, were asked to consider how the agency's $60-bln-buying power could be used to help "our candidates." Republicans whom Rove considers most vulnerable, according to Electioncentral.tpmcafe.com (3/28), include Jim Gerlach, Pa.; Vern Buchanan, Fla.; Robin Hayes, N.C.; Heather Wilson, N.M.; Marilyn Musgrave, Colo.; Peter Roskam, Ill.; Chris Shays, Conn.; Jean Schmidt, Ohio; Thelma Drake, Va,, Barbara Cubin, Wyo. (who might not seek re-election); John Doolittle, Calif.; Jon Porter, Nev.; Jim Walsh, N.Y.; Deborah Pryce, Ohio; Randy Kuhl, N.Y.; Mike Ferguson, N.J.; Joe Knollenberg, Mich. Democrats whom Rove considers "top targets" include Nick Lampson, Texas; Tim Mahoney, Fla.; Jerry McNerney, Calif.; Zack Space, Ohio; Baron Hill, Ind.; Chris Carney, Pa.; Patrick Murphy, Pa.; Nancy Boyda, Kan.; Joe Sestak, Pa.; Brad Ellsworth, Ind.; Heath Shuler, N.C.; Ciro Rodriguez, Texas; Steve Kagen, Wis.; Jim Marshall, Ga.; Joe Donnelly, Ind.; John Barrow, Ga.; Jason Altmire, Pa.; John Hall, N.Y.; Kirsten Gillibrand, N.Y.; Stephanie Herseth, S.D.


BUSH STUCK BELOW 40%. With George W. Bush's approval rating stuck below 40% for seven months, USA Today noted (4/8) that only two presidents have suffered longer strings of low ratings in the Gallup Poll. One was Harry Truman, whose popularity sank during the final 26 months of his tenure as the Korean War stalemated. The other was Richard Nixon during the 13 months leading up to his resignation amid the Watergate scandal. Gallup's average approval rating for presidents is 55%. In second terms, Bill Clinton averaged 61%; Ronald Reagan, 55%. Bush has a second-term average of 41%. Nixon's average in his second term -- shortened by his resignation -- was 34% and Truman's average was 36%.


FORD CEO AVERTS PELOSI PRESIDENCY. Ford CEO Alan Mulally told auto industry journalists that he had to run over and stop George Bush from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of a hybrid car at the White House in April. An electrical spark might have caused the car to explode, immolating Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was standing nearby. According to the Detroit News (4/7), Mulally said he noticed that the power cord installed for the demonstration had been left laying near the fuel tank. "I started walking faster, and the President walked faster and he got to the cord before I did. I violated all the protocols. I touched the President. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front," Mulally said. "I wanted the president to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen. This is all off the record, right?"


85 US ATT'YS KEPT THEIR JOBS. We've heard about the eight US attorneys who were replaced after the last election, many of whom ran afoul of their local party officials. So what did the other 85 US attorneys do to keep their jobs? You might have thought US Attorney Steven Biskupic would be in trouble after the Wisconsin Republican Party sent a 30-page report on alleged 2004 election abuses in Wisconsin to top White House strategist Karl Rove, as Daniel Bice reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino in March said that, beginning in mid-2004, the White House received complaints that federal prosecutors were not vigorously pursuing complaints of voter fraud in Philadelphia, New Mexico and Milwaukee. White House Counsel Dan Bartlett in a March 13 press briefing said the White House received complaints about US attorneys, "particularly when it comes to election fraud cases -- not just New Mexico, but also Wisconsin and Pennsylvania."

Biskupic may not have brought voting fraud cases, but last year he launched a corruption case as Gov. Jim Doyle (D) was seen as vulnerable to a challenge from then-US Rep. Mark Green (R). Biskupic targeted the state's purchasing supervisor for awarding a state contract to a travel agency whose officers had donated to Doyle's re-election campaign. There was no evidence that Gloria Thompson personally profited from the contract and nothing to suggest she approved the contract for political reasons, Steve Benen noted at thecarpetbaggerreport.com (4/6), but Biskupic brought charges anyway and obtained a conviction in June. Thompson was sentenced to 18 months in prison in late September, just as the general election campaign was heating up. Republicans featured the case in attack ads against Doyle, who won re-election anyway. But when the case was appealed (after the election), the circuit court in Chicago, after a 26-minute hearing, rejected the conviction out of hand, with one of the judges saying that the evidence against the bureaucrat "is beyond thin," adding, "I'm not sure what your actual theory in this case is."

One of the lasting problems of the administration's purge scandal, Benen wrote, is that there are now constant suspicions about prosecutors' political motivations. "Now that the nation has learned that several US Attorneys were pressured to bring politically-charged cases for Republicans' benefit, and some of those who refused lost their jobs, it's inevitable that prosecutions like this one will garner fresh scrutiny," he wrote.

Benen started a list of questionable investigations, which includes:

• Chris Christie, the former Bush "Pioneer" who is now the US attorney for New Jersey, issued subpoenas as part of an investigation against Sen. Bob Menendez (D) shortly before last year's election.

• In New Hampshire, Democrats want Congress to investigate whether prosecution of a Republican phone-jamming scheme on Election Day 2002 was intentionally delayed until after the presidential election two years later.

• US attorney offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Puerto Rico targeted financial supporters of Bob Casey, the Dem who was challenging vulnerable Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

• The career US attorney in Guam was demoted in 2002 after he started investigating disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

• Western Pennsylvania's US attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, spent a disproportionate amount of her time launching public-corruption investigations against Dems, while overlooking Republicans.

• In July 2005, the US attorney in Denver dropped a matter in which bouncers at a Bush event impersonated Secret Service agents to throw out three ticket-holders because of their bumper sticker (the Denver Three controversy).

The list is far from complete. As Bud Cummins, one of the purged prosecutors, recently explained to TPMMuck-raker.com: "[T]he public must perceive that every substantive decision within the department is made in a neutral and non-partisan fashion. Once the public detects partisanship in one important decision, they will follow the natural inclination to question every decision made, whether there is a connection or not."

BLAIR TO BUSH: BACK OFF. British officials had to tell the Pentagon to back off when the Bush administration offered to use US naval forces to threaten Iran after its Revolutionary Guards seized 15 British sailors and marines. According to the London Guardian (4/7) Pentagon officials offered their British counterparts a series of military options, a list which remains top secret. But one of the options was for US combat aircraft to mount aggressive patrols over Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran. The Brits declined the offer and said the US could best help by staying out of it. London asked the US to tone down exercises of two US carrier groups that were already under way in the Gulf. With the crisis over, the Guardian reported a consensus emerging among British, Iranian and Iraqi officials that a regional Revolutionary Guard commander responsible for the waterway decided to seize the Brits, and it was not part of a grander scheme cooked up in Tehran. The Guards are a law unto themselves, and once the crisis had been triggered it took nearly two weeks to untangle, because the release had to be agreed by all the key players in the perpetual poker game that passes for government in Tehran. Further complicating things, those players were scattered around the country for the New Year holiday. The release was decided by the supreme national security council, which includes representatives of the presidency, the armed forces and the Revolutionary Guard, on April 3, the first day they could all be brought together following the holiday.


LONG HAND OF WHITE HOUSE. Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com suspects dirty tricks from the White House when Israeli Prime Minister Olmert contradicted Nancy Pelosi's statement that she conveyed a message of peace from the Israelis to the Syrians when she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad despite criticism from the White House. Washington Post editorialists took the statement from Olmert's office at face value and then embellished it, stating that "Ms. Pelosi not only misrepresented Israel's position but was virtually alone in failing to discern that Mr. Assad's words were mere propaganda." But Marshall noted that the Israeli press also independently reported that Olmert had entrusted Pelosi with such a message. Ha'aretz's respected diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn wrote the day before Pelosi's arrival in Damascus, "The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus today, and will deliver a message of calm from Israel. 'We hope the message will be understood,' political sources in Israel said yesterday." As Benn's report makes clear, Olmert's message was part of an effort to head off a possible confrontation this summer tied to Arab fears of an American strike against Iran, Marshall notes. And Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a Holocaust survivor and a close ally of the American Israel PAC (AIPAC), was with Pelosi in the key meetings in Jerusalem and Damascus and said "The speaker conveyed precisely what the prime minister and the acting president asked."

Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency noted that such backdoor statecraft between the White House and Olmert would not be unprecedented. Last year, he reported, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked Olmert into a 48-hour cease-fire during the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon to allow humanitarian relief, "but within hours Israeli planes were bombing again, to Rice's surprise and anger. Olmert had received a call, apparently from Cheney's office, telling him to ignore Rice."

Marshall concluded, "The message the Israelis sent to Damascus was intended to convince the Syrians that the Israelis were not planning to attack the Syrians in concert with an American attack on Iran. There was concern in Israel that this might lead to a preemptive Syrian attack. A message like that from Israel to Syria might be very unwelcome to some people in the White House. Did the White House pressure Olmert? If there was no message, why was the existence of the message being discussed by Israeli officials before Pelosi went to Damascus? Will the White House deny pressuring Olmert? And did any of this occur to the folks who write the Post's editorials? So what's the story? Maybe this whole episode deserves some real reporting."


JUDGE ORDERS BAIL FOR BOMBING SUSPECT. A lawyer representing the Venezuelan government accused the US government of shielding a Cuban anti-Castro militant from standing trial for allegedly planning the bombing of a Cuban jetliner, which killed 73 people in 1976. A federal judge in Texas on 4/6 ordered Luis Posada Carriles freed from a New Mexico jail on $350,000 bond pending trial on charges he lied in an attempt to become a US citizen. Jose Pertierra, D.C.-based attorney for Venezuela, where Posada is a naturalized citizen and escaped from prison in 1985 while facing charges connected with the bombing, said the Bush administration should either extradite Posada to Venezuela or try him in the US for the deaths of the 73 passengers under treaties giving the US jurisdiction.


USDA CURBS ORGANIC IMPORTS. A ruling by the USDA tightens organic certification to such a degree that it could sharply curtail the ability of small grower co-ops to produce organic coffee, bananas, cocoa, sugar and even spices, Samuel Fromartz wrote at Salon.com 4/2. In the ruling made public in March, the USDA's National Organic Program said every farm in a grower group must now be visited and inspected annually -- as has been the practice in the US -- rather than only a percentage. The new USDA certification ruling arose out of a case involving an unnamed Mexican grower group that failed to detect a farmer using a prohibited insecticide and empty fertilizer bags for crop storage -- both of which violate USDA organic regulations. NOP blamed the problem on inadequate internal controls of the self-policing system and decided to ban the practice everywhere. Certifiers told Fromartz NOP took an extreme stand, ending the possibility of group certification and ignoring the constraints of low-income producers who can't afford annual inspections. A more measured response would have been to punish the errant grower groups and then launch a public review of the certification system. Michael Sligh of Rural Advancement Foundation International USA (rafiusa.org) said hundreds of thousands of farmers will be affected.


STUDY: DECOYS HELP RIVALS WIN ELECTIONS. Ralph Nader's 2000 campaign for president, which is blamed by many Democrats for helping to defeat Al Gore, actually may have helped the Democrat, Shankar Vedantam reported in a 4/2 Washington Post article on the "decoy effect." "Many people lavished hate on Ralph Nader for presumably taking votes away from the Democratic front-runner in the 2000 presidential election," said Scott Highhouse, who has studied the decoy effect at Bowling Green State University. "Research on the decoy effect suggests that Nader's presence, rather than taking votes away, probably increased the share of votes for the candidate he most resembled," he said. The decoy effect says that alternative candidates have the unintended effect of making one of the front-runners look better in the minds of undecided voters. If one front-runner looks much better than the third candidate, voters gravitate toward that front-runner.


EVANGELS OWE BILL APOLOGY. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who is struggling in the low single digits in his GOP race for president, expressed frustration that Rudy Giuliani led Republicans in a March Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll with 38%; even among evangelical voters, the twice-divorced former New York City mayor, a supporter of abortion rights, received 37% to 2% for Mr. Huckabee. "If Republicans in this election vote in such a way as to say a candidate's personal life and personal conduct in office doesn't matter," he told reporters, "then a lot of Christian evangelical leaders owe Bill Clinton a public apology." (WSJ, 3/31/07)


FOOD CASUALTY OF BIOTECH. Pharmaceutical conglomerates are using the agribusiness to underwrite their research and development efforts as they work to transform plants and animals into drug and organ factories to further their profits, the Oakland Institute reports in "How Food Became a Casualty of Biotechnology's Promise." Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, sad genetically engineered crops have little to do with growing food and feeding people. "Agricultural biotechnology has been financed by the promise of future profits from products unrelated to food. Food is merely the conduit through which the pharmaceutical conglomerates hope to develop and monopolize the basic technologies that promise profits far exceeding any imaginable from high-yielding crops bearing vitamin-fortified food." See the report at www.oaklandinstitute.org.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2007

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