Republican presidential candidates finally got around to talking about Latino issues on a makeup date in Miami (12/9) but as they stuck to their tough line on immigration reform in a Spanish-language debate sponsored by Univision (after snubbing a similar invitation in September) it may be too little, too late. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) warned that harsh immigration rhetoric voiced by some Republicans has driven Hispanic voters away from the party. McCain has stood apart from most of his GOP rivals because he supported changing immigration laws and creating a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants. A poll by the Pew Hispanic Center (pewhispanic.org, 12/6) shows that GOP immigrant-bashing and neglect of Latino communities has alienated the fast-growing Latino electorate. After a drift toward the GOP in the the previous two presidential elections, Hispanic voters are returning to the Dems, as 57% of Hispanic registered voters identify as Dems or say they lean Democratic, according to the nationwide poll conducted 10/3-11/9. Only 23% identify as Republican, putting a 34-point gap between the parties — up from a 21-point gap in July 2006.

Hispanics are the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group; at 45.5 mln, they make up 15% of the US, though many are not citizens or are not yet 18. In 2008, Latinos will comprise about 9% of the eligible electorate nationwide. If past turnout trends persist, they will make up about 6.5% of those who actually turn out to vote next November. But Hispanics loom as a potential “swing vote” because they are strategically located in four of the six states that President Bush carried by margins of 5 points or fewer in 2004 – New Mexico (where Hispanics make up 37% of state’s electorate); Florida (14%); Nevada (12%) and Colorado (12%). All four are expected to be closely contested once again in 2008. Latinos also are 24.6% of the Texas electorate, which threatens to turn that red state purple, and 17% of Arizona.

The Rev. Luis Cortes, the evangelical head of Esperanza USA with 10,000 affiliated churches, joined Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean on a conference call with reporters (12/6), to lambaste the GOP’s presidential candidates. Cortes, who founded the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and was a visible ally of President Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004, predicted that many evangelical Latinos who backed Bush in 2004 are likely to abandon the GOP in 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Meanwhile, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey reported (12/6) that 60% of likely voters are in favor of “a path to citizenship” for undocumented aliens that includes registration, paying some sort of fine, getting fingerprinted and learning English. Marc Ambinder of TheAtlantic.com points out that this is what Republicans call “amnesty,” so “most Americans support some form of amnesty, whether they know it or not.” But 54% would deny undocumented immigrants access to emergency medical care, 60% would deny them access to public schools and 82% would deny them access to food stamps (even though they pay taxes). Only 22% said that illegal immigrants should be allowed to get some form of driver’s license.

The poll also indicates that while most of those surveyed viewed illegal immigration as a key concern, it was not the most important issue on their minds. Asked to pick from a list of issues what was a top priority for presidential candidates, 15% cited illegal immigration — the fifth-most mentioned topic behind the Iraq war, the economy, protecting the country from terrorist attacks and health care. Asked how much of a problem illegal immigration is, 81% said they considered it important and 27% said it was one of the country’s most pressing problems.

The Pew poll found that by 41% to 14%, Hispanic registered voters say the Dems doing the better job of dealing with illegal immigration. Immigration has become a more important issue to Latinos since the last election, as 79% of Hispanic registered voters now say it is an “extremely” or “very” important issue in the upcoming presidential race; up from 63% in June 2004. Immigration still ranks behind education, health care, the economy and crime, but it is the only issue that has risen so sharply in importance since 2004. And 41% of Latino registered voters say Bush administration policies have been harmful to Hispanics, while just 16% say Bush has been helpful.

MITT OK’S CUBAN IMMIGRATION. Mitt Romney has tried to portray himself as a hard-liner on immigration, such as during the 11/28 debate when he went after former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani for presiding over a “sanctuary city.” Romney has promised that, if elected president, he would oppose amnesty for illegal aliens, cut funding for sanctuary cities and secure borders. But ThinkProgress.org noted that in an interview (11/27) with the Tampa Tribune editorial board, Romney revealed that he actually wants America’s borders loosened for one constituency: Cubans. “I can tell you my inclination would be to say as many Cubans as want to come here should come in,” Romney said in the interview. “In my opinion, the more the merrier,” he said. ThinkProgress.org noted that Romney’s embrace of all Cubans seems to be a pander to Florida’s strong Cuban-American community, a coveted voting bloc in past presidential elections. In 2000, President Bush won Florida by a mere 537 votes, but his advantage among Cubans was about 4-to-1.

DEMS DIDN’T RAISE ALARMS AT TORTURE, OBSTRUCTION. After the New York Times revealed (12/7) that the Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, in a possible obstruction of justice, Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com compiled a long list of the court proceedings and investigations that were impeded by claims by the administration that key evidence was mysteriously missing. “The most glaringly similar case was when, during the trial of Jose Padilla, DOJ prosecutors told the federal court that key videotapes of Padilla’s interrogations by DOD agents, including the last interrogation they conducted of him, could not be located, a claim which — for obvious reasons — prompted expressions of incredulity from the Bush-appointed federal judge and virtually everyone else,” Greenwald wrote. US District Judge Marcia Cooke at that time was incredulous. “Do you understand how it might be difficult for me to understand that a tape related to this particular individual just got mislaid?” she told prosecutors.

Responsibility was muddied when CIA Director Michael Hayden said that leaders of congressional oversight committees were informed of the videos years ago and were also informed of the agency’s intention to dispose of the material. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) who was then senior Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee, admits he learned of this in November 2006, and did nothing. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., then senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said she objected to the destruction when informed of it in 2003 but was powerless to do more, due to secrecy oaths the congressional oversight committee members took before they got the briefings. That leads to questions about how effective oversight is when Congress members are unable to discuss or disclose what they learn in their briefings.

“The country has stood by while one incident after the next of deliberate lawbreaking and cover-up at the highest levels of our government has been revealed. It is just axiomatic that when high government officials can break the law with impunity, the country no longer lives under the rule of law. That has been the United States for the last six years,” wrote Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer.

“A key ingredient in that pattern has been the ineptitude and outright consent of the leading congressional Democrats on the intelligence committees, particularly Jay Rockefeller. Lawbreaking of this sort will stop only once those with the ability to do so decide to impose real consequences and accountability for it. Until that happens, it will continue. Why wouldn’t it?”

Greenwald noted (12/11) that among presidential candidates, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) called (12/10) for the appointment of a special counsel to conduct a criminal investigation. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) explicitly doubted administration denials about the president’s involvement, stating that “he finds it hard to believe the White House did not know.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sharply criticized what was done, calling it “absolutely wrong,” and even Mike Huckabee suggested the CIA destroyed the videotapes to cover-up wrongdoing.

So who leaped to the administration’s defense? Rockefeller, rejecting Biden’s call for an independent criminal investigation: “I don’t think there’s a need for a special counsel, and I don’t think there’s a need for a special commission,” Rockefeller said. “It is the job of the intelligence committees to do that.” And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), warning not to reach premature conclusions, saying: “based on facts so far known, it was a big mistake. Whether it’s a crime or not, I think we’re going to have to find (out).”

EXCEPTIONAL HEALTH CARE. Advocates of a single-payer health-care bill ran an ad in 10 Iowa newspapers (12/10), highlighting the fact Vice President Dick Cheney has government-provided coverage has saved his life several times. “If he were anyone else, he’d probably be dead by now,” the ad claims. Cheney, as the ad notes, has a long history of health problems: four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, angioplasty, an implanted defibrillator and now an emergency procedure to treat an irregular heartbeat. The ad, sponsored by the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee, which support HR 676, the National Health Insurance Act, argues that without his government-provided health care, Cheney’s recent heart problems would have been “a death sentence,“ as it is for millions of Americans. While a Cheney spokesman called the ad “outrageous,” ThinkProgress.org noted, “What is outrageous is the fact that there are roughly 47 mln people in America without health insurance, including 3.2 mln children, but President Bush vetoed legislation in October that would have extended coverage to 4 mln more children. While it is certainly good that Vice President Cheney was able get the medical attention he needed, the groups’ ad is right. ‘The rest of us deserve no less’ than Cheney.”

Meanwhile, the Economic Policy Institute reported (epi.org, 12/5) that Canada’s universal health-care system not only provides care comparable to the US but at nearly half the cost. Per-capita health care expenditures in the US are $6,401 vs. $3,359 up North. Canada also controls the growth of healthcare costs better than our patchwork for-profit system. Since 1993, the per-capita cost of health-care in Canada has increased 67%, while US health-care costs are up a stunning 92%.

GALLUP: DEMS SOLID ON ISSUES. Heading into a crucial election year, Democrats hold a considerable advantage over the GOP in public perceptions of which party can handle a variety of national issues, a Gallup Poll showed. Dems are perceived as better able to handle 6 of 10 issues that are likely to be heavily debated in the 2008 campaigns, and they roughly tie with the Republican Party on another 2. The Republicans lead on illegal immigration and terrorism, but their previously substantial advantage on terrorism has been cut by two-thirds since 2004. According to the USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted 11/30-12/2 and released 12/7, the Dems’ strongest issue areas include health care (where they lead R’s 59-29), housing market (48-33), protecting Americans’ rights and freedoms (49-36), corruption in government (42-29), the economy (50-38) and Iraq (48-38). The two parties are roughly tied on moral values and taxes. The GOP leads in public perceptions of which party can better handle terrorism (48-38) and illegal immigration (44-37), but not by as much as the Democrats lead on their best signature issues

KUCINICH HEDGES HIS BET. Rep. Dennis Kucinich may be traveling around the country campaigning for president, but the six-term congressman from Cleveland is planning for re-election at home, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported (12/5). Kucinich has told the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party that he will seek another term and wants its endorsement, a party official said. At least four other Dems hope to unseat Kucinich: North Olmsted Mayor Thomas O’Grady, Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman, retired teacher and anti-war activist Rosemary Palmer, whose son was killed in Iraq, and Barbara Ferris, a former Peace Corps and United Nations worker clobbered by Kucinich in the 2006 primary, plan campaigns, but Mark Naymik of the Plain Dealer noted the multitude chasing Kucinich in the 3/4 primary will probably split any anti-Kucinich vote, making it difficult to knock off the incumbent, who won re-election in 2006 with 76% of the primary vote. Republicans have not fared better in general elections.

EXECUTIVE AUTHORITY. After Dick Cheney, in the 12/5 interview with Politico where he criticized senior Democratic congressmen John Murtha and John Dingell for not being men enough to stand up to Nancy Pelosi, also predicted that “Iraq will be a self-governing democracy by the time he leaves office,” Kate Sheppard of The American Prospect noted, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) replied, “It’s no wonder the Vice President would say that. Between the hidden meetings with Halliburton on energy, the warrantless wiretapping of Americans, and the vague definitions of torture he uses, Vice President Cheney wouldn’t know a working democracy if he fell over it.”

TEXAS EDUCATOR FIRED FOR EVOLUTION SUPPORT. The director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency was fired in November after she appeared to support evolution science over the fundamentalist Christian “intelligent design” movement. “We were actually told in a meeting in September that if creationism is the party line, we have to abide by it,” Comer told the Austin American-Statesman (12/6), maintaining that her ouster was political and that she felt persecuted for having supported the teaching of evolution in Texas classrooms. Comer said curriculum administrators at the agency have been scrutinized increasingly for the past year. It started with restrictions on travel to conferences; then, two months ago, came a requirement that all slide shows had to be submitted for approval by the governor’s office. In the act that earned her the pink slip, after typing the abbreviation “FYI” in the body, Comer forwarded an e-mail from a pro-evolution group announcing a speech by Barbara Forrest, a key witness in a court case in Pennsylvania that ruled against teaching intelligent design in schools. It was sent to several individuals and two e-mail discussion groups used by science educators. About an hour and a half after Comer sent the e-mail, the newspaper reported, Lizzette Reynolds, a former US Education Department employee who came to the state agency in January and was put in charge of the curriculum division in September, forwarded it to her superiors, calling it “an offense that calls for termination.” In an early November memorandum, the forwarded e-mail was one of several reasons for which agency officials said Comer should be terminated. She was also cited for comments she was said to have made in October about a lack of leadership at the agency, not obtaining approval to attend an October meeting in Austin on a new online training program for teachers and for not getting approval to make a presentation to the Texas Science Educational Leadership Association in August that included information about the upcoming education board review of science curriculum standards. Ironically, evolution is spelled out as a concept that should be taught in Texas science classrooms; creationism and intelligent design are not. But in 2008, the State Board of Education will review the science curriculum, which will set standards for classroom instruction and textbook selection. Because of the size of the state’s book purchase, the Texas standards historically have been used in textbooks nationwide.

POLL SHOWS CORNYN FALLS SHORT. A poll of likely voters shows that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is vulnerable, and his steadfast support for President Bush isn’t going to be much help. The survey by Lake Research of 500 Texans, reported in the Houston Chronicle (12/8), found 41% disapproved of the job Cornyn has done in the Senate, while 36% rate him excellent or good, and only 31% said they definitely would vote for his re-election. More than half, 53%, said they would consider someone else for the Senate. At least two Democrats, state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston and Ray McMurrey of Corpus Christi, are running to unseat Cornyn. The Lake poll, which was conducted for the Noriega campaign, found 53% of Texans disapproved of Bush’s performance in office. And while Texas might still be a longshot for the Dems, if the GOP has to spend money there, with 23 media markets, it will spread Republican money thin elsewhere.

ALASKA GOP IN TROUBLE. A poll conducted by Research 2000 for DailyKos.com found Dem challengers in Senate and congressional races leading GOP incumbents saddled in corruption probes. The survey, conducted 12/3-6, found Ethan Berkowitz, former state House Democratic leader, leading Rep. Don Young (R) 49-42 and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) leading Sen. Ted Stevens (R) 47-41.

MILLIONAIRES-IN CHIEF. Money magazine has taken a close look at the leading presidential contenders (except Mike Huckabee, who apparently became a leading contender after press time). After looking at the lineup, Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly.com concluded that “they sure do have a lot of money.” Of the Dems, Hillary Clinton had a net worth of $34.9 mln, mainly from the $41 mln husband Bill has earned in speaking fees since he left the White House; John Edwards showed $54.7 mln, mainly from awards won as a medical malpractice and personal-injury lawyer, and Barack Obama was the pauper with net worth of $1.3 mln, mainly from his two bestselling books. For the GOP, Mitt Romney showed the big money with $202 mln net worth mainly from investments made through Bain Capital, a private equity firm he founded in 1984 that at one time or another had stakes in Bright Horizons, Domino’s Pizza, Staples and The Sports Authority, among others; Rudy Giuliani showed $52.2 mln, mainly from speechmaking that earned him $11.4 mln in 2006, as well as Giuliani Partners, a lobbying and security consulting company that paid him $4.1 mln in 2006 and Bracewell & Giuliani, a Houston-based law firm with close ties to the energy industry that pays another $1 mln; John McCain, whose $40.4 mln largely came from his wife who inherited an Anheuser-Busch beer distribution business from her father; and Fred Thompson, whose $8.1 mln comes largely from acting ($3.6 mln in 2006), ABC Radio ($3.6 mln) and speeches ($1.6 mln). The New York Times in May reported that Mike Huckabee reported assets valued at less than $700,000, including his retirement benefits as a former Southern Baptist minister and $150,000 in royalties from his book about his weight loss.

RUDY’S WORST. WEEK. EVER. Steve Benen wonders at TalkingPointsMemo (12/1): “It’s inevitable that presidential candidates will experience a certain ebb and flow as the process unfolds, but can we all agree that Rudy Giuliani has seen the worst week of any candidate in recent memory?

On Monday, Nov. 26, Benen noted, Bloomberg News reported that Giuliani, despite railing against congressional earmarks on the campaign stump, and pledging to “get rid of” lawmakers’ pet projects if elected, actually “sought federal earmarks for 14 companies this year, 11 of which hired [Bracewell & Giuliani] after Giuliani joined in March 2005.” Republican consultant Eddie Mahe responded, “It’s a bit hypocritical.”

On Tuesday, Giuliani attended a campaign fundraiser hosted by a “man convicted in a notorious corruption case.” An embarrassed Giuliani “came and went from last night’s fundraiser without comment, ducking down in his car as ABC News cameras attempted to photograph him arriving.”

On Wednesday morning, a new batch of polls show Giuliani’s support fading in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

On Wednesday afternoon, the news broke that Giuliani, as mayor, had billed New York City agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses involving his extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons. It later was reported that the NYPD chauffeured Nathan (without Rudy) to visit her parents in Pennsylvania; NYPD detectives drove Nathan around the city in a city-owned undercover Dodge; detectives also drove Nathan’s friends and family around the city even when she wasn’t in the car; and NYPD cops were detailed to walk Nathan’s dog. The NYPD security detail for Nathan was personally approved by Bernard Kerik.

On Thursday, while the “Shag Fund” (A.K.A. “Sex On the City”) scandal gathered steam, we learned that Giuliani’s private security firm provided security consulting and advice in Qatar through contracts overseen by Sheik Abdullah Bin Khalid al-Thani, who is suspected of close ties to Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Osama bin Laden.

On Friday, the New York Times’ Michael Cooper reported that Giuliani cites a series of statistics in his stump speech, most of which “are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong.”

On Saturday, the Washington Post’s conservative editorial board noted that Giuliani’s new TV ad is patently ridiculous, premised on tax policy assumptions that even the Bush White House rejects as foolish.

It was pretty bad, but through it all, mainstream corporate media continued to treat Rudy as a real candidate. This after largely writing off John Edwards after it was revealed he spent a few hundred dollars on hair stylists.

LAUGH AND THE WORLD LAUGHS WITH YOU. In September Hillary Clinton was criticized for laughing at some of the questions she was asked on the Sunday talk shows, Steve Benen noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (12/9). So he wondered how the D.C. pundits would react to Rudy Giuliani’s performance on Meet the Press when he laughed off Tim Russert’s questions about why he did business with an associate of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, why his law firm worked for Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and Citgo, which is run by Chavez; and why Giuliani worked with a Las Vegas developer who had a close relationship with a Hong Kong billionaire close to North Korea dictator Kim Jung Il.

The following day, Benen got his answer from Chris Cillizza, the Washington Post’s politics blogger, who called it “Giuliani’s Virtuoso Performance,” writing, “Ever since former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced he was running for president, questions have lingered about his ability to withstand an extended look at his public and private life. In an appearance yesterday on Meet the Press, Giuliani went a long way toward answering those questions with a virtuoso performance against — to our mind — the toughest questioner in the business: Tim Russert.”

McKINNEY MAKES GREEN BID. Fomer US Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the first black woman elected to Congress from Georgia, who served six terms as a Dem, is running for the Green Party nomination for president. She was to announce her candidacy on 12/11 during a “Power to the People” tour of Madison and Milwaukee, Wis. Other candidates approved by the Presidential Campaign Support Committee, according to guidelines voted on by the Green National Committee (gp.org), include Jared Ball, a college professor from D.C.; Jesse Johnson, filmmaker from West Virginia; Kent Mesplay, air quality inspector from California; and Kat Swift, non-profit bookkeeper from Texas. Other candidates who will at least appear on the Wisconsin Green Party’s presidential ballot, according to the state committee, are Jerry Kann, child welfare administrative assistant from New York and Joe Schriner, journalist and author from Ohio. Also, a group is seeking to draft Ralph Nader.

PAUL GROUNDSWELL FREAKS BAY GOP. San Francisco Republican officials abruptly changed plans for a presidential straw poll at a 12/4 fundraising dinner when they discovered that a mass of Ron Paul supporters had shown up. According to Elliott Petty of OpenLeft.org (12/5), participants paid a $33 fee for dinner and a vote. However a $5 option was also offered to those who wanted to skip the dinner and only participate in the vote. After a speaker on behalf of former Sen. Fred Thompson, a raffle was held while the “$5” straw voters waited in the lobby. When the Paul supporters were let in and filled the room, the organizer of the event canceled the straw vote.

COPS TASE DEAF NUDE BATHER. When it comes to abuse of Taser guns, John Cole of balloon-juice.com may have a winner in a 12/3 report by KWCH-TV in Wichita, Kan., about a Wichita man who emerged from the bathtub, wearing only a towel around his waist, to see guns pointing at him. Turns out police had forced entry into Donnell Williams’ home while responding to a shooting report, which turned out to be a false report. But the police didn’t realize that Williams was deaf, so when he refused to obey their shouted commands to show his hands, they shot him with a Taser. “No one is happy with the way it worked out,” said Robert Lee, deputy chief of the Wichita Police Department.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2008

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