John McCain has admitted that he doesn’t know much about economics. As if to prove the point, his campaign co-chair, longtime congressional colleague and economic guru is none other than former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), who was spectacularly wrong on economic issues as a lawmaker before he quit the Senate to become a lobbyist for multinational bankers who took advantage of the deregulations he sponsored. Gramm is a vice president for UBS Securities, part of a Swiss financial conglomerate that became heavily involved in subprime mortgage investments. Until a couple months ago Gramm also was listed as a federal lobbyist on housing and mortgage issues for UBS. While Gramm was helping McCain draw up his economic agenda, he was paid by UBS to lobby the Senate about the mortgage crisis, strongly opposing increased government regulation. Keith Olbermann noted (5/28) that Gramm helped kill the Emergency Home Ownership And Mortgage Equity Protection Act and the Helping Families Save Their Homes and Bankruptcy Act, a bill that would have let bankruptcy judges adjust mortgages terms so American families facing foreclosure could repay their loans and keep their homes. Gramm’s deregulation legislation as a senator help set the stage for banks to slice up subprime mortgages, bundling them with other mortgages, to hide the credit risks, and selling mortgage bundles to other investment firms.

Joe Conason noted (5/30) that Gramm took hundreds of thousands of dollars from energy and financial interests as a congressman, where he was instrumental in passing sweeping tax cuts in 1981 that failed to prevent a recession and eventually required a series of tax increases, beginning in 1982, to stanch the enormous deficits they created. After reaching the Senate in 1984, Gramm also supported the Reagan-era deregulation of the savings and loan industry and later used his political clout to protect Texas operators whose crooked machinations helped to bankrupt the S&L industry at a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of billions of dollars. McCain was caught in the “Keating Five” scandal after he tried to intervene with federal regulators on behalf of a campaign contributor with a failed S&L. He adopted a reform agenda in an attempt to reclaim his reputation.

When Bill Clinton entered the White House and found the nation in deep deficit, Conason noted, he got no help from Gramm in cleaning up the mess. “When Clinton bravely demanded a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans, who had profited hugely from Reagan policies skewed to their benefit, Gramm and his fellow Republicans bawled piteously about the nation’s impending doom,” Conason wrote.

“I want to predict here tonight,” Gramm said on the evening that Clinton’s budget passed without a single Republican vote in the spring of 1993, “that if we adopt this bill the American economy is going to get weaker and not stronger, the deficit four years from today will be higher than it is today and not lower ... When all is said and done, people will pay more taxes, the economy will create fewer jobs, the government will spend more money, and the American people will be worse off.”

Of course, Conason noted, “most Americans did not pay more taxes, the economy created millions of jobs, the deficit was sharply reduced and people were better off by every measure of economic progress, from productivity and profits to homeownership and reduced poverty.”

When the GOP won the Senate majority in 1994, Gramm rose to the chair of the Senate Banking Committee. In 1999, he wrote the Gramm-Bliley-Leach bill, an act that repealed the New Deal laws that set up protective barriers between commercial banks, investment banks and insurance companies. Gramm’s bill broadly deregulated the financial industry—and now is blamed by many economists for the epidemic of speculation and fraud that has shaken the global economy. Then, in a lame-duck session in December 2000 he slipped the “Commodity Futures Modernization Act” as an amendment onto an essential 11,000-page government reauthorization. Before its passage (without debate), banks underwrote mortgages and were responsible for the risks. The bill allowed banks to use “credit default swaps” to pass along those risks to insurance companies and other investors. Financial wizard Warren Buffett has labeled the risky new investment instruments Gramm unleashed “financial weapons of mass destruction,” Patricia Kilday Hart noted in the Texas Observer (5/30). But Gramm holds fast to his ideology. “I’ve never seen any evidence that opening up competition among banks and insurance companies in any way contributed to this,” he said.

The commodity bill also contained an “Enron loophole,” which allowed energy trading to escape federal oversight, a position favored by Wendy Gramm when she headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission before she joined the Enron board in 1993. It was Enron’s electronic trading that led to the California electricity crisis of 2000 and 2001, as well as Enron’s own demise, Hart noted. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 2006 concluded that the Enron loophole contributed to inflated energy prices for American consumers. Its report cited expert estimates that the loophole—by encouraging speculation—accounted for $20 of the price of a barrel of oil, then at $70. In 2007, the same committee blamed the loophole for price manipulation of the natural gas market by a single hedge fund, Amaranth Advisors.

UBS’s private banking arm is also the target of a major and wide-ranging federal criminal investigation into the bank’s efforts to help “high net worth individuals” evade hundreds of millions of dollars of US taxes, the New York Times reported (6/6).

‘FAIR TRADE’ FRAMEWORK SET. Progressive Congress members have introduced a bill that lays out a “fair trade” agenda for the future. The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act, spearheaded by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) would require a review of existing trade pacts, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other major pacts. It also would set forth what must and must not be included in future trade pacts; provide for the renegotiation of existing trade agreements; and describe the key elements of a new trade negotiating and approval mechanism to replace Fast Track that would enhance the role of Congress and the public in crafting trade agreements that can meet the needs of workers, family farmers, and the environment. The TRADE act is supported by at least 20 union, environmental, consumer, family farm and faith groups, including the Citizens Trade Campaign, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor federations, the National Farmers Union and the Sierra Club. See citizenstrade.org.

SENATE PANEL: BUSH MISLED US INTO WAR. The Senate Intelligence Committee (6/5) finally produced its final two sections of the Phase II report documenting the Bush administration’s prewar statements that misrepresented the threat from Iraq. Among the conclusions in which the Bush administration’s public statements were not supported by the intelligence:

• Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qaeda with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

• Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

• Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.

• Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.

• The Secretary of Defense’s statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes because they were underground and deeply buried was not substantiated by available intelligence information.

• The Intelligence Community did not confirm that Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 as the Vice President repeatedly claimed.

The second section details inappropriate, sensitive intelligence activities conducted by the Department of Defense’s Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, without the knowledge of the Intelligence Community or the State Department. The reports are the culmination of efforts that began in March 2003, when, as ranking Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) initially requested an investigation into the origin of fraudulent Niger documents. 

Dan Froomkin noted at WashingtonPost.com (6/6) “the report also validates former press secretary Scott McClellan’s conclusion in his new book that the White House pursued a “political propaganda campaign” to market the war.”

KUCINICH WOULD IMPEACH BUSH. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush (6/9). Kucinich accused Bush of high crimes and misdemeanors, including misleading the country into war and authorizing war crimes. He said impeachment may be the only way to avoid another unnecessary war with Iran. Joining as a co-sponsor was Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), who also was one of two-dozen co-sponsors of an earlier Kucinich effort to begin impeachment proceedings against Vice President Dick Cheney. The Cheney impeachment resolution was referred to the House Judiciary Committee last November, where it has languished since then, RawStory.com noted (6/10).

CLARKE: TRUTH COMMISSION NEEDED ON IRAQ WAR. After the Senate Intelligence Committee reported on the Bush administration’s misuse of pre-war Iraq intelligence, former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke proposed a “truth and reconciliation commission” to get to the bottom of the lies and misinformation highlighted in the report. “Someone should have to pay in some way for the decisions that they made to mislead the American people,” Clarke told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann (6/5). If impeachment is off the table, he suggested that “some sort of truth and reconciliation commission” might be appropriate because, he said, we can’t “let these people back into polite society and give them jobs on university boards and corporate boards” unless they admit they lied or were in error. “We do need to forgive people, but first they have to admit they lied,” Clarke said.

HOUSE PANEL DETAILS ABRAMOFF-WHITE HOUSE TIES. President Bush met with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff at least six times, four more occasions than the White House has yet to acknowledge, according to a draft report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (6/9). The report also found Abramoff had more than 150 verifiable contacts with White House officials and was “held in high regard” by White House officials, despite White House denials that Abramoff was successful as a White House lobbyist. Despite refusal of at least three former White House officials to cooperate with House investigators, on Fifth Amendment grounds relating to self-incrimination, and the destruction of email records for accounts run through the Republican National Committee and concerns that the House inquiry could undermine Justice Department investigations, the proposed report finds that Abramoff and his associates “influenced some White House actions” and gave White House officials “expensive tickets and meals.”

George Zornick noted at MediaMatters.org’s “Altercation” (6/10) that these revelations were not reported on any of the major networks broadcasts on the day they were released. Nor could the story be found on the front page of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post the following day.

James Moore and Wayne Slater report in a new book, The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master plan for Absolute Power, that Abramoff met Rove on the street outside the White House in March 2002, and Abramoff told a client who witnessed the meeting that he and Rove regularly met in such ways in order to stay below the radar, Paul Kiel wrote at TPMMuckraker.com (6/9).

Abramoff, who is in prison after pleading guilty in January 2006 to federal charges of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion, is cooperating in a bribery investigation involving lawmakers, their aides and members of the Bush administration.

MORE SENATORS IN TROUBLE. Two polls show Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) trailing his Democratic challenger, Mark Begich. A poll conducted by the firm Hellenthal and Associates of Anchorage 5/6-10 for a lobbyist found Begich leading 51-44, although the 6% margin of error is high. But a poll by Research 2000 5/12-14 for DailyKos.com with a 4% margin of error showed Begich leading 48-43. Survey USA shows three GOP senators with low approval ratings, including Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) at 48%, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) at 45% and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) at 50%. Roberts leads Jim Slattery (D) 50%-38% in a Research 2000 poll (6/2-4) for DailyKos.com. In New Jersey, a Rasmussen poll found Sen. Frank Lautenberg statistically tied with GOP former Rep. Dick Zimmer, 45%-44%, though Arjun Jaikumar noted at DailyKos.com (6/10) that New Jersey is famous for showing Dems polling well below where they wind up performing in the fall.

IN HOUSE RACES, The Cook Political Report, whose ratings of congressional races are well-respected by political pros, changed its ratings on ten House races (6/5)—all in favor of the Dems. Eric Kleefeld of TPMMuckraker.com noted, “It’s very rare that Cook flips so many ratings at once—much less flipping them all in favor of the same political party. The seats include: The open Calif. 4, seat formerly held by John Doolittle, from Solid Republican to Likely Republican; Colo. 4 Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, from Lean Republican to Toss Up; Conn. 4 Rep. Chris Shays, from Lean Republican to Toss Up; Ill. 10 Rep. Mark Kirk, from Lean Republican to Toss Up; N.M. 2 seat formerly held by Steve Pearce, from Likely Republican to Lean Republican; N.Y. 29 Rep. Randy Kuhl, from Lean Republican to Toss Up; N.C. 8 Rep. Robin Hayes, from Lean Republican to Toss Up; Ohio 1 Rep. Steve Chabot, from Lean Republican to Toss Up; Va. 2 Rep. Thelma Drake, from Likely Republican to Lean Republican; Wash. 8 Rep. Dave Reichert, from Lean Republican to Toss Up. Kleefeld noted that according to Cook’s ratings, Republicans now occupy 21 out of 27 seats in the Toss-Up category, painting a very stark picture of GOP vulnerability.

PUBLIC TRANSIT PARADOX. Skyrocketing gas costs have pushed more drivers to try public transportation, as more than 90% of public-transit officials report that their ridership is up over the past three years. Bus ridership is up 2% nationwide but streetcars, trolleys and other light rail has increased 10.3% in the first quarter of the year, according to the American Public Transportation Association (apta.com), but Robert Reich noted at Prospect.org (6/5) that the nation doesn’t have enough buses and trains to handle the new demand. “Even more absurdly, right now when it’s needed the most, public transportation across the land is being cut back” as transit agencies are hit by the same skyrocketing fuel prices and shrinking sales taxes on which may agencies depend, as consumer purchases decline in this recession. A survey of the nation’s public transit agencies released (5/30) showed 21% of rail operators now cutting back and 19% of bus operators. “This is nuts,” Reich wrote. “If officials need more money to cover the extra fuel costs of public transit, they can raise ticket prices a bit without reducing demand; most of us would still find public transit cheaper than driving our cars. But officials shouldn’t stop there. They should add services and expand whole systems—more buses, more trains, more light rail. If they can’t finance this by floating bonds, they should go to Congress and ensure that public transportation is a major part of the next stimulus package.”

The US Transportation Department reported in May that Americans in March drove 11 billion fewer miles than in March 2007, a decline of 4.3% and the first time since 1979 that traffic has dropped from one March to the next.

US BLACKMAILS IRAQ FOR OCCUPATION DEAL. The US is holding hostage some $50 bln of Iraq’s money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to pressure the Iraqi government into signing an agreement seen by many Iraqis as prolonging the US occupation indefinitely, Patrick Cockburn reported in the London Independent (6/6).

US negotiators are using the existence of $20 bln in outstanding court judgments against Iraq in the US, most dating from the Saddam Hussein era, to pressure their Iraqi counterparts into accepting the deal allowing the US to keep more than 50 military bases in Iraq, allowing US forces to conduct military campaigns without consultation of the Iraqi government and giving US soldiers and contractors legal immunity, the Independent reported. Iraq’s foreign reserves are currently protected by a presidential order giving them immunity from judicial attachment. The US is able to threaten Iraq with the loss of 40% of its foreign exchange reserves under UN sanctions and restrictions imposed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. US negotiators say the price of Iraq escaping those sanctions is to sign up to a new “strategic alliance” with the US.

President Bush hopes to push the new pact through by 7/31. Although it is in reality a treaty, Cockburn noted, Bush is describing it as an alliance so he does not have to submit it for approval to the US Senate.

SUN SHINES, WIND BLOWS, WATER FLOWS, LIGHTS GO ON. The world’s largest solar photovoltaic farm, generating electricity straight from sunlight, is taking shape near Moura, a small town in Portugal which boasts the most sunshine in Europe, the London Guardian reported (6/6). When fully commissioned later this year, the 2,520 giant solar panels, each the size of a house, are expected to supply 45 megawatts of electricity each year, enough to power 30,000 homes. Portugal expects to generate 31% of its energy from renewable sources, such as wind, sun and water, by 2020, up from 20% in 2005. “We have to reduce our dependence on oil and gas,” said Manuel Pinho, Portugese minister of economics. “What seemed extravagant in 2004 when we decided to go for renewables now seems to have been a very good decision.” Pinho dismisses nuclear power. “When you have a programme like this there is no need for nuclear power. Wind and water are our nuclear power. The relative price of renewables is now much lower, so the incentives are there to invest.

Sweden is the top European user of renewable energy, with 39.8% in 2005 and a goal of 49% in 2020, the Guardian reported. Other top users, with 2005 levels and 2020 goals, include Latvia, 34.9% (42%); Finland, 28.5% (38%); Austria, 23.3% (34%); and Portugal, 20.5% (31%). The UK was at the bottom, with 1.3% and a target of 15%. Andrew Leonard of Salon.com noted (6/6) that according to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2006 the US got 7% of its power from renewables.

GOP BLOCKS WINDFALL PROFITS TAX, RENEWABLE CREDITS. Senate Republicans blocked a plan to tax the windfall profits of the largest oil companies (6/10). Democrats on Tuesday failed, 51-43, to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster of the energy package, and bring the bill up for consideration. Dems said the huge profits enjoyed by the largest US oil companies should be reined in with motorists paying more than $4 a gallon for gasoline and oil prices soaring well beyond $100 a barrel, AP reported. On a 50-44 vote Republicans also blocked consideration of legislation that would extend tax breaks for wind, solar and other alternative energy sources.

CARTER AGES WELL. John McCain got some laughs when, trying to deflect the backlash for his support for Bush’s unpopular policies, told NBC’s Brian Williams, “Sen. Obama says that I’m running for a Bush’s third terms (sic). It seems to me he’s running for Jimmy Carter’s second.” But Markos Moulitsas noted at DailyKos.com (6/10), that in a July ’07 Rasmussen poll, 57% approved of Carter while 59% disapprove of Bush.

FOOL OR FRAUD. “Only a fool or a fraud talks tough or romantically about war,” John McCain has said. But Georgia Logothetis noted at DailyKos.com (6/9), George W. Bush had this to say to American soldiers about two months ago: “It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks,” Bush said. Logotheris added, “The first reporter on (McCain’s) Just Talk Express to ask McCain if he believes the President is a “fool” or a “fraud” gets a cookie.”

BIOFUELS COULD BENEFIT PEASANTS. Peasant farmers could benefit from the rise in biofuels if they have access to land to grow the increasingly profitable cash crops, but other are likely to be driven off land required for large-scale plantations, according to a study for the Food and Agriculture Organization summit in Rome, Reuters noted (6/2). The use of food such as maize (corn), palm oil and sugar to produce fuel has been blamed in part for high commodity prices that are driving millions of people into hunger. The study recommended new standards to ensure land rights of poor people, including certification schemes for biofuels to ensure they are produced without destroying the local environment or abusing the rights of local people. “Biofuels are not necessarily bad news for small-scale farmers and land users,” the study concluded, saying peasants could, in the best scenario enjoy “an agricultural renaissance” if their rights are protected. In any case, biofuels look to be here to stay, it said. “In the long run, production of biofuels feedstocks can be expected to become a stable rather than a rogue element in land use.”

NEBRASKANS CALL FOR AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE. While 9 in 10 Nebraskans have health care coverage, 8 in 10 fear becoming uninsured, and 94% support an affordable health care plan for all—regardless of health status. These are among key findings of the 2008 “Nebraskans on Health Care Issues” survey commissioned by the Nebraska Medical Association (NMA), released at the Nebraska Health Care Summit (5/29). Other findings: 31% said they postponed or skipped medical services in the past year to save money; 31% said they had problems paying for medical services in the past year, including 26% of insured Nebraskans; and 18% spent at least $5,000 on health care last year. Of the uninsured, 76% had trouble paying for a medical service last year; 66% postponed or skipped care to save money; and 40% were denied health care coverage. If affordable health care is available to everyone, 76% support requiring everyone to sign up for coverage. See www.nebmed.org.

SURVEILLANCE LAW CONTROVERSY. After outcry from rights groups who say a new intelligence law threatens civil liberties, the president has backed off. The law, established by executive order, allows security forces to gather evidence through wiretapping without a court order and it allows authorities to withhold evidence from defense lawyers if it is considered to be in the interest of national security. It also requires judges and prosecutors to cooperate with intelligence services. But Daniel De Groot of OpenLeft.com noted (6/9), the president who bowed to public pressure to preserve civil liberties was not George W. Bush, but Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whom the Bush administration has vilified for his socialist policies. Venezuelan radio commentator Nelson Bocaranda told the Los Angeles Times (6/9), “What may have really upset him was the comparisons some made with President Bush’s anti-terror law, the Patriot Act. The very idea that he resembled Bush in some way may have been what convinced him to scrap it.”

GM BOSS PESSIMISTIC ABOUT HYBRIDS. General Motors said about 19,000 hourly workers have accepted buyout or early-retirement offers from the company, and most will leave the payroll by 7/1, the Wall Street Journal reported (5/30). About 53,000 workers—roughly half its hourly work force—have agreed to leave the company since the beginning of 2006. But Meteor Blades of DailyKos.com wonders (5/29) how many more auto workers will have to lose their jobs to pull GM out of the hole when Bob Lutz—the vice chairman and product development chief hired in 2002 to spark new life into GM—spouts lines such as global warming is a “total crock of s**t,” and the hybrid vehicles being made by Toyota “make no economic sense,” as he told journalists in January, according to D Magazine. (The Toyota Prius hybrid, which the EPA rates at 44 mpg, passed 1 mln sales in May.) GM, which experimented with electric cars in the ’90s before abruptly cancelling the EV1 program in 2003, unveiled the Chevy Volt in January 2007 as a plug-in car that can go 40 to 50 miles on a single charge of a lithium ion battery, then a gas motor kicks in to move the car and recharge the battery at once. The company once targeted $30,000 as the price for a Chevy Volt. But Lutz now figures a more realistic price for the Volt would be about $48,000. Only government tax incentives could take the price tag nearer to $30,000, he told BusinessWeek. (The Prius starts at $21,500.)

STUDENT LOANS BYPASS SMALLER COLLEGES. Some of the nation’s biggest banks have closed their doors to students at community colleges, for-profit universities and other less competitive institutions, even as they continue to extend federally backed loans to students at the nation’s top universities, the New York Times reported (6/2). Citibank has been among the most aggressive in paring the list of colleges it serves. JPMorgan Chase, PNC and SunTrust say they have not dropped whole categories, but are cutting colleges as well. Some less-selective four-year colleges, like Eastern Oregon University and William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif., say they have been summarily dropped by some lenders. Tuition and loan amounts can be quite small at community colleges. But these institutions, which are a stepping stone to other educational programs or to better jobs, often draw students from the lower rungs of the economic ladder. More than 6.2 mln of the nation’s 14.8 mln undergraduates — over 40%—attend community colleges. According to the most recent data from the College Board, about a third of their graduates took out loans, a majority of them federally guaranteed. So far, financial aid administrators say they have been able to find fallback lenders that students can switch to, but the hurdles are costly to students—in money and time, the Times reported. The maximum interest rate on federal loans, now at 6.8% on the most commonly used loans, is set by Congress, but lenders are scrapping benefits, like rate cuts for borrowers who make their payments on time or allow direct withdrawals from bank accounts.

INCINERATOR WANTS TO IMPORT TOXIC PCBS. Environmental activists are protesting a proposal to import 40 mln pounds of toxic liquid PCBs from Mexico in order to burn them in Southeast Texas. Importing PCBs has been illegal since Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976, but Veolia Environmental Services, which operates a PCB incinerator in Port Arthur, is asking for an exemption to this federal law. Last year Veolia prevailed in burning military nerve gas waste despite an earlier injunction which was over-ruled by a federal circuit court judge. The Sierra Club, Communities In-Power Development Association (CIDA), Earth Justice, and the Chemical Weapons Working Group are filing comments and related documents with the EPA, which has set a 6/19 hearing in Port Arthur. “Safer, cleaner, alternative non-burn technologies already exist and are readily portable so they could be used on site in Mexico to more safely handle the PCB disposal at each location,” Neil Carman of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club said.

RETURN OF WILLIE HORTON. Floyd Brown, the producer of the Willie Horton ad, which is credited as playing an influential role in the defeat of 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, is getting ready for a volley of ads aimed at Barack Obama. On his Web site, ExposeObama.com, Brown is raising money for a series of spots. But the first ad, which came out on the Internet in late April, hits Obama’s 2001 vote in the Illinois Senate against a bill that would have specifically extended the death penalty to anyone who was found guilty of a murder that was committed “in furtherance of the activities of an organized gang.” But Alex Koppelman of Salon.com noted (6/9) that FactCheck.org has already debunked this first ad. The site points out that the sponsor of the bill Obama voted against, Illinois state Rep. Susana Mendoza, supports Obama and says the ad makes her “sick to my stomach” because of its misrepresentation of Obama’s position. The ad paints him as soft on crime, but as FactCheck notes, Obama (correctly) noted when he explained his opposition to the bill that gang members who committed murder would be covered under the state’s current death penalty statutes, and there was fear that the bill might be overly broad and end up disproportionately affecting minorities. That was a real concern in Illinois at the time, as Republican George Ryan, then the state’s governor, had suspended executions in the state the year before because of serious concerns over many of the cases and the targeting of minorities.

FORMER BUSH HEALTH CHIEF’S FIRM WILL TREAT 9/11 VICS. During Tommy Thompson’s tenure as President Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services from January 2001 to 2005, the Bush administration largely ignored the health risks facing first responders to the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center site. Doctors concluded that the dust there was basically a “toxic soup,” leading to serious health problems for workers. Many of these first responders have since been unable to attain health coverage from either their insurers or the US government. As the Associated Press notes, Thompson was “criticized for not doing enough” to help these workers. But the Centers for Disease Control has awarded Thompson’s Logistics Health, Inc. of a La Crosse, Wis., an $11 mln contract to treat some of those very same workers. The contract is aimed at tracking the health of between 4,000 and 6,000 workers who live outside the New York City area, where a separate health monitoring program is in place. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) responded, “It is ironic that former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson’s firm won the contract to provide the services, given the history of delay from the Bush administration when he was secretary and now.” (Thinkprogress.org, 6/4.)

OLBERMANN BEATS O’REILLY. How bad is the conservative malaise? MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann outdrew Fox News’s O’Reilly Factor in the key demographic of Adults 25-54 for the week of 6/2-8 for the first time ever, proving that liberal voices draw viewers. MSNBC also outdrew Fox News for the week in primetime (6/2-8, 7-10 p.m. CT), averaging 496,000 Adults 25-54 vs. 449,000. This is the first time MSNBC beat FNC for the week in primetime since Feb. 25, 2008, when MSNBC telecast exclusive coverage of the Democratic candidates debate.  Prior to that, the last time MSNBC beat FNC in primetime was the week of July 30, 2001.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2008

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