With his approval ratings sinking below 30%, George W. Bush once again has lowered the bar for contempt of the nation’s chief executive with his suggestion that lifting the federal ban on offshore oil exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) would bring immediate relief to high gas prices.

Bush was not a very successful oil executive, but he has enough background in the oil business to know drilling in the Arctic refuge and offshore reserves would take years to produce oil, and have a negligible effect on gas prices.

But in a clumsy attempt to blame Democrats for high gas prices, Bush repeatedly has called on Congress to pass a bill that would allow states to permit offshore oil drilling. In order to relieve the “painful level” of gas prices, Bush said, “our nation must produce more oil.”

Bush also reiterated his demand that Congress allow oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge. According to Bush, drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge will “bring enormous benefits to the American people.”

But ThinkProgress.org notes (6/18) that Bush’s claim isn’t even backed up by his own administration. A Department of Energy report in May found that the Arctic refuge’s reserves will do little to reduce the price of a barrel of oil: “If Congress were to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, crude oil prices would probably drop by an average of only 75 cents a barrel, according to Department of Energy projections,” McClatchy Newspapers reported (5/22). (A barrel of oil contains 42 gallons.)

Moreover, in 2005, DoE estimated that there are 18bln barrels of oil available offshore, which is roughly double the reserves in the Arctic Refuge. Thus, by 2025, drilling in Alaska and the OCS would shave around $2.25 off the cost of a barrel of oil meaning “little to no impact on the price at the pump, today or tomorrow.”

ThinkProgress concluded, “At best, Bush’s plan saves mere pennies on a gallon of gasoline 20 years from now, while putting billions more into Big Oil’s pockets. Perhaps oil company executives were the ‘American people’ he was referring to.” Brad Johnson of ThinkProgress.org adds that Congress is not blocking drilling. “The number of off- and on-shore drilling permits has exploded in recent years, going from 3,802 five years ago to 7,561 in 2007. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of drilling permits issued for development of public lands increased by more than 361%.

“In fact, Congress and this administration have already opened the floodgates for more oil and gas drilling in the years to come. Since 2002, the number of permits issued has greatly outstripped the number of new wells drilled. In the last four years, the Bureau of Land Management has issued 28,776 permits to drill on public land; yet, in that same time, 18,954 wells were actually drilled. That means that companies have stockpiled nearly 10,000 extra permits to drill that they are not using to increase domestic production.

“Furthermore, less than a quarter of offshore acreage open to drilling is being used. Only 10.5mln of the 44mln leased acres are currently producing oil or gas.

“The vast majority of federal oil and gas resources offshore are already available for development. According to the Minerals Management Service, of all the oil (85.9bln barrels) and gas (419.9tln cubic feet) believed to exist on the Outer Continental Shelf, 82% of the natural gas and 79% of the oil is located in areas that are currently open for leasing (such as areas in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Alaska coast).”

John McCain and Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist also have strained their credibility by jumping on the offshore drilling bandwagon. Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) “challenged Gov. Charlie Crist and John McCain’s implication that drilling could lower gas prices anytime soon.” Rubio, an attorney involved in real estate and land use, told the Miami Herald that Crist and McCain are making a “disingenuous” and “flawed” argument:

“For anyone to represent that someone drilling off the coast in Florida is going to lower gas prices here or anywhere in this country is disingenuous and a flawed argument,” Rubio said. “Oil drilling could take 10 years before any oil is pulled out of the ground, and there are a large number of leases held by oil companies that are not being exploited now. We can’t say we need more until we’ve exploited those.”

M’CAIN’S THIN SKIN. If most people know two things about John McCain, they are that he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and he was a maverick Republican senator. But it turns out that McCain is a pretty doctrinaire conservative who would continue much of George W. Bush’s economic and foreign policy if he is elected. Then Gen. Wesley Clark struck a nerve when he said he didn’t think McCain’s service as a fighter pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam qualified him to be president.

The McCain campaign pounced on Clark’s remarks on CBS’ Face the Nation (6/29) when Clark said, “In the matters of national security policy making, it’s a matter of understanding risk. It’s a matter of gauging your opponents and it’s a matter of being held accountable. John McCain’s never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he has traveled all over the world, but he hasn’t held executive responsibility,” Clark said. “That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded—that wasn’t a wartime squadron.”

Moderator Bob Schieffer noted that Barack Obama hadn’t had those experiences, nor had he ridden in a fighter plane and been shot down. “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president,” Clark replied.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) on MSNBC’s Countdown (6/30), after criticizing McCain and President Bush for not supporting his GI Bill, said McCain should “calm down” on using his military service in politics. “Let’s get the politics out of the military, take care of our military people, or have our political arguments in other areas,” he said.

But the McCain campaign sent out Orson Swindle, a fellow POW with McCain, to demean Clark’s service (7/1). Speaking of the generals, admirals and other ranking officers who back the Arizona senator, Swindle said in a conference call with reporters, according to TalkingPointsMemo.com, “Gen. Clark probably wouldn’t get that much praise from this group. I can’t speak for them, but we all know that Gen. Clark, as high-ranking as he is, his record in his last command, I think, was somewhat less than stellar.” (Clark’s last service was as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.)

On McCain’s campaign plane (7/2), the candidate urged Obama not only to repudiate Clark but “to cut him loose” because of the comments, but then McCain became visibly angry when an ABC News’ David Wright asked him to explain how his Vietnam experience prepared him for the presidency. “Please,” McCain said, recoiling back in his seat in distaste at the very question. Soon after, McCain collected himself and apologized for losing his cool. “I kind of reacted the way I did because I have a reluctance to talk about my experiences,” he said, adding, “I am always reluctant to talk about these things.”

Steve Benen noted at Salon.com (7/2), “McCain talks about his Vietnam service all the time, and his campaign has made it the basis for multiple campaign ads. Indeed, in one commercial, the McCain campaign literally included interrogation footage from McCain’s days as a prisoner of war. Given this, it seems odd that a question about how this service prepared him for the presidency would set him off like this. Indeed, by constantly talking about his service, McCain has been making the implicit case that his military background necessarily prepared him for the presidency. Is no one supposed to ask why?”

RETROACTIVE GOP SUPPORT FOR GI BILL EXPANSION. When President Bush signed into law (6/30) a new GI Bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) that doubled educational benefits for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Bush tried to steal credit for its passage and even praised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who opposed Webb’s bill and missed the vote on it. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) followed Bush and McCain’s lead in opposition to the bill and was one of 159 Republicans and 7 Dems who voted against it. But after Bush and McCain reversed themselves, Turner followed suit, writing an op-ed in his hometown paper (7/7) praising the bill and claiming—three times—that he was “proud to support” it.

M’CAIN GOES ROVIAN. Any doubts about Barack Obama’s decision to pass up public financing, with limits on campaign spending for the general election campaign, should be dispelled with John McCain’s choice of Steve Schmidt, a Karl Rove protege, to take over his campaign’s daily operations. One of Schmidt’s first initiatives was an attempt to brand Obama as a “flip-flopper” because Obama said, “When I go to Iraq and I have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and will continue to refine my policies,” at the same time adding, “I have been consistent, throughout this process, that I believe the war in Iraq was a mistake.” Later, Obama reiterated that the 16-month withdrawal timetable was not up for refinement. But the McCain campaign insisted that Obama had flip-flopped on Iraq and the pro-McCain corporate media pounded the Obama campaign with that message over the July 4 weekend.

It took some gall for the McCain to accuse the other guy of flip-flopping. Steve Benen of TheCarpetbaggerReport.com (6/19), listed dozens of major policy flip-flops by McCain on issues such as the offshore drilling moratorium; the windfall profits tax on oil companies; warrantless wiretaps; privatizing Social Security; abortion rights; the estate tax; indefinite detention of terrorist suspects; litmus tests for nominees; retroactive immunity for telecoms who cooperated with the government’s warrantless surveillance program; storing spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nev.; normalization of relations with Cuba; diplomacy with Hamas; diplomacy with Syria; giving the National Rifle Association a role in GOP policymaking; political support from right-wing televangelists such as John Hagee and Rod Parsley; global warming; pledging not to increase taxes; opposition to Bush’s tax cuts; long-term US military presence in Iraq; balancing the budget; ethanol; waterboarding. In each case—and more—he’s changed his position.

He even has flipped on his own immigration reform bill; his own lobby reform bill; his own bill to require grassroots lobbying coalitions to reveal their donors; and his own campaign-finance reform measure.

Confronted with the inconsistencies in McCain’s record in March, the senator’s aides told the New York Times that the senator “has evolved rather than switched positions in his 25-year career.” Benen noted, “That’s a perfectly sensible spin—when a politician holds one position, and then, for apparently political reasons, decides to embrace the polar opposite position, it’s only natural for his or her aides to say the politician’s position has ‘evolved.’

“But in McCain’s case, the spin is wholly unfulfilling,” Benen continued. “First, McCain sells himself as a pol who never sways with the wind, and whose willingness to be consistent in the face of pressure is proof of his character. Second, Republicans have spent the last four years or so making policy reversals the single most serious political crime in presidential politics. The dreaded ‘flip-flop’ is, according to the GOP, the latest cardinal sin for someone seeking national office.”

BUDGET-BALANCE FANTASY. McCain plans to balance the budget by the end of his first term by curbing wasteful spending and overhauling “entitlement programs” such as Social Security and Medicare, his advisers told Politico.com (7/7). He apparently is targeting the wasteful spending that the Bush administration and the Republican Congress were unable to find in six years. McCain inexplicably plans to use “savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremist for reducing the deficit.” Jason Furman, Obama’s economic policy director, called McCain’s pledge “preposterous.” Furman pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office estimates a 2013 deficit of $443bln, assuming the Bush tax cuts are extended, as McCain proposes. McCain would have to cut discretionary spending—including defense—by roughly one-third to bring the budget into the black by then, Furman told Politico.

Bush took office with a budget surplus and a national debt of $5.7tln but veered sharply into deficits with his tax cuts for the wealthy even as he invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. The White House expects a $410bln deficit this year as the national debt approaches $10tln.

LOST WEEKEND HOME. Republicans have sought to brand Barack and Michelle Obama as elites, but John and Cindy McCains apparently have so many houses they can’t keep track of them all, as they neglected to pay property taxes on a La Jolla, Calif., condo for four years, Newsweek reported (6/28). Cindy McCain is a beer heiress with a fortune estimated at $100mln and the family has at least seven homes, including an estate in Sedona, Ariz., which has two houses on it and condos in Phoenix, La Jolla, Arlington, Va., and two condos in Coronado, Calif. San Diego County officials have been sending tax notices on the La Jolla property, an oceanfront condo, for four years without receiving a response. County records show the bills, mailed to a Phoenix address associated with Mrs. McCain’s trust, were returned by the post office. Shortly after Newsweek inquired about the matter, the McCain trust paid San Diego County $6,744.42, but county officials said the trust still owed $1,742, an amount that would go into default on 7/1. On 6/30, the balance was paid, avoiding foreclosure.

Politico.com reported that since 2004 the McCains have spent $11mln on real estate; Cindy has charged as much as $750,000 on credit cards in a single month; and the McCains spent $273,000 on household staff in 2007. Just folks.

CONFLICTS BREWING. Hensley & Co., the Phoenix-based beer wholesalers headed by Cindy McCain that has played a major role in launching and sustaining John McCain’s political career, presents a raft of conflicts if he is elected president in November, Ralph Vartabedian reported in the Los Angeles Times (6/22). Not only does the company distribute beer; it also lobbies legislative and regulatory agencies on alcohol issues. It has opposed such groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving in fighting proposed federal rules requiring alcohol content information on every package of beer, wine and liquor. It has run afoul of health advocacy groups that have tried to rein in appeals to young drinkers, such as caffeinated alcoholic drinks that public health groups say put young and underage consumers at risk by disguising the effects of intoxication.

Sen. McCain has recused himself for many years on alcohol issues in the Senate. Mrs. McCain holds the title of corporate chairwoman and controls about 68% of the privately held corporate stock with her children and the senator’s son, according to records at the Arizona Department of Liquor License and Control. So far, she has given no hint of what changes, if any, she envisions. “That’s very premature,” she told the Times. The McCain campaign issued a statement that “any decisions going forward will be made when John McCain wins the election and takes office, and not before.” Hensley executives declined to comment. Political analysts were astounded that the presumptive Republican nominee had not already addressed the issue. “You can’t run a beer company out of the White House,” said Samuel L. Popkin, a political science professor at UC San Diego. “You can’t run any company from the White House. McCain is leaving a live hand grenade on the table, a major embarrassment.”

LABOR GETS BEHIND OBAMA. When the AFL-CIO endorsed Obama (6/26), federation President John Sweeney noted that, as a church-based community organizer in Chicago, Obama assisted those affected by closing steel mills. As a state senator in Illinois, he sponsored legislation to expand health care and protect overtime pay. As a US senator, Obama has earned a 98% rating from the AFL-CIO. All along, he’s marched on picket lines and rallied with striking workers. He opposes the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. He supports fair trade deals that protect jobs and workers and pledges to sign the Employee Free Choice Act. He also opposes privatizing Social Security.

John McCain, on the other hand, opposed the recent minimum-wage increase, repeatedly tried to eliminate prevailing wage guarantees, voted against protection for worker overtime, opposed OSHA standards, voted to gut the family leave and medical act and opposed extending unemployment insurance to jobless workers. He supports privatizing Social Security and government jobs and he wants to raise the age for Medicare coverage. He opposes the Employee Free Choice Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He voted for NAFTA, CAFTA and other bad trade agreements and strongly supports a bad deal the Bush administration wants to give Colombia.

LATINO VOTERS BACK OBAMA. Hispanic voters may have preferred Sen. Hillary Clinton over Sen. Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries, but a Gallup poll (7/2) shows them lining up solidly behind Obama over Sen. John McCain in the general election, 59% to 29%. Meanwhile, the New Mexico Independent (nmindependent.com) reports (7/1) that in New Mexico and other “battleground” states with large Hispanic populations—Colorado, Nevada, Florida, and possibly Arizona—pollsters found Obama leading McCain in those states 57% to 26%. (Politicalwire.com)

CATHOLIC VOTERS SWING AWAY FROM GOP. In 2004 exit polls suggested George W. Bush carried the Catholic vote 52%-47%, but the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University found in a survey conducted in February and released 6/20 that only 21% of Catholics identified as Republican (down 10 points from 2004) while 38% ID’d as Dems. In 2006, the Catholic vote swung to the Dems, 55%-44%. When leaners are thrown in, Catholics favor the Dems 60%-36%, with 69% of Hispanic Catholics identifying or leaning Dem and white Catholics—who split almost evenly in 2006—identify or lean Dem 52%-40%. See cara.georgetown.edu.

‘UNABASHED RACIST’ HELMS DIES. Jesse Helms, who got his start defending segregation, never reconciled with the Civil Rights Act and never apologized for his racist past, died on 7/4 at age 86. George W. Bush said, “Jesse Helms was a kind, decent, and humble man and a passionate defender of what he called ‘the Miracle of America.’”

John McCain said, “At this time, let us remember a life dedicated to serving this nation.” But when Helms announced in 2001 he would not seek re-election, columnist David Broder called him “the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country.”

Some remembered his courtly Southern manners, but John Nichols remembered him following Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) the first African-American woman to sit in the Senate, into a Capitol elevator and telling Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): “Watch me make her cry. I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.” Then, emphasizing the lines about how “good” things were before the Civil War ended slavery, Helms sang “Dixie,” Nichols recalled at TheNation.com.

Helms’ National Congressional Club raised money for what came to be called “The New Right” that forced the realignment of the Republican Party as the GOP adopted Southern mores. Helms was skilled at working the fault lines that turned white fears into Republican votes, Nichols noted. Helms warned that, “Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced.” He suggested that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist dupe and refused, even decades after King’s death, to honor the Nobel Peace Prize winner. He dismissed the civil rights movement as a cabal of communists and “moral degenerates.” As the movement gathered strength—and as murderous violence against activists in particular and African Americans in general increased—Helms menacingly suggested to non-violent civil rights activists that, “The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that’s thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men’s rights.” As a senator he waged a filibuster to block the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, he opposed extension of the Voting Rights Act, he championed the apartheid regime in South Africa and when Nelson Mandela visited the Capitol in 1994 Helms ostentatiously turned his back on him.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, he despised globalists, sought to weaken the United Nations and opposed foreign aid, except for military juntas in Latin America and minority white regimes in southern Africa, the London Guardian noted. Helms refused to hold confirmation hearings for 18 ambassadors, or to debate such key issues for the Clinton administration as the chemical weapons or strategic arms treaties. Helms also was a virulent homophobe. He explained that he voted against Roberta Achtenberg, President Clinton’s nominee for a Housing and Urban Development position, “because she’s a damn lesbian.” When a Raleigh woman whose late husband was a friend of Helms wrote him to clarify what she believed were his misconceptions of homosexuality and AIDS, Helms replied, “As for homosexuality, the Bible judges it, I do not ... As for Mark, I wish he had not played Russian roulette with his sexual activity.” He opposed funding for AIDS research and and treatment of AIDS victims until it spread to the general population. He never apologized for any of his anti-gay positions, but Pam Spaulding of pamshouseblend.com noted (7/4) in his memoir, *Here’s Where I Stand*, Helms wrote, “It had been my feeling that AIDS was a disease largely spread by reckless and voluntary sexual and drug-abusing behavior, and that it would probably be confined to those in high risk populations. I was wrong.”

In his most famous racist appeal, in 1990, after Helms fell behind in a race with Harvey Gantt, a former Charlotte mayor who is black, Helms’ campaign began running TV ads that showed a white man’s hands crumpling up a rejection notice from a corporation that had refused to hire him because affirmative action policies had supposedly required that the job go to a “less qualified minority.” After those words were uttered, an image of Gantt flashed on the screen. Helms won a narrow victory that year, as he did in 1996. Nichols noted that Alex Castellanos, the veteran GOP media consultant who produced the so-called “White Hands” commercial that Helms used against Gantt, has been advising McCain’s campaign on media strategy, the *Washington Post* reported. Nichols also noted that GOP strategist Charlie Black, a prominent member of McCain’s political inner circle, advised Helms throughout much of the senator’s career and played a central role in the 1990 campaign.

Coincidentally, the week before Helms’ death Congress voted to remove his name from the US terrorist list. Mandela is now free to enter the US without getting special clearance by the State Department.

DEM CONGRESSIONAL OUTLOOK IMPROVES. As Democrats hope to expand their current 51-49 Senate majority, the GOP will do well if it holds its losses to three or four seats, said Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “If you have an R in front of your name, you better run scared,” Ensign told the *Los Angeles Times* (7/6). Mississippi may send a Democrat to the Senate for the first time in a quarter-century as former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) takes on appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R). At least nine other Dems also are running strong campaigns against incumbents in Alaska, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon as well as leading in seats given up by Rs in Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is the only Democratic incumbent thought to be endangered.

In the House, where Dems hold a 236-199 majority, the Cook Political Report has upgraded the prospects of Dems in 27 House races, including four seats that are leaning toward a Democratic pick-up. Among races that Cook rates as leaning toward a switch or a tossup, Republicans are defending 22 to the Dems’ seven. Cook sees 68 of the GOP’s 199 seats as either competitive or potentially competitive, compared with 33 Dem seats.

The Rothenberg Political Report sees 40 GOP and 24 Dem seats at play. Dems are playing defense in nine districts, the GOP in 19.

Jonathan Singer of MyDD.com noted (7/7) that with the Dems holding a sizable lead in the generic congressional ballot question (43% to 34% in a McLaughlin & Associates poll 6/26-29) and an unprecedentedly large lead in cash-on-hand (the DCCC has $47.2mln in the bank to the NRCC’s $6.7mln, a 7-to-1 advantage), “there is little doubt that the outside forces coming to bear on the individual races now favor the Democrats (perhaps even enough so to sweep to victory some candidates who might otherwise not even have a chance at winning).”

VOTER DRIVE PUTS 9 STATES IN PLAY. Barack Obama could make major gains in at least nine states the Democratic ticket lost in 2004 if he can achieve a relatively modest increase in turnout among young and African-American voters, a Chicago Tribune analysis of voting data suggests. If Obama could inspire just 10% more Democratic voters under 30 to go to the polls than four years ago, that could be enough to switch Iowa and New Mexico from red to blue. A 10% increase black turnout would make up more than 40% of George W. Bush’s 2004 victory margin in Ohio and more than 20% of the Bush’s victory margin in Florida. Turnout increases of 10% of young voters and African Americans could virtually eliminate the Republicans’ 2004 victory margin in Ohio and go a long way toward closing the gap in Colorado, Nevada, Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina. With the Illinois senator’s enthusiastic following and organizational resources from his campaign’s fundraising successes, his campaign sees a chance to reshape the electorate this fall to the Democrats’ advantage, possibly for several elections. “Honestly, it’s the first chance the Democrats have had in a generation or two to expand a part of the electorate that could help the Democratic Party for years to come,” said Steve Hildebrand, Obama’s deputy campaign manager.

OBAMA LEADS MONTANA. It might seem far-fetched, but Josh Orton notes at MyDD.com (7/3) that Barack Obama led John McCain by 5 points (48%-43%) in Montana in a Rasmussen survey conducted 7/1. The poll also found 50% of Montana voters said it’s more important to get the troops home from Iraq than it is to win the war, while 44% hold the opposite view and say victory is more important. The last Dem presidential candidate to carry the state was Bill Clinton with 38% in 1992, when Ross Perot picked up 26% and President Bush I got 35%. George W. Bush carried the state by 20 points in 2004. But the governor and both senators are now Dems.

M’CAIN STRATEGIST HAS COLOMBIA TIES. John McCain travelled in July to Colombia, where his top strategist, Charlie Black, has longstanding business and political ties. Since 1998, the lobbying firm headed by Black received more than $1.8 mln lobbying for the leading foreign producer of oil and gas in Colombia, Occidental Petroleum, the *New York Times* reported (7/1). Black in March quit as chairman of BKSH & Associates, which has also represented Colombian textile and apparel manufacturers and a businesswoman who is a former foreign minister and presidential candidate. He lobbied Congress, the State Department and the White House on “general energy issues” and “general trade activities” involving Colombia. He also worked on winning foreign assistance for Colombia and blocking an economic embargo against the country because of its poor human rights record. Occidental has been accused of complicity in the killing of peasants thought to be sympathetic to guerrilla groups. Occidental also was tied to the 2003 killing of three Colombian labor leaders when three soldiers who were members of a unit that guards an Occidental pipeline were charged with the murders, the Times reported. McCain met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to highlight his support for a free-trade agreement with Colombia. Obama opposes the deal, citing environmental and human rights concerns, including the Colombian government’s repression of labor unions. Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist, Teamsters President James Hoffa said (7/1), as more than 400 union leaders have been assassinated there since Uribe took office in 2001, including 27 already this year. Sam Stein reported at HuffingtonPost.com (7/1) that other McCain associates, such as fundraiser Peter Madigan, are also tied to the Colombia by their lobbying backgrounds. McCain has had at least 134 lobbyists working on his campaign, according to McCainSource.com.

The co-host of a recent top-dollar fundraiser for McCain oversaw the payment of roughly $1.7mln to a Colombian paramilitary group that is designated a terrorist organization by the US, Nico Pitney reported at HuffingtonPost.com (7/2). McCain backer Carl H. Lindner Jr. was CEO of Chiquita Brands International from 1984 to 2001 and remained on the company’s board of directors until May 2002. Following a Justice Department indictment last year, Chiquita admitted to illegally funding the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym AUC), a paramilitary group which is described by George Washington University’s National Security Archive as an “illegal right-wing anti-guerrilla group tied to many of the country’s most notorious civilian massacres.” Chiquita agreed to pay a $25mln fine. Chiquita’s payments to the AUC began in 1997 and lasted seven years; roughly half of the funds came after the group was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department in 2001.

$40M HEALTH CAMPAIGN WILL PUSH DEMS. A consortium of progressive groups, think tanks, trade unions and activists are set to launch a $40mln campaign to win affordable heath care for all next year, Sam Stein reported at HuffingtonPost.com (7/8). Health Care For America Now (healthcareforamericanow.org), with Elizabeth Edwards as a figurehead, plans a $1.5mln initial ad buy, will send organizers to 52 cities, blast emails to 5 million households and submit op-eds to major papers. The coalition includes MoveOn.org, ACORN, Americans United for Change, the Campaign for America’s Future, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the National Education Association, National Women’s Law Center, Planned Parenthood and the Service Employees International Union and will take advantage of Moveon.org’s massive data files to reach out to like-minded supporters. Officials promised to work in Democratic and Republican districts alike. “We’ll have an organizer in the district of every Blue Dog Democrat,” said HCAN campaign manager Richard Kirsch, referring to conservative Dems. There are no plans to coordinate with Barack Obama—who has stressed that he will make health care legislation a priority in the White House—or Ted Kennedy—who is reportedly set to relaunch a Senate effort to achieve universal care. But Kirsch stressed that “The principles behind our campaign are similar to those Obama has.”

RATINGS GAMES. Is Barack Obama really the most liberal senator, as John McCain and the GOP say he is? National Journal rated Obama as the most liberal senator for 2007, just as it rated the previous Democratic nominee, John Kerry, as the Senate’s No. 1 liberal in 2004. It stretches credulity, to say the least, that Obama is more liberal than Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). Bill Adair of Politifact.com noted (6/19) that Voteview.com, a site created by political scientists that plots lawmakers on a liberal-conservative scale based on their voting patterns, calculated that there were nine senators more liberal than Obama in the current Congress (Feingold was most liberal, followed by Chris Dodd). Congressional Quarterly’s calculation of party unity, which measures how often members vote with their party on bills, showed Obama with a 97% rating, but 5 Dems had 98%. On votes where Bush indicated his position, Obama supported him 40%. That puts Obama in the middle of the pack for Dems. McCain supported Bush 95%, for the Senate’s highest presidential support last year, though he missed more than half the votes because he was campaigning.

ROVE REJECTS HOUSE SUBPOENA. Former presidential adviser Karl Rove declined a subpoena to appear before a House Judiciary subcommittee investigating allegations that the Justice Department has engaged in politically motivated prosecutions of Democratic officials, including former Alabama Gov. Donald Siegelman. Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, proposed an off-the-record, untranscribed interview or to answer written questions about the Siegelman case, but not the broader issue of the politicization of the Justice Department. John Conyers Jr., (D-Mich.) chairman of the committee, and Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.), who chairs the subcommittee, rejected that proposal in a letter (7/3) to Luskin and threatened to prosecute Rove by the inherent authority of the House if Rove failed to appear on 7/10. “A refusal to appear in violation of the subpoena could subject Mr. Rove to contempt proceedings, including statutory contempt under federal law and proceedings under the inherent contempt authority of the House of Representatives,” Conyers and Sánchez wrote, according to CQPolitics.com (7/3).

DOCS ATTACK GOP SENS. After Republicans blocked a bill (6/26) that would have averted a 10% cut in Medicare payments in July, the American Medical Association started running ads that name GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas; John Sununu of New Hampshire; John Barrasso and Michael Enzi of Wyoming; Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee; Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania as voting “to protect the powerful insurance companies at the expense of Medicare patients’ access to doctors.” Alexander, Cornyn, Sununu, Barrasso, Enzi, Cochran and Wicker all face elections this year and Sununu and Wicker are seen as particularly vulnerable. The Texas AMA withdrew its support of Cornyn. Ronnie Musgrove (D), who is challenging Wicker, is talking about the issue at all his events, Jonathan Singer noted at MyDD.com (7/2).

Despite the long support of the AMA for Republicans, 39 Republicans voted to block Dem efforts to call up the bill that had overwhelmingly passed the House. Dems needed 60 votes to call up the bill but only had 59 as Ted Kennedy was ill and John McCain was absent. The 10% cut occurs automatically because of a formula that reduces Medicare payments to doctors when spending exceeds certain goals. President Bush threatened to veto the bill, in part because it would reduce federal payments to private insurance companies instead of the doctors. Jonathan Singer of MyDD.com noted (7/8) that the AMA gave 67% of its contributions to GOP candidates in 2006 and during the GOP control of Congress gave more than two-thirds of its $15mln in contributions to GOP candidates. But Republicans put the interests of insurance companies, another group that has funded the GOP over the years, over the doctors. This year the docs have given 54% of their contributions to Dems, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. “The Republicans made a calculation: They thought they could completely contravene the sentiments of their backers and get away with it scot-free,” Singer wrote. “Turns out they can’t. Shocking, I know. But that’s politics.”

The Senate reconsidered the bill (7/9) in a vote that that was dramatized by Sen. Ted Kennedy's return to the chamber for the first time since he was diagnosed with a brain tumor to cast the deciding vote amid cheers from his colleagues. The Senate invoked cloture by a veto-proof 69-30 vote and then passed the bill by unanimous consent, sending it to Bush despite his threatened veto. McCain missed the vote but issued a statement in opposition to the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on Bush to sign the bill:

"The House strongly passed this bill in bipartisan, veto-proof fashion by nearly 300 votes, and the Senate has now passed it by a veto-proof margin as well. It is now up to the President to sign it into law. I call on him to join Congress in making sure Medicare works better for every American senior and TRICARE works better for our troops."

HACK ATTACK ON M’CAIN. Though neither Obama, Clark nor Webb questioned McCain’s heroism, conservatives have given the former Navy aviator a harder time. Retired Army Col. David Hackworth, who received three Silver Stars during the Korean War and seven Silver Stars during the Vietnam War, questioned McCain’s heroism in a January 2000 column. Hackworth noted that McCain’s Silver Star, Legion of Merit for Valor, Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Stars, two Commendation medals plus two Purple Hearts and a dozen service “gongs,” all were based on his 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war after he was shot down in 1967. That outweighs war heroes such as Audie Murphy and John Glenn, “who both for years repeatedly performed extraordinary deeds on the ground or in the air against an armed enemy,” Hackworth noted.

Hackworth tracked down McCain’s Silver Star narrative, which reads: “His captors … subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly towards the eventual abandonment …” of such harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese.

“Yet in McCain’s own words just four days after being captured, he admits he violated the US Code of Conduct by telling his captors ‘O.K, I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital,’” Hackworth wrote.

“The facts are that he signed a confession and declared himself a ‘black criminal who performed deeds of an air pirate.’ This statement and other interviews he gave to the Communist press were used as propaganda to fan the flames of the anti-war movement.” Hackworth added that the US Navy normally requires two eyewitnesses for a heroism award. “But for the valor awards McCain received, there are no eye-witnesses, less himself and his captors.”

Hackworth, who died in 2005, concluded, “McCain certainly doesn’t appear to be a war hero by conventional standards, but rather a tough survivor whose handlers are overplaying the war hero card.”

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2008

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