Election results overshadowed the Federal Communication Commission’s 5-0 decision (11/4) to allow the reallocation of unused TV “white spaces” for high-speed Internet access, but the move could help the US catch up with other industrialized nations in expanding the ’Net to cover all Americans.

The vote was a big victory for public interest groups as well as high-tech companies such as Microsoft and Google, whose founders personally lobbied commissioners on the airwave issue, saying that use of the waves, which can penetrate buildings, could unleash a wave of innovation in wireless technology that allows more people to surf the Web with smartphones, laptops and other mobile devices, the Washington Post reported (11/5).

Ben Scott, policy director of FreePress.net noted that the US has fallen behind many other industrialized nations in providing fast, affordable Internet access, as nearly half of American homes still do not have broadband access. “The phone and cable companies that dominate the broadband market promise more of the same slow speeds and high prices that put us in this mess. Opening white spaces adds much-needed competition and innovation—sparking economic growth at a time when jobs and investment are on a downward spiral,” Scott said.

Critics of the move included commercial broadcasters, Broadway producers and ministers who warned that the use of unlicensed portable devices could cause interference on broadcast channels and wireless microphones, but an 18-month study by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology concluded that new technology can use white spaces without harming adjacent TV signals.

Harold Feld of the Media Access Project told Matt Stoller of OpenLeft.com (11/10) the decision could allow broadband Internet access in rural areas as well as low-income urban areas that phone and cable companies do not find it profitable to wire. He noted that a low-income building in San Diego shares a single T-1 line with all residents via unlicensed “wifi.” “It transformed people’s lives,” he said, telling of a single mother who is now taking adult education classes that were impossible before because of childcare and transportation issues. Indian tribes outside San Diego also use unlicensed wifi to cover their reservation, which formerly lacked basic phone service. Now the tribes do webcasts in their own language. A wireless network in the Southlawndale area of Chicago allows residents to run their own Internet radio station.

InternetforEveryone.org—a public-private sector initiative to connect every American to a fast, open and affordable Internet—will hold a town hall meeting 12/6 in Los Angeles. This is the first of a nationwide series designed to build popular support for making universal Internet access a top priority for the new administration and Congress. (See InternetforEveryone.org or Call 1-877-888-1533.

BIG GAINS FOR DEMS IN CONGRESS. In the Senate, where the Dems started with a 51-49 majority, Democrats picked up at least six seats, in Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia, with races in Alaska and Minnesota still being counted. A week after the election, Sen. Norm Coleman (R) led Al Franken (D) by 206 votes out of 2.4 mln cast, pending a recount. In Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens (R), despite his felony convictions in federal court in late October, led Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) by 3,257 votes on election night, but after Alaska officials tallied 60,000 absentee and early ballots. Begich claimed an 814-vote lead with approximately 30,000 ballots remaining to be counted. In Georgia, Jim Martin (D) forced Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) into a (12/2) runoff.

In the House, which started with a 236-199 Democratic majority, a few seats were still in dispute a week after the election, but it looks like Dems won at least 24 new House seats and lost four for a net gain of at least 20 seats. Added to the 31 net seat gains in 2006, that is more than 50 seats gained by the Democrats in the past two cycles. Dems expect to pick up another seat in Virginia’s 5th District, where Tom Periello (D) narrowly led Rep. Virgil Goode Jr. (R) by 745 votes pending a possible recount. In two Republican districts, Ohio’s 15th and California’s 4th, Rep. Steve Stivers (R) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R), respectively, held narrow leads. Dems could pick up another seat 12/6 in Louisiana’s 4th District, where Democratic prosecutor Paul J. Carmouche and Republican physician John Fleming are in a close race to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Jim McCrery . In the 2nd District, Rep. William J. Jefferson (D) is favored to defeat Joseph Cao (R). The Louisiana election calendar was thrown off by a hurricane that hit in early September and delayed the primary.

LABOR TAKES VICTORY LAP. Organized labor is feeling pretty good about its role in helping Barack Obama score a decisive victory for pro-working-family policies. The AFL-CIO spent $54 mln on the campaign as well as $18 mln on its Working America grassroots organization. The labor federation talked to 13 mln union voters in battleground states and political director Karen Ackerman noted that many of them are older white guys, “the hardest folks to reach,” but the union activists worked to “give them a comfort level with Barack Obama. And that’s really what the campaign was about,” she told Tom Schaller of Salon.com (11/10).

Union voters were 21% of the electorate and supported Obama 67% to 30%. In the top-tier battlegrounds, union members voted Obama 69-28. While McCain won among voters 65 and up in the general population, active and retired union members 65 and older voted for Obama by a 46-point margin. While McCain won among veterans, union veterans went for Obama by 25 points. Working America members, concentrated in key states, supported Obama 67%-30%. And 75% of union members said Obama’s victory gives him a mandate to make major change, with 81% supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, which Obama supports.

FAIR-TRADE ELECTION GAINS. Union leaders also were celebrating election of 40 new fair-trade challengers to the US House and at least five new fair-trade challengers to the US Senate. At least 88 new fair-trade candidates were elected during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, with a few races still to be settled. In 69 of those races, incumbents supporting past “free-trade” agreements either retired or were replaced by candidates running on a platform of fair-trade reform. “It’s hard to find an issue where the votes have shifted so much, so fast, as on the trade issue,” said Yvette Pena Lopes, trade expert with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “Voters spoke loud and clear at the ballot box, on two consecutive elections, and they want trade reform.”

In July 2005, 215 House members voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which passed by only two votes. Among the incumbents who lost (11/4) are Reps. Phil English (R-Pa.) and Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), both of whom voted for CAFTA. Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper beat English, who voted against CAFTA twice on the Ways and Means committee, but supported it on the floor. Former textile worker Larry Kissell, a Democrat, defeated Hayes, who had committed to oppose both CAFTA and Fast Track in 2001 but instead voted for of each.

If the 2005 votes against CAFTA are combined with the fair-trade pick-ups of the 2006 and 2008 cycles, the numbers approach two-thirds of House members who oppose the NAFTA/CAFTA trade model, according to the Citizens Trade Campaign.

Of 80 candidates endorsed by CTC PAC, 75 won, including 65 incumbents from both political parties who opposed the Peru Free Trade Agreement and cosponsored the TRADE Act, which requires a review of existing trade pacts. In addition, 10 challengers picked up seats formerly held by anti-fair trade incumbents from New York to Oregon, and from North Carolina to New Mexico. Three CTC PAC-endorsed candidates running against incumbents—Mary Joy Kilroy in Ohio, Mark Begich in Alaska and Al Franken in Minnesota—were still in elections with results too close to call at press time.

STILL WHISTLING. Tom Schaller, who in the book Whistling Past Dixie argued that Democrats were better off focusing on other parts of the country rather than appealing to conservative voters in the Deep South, admitted at Salon.com (11/10) that he was surprised Obama won in North Carolina, though less so with Obama’s victories in Virginia and Florida. But Schaller noted, “the GOP is becoming an increasingly Southern party (44% of its US House delegation, for example), a party relegated to dominating that region but little else—a worry we are hearing more frequently from people like George Will.” Victories such as Mark Warner (D), who routed his GOP opponent for an open Senate seat in Virginia, and Kay Hagan (D), who upset Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, are “icing on the non-Southern cake,” Schaller wrote. But he also noted that 3 of the 4 House seats Dems lost were in the South (Nick Lampson in Texas, Don Cazayoux in Louisiana and Tim Mahoney in Florida, as well as Nancy Boyda in Kansas).

Before the election, he had written that Virginia was the only Southern state Obama had a reasonable chance of winning (other than Florida, whose Hispanic voting bloc and large contingent of retirees from the North make it the least Southern of the Southern states). But he called North Carolina a “New South” victory won by votes cast by non-native Southerners.

Schaller noted that Obama lost the 11 former Confederate states by roughly 6.5 points overall, but won the other rest of the country by 12.5 points overall. This 19-point net difference is the largest since 1972, when George McGovern lost the 39 non-Southern states by about 20 points but lost the South by about 40 points. As a more relevant comparison, when Bill Clinton won in 1992, his South/non-South differential was half as small (9.5 points): Clinton lost the South by 1.4 points and won the remaining 39 states by 8.4 points.

“The Democrats don’t have a white voter problem; they have a Southern white voter problem,” Schaller continued at Salon.com (11/11). “And even that is not so problematic anymore.”

TEXAS NEXT? Texas is the next big challenge for Democrats, according to Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times (11/9), as party strategists see encouraging signs that a multiethnic bloc of Latinos, blacks, young people and suburban whites of the sort that turned GOP strongholds like North Carolina, Indiana and Colorado blue could work in Texas—with 34 electoral votes the largest red state. Obama was beaten by 11 points there, but he received about 25% more votes in Texas than John Kerry did four years ago while McCain received 1.5% fewer votes than Bush did in 2004. The Obama campaign spent little money there, mainly recruiting volunteers to work in other states. But strategists believe the large and growing Latino population there, which voted 63% for Obama, remains untapped, along with a large black electorate, which could make Texas competitive with a major investment of time and money from an Obama-led Democratic Party. Similar possibilities exist in Arizona, another heavily Latino state that leans Republican, and Georgia, with a growing Latino population and a black electorate that grew from one-quarter of the overall voters four years ago to nearly one-third on (11/4).

DEATH OF 50-STATE STRATEGY? Howard Dean is expected to be replaced as Democratic national chairman, clearing the way for President-elect Barack Obama to name the new party chairman. Also out the door, apparently, is the 50-State Strategy as the 200 organizers who had been deployed nationwide to organize state parties are being laid off at the end of November. The new DNC chair will decide whether to continue the 50-state policy, but Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com noted that firing the organizers “effectively kills the program, no matter the messaging and commitment of the remaining staffers.”

LIMBAUGH AIRS 401(K) TAKEOVER SCARE. Right-wing talkers and bloggers, apparently led by Rush Limbaugh, have been scaring listeners with reports that Obama and the Democrats plan a government takeover of 401(k) retirement plans. “They’re going to take your 401(k), put it in the Social Security trust fund, whatever the hell that is,” Rush Limbaugh woofed, according to James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times (11/9). But Rainey checked Limbaugh’s report and found that Obama and the Democrats have proposed no such thing. The proposal was made by one economist testifying to a congressional committee. “To broadcast such a report—so drained of context as to constitute a lie—would be a shameless act at any time,” Rainey wrote. “But Limbaugh needlessly stirred the fears of the millions he holds in his thrall—making the 401(k) thievery sound like nearly a done deal.”

BUSH REJECTS FBI MORTGAGE PROBERS. The Bush administration is still rejecting FBI pleas for more agents to investigate crimes that helped trigger the global financial meltdown, Paul Shukovsky and Daniel Lathrop reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (10/31). The FBI's response to the meltdown stands in sharp contrast to past financial crises, a recently retired bureau official told the reporters. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the administration shifted about 2,400 agents from traditional crime-fighting squads to counterterrorism units, according to a P-I analysis of FBI data. At least 1,700 of those agents haven't been replaced, and the latest Bush budget continues that trend. Bush's proposed budget calls for increasing FBI funding for 280 additional agents for national security programs, but adds none for criminal programs. Nationwide, only about 180 agents are investigating mortgage fraud in what has been called the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression. About 100 additional agents are investigating corporate fraud, including the subprime loan debacle.

Tony Adamski, the FBI's former head of financial crime investigations, said he had more than 1,000 agents dedicated to financial crimes during the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s and early 1990s--a crisis that pales in comparison with today's financial meltdown. When told how many agents the bureau now has working the problem, Adamski, now retired, “broke into a gale of rueful laughter.” He estimated it would take an additional 1,000 agents to handle the cases stemming from the financial meltdown.

Obama has called for 1,000 new agents to restore crippled FBI crime squads.

BRING ON CHAIRMAN RUSS. Joe Biden’s new job as vice president leaves an open chair on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that could end up filled by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), one of the most outspoken critics of the Iraq war. He is in line to head the panel after Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who plans to stay at Banking chairman, and John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is angling to be Obama’s secretary of state. But some suggested that Feingold’s opposition to the war in Iraq would cause problems. Matt Yglesias noted, “[T]he idea that anyone could, with a straight face, argue that Feingold should be disqualified on account of having been correct about Iraq is a sad comment on the state of things.”

SENATE DEMS STREAK. Not only did Democrats win the White House and pick up additional House and Senate seats. Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report noted that this was the first time since 1908 (before the direct election of senators) that a party has gone through two consecutive cycles without losing a seat. And Republicans face another tough round in 2010, when they defend 19 Senate seats, including at least six senators in competitive states, while 15 Dems are up. Among senators up in two years are Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), David Vitter (R-La.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio). Potentially vulnerable Dems include Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.), who could draw a challenge from term-limited Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). Dems also will be defending appointees to replace Obama (Ill.) and Joe Biden (Del.).

POPULISTS LEAD DEM WAVE. The 21st Century Democrats, which supports progressive populist Democrats, reported that 44 endorsed candidates won their elections, including 24 US House members, with one House race still too close to call Nov. 10.

Victories include Senate candidates Jeff Merkley in Oregon, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Tom Udall in New Mexico and Jim Martin, who forced Sen. Saxby Chambliss into a runoff in Georgia.

House victors included John Adler in New Jersey 3, John Boccieri in Ohio 16; Andre Carson in Indiana 7, Steve Driehaus in Ohio 1, Donna Edwards in Maryland 4, Bill Foster in Illinois 14, Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona 8, Kirsten Gillibrand in New York 20, Debbie Halvorson in Illinois 11, Martin Heinrich in New Mexico 1, Jim Himes in Connecticut 4, Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona 1, Larry Kissell in North Carolina 8, Suzanne Kosmas in Florida 24, Frank Kratovil in Maryland 1, Ben Lujan in New Mexico 3, Dan Maffei in New York 25, Betsy Markey in Colorado 4, Gary Peters in Michigan 9, Chellie Pingree in Maine 1, Mark Schauer in Michigan 7, Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire 1, Jackie Speier in California 12 and Harry Teague in New Mexico 2.

Other winners include Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire re-elected; Jack Markell, Delaware governor; Kate Brown, Oregon secretary of state; Steve Bullock, Montana attorney general; Richard Cordray, Ohio attorney general; Denise Juneau, Montana superintendent of public instruction; Clint Zweifel, Missouri state treasurer. Field programs in Maine, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania helped get out the vote for progressive Democrats up and down the ticket. See 21stcenturydems.org.

FARMERS SEEK FOOD PRICE PROBE. Recent food price fluctuations show that commodity prices have very little impact on the cost of food, National Farmers Union President Tom Buis said (11/11) as he called on Congress to hold new hearings to re-examine the cause of high food prices. Last February, Minneapolis milling wheat traded for $19 a bushel, and a loaf of bread sold for $2.79. Wheat has since dropped to $7.63 a bushel, yet a loaf of bread increased to $2.99. Corn prices have declined approximately 45% since June, yet corn-based retail products have not witnessed the same decline. Further, the retail price of a pound of top sirloin was $7.99 in May and remains at $7.99 today. However, cattle prices have dropped from $91.60 per hundredweight to $88.60 per hundredweight. In a letter to leaders of the Joint Economic Committee and House Small Business Committee Buis said previous testimony had unanimously blamed the rising cost of agricultural commodities and renewable fuels for increased retail food prices. “This portrayal of retail food prices is finally being proven inaccurate by recent market conditions,” Buis said.

BISHOPS ASSESS OBAMA WIN. Many Catholic bishops skirted close to endorsing the Republican candidate and threatening their church’s tax-exempt status as they proclaimed that Catholics could not in good conscience vote for a candidate who supported abortion rights. Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City urged Catholics not to vote for Barack Obama (11/3), saying that Catholics put their souls at risk by supporting Obama’s “fanatical” stance on abortion. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver in October called it absurd for self-professedly pro-life Catholics to support Obama, “the most committed ‘abortion-rights’ candidate ... since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.” Other bishops also denounced Obama and/or the Democrats before the election.

Exit polls suggest that 54% of Catholic voters risked Hell by voting for Obama and Biden, who came in for special criticism because he is Catholic, as is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Some bishops have suggested that they be denied communion.

The independent weekly National Catholic Reporter concluded in an editorial (10/31), “Certainly the conduct of many of the bishops this election cycle has diminished the significance of abortion and undermined the importance of the rest of the Catholic social agenda by turning the abortion issue into a partisan rallying cry. Their conduct further erodes the legitimate authority of an already beleaguered episcopal conference.”

Last November, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued “Faithful Citizenship,” a guide for Catholic voters, which said that Catholics must pay attention to issues like poverty, war, the environment and human rights, but that “the direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many.” Archbishop Chaput declared that the document “didn’t work” and called for an overhaul, the New York Times reported (11/11), but Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., is among the bishops who do not support rewriting the document.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the bishops’ council, said the bishops will work with Obama on matters such as poverty reduction and universal health care, but they will not take off the table their struggle against abortion or other pro-life issues where they disagree with the Democrats, John Allen reported (11/11) at the *National Catholic Reporter* blog (NCRonline.org).

TEXAS SCHOOL BOARDER FEARS OBAMA DICTATORSHIP. Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar, a Republican from the Houston suburb of Richmond, wrote in a pre-election column for the Christian Worldview Network that she feared Obama would take advantage of an attack on the US “by those with whom Obama truly sympathizes to take down the America that is [a] threat to tyranny.” She predicted that Obama would use the attack to seize martial law and expand his powers. “I sincerely believe that an Obama Administration would ultimately mean one thing—the end of America as we know her,” said Dunbar, one of seven “social conservatives” on the elected 15-member board, which sets policy and selects textbooks for the state’s public schools. Her district stretches from Houston to Austin. The *Austin American-Statesman* called her an embarrassment and noted, “Dunbar has a law degree from Regent University, the Virginia school founded and run by conservative televangelist Pat Robertson. She lists herself as an anatomy teacher but won’t tell even the Texas Education Agency at which school she teaches. Although she was elected to supervise public education in Texas, Dunbar home schools her children. In fact, she was elected with the help of the Texas Home School Coalition.” She also ran unsuccessfully for Congress this year. She rejected criticism of her view of Obama. “I don’t have anything in there that would be retractable,” Dunbar told the Associated Press. “Those are my personal opinions and I don’t think the language is questionable.”

DON’T PLAN AHEAD. Taegan Goddard, author of You Won, Now What?, at PoliticalWire.com (11/10) noted Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s advice: “Govern like a one-termer. Public officials who govern as if they will serve only one term will be more likely to make tough decisions. Without worrying about the next election, these public officials serve the public’s interest before their own. And the public tends to reward public officials who get the job done.”

JOE THE PLUMBER’S WOES. Jed Lewison of DailyKos noted (11/6) that when Joe (The Plumber) Wurzelbacher was a child, his family was on welfare, not once, but twice, and he credits it with helping his family ultimately to a middle-class lifestyle. He defends his family receiving welfare, saying they subsequently paid into the system. But now he opposes the government taking his tax money to pay for other families that might abuse the welfare system. Except, it turns out, he is behind on his state taxes to the tune of approximately $1,200. So Joe is not a licensed plumber, and is in no position to actually buy a business, and is earning nowhere near the amount where Barack Obama’s policies would increase his taxes, and now it turns out that this “regular guy” whom the McCain campaign trotted out to undercut Obama’s working-class appeal is a tax deadbeat.

VAN HOLLEN STAYS PUT. Chris Van Hollen, who signaled that he was ready to run for Democratic Caucus chairman after serving as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has decided to stay at DCCC. Matt Stoller noted at OpenLeft.com that Van Hollen worked effectively with all types of groups, pushing into tougher districts and coming away with at least 20 seats, pending recounts. Stoller also noted that Van Hollen remained neutral in the contentious Democratic primary when progressive Donna Edwards challenged pro-business Al Wynn in Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, while House leadership supported Wynn. “Now, when Van Hollen sat this one out, it was a clear signal that he wasn’t just going to protect one of the worst members of Congress, even though the rest of the Democratic leadership did,” Stoller wrote. “This matters.  Van Hollen refused to perpetuate business as usual, and we need more of that in the House.”

FIGHT AL QAEDA WITH WATER WELLS. In his book, *Mike’s Election Guide 2008*, Amy Goodman noted in an interview with Michael Moore on Democracy Now! (10/31) that Moore offers Barack Obama 10 presidential decrees for his first 10 days in office. One of the decrees would be to beat al Qaeda and the next generation of America haters by digging wells. Moore noted that it would cost $10 per person in the third world to provide clean drinking water for the more than a billion people who don’t have access to clean water. The $10 billion it would cost is “just October in Iraq. For the money that we’re spending in Iraq in October, we could provide clean drinking water to most of the people that don’t have it. And I, as an American, would rather be known by the people who are struggling to survive in the third world as the country that gave them clean drinking water or gave them other things that they need to help them in their daily existence to survive. ... Instead, we’re known as the invaders and the occupiers and the people who prop up the regimes in these countries, and I’m tired of that.”

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2008

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