Bill Foster (D)’s win in Illinois’ 14th District, which stretches from the outskirts of Chicago nearly to the Mississippi River, is a major shock for the GOP which spent heavily to keep former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s district in Republican hands. Foster, a physicist and businessman, defeated dairyman Jim Oberweis (R) 53%-47% in a district that voted 55% for George W. Bush in 2004. Foster focused on economic troubles, ending the war and enacting comprehensive health care and fair trade policies and opposed giving telecoms immunity for illegal wiretaps. He also had help from Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who recorded an ad for Foster. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $1.2 mln on the race while the Dems spent $620,000.

Chris Cillizza of Washingtonpost.com noted (3/10) that more than 50 districts held by R’s are rated by the National Journal as less Republican than the Illinois 14th. “Given the retirements in their ranks and the NRCC’s current cash shortage, it’s hard to see how Republicans can regain their majority in the House this November,” Cillizza wrote. “The question — at the moment — seems to be how many seats they will lose and whether Democrats will be able to claim a true governing majority in January 2009.”

Charlie Cook of the National Journal noted that the advantage Dems enjoy over R’s in voter ID ranges from as low as 8 points to as high as 14 points, depending upon the poll—“a lot considering the parties were dead even five years ago.” A just completed Cook Political Report/RT Strategies poll with a 3.5-point error margin showed 37% identified themselves as Dems, 28% as R’s and 31% as independents. When adjusted for independents who said which party they leaned toward, Dems rose to 50% and Republicans to 39%. Ten percent stayed purely independent or wouldn’t say.

Currently, the Cook Political Report lists 10 GOP seats as “Tossups,” another 11 “Lean Republican” (down from 12 after the Illinois 14th District loss) and the neighboring open seat in Illinois’ 11th District is in the “Lean Democratic” column. Twenty-two more are in the potentially competitive category of “Likely Republican.” While a single-digit seat gain for Democrats has been expected, the potential for seat gains to creep into the teens appears to be growing, with close to half of 26 open seats in danger and about two-dozen incumbents at some degree of risk.

EXPERIENCED ENOUGH TO BE VEEP? Barack Obama is having no part of talk that he might make a good running mate for Hillary Clinton, but he said it undermines Clinton’s argument that he is not prepared to be commander in chief. “If I’m not ready, how is it that you think I should be such a great vice president? ... They are trying to hoodwink you,” he said at a town hall meeting in Columbus, Miss. (3/10), “I won twice as many states as Sen. Clinton. I won more of the popular vote than Sen. Clinton. I have more delegates than Sen. Clinton. So I don’t know how someone in second place can offer the vice presidency to someone in first place. If I was in second place I could understand but I am in first place right now.”

PYRRHIC VICTORY FOR HILLARY. Conventional Wisdom held that the 3/4 primaries marked the “week from hell” for Obama, as Clinton won primaries in two big states—Ohio and Texas—as well as Rhode Island while Obama won caucuses in Texas and Wyoming and a primary in Vermont. But Markos Moulitsas noted (3/10) that Obama started the previous week with 1,203 delegates, while Clinton had 1,043. Obama picked up 189 delegates in the primaries and caucuses in five states, while Clinton won 193. The pundits awarded her with momentum for her apparent net gain of 4 delegates. But the final accounting from the 2/5 California primary showed Obama gained four more delegates there at Clinton’s expense, leaving Obama up four for the week. Also Obama picked up support of 13 “super” delegates, including newly elected Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), while Clinton got 4 “super” delegates, giving Obama a net gain of 13 for the week, heading into the Mississippi primary on 3/11.

BOTH DEMS LEADING M’CAIN. Survey USA found that current polls of 30,000 registered voters in 50 states indicate Clinton would beat McCain by an electoral vote of 276-262 if the election were held in early March while Obama would beat McCain 280-258 (surveyusa.com, 3/6). Chris Bowers of Openleft.com noted (3/6), “Despite seemingly similarity in their performance against McCain, this breakdown shows real differences between Obama and Clinton in the general election. Against Obama, McCain’s ‘solid’ and ‘lean’ states only add up to 123, while Obama’s add up to 229. In a matchup against Clinton, the ‘solid’ and ‘lean’ states are of equal size: 201 for McCain, and 203 for Clinton. In other words, while McCain and Clinton appear evenly matched, McCain is only able to keep it close against Obama by running up a series of narrow wins in the toss-up states.” Bowers also noted the surveys were taken before Clinton’s successes on 3/4, so she might do better in matchups with McCain, but he also noted that Obama puts a whole range of supposedly deep red states into play, such as Alaska, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota and even Texas.

REPORTERS PARTY WITH M’CAIN. John McCain entertained his press entourage with a barbecue 3/2 at his estate near Sedona, Ariz., in a bizarre breach of journalistic ethics as McCain grilled ribs and chicken for three dozen reporters, some staff members and a few Republican friends from the Senate. Meghan McCain, in a video of the event posted on Youtube, said it was more fun than she expected. “It was really great to see big journalistic figures like Holly Bailey [of Newsweek], swinging on a tire swing,” she said. She also noted, “I thought it was so cute that [Politico reporters] brought my mom flowers. That’s rare. They are journalists.” Rare, indeed, for journalists who are supposed to be grilling the candidate.

WYOMING DEMS SEE GAINS. The contested presidential race stirred interest in the Wyoming Democratic Party, which is experiencing a resurgence unlike anything in decades, party spokesman Bill Luckett told the Casper Star-Tribune (3/7). More than 2,000 people registered as new Dems, with 1,300 of those in the three days before the 2/22 deadline for eligibility to participate in the 3/8 caucuses. The caucuses drew 8,690 voters, up from 675 in 2004. The new energy could inspire Dems to run to succeed Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) who is limited to a second term that ends in 2010. Gary Trauner (D) also is making a second bid for the state’s lone US House seat being vacated by seven-term Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) this year. Cubin won by only 1,012 votes in 2006. A state Republican official noted that the GOP got between 2,700 and 2,900 new registrations before its January caucuses.

M’CAIN COURTS ANTI-CATHOLIC RADICALS. John McCain came in for criticism from Catholics when he sought and accepted the endorsement of hard-line conservative preacher John Hagee, who has called the Catholic Church “the Great Whore,” a “false cult system” and “apostate church.” McCain said that he was “very honored” by the endorsement. Under fire from groups from the liberal Catholics United (catholics-united.org) to the conservative Catholic League (catholicleague.org), McCain later distanced himself from the anti-Catholic statements but refused to reject Hagee’s endorsement. McCain also sought support of the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive, ultra-conservative group that describes itself as a “self-selected, conservative counterweight” against “liberal domination of the American agenda,” according to ThinkProgress.org. CNP was founded in 1981 by Rev. Tim LaHaye, “an early Christian conservative organizer and the best-selling author of the Left Behind novels about an apocalyptic Second Coming,” who has called Catholicism a “false religion” and called popes “antichrists.” McCain has sought to repair relations with Christian extremists after a 2000 speech in which he referred to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance.” McCain repudiated that remark in 2006 and later delivered a commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University.

On Meet the Press (3/2), host Tim Russert ignored GOP strategist Mike Murphy’s reference to McCain’s acceptance of an endorsement by evangelist John Hagee, MediaMatters.org noted. Russert did not identify Hagee by name or mention Hagee’s statements denouncing or disparaging homosexuality, Islam, Catholics, and women. By contrast, during the Democratic debate in Cleveland, Russert persisted with questions to Sen. Barack Obama about Louis Farrakhan’s support of Obama, despite Obama’s repeated denunciations of Farrakhan’s statements.

M’CAIN’S ADVISERS LOBBIED FOR AIRBUS TANKER DEAL. The top advisers for John McCain’s presidential bid were lobbying for European manufacturer Airbus to receive a multi-billion dollar deal from the federal government instead of American manufacturer Boeing at the same time that McCain squashed the Boeing deal, which subsequently went to Airbus, Jim Kuhnhenn and Matthew Daly report for the Associated Press (3/11).

DENNIS SURVIVES. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) survived an attempt to take him out of the House, as he defeated four challengers, including Cleveland City Councilor Joe Cimperman, without a runoff. Kucinich got 50.2% of the vote. He had to abruptly abandon his presidential campaign, but raised $689,000 in the last few weeks of the campaign to run several “person-on-the-street” TV ads that touted his hometown appeal, Hotline noted (3/5). Kucinich faces state Rep. Jim Trakas (R) in the general election, but Kucinich is heavily favored for a seventh term.

TEXAS SHOOTOUT. Larry Joe Doherty (D) may be a long-shot to unseat Rep. Mike McCaul (R) in Texas District 10, a district that was gerrymandered to stretch 160 miles from Austin to Houston and be reliably GOP, but McCaul, who spent $2 mln of family money to win the seat in 2004, only won with 55% over relatively unknown Ted Ankrum (D) in 2006 and may be vulnerable to Doherty, a former Houston lawyer with a good ol’ boy persona best known for his role as a judge in the syndicated courtroom program Texas Justice. Doherty defeated Dan Grant in the Democratic primary, 61% to 39%.

LOW-POWER RADIO COMMENTS SOUGHT. The FCC is accepting comments on the future of low-power FM radio until 4/7. See prometheusradio.org/take_action for a form to urge the FCC to ensure that there are spots on the dial for low-power radio as they decide how to establish a fair balance between the right of community groups to have a channel for a local community radio station vs. the right of existing stations to repeat themselves across the country. “We think it should run like the school lunch line—every one gets at least a reasonable opportunity for a first portion, before anyone gets seconds,” said the Prometheus Radio Project, which promotes low-power community radio. For more information contact Kate at katharan@prometheusradio.org or phone 215-727-9620 ext. 523.

The Local Community Radio Act (HR 2802 and S 1675) sponsored by Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) would allow new LPFM radio stations in cities, towns and suburbs across the country, clearing space for independent and local programming that will bring needed diversity and local voices back to the airwaves. The House bill has 70 co-sponsors and last fall the Senate version unanimously passed the Senate Commerce Committee.

SENS WOULD STOP EASING MEDIA OWNERSHIP RULES. A bipartisan group of 14 senators led by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) introduced a bill “to stop regulators from easing media-ownership rules in the nation’s 20 largest cities.” The 32-year old ban—whose loosening is being pushed by President Bush’s FCC chairman—is meant to “keep major media companies from monopolizing newspapers and broadcasters in their market.” The FCC published the cross-ownership rule in the Federal Register on 2/21. The Senate has 60 legislative days to vote on the resolution.

FBI ABUSES UNCHECKED POWER. One year ago, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office issued a lengthy report detailing that the FBI, for the years 2003-2005, had used “National Security Letters” (NSLs) to gather information on thousands of Americans in violation of the law. Pursuant to the Patriot Act, “NSLs” permit the FBI and other federal agencies to obtain all sorts of invasive information from telecoms, Internet and email providers, even health-care providers and the like without any judicial warrants or any other oversight of any kind, Glenn Greenwald noted at Salon.com (3/6).

Last year’s IG report documented thousands of cases where the FBI abused the extraordinary power of NSLs — the FBI made false statements to obtain the information, did so where the information had nothing to do with any pending investigations, obtained far more data than even The Patriot Act allows, etc. The report emphasized that there were likely many more abuses it was unable to document because the FBI had failed to comply with Congressional record-keeping and reporting requirements (requirements which President Bush, in a signing statement issued when he signed the Patriot Act, declared he had no obligation to follow). The information about Americans obtained by the FBI through these NSLs is stored permanently on vast federal data bases which tens of thousands of people both in the public and private sector can access.

A new report by the IG, as confirmed 3/5 by FBI Director Robert Mueller, details that these abuses continued unabated throughout 2006 as well. Greenwald observed, “It seems there are a few brand new lessons that we can perhaps draw from these revelations”:

(1) If unchecked power is vested in government officials, they’re going to abuse that power;

(2) If government officials exercise power without real oversight from other branches, they’re going to break the law and then lie about it, falsely denying that they’re done so, insisting instead that they’re only using their powers to Protect Us;

(3) Allowing government officials to engage in surveillance on American citizens with no warrant requirement ensures that surveillance will be used for improper ends, against innocent Americans.

WAR PROFITEER DUCKS PAYROLL TAXES. No private contractor has financially profited from the Iraq war more than Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), which until last year was a subsidiary of Halliburton. The firm currently has more than 21,000 employees in Iraq, and between 2004 and 2006, received more than $16 bln in government contracts — far more than any other corporation, ThinkProgress.org noted (3/6). Yet KBR hasn’t been passing on these enormous profits to American taxpayers or even its own employees, thanks to a plan that Vice President Cheney helped establish. The Boston Globe reports that KBR has avoided paying more than $500 mln “in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies” based in the Cayman Islands.

Other top Iraq war contractors—including Bechtel and Parsons—pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for their employees, the Globe reported.

One of KBR’s shell companies is Overseas Administrative Services, which was set up two months after Cheney became Halliburton’s CEO in 1995. Since at least 2004, the Pentagon has known about KBR’s practices, but chosen to ignore the issue.

The Globe noted that KBR is more than happy to claim workers as its own in one instance: when seeking “legal immunity extended to employers working in Iraq.”

QUOTABLE: Tom Tomorrow at thismodernworld.com (3/11) remembers what Kurt Vonnegut said of presidential candidates: “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done … This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.”

ANTHRAX PROBE REPORTER IN CONTEMPT. Former USA Today reporter Toni Locy was threatened with fines paid from her own pocket for refusing to reveal sources, US District Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered 3/7. Locy refused to reveal sources she used in articles about the US government’s investigation into anthrax attacks in 2001, so Locy was fined $500 a day for a week, followed by $1,000 a day in the second week and $5,000 a day after that until she reveals the names of nearly a dozen sources she used in her stories, the Wall Street Journal reported (3/10). Walton has refused to let her former employer, USA Today parent company Gannett Co. Inc., pay the contempt fines. The judge, in fact, said she couldn’t get financial help from anyone. Locy now teaches journalism at West Virginia University, where she earns $75,000 a year. If Ms. Locy held out for three weeks, she would owe $45,500, or about 60% of her salary.

Locy wrote stories about an FBI probe into a string of anthrax attacks that occurred after the 9/11 terror attacks. Some of those stories mentioned former army scientist Steven J. Hatfill as a person that the government had identified as a “person of interest” in the attacks. Hatfill sued the Justice Department, accusing it of violating the federal Privacy Act by giving reporters information about him even though he hadn’t been charged with a crime.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on 3/11 stayed Walton's order for the course of her appeal. But the Los Angeles Times (3/13), in an editorial, paints a grim picture for other journalists: “Even if she does (win), other reporters could be pressed to choose between bankruptcy and a violation of professional ethics. Until the Supreme Court reverses a wrongheaded 1972 holding that the 1st Amendment does not protect a reporter's privilege, protection must come from Congress.”

A bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last October may be the best way to protect journalists like Locy from the courts. Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking Republican, have urged Senate leadership to schedule floor action on this bill. The bill would require federal courts to recognize a qualified privilege for confidential sources -- one that could be overridden in a civil suit like Hatfill's when the information sought "is essential to the resolution of the matter." Even then, the Times noted, a judge would have to take into account both the public interest in compelling disclosure and the public interest in gathering news.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2008

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