Sunday, December 30

What's the Candidates Pakistanding?

On the reaction to the assassination of Benizar Bhutto, how did the candidate's stake up?

From the Washington Post

Some presidential candidates show they can respond quickly to a foreign policy crisis. Some flunk or foul.

THE ASSASSINATION of Benazir Bhutto presented U.S. presidential candidates with a test: Could they respond cogently and clearly to a sudden foreign policy crisis? Within hours some revealing results were in. One candidate, Democrat John Edwards, passed with flying colors. Another, Republican Mike Huckabee, flunked abysmally. Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain were serious and substantive; Republicans Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani were thin. And Barack Obama -- the Democratic candidate who claims to represent a new, more elevated brand of politics -- committed an ugly foul.

Let's start with Mr. Edwards, who managed not only to get Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the phone Thursday but also to deliver a strong message. The candidate said he had encouraged Mr. Musharraf "to continue on the path to democratization [and] to allow international investigators to come in and determine what happened, what the facts were." Those are words the Pakistani president needs to hear from as many Americans as possible. He has yet to confirm that the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections will go forward and risks a destabilizing backlash against his own government unless he delivers a full and credible account of the authors and circumstances of Ms. Bhutto's killing.

Ms. Clinton and Mr. McCain also endorsed Pakistan's continued democratization. Each cited an acquaintance with Ms. Bhutto or Mr. Musharraf and opportunistically trumpeted their foreign policy experience -- but both also offered some cogent analysis. Ms. Clinton rightly cited "the failure of the Musharraf regime either to deal with terrorism or to build democracy," adding that "it's time that the United States sided with civil society in Pakistan."

At the other extreme was Mr. Huckabee, whose first statement seemed merely uninformed: He appeared not to know that Mr. Musharraf had ended "martial law" two weeks ago. That was better than the candidate's next effort, when he said an appropriate U.S. response would include "very clear monitoring of our borders . . . to make sure if there's any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into our country." The cynicism of this attempt to connect Pakistan's crisis with anti-immigrant sentiment was compounded by its astonishing senselessness.

By comparison, the Giuliani and Romney statements were anodyne -- they deployed slogans about fighting terrorism or "jihadism" while avoiding serious comment about Pakistan. Mr. Obama similarly began by offering bland condolences to Pakistanis and noting that "I've been saying for some time that we've got a very big problem there."

Then Mr. Obama committed his foul -- a far-fetched attempt to connect the killing of Ms. Bhutto with Ms. Clinton's vote on the war in Iraq. After the candidate made the debatable assertion that the Iraq invasion strengthened al-Qaeda in Pakistan, his spokesman, David Axelrod, said Ms. Clinton "was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit was one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaeda, who may have been players in the event today."

When questioned later about his spokesman's remarks, Mr. Obama stiffly defended them -- while still failing to offer any substantive response to the ongoing crisis. Is this Mr. Obama's way of rejecting "the same Washington game" he lambasted earlier in the day? If so, his game doesn't look very new, or attractive.

New Polls Put Edwards Back On Top...Sort of

At this late date, it is not necessarily a good idea to get overly optimistic when a poll or two puts your candidate on top, but, hey, for the Edwards camp, it is a good news day.

Parsed from MSNBC

John Edwards has clawed his way into contention to win Iowa's caucuses on Thursday in the first vote for the Democratic presidential nomination, gaining strength as rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have lost ground, according to a new McClatchy-MSNBC poll.


Taken together, this first poll in Iowa since campaigning resumed after a Christmas break showed a dead-heat contest between the three leading Democratic candidates and a volatile clash between the two top Republican rivals here.

"On the Democratic side, the race is about as close as it can get, but keep an eye on Edwards," said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the survey. "Edwards has really moved up since our last poll. Obama and Clinton have each slipped a little bit."

The new survey, taken Dec. 26-28, came three weeks after the initial Dec. 3-6 poll.

One in five Iowa Democrats say they could still change their minds. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

While the survey shows a virtual statistical tie, it also shows Edwards with some momentum heading into the final days. He's gained 3 percentage points since McClatchy-MSNBC polled Iowa before the holidays, while Clinton lost 4 points and Obama lost 3 points.

Also gaining were Richardson and Biden, each picking up 3 points.

The second tier is particularly important in Iowa's Democratic caucuses, where a candidate can win delegates only if they register at least 15 percent support in each town hall-like precinct meeting. Voters whose candidates don't make that threshold can support someone else.

As of now, that appears to help Edwards.

If all second-tier Democratic candidates fall short and their supporters switch to other candidates, Edwards gains the most, rolling up a clear lead at 33 percent to 26 percent each for Clinton and Obama.


From Fox (I know, its got to hurt)

A Mason-Dixon poll of 400 likely Democratic caucus-goers sampled from Dec. 26-28 found Edwards with 24 percent compared to Clinton with 23 percent and Obama with 22 percent. Bill Richardson polled at 12 percent in the poll, and undecideds formed 8 percent of the sample.Of course, holiday time polling is frequently unreliable and caucus polling is tricky under the best of circumstances, but that doesn’t mean the polling data doesn’t capture trends. It can and often does.

Edwards’ trajectory is up. All the campaigns agree on this. He is the only candidate who has competed in Iowa before and the only one with organizers who’ve demonstrated an ability to cut deals on caucus night to garner support from candidates who don’t meet the 15 percent viability threshold. For instance, in 2004, supporters of Dennis Kucinich went for Edwards, propelling him into second place. He later became the vice presidential nominee.

Saturday, December 29

Feet Don't Fail Me Now--I'm Canvassing

Today was a chance to find out what people at home are thinking about where the Iowa caucus is concerned. Here is a synopsis:

1) Left town or out shopping - at least 25% of folks weren't home.
2) Still undecided - of the folks I talked to, at least half were still on the fence.
3) Tired of the attention - a handful of people were tired of all the politicking.

Good news: Those who I spoke to are mostly going to caucus because they want to see who will win.

For those who still have questions about issues and where John Edwards stands, I told them about:

http://www.johnedwards.com/iowa/askjohn

Edwards in Muscatine: No Department of Peace

From MSNBC

One sign of momentum for Edwards five days before the Iowa caucus may be picking off caucus-goers from other campaigns. In a press release preceding the day’s first event, the campaign named 45 Iowans who supported either John Kerry, Howard Dean or Dick Gephardt in the 2004 caucus but plan to caucus for Edwards next week.

Meanwhile, at the event, a Kucinich supporter stood and said that he caucused for Edwards in 2004 after his first choice wasn’t viable. (In January 2004 Edwards and Kucinich each advised their supporters to move to the other’s camp if one of them was not viable.) The questioner said he was considering Edwards again.

“I was proud to caucus for you last time after campaigning my heart out for Dennis Kucinich,” he told Edwards and asked if the candidate would support Kucinich’s proposal for a Cabinet-level Department of Peace.

“Well, I’m not for a Department of Peace, so I’m going to give you an answer you don’t like. I think that -- and it’s a perfectly fine idea. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. It’s just not what I would do,” he said. “I think the way the president of the United States approaches the rest of the world is more important than any of these bureaucracies, and the engagement and the constructive engagement with the rest of the world in a way that creates peace and security is the most critical element.”

Edwards was introduced at the event by his state co-chair, Roxanne Conlin, a trial lawyer and the first female gubernatorial candidate in Iowa, and by state Rep. Nathan Reichert from Muscatine. Reichert likened the former North Carolina senator’s campaign to a Big Ten football game.

“These folks who are in this room know that John Edwards has run a steady, grinding -- what I would call a good-time, smash mouth Big Ten football campaign. It has been 3 yards and a pile of dust, three yards and a pile of dust, three yards and a pile of dust,” he said. “It’s been Muscatine and West Liberty and Wapello and all those little towns all across Iowa.”

Edwards has three more events today, ending the day with a rally in Des Moines. He was joined in Muscatine by his son Jack and daughter Emma Claire. His wife Elizabeth and older daughter Cate are also traveling Iowa on his behalf today

Edwards: No Lobbyists in the White House

John Edwards told a crowd at in Washington, Iowa this morning that he would not hire any former corporate or foreign government lobbyists in his administration.

According to MSNBC

"I want to make an announcement today, which is that when I am president of the United States, no corporate lobbyist or anyone who has lobbied for a foreign government will work in my White House," he said.

Following the town hall, Edwards reiterated to reporters that that means he will not hire anyone who has ever been registered as a federal lobbyist in Washington, DC. He said that would include "people who have lobbied, been registered lobbyists in Washington on behalf of corporate interests at the federal level ... corporate lobbyists, those who've lobbied against the interests of the American people, those who've lobbied on behalf of foreign governments."

Asked whether that would include federal lobbyists who have worked on behalf of interests like labor that he champions, Edwards replied, "This will be a judgment I'll make. But my view is that anybody who has been lobbying on behalf of big corporations are part of the problem, because corporate greed is at the heart and soul of what's stealing the future of our children and what's killing the middle class in our country."

He said his announcement has nothing to do with other candidates' choices. "I think it would be a great thing for America if the other Democrats would commit to the same thing, but this is about my presidency," he said.

Friday, December 28

I Love the 80's...Not

The Sensible Priorities folks came up with a clever spot.

Virtual Tie in Latest Iowa Caucus Poll

A new Iowa caucus poll from Lee Enterprises newspapers shows the Democratic race is a virtual three-way tie, with John Edwards rising to tie Barack Obama for the lead and Hillary Clinton rising to just one point behind.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee remains in the lead with a 7-point edge over Mitt Romney. The poll, conducted with 500 likely caucus goers from each party on Wednesday and Thursday, showed Edwards and Obama tied with 29 percent to lead Democrats, followed by Clinton with 28 percent. Bill Richardson was fourth with 7 percent. Joe Biden was fifth with 3 percent. Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich both had 1 percent and 2 percent were undecided.

For Republicans, Huckabee leads with 34 percent, followed by Romney with 27 percent. Fred Thompson is a distant third with 11 percent, followed by a three-way tie for fourth between Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Ron Paul, with 8 points each. Duncan Hunter had 1 percent and 3 percent were undecided. The poll, which has a margin or error of plus or minus 4.5 percent, was commissioned by Lee Enterprises and conducted by Maryland-based Research 2000. There is plenty of room for shifts in the final days before the Jan. 3 caucuses, with 19 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Republicans saying they are likely or very likely to change their minds.

Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, has gained 5 points from the Lee Enterprises poll two weeks ago, while Clinton, a U.S. senator from New York, has gained 4 points. Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois has seen his support drop 4 points. Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, has lost 2 points. The support for Biden, Dodd and Kucinich was unchanged.

The bottom line for Democrats is an already-close race is now closer.

The Republican race is more stable at the top, with Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, gaining 3 points since the poll two weeks ago, and Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, gaining 5 points. Fred Thompson, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee, gained 2 points. McCain and Paul each gained 1 point, while Giuliani lost 1 point. Since the previous poll, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado has dropped out of the Republican race. He had 2 percent support before. Notably, Huckabee's numbers have risen despite weeks of relentless attacks from Romney and other opponents.

However Romney has narrowed the gap from the previous poll from 9 points to 7 points. The shifts in the Republican race appear to be driven by movement of undecided voters to one of the top two candidates, with undecided voters dropping from 12 percent to 3 percent between the two polls.

Orwell Would Be So Proud: Bush Vetos Defense Spending Bill

Yes, the President has done what the Democrats have failed to do. He has vetoed the 2008 Defense Spending Bill. Now this is not to be confused by the 3000 page budget which includes funding of the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, due to a provision that would allow Iraqis to sue the current government of Iraq in American courts for damages caused under Saddam Hussein's rule, freezing funds in American banks.

Iraq discussed with the United States the possibility of pulling its assets, about $20 billion to $30 billion, out of U.S. institutions if the defense policy bill became law, a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.

As Steve Benen at CBS said:

"Keep in mind, the veto of the defense authorization bill puts a variety of key spending measures in limbo, including a pay raise for the troops, VA care for wounded veterans, a new "Truman Commission" to fight fraud and waste by military contractors, and expanded job protections for family members of severely wounded troops."

The White House acknowledged the veto would block an additional 0.5% pay raise for military service members authorized by the bill and said it would work to ensure that a retroactive hike is included in a revised version of the legislation. A 3% raise is already set to go into effect in 2008 without the president's signature, Stanzel said.

On the Local Front: Who's Supporting Whom

For the who's who of political supporters to the candidates in Johnson County, I assembled this listing of elected or former elected officials:

Democrats

Joe Biden - Former City councilor Bob Elliott

Hillary Clinton - City councilor Regenia Bailey, State representatives Mary Mascher and Vicki Lensing, ICCSD board member Patti Fields, County attorney Janet Lyness, County supervisor Sally Stutsman, County recorder Kim Painter,

Chris Dodd - City councilor, Matt Hayak, County supervisor Pat Harney

John Edwards - County supervisor Terrence Neuzil, County sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, State senator Ro Foege, former ICCSD board member Aletia Morgan, County treasurer Tom Kriz

Mike Gravel - None

Dennis Kucinich - None

Barack Obama - US congressman Daid Loebsack, State senators Joe Bolkcom and Bob Dvorsky, State representative Dave Jacoby, area City councilors Amy Correia, Ross Wilburn, Mike Wright, Mitch Gross and Tom Gill, former North Liberty City council member James Moody, County supervisor Rod Sullivan, and Dick Myers

Bill Richardson - None

Republicans

Rudolph Giuliani - Unknown

Mike Huckabee - Unknown

John McCain - Unknown

Ron Paul - Unknown

Mitt Romney - Unknown

Fred Thompson - Unknown

If you can help fill in the blanks, please send me a comment.

Al Qaeda or the Taleban: What's the Real Story?

With Benazir Bhutto out of the picture, there is speculation as to who could be responsible.

According to Reuters:

Pakistan has "intelligence intercepts" indicating that al Qaeda was behind the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

Former prime minister Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, plunging nuclear-armed Pakistan into one of the most serious crises in its 60-year history.

"We have intelligence intercepts indicating that al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud is behind her assassination," ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told a news conference.

On the other hand, according to CNN:

U.S. officials suspect a Taliban leader from Afghanistan may be behind the plot to assassinate former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a senior official said Friday.

The official identified Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud as a leading suspect, saying there's "good information that leads us to believe he is the guy responsible."

What is clear is that both governments are using this unfortunate event to remind us that the War on Terrorism is necessary. What they don't tell us is what is more troubling. What was the role of the Musharraf government in protecting Bhutto? What was the role of the US? Both had a vested interest in her protection given the recent state of emergency in Pakistan called by Musharraf.

Doug Bishop: One of the Reasons John Edwards Is in the Fight

My Dad once told me that his grandfather had a saying, "a country that makes nothing is nothing." Doug Bishop is a "maker" that worked at Maytag until they closed the doors in October of 2007.

For those people who think that John Edwards is like all the rest, they should listen to Doug.

Still Undecided? Why Not "Ask John"

The John Edwards campaign announced the “Ask John” program -- giving undecided Iowans the opportunity to ask questions about any issues that concern them and get answers before they caucus. With just one week to go before caucus night, the program reflects Edwards’ commitment to discussing his bold, specific agenda directly with Iowa caucus goers and answering their questions about the issues that are important to them.

“I believe that anyone running for president has an obligation to listen to the voices of regular people and answer their questions directly,” Edwards said. “In these final seven days, I want every Iowan who has a question to know exactly where I stand and what I’ll do to take on the special interests and give middle class Americans a voice in Washington.”

While other candidates are sending out-of-state surrogates to counties the candidates themselves have never seen, Edwards is making the commitment to respond to questions from Iowans in all 99 counties. Edwards is the only candidate in the race who has visited and answered questions in every county in Iowa. The campaign designed the “Ask John” program to answer as many questions as possible, from as many places in Iowa as possible, in the final days before the caucuses.

“I strongly believe that whether you’re from Des Moines or Harlan, every caucus goer deserves to hear from each candidate about what that person will do as president to fix the broken system in Washington that puts corporate interests ahead of working Americans,” Edwards said.

Undecided Iowa caucus goers can "Ask John" in one of three ways:

1) At events during Edwards' on-going 38 county tour

2) Through a new Web site the campaign launched today -- www.johnedwards.com/askjohn

3) By calling Edwards' Iowa Campaign Headquarters at (515) 288-0766

The “Ask John” program will allow Edwards to answer questions from all 99 counties -- an extension of his status as the only candidate who has personally answered questions from Iowans in all 99 counties. As part of the campaign’s focus on undecided voters, Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, and senior campaign staff members will also answer questions by phone and email -- including organizing special phonebanks to answer questions from "Ask John" questioners.

The campaign will ensure that every questioner receives a response by caucus night.

Thursday, December 27

And Now For Something Completely Different: A Populist Progressive Republican

This is a Republican that I could support. From the AP via the Press-Citizen.

In her first year as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin has plunged ahead with the fearlessness of a polar explorer.

The populist Republican has raised taxes on the powerful oil industry. She has pushed through ethics legislation amid a burgeoning corruption investigation of Alaska lawmakers. She has bucked her party's old guard. And she has ordered her administration to seek fewer congressional earmarks after Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" became a national symbol of piggish pork-barrel spending.

The 43-year-old governor has also emerged as a national figure and a media darling, posing recently for Vogue magazine.

Alaska's first female governor, a former Miss Wasilla with swept-up light-brown hair, says it is her responsibility to be available even to fashion magazines if it can help change the state's reputation for graft and gluttony at the public trough.

"We've got to make sure the rest of the United States doesn't believe the only thing going on in Alaska is FBI probes and corruption trials," Palin said.

Palin has dismissed speculation she might leave Juneau for higher office before her term expires in 2010, saying, "My role as governor is where I can be most helpful right now unless something drastic happens, and I don't anticipate that right now."

Nevertheless, John J. Pitney Jr., a political scientist with Claremont McKenna College in California and former analyst for congressional Republicans, said Palin could be an ideal presidential running mate next year.

"What separates her from others is that at a time when Republicans have suffered from the taint of corruption, she represents clean politics," Pitney said.

"The public stereotype of Republican is a wrinkled old guy taking cash under the table," he said. "One way for Republicans to break the stereotype is with a female reformer."

Party labels seem to mean very little to Palin. Her revenue commissioner is a Democrat. Her husband, Todd, a blue-collar worker on Alaska's oil-rich North Slope, is an independent.

The mother of four is often seen bounding down the Capitol stairwell, holding a pink backpack and rushing to get her 6-year-old daughter, Piper, off to school on time - something that Pitney said could make Palin more appealing to a national audience.

The former mayor of the Anchorage suburb of Wasilla ran on ethics reform in trouncing Gov. Frank Murkowski in the GOP primary. In the general election, she handily beat Democratic former Gov. Tony Knowles.

She immediately took on the state's most lucrative industry, questioning whether Alaska - which gets about 85 percent of its revenue from big oil - is getting its fair share of the oil companies' billions of dollars in quarterly profits.

She got what she wanted from the GOP-controlled Legislature. Relying heavily on Democratic votes, she won approval last month to boost taxes on oil company profits from 22.5 percent to 25 percent. That could bring in an additional $1.6 billion annually for the state, depending on oil prices.

The state has also accepted bids for the right to build a multibillion-dollar pipeline to deliver Alaska's natural gas to the rest of the nation.

On the same day a former Alaska lawmaker was convicted on federal bribery charges, Palin signed an ethics reform bill into law.

Since then, two more former lawmakers have been found guilty of bribery related to VECO Corp., an oil field contractor. Another former lawmaker awaits trial, and Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, are under investigation.

Palin's climb is being done without the backing of the state Republican Party, led by Randy Ruedrich. In 2004, as chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Palin exposed Ruedrich for ethics violations when he was a fellow commissioner.

She has also made trouble for the party's establishment by calling on Stevens to give the public an explanation of why the feds have raided Stevens' Alaska home in the investigation of his ties to VECO's founder.

"I don't sweat it at all that the partisanship isn't playing a big part of my agenda," Palin said. "What that tells me is this: that I'm on the right track, and that it hasn't stopped us."

Comedy Central Discover Popular Progressive

Hey readers, Comedy Central shows us some love and invites us to be involved...

I've
been reading your blog and since I know you've been tracking them, I wanted to let you know that Comedy Central's Indecision 2008 site posted all of the presidential Candidates holiday ads here:

http://www.indecision2008.com/blog.jhtml?c=v&m=96556

Also, I'd like to invite you and your readers to try your skills in this week's
Caption Challenge, America's Mayor edition. Check it out here:

http://www.indecision2008.com/blog.jhtml?c=v&m=96558

I have a feeling that you and your readers will be particularly adept coming up with captions that do justice to the photo above.

Let me know what you think---And good luck!

Izzy Forman
360i on behalf of Comedy Central

Musharraf Opponent Bhutto Killed

As if things in Pakistan weren't bumpy enough, Benazir Bhutto's assasination is likely to complicate an already ticking time bomb between President Pervez Musharraf and the PPP party which Bhutto led.

From the BBC

Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a presumed suicide attack.

News of her death was confirmed by a military spokesman and members of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Ms Bhutto had just addressed an election rally in Rawalpindi when gunfire and an explosion occurred.

At least 15 other people are reported killed in the attack and several more were injured. Ms Bhutto had twice been the country's prime minister.

She had been campaigning ahead of elections due in January.

The BBC's Barbara Plett says the killing is likely to provoke an agonised response from her followers, especially from her loyal following in Sindh Province.

Ms Bhutto was key to her party, she was the focus of her party and she was a major political player amongst all those fighting for seats in the forthcoming elections, our correspondent adds.

The PPP has the largest support of any party in the country.

Analysts note that Rawalpindi, a garrison city, is seen as one of the country's most secure cities, making the attack even more embarrassing for the military authorities.

Wednesday, December 26

Earmarks 'R U.S.


Last Friday, White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto said the Democrats need a "12-step group to deal” with its earmarks addiction. Earmarks are those anonymous additions a.k.a. pork that Senators and Representatives tag on to appropriation bills and generally are tricky to trace back to them.

As the press secretary to a President who understands dependency issues, Fratto conveniently neglected to say that some key Republicans were sipping from the gravy boat themselves. According to the Hill

"Fratto did not mention the earmark haul made by senior Republicans. Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, secured $774 million worth of earmarks in total. After Cochran, Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska), the second-ranking Republican on Appropriations, scored more money for special projects than any other member of Congress: $502 million.

Rep. Bill Young (Fla.), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, was the second-biggest recipient of earmarked funds in the House, with $161 million."

How did Iowa's delegation do?

19 House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education earmarks totalling $3,925,000 for Iowa

71 Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education earmarks totalling $87,411,000 for Sen. Harkin (D-IA)

18 Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education earmarks totalling $10,045,000 for Sen. Grassley (R-IA)

A Future Support Group? Hey, why so defensive?
Rep. Murtha (D-PA) has Defense earmarks totalling $166,500,000
Rep. Lewis (R-CA) has Defense earmarks totalling $112,000,000
Rep. Kingston (R-GA) has Defense earmarks totalling $72,187,000
Rep. Young (R-FL) has Defense earmarks totalling $143,200,000
Rep. Visclosky (D-IN) has Defense earmarks totalling $53,500,000
Rep. Moran (D-VA) has Defense earmarks totalling $47,000,000


More earmarks? Try Earmark Watch

Nobody is More Admired Than Hillary

Gallup has released its annual poll of the most admired men and women in the the world as determined by people adults like you and me--that is adult Americans. America has spoken and despite heavy competition, "Other" and "None/No Opinion" continue their popularity as the most admired man and woman in over such luminaries, as George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama and others.

In last year's poll, None/no opinion racked up an impressive 29% and Other 21% as the most admired female and 30% and 21% as the most admired male in the world.

The national sample answered this question:

What man/woman that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most? And who is your second choice?

conducted Dec. 14-16, 2007.

Go here to see who the runner-ups were.

National Housing Prices Continue Record Slide

From Builder Online

Single-family, existing-home prices fell 6.7 percent in the nation's 10 largest cities in October from the same period in 2006 according to the Standard & Poor's S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, which was released Tuesday morning. The index also revealed that prices fell 6.1 percent in 20 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs).

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Schiller home price index tracks the prices of existing single-family homes in Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C.

According to Robert J. Shiller, chief economist at MacroMarkets, and one of the creators of the index, the data released by the monthly study shows that the "current state of the single-family housing market remains grim."

"Not only did the 10-city composite post a record low in its annual growth rate, but 11 of the 20 metro areas did the same," Shiller says. "If you look at the monthly figures, every MSA went down in both October and September. Eleven of the 20 MSAs, in addition to the two composites, recorded their single largest monthly decline on record in October. For both the 10-city and 20-city composites this was a decline of 1.4 percent over September"

The 6.7 percent year-over-year drop in the 10-city index surpassed the previous record of a 6.3 percent slide in April 1991 and the 20-city index decline is the most in six years. Overall, prices retreated in 17 of the 20 cities covered and in 11 cities, prices fell at record year-over-year rates.

Patrick Newport, an economist for Global Insight, a Massachusetts-based economic and financial analysis firm, says job losses and overbuilding may have played a role in the price declines in Las Vegas, Miami, Tampa, and Detroit. Newport also predicts continued declines in the near future.

"Local conditions will play a key role in what happens to house prices. In some cities, prices will collapse. In others, they may continue to rise," Newport said in a note. "We think that the sum of these forces will drive nominal house prices down about 10 percent over the next two to three years,"


Add to this this the confidence of a recovery according to a recent Gallup poll. According to "the results of the Dec. 10-13 survey suggest that Americans believe the housing slump will not end anytime soon. Only 18% believe the market will recover within the next six months (3%) or the next year (15%). Close to half, 46%, believe it will be two to three years before the housing problems are overcome. And roughly one in three are even more pessimistic, believing the problems brought on by the wave of foreclosures fueled by subprime mortgages will continue to affect the economy for four years or longer."

So You're Electable: That Don't Impress Me Much

It is rare that I am inspired by Shania Twain, but the song "That Don't Impress Me Much" reminded me:

"I've known a few [candidates] who thought they were pretty smart
But you've got being right down to an art
You think you're a genius-you drive me up the wall
You're a regular original, a know-it-all
Oh-oo-oh, you think you're special
Oh-oo-oh, you think you're something else

Okay, so what do you think you're Elvis or something...
Whatever
That don't impress me much."

So a request to all candidates: Please stop saying you are the most electable. Don't send me a another piece of mail with that phrase on it and don't have someone call me and tell me the same.

Okay, I get it. You have the experience, the ideas, the support, the ... (fill in the blank).

But here's the deal. I (and all the other caucus goers)get to decide who is most electable by --gasp--caucusing for the candidate I think is the most electable. Therefore, it is a waste of your time and mine for you to tell me you are the most electable.

As my neighbors to the south of Iowa say "show me." Tell me about the positions that I care about. Tell me about your plans to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy, how you will combat global warming, how you will make it possible for people to afford daycare, keep our jobs, or to improve education. Tell me how you are going to make it possible for everyone to have a safe place and a affordable home. Tell me about your plans not only about stopping this war, but how you intend to prevent future ones. Tell me how you are going to knock down the national debt so our great-grandchildren are not working 14 hours a day to pay it off.

Break away from your stump speech and do nothing but answer questions from your audiences. Now is the time we want to know about the issues we care about.

Make it less about you and more about us.

In 2004, we bought the myth that John Kerry was the most electable candidate and 49% of us were right.

We won't be happy with anything less than 50.1% this time.

In 2008, I hope that people will take into account all of the things that they believe are important and choose the candidate that best fits the shoes (be they loafers or pumps).

For Whom Iowa Polls

From American Research Group 12/24 based on likely Iowa Caucus-goers. Interesting to see both Clinton's and Edwards' support on the uptick while Obama support slipping--any relationship between College voters leaving town and poll numbers? One has to wonder. Also curious, uptick on undecided caucus-goers?

IOWA
Democrats: Dec 16-19, Dec 20-23

Biden 8%, 8%
Clinton 29%, 34%
Dodd 3%, 2%
Edwards 18%, 20%
Gravel -, -
Kucinich 2%, 2%
Obama 25%, 19%
Richardson 7%, 5%
Undecided 8%, 10%

22% of likely caucus participants are undecided (10%) or say that they could switch candidates between now and January 3 (12%).
85% of those saying they support Clinton say their support is definite.
68% of those saying they support Edwards say their support is definite.
89% of those saying they support Obama say their support is definite.
Among men, Clinton is at 28%, Edwards 27%, and Obama 16%.
Among women, Clinton is at 38%, Edwards 15%, and Obama 21%.

Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama among women 38% to 21%, which is unchanged from a week ago (Clinton 36%, Obama 23% among women). Obama has lost ground among men to John Edwards and Clinton. Among men, Clinton is at 28%, Edwards is at 27%, Obama is at 16%, and Joe Biden is at 11%. A week ago, Obama was at 27% among men, followed by 21% for Clinton and 19% for Edwards.

600 completed telephone interviews among a random sample of likely Democratic caucus goers living in Iowa (505 Democrats and 95 no party (independent) voters).

Sample Dates: December 20-23, 2007

Margin of Error: ± 4 percentage points, 95% of the time, on questions where opinion is evenly split.

Incidence of Likely Democratic Caucus Participation: 10.3% of Democratic and no party voters.

Question Wording:

If the 2008 Democratic presidential caucus were being held today between (names rotated) Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson, for whom would you vote?

Would you say that you definitely plan to participate in the 2008 Democratic presidential caucus, that you might participate in the 2008 Democratic presidential caucus, or that you will probably not participate in the 2008 Democratic presidential caucus?

Leftover Holiday Chestnuts

Ann Bovjberg is a woman of exquisite taste (meaning she is an Edwards supporter) and she penned these holiday ditties--however, as a non-Web person, she will never see them here. Thankfully, you will.

Shrilling Bells (Sung to "Silver Bells")

Hear the bells...shrilling bells,
Your telephone now is ringing.
Candidates, rally dates,
Soon it will be Caucus Day.

See it coming, hear it humming,
It's the candiate's call:
"Vote for me in your caucus this year!"
Never ending, message sending,
On your answer machine,
And in everyone's house you can hear...

Repeat chorus.

The Caucus Song (Sung to "The Christmas Song")

Chestnuts spoken by the candidates
Words you've heard from them before;
Promises that you know that can't keep
And smiles they wear forevermore.

Everybody knows consultants and their focus groups
Help their clients sound sincere.
Although it's been said many times, many ways,
Listen carefully this year.

Eight Days

With the Iowa Caucuses now a mere eight days away, it is certain that we will receive many more phone calls like the one we received on Christmas Eve that begins with

Them: Hi, I'm Susy Sunshine and I'm a volunteer for Senator Parasite. Do you know who you'll be caucusing for?
Me: John Edwards
Them: John Edwards? Did you know that Senator Parasite is for free chocolate and eternal youth? John Edwards voted against free chocolate.
Me: Well, that is something to consider, but I'm still committed to John Edwards.
Them: Can you tell me why?
Me: I like his health care plan, his energy plan, his plan to combat global climate change, the fact that he's against nuclear power plants and for more renewable, sustainable options, that his plan to end the war in Iraq is thoughtful, and he has a ten year plan to end poverty and strengthen the middle class.
Them: Oh--but he's against free chocolate.
Me: I can live with that. Thanks for calling.
Them: So can I say that you are leaning for Senator Para..(click).

It also means we are likely to get calls like this:

"Hi, I'm a famous celebrity who supports Congressman Fudge Factor. I hope you will join me in supporting Congressman Factor because he is for (fill in three issues here). I hope you will caucus for Congressman Factor on (fill in the date and time) at (fill in the precinct location). Because I'm a famous celebrity and you like me, I know you'll join me and vote for Congressman Factor."

Finally, it will mean we will all get mail like this:

America has a Chinchilla problem. Thousands of undocumented Chinchillas are crossing our borders every day. Governor Freeloader has a 12-step program to stop the spread of Chinchillas. *
*This advertisement was paid for by Americans 4 Freedom But Not 4 Chinchillas, a non-partisan organization that does not endorse candidates, but we really like Governor Freeloader a lot.

On the other hand, if you are not sure who you are caucusing for, you've only got eight days to inform yourself--follow the advice (and links) of the local progressive issues group The 49 and Pay Attention.

Sunday, December 23

Why Nuke Power Won't Help Global Warming If We Have Any Sense at All

There is a great article (actually two) in the Utne Reader. The article "Atomic Dreams" points out who is behind pushing nuclear power as a "green" solution and why it is still prudent to ignore them.

The argument for nuclear power is that it has a zero-sum effect over time where CO2 production is concerned whereas coal is a contributor to global climate change. This is good if that were the end of the argument. However, there are the nagging problems of nuclear waste storage, the time and expense it takes to build and/or retrofit or replace such plants (versus the lack of time that scientists say we have to make significant change), and the fact that there exist better power solutions for people like you and me that are much more sustainable and less dangerous.

First, why the push for "green" nuclear power? The short answer is that it is one of the only ways that Big Energy can continue to make the kinds of profits that they have grown accustomed too. For example, if power companies are pushed to reduced the CO2 from traditional coal-powered plants, the cost of nuclear energy looks more reasonable and the upkeep costs are much more predictable than old king coal. With the 2005 bill that put $12 billion in the kitty to make nuclear viable from a start-up cost, Big Energy is chomping at the bit for consumers to buy the "green" aspect and have invested several million dollars into a PR campaign to get us on board.

But wait a second big fella, it will take until about 2017 or 2020 for these power plants to come on line. I thought scientists are saying that we are already at the cusp of the tipping point of no return? That is why conservationists point to wind, geothermic, hydro-electric and solar as better options. One, they are completely safe to use. Two, they don't necessarily rely on the fragile grid, but extra energy can subsidize those on it.

The story that Big Energy isn't thrilled with is that smaller cooperatives and, yes, even you can generate enough power to put a damper on the oligopoly that exists for electricity. Said differently, the big guys are using their governmental connections to push out the little guy from the power biz. How? By sitting on state electric regulatory agencies, by PR-ing, lobbying and PAC-ing their talking points home.

Specific to nuclear power, long-time foes of it like Sen. Dianne Feinstein are giving it a second look, as are current presidential candidates, Obama, Clinton, Richardson, Guiliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson. The Nuclear Energy Institute which promotes the industry is proud to point out that nuclear is "clean air energy." Nuclear energy, again according the NIE "is America’s largest source of clean-air, carbon-free electricity, producing no greenhouse gases or air pollutants."

You see the clever folks at Nukes 'R Us have sold them on the idea that they can avert one form of global disaster for a smaller one.

Hillary Clinton is quoted as saying, "When it comes to nuclear power, I'm an agnostic. We've got two big problems: What to do with waste? And how do we afford to build and maintain nuclear power plants? If we can deal with those two big question marks, I'm not against it."

Well there is another question that is not being asked is "what do we do with the nuclear power plants and radioactive waste materials that are reaching the end of their life cycles (and how do we prevent those pesky terrorists from getting their hands on it)?"

With a hundred nuclear plants online, it is conceivable to deal with them, but what if we were to add say 50 more? Currently, we are having great difficulty getting one nuclear waste site built (and the folks in Nevada are just thrilled to have it). As Mycle Schneider writes in the Utne Reader, "In reality, the nuclear industry is not even in a position to maintain the number of operating plants in the world. As we have shown in a recent report, the average age of the operating power plants is 21 years. We have assumed an average lifetime of 40 years for all operating reactors. Considering the fact that the average age of all 108 units that already have been closed is equally about 21 years, the doubling of the operational lifetime seems rather optimistic."

So as tempting as it is to say, in the short run, that nuclear technology can be the solution to the terrifying prospects of global climate change, the long-term calls for smarter (and cooler, less-invested-in-nuclear) minds to prevail. We need to move past the idea that conservation means compromise and that other technologies can be used right here and now to pull us away from the edge.

Saturday, December 22

Edwards' Trajectory Climbing

From The Nation


MCCAIN, EDWARDS MOVE UP FAST IN NEW HAMPSHIRE...

The "headline" story from New Hampshire is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama still lead on the Democratic side among likely first-primary state voters, while Mitt Romney still leads among Republicans.

But the real story, the story that points to a rapidly evolving race, is the rapid rise of candidates who were once written off.

Clinton and Obama are tied at 32 percent each in the new USA Today/Gallup Poll. That's pretty much where they have been for the few weeks since Obama began surging in early December.

But rising on the outside is John Edwards, who at the start of the month was polling barely 10 percent in most surveys. Now, Edwards is at 18 percent. As in Iowa, where he is now essentially tied for the lead with Obama, Edwards is the candidate who is closing fastest at the Holiday season gives way to the actual caucusing and voting.

The news on the Republican side in New Hampshire is even more dramatic. While Romney is at 34 percent, John McCain is now up to 27 percent. McCain has been sweeping newspaper endorsements in New Hampshire and has just picked up the support of the Boston Herald -- which circulates widely in the southern regions of the first-primary state -- to go with the backing he received Sunday from the Boston Globe.

Rudy Giuliani is in third on the Republican side, with 11 percent. But Ron Paul, the libertarian anti-war congressman who has clashed with Giuliani on foreign policy, is at 9 percent.

What does this all mean? McCain is now a very good bet to win New Hampshire. Obama will probably win the state, as well. But Edwards, the likely winner in the Iowa caucuses, will finish stronger than expected in the first-primary state -- where he has been barnstorming through small towns and cities with singers Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. What this means is that neither contest will finish as soon as was expected just a month ago, when stumbling Democrat Hillary Clinton and the fast-fading Republican Mitt Romney were supposed to have it all wrapped up.

Caucus Holiday Song 3: Here We Come a Canvassing

Here We Come a Canvassing (From the Traditional: Here We Go A Wassailing")

Here we come a canvassing
from door to door
Here we come a canvassing
I know we've been here before

To your homes we come to you
and if you are leaning, we assign a two
Are you caucusing? You know the time is near
Just say you'll caucus January 3rd next year

Our footprints are many
through the rain, ice, and snow
who else would you expect to see
when it's thirteen below?

To your homes we come to you
and if you are leaning, we assign a two
Please caucus, you know the time is near
Say you'll caucus January 3rd next year

We are not daily beggars
though it may seem so,
But we are your friends and neighbors,
members of the PTO.

To your homes we come its true
to drop lit from us to you.
You're caucusing for who?
Please consider our candidate as your number two

Though you may not answer
when we rap upon your door
We know you're in there
We can hear you snore

To your homes we come to you
and to you we share our views
The Caucus starts at 7 be there and
Do you know your precinct chair?

Though we know it's a bother
We mean you no grief
We just want to tell you why
Our candidate should be the Commander-in-Chief

So if you'll just give us support
our mission we'll abort
We'll see you at the caucus January 3rd never fear.
Bless you and yours and have a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21

OMG! Words to Caucus By

From the DesMoines Register

Stumped on caucus jargon?

In the next two weeks, you may run into a staff worker for one of the presidential candidates.

The following Pocket Guide to Campaign Speak dictionary may help you survive that conversation.

These terms won't ensure fluency in campaign jargon, but they should allow for better communication.

Above all, do not panic. In all likelihood, the staffer may never put down his or her Blackberry and engage you in any way. Or she may just need directions to the nearest coffee stand or wireless provider.

However, do not attempt to commit to any candidate during this conversation, or you run the risk of being entrapped by yard signs and junk mail and spending the evening peeling stickers off your favorite holiday sweater.

Good luck.

The term: Body guy
What it means: An aide who travels with a candidate and is the go-to person for whatever the candidate needs, watching out for his or her well-being. The job involves waking the candidate, toting snacks and making sure every event goes as smoothly as possible.
How to use it in a sentence: "The candidate's body guy was just over here scouting out restrooms."

The term: Precinct captain
What it means: This person is a link between the campaign and the voters.
"Someone who has knocked on doors for the last few months and gotten to know their precinct," said Gordon Fischer, a political blogger and former head of the Iowa Democratic Party. Iowa has nearly 1,800 precincts. Each one has a caucus and each campaign wants a precinct captain at each caucus.
How to use it in a sentence: "The precinct captain for Joe Biden just invited us to a house party."

The term: GOTC
What it means: Get Out The Caucusers.
How to use it in a sentence: "What's your GOTC plan?"

The term: Viability
What it means: An important term with Democrats. If candidates don't attain 15 percent of the votes at a caucus, they're considered not viable and supporters have to caucus for a different candidate.
Used in a sentence: "Will he be viable in the northern precincts?"

The term: Wheels up
What it means: "The candidate's gone," according to Grant Young, a field rep for Sen. John McCain. "Usually, we say that when the candidate is happy and on his way. Or we're doing this and this and, 'Wheels up. He's on the plane.' "
Used in a sentence: "Some advance guys are famous for holding wheels up parties," Young said.

The term: Advance teams
What it means: A group of staffers who arrive before a candidate to set up events or trips, everything from coordinating with local contacts to hoisting signs.
How to use it in a sentence: "The advance team was setting up for seven straight hours."

The terms: National headquarters nicknames
What it means: Campaigns often refer to their national headquarters by its city or state location.
Used in a sentence: "Let's run it by North Carolina," would be jargon at John Edwards' office. Sen. Barack Obama's camp calls its "Chicago." McCain's staffers refer to their national headquarters as "Nationals."

The term: Purple states
What it means: A new way to describe swing states.
How to use it in a sentence: "Your guy couldn't win a purple state, much less a red state

The term: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5s
What it means: A code to describe support, used by the Obama campaign. A "1" is solidly committed to their candidate. A "5" is solidly committed elsewhere. A "3" is undecided. This system also is used to label the direction in which a supporter is leaning. So if an Obama staffer talks with someone who's leaning toward supporting John Edwards, but is undecided, they would label the person a 3E.
Used in a sentence: "People will use that in everyday language," said Fischer, who recently overheard women in the office talking about footwear using the same system: "I'm a 2 on those shoes."

The term: OTR
What it means: Off the record. Unscheduled or spontaneous events or events reporters don't know about. Also known as "impromptus."Used in a sentence: "Mike
Huckabee's going to drop into this flower shop for an OTR."

The term: RON
What it means: Remain overnight.
Used in a sentence: "After he's in New Hampshire, he's going to Iowa for an RON."

The term: Open voter
What it means: An undecided voter.
Used in a sentence: "We've got a lot of open voters in the southern precincts."

The term: LM
What it means: Left a message. Used by volunteers calling a list of names.
Used in a sentence: "On the call sheet, I marked it as an LM."

The term: The P-Triple-C
What it means: Slang for the Polk County
Convention Complex. Used by the Republican Party of Iowa.
Used in a sentence: "The P-Triple-C? That's practically headquarters for the Iowa Democratic and Republican parties from Dec. 28 to Jan. 4."

Whither Whilst Thou Caucus?

Don't know where to caucus? No problem. The Iowa Democratic Party has a handy-dandy caucus finder that has your answer.

By the way, if you find yourself in Iowa City's Precinct 17 and want to support John Edwards at the caucuses, let me know!

PolState Endorse Edwards

From The PolState Endorsement: John Edwards, arguer-in-chief

With Al Gore not running - a smart man generally right about the big picture and the future of the future - John Edwards gets the nod as the best candidate out there.
There’s a lot that’s gone wrong in the last almost-eight years, most at the urging and the behest and the whimsy of President George W. Bush. He made me far more a partisan as my brain went running and screaming away from most anything he set his mind to accomplish. I cringed as he took advantage of tragedy after tragedy to further deeply damaging schisms in the foundation of a once great country. If there were any good ideas in this presidency there was no way I trusted the motivations or that once begun it wouldn’t be completely bolloxed up by the president and his Branch Divideans.

That damage, often drowning in legalese, semantics and sub-clauses needs someone who can argue better than anyone else. Getting elbow-deep in the intricacy of the laws is John Edwards’ bailiwick. There’s no one else that I would trust more to roll back the signing statements and laws that has made the country a pantomime mockery of democracy.

He’s used to tackling companies with big wallets and big-mouthed spokespersons. In this area he’ll be a leader. In deploying troops he will be wise, cautious even, as if he had served himself.


More at PolState

Mea Culpa PolState

Happy Holidays

As many intrepid Iowans flood the airports and highways of our great nation and make their way to family members near and far, some of us will be making phone calls and doing our best to encourage people to Caucus (although some of us [and I hope it is none] won't be doing it on Christmas).

It is a job that, if anyone is honest about it, is painful. All of us know the stress that the holidays can bring. It is hard not to be sensitive to the notion that people want to celebrate Christmas and really aren't too happy to be bothered with politics. But then there is always the chance, as happens every day, that the person you talk to really appreciates what you have to offer, a free ticket to make a difference.

What happens in Iowa on January 3rd matters. The ripple effect caused by the outcome of the caucus can catapault a candidate forward and leave others in the dust. And it is important. After two terms with a President that has changed the fabric of American life, I hope everyone has the sense that we can do better.

I'm sure every candidate and their supporters has a win in Iowa on their Christmas wish list.

For all the campaign workers and volunteers Democrat and otherwise, it is good to remember that despite our differences, we have great privilege to live in a country, that despite all its problems, always holds out hope for what it can become. Whether we agree about method, I think the thing that hold us all together as "activists" is the ideals that the season brings to bear--peace on earth, goodwill to man(kind).

Be Well, Do Well. Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 20

Tancredo Provides Romney Much Needed "Kiss of Death"?

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo announced today he's ending his long-shot bid for the White House.The Colorado Republican made his exit from the race official at a press conference this afternoon in downtown Des Moines. He'll throw his support behind GOP candidate Mitt Romney, he said.

Tancredo's name was most associated with his fight against illegal immigration, one of the presidential election's most controversial issues. But his hard-line approach to curbing the unlawful migration of millions across the United States' southern border wasn't enough to vault him from the back of the GOP field.

He registered 6 percent support among likely Republican caucusgoers in the most recent Des Moines Register Iowa Poll.

Bush Says Immunity for Telecoms Should Be #1 Priority

From AP

Bush called on lawmakers to extend the Protect America Act when they return from vacation in January, saying the legislation "closed dangerous gaps" in collecting intelligence on terrorists overseas. But he complained that its key provisions are set to expire at the beginning of February, "as if the terrorist threat is going to go away on February the 1st, 2008."

Bush said Congress should make the bill its top priority when it returns and that it "should include liability protection for companies that are facing multibillion-dollar lawsuits only because they are believed to have assisted in the effort to defend our nation following the 9/11 attacks."

The law modified the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to allow wiretapping without a warrant from the secret FISA court when the target of the eavesdropping is a foreigner located outside the United States. The White House wants the law to protect telecommunications companies that acceded to administration requests for data.

The act is strongly opposed by civil liberties groups such as the ACLU, which charges that it "allows for massive, untargeted collection of international communications without court order or meaningful oversight by either Congress or the courts."

Support the Troops: Suicide

The AP reports that at least 152 U.S. troops have taken their own lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since the two wars started, contributing to the Army's highest suicide rate in 26 years of keeping track.

Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, told Congress, "Soldiers, families and equipment are stretched and stressed." Research released by the Army showed that "almost 70% of suicides in 2006 were spurred by failed relationships."

In a report from August of 2007 noted there were 99 confirmed suicides among all active-duty soldiers in 2006, up from 88 the previous year and the highest since the 102 suicides in 1991. Increases in suicides came as Army officials worked to set up a number of new and stronger programs for providing mental health care to a force strained by the longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the global counterterrorism war entering its sixth year.

Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems, and job stress were factors motivating the soldiers to commit suicide, the report said.

"In addition, there was a significant relationship between suicide attempts and number of days deployed" in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries where troops are participating in the war effort, it said. The same pattern appeared to hold true for those who not only attempted but also succeeded in killing themselves.

Among veterans, data obtained from 45 of the 50 US states by CBS calculated that there were at least 6,256 veteran suicides in 2005 alone—amounting to 120 every week or approximately 17 every day.

The highest surge in suicides was among young veterans—those most likely to have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. CBS calculated that the suicide rate among veterans aged 20-24 was between 2.5 and almost four times higher than the rate among non-veterans in the same age group. In total, between 22.9 and 31.9 veterans per 100,000 in this age group killed themselves in 2005.

To bring it home in a more personal way, read this story.

A Soldier's Suicide: Did He Have to Die?

SANFORD, N.C. (AP) -- Pfc. Jason Scheuerman nailed a suicide note to his barracks closet in Iraq, stepped inside and shot himself.

"Maybe finaly I can get some peace," said the 20-year-old, misspelling "finally" but writing in a neat hand.

His parents didn't find out about the note for well over a year, and only then when it showed up in a government envelope in his father's rural North Carolina mailbox.

The one-page missive was among hundreds of pages of documents the soldier's family obtained and shared with The Associated Press after battling a military bureaucracy they feel didn't want to answer their questions, especially this: Why did Jason Scheuerman have to die?

What the soldier's father, Chris, would learn about his son's final days would lead the retired Special Forces commando, who teaches at Fort Bragg, to take on the very institution he's spent his life serving - and ultimately prompt an investigation by the Army Inspector General's office.

The documents, obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests filed by Chris Scheuerman, reveal a troubled soldier kept in Iraq despite repeated signs he was going to kill himself, including placing the muzzle of his weapon in his mouth multiple times.

Jason Scheuerman's story - pieced together with interviews and information in the documents - demonstrates how he was failed by the very support system that was supposed to protect him. In his case, a psychologist told his commanders to send him back to his unit because he was capable of feigning mental illness to get out of the Army.

He is not alone. At least 152 U.S. troops have taken their own lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since the two wars started, contributing to the Army's highest suicide rate in 26 years of keeping track. For the grieving parents, the answers don't come easily or quickly.

For Jason Scheuerman, death came on July 30, 2005, around 5:30 p.m., about 45 minutes after his first sergeant told the teary-eyed private that if he was intentionally misbehaving so he could leave the Army, he would go to jail where he would be abused.

When the call came out over the unit's radios that there had been a death, one soldier would later tell investigators he suspected it was Scheuerman.

Scheuerman spent his early years on military posts playing GI Joe. The middle child, he divided his time after his parents' divorce between his mother's house in Lynchburg, Va., and his father's in North Carolina where he went to high school.

He was nearly 6 feet tall and loved to eat. His mother, Anne, said sometimes at 10 p.m. she'd find him defrosting chicken to grill.

Likable and witty, he often joked around - even dressing up like a clown one night at church camp, said his pastor, Mike Cox of West Lynchburg Baptist Church. But he had a quiet, reflective side, too, and sometimes withdrew, Cox said.

"You always knew how he felt. He wore his emotions on his sleeve," his mother said. "If he was angry, you knew it. If he was upset, you knew it."

Scheuerman liked military history and writing, but decided college wasn't for him. After a short stint in landscaping, he followed what seemed an almost natural path into the military. His mother had spent a year in the Army, and his father, a physician's assistant, retired as an Army master sergeant. One of his two brothers also joined and is now in Afghanistan.

He enlisted in 2004 and was sent to Iraq from Fort Benning, Ga., in January 2005 with the 3rd Infantry Division. On leave a few months later, Scheuerman told his father he was having a hard time with combat and killing people.

"I've seen war," his father said. "I told him that a lot of what he was seeing was normal. That we all feel it. That we're all afraid."

Back in Iraq, things didn't improve. One soldier - whose name was blacked out on the documents like most others - said he saw Jason put the muzzle of his rifle in his mouth, and told investigators other soldiers had seen him do something similar.

"He said it was a joke," the soldier said. "He said he had thought about it before but didn't have a plan to do it."

Scheuerman was reprimanded for not bathing or shaving and spending too much time playing video games. He misplaced a radio and didn't wear parts of his uniform. Sometimes, Scheuerman was singled out for punishment, one soldier told an investigator. "I don't know why," the soldier said. Another said his noncommissioned officers were yelling at him "more days then not."

His platoon sergeant said in a disciplinary note that Scheuerman's actions put everyone in danger. "If you continue on your present course of action, you may end up in a body bag," he wrote.

In another, his squad leader said, "You have put me into a position where I have to treat you like a troublesome child. I hate being in this position. It makes me be someone I don't like."

Scheuerman was made to do push-ups in front of Iraqi soldiers, which humiliated him.

As he was punished, "it appeared as though he was out of touch with reality; in a world all his own," his platoon sergeant said in a report.

After the punishment, Scheuerman slept on the floor of his unit's operation's center in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

An Army chaplain who met with him about a month before he died said his mood had "drastically changed." He said Scheuerman demonstrated disturbing behavior by "sitting with his weapon between his legs and bobbing his head on the muzzle." He told Scheuerman's leaders to have his rifle and ammunition magazine "taken from him immediately" and for him to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Scheuerman checked on a mental health questionnaire that he had thoughts about killing himself, was uptight, anxious and depressed, had feelings of hopelessness and despair, felt guilty and was having work problems. But in person, the psychologist said, he denied having thoughts of suicide.

Less than a week later, Scheuerman's mother got an e-mail from her son telling her goodbye. She contacted a family support official at Fort Benning and later received a call saying her son had been checked and was fine. Later, her son sent her an instant message and said her phone call had made things worse.

The same day as her call, Scheuerman's company commander requested a mental evaluation, noting that the private was a "good soldier" but displays "distant, depression like symptoms."

Visiting with the psychologist for the second time, Scheuerman said he sometimes saw other people on guard duty that other soldiers do not see, suggesting he was hallucinating. And he said that if he wasn't diagnosed as having a mental problem, he was going to be in trouble with his leader. Yet he again denied being suicidal, the psychologist reported.

The psychologist determined Scheuerman did not meet the criteria for a mental health disorder, and that a screening test he had taken indicated he was exaggerating. He told Scheuerman's leaders he was "capable of claiming mental illness in order to manipulate his command."

Still, when he sent Scheuerman back to his barracks, he told the private's leaders that if Scheuerman claimed to be depressed, to take it seriously. He recommended Scheuerman sleep in an area where he could be watched, that most of his personal belongings and privileges be taken away for his safety.

The evaluation "created in the leaders' minds the idea that the soldier was a malingerer all along," an officer from his unit evaluating the case as part of a post-suicide investigation would later determine.

Shortly after the psychologist's determination and a few weeks before he died, Scheuerman's Internet and phone communication were shut off. His parents did not hear from him again.

The night before he shot himself, his rifle - which had since been returned to him - was found in a Humvee. The next morning, one soldier said Scheuerman "was quiet and seemed depressed. He said he had a rough night and didn't sleep well."

Later that day, he was punished again and given 14 days of extra duty.

Scheuerman had tears in his eyes, but one of his noncommissioned officers said he was surprisingly calm before he went to his room, weapon in hand.

"I told him to go upstairs and clean his gear and change his uniform," his squad leader told investigators. "I was soo angry with him, I went outside to smoke and talk to someone so I didn't blow up."

Less than an hour later, he said he heard someone yelling that Scheuerman had done something.

"At that point, I knew I was already too late," he said.

Scheuerman's body was discovered in a closet, blood streaming from his mouth.

Initially, Scheuerman's father said he trusted the Army would investigate his son's death and take action.

"I did not want to believe that it was as bad as I thought it was, so I chose not to make hasty judgments," Scheuerman said from his kitchen table, sitting beside his ex-wife, whom he plans to remarry. "I chose to systematically try to get all the information that I could and once I received all the information I could, my worse fears were realized."

Each document that arrived brought more pain.

When a copy of his son's suicide note appeared, Scheuerman broke down crying. In the note, his son said he wanted to say goodbye, but his ability to contact the family was taken away "like everything else." He said he'd brought dishonor on his family and his Army unit.

"I know you think I'm a coward for this but in the face of existing as I am now, I have no other choice," Scheuerman wrote. "As the 1st Sgt said all I have to look forward to is a butt-buddy in jail, not much of a future."

Chris Scheuerman wants to see a more thorough investigation, and some of his son's leaders punished - perhaps even criminally charged - and the psychologist brought before a medical peer review committee. "We will not see a statistical decrease in Army suicides until the Army gets serious about holding people accountable when they do not do what they are trained to do," he said.

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans

The scene outside New Orleans' City Hall boiled on the brink of a riot Thursday as protestors stormed the gate and were met with police spraying mace and firing Tasers. Protestors broke through the gates outside City Hall shortly after 11 a.m.

From the AP
A raucous debate over the shortage of cheap housing and the demolition of 4,500 public units is sweeping the city and likely to become more intense.

Protesters planned to disrupt a meeting Thursday of the City Council, where members were expected to approve demolishing dozens of buildings — a move that would open racial and class divisions. People entering the council chamber had to pass through metal detectors and handbags were being searched.

The City Council vote is a critical moment in a protracted fight between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and residents, activists and preservationists.

HUD wants to demolish the buildings, most of them damaged by Hurricane Katrina, so developers can take advantage of tax credits and build new mixed-income neighborhoods.

The council's approval of the demolition is required under the city's charter.

HUD says the redevelopment, in the works before Katrina hit, will mark an end to the city's failed public housing experiment that lumped the poor into crime-ridden complexes and marooned them outside the life of the rest of the city.

But critics say the plan will shrink the stock of cheap housing at a time when housing is scarce and drive poor blacks out of the city. They also say the buildings are, contrary to popular opinion, mostly handsome brick structures that will outlast anything HUD builds in their place.

By Wednesday, opponents of demolition appeared resigned to a council vote that would go against their wishes, and were accusing council members of discriminating against blacks.

A news release from the Coalition to Stop the Demolition, one of several groups organizing protesters, characterized the pending action as a "rubber stamp" at a "sham meeting."

"It is beyond callous, and can only be seen as malicious discrimination. It is an unabashed attempt to eliminate the black population of New Orleans," said Kali Akuno, an organizer with the group.

A recent shake-up on the seven-member City Council turned it into a majority white chamber for the first time since the 1980s, a shift that will certainly make the vote even more racially charged.

Three of the council's white members were quick to say they supported the tear-down plan, while the council's three black members were hesitant about expressing their intentions.

One black member, Cynthia Hedge Morrell, issued a statement late Wednesday in favor of demolitions. The fourth white member, Council President Arnie Fielkow, has been careful to tread the middle ground, but a spokeswoman said Thursday he supports demolition.

"It's not racist and it's truly not a done deal behind the scenes," said Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, a newly elected councilmember-at-large, about the council's pending vote.

Besides opening fissures between whites and blacks, the clash has divided along political party lines.

Many Democrats, including presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John Edwards, have said they would like the Bush administration to stop the demolitions. Louisiana's Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu, has also supported overhauling the redevelopment plan.

By contrast, Republicans have come out in favor of demolition. On Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter and three Republican congressman wrote a letter to a Senate committee considering the redevelopment plan, saying it needs to be left alone because overhauling it would delay and even derail redevelopment.

"Public housing in New Orleans has for many decades served almost no other purpose than to warehouse the city's poor and disenfranchised," the letter said. "That generations of our fellow citizens were allowed to live in government-operated and sanctioned slums is offensive and intolerable."

On the Net:
http://www.nocitycouncil.com
http://www.defendneworleanspublichousing.org
Check this out at TruthDig:

'Twas the Night Before Caucus

Depends on How the Pie is Sliced: Latest Rasmussen Report

The latest Rasmussen Reports poll of the Iowa Democratic Caucus finds that Hillary Clinton is supported by 31% of Likely Caucus Participants. Barack Obama earns the vote from 27% and John Edwards is the top choice for 22%.

However, among those who are “certain” they will participate in the caucus, it gets a bit closer—Clinton 29% Obama 28% and Edwards 22%.

Among those who have participated in the caucus before it’s Obama 26% Clinton 25% and Edwards 24%.

Slight adjustments to the expected turnout produces a variety of results, but none that show a clear leader in the race.

Adding to the closeness of the race are the second choice rankings. Edwards is the second choice for 28% while Obama is the number two pick for 22%. Clinton and Bill Richardson are the second choice for 15%. Second choices are important for two reasons. First, because 26% of Likely Caucus Participants say they might change their mind. This includes 8% who say there’s a good chance they could change their mind.

Additionally, if a candidate receives less than 15% of the vote in a particular setting, their supporters will be re-allocated to other candidates.

These results are generally similar to those from a week ago and the overall message is the same—it is still quite possible for any of the three leading candidates to emerge victorious. The caucus victor will be the candidate who does the best job of getting her or his supporters to the caucus sites.

It's a Wonderful Quote

Every year Fred R. Shapiro, an associate librarian and lecturer at the Yale Law School, releases a list of the 10 most memorable quotes of the year. Shapiro is the editor of "The Yale Book of Quotations,"

The envelope please...(It might be a good time to put on Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World")

10. "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."

Former President Jimmy Carter, referring to the Bush administration in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper

9. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Sen. Joseph Biden, referring to rival Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama

8. "(I have) a wide stance when going to the bathroom."

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, explaining why his foot touched the foot of an undercover police officer in an airport men's room

7. "I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, referring to Republican Vice President Dick Cheney

6. "There's only three things he (Republican presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani) mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11."

Sen. Joseph Biden, speaking during a debate for Democratic presidential candidates

5. "I don't recall."

Former U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales' repeated response to questions from members of Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys

4. "That's some nappy-headed hos there."

Radio personality Don Imus, referring to the Rutgers University women's basketball team

3. "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during a speaking engagement at Columbia University in New York

2. "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us."

Lauren Upton, the South Carolina contestant in the Miss Teen America contest, when asked why one-fifth of Americans cannot find the U.S on a map

1. "Don't tase me, bro."

Andrew Meyer, a senior at the University of Florida, after being hauled away by campus police during a speech made by Sen. John Kerry

God Bless us, everyone!

Department of Labor: "Tis the Season to be Jobless"

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for jobless benefits rose by a seasonally adjusted 12,000 to 346,000. It was a larger increase than economists were expecting. They were forecasting claims to rise to 335,000 last week.

The four-week moving average of new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 4,250 to 343,000 last week, the highest level in two years.

Economic growth in the October-to-December quarter is expected to slow to a near crawl _ a pace of just 1.5 percent or less, according to economists' projections. The nation's unemployment rate, now at 4.7 percent, is expected to climb to 5 percent by early next year.

You Gotta Show Up Before 7 pm (to Caucus)

Diverting from the holiday theme and with a nod to the Beastie Boys and their classic "Fight for your right (to party)"--Keep this in mind on January 3rd.

Kick it!

You get home late from work on the 3rd and you don't want to show.
You ask you wife, "Please?" but she says, "We gotta Go!"
You're standing in a long line at your precinct
it's six-thirty and the line's longer than you'd think.

You gotta show before 7 pm to Caucus!

You see your neighbor is undecided and that's when you say
"I really need you to support my candidate come over my way."
Man, this standing in line can be such a drag
But you're checked in, found your preference group, it's in the bag.

But you gotta show before 7 pm to Caucus!

"It's 7 pm, doors are shut" says the temporary chair
the excitement is palpable, you can feel it in the air.
You're eating a home made cookie, as the caucus begins."
Now that you're there you want your candidate to win!

But, you gotta be there before 7 pm to Caucus!

If this helps to inspire you:

Wednesday, December 19

This Should Be a No-Brainer

Keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill...

Congress, prodded by the deadliest shooting rampage in modern American history, passed legislation on Wednesday designed to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Without objection, the Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure, which would bolster background checks for gun buyers, and sent it to President George W. Bush to sign.

The measure would be the first major new gun-control law in more than a decade. It was drafted after a deranged gunman killed himself and 32 others in April at Virginia Tech university.

Propelling the bill were the Virginia Tech shootings on April 16 and rare agreement between political foes, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the National Rifle Association.

The measure would clarify what mental health records should be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which help gun dealers determine whether to sell a firearm to a prospective buyer, and give states financial incentives for compliance. The attorney general could penalize states if they fail to meet compliance targets.

Talking Heads: What Are They Waiting For?

Have the talking heads heard of "Global Climate Change"--you know they have, but mysteriously, they don't cover it on the campaign trail, why?



Sign the League of Conservation Voters Survey petition

And if you need more to think about, check this out:

Good Time for a FactCheck

Sometimes the facts don't check...that's where Annenberg Political Fact Check comes in handy:

Claims made by candidates at last Democratic Debate leave a lot to be desired.


Facts made by 527 group not accurate.


The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania accepts NO funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. It is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation.

It is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

Seasons Greetings Campaign Style

First Hillary's


Now John's


Finally, Barack's


If more come out, I'll post 'em.

EarthPORK: Finally Taken Off Life Support?

From the P-C
Organizers of a project to build an indoor rainforest and education center in Iowa have until Friday to provide information to government officials or lose nearly $50 million in federal funds.

Funding for the Earthpark project — once slated for Coralville — was rescinded in year-end spending bills approved by Congress earlier this week. The funding will be lost unless the Department of Energy approves proposed matching funds submitted by project planners before President Bush signs the spending bill into law.

Bush has until Friday to sign the measure.

Plans for the $150 million project, which includes an indoor rain forest and 600,000 gallon aquarium, call for it to open in 2011 near Lake Red Rock, southeast of Des Moines.

Charles Grassley, who helped secure the federal grant for Earthpark, criticized Congress for rescinding the funding.

``I put in place a process to ensure the money wasn't frittered away,'' Grassley said in a statement. ``The Appropriations Committee should have let the current law play out, giving the Energy Department ample time to consider the matching funds proposal before allowing the law governing the federal dollars to be changed.''

Funding for the Earthpark has been criticized by some in Congress, including Sen. John McCain, who see it as an example of wasteful spending.

Iowa D's and R's Unite: What No Union Bug?



The official logo for Caucus 2008. Iowa Caucuses, accept no substitutes.

The Rights Stuff

From the Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Beat back Telecom Immunity - Shut Down Guantanamo

Our time is now - time to use our grassroots power to hold elected officials accountable! Here are two immediate opportunities:

1. Call your senators to insist that they don't vote to let telecommunication companies off the hook for their role in warrantless wiretapping.
2. Organize locally to mark the sixth anniversary of the first detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo, January 11.

Beat Back Telecom Immunity
The people have spoken: Impartial U.S. courts with juries must decide the cases of the telecommunications companies' role in warrantless wiretapping. It must not be a political decision! Offering immunity is a cover-up that prevents government accountability.

On Monday, after a long day of Senate debate on S. 2248, the FISA Amendments Act, [http://www.bordc.org/threats/legislation/index.php#wiretap] which would have provided immunity, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, fearing a filibuster, pulled the contentious bill off the floor and postponed consideration of the bill until the Senate returns from recess on January 8, 2008.

According to the New York Times, [http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/12/16/5855/] the administration approached telephone companies about warrantless wiretapping in February 2001, a revelation that disproves the administration's claims that the program and immunity are justified by the threat of terrorism or by Congress's October 2001 authorization to use military force.

What you can do:
If you called your Senators to express your concerns about S. 2248, thank you! Keep it up!

We have a few weeks to call Senate offices and to meet with Senators holding January town hall meetings in their home states. Call 1-202-224-3121 today, and ask the switchboard operator to connect you to both of your senators or look up their direct office telephone numbers at www.senate.gov. Here are sample talking points:

Tell your senators either to allow the Protect America Act to sunset OR to support the Judiciary Committee version of S. 2248. Remind them that:
รข€¢ The administration's wiretapping program predated the September 11th terrorist attacks, so any attempts to justify the program as narrowly focused on suspected terrorists are bogus.

- Congress must let the cases against the phone companies go forward. The American people need to know about government abuses of our Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. Granting immunity to the telecommunications companies in order to scuttle those cases has nothing to do with national security. And remember, not all telecom companies handed over customer records. The refusal of Qwest to cooperate without a warrant shows that companies had a clear choice - to follow the law, or not.
- Immunity for the telecommunications companies sets a pitiful precedent that Congress's laws are meant to be broken, and that when they are broken by the administration, the corporations or both, Congress will simply rewrite the laws to legalize their crimes and misdemeanors.

Organize to Shut Down Guantanamo January 11
BORDC is endorsing the January 11 action of Witness Against Torture to shut down Guantanamo. Our aim is to raise public awareness about the lack of due process and continued abuses that U.S. media ignores, and to explore effective strategies for demanding accountability from our elected representatives, who so far have gotten away with sanctioning much lawlessness. Organizations can endorse the national action in Washington D.C., and you (http://www.witnesstorture.org/endorse) take action in your community.

Tools and other resources for your local action can be found here: [http://www.bordc.org/newsletter/bordc-act-alert121407.php]

Meanwhile, you can learn more about the news you're missing daily about Guantanamo by reading this article by Dahlia Lithwick on the new book, "Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side", by Reprieve [http://www.reprieve.org.uk/] director Clive Stafford Smith [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/books/review/Lithwick-t.html]

Thank you for all you do!