The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Oil Price Rise Causes Global Shift in Wealth

Oil Price Rise Causes Global Shift in Wealth
Iran, Russia and Venezuela Feel the Benefits

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 10, 2007; A01

oil prices are fueling one of the biggest transfers of wealth in
history. Oil consumers are paying $4 billion to $5 billion more for
crude oil every day than they did just five years ago, pumping more
than $2 trillion into the coffers of oil companies and oil-producing
nations this year alone.

The consequences are evident in minds and mortar: anger at Chinese motor-fuel pumps and inflated confidence in the Kremlin; new weapons in Chad and new petrochemical plants in Saudi Arabia; no-driving campaigns in South Korea and bigger sales for Toyota hybrid cars; a fiscal burden in Senegal and a bonanza in Brazil. In Burma, recent demonstrations were triggered by a government decision to raise fuel prices.

the United States, the rising bill for imported petroleum lowers
already anemic consumer savings rates, adds to inflation, worsens the
trade deficit, undermines the dollar and makes it more difficult for
the Federal Reserve to balance its competing goals of fighting inflation and sustaining growth.

High prices have given a boost to oil-rich Alaska,
which in September raised the annual oil dividend paid to every man,
woman and child living there for a year to $1,654, an increase of $547
from last year. In other states, high prices create greater incentives
for pursuing non-oil energy projects that once might have looked too
expensive and hurt earnings at energy-intensive companies like airlines
and chemical makers. Even Kellogg's cited higher energy costs as a drag on its third-quarter earnings.

crude oil prices nearing $100 a barrel, there is no end in sight to the
redistribution of more than 1 percent of the world's gross domestic
product. Earlier oil shocks generated giant shifts in wealth and pools
of petrodollars, but they eventually faded and economies adjusted. This
new high point in petroleum prices has arrived over four years, and
many believe it will represent a new plateau even if prices drop back
somewhat in coming months.

"There's never been anything like this
on a sustained basis the way we've seen the last couple of years," said
Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard University economics professor and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. Oil prices "are not spiking; they're just rising," he added.

The benefits, to the tune of $700 billion a year, are flowing to the world's oil-exporting countries.

Two of those nations -- Iran and Venezuela
-- may be better able to defy the Bush administration because of
swelling oil revenue. Venezuela has used its oil wealth to dispense
patronage around South America,
vying for influence even with longtime U.S. allies. And Iran could be
less vulnerable to sanctions designed to pressure it into giving up its
nuclear program or opening it to inspection.

The world's biggest
oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is using its rejuvenated oil riches to
build four cities. Projects like these are designed to burnish the
country's image, develop a non-oil economy and generate enough
employment to maintain social stability.

One is King Abdullah
Economic City, a mega-project on the kingdom's west coast. According to
Emaar, a real estate development firm in Dubai, the city will cost $27 billion and be spread across an area three times the size of Manhattan.
A contractor who works there said a wide, palm tree-lined boulevard
cuts a dozen miles across an ocean of sand and ends at the Red Sea.
Construction workers in hard hats are navigating excavators, dredging
land and digging foundations for a power plant, a desalinization plant
and a port. The project will eventually include an industrial district,
a financial island, a university and a residential area, and is
expected to house 2 million people.

Despite mega-projects like
this, Saudi Arabia is running a budget surplus. It has paid down much
of the foreign debt it accumulated in the late 1990s and is adding to
its foreign-exchange reserves.

Russia, the world's No. 2 oil exporter, shows oil's transformational impact in the political as well as the economic realm. When Vladimir Putin
came to power in 2000, less than two years after the collapse of the
ruble and Russia's default on its international debt, the country's
policymakers worried that 2003 could bring another financial crisis.
The country's foreign-debt repayments were scheduled to peak at $17
billion that year.

Inside the Kremlin, with Putin nearing the end
of his second and final term as president, that sum now looks like
peanuts. Russia's gold and foreign-currency reserves have risen by more
than that amount just since July. The soaring price of oil has helped
Russia increase the federal budget tenfold since 1999 while paying off
its foreign debt and building the third-largest gold and hard-currency
reserves in the world, about $425 billion.

"The government is
much stronger, much more self-assured and self-confident," said
Vladimir Milov, head of the Institute of Energy Policy in Moscow and a former deputy minister of energy. "It believes it can cope with any economic crisis at home."

good reason. Using energy revenue, the government has built up a $150
billion rainy-day account called the Stabilization Fund.

financial independence has contributed to more assertive actions by
Russia in the international arena," Milov said. "There is a strong
drive within part of the elite to show that we are off our knees."

result: Russia is trying to reclaim former Soviet republics as part of
its sphere of influence. Freed of the need to curry favor with foreign
oil companies and Western bankers, Russia can resist what it views as
American expansionism, particularly regarding NATO enlargement and U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe, and forge an independent approach to contentious issues like Iran's nuclear program.

abundance of petrodollars has also led to a consumer boom evident in
the sprawling malls, 24-hour hyper-markets, new apartment and office
buildings, and foreign cars that have become commonplace not just in
Moscow and St. Petersburg
but in provincial cities. Average income has doubled under Putin, and
the number of people living below the poverty line has been cut in half.

many economists have called petroleum reserves a bane, saying they
enable oil-rich countries to avoid taking steps that would diversify
their economies and spread wealth more equally. Russia, for example,
has rising inflation, soaring imports and a lack of new investment in
the very industry that is fueling the boom.

'Our Oil Wealth Is a Curse'

The problems are worse in Nigeria,
which is battling an insurgency that has curtailed output in the
oil-rich Niger River Delta. The central government has been disbursing
its remaining oil revenue, though corruption has undermined the
program's effectiveness. The government has also cut domestic gas
subsidies, raising prices several times over in the name of improving
health, education and infrastructure.

"Our oil wealth is a curse
rather than a blessing for our country," said Halima Dahiru, a
36-year-old housewife, as she waited for a bus near a Texaco station in Kano,
the commercial capital of northern Nigeria. Billows of dust enveloped
the gas station as vehicles frenetically cruised along the
laterite-covered road, adding to the harmattan haze that blankets the

"You go to bed and wake up the next morning to hear the
government has increased the price of petrol, and you have to live with
it," she said. "The only sensible thing to do is to adjust to the new
reality because nothing will make the government listen to public

Newly oil-exporting countries such as Sudan and Chad and the companies operating there -- including Malaysia's Petronas and France's Total -- are winners. Sudan's capital, Khartoum,
is booming, with new skyscrapers and five-star luxury hotels, despite
U.S. and European sanctions aimed at pressuring the country to halt
attacks against people in the western Darfur region.

government has used some of its oil revenue to buy weapons rather than
develop the country's economy. In eastern Chad, there are hardly any
gas stations; people buy their gas -- often for motorcycles, not cars
-- from roadside stands that sell it out of glass bottles.

countries face their own challenges. The hardest hit are the poorest.
Last year, Senegal's budget deficit doubled, inflation quickened and
growth slowed. The cash-strapped state-owned petrochemical business had
to shut down for long periods.

In China,
the government increased domestic pump prices on Oct. 31 by nearly 10
percent with shortages, rationing and long lines throughout the
country. Violence broke out at some gas stations, including an incident
last week in Henan province in which one man killed another who had chastised him for jumping to the front of a line for gas.

A scarcity of diesel fuel even hit China's richest cities -- Beijing, Shanghai
and trading ports on the east coast -- which in the past have been kept
well supplied. In Ningbo, a city south of Shanghai, the wait at some
gas stations this week was more than three hours, and lines stretched
more than 200 yards.

Rumors circulated that gas stations or the
government was hoarding fuel in anticipation of further price
increases, prompting the official New China News Agency to warn that anyone caught spreading rumors about fuel-price increases will be "severely punished."

Leijun, 37, a taxi driver, said he was so angry that he was unable to
buy fuel that he argued with gas station attendants and called the
police. "I still didn't get any diesel," he said.

Since shedding
orthodox Maoist economic policies, China's leaders have unleashed
decades of pent-up demand. China consumes 9 percent of world oil
output, up from 6.4 percent five years ago, according to the International Energy
Agency. Yet it still subsidizes fuel. As a result, consumption this
decade has skyrocketed at an 8.7 percent annual rate despite soaring
prices and concerns about the environmental impact of profligate fuel

Consumption in South Africa
is also defying high prices as long-impoverished blacks join the middle
and upper classes. Cars are a status symbol, and gasoline consumption
jumped 39 percent in the decade after the end of apartheid in 1994.
New-vehicle sales last year rose 15.7 percent over 2005.

Highly developed consumer nations have been better able to adapt. In Japan, which relies on imports for nearly 100 percent of its fuel, nearly everyone is a loser -- with the big exception of Toyota.

Japan has been weaning itself off oil for years. It now imports 16
percent less oil than it did in 1973, although the economy has more
than doubled. Billions of dollars were invested to convert oil-reliant
electricity-generation systems into ones powered by natural gas, coal,
nuclear energy or alternative fuels. Japan accounts for 48 percent of
the globe's solar-power generation -- compared with 15 percent in the
United States. The adoption rate for fluorescent light bulbs is 80
percent, compared with 6 percent in the United States.

rising fuel prices are pushing up the prices of raw and industrial
materials, as well as food, which relies on fertilizers and
transportation. Because of rising wheat prices, Nissin Food Products,
the instant-noodle industry leader, will increase prices 7 to 11
percent in January, the first price hike in 17 years.

Greasing Toyota's Gears

A winner is Toyota. Soaring gasoline prices have buffed the image of the hybrid Prius and Toyota's other fuel-efficient models, such as the Camry and Corolla. Although stagnant in Japan, sales were strong in North America, Europe, Asia
and emerging markets. In October, Prius sales stood at 13,158 vehicles,
up 51 percent from 8,733 in October last year. Worldwide, the number of
hybrid cars sold by Toyota surpassed 1 million in May.

national average gasoline price topped 1 pound per liter, or about $8 a
gallon, for the first time this week because of record oil prices.

there is very little publicity about it -- you don't see many headlines
saying, 'Oil at all-time record high,' " said Chris Skrebowski, editor
of Petroleum Review, a published by the Energy Institute in London. "It's different from the United States. Here, everyone has just accepted that it is expensive."

British drivers are feeling the pinch, the government is gaining
revenue, Skrebowski said, because about 80 percent of the cost of gas
is tax. Because Britain produces almost all the oil it consumes, its
economy has been cushioned against increasing oil prices, Skrebowski

But Britain's North Sea
oil production is dwindling, having peaked in 1999 at 2.6 million
barrels per day. Today, production is 1.4 million to 1.6 million
barrels per day, Skrebowski said, while domestic oil consumption is
about 1.7 million barrels a day. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who took office in June, has made energy independence a priority.

analysts said, Europeans buying oil priced in dollars are finding the
rising prices somewhat cushioned by the strength of their currency. The
value of the dollar has been sliding to record lows against the euro
and the British pound.

Argentina has tried to keep fuel prices for consumers at artificially low levels.

N¿stor Kirchner in recent years has leaned heavily on energy companies
to keep prices down, going so far as to call for a public boycott of Royal Dutch Shell
when the company raised pump prices. Individual suppliers -- wary of
attracting the ire of the government -- have adopted a policy of
raising prices gradually and by small amounts.

As the market
pressures have mounted, Kirchner has signed a series of agreements with
Venezuelan President Hugo Ch¿vez. This year, the two created a project
called Petrosuramerica, a joint venture designed to promote cooperative
energy projects and provide energy security to Argentina.

Brazil, the region's largest economy, high oil prices have had a
different political effect. Last year, the country became a net oil
exporter, thanks to major increases in domestic oil exploration and the
country's broad use of sugar-based ethanol as a transport fuel.

But new oil wealth can trickle away even more easily than it comes. Last month, Standard & Poor's downgraded Kazakhstan's credit rating after the country's banks lost billions on purchases of subprime mortgages.

Peter Finn in Moscow, Blaine Harden in Tokyo, Ariana Eunjung Cha in
Shanghai, Kevin Sullivan in London, Craig Timberg in Johannesburg,
Stephanie McCrummen in Nairobi, Monte Reel in Buenos Aires and Faiza
Saleh Ambah in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, and special correspondents Aminu
Abubakar in Kano, Nigeria, and Alia Ibrahim in Beirut contributed to
this report.

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Rudy and Bernie: B.F.F.’s

p-Ed Columnist

Rudy and Bernie: B.F.F.’s

The past seven years have
given us some helpful hints on what we want to avoid in the next
president. I’m starting to make a list.

Quality to avoid No. 1: Loyalty.

Whenever you read that a candidate “values loyalty above all else” —
run for the hills. Loyalty is a terribly important consideration if
you’re choosing a pet, but not a cabinet member.

How about if this time we try for a president who would recruit
gifted people who can accomplish great things, as opposed to a room
full of dopes who will never write tell-all memoirs?

Loyalty is on our mind today because of the indictment of Bernard
Kerik, the really, really loyal former New York City police
commissioner. Rudy Giuliani, who was entirely responsible for Kerik’s
meteoric rise from mayoral chauffeur, has not seemed to draw any great
lessons from his protégé’s spectacular fall. Giuliani did say that he
made a “mistake in not clearing him effectively enough,” which sounds
as if he is kicking himself for not sending a second squad of
detectives out to interview Kerik’s neighbors. In fact, the lapse in
the “clearing” procedure involved Giuliani ignoring the city
investigations commissioner when he arrived with the news that Kerik
was involved with a company suspected of having ties to organized crime.

Giuliani claims not to remember this moment in the vetting process,
which seems sort of strange for a guy who made his career prosecuting
the mafia and those-who-had-ties. The former mayor does, however, have
a bad memory. We know this because he obtained an annulment of his
14-year-long first marriage on the grounds that he had forgotten that
his wife was his second cousin.

On the terrible day of Sept. 11, 2001, Kerik was with the mayor as
Giuliani left the disaster at ground zero, searching for a telephone to
contact the outside world. Also loyally at the mayor’s side were three
deputy mayors, the fire commissioner and the head of the Office of
Emergency Management. They all walked north, in a little command-clump,
intent on the central mission of protecting their main man. You would
have thought, really, that the protecting job could have been done by
youthful aides while the alleged leaders tended to the fire, emergency
and police problems downtown.

But if anybody had stayed behind, focusing on the wider city rather
than the man who had plucked them all out of obscurity and given them
everything they had, how would he know they were loyal? The ties forged
in that clump of commanders catapulted them into extremely well-paying
jobs in the firm of Giuliani Partners and convinced the mayor to
propose Bernard Kerik as the next chief of the Department of Homeland
Security, a position for which he was approximately as well qualified
as I am to be quarterback for the New England Patriots.

Giuliani had a great police commissioner, Bill Bratton, during his
first term when all the critical crime-fighting apparatus for which the
administration became so famous was put into place. But Bratton was not
particularly loyal, in the sense that he did his job well, then enjoyed
taking credit for it himself. And so he was gone.

There is an entire chapter in Rudy Giuliani’s famous book
“Leadership” that is titled “Loyalty, the Vital Virtue.” In it, he pats
himself on the back for making a man named Robert Harding the city’s
budget director even though he knew the ever-feckless news media would
point out that Harding’s father, Ray, was the chairman of the city’s
Liberal Party, whose endorsement had done a great deal to get Giuliani
elected mayor. “I wasn’t going to choose a lesser candidate simply to
quiet the critics,” he said.

For some mysterious reason, the book skips over a much better
loyalty lesson involving the very same family. Giuliani demonstrated
his loyalty to Ray Harding, giver of the Liberal Party endorsement, not
only by giving his qualified son a good job, but also by turning over
the New York City Housing Development Corporation to another son,
Russell, who wound up embezzling more than $400,000 for vacations,
gifts and parties. We will not even go into the pornography part,
except to point out in his defense that of the 15,000 sexually explicit
images found on his computer, only a few were of children.

The Giuliani version of loyalty, which bears a terrifying
resemblance to the George W. Bush brand of loyalty, is entirely about
self-protection. An administration safe beneath the loyalty cone does
not have to worry much about leaks to the press, or even

People can screw up, or fail to achieve their missions, knowing the
guy at the top will protect them as long as they put his well-being
ahead of anything else. When disaster strikes, the whole world may be
falling apart, but they will all be clumped together, walking north.

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Indicting Mr. Kerik

Indicting Mr. Kerik

Bernard Kerik’s indictment
on fraud and corruption charges is disturbing on its own, but it also
raises broader issues. It is sobering to think how close Mr. Kerik came
to becoming secretary of the Homeland Security Department, and it is
also troubling that Rudolph Giuliani, a leading candidate for
president, has been so close to him for so long, as a friend, boss and
business partner.

Because of Mr. Giuliani’s role in Mr. Kerik’s life, the nation has a
compelling interest in learning more about the former police chief’s

Mr. Kerik has been accused of accepting renovations to his Bronx
apartment from a company that was suspected of having ties to organized
crime and was seeking a license from the city. He allegedly used his
office to help the company obtain the license. Mr. Kerik also has been
accused of hiding the renovation income on his tax returns, along with
more than $200,000 in rent payments on an Upper East Side apartment
that a developer allegedly paid on his behalf.

It is always a sad day, as United States Attorney Michael J. Garcia
noted, when a law enforcement official is accused of breaking the law.
That is especially true when the official was New York’s top jailer,
the head of the nation’s largest police department, and nearly became
the chief of a 180,000-member federal department charged with keeping
America safe.

Mr. Kerik must be presumed innocent. But he has already pleaded
guilty to state charges arising out of the home renovations. After he
did, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stripped his name from a Manhattan jail
that had been named for him. Even those charges were not Mr. Kerik’s
first brush with the law. He was fined by the city for sending police
officers to do research on a book he was writing. His associates have
also had more than their share of troubles. When he was correction
commissioner, one of Mr. Kerik’s top deputies was convicted of taking
$142,000 from a charity he managed and another was convicted of using
department staff to work on Republican political campaigns.

Yesterday’s indictment and Mr. Kerik’s whole troubled record raise
questions about Mr. Giuliani’s judgment. The men have an
extraordinarily close bond. Mr. Giuliani plucked Mr. Kerik from
obscurity to make him correction commissioner. He made him police
commissioner even though he may have been briefed about Mr. Kerik’s
ties to the company suspected of links to organized crime. Mr. Giuliani
also made him a partner in his security business and promoted him for
the Homeland Security Department post.

As recently as this week, Mr. Giuliani made the remarkable statement
that any mistakes Mr. Kerik made were outweighed by his success in
fighting crime — presumably not including the crimes Mr. Kerik himself
was committing. Mr. Giuliani has since spoken more critically of him,
but the public is entitled to know more.

Two important questions are precisely what are the mistakes the
former mayor thinks he made in trusting Mr. Kerik, and how can voters
be sure that he would not make them again as president, when the stakes
for a disastrous appointment would be so much higher.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Wrong Torture, Right For US Attorney General

Glenn Greenwald on the vote to confirm Michael Mukasey:

The most amazing quote was from chief Mukasey supporter Chuck
Schumer, who, before voting for him, said that Mukasey is "wrong on
torture -- dead wrong." Marvel at that phrase: "wrong on torture." Six
years ago, there wasn't even any such thing as being "wrong on
torture," because "torture" wasn't something we debated. It would have
been incoherent to have heard: "Well, he's dead wrong on torture, but .
. . "

Now, "torture" is not only something we openly debate, but it's
something we do. And the fact that someone is on the wrong side of the
"torture debate" doesn't prevent them from becoming the Attorney
General of the United States. It's just one issue, like any other issue
-- the capital gains tax, employer mandates for health care, the water
bill -- and just because someone is "dead wrong" on one little issue
(torture) hardly disqualifies them from High Beltway Office.

Are you still in the country you thought you were in?

This is a watershed moment. It's now possible to be "wrong on
torture" and survive. Not just survive, though. Thrive. Win high
office. Be the chief law "enforcement" officer of the United States of

What standard does this set? What practices, if any, are and will forever be out of bounds?

Chuck Schumer's logic is just another step toward the day when
campaign ads of the future will deliver as a straight line the news
that the opposition is, "Wrong on cannibalism. Wrong for America."

(h/t: Disgusted in St Louis)

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Dollar has lost more than a third of its value since 2002

The dollar’s slide: 1/3 down and falling faster

We’ve posted this before - but as the ailing US currency drops
through $1.47 against the euro and $2.10 against sterling, it merits a
second (and updated) airing.

The chart comes from Sempra Metals, who make a couple of additional points:

  • The US dollar has now lost more than a third of its value (-35%) against a basket of major currencies since Feb 2002.
  • The decline is accelerating. The USD has shed -12.5% of its value
    in the last year, -3.5% in the last month, and -1.5% in the last week


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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bush Most Unpopular President Ever

Buried in the last paragraph on p. 12A of the USA Today:
Meanwhile, Bush reached an unwelcome record.
By 64%-31%, Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. For the first
time in the history of the Gallup Poll, 50% say they "strongly
disapprove" of the president. Richard Nixon had reached the previous
high, 48%, just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974.

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Olbermann: The Presidency is Now a Criminal Conpsiracy

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Poll Finds Americans Pessimistic, Want Change

Poll Finds Americans Pessimistic, Want Change
War, Economy, Politics Sour Views of Nation's Direction

By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 4, 2007; A01

year out from the 2008 election, Americans are deeply pessimistic and
eager for a change in direction from the agenda and priorities of President Bush, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Concern about the economy, the war in Iraq
and growing dissatisfaction with the political environment in
Washington all contribute to the lowest public assessment of the
direction of the country in more than a decade. Just 24 percent think
the nation is on the right track, and three-quarters said they want the
next president to chart a course that is different than that pursued by

Overwhelmingly, Democrats want a new direction, but so do
three-quarters of independents and even half of Republicans. Sixty
percent of all Americans said they feel strongly that such a change is
needed after two terms of the Bush presidency.

with the war in Iraq remains a primary drag on public opinion, and
Americans are increasingly downcast about the state of the economy.
More than six in 10 called the war not worth fighting, and nearly
two-thirds gave the national economy negative marks. The outlook going
forward is also bleak: About seven in 10 see a recession as likely over
the next year.

The overall landscape tilts in the direction of
the Democrats, but there is evidence in the new poll -- matched in
conversations with political strategists in both parties and follow-up
interviews with survey participants -- that the coming battle for the White House is shaping up to be another hard-fought, highly negative and closely decided contest.

At this point, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.),
the Democratic front-runner, holds the edge in hypothetical match-ups
with four of the top contenders for the Republican nomination. But
against the two best-known GOP candidates, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.),
her margins are far from comfortable. Not one of the leading candidates
in either party has a favorable rating above 51 percent in the new poll.

while Clinton finds herself atop all candidates in terms of strong
favorability -- in the poll, 28 percent said they feel strongly
favorable toward her -- she also outpaces any other candidate on strong
unfavorables. More than a third, 35 percent, have strongly negative
views of her, more than 10 points higher than any other contender.

the public's sour mood is evident not only in the desire for a change
in direction but also in assessments of those who control the reins of
power in Washington. For the fourth consecutive month, Bush's approval
rating remains at a career low. Thirty-three percent said they approve
of the job he is doing, and 64 percent disapprove. Majorities have
disapproved of Bush's job performance for more than 2 1/2 years.

follow-up interviews, people were quick to find fault with what they
see in Washington and to express their desire for something different.
"I think Bush has been extremely polarizing to the country," said Amber
Welsh, a full-time mother of three young children who lives in Davis, Calif.
"While I think it started before Bush, I think Bush has pushed it even
further. I think the next president needs to be one who brings us
together as a country."

Democrats can take little comfort in
Bush's numbers, however. A year after voters turned Republicans out of
power in the House and the Senate, approval of the
Democratic-controlled Congress's performance is lower than the
president's rating, registering just 28 percent. That is the lowest
since November 1995, when Republicans controlled Congress and the
capital was paralyzed in a budgetary fight that shut down the

Congressional Democrats now fare just slightly
better. Only 36 percent of those surveyed approve of the way they are
handling their jobs, down sharply from April when, 100 days into the
new Congress, 54 percent said they approved.

Whatever their
dissatisfaction with the Democrats, however, a majority of Americans,
54 percent, said they want the party to emerge from the 2008 election
in control of Congress; 40 percent would prefer the GOP to retake
power. One reason is that 32 percent approve of congressional
Republicans, and in a series of other measures it becomes clear that
the eventual Republican nominee for president may be burdened by a
tarnished party label in the general election.

percent of Americans said they now have a favorable impression of the
Republican Party, lower than at any point since December 1998, when
Republicans were in the midst of impeachment proceedings against
then-President Bill Clinton.

the GOP rank and file, Republican favorability has fallen 15 percentage
points since March 2006 (from 93 percent to 78 percent). It has dropped
19 points among independents, whose support for Democratic candidates
in last year's midterm elections contributed significantly to GOP
losses in the House and the Senate.

Only 23 percent of those
surveyed said they want to keep going "in the direction Bush has been
taking us," and the appetite for change is as high as it was in the
summer of 1992, in the lead-up to Bill Clinton's defeat of President George H.W. Bush. It is significantly higher than it was in the summer of 2000 or the fall of 1988.

"We're in a terrible mess," said Jay Davis, who works on computers for an insurance company and lives in Portland, Maine.
"The war is an incredible mistake, and it becomes more and more
obvious. The economy is just being propped up with toothpicks."

Wright, a retired Episcopal priest from Vinita, Okla., said, "It just
seems that after these eight years most people think there's got to be
a change, and I'm with them."

Greg Coy, a 911 dispatcher who
lives in Shippensburg, Pa., is less pessimistic about the overall state
of the country than Davis or Wright, but he is unhappy with both the
president and Congress. He voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004, but he
said: "If he came up again [for reelection], I wouldn't vote for him.
The last year I think he's dropped something, and I'm not sure what it

Coy also offered a broader indictment of a political system
he sees as gridlocked by partisanship. "Here's the problem with this
country," he said. "Just because it's a Republican idea, Democrats
don't like it, and because it's a Democratic idea, Republicans don't
like it. The Congress should go with what works for this country. We
have gotten away from that."

Justin Munro, a contractor from
Reading, Pa., offered a less widely held view of Bush's policies and
the direction of the country. "I'm pretty confident that time will
prove that maybe going into Iraq was the right thing to do," he said.
He also believes that Bush has not gotten enough credit on the economy:
"I think we'll look back on that, too, and see that the tax cuts were
the right thing to do."

At this stage, three issues dominate the
electoral landscape, with the war in Iraq at the top of the list.
Nearly half of all adults, 45 percent, cited Iraq as the most or
second-most important issue in their choice for president. About three
in 10 cited the economy and jobs (29 percent) or health care (27
percent). All other issues are in the single digits.

Iraq is tops
across party lines, but Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to
highlight health care as one of the two most important issues for 2008
(34 percent to 16 percent). Health-care concerns peak among African
Americans: Twenty percent called it the election's most important
issue, and 38 percent said it is one of the top two.

While 12
percent of Republicans and 10 percent of independents cited immigration
as one of the top two issues, it was highlighted by 3 percent of
Democrats. Terrorism is also a more prominent concern among
Republicans; 17 percent put it in their top two, while 3 percent of
Democrats did the same.

The Democratic Party
holds double-digit leads over the GOP as the party most trusted to
handle the three most frequently cited issues for 2008: Iraq, health
care and the economy. The Democratic advantages on immigration and
taxes are narrower, and the parties are at rough parity on terrorism,
once a major Republican strong point.

There are other signs
suggesting that the political landscape has become less favorable to
Republicans than it was at the beginning of Bush's presidency. By 50
percent to 44 percent, Americans said they favor smaller government
with fewer services over bigger government with more services -- long a
key Republican argument. But support for smaller government is
significantly lower than it was before both the 2000 and 2002 elections.

the new poll, support for allowing same-sex civil unions is up
significantly from 2004. A majority of respondents, 55 percent, now
support giving homosexual couples some of the legal rights of married

There is a more even divide on another hot-button
issue: Fifty-one percent would support a program giving illegal
immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here
legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements; 44 percent
would oppose that.

Strategists in both parties agree on the
overall shape of the political landscape a year from the 2008 election,
but they differ as to how voters will ultimately register their desire
for change.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said an electorate
that took out its anger on Republicans a year ago remains mad, with the
hostility still focused on the president's party.

pollster Neil Newhouse said, "It is a political environment pretty
heavily tilted toward the Democrats." One hope, he added, is that an
early end to the GOP nominating battle will allow the winner time "to
put the current administration in the rearview mirror, placing the
focus on the nominee's candidacy and agenda."

Still, strategists
on both sides foresee another close election. "The biggest dynamic is
that people want change from the policies of the Bush administration,"
said Mark Penn,
Hillary Clinton's chief strategist. But he added that "it's not a clear
path" to victory for the Democrats, noting that no Democratic nominee
has won 50 percent of the general-election vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Stuart Stevens, a media adviser to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney,
said no Republican candidate will argue next year that the country is
in great shape, but he discounted the effectiveness of running against
Bush in the fall of 2008. "A year from now, it's not going to be a
referendum on President Bush, it's going to be a choice between two
candidates," he said.

Much will happen in the coming months that
could reshape the political climate. But at this point, in a matchup of
current front-runners, Clinton and Giuliani are tightly paired: 50
percent of respondents would support Clinton, 46 percent Giuliani.
Against McCain, Clinton has a clearer edge, 52 percent to 43 percent.
She has even larger advantages over former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee (16 points) and Romney (18 points), both of whom remain undefined in the eyes of many voters.

each of these potential contests, Clinton has a big edge among women.
In a head-to-head with Giuliani, 56 percent of women would back
Clinton, and 40 percent would vote for Giuliani. By contrast, men would
tilt toward Giuliani 51 percent to 44 percent.

Independents, who
fueled the Democratic takeover of Congress last November, are evenly
divided, 47 percent for Clinton, 46 percent for Giuliani. The split is
one indicator that, despite current Democratic advantages and an
electorate strongly oriented toward change, the 2008 election is likely
to be closely and hotly contested.

The Post-ABC poll was
conducted by telephone Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 among a random sample of 1,131
adults, and includes additional interviews with randomly selected
African Americans for a total of 203 black respondents. The results
from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus
three percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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