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SCOTUS Rules For Guns

The Supreme Court today issued a surprisingly narrow five-to-four opinion affirming the rights of Americans to own guns for certain purposes, striking down a Washington, D.C. law that banned handguns. Justices decided on the question of whether the Second Amendment protected individual rights to own a gun or if ownership needed to be tied to a militia.

The Court had not ruled on the Second Amendment since 1939, and has never, until today, had the opportunity to define the issue in such a broad way. The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, is already being seen as one of the most important decisions the Court has handed down in recent years.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Second Amendment clearly guaranteed the individual right. "Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," he wrote.

Still, some restrictions are allowed. "We do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose," he continued. "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited."

Scalia was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justices John Paul Stevens and Steven Breyer authored dissenting opinions, which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter joined.

The lawsuit attracted friend of the court briefs from lawmakers and opponents and proponents of gun control, even causing a highly unusual public rift within the Bush Administration. Solicitor General Paul Clement wrote the Court in support of Washington's law, while Vice President Dick Cheney joined dozens of members of Congress in support of the Second Amendment.

Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting John McCain also signed the amicus brief on behalf of plaintiff Dick Heller, a District resident, and expressed support for the ruling. "Today's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller makes clear that other municipalities like Chicago that have banned handguns have infringed on the constitutional rights of Americans," McCain said in a statement.

The GOP nominee couldn't resist the opportunity to take a shot at rival Barack Obama: "Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right -- sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly."

Updated: Obama's campaign is out with a statement. Both complete statements below the jump.

Continue reading "SCOTUS Rules For Guns" »

Millionaire's Amendment Goes To SCOTUS

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to one of the most well-known provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law in a coming session from a Democratic congressional candidate who says the act violates his constitutional rights. Wealthy businessman Jack Davis, who lost a second challenge to New York Republican Tom Reynolds in 2006, is suing the Federal Election Commission over the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment," which allows opponents of candidates who spent heavily of their own money to raise additional funds.

The provision, tripped when a candidate for Congress spends more than $350,000 of their own money, allows opponents to raise up to $6,900 from each contributor, three times the normal $2,300 per donor allowed under normal campaign finance rules. Initially created to avoid the perception that wealthy candidates can buy a seat in Congress, Davis argues the measure violates his First Amendment rights and, due to additional reporting requirements, his Fifth Amendment rights by forcing him to reveal campaign strategy, the Washington Post writes today.

A panel of judges on the District Court level found in favor of the Federal Election Commission, ruling that the provision does not actually place limits on how much Davis or any other candidate can spend on his own race. Davis spent $1.25 million of his own money in 2004, losing to Reynolds by a 56%-44% margin, and almost double that in 2006, when Davis lost by a smaller 52%-48% margin. He has announced that he will run again this year, as Reynolds is retiring, though national Democrats clearly favor other candidates in the state's September primary.

The millionaire's amendment followed a rash of candidates in the last decade who have spent truckloads of their own money trying to win Senate and House seats. Few, especially on the Senate level, have been successful; only Senator Maria Cantwell, of Washington State, and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, who won a Senate seat in 2000, the same year as Cantwell, stand out as having spent much of their own money for a win. In 2006, self-funders Ned Lamont in Connecticut, Jim Pederson in Arizona and Pete Ricketts in Nebraska all lost their bids, while wealthy candidates Pete Coors, in Colorado, and New Jersey's Doug Forrester also lost after spending heavily out of their own pocket.

The $350,000 limit has been tripped a total of 110 times, the Post reports Solicitor General Paul Clement saying. And while Davis argues that the main effect of the law has been to shut down challengers like himself, the fact is that just six incumbents have been among those cases.

The Supreme Court has ruled several times in recent years on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, at times upholding large portions of the law and at others loosening some requirements. This case, Davis v. Federal Elections Commission, will be the first time Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito are given a say on the matter. Regardless of the outcome, which likely won't be known until after the 2008 elections are held, Davis will trip the amendment again this year; he has pledged to spend $3 million, more than in either of his previous two attempts, to win the open seat in upstate New York.

Sens Set Expectations For Iraq Hearings

Seeking to frame the debate over the war in Iraq in advance of testimony by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Capitol Hill tomorrow, senators from both parties offered their takes on what the men need to say to satisfy the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. But, like previous testimony from the two top U.S. officials in Iraq, appeasing both sides will be a virtually impossible goal.

Democrats expecting testimony to include a run-down of goals met and progress achieved lashed out at a strategy they maintain is not working. "We are facing the fifth or sixth evolution of our, quote, strategy," Massachusetts Senator John Kerry told reporters on a conference call. Citing conflicts between Kurds and Arabs in the northern city of Kirkuk and recent unrest among Shiite militias in the southern city of Basra, Kerry said top intelligence officials agree on the war's ramifications. "They are saying that our presence in Iraq creates instability and is attracting jihadists."

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed said it is clear that increased numbers of U.S. troops have had no dramatic impact on any political progress. "The level of violence is more a function of political factors in Iraq than the number of troops we have on the ground," Reed said.

Republicans, on the other hand, implied they expected the hearings to become a political sideshow. In a rival conference call, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona told reporters he hopes members of the House and Senate use the testimony "to understand both the negative and positive results rather than use it as a political exercise to declare in advance a political point of view that isn't what General Petraeus and Amb. Crocker will be reporting on."

Democrats' arguments about Iraq will change, Kyl said. "I think what you might see is that they will use this report as well as the debate over the supplemental appropriation bill to fund the war as a means of making a different point," he asserted. "Not that there isn't success, but that the money could be spent back here at home."

Kyl said he suspects Democrats may include domestic spending add-ons to the supplemental war funding bill that is on the table, a move he characterized as "blackmail." He said Democrats would be "using our troops and their requirements as a hostage to Democrats' desire to spend more money on their favorite projects."

At least a few measures of success have been achieved, Kerry and Reed agreed, but they maintained too few goals had been reached. "There's been some progress, but the 'some' has to be italicized and very carefully defined," Kerry said. "It's not substantive in terms of what you really need to do to solve this."

Kyl said he expects "a mixed report," hinting on two occasions that the gradual drawdown of troops in Iraq that Petraeus previously called for will be "paused," though he called that idea his own speculation. Troop withdrawals, Kyl said, will likely continue by the end of the year, so that fewer troops will be in Iraq by the beginning of the next administration.

Democrats, whose views on Iraq are more positively reviewed with the electorate than their image handling the war on terrorism, sought to tie the two together. "This [war] is making us weaker and less effective on the real war on terror," Kerry said. Meanwhile, Reed asserted attention to another conflict is waning. "You have a serious challenge in Afghanistan," he said. "Progress there is slipping away."

Between Iraq and Afghanistan, both senators agreed, another country is on the rise. "Our presence in Iraq has essentially enhanced the power in the region and in Iraq of Iran," Reed said. Kerry added: "Everybody knows that Iran is taking advantage of our presence in Iraq, and we are playing into Iran's hand."

Responding to one reporter who pointed out that Democrats have repeatedly failed to force changes to the strategy in Iraq, Kerry said Iraq will be part of what this year's election will be about. "It is clear that we do not have the votes in the United States Congress at this time," Kerry said. "The American people are going to speak on this in November."

"I'm not even sure that the next election will necessarily result in that big of a change," Kyl said. "I think John McCain is going to win, and I think he has a pretty sensible policy toward maintaining the gains that we've made here and not blowing them off by early withdrawal.

"If he were not elected, the realities on the ground would make it very difficult for the political promises of the two Democratic candidates to be fulfilled," Kyl concluded.

-- Reid Wilson and Kyle Trygstad

SCOTUS Takes Up Gun Ban

In what could be one of the defining decisions in a generation, the Supreme Court this week will take up a 32-year old Washington, D.C. law that bans owning a handgun, the strictest such law in the country. And, as the Washington Post noted yesterday, the resulting decision could finally offer a definition for the Second Amendment, something the court has failed to do in the past.

The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, seeks to answer not only whether Washington can have a gun ban, but in fact how far the Second Amendment goes. The gun ban itself is subject to debate: Crime has gone down since the ban was enacted, but nearly 200 murders still happen inside D.C.'s borders every year, and police confiscated nearly 3,000 guns last year despite the ban. Proponents, including virtually every elected leader in the city, say the ban's removal would cause a sharp spike in crime, both in Washington and in neighboring Maryland and Virginia.

The suit could have ramifications far beyond Washington. "This may be one of the only cases in our lifetime when the Supreme Court is going to be interpreting the meaning of an important provision of the Constitution unencumbered by precedent," Georgetown University law expert Randy Barnett told the Post. None of the nine justices currently on the court has ever ruled on a Second Amendment case, meaning none has said much on the record on the subject.

In fact, the last time the Court ruled on a Second Amendment case was in the 1930s, an instance in which Chief Justice John Roberts said the Court "sidestepped" actually ruling on the underlying amendment. In striking down the D.C. gun ban last year, U.S. District Court Judge Laurence Silberman wrote the amendment grants an individual rights, as other amendments do. Opponents of that ruling say the amendment grants access to arms only to military organizations.

Those arguing for Washington benefited from a government brief, written by Solicitor General Paul Clement, backing the gun ban. The Bush Administration said overturning that ban would imperil other federal gun laws, including those banning ownership of machine guns. That position was opposed by gun rights advocates, including Vice President Cheney, who took the unusual step of signing an amicus brief opposing the administration in which he serves.

Among the presidential candidates, John McCain holds the same position as Cheney and gun-rights advocates, but he has not focused on gun rights as much as other candidates did. While Mitt Romney was professing to shoot varmints and Mike Huckabee was seen hunting with his dog, McCain said he doesn't own a gun now. McCain calls gun ownership a "fundamental, individual Constitutional right," though he supported background checks at gun shows in the late 1990's.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have spoken less on guns and gun control, though they have generally voted for restrictions on automatic weapons and against immunity for gun manufacturers. Clinton has gone farther, co-sponsoring a bill in 2000 that would have required licenses and registration for handguns.

Should the issue become a major one in the presidential contest, Democrats will likely tread lightly while Republicans will focus on the individual rights concept. Recent wedge issues, like immigration, have failed to provide the GOP with any serious electoral victories, and some even argue that issues like same-sex marriage bans, which were on ballots across the country in 2004, didn't help Republicans all that much. In 1994, though, backlash against President Bill Clinton's moves to tighten gun control was blamed for many Democratic losses in that year's elections.

35 Years Later

Protesters from both sides of a critical issue stormed Capitol Hill yesterday, forcing pedestrians off sidewalks to make their voices heard. Yesterday, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the issue of abortion rights once again took center stage.

Three and a half decades later, as Republican presidential candidates fight for the label of most pro-life and accuse each other of infidelity to the cause, activists on both sides hope desperately for the issue to play a role in the general election. Their side, they both believe, will win the day, and a pro-choice or pro-life platform will make the difference between a win and a loss. But in a general election, does abortion, in fact, move votes? The answer, according to polls and to recent history, is probably not.

Virtually every poll that tests the question finds a small majority -- in the area of 55% -- say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Around 45% say it should be illegal in most or all cases. That number rarely strays more than a point or two. Meanwhile, asked what issue would be a deal-breaker if a voter disagreed with a candidate, just 8% said abortion, according to a Fox News poll conducted in mid-November. In the same poll, 24% said the war in Iraq would be a deal-breaker, while 10% said health care and 10% said economic policies or taxes (immigration scored even lower than abortion, at 5%).

It is hard to think of a contest in recent years that has been decided largely on pro-choice or pro-life platforms. While those positions are crucial to some Republican primary contests -- just ask Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani -- the issue has only played a small role in the Democratic debate: Hillary Clinton has pointed out that some of Barack Obama's infamous "present" votes occurred on abortion issues, but other than that, every candidate is assumed to be pro-choice. On the GOP side, top life advocates are split between a number of candidates, including Giuliani (Pat Robertson), Romney (Paul Weyrich and James Bopp Jr.) and John McCain (Sam Brownback), not to mention countless backers of Mike Huckabee.

In fact, there is not a unanimous opinion among the Republican electorate about the issue. Exit polls from South Carolina showed more than a quarter of GOP voters thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Those positions did not stop them from casting a vote for candidates quite outside their thinking: 20% of those who said they thought abortion should be legal in all cases voted for Huckabee, who doesn't have a pro-life bone in his body, and 74% voted for McCain, Romney or the recently departed Fred Thompson, none of whom can be called pro-choice. More than half those voting in the New Hampshire GOP primary said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

An LA Times/Bloomberg poll in late November showed that just 28% of Republicans would be less likely to vote for Giuliani, despite his pro-choice stand, while 15% said they would be more likely to vote for him given that stand. To more than half of Republicans, Giuliani's position, anathema to what is supposed to be a huge issue to the GOP, would not make a difference.

That abortion is becoming less of a vote-moving issue does not mean its importance is diminished by any means. Interest groups and activists on both sides are as passionate about it as any other issue, and for good reason: It is one of the first political issues on which anyone forms an opinion, and few are swayed. Groups like EMILY's List, NARAL, and National Right-To-Life maintain strong positions in the Democratic and Republican Parties, both primary vote-winners and as money machines.

But, as an issue to appeal to moderate voters, abortion -- either the pro-choice or pro-life sides -- will not win an election. It seems to be more of a cultural issue than a political issue, and while battles over Supreme Court nominees will be intense, the debate in a general election will remain circumspect. Candidates will talk about the types of judges they would nominate to the Court, but, as polls show, overt appeals to pro-life or pro-choice voters do little more than motivate a base.

More Races To Watch

Backers of a proposed same-sex marriage ban collected more than 600,000 signatures to win a spot on the Florida ballot in 2008, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The proposed amendment would be on the same ballot as the race for president, and though some have suggested that the bans did not affect the outcome of the 2004 presidential race -- arguing that President Bush would have won anyway -- there is a compelling reason Republicans can be happy that evangelical turnout could be boosted in the critical swing state.

In Indiana, former First Lady Judy O'Bannon endorsed architect and businessman Jim Schellinger for governor yesterday, the latest in a string of establishment backing for the candidate who trails in the Democratic primary, the Indianapolis Star reports.

Schellinger has a way to go to overcome a name recognition edge enjoyed by ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson -- Long Thompson had a 4-1 edge in a September poll -- but Democrats think Schellinger gives them the best chance to knock off incumbent Republican Mitch Daniels.

The state has had a large Republican tilt in recent presidential elections, but Daniels has faced a rocky first term, while Democrats picked up three Congressional seats in 2006 and Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh remains one of the most popular politicians in Indiana.

O'Bannon is the widow of former Gov. Frank O'Bannon, who died in office in 2003. She had endorsed Senate Minority Leader Richard Young early in the race, before he ended his bid.

Finally, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal recently told the Associated Press that he was "working hard" to find a reason to go to the Democratic National Convention in Denver next year. Freudenthal voiced disappointment that no presidential candidate has addressed Western issues. Even though he has a vote as a super delegate, Freudenthal skipped the 2004 convention in Boston, and the AP reported yesterday that he hasn't been since 1984, in San Francisco.

The convention will be held just 100 miles from Freudenthal's Cheyenne, Wyoming governor's mansion. And it seems that a larger force has compelled the governor to change his mind: "I heard from a couple of my daughters, as well as my wife, that I was planning to go to the convention," Freudenthal said. "I just wasn't aware of that at the time."

Meanwhile, precinct caucuses have begun in Freudenthal's home state, which we suppose are the first actual preference statements by voters in the 2008 presidential race. Republican precinct caucuses will be held between now and December 20, in advance of the state's January 5 county conventions. The county conventions will allocate about a quarter of the state's national convention delegates, the AP reports.

Not many Republican candidates have stumped in the state, though Mitt Romney has made a few appearances.

Watch The Economy

The Dow Jones Industrial Average today closed up more than 330 points. But the big news after the bell was that both the Dow and the S&P 500 put together back-to-back winning days for the first time this month -- 19 trading days into the month.

The economy, in short, is in bad shape. The markets are officially undergoing a correction, when shares fall more than 10%, for the first time since 2003. Oil prices hovered just under $100 a barrel earlier in the week, closing nearer to $90 a barrel in today's trading. And new numbers out from the Washington Post and ABC News show consumer attitudes are at a two-year low.

The latest WaPo/ABC Consumer Comfort Index sits at -21, the lowest point since October 2005. Asked to rate the state of the economy, two-thirds choose negative, and about the same percentage say it's a bad time to make purchases. That's terrible news for businesses heading into what is supposed to be the most expensive Christmas season ever.

The Federal Reserve meets December 11, and speculation on Wall Street is that another rate cut is in the offing. That's good for short-term gains, but will presidential candidates or Congress address the economy? How can they? Voters always say they consider economic issues; a recent Post/ABC poll showed more voters said the economy was one of their top two most important issues than any aside from the war in Iraq.

As consumers grow more pessimistic seemingly by the day, increasing urgency could make it a bigger issue than normal this year.

Air Wars

Few examples of international trade wars are more evident than the constant battle between Boeing and Airbus, which fight for supremacy at airports around the world. The struggle has see-sawed back and forth in recent decades, as Airbus reigned only to see its market share slip, to Boeing's advantage. Now, the companies are again at each other's throats, with two different strategies embodied by very different aircraft. Making matters all the more complicated, Boeing and Airbus no longer dominate the commercial aviation market, as they once did.

As Airbus rolls out its long-awaited, long-delayed A380 mega-jumbo jet, Boeing is dealing with problems of its own, though the American company still appears to have a leg up on its European counterpart. Singapore Airlines took delivery today of the first A380, delayed more than two years by technical and legal issues, and just one week after Boeing announced its 787 Dreamliner would be delayed at least six months.

The two companies are taking different approaches to serving their next generation of customers. The A380 will only be able to land at hub airports, and will ferry passengers between major destinations on well-traveled routes. The 787 is smaller, and will be able to serve customers on a more point-to-point destination. So far, Boeing seems to have done it best -- in mid-September, the company had more than 700 orders from 48 customers, while the A380 has attracted just 189 confirmed orders.

If a trade battle ever gets seriously underway between the U.S. and the European Union, one can bet that the two airline companies will feel the pinch.

In fact, some say at least one group has already used the plane makers to get back at the U.S. Emirates Airlines has ordered 55 A380 jets, and while the company is still taking delivery of Boeing 777 aircraft, Emirates has not ordered any 787s. The decision to go with the A380 came after a deal that would have given control of several U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World, a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates.

Emirates Airlines, also a state-run company, has its hub at Dubai International Airport, which is undergoing a redesign in order to accommodate the mammoth A380.

While Airbus and Boeing fight the economic equivalent of the Battle of Britain, two smaller yet growing players have quietly though dramatically entered the market. While Boeing delivered 398 jets in 2006, little-known Embraer made 130 deliveries and Bombardier sold 112 planes, mostly to the American market. The smaller jets are widely visible on regional airline routes, making both companies growing players in the aerospace industry -- some estimates suggest the two companies own close to a fifth of the market, and there are more Embraer jets operating than the popular Boeing 767, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Both companies can steer clear of any U.S.-E.U. trade wars as well. Bombardier is a Canadian company that specializes as well in trains, while Embraer is a Brazilian firm that is now the third-largest airplane manufacturer in the world.

It is hard to miss news accounts of the massive A380 barreling down the runway at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, or of the 787 rolling out of its hanger in Everett, Washington. But the behind-the-scenes fight to control the commercial air market is becoming more intense, and the outcome could have international trade ramifications felt for a generation or more.

Long-Term Negatives For MoveOn?

Even after being singled out by the Senate for condemnation, MoveOn.org isn't slowing down. The group is spending $100,000 for a television ad targeting Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell for voting against Senator Jim Webb's amendment yesterday to require troops to stay home as long for periods equal to the amount of time they spend in combat zones.

The question: After their poorly-received decision to take on General David Petraeus, are MoveOn's attacks effective anymore, or do they just boost the prospects of candidates they go after?

We'll find out next week. The next Zogby poll, which goes in the field on Monday, will test the group's favorability rating.

Fed Cuts Rates, Oil Prices Up

Stocks soared today after the Fed cut rates by 50 basis points, one half of one percent, and CNBC anchors and guests are going ballistic. The Dow is up around 280 points with ten minutes to go before the closing bell, while the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 are also seeing big gains.

The rate cut, many warn, will do little to ease the current crisis in the housing market.

Meanwhile, oil prices continue to climb, settling above $82 a barrel in after-hours trading, setting a new record high.