The checks for tax "rebates" were hardly in the mail when it was disclosed July 30 that the surplus the Bush administration had figured to justify a decade of tax breaks for the rich was already gone. The Treasury Department announced it would have to borrow $51 billion to pay for the rebates to middle- and upper-income taxpayers, instead of being able to pay down $57 billion in debt, as it had expected last spring. The White House now estimates that the surplus for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 could fall as low as $160 billion, a 43% drop since January. That could force the administration and Congress to do something they promised not to -- dip into the Social Security surplus to pay for other promised tax cuts or government spending.
A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also debunks the reasoning behind the decade-long tax cut for the wealthy as well as Social Security privatization. The long-term revenue loss of Bush's tax cut is more than twice the size of the financing gap facing Social Security, the study, which was presented to the Senate Budget Committee, found (see www.cbpp.org). The tax cut would reduce federal revenues by $7.7 trillion over the next 75 years, the standard period for assessing Social Security solvency, while the long-term deficit in Social Security is said to be $3.2 trillion. Using data prepared by the Joint Tax Committee for Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), the study calculated that the tax cut would reduce revenue by 1.6% of the gross domestic product over the next 75 years, while Social Security's shortfall would be 0.7%.
FARM GROUPS FIGHT FAST TRACK. Multinational corporation allies in Congress and the Bush administration acknowledged they do not have enough votes to give George W. Bush fast track trade authority. Family farm groups are among those celebrating, arguing that fast track would only accelerate the loss of family farms by expanding corporate control over both domestic and global markets. "The NAFTA trade model has failed Missouri family farmers and ranchers, and has helped fuel the economic devastation of rural America," said Bill Christison, a farmer from Chillicothe, Mo., who chairs both the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and the National Family Farm Coalition. "Commodity dumping, price manipulation, and devastatingly low commodity prices for farmers are just some of the casualties of the failed agricultural and trade polices embodied by NAFTA, the WTO and the Freedom to Farm Act. Congress and the president must focus on addressing the many failures of NAFTA and current farm policies instead of expanding this economic, social and environmental disaster to the rest of the Western Hemisphere."
The House on July 31 approved a trade agreement with Jordan, but only after the Bush administration undermined provisions that were supposed to protect labor and environmental standards in both countries. The Clinton administration negotiated the measure last year to gradually eliminate tariffs on goods sold between the two countries while committing both countries to maintain laws protecting workers' rights and the environment. But House Republicans objected to the labor and environmental provisions until the US trade representative and Jordanian ambassador exchanged letters that pledged to resolve any trade disagreements without resorting to the imposition of trade sanctions, which undermines the accord's enforcement mechanisms.
INSTANT RUNOFF ON SAN FRANCISCO BALLOT. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to place on the March 2002 ballot a charter amendment to implement instant runoff voting for all citywide elections, including mayor, and for the Board of Supervisors. San Francisco currently uses November elections followed by December runoff elections for these races. The Center for Voting and Democracy (see www.fairvote.org) reports that at least 13 state legislatures have considered instant runoff voting legislation this year, including bills backed by California's speaker of the house and state chapters of Common Cause, PIRG and the League of Women Voters ... The Utah Republican Party likely will become the first statewide major party in the United States to implement instant runoff voting in its convention and other internal elections. ... The leading "third choice" candidates in this year's two gubernatorial races -- Republican state senator Bill Schluter, running as an independent in New Jersey, and Libertarian Party nominee William Redpath in Virginia -- are both touting IRV in their campaigns. ... The Eugene city council has voted to place a charter amendment on the September ballot that would allow use of IRV for city elections -- voters have adopted similar measures recently in San Leandro, Calif., Santa Clara County, Calif., and Vancouver, Wash., while Oakland, Calif., voters passed a charter amendment that will result in use of IRV in special elections to fill vacancies as soon as new voting equipment is in place. ... Alaska IRV backers are gearing up for their campaign to adopt IRV for all federal and most state offices, already qualified for the November 2002 ballot. ... Both Public Campaign and Common Cause have joined US PIRG in urging consideration of IRV for major elections.
Cumulative voting gained big-name support in Illinois when the Institute for Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois formed a task force to analyze different electoral systems and make recommendations. Co-chaired by former Republican governor Jim Edgar and former Democratic congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva, the task force members included leading state legislators and civic leaders. The task force in July called for reviving cumulative voting, which was used in Illinois legislative races until the 1980s. See the report about the task force's deliberations and the history of cumulative voting in the state as well as an on-line, state-by-state "Public Interest Guide to Redistricting" that provides easily digestible information about law, politics and practices of redistricting in each state, at fairvote.org.
SOFT MONEY FLOODS STATES TOO. Political parties registered at the state level raised more than $600 million during the 2000 elections, according to initial findings released July 26 as part of a groundbreaking project to examine soft money in the states. "State Secrets," a joint project of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity (www.publicintegrity.org) and Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org), and the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics (www.followthemoney.org), compiled contribution figures over the past year from election reports for the 1999-2000 cycle submitted by more than 900 political committees at the state and local level in all 50 states.
POLICE SPY ON UNIONS, ACTIVISTS. Portland unions are trying to get rid of a law allowing local police and the FBI to spy on them. A similar program may be operating near you. The City Council last November passed the ordinance setting up the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force and putting it under the supervision of the FBI. According to Labor Notes, JTTFs are an outgrowth of the 1996 Anti-Terrorist Act and operate in various cities across the country, including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Denver and Sacramento. Recent incidents of police interference with workers have escalated concerns in Portland. When workers at Powell's Books organized a union last year, Portland police videotaped store workers and took notes on them at rallies and on picket lines. A Carpenters union member who spoke at a Jobs with Justice meeting was later questioned by police. Protesters from environmental and animal rights groups have complained of police harassment. Twenty unions have signed on to a resolution demanding revocation of the ordinance setting up the task force.
CONSUMER CHAIR REJECTION SETS RETALIATION. White House officials are looking for ways to remove the current head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission after a Senate committee sank President Bush's choice to take over the panel, the Associated Press reported Aug. 3. Asked if the White House was studying whether it could legally fire Chairwoman Ann Brown, who was appointed by Bill Clinton, Bush strategist Nicholas Calio replied, "The issue has come up and, you know, there are legal opinions available." The Senate Commerce Committee cast a 12-11 party-line vote on Aug. 2 against confirmation of Bush nominee Mary Sheila Gall, who in 10 years at the CPSC has emphasized industry self-regulation and the consumer's responsibility to use products correctly. Democrats argued that Gall's hands-off regulatory philosophy made her the wrong choice to head an agency charged with protecting kids and families.
CHENEY DENIES CONGRESSIONAL REQUEST FOR WORK PAPERS. Vice President Dick Cheney on Aug. 3 denied congressional requests for documents showing how the Bush administration's energy policy was formed, saying the request for records of the White House energy task force, which Cheney headed, "would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.'' His defiance of Congress may set up a legal showdown. The request was made by Comptroller General David Walker, head of Congress' General Accounting Office, which had been asked by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and John Dingell, D-Mich., to investigate the work of the energy policy task force. The force has been criticized for its closed-door meetings and meetings with industry officials as it developed the energy policy Bush unveiled May 17. The task force called for stimulating production of coal, oil and nuclear power as well as conservation measures.
SENATE D'S OK ELECTION STANDARDS. Senate Democrats won committee approval of legislation to require states to modernize their voting systems, the Washington Post noted Aug. 3, as Republicans boycotted the meeting, alleging that Democrats had politicized election reform. The approved bill, drafted by Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and co-sponsored by all 51 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, would require states to meet national standards for voting machines, registration rolls and ballot access but would pay $3.5 billion for the improvements. Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said it would have a high priority this fall. An alternative, co-sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), would provide financial incentives to encourage states to make these improvements but not require them to do so.
IMPEACHABLE COURT? The National Lawyers Guild is exploring grounds for launching a broad-based impeachment campaign against the five members of the Bush v. Gore majority on the Supreme Court. "We have a commitment from a very high ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee that he will introduce the bills of impeachment if we can create the political support to back up a serious campaign effort," the NLG's executive director, Heidi Bogosian, said in a news release. NLG's Executive Committee voted to recommend at the Guild's National Convention in October that the Guild launch such a campaign based on the illegitimacy of the Supreme Court following its misconduct in last fall's election and in the context of their other recent decisions unconstitutionally assaulting civil and economic rights, but Bogosian said the recommendation is contingent on a finding in October that political support and legal grounds exist for such a campaign. To express your support, contact the National Lawyers Guild, 127 University Place, 5th Fl., New York, NY 10003, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 212-627-2656. Also see www.nlg.org for more information.
ANTI-CIVIL RIGHTS NOMINEE. George W. Bush has announced his intention to nominate Gerald Reynolds, a 38-year-old lawyer with no background in education, to head the US Education Department's office of civil rights. The St. Louis Post Dispatch noted in a July 29 editorial that as the top regulatory attorney for Kansas City Power and Light Co., Reynolds has a been a leading African-American opponent of mainstream civil rights groups and affirmative action. "Mr. Reynolds doesn't just oppose affirmative action; he abhors it. While president of the Center for New Black Leadership, a conservative Washington think tank, Mr. Reynolds wrote that affirmative action is 'the Big Lie. ... a corrupt system of preferences, set-asides and quotas ... a concept invented by regulators and reinvented by political interest groups seeking money and power.'" He supports school choice programs, faith based institutions, "replacing self-defeating values with middle class values," urban economic development and "opposing the use of racial preferences in education and the workplace." The office also oversees enforcement of Title IX, the federal education statute that forbids gender discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., will chair the confirmation hearings, and he has signaled his hope that Reynolds will not be formally nominated. "Mr. Bush should seriously consider finding a more qualified and respected defender of equality in education," the Post Dispatch said.
CANADA OK'S MEDICAL MARIJUANA. Canada on July 30 became the first nation to allow terminally ill patients to grow and smoke their own marijuana. Until now, Reuters reported, anyone in Canada wanting to smoke pot to alleviate pain had to apply to the Health Minister for special permission. Some 300 have already done so. But now doctors will be able to authorize marijuana use for patients with terminal illness or serious pain from conditions like multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS and epilepsy as well as severe forms of arthritis and spinal cord problems. The US Justice Department still questions marijuana's medical usefulness and says it must remain banned, overruling state provisions for medical marijuana.
BIG BUSH DONORS, LITTLE ETHICS. In his first day in office, George W. Bush pointedly distributed a memo regarding the high ethical standards that those in his administration would have to observe. But the Boston Globe reported that Richard J. Egan, Bush's pick to be ambassador to Ireland, fudged facts about his military background. The White House listed him as a veteran of the US Marine Corps, and his corporate bio on the Web site of EMC Corp., the data storage company he founded, claimed Egan served "during the Korean conflict." But Egan enlisted three short weeks before the end of hostilities in Korea, and both bios graciously omit the fact that he was court-martialed for going AWOL in 1954. He served one month's detention, and had his rank busted from private first class to plain private.
When the House House in May announced the pending nomination of John Price, a Utah businessman, as ambassador to the small East African country of Mauritius, Bush declared, "John Price is a proven business leader and committed member of his community." In April, Price was assessed a $6.6 million civil penalty for a crooked real estate deal which benefited his company, JP Realty. Salon.com's Alicia Montgomery noted that whatever their problems with veracity, neither man has any difficulty in taking care of their friends in the Republican Party. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Egan and his wife donated more than $450,000 to Republican candidates and causes during the last election cycle, and sent a $100,000 check to Bush's inaugural committee in December. And Price beat Egan's mark, sending over $580,000 to GOP causes during the last campaign. Both men were Bush "Pioneers," individuals who pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the candidate.
SENATE RESTRICTS UNSAFE MEXICAN TRUCKS. The Senate on Aug. 1 agreed upon a provision authored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala. The measure contains strong inspection requirements to ensure that Mexico-domiciled trucks meet US safety standards, as required by NAFTA. Murray/Shelby also requires on-site inspection of carriers in Mexico and provides funding for the equipment, facilities and border inspectors to help guarantee the carriers comply with US standards. Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen noted that the Murray/Shelby measure does not violate NAFTA, whose arbitration panel in February ruled that while the border must open, the United States has the right to enforce safety regulations. The US also may require thorough inspections of Mexican carriers -- even if they are not the same as inspections of U.S. and Canadian carriers -- as long as they are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. She said the bill will save lives and prevent injures. "With more than 5,000 people killed and another 140,000 injured every year in crashes involving large trucks, we don't need more devastated families."
PROSECUTOR REASSIGNED AFTER BURTON BLAST. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee who repeatedly clashed with the Clinton administration over the Justice Department's handling of campaign finance investigations, lobbied for the removal of the department's chief public corruption prosecutor earlier this year, the Washington Post reported, citing officials familiar with the case. The prosecutor, Lee J. Radek, was demoted last week from his post as head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, part of a series of personnel changes in the criminal division. Radek, a 30-year career prosecutor, was transferred effective this month to a lower post in the asset forfeiture section by Michael Chertoff, the new head of the criminal division, who served as counsel to the Senate Whitewater committee in the 1990s. Officials confirmed that Radek was discussed in a meeting between Burton and Ashcroft, but they denied Burton's opinion had any bearing on Radek's transfer.
JEB FLOUNDERS IN FLA. Gov. Jeb Bush's popularity has fallen to its lowest point since his election, and he is vulnerable to a challenge next year by a moderate Democrat, a poll conducted for the Orlando Sentinel and other media shows. Bush is viewed favorably by only 49% of voters -- his lowest popularity rating since he was elected in 1998 and 5 percentage points lower than a similar poll in February. The new poll shows Bush winning less than 50% of the vote against either former Vietnam Ambassador Pete Peterson or US Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa though he leads 54-39% in a matchup with former US Attorney General Janet Reno.