Democrats complained that the Bush administration was cooking the books to cover up a raid of Social Security funds to pay for its tax cut. The White House was expected to announce a projected budget surplus of $1 billion without Social Security funds, but that was accomplished only with accounting changes that freed up $4 billion to add to non-Social Security accounts. Earlier this year the administration had predicted it would exceed the Social Security surplus by $125 billion. Democrats say the budget was $10.95 billion in the hole through June, after the surplus hit a record $236.92 billion in the last budget year. Both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders had promised they would not spending Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on other government programs, but that raid now looks inevitable.
The International Monetary Fund said on Aug. 14 that President Bush's tax cut was likely to cost almost twice its headline figure of $1.35 trillion and suggested the US would need to review it to avoid fiscal problems in the next few years, according to the Financial Times. The IMF said the actual budget effect of the tax cut passed by Congress and signed into law in June would be at least $2.5 trillion.
Meanwhile, Bush's pro-privatization Social Security Commission is taking a page from former First Lady Hillary Clinton's playbook as commissioners prepared to close their meetings to discuss fiscal and administrative issues related to creating personal Social Security investment accounts. Mrs. Clinton's health care reform task force was roundly criticized by Republicans when it met in closed sessions in 1993, but since R's took over the White House they have rediscovered the principle of executive privilege, as also seen in Vice President Cheney's refusal to turn over documents to Congress relating to deliberations on Bush's energy policy. The White House also balked at showing a Senate committee documents involving decisions to roll back several major environmental regulations.
Sen. Paul D. Wellstone, D-Minn., on Aug. 18 warned that shifting to private accounts would be "unwise," would cost about $1 trillion and the cost of managing millions of individual accounts would be "enormous," he said. "Social Security is not in crisis. It is not facing bankruptcy. But Social Security is threatened today by proposals to replace the system with individual investment accounts and slash guaranteed benefits."
GREENS: BLAME SYSTEM FOR GOP TAMPERING. A Republican attempt to bankroll a Green Party candidate for Washington state legislature proves the flaws in our at-large voting system, Green Party organizers said. "Democrats have colluded with Republicans for decades in blocking third party and independent candidates, by maintaining anti-democratic at-large election systems and through ballot access laws designed by the major parties to give themselves a virtual monopoly on elections in many states," said David Cobb, general counsel for the Green Party of the United States. "So it's difficult for Greens to take seriously Democratic outrage when the system doesn't work to their advantage."
According to news reports, Republicans contributed money to the campaign of Green candidate Young S. Han, who announced that he would return the donation when he learned that it came from a GOP operative hoping that Han would pull votes away from the Democratic candidate. Republicans also recruited Michael Jepson, who had no prior connection with the Green Party, to run as a Green in a Seattle County race. Greens call this kind of manipulation inevitable in at-large elections and expect Jepson to withdraw from the race.
Holly Hart, secretary of the Iowa Green Party, said, "If the Democrats are disturbed over the possibility that Greens may spoil by taking away votes [from] Democrats ... then Greens challenge them to lead a campaign to enact Instant Run-Off Voting," or IRV. which allows voters to rank candidates according to their preference. Under IRV, a Republican would have no motivation to support a Green for the purpose of spoiling a Democratic win. A bill in the Washington state legislature to replace blanket primaries with IRV died before reaching the floor.
"Democratic outrage over spoiling is a matter of convenience," said Green Party co-chair Tom Sevigny. "Few Democrats regret the role that Ross Perot played in 1992 and probably 1996 in spoiling the elections for Bush Sr. and Bob Dole. Any Democrat who believes Ralph Nader prevented Al Gore from taking the office that was rightfully his must also believe that George Bush should have been reelected in 1992."
"It's a myth that Green candidates set back the progressive movement when they 'spoil' for progressive Democrats," added Scott McLarty, media coordinator for the Green Party. "Progressive Democrats have already been frozen out by the mainstream of their party, and they serve a sort of decoy purpose now -- to lure voters who care about social, economic, and environmental justice into a party that has discarded these values, thanks to the influence of corporate lobbies and largesse and their own rhetoric about bipartisanship."
STUDY: POLLUTION DEADLIER THAN CAR WRECKS. More people are killed by pollution from cars, trucks and other sources than by traffic crashes, researchers estimate in a report that says cleaning up would prolong the lives of thousands of people. A study in the 8/17/01 Science magazine said that cutting greenhouse gases -- principally carbon dioxide or ozone -- in just four major cities -- Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City; Santiago, Chile and New York City -- could save 64,000 lives over the next 20 years, as emissions from automobile engines and coal-burning power plants cause people to die prematurely from asthma, heart disease and lung disorders. Another study by the World Health Organization estimated that air pollution would cause about 8 million deaths worldwide by 2020. The Science review reported that alternative transportation policies initiated during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta not only reduced vehicle exhaust and air pollutants such as ozone by about 30%, they also decreased the number of acute asthma attacks by 40% and pediatric emergency admissions by about 19%, the Los Angeles Times noted.
FAST TRACK DO OR DIE. Opponents of "Fast Track" authority for the president to negotiate trade deals are hoping to buttonhole Congress members this summer. "When they get back to D.C. it will be High Noon in Gucci Gulch with every corporate lobbyist piling on every Congressmember to get a fast September vote for Fast Track," said Mike Dolan of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, one of the organizers promoting "fair trade" instead of "free trade." Dolan noted that reps may oppose the Crane Fast Track Bill (HR 2149) but he urged fair trade supporters to pin their reps down to oppose anything that does not meet the following four benchmarks: 1) Any trade negotiating authority must include mandatory negotiating objectives on the establishment of binding labor and environmental rules; 2) Such labor and environment provisions must be included in the core text of agreements; 3) enforcement of labor and environment provisions must be on parity with commercial provisions; and 4) labor and environmental rules must be enforceable through the only effective means known -- trade sanctions. Ask for a written commitment, Dolan adds. The AFL-CIO has a toll-free number to the Capitol: 1-800-393-1082. If that number doesn't work, use the Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121, or try to reach your members at your local district office. See www.tradewatch.org for sample letters to send your Congressmember.
SUSPECT ANWR DRILLING CLAIMS. When Teamsters helped Republicans to push through the House an energy bill permitting drilling in 2,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the promoters claimed the project would create over 700,000 jobs. The Teamsters helped persuade 38 Democrats to support the bill. However, Time magazine noted Aug. 13 that the 2,000 acres does not cover roads nor equipment such as pipes that run above the ground. Environmentalists say the "limit" actually would allow oil companies to spread out over virtually the entire 1.5 million acres along the northern Arctic Ocean coast set aside for possible exploration. As for the 700,000 jobs, which amounts to more working men and women than are in Wyoming and Rhode Island, that number comes from an 11-year-old study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute that economists complain wildly inflates the employment potential. "It's just absurd," Time quoted Eban Goodstein, an economist at Lewis and Clark College, who predicts the real job growth will be less than one-tenth that number. Connie Harvey of Snomass, Colo., writing in the Aspen Daily News and TomPaine.com, pursued the job claims further and found that only 12,795 jobs would be in Alaska, and most of those would be tenuously related "indirect macro-economic effects." Wisconsin would gain 13,814, according to the projection, she noted. "This is total phony-baloney, and it's sad to see the labor bosses, Congress, the media and presumably the public swallowing this 11-year-old so-called study," Harvey said.
TAX 'RELIEF' NO REBATE. Checks which taxpayers are receiving this summer for up to $600 are being called rebates by nearly all news media reporting on them, but the IRS notes that they are really an advance payment of a 2001 tax credit. David Milstead of Scripps Howard News Service on July 25 filed one of the few stories explaining what the "rebate" really means, noting that if you received $300, your refund next April will be $300 less than it otherwise would have been. "I think people think what they're getting is a refund of taxes they paid in 2000," Milstead quoted Gary Dudley, the tax partner-in-charge at Deloitte & Touche's Denver office. "If they think their taxes were going to show up lower April 15 (from this change), they're not."
FOOD STAMPS GET SHORT SHRIFT. Only $3 billion of a $73 billion increase in spending goes to food stamps, in the House Agriculture Committee's new farm bill. "That's nowhere near enough, given the mauling the program took in the 1996 welfare reform bill," the Washington Post editorialized Aug. 17, noting that the welfare bill reduced the number of eligible recipients, mainly by excluding recent immigrants and making it harder for eligible people to get help. The percentage of eligible people enrolled in the program has declined sharply, from 71% in 1994 to 59% in the most recent data, the Post said, as the number of recipients declined from 27 million in the mid-1990s to about 17 million. "This was a retrenchment on the government's part, at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in the society, even as other benefits were also being withdrawn. The annual cost of the program declined, from about $25 billion in the mid-1990s to about $15 billion today. Surely a government that has just seen fit to grant a large tax cut mainly to the very rich can restore a little of that. The proposed payments to farmers in the farm bill are themselves excessive and go mainly to the largest producers least in need."
DON'T GET SICK ON FRIDAY. George W. Bush derailed a proposed Clinton regulation that would have extended patient protections to the 20 million Americans enrolled in Medicaid managed care plans. Under Clinton's rules, a Medicaid patient in a life-threatening situation who believed his insurance plan had wrongly denied him care could get an internal appeal within 72 hours. Bush plans to change that to three working days, according to The New Republic, and, in "certain circumstances," as many as 14. (As Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., notes, "Medicaid patients who get seriously ill on Fridays are in trouble.") Under the Clinton rules, Medicaid recipients with ongoing health care needs--the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women--who are forced into managed care plans would be guaranteed access to the same specialty care they received before. Bush removes that provision, too, according to the documents. "The White House's quiet gutting of the Medicaid protections is particularly underhanded given the president's posture during the recent congressional debate over a patients' bill of rights," TNR said. "Section 301 of the final House bill, which Bush has embraced in glowing terms, specifically calls on the president to extend 'the same rights and privileges' to people enrolled in federal insurance programs like Medicaid. But these are exactly the 'rights and privileges' the president is going out of his way to deny Medicaid recipients." The Clinton proposal went through the normal administrative vetting process, which is why it took almost three years to finally issue, TNR noted. Bush's proposal essentially starts the clock anew, which means another year--at least--before any Medicaid patient-protection regulations take effect.
NO GREENS NEED APPLY. The New York Times on Aug. 19 editorialized that George W. Bush has returned to the Reagan-era ideology of putting industry advocates in charge of the federal agencies responsible for regulating them. Among them are Interior Department's new deputy secretary, J. Steven Griles, a top lobbyist for the oil, gas and coal industries; Interior's new solicitor, William Myers III, who with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association challenged federal grazing policies; Bennett Raley, the new assistant secretary for water and science, a longtime servant of the big landowning and irrigation interests; and Lynn Scarlett, the new assistant secretary for policy, former president of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank opposed in principle to most government regulation. All four already have won Senate approval, the Times noted. Others awaiting approval include Donald Schregardus, nominated to be enforcement officer at the US EPA despite his poor enforcement record when he ran Ohio's EPA. (His nomination was blocked by Senate Democrats as we went to press.) Mark Rey, who spent nearly 20 years as a lobbyist for the timber industry, is the nominee for the Agriculture Department's top natural resources post, with authority over the Forest Service. At Justice, Thomas Sansonetti, a member of the Federalist Society, a property rights group, and an energetic lobbyist for coal mining operations and other industries seeking access to public lands, is up for the job of enforcing the nation's environmental laws. Mike Parker, nominated to oversee the Army Corps of Engineers, is a former congressman who thrice earned zero ratings from the League of Conservation Voters. He was openly contemptuous of President Clinton's efforts to shift the Corps' focus from navigation and flood control to projects like restoring the Everglades and protecting endangered salmon.
'FRIENDS' QUESTION HATE CRIMES. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), in a report released Aug. 13, described current hate crimes legislation as "seriously flawed" and in need of further review. "In a Time of Broken Bones: A Call to Dialogue on Hate Violence and the Limitations of Hate Crimes Legislation," decries the use of penalty enhancements while supporting other aspects of such legislation. The Quaker group noted that penalty enhancements have historically been applied in an unjust and disproportionate way against communities of color and have fueled the mass incarceration of working class and poor people of color, particularly youth. "We are concerned that many of these laws go in the wrong direction. They expand the scope of the criminal justice system, rather than strengthen civil and human rights," states author Katherine Whitlock, special representative for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender programs for the AFSC Community Relations Unit. "We believe the emphasis on penalty enhancements could produce consequences which are directly opposite to what was intended."
"While hate crimes legislation actually varies from state to state, our concern is that it generally fails to address the deeper needs of all those harmed by hate violence: victims, offenders and the communities from which they come," stated Mary Ellen McNish, AFSC general secretary. "Those who commit acts of violence must be held accountable, but we need to recognize that offenders are also harmed by the violence of hate and are also in need of healing. Legislation should not simply create new mechanisms that further the cycle of violence and hatred."
Copies of the report are available on the AFSC web site (www.afsc.org/Jus-ticeVisions.htm) or from AFSC Literature Resources Unit (phone 215-241-7060) for $5.00 plus $3.50 shipping and handling.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, STROM STYLE. As South Carolina's senior senator from the president's party, one of Strom Thurmond's perks is to recommend the US attorney, but the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 17 noted that after scouring the ranks of the state's lawyers the 99-year-old senator settled on his own son, 28-year-old Strom Jr., a county prosecutor barely three years out of law school. "President Bush, who should have put a stop to this nonsense, has forwarded the nomination of the inexperienced Strom Thurmond Jr. to the Senate because of his bloodline -- a qualification for high office that this nation rejected when it split from the British monarchy in 1776," the Tribune editorialized. "The Senate -- starting with the Judiciary Committee, on which Strom Sr. sits -- should defy this dynastic imperative and find a sensible way to scuttle the nomination of Strom Jr. The president, meanwhile, should regret letting this caper go as far as it has."
BUSH CITED IN DWI FLAP. George W. Bush is a role model for Del Lathim, a member of the Franklin County, Wash., Public Utility District board who faces criticism for his February arrest for driving while intoxicated. A fellow board member suggested Lathim acknowledge his error and take his lumps, but Lathim compared himself to Bush, who as a candidate evaded questions about partying and drug use in the past. "Our president says he's not going to talk about mistakes he made in the past. Should my standards be higher than the president? Or the president before that?" Lathim asked, according to the Aug. 15 Tri-City Herald.
GLOBAL WARMING ROLLBACK. The Bush administration will propose dropping enforcement action against some of the country's oldest and worst polluting power plants, CBS News reported Aug. 13. The administration said the decision is part of an overall strategy to address pollution, and at the same time help ease America's critical power woes. But environmental groups denounce it as a giveaway to industry, the cost of which will be measured in thousands of lives. "The Environmental Protection Agency's own experts say these plants kill 9,000 people a year prematurely," said Armand Cohen of the Clean Air Task Force. Under a plan to be unveiled this fall, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman will propose shifting the focus from individual enforcement to industry-wide pollution standards. Dirty power plants would be enticed with economic incentives to clean up their act -- but no punishment if they don't.
WATER IS FOR FIGHTING OVER. Parts of six counties in a region that borders one of the world's largest freshwater sources, Lake Michigan, could be in for serious water shortages within 20 years, according to an Illinois planning study cited in the Aug. 12 New York Times. Water supplies are threatened in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, the Pacific Northwest. Many of the nation's biggest aquifers, such as the 175,000-square-mile Ogallala in the southern Plains, have long been depleted by farming, while the underground river that brings water to rice farmers in Arkansas, will be dry in less than 15 years, hydrologists say. Cities in the Southwest, including El Paso, San Antonio and Albuquerque, could go dry in 10 to 20 years. But a number of towns in New England and the well-watered half of the Midwest are also facing the prospect of running out of water in a generation's time. A handful of corporations such as Enron and entrepreneurs such as T. Boone Pickens are looking into the opportunities created by thirst.
PACIFICA SPIKES DEMOCRACY NOW! Pacifica Radio Network refused to distribute the regularly scheduled broadcast of Amy Goodman's news show, Democracy Now! on Aug. 14, according to Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). After complaining of harassment at WBAI, the Pacifica-owned New York station the program normally broadcasts from, Goodman arranged to do the show from another studio in lower Manhattan, but Pacifica chose not to distribute it, though a few individual stations -- including Pacifica's KPFA in Berkeley and Pacifica affiliate WMNF in Tampa -- did pick up the show on their own initiative. According to FAIR, the most recent interference with Democracy Now! began on Aug. 2 when Pacifica's director of national programming, Steve Yasko, ordered Goodman to stop ending the show with the sign-off she has used since last year's "Christmas Coup" firings at WBAI: "From the embattled studios of WBAI, from the studios of the banned and the fired, from the studios of our listeners, I'm Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening to another edition of Democracy Now!" When Goodman continued to use the sign-off, Yasko accused her in writing of "deliberate insubordination." Then WBAI Interim General Manager Utrice Leid ordered the Democracy Now! staff out of the station's main studio, forcing them to produce the program from a poorly equipped sub-studio. On Aug. 10, according to the listeners' group Pacifica Campaign, Leid's harassment of Goodman escalated and became physical when Goodman tried to photograph two WBAI staffers rifling through the personal possessions of fired WBAI Program Director Bernard White. Leid "ripped the camera out of Amy's hands and stalked into an adjacent office." When Goodman demanded her camera back, Leid reportedly "laughed in Amy's face" and told her she would have the film developed herself. Leid then "physically shoved Amy out of the way and marched down the hallway to her own office" and shut the door. Goodman remained outside Leid's office until Leid returned the camera. FAIR has joined Pacifica Campaign in calling for Pacifica's National Board to resign in order to make way for positive change. For more information see www.fair.org or www.pacificacampaign.org.
DOJ SCOTCHES DELAY PROBE. The Justice Department won't investigate allegations that House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, offered meetings with Bush administration officials in exchange for campaign contributions, the conservative group Judicial Watch said. The Associated Press reported in April that DeLay, the House's third-ranked Republican, was promising meetings with senior Bush officials to small business owners who made donations to underwrite a GOP ad campaign promoting President Bush's tax plan. Lee Radek, the former head of the Justice Department's public integrity section, told Judicial Watch that it is legal for congressional Republicans to offer meetings with government officials in exchange for campaign contributions, the group said.
CADAVER BRAIN USE 'RISKY'. The continued use membranes surrounding the brain for transplantation in neurosurgical patients unnecessarily exposes them to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), the human version of mad cow disease, Public Citizen told the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Aug. 15. Public Citizen called on the agency to ban the sale of all human "cadaveric dura mater" and recall all such tissue not yet used in surgery because the tissue has caused at least 114 cases of always-fatal CJD. Great Britain banned the material 12 years ago and Japan did so four years ago, without any subsequent evidence of harm to patients. The World Health Organization recommends against its use. See the petition at www.citizen.org/hrg/publications/1587.htm.