ACORN: WORKING POOR NEED HELP. ACORN is promoting an economic stimulus package designed to assist those most effected by an economic downturn. "To stimulate the economy, what we need to do is get money into the hands of those most likely to spend it and those hit hardest by a recession, namely low- and moderate-income Americans," said Maude Hurd, national president of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Low-wage workers are typically the first to be laid off and the last to be rehired. Unemployment benefits are reaching only a small portion of those laid off. ACORN called on the president and Congress to include the following measures in a stimulus package:
* Reform eligibility rules for unemployment insurance to reach more than the 39% of unemployed workers who currently qualify, to count workers' most recent earning period in calculating benefits, and to provide extended benefits beyond the initial 26-week period.
* In housing, implement a foreclosure/eviction prevention plan and provide $5 billion in immediate funds for the HOME Investment Program to build more affordable housing and create jobs.
* In energy: the Bush administration should stop holding up the release of $300 million in emergency funds that Congress appropriated for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and Congress should provide additional funding for this winter.
* In health care, expand Medicaid to provide coverage for unemployed workers.
* Immediately pass a $1.50 increase in the federal minimum wage.
* Earmark any tax cuts to those who did not benefit from the "rebates" earlier this year.
For a copy of ACORN's proposal, contact David Swanson at 202-547-2500 or see www.acorn.org.
TRADING AWAY FAMILY FARMS. As the World Trade Organization (WTO) prepares to negotiate more trade rules for agriculture, and while President Bush seeks "fast track" authority to push trade deals through Congress, Food First reports that "free trade" policies are virtually starving the American family farmer. The US Department of Labor expects that the US will lose 13.2% of family farm jobs between 1998 and 2008, the largest projected job loss among all occupations. Driven by trade rules devised in Washington for the WTO that strive to reduce or eliminate agricultural subsidies, a series of governmental policies are squeezing out the family farmer while benefiting corporate agribusiness.
"The disparity is a symptom of a support system that is out of kilter with the needs of the average cash-strapped farmer," says Anuradha Mittal, Food First co-director and author of the report. "Most payments are tied to acreage: more land equals bigger checks." This is part of the "get big or get out" policy that drives farming in the United States and has accelerated corporate concentration in agriculture. Today only two companies, Cargill and Continental, control two-thirds of all grain trade in the world. Meanwhile, between 1994 and 1996 about 25% of all hog farmers, 10% of all grain farmers, and 10% of all dairy farmers went out of business.
The loss of family farms is wiping out rural communities across America. Family farm dollars once circulated through these communities, buying equipment, supplies, and groceries from local merchants. Larger corporate farms bypass this community network in an effort to centralize their purchases. This has endangered the very existence of rural communities in America.
The report concludes that the excessive focus on exports is forcing overproduction and driving down farm prices. Low prices hurt American farmers and make it impossible for farmers in other countries to compete. Thus this model is driving both American family farmers and their Third World counterparts from the land. A more healthy alternative is a model that focuses on the strength of the family farm, which is relatively efficient, generates jobs, and can conserve the environment and preserve rural communities better than corporate farms. The report can be found at (www.foodfirst.org).
HOUSE PLANS MORE TAX CUTS. The House Ways and Means Committee, on a party-line vote Oct. 12, approved a bill that over the next three years would almost double the size of the Bush tax cuts enacted last May, Citizens for Tax Justice reported. Officially, the new corporate and individual tax cuts are estimated to cost $212 billion over the next three fiscal years (and the actual cost is likely to be considerably higher). But the CTJ analysis of the bill's effect in calendar 2002 (see www.ctj.org) finds:
* 41% of the tax cuts would go the best-off 1% of all taxpayers, whose average tax cut in 2002 would be almost $27,000 each.
* Almost three-quarters of the 2002 tax cuts would go to the best off tenth of all taxpayers.
* Only 7% of the tax cuts would go the bottom three-fifths of taxpayers.
FIRST THINGS FIRST ON TAXES. US Rep. Jan Schakowksy, D-Ill., unveiled the First Things First Act of 2001, which would delay parts of President Bush's tax cut that benefit the wealthy until critical domestic needs are met. The bill would reinstate the top marginal tax rate at 39.6%; freeze tax rates for the current 30.5% and 35.5% brackets; and freeze changes in the estate tax for individuals while providing the small business and farm exemption that would have been allowed under the Democratic alternative. Before any changes in the upper marginal rates or estate tax are allowed to go into effect, the act requires adequate responses to the needs created by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US, including impacts on workers; extended solvency of Social Security and Medicare trust funds; provision of a comprehensive prescription drug benefit under Medicare; federal funding of school modernization and the hiring of 100,000 teachers; and a significant reduction in the number of people who face worst case housing needs. For more information call 202-225-2111 or mail Schakowsky, 515 Cannon HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515.
FAST TRACK VOTE LOOMS. As "fast track" legislation moves towards a floor vote in the House of Representatives, Green Party activists joined labor unions, environmental groups and the House Democratic leadership in opposing the bill. Ben Manski of the national Green Party's steering committee and a Wisconsin Green said working Americans have repeatedly told their representatives not to approve fast track legislation. "Each and every member of Congress must know that if they betray their constituents by voting for fast track now, the Green Party will use those votes in the 2002 elections," he said. Call your Congress member at 202-224-3121
BIN LADEN MONEY TIED TO BUSH. President George W. Bush on Sept. 24 announced a crackdown on the financial networks of terrorists and those who support them. But Wayne Madsen reported in In These Times that Bush's own businesses were once tied to financial figures in Saudi Arabia who support Osama bin Laden. In 1979, Bush's first business, Arbusto Energy, obtained $50,000 from James Bath, a Houstonian and close family friend who was the sole US business representative for Salem bin Laden, head of the wealthy Saudi Arabian family and a brother to Osama bin Laden.
According to Madsen, Bush at first denied ever knowing Bath, then acknowledged his stake in Arbusto and that he was aware Bath represented Saudi interests. In fact, Bath has extensive ties, both to the bin Laden family and major players in the scandal-ridden Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) who went on to fund Osama bin Laden. BCCI defrauded depositors of $10 billion in the '80s in what has been called the "largest bank fraud in world financial history" by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. During the '80s, BCCI also acted as a conduit for laundering money intended for clandestine CIA activities, ranging from financial support to the Afghan mujahedin to paying intermediaries in the Iran-Contra affair.
When Salem bin Laden died in 1988, powerful Saudi Arabian banker and BCCI principal Khalid bin Mahfouz inherited his interests in Houston, Madsen wrote. Bath ran a business for bin Mahfouz in Houston and joined a partnership with bin Mahfouz and Gaith Pharaon, BCCI's frontman in Houston's Main Bank. Arbusto emerged in 1986 as Harken Energy Corporation, still with Bush as a principal. When Harken ran into trouble a year later, Saudi Sheik Abdullah Taha Bakhsh purchased a 17.6% stake in the company. Bakhsh was a business partner with Pharaon in Saudi Arabia; his banker there was bin Mahfouz.
Bath finally came under investigation by the FBI in 1992 for his Saudi business relationships, accused of funneling Saudi money through Houston in order to influence the foreign policies of the Reagan and first Bush administrations. But bin Mahfouz allegedly has been financing the bin Laden terrorist network, Madsen wrote, making Bush a US citizen who has done business with those who finance and support terrorists. According to USA Today, bin Mahfouz and other Saudis attempted to transfer $3 million to various bin Laden front operations in Saudi Arabia in 1999. ABC News reported the same year that Saudi officials stopped bin Mahfouz from contributing money directly to bin Laden. (Bin Mahfouz's sister is also a wife of Osama bin Laden, a fact that former CIA Director James Woolsey revealed in 1998.)
R'S TURNABOUT ON AFGHAN ATTACK. Republicans who are loudly questioning the patriotism of those who dare to criticize George W. Bush's response to the Sept. 11 attack apparently do not remember the aftermath of the two US embassies that were bombed in Africa in 1998. After Clinton sent cruise missiles into Afghanistan, obliterating Osama bin Laden's main camp -- and missing killing bin Laden by 45 minutes -- Republican congressional leaders, including Sens. Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch, Reps. Henry Hyde, J.C. Watts and Bob Barr and other right-wingers walked out to microphones and TV cameras on the Capitol steps and not only refused to express support for the raid, they accused Clinton of staging the attack to take the country's attention off impeachment proceedings.
AIRLINES FOILED AIRPORT SECURITY PROBE. Just two months before 10 hijackers commandeered two jetliners after takeoff from Logan International Airport, airport officials were poised to use undercover state police to probe for security weaknesses at Logan. But the airlines vehemently objected and the proposal was set aside, Matt Carroll reported Oct. 17 in the Boston Globe. Despite a long record of security breaches, a committee of airline executives strenuously objected in July to the proposal to use undercover state troopers to sneak weapons through checkpoints to test for security weaknesses. Plans were shelved.
PANEL PURSUES SS PRIVATIZATION. The stock market may be tanking under the weight of the war on terrorism but a presidential commission is continuing its plans to privatize the Social Security system. As reported in the Oct. 19 Washington Post, commission Co-Chairman Richard D. Parsons said that while "in many ways the world has changed" since Sept. 11, "in a substantive sense, the task before the commission remains largely as before." Parsons said "there is a growing consensus" favoring the creation of personal retirement accounts, with the debate centered on whether they should be created from existing Social Security payroll tax revenue or from other sources that would amount to an "add-on" to Social Security. When Bush named the commission in May he stacked it with members who supported privatization.
R'S STEP UP JUDGE NOMINEE FIGHT. Republicans are stepping up their campaign to force Senate Democrats to approve George W. Bush's right-wing judicial nominees, accusing the D's of being unpatriotic at the same time the R's are threatening to block foreign aid appropriations until there is action. R's complain that there are more than 100 court vacancies, but D's note that many of those benches have been vacant since the Republican Senate refused to schedule votes on then-President Clinton's moderate choices for the federal courts over the past few years. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, who as chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the last Congress helped bottle up many of those choices, told a handful of reporters, according to Neil Lewis of the New York Times, "Anyone who is interested in helping the president in the war on terrorism should support the president's judicial nominees." D's note that, on the average, a Clinton nominee for a judgeship had to wait more than 330 days to get a hearing, while the average for Bush's nominees has been less than 100 days -- and the White House contributed to the delay by refusing to vet the nominees through the American Bar Association, as presidents have in the past.
BANKRUPTCY DEFORM STALLED. A bill that would have made it more difficult for consumers to clear their debts through bankruptcy has been set aside in Congress, unlikely to re-emerge this year, lawyers and analysts told the New York Times. The Senate and House passed versions of the legislation in March, and a conference was set for this fall to reconcile the differences. But with consumer confidence considerably weaker since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, lawmakers' enthusiasm for the legislation may have dimmed, the Times reported Oct. 19.
ASHCROFT SUPPORTS OFFICIAL SECRECY. Attorney General John Ashcroft has issued a new statement of policy that encourages federal agencies to resist Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests whenever they have legal grounds to do so, the Secrecy News reported. The new statement supersedes a 1993 memorandum from Attorney General Janet Reno which promoted disclosure of government information through the FOIA unless it was "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful." The Ashcroft policy rejects this "foreseeable harm" standard. Instead, the Justice Department instructs agencies to withhold information whenever there is a "sound legal basis" for doing so. See Ashworth's memo at (www.usdoj.gov/oip/foiapost/2001foiapost19.htm) and Reno's at (www.fas.org/sgp/clinton/reno.html).
TPP HONORED. The Progressive Populist once again has been nominated for an Utne Reader Alternative Press Award. TPP was nominated in the category of political magazines. Other nominees are The American Prospect, Do or Die, In These Times, Mother Jones, The Nation, New Rules, The Progressive, Tikkun and Washington Monthly. We were a finalist in a similar category in 1998. In 1996 we were a finalist in the category of "best new title." The Alternative Press Awards are chosen by the editors of Utne Reader and will be announced in late December, but readers may view the nominees and also vote their preference in the Online Readers' Choice Poll at (www.utne.com/apa) after Nov. 1. Even if you don't have Internet access, you may vote for us by promptly renewing your subscription and perhaps even sending a gift subscription to a friend or your local library or coffee shop!
TALK SHOW YANKED AS 'UNPATRIOTIC'. Criticism of the Bush administration, and questions about the attacks on Afghanistan apparently got Peter Werbe's left-of-center talk show yanked from KOMY-AM of Santa Cruz, Calif., without even notifying him or his network. Faced with complaints, on Oct. 6 the KOMY station owner took to the airwaves and denounced the show and its host, and "apologized" for having Werbe on "his" airwaves. Werbe, who broadcasts on the ieamerica Radio Network based in Detroit, is one of only two left-of-center nationally syndicated programs on the AM band. (The other liberal host is Mike Malloy.) Werbe's show is broadcast on the AM band in 14 cities and from the ieamerica Web site. See www.ieamericaradio.com, www.peterwerbe.com and www.mikemalloy.com. To protest this violation of the station's license, which obligates it to serve the community, not the owner's right wing politics, call KOMY at 831-479-1080 or email owner Michael Zwerling at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COALITION URGES COMMUNITY REINVESTMENT. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) joined with US Reps. Thomas Barrett, Luis Gutierrez and other members of Congress in urging federal banking agencies to shore up America's communities by updating the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Passed in 1977, CRA mandates that banks and thrifts meet the credit needs of all the communities in which they are chartered and from which they take deposits. John Taylor of NCRC said "A stronger CRA is needed to protect our communities as well as resume the progress in lending and investing." The US Department of Housing and Urban Development found that African-American neighborhoods are five times more likely to receive "subprime" refinance loans at higher interest rates than white neighborhoods. Neighborhood residents face fewer choices in loan products and become more vulnerable to predatory lenders when subprime lenders dominate lending in their community. Barrett, Gutierrez, and 34 other members of Congress are co-sponsoring CRA Modernization Act, H.R. 865, which would extend CRA to independent mortgage companies, insurance firms and securities companies. H.R. 865 would also mandate enhancements to data disclosure that the Federal Reserve has proposed but not yet acted upon. See (www.ncrc.org).
WIDESPREAD DETENTION CONCERNS ACLU. Unprecedented government secrecy is raising questions about the fairness of the government's investigation into the terrorist attacks, the American Civil Liberties Union said Oct. 17 as it asked the Justice Department to release more information about the more than 700 people held in detention since September 11. In a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, the ACLU said it was troubled by reports that some detainees have been impeded in their ability to contact lawyers and their families. If accurate, "these reports raise fundamental due process issues that we hope the Department will promptly address," the ACLU letter said. For more information see (www.aclu.org).
MALPRACTICE PAYOUTS AVERAGE $43,000. Refuting insurance company claims that medical malpractice verdicts are forcing dramatic rate increases, a new analysis shows that insurance companies are paying victims of medical negligence on average only $42,607 This is only slightly more than the $39,093 average payout a decade earlier. Moreover, medical malpractice costs, as a percentage of national health care expenditures, are at an all time low, 0.55%. The analysis for the Center for Justice & Democracy (CJ&D) examined year 2000 insurance data. According to CJ&D Executive Director Joanne Doroshow, "Some recent reports are warning of an impending nationwide medical malpractice insurance crisis. Insurance companies are blaming judges and juries for the decision to make insurance unaffordable for doctors. This is a bogus public relations scam intended to pressure lawmakers to unfairly limit the rights of injured Americans to take negligent doctors to court. See (www.centerjd.org) or phone (212) 267-2801.
UNILEVER SUBSIDIZES ANTIGLOBAL PROTESTS. Unilever, one of the world's biggest multinationals, has given millions of dollars through its Ben & Jerry's subsidiary to anti-globalization protest groups and critics of corporate greed, Financial Times reported Oct. 15. Activist organisations such as Global Exchange and the Ruckus Society, which trained and organised demonstrators who shut down the meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in 1999, have received some of the $5 million Unilever made available to progressive initiatives via the ice-cream company famous for its social conscience. Unilever gave the money to Ben & Jerry's Foundation when it bought the company last year. The ice-cream company's charitable arm distributed the funds. When Unilever bought the company for $326 million, it agreed to contribute $5 million to the foundation, another $5 million to a venture capital fund for ethical start-ups and a minimum of $1.1 million a year to grants for social change groups. The Ruckus Society, which trains activists in hanging banners, tree-sits and street protests, got $100,000, Financial Times reported.
SOCIAL CHANGE ONLINE BOOKSTORE. 100 Fires Books, called "the first comprehensive fully searchable social change online bookstore in the United States" by its founder, Paul Cienfuegos, has opened at www.100fires.com. The store claims 1,200 titles in stock from every major independent social change-oriented publisher, searchable by title, author, keyword, or by clicking on any one of 50 general subject headings.