Before heading to Texas for his monthlong vacation, George W. Bush stopped at the fire station in Green Tree, Pa., for a photo op with the nine miners recently rescued from a flooded coal mine, David Corn of The Nation noted. Bush hailed the episode as evidence of "the spirit of America, the great strength of our nation." Bush observed, in his mangled syntax, "It was their determination to stick together and to comfort each other that really defines kind of a new spirit that's prevalent in our country, that when one of us suffer, all of us suffers." But Democrats noted that the White House proposed cutting the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) by $7 million, or 6%, despite coal mining fatalities going up for three years in a row. In March, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., maintained the funding cut would cause a 25% reduction in the government's mine-safety inspection workforce.
The United Mine Workers of America was critical of the MSHA's investigation of a coal mine disaster that claimed 13 lives 2,140 feet below Brookwood, Ala., last September. At the time of the explosion, the mine had 31 outstanding violations and federal inspectors had not bothered to determine whether they had been corrected. As of mid-July, the MSHA had not responded to these accusations.
Corn noted the Bush administration has consistently demonstrated more empathy with business owners than with workers. Twice, Bush has proposed decreasing the budget for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In its most recent budget, it called for reducing 64 slots in OSHA's enforcement division. The White House has also decreased funding for the National Institute for Occupational Safety. And it deep-sixed workplace safety rules for ergonomics, replacing them with voluntary guidelines for certain industries.
UNION WINS AT WHOLE FOODS. Buoyed by support from area union members and student activists, workers at Whole Foods Market in Madison, Wis., voted 65-54 to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 144 on July 12. Although the Austin, Texas-based 130-store national chain "sells organic products, caters to a vaguely progressive crowd, and espouses a groovy philosophy, management is staunchly anti-union and has resisted union drives at other stores," Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive noted. Leading up to the vote, employees were forced to attend meetings where videos and presentations bashed unions and warned employees about how much money the union would cost them. The successful union drive "has national significance," says David Newby, head of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. "The Madison workers have contacts in most of the other Whole Foods stores, and so it's very likely that serious organizing campaigns will be in a lot more stores all over the country." Whole Foods Market has filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board to nullify the vote to unionize.
FRAUD PROBE NO BAR TO FED BIZ. A subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney's former company was chosen the exclusive contractor for overseas Army troop support services and Navy construction despite being under federal investigation for fraudulently inflating charges on another government contract, Long Island Newsday reported Aug. 5. The Navy contract went to Brown & Root Services despite a recommendation from the General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of Congress, that new bids be solicited. The Army troop-support contract, under which the company will supply food, laundry and other services for troops deployed in new areas, is unusual because its stretches 10 years and it is a "cost-plus" arrangement under which the more Brown & Root spends, the more it earns. Halliburton officials say Cheney, who headed Halliburton from 1995 until George W. Bush picked him as his running mate in July 2000, played no role in the selection of the Houston-based company for the two contracts, potentially worth billions of dollars over the next decade.
Army and Navy contracting officials say they were unaware, when the contracts were awarded, that federal officials in California were investigating allegations that Brown & Root had defrauded the government on another defense contract. In February Brown & Root agreed to pay the government $2 million to settle charges it inflated contract prices for maintenance and repairs at Fort Ord near Monterey, Calif.
The new contract makes Brown & Root the Army's only private supplier of troop support services during the next decade. "It is close to unprecedented for the government to have given so much of the solution to one contractor," Newsday quoted Steven Spooner, a George Washington University professor who specializes in federal contracting. The Army paid Brown & Root $1.2 billion from 1992 through 1999 to support US troops, mainly in the Balkans. An extension from 1999 through 2004 is projected to cost $1.8 billion. [See "Terror War's Gravy Train," 7/15/02 TPP.]
BUSH DEFIES COURT. The Bush administration is preparing to expand its policy of indefinitely detaining in military jails US citizens it designates as "enemy combatants," the Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 8. The White House is considering creating a high-level committee to decide which prisoners should be denied access to federal courts. The Goose Creek, S.C., facility that houses Jose Padilla &emdash; mostly empty since it was designated in January to hold foreigners captured in the US and facing military tribunals &emdash; has a special wing that could be used to jail about 20 US citizens if the government were to deem them enemy combatants, a senior administration official said. The administration, claiming a federal judge lacked the authority, refused a court order to turn over documents related to the capture of Yaser Hamdi, a US citizen who is imprisoned in Norfolk, Va. The administration also is trying to get Hamdi's public defender removed from the case. Officials told the Journal they selected brigs in South Carolina and Virginia partly because they fall under the jurisdiction of courts that are more conservative and presumably more sympathetic to the administration. The Padilla case is being handled by a judge in New York, where a grand jury has been investigating terrorist activity, but the administration wants it transferred to Charleston, S.C.
NADER PROMOTES WELLSTONE. Ralph Nader, the Green Party's presidential candidate in 2000, seemed to distance himself from the Green Party's US Senate candidate in Minnesota, Ed McGaa, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Aug. 10. In a speech to congressional interns, Nader said McGaa is a newcomer who has little chance of winning: "He'll be lucky to get a few thousand votes." Nader offered to appear with McGaa's Democratic opponent, Sen. Paul Wellstone, to promote corporate reforms. "I can't imagine how he's going to lose because he's done a lot of good things, although he's not quite as good as he used to be," said Nader, who remains an independent but defended the Green Party's right to endorse a candidate in Minnesota. McGaa drew about 3% of Minnesota's potential voters in the most recent Star Tribune poll in which Wellstone was virtually tied with Republican Norm Coleman.
GOP CHAIR OFFERS GREENS SUPPORT. New Mexico Republican chairman John Dendahl offered "six-figure" political support from an unidentified source if the Green Party ran candidates in two congressional races, the Associated Press reported July 12. Dendahl said the campaign contributions wouldn't come from the Republican Party and insisted he didn't know the source of the potential political donations, but he was asked by someone in Washington, D.C., to offer the campaign contributions if Greens ran in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts. No Greens filed for those offices, and the Green Party says it disavows and condemns any attempted manipulation.
NAFTA PUTS CAL WATER RULES AT RISK. A three-person North American Free Trade Agreement trade tribunal asked the Canadian company Methanex to file more information in its trade dispute claiming the state of California has no right to phase out the gasoline additive MTBE, which contaminates California's ground and surface water. The tribunal failed to uphold California's right to safeguard its water. Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said she had expected the tribunal to throw out the case and Methanex's $1 billion claim in the name of political expediency to prevent it from boomeranging back upon NAFTA and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). "Yet when the panel had the opportunity, it did not chuck out this whole outrageous claim, but left the door open &emdash; not only in this case but, more important, for other corporations in other cases that could come before a different panel."
FOX FIELDS TERROR TIPS. When Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the formation of Operation TIPS, a planned army of tens of millions of American volunteers charged with ferreting out terrorists in their neighborhoods, Dave Lindorff of Salon.com went to the Terrorism Information and Preven-tion System (TIPS) page, and signed up as a volunteer. After he heard nothing for a month, he called the Justice Department to ask what citizens were supposed to do if they had a terror tip, and was given a phone number he was told had been set up by the FBI. "But instead of getting a hardened G-person when I called, a mellifluous receptionist's voice answered, 'America's Most Wanted.' A little flummoxed, I said I was expecting to reach the FBI. 'Aren't you familiar with the TV program "America's Most Wanted"?' she asked patiently. 'We've been asked to take the FBI's TIPS calls for them.'"
FOX NEWS DOES GOP LEGWORK. In a profile of Texas Democratic Senate candidate Ron Kirk in the New Yorker, Peter Boyer wrote of one of Kirk's central dilemmas: How to raise money from big-name out-of-state Democratic donors without giving Texan Republicans too much room to attack him as being out of touch with Texas values. At a New York City fundraiser for Kirk featuring Bill Clinton Boyer describes how he caught a glimpse of the Fox News cameraman's notepad with the instruction "Ideal pix try to get Bill Clinton and Kirk in one frame." Tapped, the weblog of The American Prospect (www.prospect.org), commented, "It's pretty standard for a campaign to assign a staffer with a video camera to follow around the opposition, in the hopes of generating gaffes, bloopers, or seemingly compromising images ... for later use in campaign ads. But it's very unusual to find a television network &emdash; even so fair and balanced a one as Fox News &emdash; doing it for them. Doesn't the GOP have its own people for this kind of thing?"