The economy lost another 44,000 jobs in July, putting the Bush administration further in the hole on its promise to net 1.4 million new jobs by the end of next year. Bush promised that tax cuts would generate those jobs on top of 4.1 million jobs his Council of Economic Advisers projected would have been gained even without tax cuts. Instead the nation lost 72,000 in June, the first month of the tax cuts, and 44,000 in July. The nation's unemployment rate fell to 6.2% in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mainly because so many workers are discouraged that they are no longer actively looking for jobs. While wealthy stockholders celebrated their dividend tax cuts, hours worked per week -- a measure of the strength of labor demand -- fell to the lowest level since tracking began in 1964, the Economic Policy Institute (epinet.org) noted. When discouraged jobless and part-time workers are included, the July underemployment rate was 10.5%, BLS reported.
The job losses didn't stop the Bush administration from staging a "Jobs and Growth" bus tour of Wisconsin and Minnesota. A recently laid-off high-tech worker named John Andrew followed the Bush economic team with his "Economic Reality Tour," detailed at jobforjohn.com. He met Treasury Secretary John Snow July 29 in the drive-thru of a fast-food restaurant in Wausau, Wis. When Andrews told Snow he had been laid off the week before from the software industry, Snow told him, "Just wait." Andrew replied, "'Just wait?!' I've got a $350 payment for this minivan, a mortgage and two kids! Here's a guy who drives a few hundred miles to see you, four days after he's been laid off, and you tell him to 'just wait?' Boy I'd like to see those words on a PR banner behind Snow at the podium: Jobs and Growth: Just Wait."
Meanwhile, the Austin American-Statesman reported Aug. 11 that more high-tech jobs are moving overseas to places like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Far East. "Large corporations, such as Microsoft, Dell Inc. and others, have made no apologies about moving design and tech-support jobs overseas to lower-cost locations such as India, where workers earn a fraction of what information technology professionals in the United States make," Amy Schatz wrote. Tech research firm Gartner Inc. recently estimated that 1 of every 10 information technology or tech-service-related jobs in the US will move offshore by the end of 2004. A separate study by Forrester Research estimated that 3.3 million US service jobs will move overseas in the next 15 years, with information tech jobs leading the way.
Many tech workers are given the choice of training their foreign replacements or losing their severance pay, the Associated Press reports. Foreigners may be brought to the US to work for up to seven years at their home-country wage under the L-1 visa program. Indian workers receive roughly one-sixth the hourly wage of the average American programmer, who makes about $60 per hour in wages and benefits. The State Department issued 28,098 L-1 visas from October to March, the first half of fiscal 2003. That's an increase of nearly 7% from the same period in 2002. There is no limit on the number of L-1 workers companies may import each year. HR 2702 sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., seeks an annual limit of 35,000 L-1 workers nationwide and would require them to be paid the US prevailing wage. By contrast, tight controls govern the H-1B visa, which requires companies to pay workers the prevailing wage. The H-1B cap is scheduled to be reduced from 195,000 workers to 65,000 per year on Oct. 1.
HOUSE OK'S TRADE DEALS, WTO NEXT. The House July 25 approved free trade pacts with Singapore and Chile by wide margins, but fair trade advocates were not dismayed. "What is interesting about these 'non-controversial' trade votes is that they obtained even less Democratic support than the 2001 China Permanent Normal Trade Relations vote and more GOP opposition than the 2001 Fast Track vote," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. The Singapore pact passed 272-155 and the Chile deal passed 270-156. Next up are the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which will be discussed at a World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference Sept. 10-14 in Cancun. "The draft FTAA text includes offensive terms on labor, environment, investment, access to medicine and immigration that also are being tabled in the CAFTA talks," Wallach said. "As a result, a vast array of Democrats and a significant number of Republicans have realized that they will need to oppose both of the pacts and thus decided to vote for these two small pacts for political insulation." Still, she said, the Chile and Singapore pacts represent a "terrible model for trade and globalization policy because they repeat NAFTA's most damaging provisions ... These pacts also include NAFTA-like terms allowing foreign corporations to sue signatory governments for cash compensation in trade tribunals for the costs of complying with non-discriminatory domestic regulations. Further, the pacts lack vital labor and environmental terms, and include patent rules that limit consumers' access to affordable medicines. If these rules were applied to large blocs of countries as the administration proposes, the result would be disastrous." (See tradewatch.org.)
CHENEY EYED IRAQ OILFIELDS IN 2001. Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force in the spring of 2001 had access to a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts" when it was developing energy policy, Judicial Watch reported. The Commerce Department had to turn over the documents under court order as a result of a lawsuit by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club to gain information about the activities of the secret task force. See the documents at www.JudicialWatch.org. Cheney and the White House have refused to turn over any papers. At issue is the role that energy industry executives and trade groups played in formulating the task force's energy policy recommendations unveiled in May 2001.
PREZ PROTECTS OIL COMPANIES. George W. Bush signed an executive order May 22 that appears to give US oil companies in Iraq blanket immunity from lawsuits and criminal prosecution, Ruth Rosen reported in the Aug. 8 San Francisco Chronicle. The Sustainable Energy and Economy Network (SEEN) discovered that after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1438, which provided gas and oil companies in Iraq with limited immunity until Dec. 21, 2007 to protect the flow of oil revenues into the development fund that will be used to reconstruct Iraq, Bush issued his own Executive Order 13303 -- called "Protecting the Development Fund and Certain Other Property in Which Iraq Has an Interest." Unlike the UN resolution, which did not provide immunity from human rights violations or environmental damage, nor did it protect any employee or any company after the oil was produced and extracted in Iraq, Bush's order appears to place US corporations above the law for any activities related to Iraq oil, either in that country or in the USA. It also declared a national emergency as the justification for sweeping aside all federal statues, including the Alien Tort Claims Act, and appears to provide immunity against contractual disputes, discrimination suits, violations of labor practices, international treaties, environmental disasters and human rights violations. Even more, it doesn't limit immunity to the production of oil, but also protects individuals, companies and corporations involved in selling and marketing the oil as well. "In terms of legal liability," commented Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, which defends whistle blowers, "the executive order cancels the concept of corporate accountability and abandons the rule of law. It is a blank check for corporate anarchy, potentially robbing Iraqis of both their rights and their resources."
HALLIBURTON DOMINATES IRAQ OIL WORK. The Bechtel Group has dropped out of the running for a contract to rebuild the Iraqi oil industry, concluding along with other competitors that the bidding process favors the one company already working in Iraq, Halliburton, the New York Times reported Aug. 8. After the US Army Corps of Engineers quietly selected Halliburton -- Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer -- in the spring to perform early repairs of the Iraqi oil business in the aftermath of the war, other companies and members of Congress protested that the work should have been awarded through competitive bidding. The Corps in June sought bids for a new contract, valued at $1 billion, but it specified a timetable for the work that effectively means that the value of any contract companies other than Halliburton could win would be worth only about $176 million, according to Corps of Engineers documents and executives in the engineering and construction business. Work in Iraq has turned around Halliburton's financial performance, as the company reported a profit of $26 million in the second quarter, in contrast to a loss of $498 million in the period a year earlier. The company stated that 9%, or $324 million, of its second-quarter revenue of $3.6 billion came from its work in Iraq.
LIBERALS ORGANIZE TO BEAT BUSH. Labor, environmental and women's organizations, with strong backing from international financier George Soros, have joined forces behind a new political group that plans to spend an unprecedented $75 million to mobilize voters to defeat George W. Bush in 2004, the Washington Post reported. Americans Coming Together (ACT), will conduct "a massive get-out-the-vote operation that we think will defeat George W. Bush in 2004," said Ellen Malcolm, the president of EMILY's List, who will become ACT's president. Steve Rosenthal, the AFL-CIO's political director from 1996 through 2002, will be ACT's chief executive officer. He said that ACT will hire hundreds of organizers, state political directors and others as the 2004 election approaches. ACT already has commitments for more than $30 million, Malcolm and others said, including $10 million from Soros, $12 million from six other philanthropists, and about $8 million from unions, including the Service Employees International Union. Also joining the fight against Bush include the American Majority Institute, which was put together by John Podesta, a former top aide to President Bill Clinton. The institute will function as a liberal counter to conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. A network of liberal groups has formed America Votes to coordinate the political activities of civil rights, environmental and abortion rights groups among others, and former Clinton aide Harold Ickes is trying to set up a pro-Democratic group to finance 2004 campaign television ads.
RETIRED VETS DITCH GOP. George W. Bush and the GOP face the loss of support from retired veterans over cutbacks in veterans' health and pension benefits. Knight-Ridder reported July 27 that veterans feel particularly betrayed by Bush, who appealed to them in his 2000 campaign, and who vowed on the eve of his inauguration that "promises made to our veterans will be promises kept." Any significant erosion of support for Bush and Republicans could hurt in a close election. It could be particularly troublesome in states such as Florida that are politically divided and crowded with military retirees.
One complaint is that some disabled vets have to pay their own disability benefits out of their retirement pay through a law they call the Disabled Veterans Tax. A majority of Congress wants to change the law, as a House proposal by Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., has 345 co-sponsors. But it would cost as much as $5 billion a year, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in July told lawmakers that the president would veto any bill including the change. The proposal is stuck in committee and a recent effort to bring it to the full House failed, in part because only one Republican signed the discharge petition.
The second complaint is over medical care. After decades of promising free medical care for life to anyone who served for 20 years, the government in the 1990s abandoned the promise in favor of a new system called Tricare, which provides medical care, but requires veterans to pay a deductible and does not cover dental, hearing or vision care. A group of military retirees challenged the government in a class-action lawsuit, won a first round, then were outraged when Bush allowed the government to appeal and the government won the next legal round.
TEXAS GOP'S DOUBLE STANDARD. Republican lawmakers had a rhetorical field day this year as Democrats, first in the House and then in the Senate, fled to other states in order to stymie GOP redistricting plans. But the Associated Press noted Aug. 5 that 10 years ago, Republicans walked out of the Texas Senate chamber to avoid a vote on a racially tinged judicial redistricting resolution. "They clearly have a double standard," said Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis, who is one of 11 Senate Democrats holed up in a New Mexico hotel to keep Republicans from setting aside normal rules to pass a gerrymandered redistricting bill.
BUSH'S BIG VACATION. Bill Maher noted at his weblog (www.safesearching.com/billmaher/blog) that George W. Bush would not be going through a big lifestyle change during his monthlong vacation at his Crawford, Texas, acreage. "Instead of formal deception on a national level, he'll just be lying around the house."
'LIBERAL' PRESS LESS PARTISAN. A new Harvard study found that "liberal" editorial pages are much more likely to criticize a Democratic administration than conservative editorial pages are to take on a Republican administration. Michael Tomasky, a liberal writer who did the study for the Joan Shorenstein press center, examined editorial commentary by the New York Times and Washington Post, which are considered to be liberal, and the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times, which definitely are conservative, on 10 Bush and Clinton episodes that were roughly comparable. He did not include extraordinary events, such as the Lewinsky scandal or 9/11, but in run-of-the-mill political controversies the liberal papers criticized the Clinton administration 30% of the time, while conservative papers took the Bush administration to task just 7% of the time. Liberal papers praised Clinton 36% of the time, while conservative papers praised Bush 77% of the time. The liberal papers criticized Bush 67% of the time while the conservative papers criticized Clinton 89% of the time. See www.ksg.harvard.edu/presspol/index.htm.
BUSH LIES-WHO DIES? United for Peace and Justice has printed a big batch of stickers decrying the Bush administration's lies about Iraq and the vast toll those lies have taken in human lives. Stickers (see www.unitedforpeace.org) are available for $20 per 500 (the minimum order, shipping included). Send a check payable to United for Peace and Justice, PO Box 607, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108, along with your shipping address and the number of stickers you're ordering. Call 212-603-3700.
AIR WATCH LIST INCLUDES ACTIVISTS. After more than a year of complaints by US anti-war activists that they were being unfairly targeted by airport security, the federal government has admitted the existence of a list, possibly hundreds or even thousands of names long, of people it deems worthy of special scrutiny at airports, the British Independent newspaper reported Aug. 3. The list had been kept secret until its disclosure by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It is entirely separate from the relatively well-publicized "no-fly" list, which covers about 1,000 people believed to have criminal or terrorist ties that could endanger the safety of their fellow passengers. The strong suspicion of such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is suing the government to try to learn more, is that the second list has been used to target political activists who challenge the government in entirely legal ways. The TSA acknowledged the existence of the list in response to a Freedom of Information Act request concerning two anti-war activists from San Francisco who were stopped and briefly detained at the airport last autumn and told they were on an FBI no-fly list. The activists, Rebecca Gordon and Jan Adams, work for a small pacifist magazine. War Times, and say they have never been arrested, let alone have criminal records. Others who have filed complaints with the ACLU include a left-wing constitutional lawyer who has been strip-searched repeatedly when travelling through US airports, and a 71-year-old nun from Milwaukee who was prevented from flying to Washington to join an anti-government protest. It is impossible to know for sure who might be on the list, or why. The ACLU says a list kept by security personnel at Oakland airport ran to 88 pages. More than 300 people have been subject to special questioning at San Francisco airport, and another 24 at Oakland, according to police records. In no case does it appear that a wanted criminal was apprehended.
'DANGEROUS' NUNS GO TO PRISON. A federal judge sentenced three nuns to between 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 years in prison for vandalizing a nuclear missile solo during an anti-war protest last fall. US District Judge Robert Blackburn called the nuns "dangerously irresponsible" for cutting a fence and walking onto a Minuteman III silo site in northeast Colorado last October, pounding the silo with hammers and painting a cross on it with their blood. But he gave the women less than the six-year sentence called for under sentencing guidelines.
WHITE HOUSE URGED 9/11 TOXIC CLOUD COVERUP. The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general has found that White House officials instructed the EPA to be less alarming and more reassuring to the public after the attack on the World Trade Center. The New York Times reported that a draft of the inspector general's report also says the agency "did not have sufficient data and analyses" to make a "blanket statement" when it announced seven days after the attack that the air around ground zero was safe to breathe. "Competing considerations, such as national security concerns and the desire to reopen Wall Street, also played a role in EPA's air quality statements," the report said. Despite complaints of breathing and other difficuties from many rescue workers, researchers have found no significant harm to those who breathed the air around ground zero, which contained increased levels of benzene, lead, mercury, PCB's, asbestos and fiberglass, though one preliminary study published this week found a slight but significant increase in the percentage of small infants born to pregnant women who were at or near the site around the time of the attack.
US HOSTAGE-TAKING GETS RESULTS. Thomas E. Ricks reported in the July 28 Washington Post that the US military had resorted to kidnapping the families of Saddam Hussein's associates and holding them hostage in order to improve the "quality and quantity of intelligence." In one case, Col. David Hogg, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said his troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general and left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in." The tactic worked. Two days later, the lieutenant general appeared at the front gate of the US base and surrendered. However, as atrios.blogspot.com notes, the taking and unlawful detention of hostages is prohibited by the Geneva Convention as well as the US Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, those regulations apparently have been set aside along with the Bill of Rights for the duration of the War on Terror or the Bush administration, whichever ends first.
US USED FIREBOMBS IN IRAQ. US jets killed Iraqi troops with firebombs in March and April as Marines battled toward Baghdad, despite Pentagon denials of the use of napalm, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Aug. 5. Marine Corps fighter pilots and commanders who have returned from the war zone have confirmed dropping dozens of incendiary bombs near bridges over the Saddam Canal and the Tigris River. The explosions created massive fireballs. "We napalmed both those (bridge) approaches," said Col. James Alles, who commanded Marine Air Group 11. "They were Iraqi soldiers there. It's no great way to die," he added. How many Iraqis died, the military couldn't say. No accurate count has been made of Iraqi war casualties. During the war, Pentagon spokesmen disputed reports that napalm was being used, saying the Pentagon's stockpile had been destroyed two years ago. Apparently the spokesmen were drawing a distinction between the terms "firebomb" and "napalm." What the Marines dropped, the spokesmen told the Union-Tribune, were "Mark 77 firebombs." They acknowledged those are incendiary devices with a function "remarkably similar" to napalm weapons.