It's not polite to speak ill of the dead, but with all the revisionist Republican hagiography going on regarding Ronald Reagan's legacy, somebody has to set the record straight. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., did the job last November, when Reagan was still alive and while conservatives were browbeating CBS into shelving a mini-series that was critical of the ersatz cowboy's tenure. ThisModernWorld.com noted that Dingell wrote CBS, "As someone who served with President Reagan, and in the interest of historical accuracy, please allow me to share with you some of my recollections of the Reagan years that I hope will make it into the final cut of the mini-series: $640 Pentagon toilet seats; ketchup as a vegetable; union busting; firing striking air traffic controllers; Iran-Contra; selling arms to terrorist nations; trading arms for hostages; retreating from terrorists in Beirut; lying to Congress; financing an illegal war in Nicaragua; visiting Bitburg cemetery [and paying tribute to the Nazi SS storm troopers buried there]; a cozy relationship with Saddam Hussein; shredding documents; Ed Meese; Fawn Hall; Oliver North; James Watt; apartheid apologia; the savings and loan scandal; voodoo economics; record budget deficits; double-digit unemployment; farm bankruptcies; trade deficits; astrologers in the White House; Star Wars; and influence peddling." Oh, yeah, THAT Reagan. (As Reagan's death came on deadline, we'll have more attempts to set the record straight in our next issue, by the way.)
RESPECT FOR CLINTON REBOUNDS. While conservatives blathered that Reagan was the most popular politician ever, Atrios.blogspot.com noted that, according to Gallup, Reagan was bested by, among others, Bill Clinton. Yes, Clinton's approval rating got as high as 71%, while Reagan peaked at 68%. And Clinton had an average approval rating of 55%, compared with Reagan's 53%. (John Kennedy had the highest average approval ratings, at 70%.) And only two years after he left office hounded by sex-obsessed right-wing detractors, Bill Clinton is remembered as the popular choice for this nation's third-best president, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, DeWayne Wickham wrote in the May 26 USA Today. Only Abraham Lincoln (chosen by 15%) and Kennedy (13%) finished ahead of Clinton's 11% in the April poll, which asked Americans who was "the greatest" president. (George W. Bush tied Clinton for third place while Reagan ranked fifth with 10%.)
NOT ALL JOBS ARE CREATED EQUAL. The Bush administration celebrated a net gain of 248,000 new jobs in May, although the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.6%. (The underemployment rate, which includes unemployed and part-time workers, rose from 9.6% in April to 9.7% in May.) Job growth was robust over most industries, including manufacturing, which added 32,000 jobs. The Economic Policy Institute's JobWatch (JobWatch.org) noted June 4 that in the 11 months since the "jobs and growth" tax cut went into effect in July 2003, the economy has added 1,365,000 jobs. But before you get your party hats out, note that the administration promised that that tax cut would lead to 3,366,000 jobs over those 11 months. Thus, the tax cut is still running more two million jobs below the administration's promise.
Also, Chris Bowers of MyDD.com noted June 5 that the employment figures appear to show a net loss of full-time jobs. While the numbers showed 248,000 jobs created in May, that includes 712,000 new part-time jobs. Bowers noted that means "464,000 fewer people working full-time jobs in May than in April." He added, "Overall, since February, 949,000 part-time jobs have been created. This number is almost identical to the total number of all jobs created since February, 947,000. According to the Department of Labor, over the past three months, full-time employment in this country has barely changed at all."
TRADE ACTIVISTS TARGET CAFTA. US and Central American trade ministers on May 28 signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which would extend the NAFTA model to five Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). But lawmakers in Washington have increasingly criticized CAFTA over a variety concerns including its lack of enforceable labor protections, the potential negative impact the agreement could have on the environment, and CAFTA's replication of the notorious investor-to-state cases that have allowed corporations to sue governments under NAFTA. Speculation is that members of Congress will not vote on CAFTA this year as widespread opposition to the harmful "offshoring" of jobs has also contributed to sentiment against the agreement. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, predicted that CAFTA will be "dead on arrival" in Congress. She cited polls that show US citizens making $100,000 or more think our current trade policy has failed and oppose its extension. But fair trade activists should press congressional candidates to oppose the pact anyway, she said. "If there was any question about how bad this trade pact would be for jobs, the safety of our food and our futures, the administration's plans for CAFTA's signing say it all: Not only has the administration dispensed with the usual high-profile White House ceremony with heads of state, but this major trade pact will be signed on the Friday of a holiday weekend when Congress is in recess and when the public isn't paying much attention," she said. "While members of Congress are home in their districts confronting job losses, a declining tax base and other harsh realities of Bush trade policies, the administration has sought a way to satisfy its corporate funders by signing this expansion of NAFTA to five Central American nations -- but doing so in a way to minimize the public fallout for policies opposed by most US consumers. CAFTA is the linchpin of a trade agenda written by Bush campaign backers representing utility companies, drug companies and Wall Street and carried out by its servants in the Office of US Trade Representative." See citizenstrade.org.
FRANKEN IN THE BALLGAME. Al Franken's new talk show has put the lie to the conventional wisdom that people won't listen to liberal talk radio. Arbitron ratings extrapolations for April showed Franken and Air America flagship WLIB beating Rush Limbaugh and WABC in New York. Franken got an extrapolated 3.4 share among 25-to-54-year-olds vs. a 3.1 share for WABC from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to the industry newsletter Inside Radio. (Franken and Limbaugh are on from noon to 3 p.m. Eastern time.) AirAmerica.com also was the top provider of streamed audio online, with 6.5 million distinct listeners. In addition, KPOJ in Portland's in-house research showed Air America had increased its cumulative audience (the number who have listened at least once during a one-week period) by nearly five times. In Chicago, where Franken was only available for 28 days on a low-power station before the station dropped the network in a billing dispute, Air America increased the average share of 25-to-54-year-old listeners from a 0.1% share in February to a 2% share in April, including a 3% share during Franken's show. That beat WGN's 2.1% share but trailed WLS and Rush's 4.8%. Tom Taylor, the editor of Inside Radio, told the Chicago Tribune the extrapolations are preliminary and prone to a margin of error. "They're like a second-inning score in a baseball game," Taylor said. "But you have to say that the visitors are on the scoreboard."
GREEN RACE NARROWS. Ralph Nader has left open the possibility that the Green Party might endorse his independent presidential race, but David Cobb, a native Texan now living in California, is leading among candidates seeking the nomination. The national Green Party convention will draw 835 delegates and other participants to Milwaukee June 25-27. As of June 7, the delegate count, according to the Green Party site (gp.org), included Cobb, 187; Peter Camejo, 112; Nader, 48.5; Lorna Salzman, 29; Kent Mesplay, 9.5; Paul Glover, 4; Sheila Bilyeau, 2; Carol Miller, 1; other, 13; "none of the above," 69.5; uncommitted, 120.5. The Green nominee will appear on existing ballot lines in 23 states and is expected to win ballot access in another dozen states.
W 'LAWYERS UP' IN SPY LEAK PROBE. George W. Bush, feeling the heat from a Justice Department probe to determine which White House official leaked that Valerie Plame was an undercover operative, has consulted a criminal defense lawyer. After Attorney General John Ashcroft was forced to recuse himself, Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney from Chicago, was named special councel and John Dean wrote in a column for FindLaw that the investigators, coming from Chicago, are less likely to defer to D.C. protocol than their Washington-based counterparts. Bush has said that he did not know of "anybody in [his] administration who leaked classified information." He has also said that he wanted "to know the truth" about this leak. He could be called before a grand jury if Fitzgerald believes he knows more about the leak than he has stated publicly. Plame's work as an undercover operative on weapons of mass destruction was blown when White House officials reportedly leaked her CIA ties to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists, apparently in retaliation at her husband, Joseph Wilson, who had written a column in the New York Times criticizing the Bush administration.
BUSH MOOD SWINGS WORRY AIDES. George Bush's "increasingly erratic behavior and wide mood swings" has the West Wing buzzing as aides express growing concern over their leader's state of mind, Doug Thompson, publisher of Capitol Hill Blue (capitolhillblue.com), wrote June 4. According to unnamed aides, Bush "goes from quoting the Bible in one breath to obscene tantrums against the media, Democrats and others that he classifies as 'enemies of the state.' ... 'It reminds me of the Nixon days,' says a longtime GOP political consultant with contacts in the White House," Thompson wrote. He also cited "a number of White House staffers" who told, off the record, of an administration under siege, where aides are told to harass anyone they consider to be an opponent of the administration.
Capitol Hill Blue also reported June 3 that witnesses told a federal grand jury that Bush knew about, and took no action to stop, the release of Valerie Plame's name as an undercover CIA operative. "Sources say the grand jury witnesses have implicated the president and his top adviser, Karl Rove," the Web site reported in a story bylined "staff and wire reports." While several names have floated around of White House figures who may have actually contacted Robert Novak and other journalists, which would be a federal crime, the Capitol Hill Blue report concluded, "Sources within the investigation say evidence points to Rove approving release of the leak. They add that their investigation suggests the president knew about Rove's actions but took no action to stop release of Plame's name."
BALANCING CATHOLIC VOTE. While Republicans seeking the 65-million-strong Catholic vote want bishops to consider only abortion, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., provides a more balanced view of Catholic senators' attitudes toward Catholic teaching with his ranking of Senate votes on pro-life, domestic policy and foreign policy issues. Using the stated legislative priorities of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Durbin ranked the 24 senators on Catholic positions in 48 votes, from the minimum wage to the right to unionize on the domestic front to the Iraq war resolution and Global AIDS funding on the international side as well as pro-life issues. Nathan Newman, at nathannewman.com, noted that, unsurprisingly, Democratic senators do poorly on pro-life ratings, except for the death penalty, but some Catholic Republicans are way off on other legislative priorities. John Sununu, R-N.H., and Rick Santorum, R-Pa., received the lowest domestic ratings (23%) with Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Santorum tied with the lowest ratings in foreign policy (6%). Other Catholic GOPers with notably low ratings were Pete Domenici, N.M. (27% Domestic, 12% International) and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska (33% Domestic, 7% International). John Kerry had the highest domestic rating of any Catholic senator (95%) and had the highest overall ranking of 60.9%, followed by Durbin (60.5%) and Kennedy (60.4). "Unfortunately, recent media attention has focused on one or two priorities of the Catholic Church, while obscuring others. This has made it more difficult for Catholic voters to understand the full range of issues that have been identified by the USCCB as priorities for public life," said Durbin. "What we have done today is to use the criteria established by the US Catholic Bishops to give voters an insight into the voting records of Catholic senators."
Steven Thomma of Knight Ridder Newspapers noted that US Catholic registered voters prefer Bush over Kerry by 48% to 41%, according to a national survey by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. In Ohio, a key battleground, Catholics prefer Bush over Kerry by 42.5% to 41.4%, according to a recent survey by Mason-Dixon. By comparison, Protestants prefer Bush by nearly 2-1, while Jews and voters of other religions prefer Kerry by 2-1.
Ruy Teixera, examining the 2004 National Survey on Religion and Politics in his June 2 Public Opinion Watch at www.tcf.org, found that evangelical Christians are not as solidly Republican as conventional wisdom has it. In at least one group, the "modernist" evangelicals, about one-sixth of the total, supported Kerry over Bush by 9 points (46% to 37%). And while "traditional" Catholics support Bush 60-30, they are only 27% of the total. Of the rest, centrists support Kerry 45-51 and modernists by a lopsided 61-33. And the polling data suggest strongly that those Catholics are far more concerned about issues, such as the economy, education and health care than abortion and gay marriage.
FROM BUSH, UNPRECEDENTED LIES. Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei reported in the May 31 Washington Post that Republicans made false or at least highly misleading statements about Kerry on each of the first four days of the previous week. Vice President Cheney in Little Rock on May 24 said Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry "questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all" and said the senator from Massachusetts "promised to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts within his first 100 days in office." On May 25, Bush's campaign began airing an ad saying Kerry would scrap wiretaps that are needed to hunt terrorists. The same day, the Bush campaign charged in a memo sent to reporters and through surrogates that Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents. On May 26 and 27, as Kerry campaigned in Seattle, he was greeted by another Bush ad alleging that Kerry now opposes education changes that he supported in 2001. "The charges were all tough, serious -- and wrong, or at least highly misleading. Kerry did not question the war on terrorism, has proposed repealing tax cuts only for those earning more than $200,000, supports wiretaps, has not endorsed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase in 10 years, and continues to support the education changes, albeit with modifications." By the Post's count, three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75% of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27% of his total.
GOP ATTACKS KERRY'S WEALTH. Republicans stepped up their assault on Sen. John F. Kerry for being a rich guy. The Republican National Committee announced a new video game on the RNC Web site. The game, called Kerryopoly, is similar to Monopoly, but the properties belong to the Kerry family. Terry Neal notes at washingtonpost.com June 4, "It's a curious line of attack. The logic of [the RNC] statement would seem to suggest that most Americans can afford mansions on hundreds of acres in Texas and are fortunate enough to receive retirement or severance packages worth tens of millions of dollars, as Vice President Cheney and some members of the Bush cabinet did when they left private industry to join the government. So why is a free enterprise, capitalistic, big business-dominated party that often accuses Democrats of dividing people on class busting a guy's chops for having a lot of dough?"
Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade responded: "Boneheaded attacks from this bunch are as insulting as they are ironic. It's downright hypocritical coming from the campaign of a president whose connections got him into a 'Champagne Unit' of the National Guard during Vietnam and whose path was paved with privilege from Andover to Arbusto oil to the Texas Rangers This guy who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple is going to engage in a sad game of class warfare? ... I don't think a lot of Americans remember Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy because of where they came from, they remember them for what they did to make America stronger. Good luck finding Americans who think that way about George Bush."
'NEVER ANGRY WITH THE FRENCH,' W SAYS ... George W. Bush, as he prepared to leave for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, said he was never angry with France over its refusal to back the US-led war in Iraq, all appearances to the contrary. "I was never angry with the French. France is a long-term ally," Bush told the weekly Paris Match in an interview published on June 3. "Listen, I made a difficult decision and not everybody agreed with that decision. But I understand that," he said in remarks printed in French and translated by Reuters. Now that he is trying to get a UN Security Council resolution to help the US install a new regime in Baghdad, Bush might even welcome Chirac to his estate in Texas after barring him last year. "If he wants to come and see some cows, he is welcome. He can come and see some cows," Bush said.
VEST REQUEST EMBROILS SOLDIER. A Florida congressman blasted the Marion County, Fla., sheriff for responding to a call for spare bulletproof vests for a military police unit serving in Iraq. First Sergeant Fred Chisolm, a Marion County deputy serving with the US Army Reserve's 351st Military Police Company, based out of Ocala, asked his boss, Sheriff Ed Dean, to donate bulletproof vests to line troop transports in Iraq. According to the letter from Chisholm, his unit needed extra armoring for some of their Humvees to protect against small, makeshift explosives. The May letter was dated just days after three soldiers from the 351st were wounded in an attack. Dean's office collected more than 1,000 old bulletproof vests, but in an email, Chisholm told Dean he's now getting "quite a bit of harassment from (his) higher command" that "may resort in (his) being relieved," according to WCJB-TV in Gainesville. US Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., told the Ocala Star-Banner the Army informed him that the 351st's vehicles were properly armored, although he acknowledged that some non-armored Humvees used for support positions. He criticized Dean for using Chisholm's name in collection efforts and said he didn't know whether Chisholm should be disciplined for making the request outside official channels.
DEMS SEEK HALLIBURTON/CHENEY COUNSEL. House Democrats urged a special counsel on June 2 to probe whether Vice President Dick Cheney broke the law through any involvement in the award of a government contract in Iraq to his old company, Halliburton Co. Democrats demanded answers to questions raised by a newly unearthed Army email that said Cheney's office "coordinated" action on a contract to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure that was awarded to Halliburton. Eleven Democratic members of the House wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking him to name a special counsel to investigate Cheney's role. "The public deserves to know the truth about whether the Vice President has illegally commingled his official and personal dealings," said the letter from Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and 10 other House lawmakers. In the Senate, Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Cheney needed to explain himself in light of fresh questions about whether he had helped his old firm get the no-bid oil infrastructure contract last year. "This is a very serious charge ... if indeed it is true, then it not only ought to be investigated, but corrective action needs to be taken," Daschle told reporters outside the Senate.
CNN IGNORES AL QAEDA'S BUSH ENDORSEMENT. A group claiming links with al Qaeda and responsibility for the Madrid train bombings said it wants George Bush to win another term in November, but that didn't stop CNN Justice Department correspondent Kelli Arena from saying May 27 that al Qaeda prefers John Kerry in the upcoming US elections. Arena, apparently reflecting the Republican Party line, claimed, "there is some speculation that al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House." But Reuters reported March 17 that the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombings, said it supported Bush in his re-election campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than Kerry, as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom." On May 25 the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a leading think tank in London, reported that the US-led occupation of Iraq has accelerated recruitment to the ranks of Osama bin Laden's network, with more than 18,000 militants ready to strike at US and European targets. Bush last year disregarded warnings that the invasion of Iraq, whose secular dictatorship had no apparent ties with al Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks, would alienate Arab and Muslim states and help al Qaeda recruit more radical terrorists.
IS BUSH AL QAEDA PLANT? Eric Alterman, in his Altercation column at msnbc.msn.com on June 3, asks: "Is Bush an Al Qaeda plant? I'm not one to jump to conclusions but the circumstantial evidence is hard to ignore. Take a look:
"1. He's destroying the military, by overstretching its resources and cannabalizing its trainers.
"2. He's consorting with spies for the Axis of Evil [Achmed Chalabi].
"3. He may be revealing the identities of CIA agents (or at least tacitly encouraging those who do) [see White House role in "outing" Valerie Plame].
"4. He's coddling "terrorists" in Iraq [dealing with radical Shi'ites].
"5. He's pursuing a policy deliberately designed to stir up hatred in the Arab world [detaining hundreds of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison for prolonged periods despite a lack of evidence that they posed a security threat to American forces].
"6. He's helping bin Laden recruit more terrorists and Al Qaeda to fully reconstitute itself.
"7. He's setting captured terrorists free [including Nabil al-Marabh No. 27 on the FBI's list of terror suspects after Sept. 11, freed to his native Syria in January].
"8. He seems to think up a new reason to fight someone else almost every two weeks.
"9. He's sucking up to France.
"10. Oh, and he's trying to undermine all those silly western freedoms that the Al-Qaeda folks find so annoying.
"Ten is a nice number, so I'll stop there, but again, we all know I could go on indefinitely."
CPB PLAYS POLITICS. The New Yorker magazine June 7, in "Big Bird Flies Right," exposes the way ideologues within the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) are seeking to shape public TV and public radio. CPB decided to provide funding to two programs -- one hosted by Tucker Carlson, who speaks for conservatives on CNN's "Crossfire," and one moderated by Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. At the same time, "Now with Bill Moyers," which receives no CPB funds, will be cut from an hour to 30 minutes. The Bush administration rejected a Democratic choice for the CPB board, Chon Noriega, a UCLA media professor and co-founder of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, after he told White House screeners the CPB should intervene in programming "deemed politically biased" only in extraordinary circumstances. In contrast to Noriega's qualifications, Bush's most recent CPB appointees, Gay Hart Gaines and Cheryl Halpern, and their families have given more than $800,000 to Republicans since 1995. During her confirmation hearing last fall, Halpern indicated that she would welcome giving CPB members the authority to intervene in program content when they felt a program was biased. Gaines chaired Newt Gingrich's political committee GOPAC. Gingrich, as House speaker, proposed cutting all federal assistance to public TV. Referring to the recent events at CPB, Bill Moyers told The New Yorker author Ken Auletta: "This is the first time in my 32 years of public broadcasting that CPB has ordered up programs for ideological instead of journalistic reasons." Common Cause is calling on concerned citizens to call CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson at 1-800-272-2190 to send a message that you won't tolerate playing politics with public broadcasting.
SUMMER FILM FARE. A Canadian distributor, Lions Gate Films, and IFC Films has taken over the distribution of Michael Moore's new documentary film, Fahrenheit 911, after Disney blocked Moore's regular distributor from handling the exposé. The winner of the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival is scheduled to open nationwide June 25 and the DVD should be released in October. See the provocative promotional trailer at fahrenheit911.com. Also The Hunting of the President, the documentary by Harry Thomason and Nickolas Perry, is set for a New York release June 18 (delayed a week from the original premiere out of respect for the Late President Ronald Reagan and his family) The movie explores the right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton that brought two special prosecutors, an $80 million probe and an impeachment resolution. It is based on a book by Joe Conason and Progressive Populist columnist Gene Lyons. See the trailer at thehuntingofthepresident.com.