On May 17, Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita told the public "we've not seen specific, credible allegations" of Koran mistreatment by US guards or interrogators. Seventeen days later, the Pentagon acknowledged "that soldiers and interrogators kicked the Muslim holy book, got copies wet, stood on a Koran during an interrogation and inadvertently sprayed urine on another copy." That information was released at 7:15 PM on Friday night, after the evening newscasts, the best time to bury a story. But the specifics of the latest administration deception obscure the larger point: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld specifically authorized disrespecting one of the world's largest religions as an interrogation tactic. The Center for American Progress noted that ill-conceived policy has endangered the lives of US soldiers and impeded the progress of peace and democracy in the Middle East.
The White House described the Koran mishandling as "a few isolated incidents by a few individuals." But religious degradation was an interrogation tactic approved at the highest levels. In December 2002, Rumsfeld "authorized interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay that included the removal of religious items, forced grooming such as shaving facial hair, and removal of clothing." These tactics were "designed to offend Muslims." An investigation of Guantanamo Bay by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church "found cases in which a female interrogator 'touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner in order to incur stress based on the detainees' religious beliefs.'"
On 6/5/05, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) argued that Guantanamo Bay "has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world." As a result, "more Americans are in jeopardy." Detention policies also impede broader efforts to win over hearts and minds in the Middle East. The Christian Science Monitor reports "to much of the world the abuse of prisoners in US custody may now be emblematic of American foreign policy as a whole."
The top officials who authorized harsh treatment of detainees have been promoted. General Dan K. McNeill, who oversaw operations in Afghanistan during the time that detainees were tortured to death at the Bagram Air Force Base, "received a fourth star and was promoted to Commanding General US Army Forces Command," HurmanRightsFirst.com reported. Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, "the highest-ranking intelligence officer so far tied to the Abu Ghraib scandal, took charge of the Army's main interrogation training facility ... last month." And the list goes on. It's tough to make the case that the United States is taking the abuse seriously when top officials involved are rewarded.
Still, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan used the administration's admission of Koran mistreatment as another opportunity to blame the media. McClellan said that it was "unfortunate" that some media outlets "have chosen to take [the incidents] out of context." McClellan stressed that "99.9%" of Qurans were not mishandled. In a related story, American Progress noted there are 193 countries in the world &endash;- 99.5% were not invaded by the US based on false claims the country possessed weapons of mass destruction.
MIDDLE-CLASS IN COLLEGE SQUEEZE: New federal guidelines that require families to pay a greater share of university costs are pricing many students out of college, the New York Times reported 6/6/05. Changes in a complicated federal formula, some based on overly optimistic predictions of inflation, require families to count a greater share of their incomes and assets toward college expenses before becoming eligible for financial aid, Greg Winter wrote. "As a consequence, tens of thousands of low-income students will no longer be eligible for federal grants; middle-class families are digging deeper into their savings; and some colleges are putting up their own money to make up the difference." A Times analysis of the formula on middle-class incomes in more than a dozen states showed that families with the same earnings and assets as in 2000 would typically have to pay an extra $1,749 before clearing the eligibility bar for financial aid in 2005, after adjusting for inflation. Universities that do not follow the US Department of Education guidelines risk losing all federal aid for their students.
DEMS DISTANCE FROM DEAN: Establishment Democrats are starting to distance themselves from Howard Dean's populist rhetoric after the Democratic national chairman criticized Republicans at a Take Back America conference organized by Campaign America's Future. In his 6/2/05 speech &emdash; available at ourfuture.org &emdash; Dean said: "[I]f you want a democracy that works, you've got to get people to vote. And that means we need some substantial changes. I think we ought to have instant runoff voting. ... I think, frankly, we ought ... either make the Tuesday a holiday or else move it to another day where people . . . can get out and vote. You know, the idea that you have to wait on line for eight hours to cast your ballot in Florida &emdash; there's something the matter with that. You think people can work all day and then pick up their kids at child care or wherever, and get home and then have a &emdash; still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote? Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that, because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives. But for ordinary working people, who have to work eight hours a day, they have kids, they got to get home to those kids, the idea of making them stand for eight hours to cast their ballot for democracy is wrong," Salon.com reported.
Later, Dean said that his comments about Republicans' not making an "honest living" were directed not at hard-working Americans but rather at the Republican leaders who have failed him. While Dean's speech was interrupted repeatedly by applause, his performance didn't didn't get any cheers from Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and former Sen. John Edwards, both of whom are potential presidential candidates in 2008. On ABC's This Week, Biden said that Dean "doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric, and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats." Edwards said June 4 that Dean "is not the spokesman for the party," dismissing the chairman as "a voice" with which he doesn't agree. Edwards later clarified that he was responding to "whether I thought that it was fair to say that people who were Republican hadn't done a good day's work." But Edwards said he and Dean agreed that "This Republican president and this Republican majority are not doing what they should be doing for working people in this country. That's a core belief we need to fight for."
CONN. EYES REAL REFORM: Ethics scandals involving House leader Tom DeLay and others have brought Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) around to endorsing three major reform planks after months of opposition. The first would "prohibit candidates for state posts from accepting donations from state contractors and lobbyists," which means no lobbyist-funded meals, gifts, or lavish vacations to Europe (such as those received by US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay). The second plank bans virtually all political action committees (PACs), including "the 'leadership PACs' operated by top lawmakers through which they buy loyalty from legislators in return for donations." Third, the legislation would create a system for public financing of campaigns, with one proposal restricting state Senate candidates "to raising $5,000 from individuals to qualify for $150,000 in public money." (For details, see CleanUpConnecticut.org or call 860-947-2203.)
'OUTDATED' FILIBUSTER SOMETIMES OK: On his website, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) says he supports changes in "outdated" Senate rules "that will streamline the way we do our work to better serve the people," such as changing the rule that requires 60 senators to stop a filibuster and force a vote. "I support reforms that will disallow one member to secretly hold the business of the nation hostage or allow a small group to outweigh the majority of the elected leaders in the Senate," Brownback states. However, Chris Bowers of MyDD.com noted 6/6/05, Brownback quietly put a hold on Bush's nomination of Julie Finley to be US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe because of her support for abortion rights. Brownback also is promising to use the filibuster, if necessary, to block proposed legislation to relax restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. Brownback is upset that many Republicans have allied themselves with Democrats in support of the research, bucking their president and party leaders.
SAIPAN WORKER CONTRADICTS DELAY: At the behest of lobbyist Jack Ambramoff, House GOP leader Tom DeLay has fought against imposing the federal minimum wage and other labor protections on Saipan, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean. In the 5/15/05 Galveston County Daily News, DeLay denied reports from two federal agencies and congressmen from both parties that workers were being abused in sweatshops while others were forced into sex slavery. DeLay called the reports "incredible lies." But ThinkProgress.org 6/6/05 noted that Carmencita Abad, a woman who worked in Saipan for six years, says DeLay has it wrong. Abad told the Daily News (6/6/05) she could substantiate the accounts of sweatshop labor, forced prostitution and pregnant women facing the choice of being fired or getting an abortion. As these abuses occurred, ThinkProgress.org noted, Abramoff was paid $4.5 million to represent corporations who did business on the island. His job was to do whatever it took to convince politicians like Tom DeLay to keep things exactly the same.
FLA. TEST SHOWS E-VOTE DANGER: An election worker could manipulate voting results in computers that read paper ballots without leaving "digital fingerprints," researchers told Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho after reviewing election software. The group wasn't able to crack the Diebold system from outside the Tallahassee, Fla., office. But at the computer itself, they changed vote tallies, completely unrecorded, the Tallahasse Democrat reported 6/4/05. Sancho said it illustrates the need for tight physical security, as well as a paper trail that can verify results, which the Florida Legislature has rejected. BlackBoxVoting.org, which ran the test and published a report on the Internet, pointed to the findings as proof of an elections system vulnerable to corruption. But state officials pooh-poohed the test process and dismissed the group's report. "Information on a blog site is not viable or credible," said Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for the Department of State. Sancho posted a summarof the test results at www.leonfl.org/elect/.
HYPER-RICH LEAVE RICH BEHIND: People at the top of America's money pyramid have so prospered in recent years that they have pulled far ahead of the rest of the population, an analysis of tax records and other government data by the New York Times shows. David Cay Johnston wrote 6/5/05 that the average income for the top 0.1% was $3 million in 2002, the latest year for which averages are available. That is two and a half times the $1.2 million, adjusted for inflation, that group reported in 1980. The share of income earned by the rest of the top 10% rose far less, and the share earned by the bottom 90% fell.
Johnston noted that President Bush said during the third election debate last October that most of his tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans. "In fact, most &emdash; 53% &emdash; will go to people with incomes in the top 10% over the first 15 years of the cuts, which began in 2001 and would have to be reauthorized in 2010. And more than 15% will go just to the top 0.1%, those 145,000 taxpayers."
JOBS FINALLY BACK TO '01 LEVEL: The private sector in May finally recouped the jobs lost since the 2001 recession. The 50 months that it took to regain peak-level employment since the recession began in March 2001 was the longest on record, the Economic Policy Institute noted at jobwatch.org. Total employment (including government jobs as well as the private sector) also took a record 46 months to recover the level of March 2001. It took an average of 23 months to return to the level of private employment at the onset of previous post-war recessions. The prior record, set during the "jobless recovery" following the 1990-91 recession, was 33 months.
The manufacturing sector was still down by 9.3% &emdash; driven by employment contractions in both durable (-16.2%) and non-durable (-14.5%) manufacturing. An exception in the goods-producing sector is construction, which is up by 5.3%. The decreased level of manufacturing jobs is an important development regarding employment. While the manufacturing share of total jobs has been falling for decades, the level of manufacturing jobs consistently remained between 17 and 19 million from the mid-1960s into the new millennium. A sharp fall in the level of manufacturing jobs began at the end of 2000 and continued until early 2004. Since then, manufacturing jobs have leveled off at about 14.3 million jobs.
The Labor Department reported that with the gain of 78,000 jobs, the unemployment rate fell to 5.1%, down from 5.2% in April. The underemployment rate, which includes part-time and marginally attached workers, dropped from 9% in April to 8.9% in May.
WHITE HOUSE ACCESS SOLD: Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Republican tax guru Grover Norquist arranged a meeting with President Bush in exchange for contributions to their own political causes and charities, the *Texas Observer* reported 6/1/05 at texasobser.org. In addition to billing six tribal clients a reported $82 million for lobbying and public relations work, Jack Abramoff instructed the tribes to make contributions to political causes and charities of his choosing. At the request of Norquist, director of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, Abramoff brought his Coushatta and Choctaw chief clients to Washington. According to a check and correspondence between Norquist and Abramoff obtained by the *Observer*, ATR obtained $25,000 from the Coushatta Tribe to sponsor an event at the White House on May 9, 2001. Norquist has tried to distance himself from the scheme.
Previously the Coushatta Tribal Council majority denied both visiting the White House and donating $1 million to Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation. In the *Observer*'s story, the council revisits those statements. Tribal Chairman Lovelin Poncho now admits that he went to the White House and had a 15-minute meeting with Bush along with Abramoff. Additionally, the *Observer* obtained an unredacted copy of Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation tax filing, which attributes a $1 million contribution to the Coushatta tribe.
REID: BUSH STILL A LIAR: Sen. Harry Reid has turned out to be more of a fighter than many expected when he became Democratic leader, Tim Grieve noted at Salon.com. His Democrats are outnumbered in the US Senate, but when Reid stood eyeball to eyeball with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last month in the fight over the filibuster, it was Frist who walked away, as *Newsweek* puts it, looking both 'craven and ineffective at the same time.'"
Reid apologized after calling George W. Bush a "loser" recently. But in an interview with *Rolling Stone* posted at rollingstone.com 6/2/05, Reid makes it clear that he's not backing down from talking tough. He says that Frist is "being driven by these right wing zealots" and has a lot to learn about the kinds of compromises that are required of legislators. And he says that Democrats don't control the White House today because "Senator Kerry ignored rural America." But Reid saves his toughest talk for the president. When *Rolling Stone*'s Eric Bates reminds Reid that he called Bush a "loser," Reid says that he also called Bush a "liar" &emdash; and that he hasn't apologized for it, either.
TELECOMS KEEP UP ATTACK ON COMMUNITY 'NET: Qwest Corp., the Denver-based telecommunications giant, filed a lawsuit June 1 in US District Court in Salt Lake City to block a consortium of 14 Utah cities from connecting their homes to a high-speed fiber-optic telecom network without the phone company's permission, the Salt Lake Tribune reported 6/2/05. The lawsuit seeks to block the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, or UTOPIA, from using telephone poles without the company's permission and to force the agency to pay sales and property taxes, which Qwest claims allows the agency to compete unfairly with the for-profit corporation. Telephone and cable lobbyists around the country have been pushing laws to stop municipalities from providing high-speed access [see "Communities fight monopolists for 'Net," by Jim Cullen, 5/15/05 TPP]. Citizens are fighting back &emdash; and winning, FreePress.net noted, as bills outlawing community Internet have been defeated in Texas, Florida and Iowa. But US Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, has introduced a federal bill that would prevent cities across the country from providing their citizens with Internet access.
CAFTA'S BITTER BIRTHDAY: May 28 marked a year since the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was signed to create a trade and investment bloc that includes Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and the US. Fair trade advocates are encouraged by the delay in submitting to Congress the free trade deal, which would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs from the US in the last decade. The Bush administration is having trouble lining up votes in Congress but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) indicated plans for a "mock markup" of CAFTA for 6/15/05, which will gauge Congressional support. Many Congress members are tight-lipped about their position, making it important to contact youir Congress member and senators..
EVEN REPUBLICANS CHANGE THEIR MINDS: The North Carolina congressman who led the campaign to change the name of French fries to "freedom fries" has turned against the war. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who also led the movement to rebrand French toast as "freedom toast," told the Raleigh, N.C., *News and Observer* he now believes the US went to war "with no justification" and wishes the name change "had never happened." He is one of the few Republicans willing to challenge Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other presidential advisers. "If we were given misinformation intentionally by people in this administration, to commit the authority to send boys, and in some instances girls, to go into Iraq, that is wrong," Jones said. "Congress must be told the truth."