Republicans claim that the Jack Abramoff scandal is bipartisan, though the facts indicate otherwise. President Bush on 12/14/06 called the disgraced GOP lobbyist, who was one of Bush's top fundraisers, "an equal money dispenser'' who helped politicians of both parties, but federal campaign reports show that between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff gave more than $127,000 to Republican candidates and committees and nothing to Democrats. It's hard to believe Bush did not know that of one of his "Pioneers," who personally raised more than $100,000 for Bush's campaigns in both 2000 and 2004. Some of Abramoff's Indian clients gave money to Democrats who normally are more friendly to Native American concerns on Capitol Hill, but Abramoff's clients were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors in the US to donate more money to Republicans than Democrats, Bloomberg News reported 12/21/05.
That fact didn't stop Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert, telling Roll Call (1/9/06), "Democrats lack an agenda -- they are keeping Jack Abramoff's money and at the same time they are throwing mud."
In a 1/8/06 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean pointed out that Democrats had received no money from Abramoff. He acknowledged that some Democrats took money from Indian tribes, but he noted: "They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this."
FBI EYES WOBBLY STRIPPER: In addition to Greenpeace, Quakers and other critics of the Bush administration, FBI agents have been keeping an eye on an Atlanta stripper who acknowledged she was a "flaky anarchist" with an inherent distrust of government. According to the 12/28/06 Atlanta weekly Creative Loafing, three agents brought in dancer Tabby Chase for an hour and a half of questioning after somebody informed them she was planning a trip to Iraq. Chase has never been arrested but she worked as a street medic for protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Boston and the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004 and she is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (iww.org). She had been kicking around the idea of joining Circus2Iraq, a group that performs for children in war-torn countries, but she couldn't scrape together the money for a plane ticket. When she told the agents she didn't even have a passport, they said they knew that. Gerry Weber, legal director of the Georgia ACLU, says that Chase's case is evidence that the federal government is casting too wide a net in its war on terror. "They are investigating folks who have no realistic threat of being involved in terroristic activities," Weber says. "They're targeting citizens who are doing nothing but exercising their right to free speech."
Chase said during the interrogation, the agents kept asking her political affiliation. "And one of them would interject every so often, 'This is the United States of America, you have the right to believe whatever you want to believe. We just need to know what that is.'"
IRS TRACKED POLITICAL AFFILIATION: The Internal Revenue Service collected information on political party affiliation of taxpayers in 20 states, the Tacoma, Wash. News Tribune reported 1/6/06. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of an appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the IRS, said she learned of the problem from the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, Colleen Kelly. She said the practice was an "outrageous violation of the public trust" that could undermine the agency's credibility. IRS officials said a vendor collected party affiliation for several months as it searched for people who aren't paying their taxes. An IRS spokesman said the the vendor was told to screen the information out and the IRS never used the information.
JOB GROWTH WEAKER: Republicans claimed an increase in jobs proved tax cuts are working to stimulate the economy, but the liberal Economic Policy Institute notes that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the nation's payrolls rose by 108,000 in December, well below economists' expectations of over 200,000 jobs. With November's revised gains of 305,000 -- an upward revision of 90,000 jobs -- the pace of growth over the last two months has been about par for the year. Taking out the impact of the Gulf Coast hurricanes payrolls expanded at an average rate of about 200,000 per month in 2005. Over a similar period in the last recovery, from March 1991 to April 1995, payrolls grew by nearly 300,000 per month. Thus, while the US labor market is generating job growth, the pace remains below that of past recoveries. For example, payrolls grew by 2 million jobs in 2005, or 1.5%. The average over prior recoveries that lasted at least 49 months is twice that rate at 3.1%.
DANGEROUS MINES NO ACCIDENT: Jordan Barab, who spent 16 years running AFSCME's health and safety program, notes in Confined Space (spewingforth.blogspot.com), a blog devoted to workplace safety, that President Bush expressed concern about the fates of the 13 West Virginia coal miners, 12 of whom were found dead. Barab noted that 15 workers die in workplace accidents every day in this country, but most of them die one at a time, "hardly even noticed by their local newspapers, much less the President of the United States." Barab noted that Bush has not requested budgets for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or its mining counterpart that even keep up with the rate of inflation while penalties for OSHA or MSHA violations remain "laughably low." The highest penalty of the more than 200 citations received last year by the Sago mine was $878. "But that was the exception. Most of the others were $250 or $60. At that rate, it's hardly a good business decision to even bother fixing anything. And the administration has shut down any new worker protection standards in OSHA and MSHA." Knight-Ridder reported that the number of major fines over $10,000 has dropped by nearly 10% since 2001; less than half of the fines levied between 2001 and 2003 -- about $3 million -- have been paid; and, the MSHA lost 100 coal mine inspectors due to budget cuts. In the first four years of the Bush administration, the federal government has averaged 3.5 criminal convictions a year; in the four years before that the average was 7.75 per year. James Ridgeway pointed out in the Village Voice that out of $2.3 million in contributions to federal candidates during the 2004 election cycle, coal companies put up $2.3 million with 90% going to Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. "So, Mr. President," Barab concluded, "until you can put some real money down on the table, and appoint some people who aren't afraid to rock the boat to protect workers' lives, save me your crocodile tears. These miners and millions of other workers who go to work every morning fearing they may not come home alive at night are literally putting their lives on the line to support their families."
David Sirota also noted that Bush ignored explicit warnings in 2002 about mine safety after a major mining accident in western Pennsylvania. "President Bush held a big photo-op to pretend like he cared -- but he never responded to the fact sheet that House Democrats put out questioning why he had made so many cuts to mine safety programs."
MEDICARE DRUG PLAN TAKES FLAK: President Bush's Medicare drug benefit that went into effect 1/1/06 looks like a political blunder of far-reaching consequences, and Karl Rove is getting the blame, columnist Robert Novak wrote 1/9/06. "The hideous complexity of the scheme, which has the effect of discouraging seniors from signing up, is only the beginning of difficulties it entails for the president and his party," Novak wrote. "It will further swell the budget deficit without commensurate political benefits. On the contrary, the drug plan may prove a severe liability for Republicans facing an increasingly hazardous midterm election in November."
The Medicare drug bill, passed in December 2003 by 12 votes after a night of arm-twisting, was supposed to entice low-to-middle-income seniors who vote Democratic and complain about the cost of prescription drugs, but the program is so difficult to understand that many are inclined to stick with their existing inadequate drug plan. Novak noted that an earlier Bush attempt to co-opt the opposition -- the No Child Left Behind education bill -- also was passed in 2001 after considerable arm-twisting of conservatives, but it has not produced political dividends. "The president remains as unpopular as ever inside the education establishment, where school administrators complain about constant testing and paperwork required by the act."
IRAQ TO COST US MORE THAN $2T: The real cost of the Iraq war to the US is likely to be between $1 tln and $2 tln, up to 10 times more than previously thought, according to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist, and Linda Bilmes, a Harvard budget expert, who include such costs as lifetime disability and healthcare for troops injured in the conflict as well as the impact on the American economy. The London Guardian reported they conclude that the US government continues to grossly underestimate the cost of the war even as the White House has scaled back its ambitions to rebuild Iraq and does not intend to seek new funds for reconstruction.
GM FOODS THREAT UNBORN BABIES: Pregnant women who eat genetically modified foods endanger their babies, new research suggests. The UK Independent reported 1/8/06 that the study at the Russian Academy of Sciences found that more than half of the offspring of rats fed on modified soya died in the first three weeks of life, six times as many as those born to mothers with normal diets. Six times as many were also severely underweight. The research adds to recent studies that revive fears that GM food damages human health. Italian research has found that modified soya affected the liver and pancreas of mice. Australia had to abandon a decade-long attempt to develop modified peas when an official study found they caused lung damage. And a secret report by the biotech giant Monsanto showed that rats fed a diet rich in GM corn had smaller kidneys and higher blood cell counts, suggesting possible damage to their immune systems, than those that ate a similar conventional one, the Independent revealed last May. The Bush administration is pressing the World Trade Organization to force European countries to accept GM foods.
PHONE RECORDS FOR SALE: Anyone can buy a list of your phone calls, cell or land-line, for $110, raising security and privacy concerns, the Chicago Sun-Times reported 1/5/06. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has called for legislation to criminalize phone record theft and misuse. He also urged the Federal Trade Commission to set up a unit to stop it.
HOMELAND SECURITY OPENS MAIL: In the 50 years that Grant Goodman has known and corresponded with a colleague in the Philippines he never had any reason to suspect that their friendship was anything but spectacularly ordinary. But the relationship apparently somehow sparked the interest of the Department of Homeland Security and led the agency to place him under surveillance. Last month, MSNBC reported 1/6/06, Goodman, an 81-year-old retired University of Kansas history professor, received a letter from his friend in the Philippines that had been opened and resealed with a strip of dark green tape bearing the words "by Border Protection" and carrying the official Homeland Security seal. A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said he couldn't speak directly to Goodman's case but acknowledged that the agency can, will and does open mail coming to US citizens that originates from a foreign country whenever it's deemed necessary.
BIG PHARMA REWRITES TRADE PACT: In 2004, bipartisan majorities in the US House and Senate supported a US-Australia trade pact that, among other things, gave the drug industry the tools to prevent cheaper, FDA-approved medicines from being imported by Americans. It also challenged Australia's successful program that prevents drug industry price gouging. Still, progressives in Australia got a few protections slipped into the pact protecting ordinary citizens of both countries. But even those minimal protections are now under attack by the drug industry, David Sirota noted at workingforchange.com/blog. The Sydney Morning Herald 1/3/06 reported that "Australia appears set to scrap a key price control in the US trade deal" after "intense lobbying by the US pharmaceutical industry." Specifically, Australia's conservative government is planning on scrapping the so-called "evergreening" amendment that subjects drug companies "to multimillion-dollar fines if they are found to have stopped other companies from introducing cheaper drugs." The evergreening amendment was demanded by Labor as a condition of its support for the pact. Sirota commented, "Sadly, that kind of serious, populist opposition to drug industry profiteering is only found among a few courageous lawmakers in America -- and has never been a major tenet of any party's platform in the United States' money-drenched political system."
CORPORATE CRIME BREAKS: Federal and state prosecutors are increasingly offering major corporations -- including Adelphia, Computer Associates, KPMG, Merrill Lynch, Monsanto, Sears, Shell, WorldCom/MCI -- special deals -- known as deferred prosecution or non prosecution agreements, according to the newsletter Corporate Crime Reporter (corporatecrimereporter.com). "Under a policy implemented by the Department of Justice since 2003, major corporations caught committing serious crimes are not convicted of a crime and sentenced ... The report finds that prosecutors have entered into twice as many non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements in the last four years than they have in the previous ten." (Workingforchange.com/blog)
GREEN PARTY CANDIDATES won a quarter of all the races in which they competed in 2005. Out of 177 Green candidates, 46 were elected to public office. There are now at least 227 Green office holders. "Surprise" victories included Mike Sellers elected mayor of Cobbleskill, N.Y.; David Lanman elected Mayor of Marfa, Texas; Marty Qually elected to the Gettysburg, Pa., Borough Council; and Hillary Bradbury-Huang elected to the Pasadena City College Board of Trustees. See www.gp.org.
UNIONS COME AROUND ON UNIVERSAL HEALTH: Robert Fitch in a 12/28/05 op-ed in the New York Times blamed unions for failing to support national health insurance programs in the past, but Ezra Klein at The American Prospect's website noted that union resistance to universal health care is old news as corporations have increasingly demanded cuts in health benefits. "Where Old Labor used to focus on preserving what they'd already won, the swift disintegration of those gains is forcing them to search out more durable delivery mechanisms for health care, pensions, and the like. Their hostile posture from decades back isn't sustainable, but unions aren't stubbornly clinging to it, something Fisk fails to mention. No reason to let facts obstruct a perfectly good point, I guess." Indeed, Klein notes the Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers and other unions that represent service and low-wage workers have long been enthusiastic supporters of national health care. Some of them are throwing their resources behind statewide efforts to universalize coverage, as AFCSME is doing in California and SEIU is doing in Massachusetts. Klein writes: "The older unions should spearhead similar efforts, particularly in Michigan, where benefit insecurity is most acute. Nationally, the union movement simply lacks the strength to overcome the conservative entrenchment, but more locally, unions could be the prime movers in creating statewide templates for a secure welfare state. And so they should."