Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, coined the term “Toyota Republicans” for the 31 Republicans who voted against the carmaker loans, in a column published at OurFuture.org (12/11). Toyota has non-union manufacturing plants in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas—states whose senators led the GOP quest to slay the Big Three American auto manufacturers—Richard Shelby (R-Ala.); Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Cochran explained why he’d vote against the loans: “Things have changed. It’s not just the Big Three anymore,” he said, pointing out that Nissan and Toyota employ more Mississippians than General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Gerard noted that the Toyota Republicans insisted that UAW members’ wages be lowered to match those of non-union auto workers at foreign-owned manufacturers, and the GOP senators insisted that retired autoworkers lose the benefits they earned with a lifetime of labor, then blamed the UAW when the Republicans blocked the bailout. The Toyota Republicans did not insist that white-collar workers on Wall Street take pay cuts. “And at no time did those Toyota Republicans suggest that they should cut their own salary or top-notch, government-paid health benefits or pensions,” Gerard wrote. “Like the reckless speculators on Wall Street, Congress bears responsibility for the crisis condition of the American economy because it deregulated financial markets.”

In 2002, during a downturn in Japan, Gerard noted, the House of Councillors reduced the pay of Diet lawmakers by 10%, and ended the transportation allowance, portrait-painting and pension given senior lawmakers. “If the Toyota Republicans believe the Japanese way of pay is so great for autoworkers, they should first impose it on themselves.”

Instead of a pay cut, members of Congress get an automatic $4,700 raise this year, to $174,000 annually, placing them near the top 5% of all wage earners in the US. Congress was spared having to vote on the pay raise in a bipartisan lack of accountability.

BUSH BARS AUTOWORKERS FROM STRIKING. President Bush stepped up to give General Motors and Chrysler a $17.4 bln lifeline after Senate Republicans blocked the loan package, but a little-noticed provision buried in the $13.4 bln loan agreement with General Motors prohibits the United Auto Workers from striking as long as GM has loans from the federal government, the Detroit Free Press reported (1/8). A strike would give the federal government the power to call in their loan, forcing GM into bankruptcy. The deal requires the UAW to accept by 2/17 a plan to lower wages and benefits for workers to match those of employees at foreign-owned US plants by 12/31. It also requires the union to take two-thirds of the money it’s due for a retiree health-care trust fund in company stock rather than cash or company debt, which could put retiree health care at risk.

GOP HACK SKATES IN ‘JUSTICE’ POLITICS PROBE. A long-awaited inspector general report on the politicization of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was released (1/13), with the conclusion that Bradley Schlozman, first as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General and subsequently as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Acting Assistant Attorney General, considered political and ideological affiliations in hiring career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division and transferring career attorneys out of the division. “In doing so, he violated federal law—the Civil Service Reform Act—and Department policy that prohibit discrimination in federal employment based on political and ideological affiliations, and committed misconduct. The evidence also showed that Division managers failed to exercise sufficient oversight to ensure that Schlozman did not engage in inappropriate hiring and personnel practices. Moreover, Schlozman made false statements about whether he considered political and ideological affiliations when he gave sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee and in his written responses to supplemental questions from the Committee,” the report stated.

“Schlozman is no longer employed by the Department and, therefore, is not subject to disciplinary action by the Department. We recommend, however, that, if criminal prosecution is declined these findings be considered if Schlozman seeks federal employment in the future. We believe that his violations of the merit system principles set forth in the Civil Service Reform Act, federal regulations, and Department policy, and his subsequent false statements to Congress render him unsuitable for federal service.”

David Kurtz noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (1/13) that the report was dated 7/2/08, but was only released 1/13, after the US Attorney for D.C. declined to prosecute Schlozman for lying to Congress (though the US Attorney has convened a grand jury to consider perjury indictment of retired ballplayer Roger Clemens for statements to Congress about steroid use in baseball). Meanwhile, Schlozman is in private practice in Kansas and the illegally hired career attorneys will keep their jobs.

CONGRESS CONSIDERS BANKRUPTCY MORTGAGE RELIEF. Citigroup is the first major bank to join the move by Democrats in Congress to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages on primary residences, Jim Wasserman reported in the Sacramento Bee (1/10). The Mortgage Bankers Association and American Bankers Association oppose the idea contained in HR 225 by Brad Miller (D-N.C.) and S 61 by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), saying it would destabilize the market and raise borrowing costs for everyone. There also is a move to include the bill in President-elect Obama’s stimulus package. The Federal Reserve Bank reported in December that the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005 is causing 32,000 foreclosures every quarter because distressed mortgagors no longer can free up income for mortgage payments by discharging unsecured debts through bankruptcy, David Sirota noted at OpenLeft.com (1/12). Under current law, nearly every type of loan can be modified except home mortgages. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is pushing to use at least $40 bln of the Wall Street bailout fund for foreclosure relief. According to the Washington Times (1/10), Frank also is pushing tighter limits on executive pay and acquisitions by the banks receiving money from the Troubled Asset Relief Plan.

NEW FCC CHAIR WELCOMED. Julius Genachowski, a venture capitalist who served as a technology adviser to Obama, will head the Federal Communications Commission, the Washington Post reported (1/13). Genachowski, 46, served as chief counsel to Reed Hundt, FCC chairman during the Clinton administration. He supports open Internet or “net neutrality” provisions; media ownership rules that encourage more diversity; and expansion of affordable broadband access across the country. Free Press, which advocates media democracy, applauded the appointment. “Under Julius Genachowski’s leadership, the FCC’s compass would point toward the public interest,” wrote Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press (freepress.net). “President-elect Obama has provided a clear roadmap of his media and technology priorities. We share Obama’s goals of creating a more diverse, democratic media system and providing fast, affordable, open Internet access for everyone. We greatly look forward to working with Mr. Genachowski to put the president-elect’s plan into action.”

RED-BAITING. Republicans are alarmed that Carol Browner, President-elect Obama’s coordinator of policy on the environment, energy and climate change and director of the EPA in the Clinton administration, served on a Commission for a Sustainable World Society, which is run by the Socialist International, according to the Washington Times, although Alex Koppelman noted at Salon.com (1/12) that “the commission is about as mainstream as it gets. Its co-chairs are former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and Goran Persson, the former prime minister of Sweden. Other members include Hilary Benn, the UK’s secretary of state for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, former Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski (who, as President Bush would likely remind us, provided troops for the invasion of Iraq) and Martin Torrijos, the president of Panama.”

BUSH: WORST PREZ ON JOBS. Unemployment was up again sharply in December, as George W. Bush leaves the White House with the worst job creation record since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started collecting the numbers in 1939. During Bush’s two terms, Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos (1/11), slightly less than 3 mln net jobs were created, or 375,000 a year. During Dwight Eisenhower’s two terms, only 438,000 jobs were generated annually, but the population was half what it is now. Bill Clinton averaged 2.9 mln jobs per year. Crunching the numbers further, Blades found that in the past 64 years 57.5 mln jobs were created when Democrats were president, or just over 2 mln jobs a year. During the 36 years Republicans were president, 36.2 mln jobs were created, or just over 1 mln jobs per year. Bush came into office with a 4.2% unemployment rate and 8.1% underemployment rate (unemployed plus marginal part-time workers). Bush leaves office with a 7.2% unemployment rate and 13.5% underemployment rate.

WHY NOT HIGH-SPEED RAIL? John Judis, at TNR.com (1/9), makes the case for an investment in high-speed rail. “Amtrak’s Acela trains—the closest thing we have to [high-speed rail]—average less than 100 mph between Washington D.C. and Boston, whereas trains in Western Europe and Japan go more than twice as fast. Many of them also run on electricity. They would be the most energy-efficient and quickest means of getting between places like Boston and New York, or Los Angeles and San Francisco. But they would require a massive investment. For instance, installing high-speed rail in the Northeast corridor could cost about $32 bln, while California’s high-speed rail system would require up to $40 bln. A system that would address the other areas of the country could easily raise the cost to the hundreds of billions. The House transportation and infrastructure committee has currently proposed $5 bln in stimulus funds for intercity rail—not even a down payment on what it would cost to convert the US to high-speed rail.

“Investing in high-speed rails would be very expensive, but unlike tax cuts—the benefits of which can be siphoned off in the purchase of imported goods—the money spent would go directly to reviving American industry and improving the country’s trade balance. That doesn’t just mean jobs creating dedicated tracks or new rail stations: Though the US abandoned train manufacturing decades ago to the French, Germans, Canadians and Japanese, this kind of production could be undertaken by our ailing auto companies or aircraft companies—if the federal and state governments were to place orders. And building trains that would run on electricity would be a paradigmatic example of the ‘green jobs’ that Obama often touts.”

TEXAS HOUSE DUMPS RIGHT-WING SPEAKER. Democrats narrowly missed a majority in the Texas House last November, as the GOP held onto a 76-74 advantage, but the Dems put together a coalition with enough disaffected Republicans to topple hardline House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland), a 20-term veteran who had abandoned the bipartisan leadership style of past speakers to pursue a right-wing agenda the past six years. Most notoriously Craddick helped US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay engineer a 2003 gerrymandering of congressional district lines after the GOP took control of the statehouse in 2002 elections. That polarized Democrats but Craddick’s heavy hand in determining the fate of legislation grated on reps in both parties. Rep. Joe Straus, a moderate Republican from San Antonio with only four years in the House, emerged from 11 challengers to become the consensus speaker candidate with a promise to empower all members, including Democrats, and govern from the middle. After he collected pledges from a clear majority of the House, Craddick withdrew from the race and Straus was elected unanimously on the opening day of the session (1/13).

DEMS PLAN PROGRESSIVE CAMPAIGN GROUP. Progressive operatives have formed a Progressive Change Campaign Committee (boldprogressives.org) to focus on electing more progressive Democrats to Congress. The group won’t focus on unseating conservative Dems, Ryan Grim wrote at HuffingtonPost.com (1/7). But Adam Green, formerly MoveOn.org’s director of strategic campaigns who cofounded PCCC, didn’t rule out the possibility. However, the group’s first forays are likely to be open-seat primaries and help general-election candidates run effective campaigns. The first forays likely will be in Chicago, where progressive labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan has announced a campaign to succeed Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who is quitting to become Obama’s chief of staff, and the Los Angeles-area seat Rep. Hilda Solis is giving up to become labor secretary.

The group expects to raise and spend around $650,000 this year, but Green said the PCCC will play a more hands-on role in helping novice candidates.

BUSH ERA BY THE NUMBERS. From the January Harper's Index, “A retrospective of the Bush era”:

• Portion of all US income gains during the Bush administration that have gone to the top 1% of earners: 3/4.

• Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3.5 mln.

• Percentage change since 2001 in the average amount US workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +172.

• Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15 ...

• Portion of the $3.3 bln in federal Hurricane Katrina relief spent by Mississippi that has benefited poor residents: 1/4.

LABOR CALLS FOR UNITY. The presidents of 12 of the nation’s largest labor unions called for reuniting the American labor movement, which split apart in 2005 when seven unions left the AFL-CIO and formed a rival federation, Change to Win, Steven Greenhouse reported at the New York Times (1/7). The union presidents issued their joint call 1/7 after the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama signaled that it would prefer dealing with a united movement, rather than a fractured one that often had two competing voices. The call for reunification was something of an about-face for the presidents of the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and several other unions that quit the AFL-CIO, asserting that the federation was stodgy and had not done enough to reverse organized labor’s long decline. But officials from several Change to Win unions have said in recent months that they were seeing little advantage in maintaining a separate labor federation, Greenhouse noted. One point of contention is who will succeed President John Sweeney, 74, who is scheduled to stop down this year after heading the AFL-CIO for 13 years. Richard Trumka, the federation’s secretary treasurer and former president of the United Mine Workers, has been lobbying for the promotion but some union leaders from the rival federation say they want a fresh voice leading organized labor.

One surprising attendee at the 1/7 meeting, Greenhouse noted, was Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, which, with 3.2 mln members, is the nation’s largest union but traditionally has remained outside any larger federation.

SEIU TAKES CAMPAIGN TO STREETS. As Congress begins consideration of an economic recovery package supported by President-elect Obama, the 2-mln-member Service Employees International Union (seiu.org) is hitting the streets in 35 states to mobilize support for the economic recovery package, comprehensive healthcare reform and freedom to choose union representation at work. SEIU’s “Change That Works” Campaign will put more than a thousand union members and staff to work in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Approximately $10 million has been set aside to build and mobilize public support in key states.

BUSH’S BIG IDEAS. Outgoing President Bush apparently has mixed emotions on his proudest domestic achievements. In an interview with the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol on 1/2, Bush cited his push to privatize Social Security as his biggest domestic policy accomplishment: “Bush said his effort showed it’s politically safe to campaign on changing Social Security and then actually seek to change it. He also said it was important to have raised private investment accounts as an attractive option in reforming Social Security,” Barnes reported (1/5).

ThinkProgress.org notes that not only was Bush’s drive to privatize Social Security an utter failure, the concept is also widely unpopular with the American public and if enacted, it would have had disastrous consequences for Americans’ retirement funds. The Center for American Progress Action Fund recently reported that if a worker had retired on 10/1/08 after 35 years of contributions to private retirement accounts, that retiree would have lost nearly $30,000 in retirement funds because of the downturn in the stock market over the last two years. A recent CNN poll found that 62% of Americans oppose privatizing any part their Social Security taxes.

By the time Barnes reported his interview, however, Bush seemed to have changed his mind, telling conservative columnist Cal Thomas (1/5) he wished he had focused on immigration reform instead of Social Security after the 2004 election:

“THOMAS: And biggest do-over? Knowing everything you know now, what would you have done over again?

“BUSH: I probably, in retrospect, should have pushed immigration reform right after the ’04 election and not Social Security reform.”

ThinkProgress.org noted that some conservatives fault Bush for focusing on both issues. When asked what Bush’s “biggest mistake” was as president during the RNC chair candidate debate (1/5), South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson said the “Social Security debate and the immigration debate.” “Those were two that tore our Party apart at certain times and cost us electorally,” he said.

OBAMA SCARES CORPORATE WRONGDOERS. The *Washington Post* reported (1/2) that the Justice Department has reached more than a dozen business-related settlements since the presidential election, with more in the pipeline for January, prompting lawyers and interest groups to assert that companies are seeking more favorable terms before President-elect Obama’s administration takes over. “A review of 15 agreements involving corporations since early November suggests that much of the alleged misconduct dates back five years or more, provoking questions about why the cases took so long to mature and why resolutions are coming with only weeks left in President Bush’s term.

“‘What they obviously are trying to do is take advantage of an administration that’s deemed to be more friendly to business,’ said Cono R. Namorato, a Washington defense lawyer who ran the Internal Revenue Service’s office of professional responsibility earlier in the Bush administration. ‘I know of no tax reason for doing it now.’”

Kevin Drum at MotherJones.com noted (1/2), “This is good news. It means that real corporations, with real money at stake, think that Obama’s unity talk isn’t worth banking on. When push comes to shove, they really do think he’s going to drive a harder bargain than the Bush administration when it comes to dealing with charges of corruption, pollution, and overcharging.”

CHINESE THREADS COMING. What remains of the US textile industry is bracing for more competition from China when the remaining limits on imports of textile products expired 1/1. Anderson Warlick, chief executive of Parkdale Mills in Gastonia, N.C., is worried that a flood of Chinese products could be devastating, Lisa Zagaroli reported for McClatchy Newspapers (12/29). At issue are limits on the number of cotton trousers, golf shirts, babies’ socks and more than 30 other textile products that China can export to the US. The quotas expired at the end of 2008, and, under a World Trade Organization agreement, the US government can’t reimpose restrictions on Chinese textiles. In 2005, when similar safeguards were lifted temporarily, China flooded the US market with a more than 1,500% increase in cotton trousers alone. While that drove down the prices of those products for American consumers, US textile companies lost about 55,000 jobs that year, more than 8% of the industry’s work force, trade officials said. The US textile industry already has seen jobs evaporate in the face of global trade. Nationally, there was a 33% decrease in textile and apparel jobs from 2002 to 2008, with 475,000 jobs left in the industry.

US manufacturers say they can compete against China’s lower wages, but they can’t compete with government subsidies that enable China to sell finished products for less than the fiber alone costs in the US. US Trade Representative Susan Schwab initiated a case with the WTO to get China to stop its allegedly unfair trade practices, but it probably will be up to the incoming Obama administration to decide whether to file a formal case. China would face sanctions, such as penalty tariffs, if it didn’t agree to stop violating trade rules.

OBAMA SNUBS DEAN? Outgoing Democratic Chairman Howard Dean was treated shabbily after playing a major part in the Democratic Party’s revival, his friends say. The physician and former Vermont governor pioneered the use of the Internet as a political organizing tool in his insurgent campaign for president in 2004. Then, as Democratic chairman, Dean went against the conventional wisdom in D.C. with the 50-State Strategy, which tried to put the GOP at the defensive as the DNC staffed Democratic offices in states that had not seen a Democratic organization in years. Whether by coincidence or not, the Dems won back Congress in 2006 and this past year increased their margins in the House and Senate, carrying Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Indiana en route to the White House. The party took control of seven governor’s mansions and eight state legislatures during his watch. But one of those who fought Dean over the diversion of resources to “red” states was Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who was then chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is now Obama’s chief of staff. And when President-elect Obama introduced Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as the new DNC chairman (1/8), Dean was conspicuously absent, on a party-building trip to American Samoa, and his allies were not happy about it. “If he had been asked to go to that event, he would have been there,” Jim Dean, the chairman’s brother, noted twice in an interview with Politico.com’s Jonathan Martin (1/8).

Dean had his eye on becoming secretary of Health and Human Services, Martin noted at Politico.com. But the post went to Obama ally and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. A friend of Emanuel insisted that the incoming chief of staff was not plotting against Dean. “I talk to Rahm every day,” the friend told Martin. “Neither he nor I have mentioned the name of Howard Dean. It’s just not on his radar screen.”

Before leaving for the South Pacific, Martin noted, Dean discussed his future. “I didn’t do this for the spoils,” Dean told Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball. “I did this for the country. I’m very happy that Barack Obama is president, and I think he’s picked a great Cabinet. And I’m pretty happy. I wouldn’t trade my position for any other position right now. I’m going to go into the private sector, make a living making speeches, and do a lot of stuff on health care policy.”

Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America, (democracyforamerica.com), wrote members of the progressive PAC (1/7) to urge Kaine to rehire the DNC’s 50 state organizers who were laid off after the election.

From The Progressive Populist, Feb. 1, 2009

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