Pardon us as we throw a few more brickbats at retreating former president George W. Bush, but his minions have already started the legacy reclamation project. In examining how deep a hole the conservatives have dug for new President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress, Mark Sumner, writing as “Devilstower,” noted at DailyKos.com (1/25) that under Bush the official unemployment rate has risen 71%, to 7.2%, as of December. Bush has the worst job creation record of any president since Herbert Hoover. Median income dropped 2% when adjusted for inflation. The stock market, into which Republicans wanted to invest Social Security trust funds, had dropped 37%. “The GOP notion of taking away all the rules and letting the market run wild has produced some good years, and also the worst years in market history,” Sumner noted.

The DJ Wilshire 5000, the broadest measure of the US stock market, fell 38.7% in 2008 and showed a 3% annualized decline for Bush’s 8 years (it gained 1% during his first term and lost 5.5% in his second term). The Wilshire showed total returns under W’s three predecessors of 15.6% under Clinton, 14.5% under George H.W. Bush and 14.1% under Reagan. And Marketwatch reported (1/25) that the US economy contracted violently in the fourth quarter ’08, with domestic product falling at an annualized rate of 5.5%, which would be one of the worst quarters since World War II, as more than 1.5 mln jobs were lost, consumer spending fell, businesses put investment plans on hold, home builders threw in the towel and export markets dried up.

Sumner also noted that despite an unprecedented expansion of areas open to drilling and billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies, US crude oil production fell 13% during Bush’s terms, while US crude oil imports increased 13%. “We’re in a much weaker position that when Bush Oil Company took over the nation,” he wrote.

And the national debt has increased 86% during the past eight years, which Republicans didn’t seem to think was a problem until this past month. Sumner concluded, “Bush wasn’t just a Republican president, he was the Republican president. Bush was the guy who took everything on the GOP platform seriously. He went to bat for every idea that ever got the official elephant nuts seal of approval. The record that resulted isn’t just a measure of Bush’s incompetence, it’s a measure of just how bad Republican ideas are in practice.”

Another number that goes on Bush’s record is 4,229 US military deaths in Iraq as of Obama’s inauguration and 30,934 wounded in action in Iraq through 1/3, according to Icasualties.org, as well as 641 killed in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has not recorded the number of Iraqis or Afghanistanis killed during the invasion and occupation.

CORPORATE GUNS FIGHT ‘BUY AMERICAN’ STIMULUS. Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) is sponsoring a measure to require that American iron and steel be used in economic stimulus projects but, according to Bloomberg News (1/22), General Electric and Caterpillar are among US exporters that are joining the US Chamber of Commerce in opposing the “Buy American” provisions. They warned that it might spark protectionist measures by other countries that might deepen a global recession. “It’s not clear whether ‘Buy American’ provisions will survive the US Senate—the house of Congress that traditionally rubber-stamps Corporate America’s wishes.” David Sirota wrote at OpenLeft.com (1/26). “And it’s not yet clear where the Obama administration is on the issue, especially considering Obama economic aide Larry Summers’ recent letter stating—rather perplexingly—that ‘the incoming Obama Administration has no intention of using any funds to implement an industrial policy’—as if having any industrial policy would be horrific.” Caterpillar also announced it was laying off 20,000 workers (1/26).

GOP ATTACKS AID FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS. Republicans complained that House Democrats’ stimulus plan includes too much funding to help low- and middle-income students attend college. The Pell Grant financial aid program in 2008 distributed $28 bln to 6 mln Americans whose families make less than $50,000 a year. HR 1 would add $15.6 bln to the program and would raise the average grant by $500, to $5,350, but Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is one of the GOP senators opposing the increase in Pell Grants “because it would do little to spur short-term economic growth,” the Washington Post reported (1/23). But economist Dean Baker noted at Prospect.org (1/23) that the grants “would provide stimulus in roughly the same way as tax cuts to these families would. They provide them with more disposable income, which is likely to lead them to spend more.”

Andrew Leonard noted at Salon.com (1/26) that “in contrast to tax cuts, the Pell Grants also serve a long-term interest: Increasing access to education. So in the long run, the country gets a more educated workforce, while in the short run, lower-income families find their own budgetary constraints loosened.”

Leonard added, “I’m sure that there is wasteful “pork” in the House version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, and we’ll be hearing lots more about that as the blogosphere dissects each and every one of the 647 pages of the plan. But criticizing spending on education that helps poor families is a dumb place for Republicans to begin a doomed counterattack.”

GEITHNER GETS GO-AHEAD. Timothy Geithner’s tax problems didn’t stop his confirmation as treasury secretary as the Senate approved him 60-34 (1/26). Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined 30 Republicans voting against the New York Fed head. Harkin said he voted against Geithner because he has not shown he’s willing to be hard enough on bank and brokerage executives. “I want a treasury secretary who’s going to start banging some heads,” he said, according to USA Today.

TV ‘HEADS’ CITE DISPUTED STIMULUS ‘REPORT.’ After the AP reported (1/20) a leaked fragment of a Congressional Budget Office “analysis” that concluded “it will take years before an infrastructure spending program proposed by President Obama will boost the economy,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) claimed the CBO had proved that “government spending isn’t going to get our economy back on track.” ThinkProgress.org counted at least 81 citations of the alleged report’s findings on TV news and talk shows in the following week. The claims continued even after Ryan Grim reported at HuffingtonPost.com (1/23) that the nonpartisan CBO had issued no such report but gave some preliminary figures to a small number of Congress members. Republicans promptly leaked those figures to the AP to undercut the spending portion of the stimulus. When the CBO report finally was released (1/26), it found that roughly two-thirds of the plan’s investments will be made in the first 18 months after the bill is enacted.

BUSH TURNED US ‘LEMON SOCIALISTS.’ Did the Bush administration turn the United States into a socialist country? Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com notes (1/24) that public expenditures as a percentage of GDP is an indicator of how socialist a nation is. For fiscal year 2007, he wrote, America was 38.4% socialist (that is, public expenditures were 38.4% of GDP). For fiscal year 2008, America shot up to 41.5% socialist. “For fiscal year 2009, public expenditures will include $500 bln in stimulus spending, plus at least $700 bln in Wall Street bailout spending,” Bowers noted. “Assuming nothing else gets cut (a safe assumption) and that GDP only increases by 2% (a safe assumption), we are on track for roughly 49% socialist in fiscal year 2009. Although, with more bailouts and more spending bills possibly on the way, America could hit the magic 50% mark, and technically become a socialist economy this year,” Bowers said.

“Kind of amazing that we are going to become socialist, and still not have universal health care. How we pulled that one off, I have no idea. Lemon socialism, indeed,” Bowers said, in a nod to Robert Reich, the economist who coined the term in an essay at TalkingPointsMemo.com (1/24), since taxpayers bail out the lemons while capitalist profits are reserved for the winners. The federal government has taken over failed home mortgagors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, put hundreds of millions into Wall Street banks, which are still flowing red ink, and bailed out the giant insurer AIG, which also is failing. GM and Chrysler have received the first installments of what are likely to turn into big bailouts. And the Federal Reserve Board has bought or guaranteed $2.4 tln in questionable financial and corporate assets, with no public accountability.

OBAMA TEAM SPLIT ON INFRASTRUCTURE. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said the amount of infrastructure spending in the economic stimulus legislation is “not enough.” On MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show (1/23), he argued that if the Republicans are recycling failed ideas of the past, “we don’t need to buy them off with $300 billion in tax cuts.” DeFazio, chairman of the House subcommittee on highways and transit, said Democrats in Congress originally proposed more for infrastructure spending, but the effort was shot down by Obama advisers, particularly Larry Summers, whom DeFazio said “hates infrastructure.” Obama’s economic advisers “want to have a consumer-driven recovery. We need an investment- and productivity-driven recovery for this country, a long-term recovery,” DeFazio said.

Faiz Shakir of ThinkProgress.org noted (1/23) that significantly more “bang for the buck” comes from direct investment in infrastructure than from any type of tax cut. “One dollar invested in infrastructure has a return of $1.59 in GDP growth, while most tax cuts don’t even return 50 cents. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explained, “The one thing we know is that the good thing about federal spending is it’s actually spent, that it actually does boost the economy. And if it’s infrastructure, it also leaves you with something of value afterwards. Whereas if you do it the way the Republicans want to do it, which is always tax breaks, first of all, it might not be not be spent or it might not help the economy at all. And then, you’ve got nothing to show for when the thing is over.”

NSA MONITORED US CITIZENS. A former analyst for the National Security Agency says the supersecret agency monitored all communications of all Americans and specifically targeted journalists, in apparent violation of federal law. Russell Tice, appearing on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann (1/21) said the NSA had access to all faxes, phone calls and computer communications. “They monitored all communications,” he said. “… But an organization that was collected on were US news organizations and reporters and journalists.” Tice, a major whistleblower who helped reveal President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program to the New York Times in 2005, also told Olbermann that the agency sought specifically “to be deceptive” to prevent congressional committees from learning more about the program, calling it “a shell game.”

In October, two other whistleblowers told ABC News that the NSA “routinely” listened in on Americans’ phone calls and agents would often share “salacious or tantalizing” intercepted calls with each other. All this despite Bush’s frequent protestations that his illegal wiretapping program was “limited,” that it targeted only “a phone call of an al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect,” and that he ensured “that our civil liberties of our citizens are treated with respect.”

To the end, Bush and Cheney defended the program. In his final days in office, Cheney declared that “it always aggravated” him that the Times won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing his administration’s illegal spying program. (ThinkProgress.org, 1/22.)

LEDBETTER PAY EQUITY ACT PASSES. The Senate approved a bill that would make it easier for women to sue employers for pay inequity. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was introduced after the Supreme Court in 2007 rejected a $360,000 award in back pay to Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama woman who worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber until she discovered a large gap between her salary and that of male colleagues, stretching back years. The court ruled that Ledbetter’s lawsuit was not allowed under the 1964 Civil Rights Act because the statute of limitations on claims was 180 days after the original discrimination took place. The House in 2007 approved a bill clarifying that unlawful discrimination occurs each time discriminatory compensation is paid, but Republicans blocked that bill in the Senate. The new Senate approved the new bill 61-36, with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) joining the four female GOP senators and all 56 voting Dems in support of the bill, Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (1/23). The bill then passed the House and was the first bill Obama signed into law.

UNIONS NEED NLRB TEETH, NOT ‘CARD CHECK.’ The Employee Free Choice Act, the top priority of organized labor, is likely to be one of the most controversial bills of the 111th Congress. Republicans described the Senate vote to deny loans to General Motors and Chrysler last December as a “first shot against organized labor” as a tuneup for the EFCA fight. Corporate lobbyists have focused on “card check,” one element of the bill, which allows unions to organize a bargaining unit without a secret-ballot election. “Republicans have called this a threat to liberty and democratic values,” T.A. Frank writes in the January/February issue of Washington Monthly. He argues that “card check,” which allows unions to organize by getting 50% of a site’s workers to sign authorization cards, may be the least important feature of the EFCA. What happened to workers at a Rite-Aid distribution center in Lancaster, Calif., is an example:

After the Rite-Aid warehouse workers called for a union election in 2006, “things got ugly—and illegal, too,” Frank wrote. Eventually, the National Labor Relations Board got so many complaints that it planned to take Rite Aid to trial on 49 violations of federal labor law. Rite Aid in 2007 chose to settle, rehired two fired union supporters with back pay and promised not to engage in illegal anti-union activity. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) won the March 2008 election, but by the following August, 39 more employees had been dismissed and nine months after the election, Rite Aid and ILWU still had not yet come up with a contract. “Legally, Rite Aid is supposed to bargain ‘in good faith,’ but such terms are highly subjective and difficult to litigate,” Frank wrote. “Work conditions for the warehouse workers remain much as before, perhaps even worse. And that works to Rite Aid’s advantage—for when a union fails to deliver, its members may lose faith in it and vote it out.”

In the end, Frank argues that “card check” is less important than other provisions that put teeth into existing law, levying serious fines for misbehavior and demanding that management bargain in good faith once a union wins an election or risk binding arbitration.

DUELING LISTS. Forbes.com published a list of its “25 Most Influential Liberals in the US Media (1/23) with some curious choices, to say the least. At least Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate, whom Forbes ranks No. 1, calls himself a liberal. Runner-up Arianna Huffington is a recovering conservative but has adopted a progressive populist persona. But showing up third, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt is, by most objective accounts, a practicing neocon who has defended the Bush administration’s excesses. The list includes several centrists, such as Times columnist Thomas Friedman (4), Times op-ed editor David Shipley (9) and Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria, but among the howlers are Christopher Hitchens (14), who has effectively repudiated his liberal past with his apologia for the Bush administration; Maureen Dowd (15), the Times columnist who is not liberal as much as she is snide; and Andrew Sullivan (19), an Englishman who helped steer The New Republic rightward in the 1990s and wrote The Conservative Soul in 2006 but apparently was placed in the liberal column because he is gay.

It took three Forbes editors to put together their list, and God only knows how long they labored over it, but in a few minutes we were able to cobble together our list of the top 10 most influential conservatives in the US media:

In reverse order, they are: 10) Brian L. Roberts, CEO, Comcast Corp., the largest cable TV provider, second-largest Internet service provider, fourth-largest phone service provider and a leader in the effort to meter access to the Internet; 9) Jeffrey Bewkes, CEO, Time Warner Inc.; 8) Rush Limbaugh; 7) Mark Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications, which owns and operates more than 1,200 radio stations, many of them featuring right-wing talk shows; 6) Donald Graham, CEO, Washington Post Co.; 5) Roger Ailes, president of Fox News and minister of propaganda for the Murdoch empire; 4) Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, owner of, among other things, NBC Universal; 3) Sumner Redstone, majority owner of, among other things, CBS; 2) Robert Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Co., owner of ABC; and 1) Rupert Murdoch, the man who runs News Corp., the worldwide media conglomerate that includes Fox Broadcasting, Fox News, the New York Post, the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal as well as other Dow Jones publications.

Conservatives actually worth listening to include: 10) Kathleen Parker; 9) Chris Buckley; 8) Andrew Sullivan, 7) Steve Chapman; 6) Pat Buchanan; 5) 4) Paul Craig Roberts; 3) John Dean; 2) Kevin Phillips; and, in a class by himself at No. 1, the top media conservative: Steven Colbert (we know he only plays a winger on TV, but he’s better at it than most cons who are trying.)

M’CAIN SLAMS BROADBAND EXPANSION. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has reversed his longstanding support for rural Internet expansion. On Fox News Sunday (1/25), he cited $6 bln to expand broadband Internet access as a reason he would not support President Obama’s economic stimulus bill. ThinkProgress.org noted that in 2005, as the lead sponsor of The Community Broadband Act, McCain cited other countries that provide Internet access to their communities, insisting, “As a country, we cannot afford to cut off any successful strategy if we want to remain internationally competitive.” Expanding broadband was also a major part of his presidential campaign. Speaking last April in Inez, Ky., McCain emphasized that “government has a role to play” to makes sure “every community” has access to high-speed internet--and that it was key to driving innovation.

MITCHELL TOO FAIR? President Obama named former Sen. George Mitchell, who handled the Northern Ireland peace process, to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In 2001, Mitchell produced a report on the Middle East that recommended that Israel freeze all its settlement activities. Without a freeze, a cessation of violence would be “particularly hard to sustain,” he argued. While Mitchell’s appointment earned a great deal of praise, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman told the *Jewish Week* (1/21) the diplomat is too fair and balanced for the post: “Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed.... So I’m concerned. I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.”

CLIMATE CHANGERS. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton introduced her new special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern (1/26). Tom Laskawy noted at Prospect.org that former President George W. Bush never got around to appointing an envoy for climate change. Stern was lead negotiator for the US at the Kyoto talks under President Clinton in the 1990s. In the meantime, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration senior scientist Susan Solomon has determined that even if carbon emissions can be halted, climate changes that already have triggered could bring droughts to the US Southwest as well as southern Europe, northern Africa and western Australia and will take 1,000 years or longer to reverse. But we do need to curb carbon emissions so things don’t get worse, she said. Unlike the Bush administration, which discounted the threat of climate change and censored attempts by government scientists to report on it, Obama has indicated a willingness to tackle CO2 emissions. But Lawasky noted that cooperation of China, the world’s #1 emitter of carbon dioxide, will be needed to control emissions. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) recently told Energy Secretary Steven Chu that climate legislation would not make much progress in the Senate without a commitment from China. “Mr. Stern, you have your marching orders,” Lawasky concluded.

SURPRISE IN NEW YORK. New York Gov. David Paterson stunned Democrats when he appointed little-known US Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to the Senate seat given up by Hillary Clinton. Lawrence O’Donnell noted at HuffingtonPost.com (1/23) that Gillibrand, who recently won a second term in a conservative district in upstate New York, supports legislation that would require the federal budget to be balanced annually. “The governor obviously has no idea that this means he has just delivered a Democratic senator who is committed to voting against the first Obama bill to come her way—the stimulus package that will push the federal budget at least $800 bln farther away from balance,” O’Donnell wrote.

Al Giordano of “The Field” at Narconews.com noted (1/26) that Gillibrand’s anti-immigrant rhetoric also leaves her vulnerable to a Democratic primary next year. But progressive populist Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com wrote that he was willing to give Gillibrand a chance. Although she was among 70 Democratic “Bush Dogs” who voted to give President Bush a blank check on Iraq and to authorize warrantless wiretapping with retroactive immunity for telecom companies, Bowers noted that she voted against the Wall Street bailout in October, voted in favor of the auto bailout in December, then voted in favor of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)’s bailout oversight bill 1/21 and voted against the release of the second half of the TARP funds 1/22. “This makes Gillibrand one of only 26 House Democrats who would have voted the same way I would have voted across all four of those bills,” Bowers wrote. Gillibrand also got a 96% score with the AFL-CIO labor federation during her first term.

SIERRA’S POPE STEPS DOWN. Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope announced (1/23) that he plans to step down to become chairman of the Sierra Club, focused on climate change. The change will take place when a new executive director is hired. Pope’s 16 years was the longest tenure as executive director in the club’s history. See sierraclub.org.

From The Progressive Populist, Feb. 15, 2009

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