Tuesday :: Jul 13, 2004

Rob Peter Long Enough, ...


by pessimist

Two major items where George Warmonger Bush scores points with his supporters is the 'liber(aliz)ation' of Iraq (for Halliburton and Bechtel) and the economic 'boom'. We've taken Iraq to heart around here, so I'm going to look at the Bush Economy.

If this is a boom, I heard bigger explosions from 'Safe and Sane' fireworks last week on the Fourth!


A Recovery Trying to Keep Its Legs Suddenly Feels Woozy

"At every client meeting I have,'' said Ethan S. Harris, chief United States economist at Lehman Brothers, "I'm asked whether a slowdown has hit the U.S. economy." Indeed, stock prices have faltered since the end of June, as corporate earnings have disappointed investors. And bond prices have risen, as evidence of economic fragility has allayed fears that inflation will accelerate.

The recent sluggish economic indicators have inspired a note of caution in forecasts which until now had been unabashedly bullish. Retail sales slowed in June. Auto purchases declined. Several technology companies warned about weak software and hardware spending at the end of the second quarter.

Against this weaker economic backdrop, the Labor Department's report of an abrupt slowdown in job creation last month, which was accompanied by a fall in the average number of hours in the workweek and a meager increase in hourly wages, raised a question mark over the standard account of the economy's evolution.

Ah! For the days of the last real economic boom - the one we enjoyed under Bill Clinton's stewardship.

Middle class feels squeeze

The average American is still feeling what John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, call the "middle-class squeeze." Already, jobs growth, which picked up in March, has begun to slow considerably. The report from the month of June showed a disappointing 112,000 new jobs, fewer than necessary to keep pace with population growth. Even more telling is this: When Bush came into office, 64.4 percent of all American adults were working. That figure has now dropped to 62.3.

For those who are working, hourly wages have declined slightly over the last year after adjusting for inflation. And many of the manufacturing jobs that boosted generations of Americans into the middle class are probably gone forever -- lost to computers and Chinese workers.

Add to that soaring health-care costs. Workers are having to pay more of their insurance costs, reducing their take-home pay. Or they are stuck with jobs that provide no health insurance.

As if that were not enough, Alan Greenspan recently raised interest rates and is expected to keep raising them for the next several months. As he does, many average Americans will find it harder to pay off their monthly credit cards bills or get a mortgage. During the recession, they had used those credit cards to keep up their standard of living (and buy the nation out of that recession). Many families now have substantial credit card debt.

Bush had a responsibility to expand the social safety net -- extend unemployment benefits, create access to health care -- for those Americans who are falling further behind, despite their best efforts. Instead, the president has coddled the wealthy.


Giving Away The Golden Goose


Why did regulators welcome a foreign takeover of the nation's only producer of two vital metals?

The Bush administration is high on hydrogen. The president's proposed 2005 budget includes $228 million to help businesses develop better hydrogen fuel cells, triple the assistance the federal government provided in 2001.

What's left unsaid in his speeches about America's potential to "lead the world
in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles" is that the initiative holds out a massive windfall for Bush insiders and well-connected lobbyists, not to mention a Russian oligarch with a history of shady dealings and environmental destruction. The source of this prospective fortune is the Montana-based Stillwater Mining Co., which is the only domestic producer of two platinum group metals (PGM) -- platinum and palladium.

Last year Vladimir Potanin, a Russian billionaire whose empire already includes
vast PGM reserves in Siberia, took control of Stillwater. Regulators from the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) quickly approved the deal even though it gave Potanin greater power over metals that could be critical to the nation's future.

Stillwater's directors are already seeing the benefits. After Norilsk's takeover, the annual payment to Stillwater board members increased to $40,000 from $15,000. Directors also received stock-option packages that as of March were worth more than $100,000 each. That's because Stillwater shares had more than tripled in price in the 14 months after Bush revealed, in his 2003 State of the Union address, his hopes for hydrogen fuel cells.


Bush Chemical Treaty Bill Favors Industry Over Public Health

Tomorrow, a House subcommittee will take up a Bush administration bill that environmentalists believe would harmfully limit how the U.S. participates in an international treaty to ban or strictly regulate the world's most toxic chemicals.

Congress must pass legislation in order for the U.S. to ratify the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), a treaty that currently covers the world's 12 most dangerous chemicals and pesticides and allows for adding additional pollutants in the future. Because the U.S. has already banned the so-called "dirty dozen" currently covered by POPs, it is the "adding mechanism" portion of the treaty that is at issue.

But a draft of the administration bill being circulated in the House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials is "fatally flawed and should be rejected" because it places the interests of the chemical industry over the health protection of the American public, according to a summary prepared by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for International and Environmental Law (CIEL).

[SOURCE: "Environmental and Health Organizations Reject Proposed TSCA Amendment to Implement the Stockholm Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Convention," Jul. 1, 2004.]

This legislation, said Glenn Wiser, a senior attorney for CIEL, is just one more example of the Bush administration parlaying favor with the chemical industry by placing its financial interests over the public's health and well-being. "The last thing industry wants is for an international treaty to rock their boat," said Wiser. "But they want the U.S. to sign on to the POPs Convention, because they want to be sure the U.S. government will protect their interests in any future Convention decisions."


http://www.prospect.org/web/view-web.ww?id=8076

Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz last week parroted the company line, saying he believes Halliburton's problems "are not out of line with the size and scope of their contracts." He then accused the press of overemphasizing the connections between the company and its former CEO Dick Cheney, even though Vice President Cheney still collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred compensation, owns company stock options, and had his office "coordinate" Halliburton contracts in Iraq.

Fact: Halliburton has overcharged taxpayers for food, accepted kickbacks for oil subcontracts, and spent taxpayer money renting rooms at five-star resorts in Kuwait.

Why is the government's top independent watchdog deliberately sugarcoating taxpayer ripoffs? Because he, like other Bush administration officials charged with overseeing expenditures in Iraq, is anything but independent. Instead of filling the various inspector general, comptroller, and budget officer positions in Iraq with skilled, non-partisan public servants, President Bush has packed them with partisans and cronies like Schmitz. Many of these individuals have longstanding political ties with the administration and ties to the very industries and companies that they are supposed to oversee.

The companies that charge for food that has not been served or supplies that have not been delivered should be held responsible for their misdeeds. But the administration should also be held accountable for its failure to root out the corruption. The American people are now suffering the consequences of President Bush's decision to appoint overseers who are partisan, conflicted, and unqualified. And the problems did not simply go away after the transfer of power to Iraqis on June 30 -- U.S. taxpayer-funded private contracting work is scheduled to go on indefinitely. How much more taxpayer money will be siphoned off before the Bush administration is willing to admit they have a problem?

This author is asking the wrong question to those in the (mis)Administration who would ignore him. The right question should be asked of the American People:

How much longer are you willing to allow this theft and fraud to continue?


The Golden Rule of Crony Capitalism


Of course, the American people are a bit distracted right now. Earning a living takes the top priority.


Workers trade low pay in U.S. for risks of Iraq

At 8 o'clock on a recent morning, firefighter Darrin Grant finished his last shift at Station 18, collected his county paycheck and walked out to make more money than most people in the remote Carolina region would ever dream possible.

This week, he will take up his new post as a firefighter on a U.S. military base somewhere in Iraq. His current $1,600 monthly take-home pay will balloon to $9,000. In one year, he and his wife can break free of the financial pressures that have been dogging them, an endless struggle to pay too many bills with too little money.

But to do that, and maybe save enough to buy their first house, Grant had to make a choice he never thought he would face: risking his life in a dangerous but lucrative war zone instead of slowly losing his shirt in a backwater economy.

In this seemingly tranquil region of small towns, farms and sandy woodlands that twines around the flossy beach resorts of the Carolina coast, Darrin Grant is not alone. A wave of area firefighters and police officers has jumped at the chance for civilian jobs in Iraq.

The result has been a unique set of pressures and problems in communities that are not used to facing such challenges — communities, in fact, that Grant and others sought out precisely because they seemed so far from the turmoil of the larger world. Two other Horry County firefighters resigned in a single week. The county police force has lost seven members since last winter. Six more have resigned from agencies in neighboring counties.

For every person who has signed up for Iraq, at least two more are considering it, members of the departments say. And for most of them, the reasons are much the same. Outwardly living a modest version of the American dream — steady jobs, decent housing, food, clothes, toys for their kids — they have in fact been locked in a grinding effort just to stay afloat.

Everyone knows the risks. Since spring 2003, more than 90 contract workers have been killed and scores more wounded in Iraq by roadside bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and other attacks by insurgents.

Now, the approximately 50,000 contract workers employed by U.S. companies have become targets for kidnappers who are using made-for-television beheadings as the newest weapon in their campaign to drive out Americans.

Here, as in much of the Deep South, wages are among the lowest in the United States. A firefighter or police officer in Horry County starts at around $25,000.
Most of the men moonlight as grass-cutters, Wal-Mart clerks or parking valets at the ritzy beach resorts. Contract work in Iraq not only pays wildly more, but as much as $80,000 can be tax free. Fat bonuses are offered for extending a tour.

Meanwhile, there's Nancy Parker, who lives just a few miles down the road from the Horry County police and fire headquarters. Her eldest son, Daniel, 56, a Vietnam veteran who went to Iraq as a contract worker, was killed May 7. A roadside bomb hit his convoy near Baghdad's airport.

She doesn't know Grant or any of the others who have signed up for jobs in Iraq. And none of them know about her son's death, since he lived an hour away. The living room of her little townhouse is full of reminders, from pictures her son hung on the walls to the computer he set up so they could exchange e-mails, the screen dark now.

If they would listen, she says she would tell them don't go. Money isn't everything. "I don't care a thing about it," she says, starting to cry.

There could be many more crying soon.

This is why Bush has wiped out the American Dream for so many - to provide reliable workers for occupation of foreign nations? Such lucrative pay requires some kind of economic support so that the money has some value once it's being spent. Such support comes from those who stay at home and actually pay the taxes that are spent on providing workers for the Occupation. Let's take a look at how they are faring:


Workplace conditions jeopardize passenger safety, screeners say

On any given day, federal workers who screen passengers and luggage at the nation's airports stand a good chance of being berated by bosses, harassed on the job, injured while lugging heavy bags, ordered to work extra hours or cheated on their pay.

In Seattle, a screener received a letter of admonishment for this offense: "Hands in uniform pants pockets."

A Denver screener says a supervisor repeatedly called him "boy" — and explained it away by saying that where he is from, that's what blacks are called.

A Los Angeles screener injured his arm lifting a passenger's bag that held not clothes or toiletries but a small engine block.

Some screeners struggle to stay awake while trying to spot weapons in grainy X-ray images. Some get distracted by managers prowling for petty infractions. Some have been fired by mistake, victims of bureaucratic bungling.

Morale has suffered, and with it, security.

"False promises"

An internal TSA memo, obtained by The Seattle Times, chronicles the agency's management failures — and, coming from management itself, helps validate the complaints of screeners to TSA, Congress and others. The Feb. 20 memo was sent to TSA's acting administrator, David Stone, from an advisory council of TSA directors in charge of security at individual airports. It warns that TSA has subjected screeners, "our most valuable resource," to a litany of abuses.

TSA forces screeners to sacrifice vacation time "for the good of the agency" but turns around and fires screeners with little explanation, the memo says.

TSA has subjected screeners to "extreme stress," the memo says. It places impossible obstacles before them. It whipsaws them with shifting directives on how to do their job. "We expect consistency but provide none ourselves," says the memo, written by council Chairwoman Marcia Florian, who oversees security at the Phoenix airport.

"Our screeners have endured false promises from hiring contractors, weeks or months with no (or incorrect) pay or benefits, competency testing, right-sizing, mandatory conversion to part time, forced overtime, and now a recertification process that shows no regard for screener morale, effectiveness, or livelihood," the memo says.

There is more of this abuse - a lot more. These people are the frontline in the 'war on terra', but look at how they themselves are terrorized. It's as if they are supposed to be the loyal slaves ('boy') protecting the lords of the manor with no regard whatsoever for themselves. If a bomb ever does get through, there will be plenty of blame to go around - and not all of it will belong with these security inspectors.

But for those who aren't working at all, one special group is being encouraged to deal with their unemployment in a very unique way:


Let Them Eat Wedding Cake

It is unclear how marriage will cure poor women's No. 1 problem, which is poverty — unless, of course, the plan is to draft C.E.O.'s to marry recipients of T.A.N.F. (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families).

Left to themselves, most women end up marrying men of the same social class as their own, meaning — in the case of poverty-stricken women — blue-collar men. But that demographic group has seen a tragic decline in earnings in the last couple of decades. So I have been endeavoring to calculate just how many blue-collar men a T.A.N.F. recipient needs to marry to lift her family out of poverty.

The answer turns out to be approximately 2.3, which is, strangely enough, illegal.

If marriage were a cure for poverty, I'd be the first to demand that H.H.S. spring for the Champagne and bridesmaids' dresses. Married couples are on average more prosperous than single mothers, but that doesn't mean marriage will lift the existing single mothers out of poverty. So what's the point of the administration's marriage meddling?

The administration's mixed signals on marriage — O.K. for paupers, a no-no for gays — are part of the conservative effort to "change the subject to marriage."

From, for example, Iraq. But this may be too cynical an explanation. Quite possibly, the administration wants to ban gay marriage so that gay men can be drafted to marry T.A.N.F. recipients.

Think of all the problems that would solve, and, if the Queer Eye stereotype holds true, how tastefully appointed those shelters will become.


Inflammatory & Inaccurate Rhetoric Fuels Push for Marriage Amendment

At the centerpiece of Religious Right mobilization efforts is the incendiary charge that allowing some states to grant equal marriage rights to gay couples would mean an end to churches’ freedom under the First Amendment to decide which marriages they bless or even to discuss their interpretation of scripture. There is a reason this claim is repeated over and over by leaders of the push to amend the Constitution. It is easier to convince people that they should support – and demand – discrimination against gay and lesbian people if you have previously convinced them that gays are out to destroy their churches and take away their religious liberty.

The fact that fair-minded Americans across the political spectrum are resisting calls for a constitutional amendment has only fueled increasingly hysterical rhetoric claiming that allowing gay couples to marry will destroy Western civilization, result in an increase in terror attacks on the United States, destroy the institution of marriage, and rob churches of their freedom to criticize homosexuality or even to quote scripture.


Is God a card-carrying member of the G.O.P.?

The blurring of the line between church and state is stunning, to say the least. Forty-four years ago, then-candidate John Kennedy, a Catholic, was assuring the American people that he embraced the separation of church and state and that the Vatican would have no undo influence on his administration.

Recently, President Bush was lobbying Pope John Paul II to convince U.S. bishops to become more actively involved in promoting those issues that are part of his social agenda, including a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and his opposition to abortion rights.

It has long been established that God is a card-carrying Republican.

With God replacing the elephant as the symbol of the G.O.P (God's Only Party?), it wouldn't surprise me to see it rain fire and brimstone during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Who knew that God would be such a proponent for tax cuts, the Patriot Act, pre-emptive war and noncompetitive bids for Halliburton and Bechtel?

Why is there no moral critique that examines the inverted order of our peculiar brand of capitalism that offers socialism for the wealthy and a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" capitalism for the poor? What does our public morality have to say about administration officials justifying torture or claiming ties between Saddam and al-Qaida when the facts state otherwise?

Instead of using morality to oppose same-sex marriages, the left could use its concept of morality to critique why the House of Representatives could pass $180 billion in tax cuts in the midst of a $500 billion deficit, and not pass $6 billion to extend unemployment benefits.

Why is universal health care not debated in moral terms? The failure to do so renders it vulnerable to charges of "socialized medicine."

Praying may be the only thing left to us as soon as BushCo gets through with eliminating everything that benefits us! Certainly, many of us in our last days might find that we can no longer pay for any other form of comfort!


Trade Pact May Undercut Inexpensive Drug Imports

Congress is poised to approve an international trade agreement that could have the effect of thwarting a goal pursued by many lawmakers of both parties: the import of inexpensive prescription drugs to help millions of Americans without health insurance.

The agreement, negotiated with Australia by the Bush administration, would allow pharmaceutical companies to prevent imports of drugs to the United States and also to challenge decisions by Australia about what drugs should be covered by the country's health plan, the prices paid for them and how they can be used.

It represents the administration's model for strengthening the protection of expensive brand-name drugs in wealthy countries, where the biggest profits can be made.

In negotiating the pact, the United States, for the first time, challenged how a foreign industrialized country operates its national health program to provide inexpensive drugs to its own citizens. Americans without insurance pay some of the world's highest prices for brand-name prescription drugs, in part because the United States does not have such a plan.

Sure, there are observable significations of an improved economy if one looks about. Lots of small businesses in my area have bought new signs and painted their stores. Many have 'help wanted' signs in their windows for their open low-wage and no-benefit service jobs, which admittedly are better than nothing if you're hungry and living outdoors under a crowded freeway bridge in a stolen appliance box. But it is still possible for George W. Bush to demonstrate the truth of the old saying that avers "You can fool some of the people all of the time", for he still has more support from people affected by any and all of these topics I display here than reasonable logic would otherwise suggest.


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