Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
One day after the most recent monthly jobs report showed that 280,000 new jobs were created in April--welcome news, but, the Bush Administration's job record is still dismal and characterized by broken promises--a more important reflection of the nation's economic health could be found buried in the New York Times business section.
The article detailed a new report by Citizens for Tax Justice, which shows that Americans are being taxed more than twice as heavily on earnings from work as they are on investment income, even though more than half of all investment income goes to the wealthiest five percent of taxpayers.
Bush's tax cuts, according to the report, widened the advantages for investors, reducing taxes on investment income by twenty-two percent while taxes were only reduced by nine percent on income generated from actual work. According to CTJ's study, if investment income were taxed exactly as earnings from work, government tax revenues would increase by about $338 billion this year.
If any further evidence was needed of how this Administration has relentlessly shifted the country's tax burden from those who live off their wealth to those who work for a living, here it is.
So, why was John Kerry sounding like a tired deficit buster this past weekend at the Democratic Leadership Council's confab? Why not use such a report to deliver a passionate critique of the way Bush and his cronies enforce one set of rules for the wealthy and another set for the poor and middle classes? Instead of reacting defensively to short-term indicators, Kerry needs to lay out the broad pattern of economic injustice that has defined this Administration's policies. That's a winning strategy. Instead of channeling tired DLC mantras, Kerry should start channelling John Edwards and his rousing theme of Two Americas. If there was ever a year for it, this is it.
On May 28th, Twentieth Century Fox will release a new disaster film. But The Day After Tomorrow is not your conventional fear flick. It's not about biological, nuclear or military attacks. Instead, its harrowing premise is that climate change could destroy planet earth. In the film's trailers, tsunamis overtake Manhattan, tornadoes threaten Los Angeles, and volcanoes spew lava near the Hollywood sign.
This is a film that uses celluloid to teach and inform--and, yes, inspire--people about a critical and still misunderstood subject. The Day After Tomorrow's website includes links to environmental groups with information about the dangers of global warming and ways to get involved in combating the crisis. And while the film is an Eco-Armageddon fantasy flick, I hope it will act as a wake-up call to millions of movie-goers nationwide. (Click here to read environmental writer Bill McKibben's recent piece on The Day After Tomorrow and global warming in Grist magazine.)
Make no mistake: Global warming is a real threat. The majority of policy experts and scientists believe that unless strong action is taken, climate change will lead to widespread environmental destruction with a devastating human toll.
Scientists agree that the earth's temperature is rising faster than ever before. Since 1990, the planet has experienced the ten hottest years ever recorded. Unless we reduce emissions that produce heat-trapping pollutants soon, the weather will keep getting hotter and hotter. Climate change is already causing droughts and water shortages in the Southwestern US and elsewhere. And since 1970, twenty percent of the North Pole's ice cap has melted away.
The problem is so severe that David King, Tony Blair's scientific adviser, calls global warming more of a threat than terrorism. By 2080, hundreds of millions of people will be "exposed to frequent flooding in the river delta areas of the world," predicts King. Even the Pentagon recently cited climate change as a national security threat that could lead to war, drought and mass starvation.
Moreover, according to a recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, climate change and air pollution are already increasing asthma rates among poor and minority children. Christine Rogers, a scientist at Harvard's School of Public Health, warns: "This is a real wake-up call for people who think global warming is only going to be a problem off in the future...The problem for these children is only going to get worse."
The Bush Administration's track record on global warming is--no surprise here--appalling. While Bush pays lip service to "sound science," in truth, he shills for his supporters in the oil, gas and coal industries. Congressman Henry Waxman is right when he charges that W. believes that policies and industry contributions should determine America's environmental policies, not scientific information and research. (Click here to read about Bush's lies on Waxman's website.)
Since 2001, Bush has created a little shop of policy horrors. This president turned his back on the Kyoto Treaty, which offered our best opportunity to attack the global warming problem. He also proposed the so-called Clear Skies Act which, like so many Bush Administration policies, does the opposite of what it purports by failing to regulate carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas.
The scary thing is that this Administration warned NASA scientists not to do any interviews "or otherwise comment on anything having to do with the film The Day After Tomorrow." While the order was later rescinded, the Bushies tipped their hand; they don't like science, and they certainly don't want a fact-based discussion on climate change.
The infuriating thing, as experts know, is that the threat can be addressed. Bush would just prefer if we all ignored it. Here are some actions a leader committed to building a safer, healthier and cleaner America would endorse.
1) Rely more on new technologies to reduce the emissions from cars, trucks and SUVs that cause global warming. Promote clean energy sources, including wind and solar that will reduce heat-trapping pollutants in the atmosphere.
2) Support the Apollo program for energy independence, a $300 billion, ten-year plan to invest in hybrid cars, renewable energy, efficient buildings and diversified transit. Such a program will generate more jobs than the president's tax cuts for the rich at a fraction of the cost and, at the same time, it will enable us to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil.
3) Revive the Kyoto protocols, and let the world know that America takes climate change seriously.
But, if the Bush team and their pals in the fossil fuel industries keep thumbing their noses at climate change, then scenes from The Day After Tomorrow could become more than just a sci-fi fantasy dreamed up in Hollywood.
Last week in this space I asked where were the former US diplomats speaking out against George Bush's dangerous foreign-policy as fifty-two of their British counterparts did recently in an eloquent Open Letter to Tony Blair.
Well, yesterday, fifty-three former US diplomats criticized the White House for pursuing a foreign-policy which is sacrificing America's credibility in the Arab world and endangering the safety of its diplomats and soldiers in the Middle East. The letter's central charge is that the Bush Administration is providing uncritical support for the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharonat a time when Washington's strategy in the Middle East is in tatters. The retired diplomats, including John Brady Kiesling and Ray Close who are both featured in The Nation's forthcoming forum on Iraq, urge the Bush Administration to change course.
This public rebuke was a rare display of dissent for state department personnel. The last broadside from American diplomats came during the Vietnam War. Click here to read this Open Letter to George W. Bush.
The shocking photos of US soldiers torturing Iraqis detainees shown last Wednesday on CBS's Sixty Minutes II provoked immediate international outrage. Now, veteran American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh's explosive article in the current issue of the New Yorker, "Torture at Abu Ghraib," details a secret fifty-three page Army report which documents systemic and illegal abuse of Iraqi prisoners in US custody. Acording to Major General Antonio Taguba's internal report, "Sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses"--including burning detainees with phosphoric liquid, brutal beatings and the sodomising of one detainee with a chemical light or a broom stick--date back to the previous October.
The report, according to Hersh, "amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he [Taguba] draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees."
In an exchange with CNN's Wolf Blitzer Sunday morning, Hersh talked about the Taguba Report and the responsibility of the military-intelligence officers and private contractors assigned to Abu Ghraib. He also expressed outrage that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers told CBS's Face the Nation that he hasn't even read the internal Army report. Click here to read the full transcript of the CNN conversation. P.S. Notice Blitzer's lack of interest in pursuing Hersh's statement that we should get out of Iraq.
On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush donned a flight suit and landed in a jet on the Abraham Lincoln's flight deck off the coast of San Diego. There, in front of sailors and camera crews, the President of the United States pranced around with a banner behind him that said, "Mission Accomplished."
A year later, as we note in our lead editorial this week, "Bush is unable to admit error and continues to promote a false triumphalism. Instead of leveling with the American people about his administration's miscalculations, he forbids the release of pictures showing the caskets of dead troops returning home, and instead of discussing options for ending a war that should never have been waged, he offers nothing but insulting and insensitive 'stay the course' rhetoric."
Perhaps the most egregious lesson that we should take away from May 1st is that this http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> administration routinely abuses its power and regularly tramples democracy without batting an eye.
In his excellent http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/spring04/005942.htm "> forthcoming book, Losing America, Senator Robert Byrd delivers a wakeup call to all citizens. Charging that http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=00090t "> Bush is destroying our civil liberties and undermining the Constitution's checks and balances, Byrd warns that "In times of war or crisis, it becomes very easy to cloak everything under the unassailable mantle of national security, or even the more euphemistically effective 'patriotism.'"
Part of the blame for an executive branch that has broken free of accountability lies with Congress, which cravenly capitulated to Bush's White House in the run-up to war. When Bush lied about the presence of http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=040205 "> WMD in Iraq, Congress--including, sadly, too many Democrats---ignored the truth and handed the President a blank check in voting for the resolution authorizing war against Iraq. (Click http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021014&s=editors "> here to read The Nation's Open Letter to Congress on the eve of that vote.)
But the real villains in this pre-war period wasn't Congress; they were, of course, http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=00090t "> Bush and his top lieutenants. They not only lied about WMD in Iraq, they also deceived the public about Saddam's Al Qaeda connections--and we now know that the http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> Bush Administration illegally diverted funds earmarked for Afghanistan to Kuwait and Iraq. It is also increasingly clear that Bush's scheme has parallels with Reagan's deceptions in the Iran Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.
Bush, in truth, disdains free and fair debate and abhors honesty in government, principles that form the foundation of democracy. In his http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/031600023X/002-3037997-069... "> new book Worse than Watergate, http://www.twbookmark.com/authors/66/2937/index.html "> John Dean convincingly argues that Bush is a greater danger than even the notoriously paranoid Nixon. "No one died for Nixon's so-called Watergate abuses," observes Dean.
On the all-important domestic front, Bush and his cronies have lied about the cost of the new Medicare law and stonewalled the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. In front of the Supreme Court last Tuesday, Bush's lawyers defended Vice-President Cheney's right to keep his Energy Task Force a secret and asserted blanket immunity for the executive branch from almost any public scrutiny. Meanwhile, at John Ashcroft's Justice Department, Jose Padilla and other so-called "enemy combatant" detainees are forbidden from even seeing a lawyer or appearing in a court of law.
Another example of Bush's thuggish abuse of power comes from http://www.avalonpub.com/carroll_graf.html "> Joseph Wilson's new book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity (Carroll & Graf). Wilson, a former US ambassador, alleges that Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Cheney's Chief of Staff, or Elliot Abrams illegally leaked the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA agent involved in counter-espionage as political payback for Wilson going public with his doubts that Saddam Hussein ever tried to purchase enriched uranium from the small African nation of Niger.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently observed that this administration constituted "a sort of elected dictatorship." While I consider "selected dictatorship" a more appropriate phrase, (can't forget Florida!), Krugman's point is crucial: This administration will abuse any law and assert any privilege to attack its critics and achieve its goals. If democracy gets trampled underfoot, then Bush's attitude is, simply,tough.
So not only will Bush's reelection campaign be on the line in November, but American democracy will be on the ballot, too. If Americans are serious about guarding their civil liberties, maintaining their freedoms, and increasing their security, they must heed Byrd, Dean and Wilson's powerful warnings to the republic--and vote to re-defeat Bush and re-install democracy in November.
In an unprecedented open letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair published in both the Guardian and Independent newspapers on Tuesday, April 27, (and reprinted below), fifty-two former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials criticized Blair's unflinching support for George Bush's handling of postwar Iraq and Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan in the Occupied Territories.
Arguing that the Bush/Blair foreign-policy is only increasing bloodshed and instability in the region, the letter makes a powerful case for a fundamental shift in approach. Isn't it time for a group of retired American diplomats to band together and speak out against the http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> Bush Administration's policies which, as their British counterparts warn, "are doomed to failure?"
Doomed to Failure in the Middle East: A letter from 52 former senior British diplomats to Tony Blair
Dear Prime Minister,
We the undersigned former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close cooperation with the United States. Following the press conference in Washington at which you and President Bush restated these policies, we feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment.
The decision by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a "road map" for the settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the west and the Islamic and Arab worlds. The legal and political principles on which such a settlement would be based were well established: President Clinton had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved. But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the road map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.
Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood. Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced.
This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq.
The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America. We are glad to note that you and the president have welcomed the proposals outlined by Lakhdar Brahimi. We must be ready to provide what support he requests, and to give authority to the UN to work with the Iraqis themselves, including those who are now actively resisting the occupation, to clear up the mess.
The military actions of the coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them. It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders. Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition. The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total 10-15,000 (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Falluja alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children. Phrases such as "We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice," apparently referring only to those who have died on the coalition side, are not well judged to moderate the passions these killings arouse.
We share your view that the British government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure.
Sir Graham Boyce (ambassador to Egypt 1999-2001); Sir Terence Clark (ambassador to Iraq 1985-89); Francis Cornish (ambassador to Israel 1998-2001); Sir James Craig (ambassador to Saudi Arabia 1979-84); Ivor Lucas (ambassador to Syria 1982-84); Richard Muir (ambassador to Kuwait 1999-2002); Sir Crispin Tickell (British permanent representative to the UN 1987-90); Sir Harold (Hooky) Walker (ambassador to Iraq 1990-91), and 44 others.
You don't have to live in a battleground state to join the battle for the White House in November. With an election that is almost certain to be decided by a whisker in a handful of swing states, those of us who live in places like New York--where the outcome on November 2nd is not in doubt--can too easily feel like spectators to the most important political contest of our lives. The candidates come here to fundraise and we can, and do, contribute, but what else can we do to have a direct impact on who becomes the next President?
One answer, at least in two states with lots of progressives eager to be put to work, is being provided by the USAction affiliates in New York and New Jersey. Together Citizen Action of New York and New Jersey Citizen Action are kicking off Volunteer2004.org, a project to organize volunteers in both states to collectively contact 500,000 voters in battleground states like Ohio, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Missouri. Through a combination of door-to-door trips to neighboring states and phone banks throughout New York and New Jersey, volunteers can now turn their anger and angst into action.
As the polls constantly remind us, this will be a very close election. That means that every voter contact can make a difference. Florida, where the official gap between Bush and Gore was 537, wasn't even the closest election in 2000; the margin in New Mexico was 366. And in several other states, a few thousand votes separated winner from loser. Both sides are expecting the same tight races, largely in the same places, this year. Which is why we're seeing an unprecedented emphasis, at least in the forty years since TV came to dominate elections, on old-fashioned fieldwork, the kind that groups like USAction have long specialized in.
The battle will be fought on two fronts. All sides will be working to mobilize their voters, with unprecedented door-to-door, phone and mail operations. And the candidates will be fighting mightily to win the hearts of the small but crucial proportion of voters who remain undecided. The Volunteer2004 program is doing both, putting New York and New Jersey volunteers to work "mobilizing the mobilizables" and "persuading the persuadables."
USAction is a member of America Votes, the national coalition that includes NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO and many others, which is coordinating voter mobilization in the swing states. As such, the Volunteer2004 effort could provide grassroots progressives with an army of volunteer reinforcements for the battleground state effort.
It's easy to participate. Just click here to sign up in New York or New Jersey. You'll be given lots of opportunities to make calls, get on the bus and get out the vote. One hour of volunteer time will allow you to talk with as many as 35 voters in key states. And next time you read an article about the battleground states, you'll know that you've joined the battle to take back our nation from the extremist Right.
Looking for a savvy, sassy and strategic agenda to counter the rightwing and take America back from the most extremist http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> Administration of our lifetime? Pick up a copy of Taking Back America--And Taking Down the Radical Right, a new collection of articles which I co-edited with Campaign for America's Future head http://www.thenation.com/directory/bios/bio.mhtml?id=63 "> Robert Borosage.
Featuring illuminating and inspiring contributions from Bill Moyers, Barbara Ehrenreich, Benjamin Barber, William Greider, Robert Reich, Danny Goldberg, Joel Rogers, Reps. Jesse L. Jackson and Jan Schakowsky and other leading scholars, thinkers and advocates, NationBooks' Taking Back America offers positive alternatives to the reactionary policies of the http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 ">Bush Administration.
It's not hard for progressives (or any sane citizen, for that matter) to see that we're in the fight of our lives. George Bush's policies have ravaged our country. Since he took office, America has suffered a staggering decline, moving from prosperity to recession, from peace to war, from record budget surpluses to record deficits. This Administration's legacy is one of http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=030503 ">preemptive strikes; de-stabilizing tax cuts; the rollback of protection for workers; consumers and the environment; an assault on the rights of women and minorities; and a crony,capitalist corruption devoid of shame.
Progressives have no choice but to rouse themselves, to build the arguments, movements, and institutions needed to turn this country around. It is time to take back America--and build a country that is safer, healthier, better educated, more secure and committed to shared prosperity and opportunity for all. But we must work in smart and coordinated ways. And while many translate this into http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=00080602 "> electoral terms---and we must defeat Bush in 2004--it is also more than a matter of changing the occupants of the White House. The challenge requires a coherent critique of the conservative ideas that have dominated the past 25 years. It requires bold new vision and vast citizen mobilization to counter the entrenched and growing power of corporate lobbies and restore an America that lives up to its democratic promise. It is a journey not of a year but of a decade or more.
What is hopeful is that on fundamental questions, Bush and the Right are out of tune with the majority of Americans. In area after area, Americans prefer progressive alternatives to the failed policies of the conservative right---investment in health care and education over tax cuts, fair trade over free trade, corporate accountability over deregulation, environmental protection over laissez-faire oversight, defending http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=00040403 "> Social Security and Medicare over privatizing them, public schools over vouchers, raising the minimum wage over eliminating it. Moreover, civilizing causes like civil rights, reproductive choice and environmental protection are now mainstream values.
It is increasingly clear that Americans face challenges that will never be addressed by the rightwing extremists now in power. Taking Back America features thinkers, writers and strategists intent on laying out an agenda that makes sense for most Americans. It offers policies that are commensurate with the size of the challenge. But it is also filled with strategic insights and good ideas about how to build the capacity to reach out to citizens, to mobilize allies, to identify, recruit, train and support the next generation of leaders.
It is time, as Senator Paul Wellstone said in one of his last speeches, not to duck, not to hide, not to bite our tongues or bide our time. It is time to stand up, to speak out. We need to return to a politics of passion and principle that asserts our values, our ideas and our energy and develop the independent capacity to drive our causes into the political debate and electoral arena.
Click here for more information about Taking Back America.
And sign up for the Campaign for America's Future "Take Back America" conference and Awards Dinner to be held from June 2 to June 4th, in Washington DC. Our book arises largely from last year's extraordinary conference at which over 2,000 progressives gathered to share ideas and strategy. (Click here to watch online highlights.) This year, John Sweeney, Jesse Jackson, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Julian Bond, Gerald McEntee, Kim Gandy, Sen. Jon Corzine, Arianna Huffington and many others are all scheduled to speak. Click here for info and to register.
And, if you're going to be in New York City on May 14 and 15, check out " What We Stand For: Ideas and Values to Take Back America," a conference organized by the Nation Institute and the New Democracy Project featuring many contributors to the book--as well as Paul Krugman, Joe Trippi, Gary Hart, Kevin Phillips, Eliot Spitzer, David Cole, Lori Wallach, Ellen Chesler, Eli Pariser,and Anne-Marie Slaughter.
I'm also heading to Los Angeles this weekend--along with other Nation folk--to participate in the Los Angeles Times' annual Festival of Books. Friday night, I'll be at Santa Monica's Track 16 Gallery for what I anticipate will be a spirited conversation about the state of the nation and The Nation--with nationally syndicated columnist and Nation contributing editor Robert Scheer. Seating is limited.
It isn't sexy. In fact, it's not even something that most people even notice. But local government in thousands of counties, cities and towns--with more than 490,000 elected officials distributed across them--have primary responsibility for many of the issues most important to progressives: primary and secondary schools and community colleges, land use and planning, work-force development and job-skills training, water allocation, housing, childcare and child welfare, health services, and welfare, among many others.
Yet most people cannot name their city council or county board members. And progressives have not yet supplied these elected officials with message, policies and programs.
The American Legislative Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE) is trying to change that. With a goal of identifying, supporting and assisting 10,000 progressive local elected officials, they seek immediate policy gains and passage of dozens, if not hundreds, of model local ordinances by the end of 2005.
With its website as the hub, ALICE is already supplying invaluable weekly updates to more than 7,400 elected officials and activists. Until now, the organization has been supported by Joel Rogers and the Center On Wisconsin Strategy (COWS). Last month, ALICE began looking for foundation money, with a fundraising appeal signed by representatives of more than two dozen national groups--from the Center for Policy Alternatives to Good Jobs First, the AFL-CIO to the Institute For Women's Policy Research (IWPR)--all of whom recognized the value of the effort, and the niche that it would fill.
Building ALICE is a natural part of building the progressive infrastructure. Along with their sheer weight in policy, which is only growing in this age of devolution, city council and county board members, not to mention mayors and county executives, are part of the "farm team" for future federal office. Get them early in their careers, show them the feasibility of a progressive program, and positive political change at the local, much less national, level can be made much easier to achieve.
Certainly the Right recognizes the importance of local politics. Just as it has organized state legislative leaders over the past generation through ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), it intends now to move down to local government. There, we hope, it will find ALICE--its younger, brighter, and decidedly more progressive younger sister.
The greatest economic injustice in America isn't corporate malfeasance, anemic job growth or the outsourcing of jobs, as the mainstream media suggests. The biggest scandal is the highway robbery committed against hard-working families who can't make ends meet despite playing by the rules. While the press has chronicled the crimes of Dennis Koslowski, Martha Stewart and Andrew Fastow, it consistently fails to describe the forces shutting workers out of the broad middle-class.
Upward mobility is one of our democracy's great strengths. In George Bush's America, however, opportunity is being steadily eroded. To understand this anti-worker economy, just begin with the minimum wage.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is a paltry $5.15 an hour. It has remained unchanged since 1997. In a family of three, the breadwinner earns $10,712 in annual income, which is almost $5,000 below the federal poverty level. When Washington State raised its minimum wage in 1998 to $7.16 an hour, many full-time workers with families were still living in poverty.
Republicans in Congress couldn't care less about this crisis. Callous, imperious and anti-worker, the Republican Senate leadership recently refused to even vote on a modest minimum wage increase, which could have helped offset the hardships imposed by declining wages and record job losses. When it comes to the struggle to increase the minimum wage and deal with the crisis of poverty in the US, the Senate has essentially become a "non-functioning institution," to quote Senator Edward Kennedy.
A second force driving this train are the glaring inequities in America's tax system--injustices that have further eroded workers' prospects. David Cay Johnston, who covers the tax system for the New York Times, has demonstrated that in recent decades, a growing portion of the tax burden has shifted to working- and middle-class families while the wealthiest Americans have paid fewer taxes.
Armed with lobbyists and campaign contributions, many corporations have successfully avoided paying virtually any federal income tax for years. From 1996 to 2000, 61 percent of businesses paid no federal income taxes whatsoever. Last year, business's share of the federal tax burden dropped to 7.4 percent, down from a high of 32 percent in 1952. And, this week, we learned that under President Bush, the IRS has performed fewer corporate audits and undertaken fewer prosecutions of corporate tax evaders than ever before.
Meanwhile, the US is the only country on earth where wages are being driven down. Johnston says that for the bottom 80 percent of the income bracket, wages have either fallen or remained stagnant. The next ten percent has seen "infinitesimal growth in income"---while the top ten percent has become spectacularly rich. Americans are experiencing the slowest wage growth in 40 years.
The economy is shafting workers in subtler ways as well, as corporations slash benefits and cheat people out of every last dime. The Wall Street Journal reported that Lucent is cutting medical and life insurance benefits for its retirees. Wal-Mart, America's largest employer, is facing legal action for allegedly cheating workers out of overtime pay. Some companies, according to a recent front-page New York Times' article, have even deleted hours from workers' time sheets in order to maximize profits; such illegal doctoring is "far more prevalent than most Americans believe," noted the Times.
Making matters even worse is the problem of spiraling personal debt with many Americans struggling to pay back school loans, maintain car payments and keep credit card bills at bay. In 2001 [the most recent year for which figures are available], seven out of every 1,000 adults declared personal bankruptcy, a share nearly twice as high as in the last business cycle peak in 1989, according to the Economic Policy Institute. As EPI says, "This rising debt is especially troubling in the midst of an ongoing labor market recession, when income is growing slowly at best."
"Even the few new jobs [announced in last month's Labor Department report] come with an asterisk," Senator Kennedy said in a recent speech. "They pay an average of 8,000 dollars less than the jobs lost in the Bush economy," and they frequently offer only part-time hours and few benefits.
The bottom line is that hard-working Americans face hostile economic forces arrayed against them--and the sign over the gateway to economic security now says: CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. Under President Bush's economic stewardship, America's middle-class is quickly becoming a thing of the past. But, as Willy Loman's wife Linda tells her audience in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: "Attention must be paid!"