The Bush administration was trumpeting its second good month during April with 288,000 new jobs reported. But the Economic Policy Institute noted that the White House is still 2 million short of the number of jobs it promised last year when Bush's tax cuts for the rich took effect (see jobwatch.org). The prolonged three-year weakness in the job market has kept down wages. Average hourly earnings have risen at only a 1.4% rate in the last two quarters, while inflation has started to pick up to a 2.1% rate over the last two quarters. In the last two quarters, consumer prices have risen 0.7% faster than average hourly earnings. The underemployment rate, which includes unemployed and part-time workers, improved to 9.6%, from 9.9% in March.
Since the recession began in March 2001 (37 months ago), 1.6 million jobs have disappeared, a 1.2% contraction. Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting monthly jobs data in 1939 (at the end of the Great Depression), in every previous recession the number of jobs had fully recovered to above the pre-recession peak within 31 months of the start of the recession. Today's labor market would have 5.2 million more jobs if employment had grown by the 2.7% rate that occurred in the last three recession cycles. The picture is worse for private-sector jobs, which have dropped by 2.2 million since March 2001, representing a 2.0% contraction.
EPI also noted that of the 194 million Americans living in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, three-quarters of them live in metropolitan areas that have lost jobs since the recession began. In fact, 28 months into the economic recovery, and a full three years since the start of the recession, 57 of the largest 100 metropolitan areas are not back to their pre-recession jobs levels. But it is the largest of these metropolitan areas that have been the hardest hit -- nine of the top 10 largest metropolitan areas have seen job loss over this period. Of these top 10, only the Washington, D.C. area has more jobs now than when the recession began. (See epinet.org.)
The Gallup Poll (gallup.com) May 2-4 noticed significant differences in attitudes toward the economy across consumer income groups. Of those making $75,000 or more annually, 39% rate current economic conditions as good or excellent, while only 17% rate them as poor. In sharp contrast, only 20% of those earning less than $30,000 rate economic conditions as excellent or good, while 37% rate them as poor.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted May 1-3 found six in 10 Americans say the economy is heading for trouble rather than prosperity. Only 42% say they are better off than four years ago, compared with 33% who say they are worse off and 23% reporting "about the same." Pluralities of political independents, swing voters and senior citizens say they have become worse off under Bush. His approval rating slipped to 47%, the lowest of his presidency, while a 49% plurality of voters say he doesn't deserve a second term. By a 50%-to-33% margin, voters say the nation is headed in the wrong direction. But John Kerry trailed Bush by 46% to 42%, with independent Ralph Nader drawing 5%. Without Nader, Kerry trailed 48% to 45%. Bush's attack ads have had some effect as Kerry's positives have fallen to 38%, down from 43% in March, while the proportion regarding him negatively has risen to 38% from 30% two months ago. The number of voters who said they are concerned about Kerry "straddling both sides of issues" has risen to 49% from 42% in March.
POLLUTERS BACK BUSH. The nations' top polluters, as measured in terms of mercury, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, are power plants owned by corporations that are tightly allied with the Bush administration in terms of both campaign contributions and pollution policymaking, according to a new study from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Public Citizen. "America's Dirtiest Power Plants: Plugged into the Bush Administration" ranks the top 50 polluting power plants for three pollutants. While the power plants represent only 5% of the more than 1,000 such facilities in the US, the worst offenders dominate the industry's problem emissions: 43% of sulfur dioxide pollution, 31% of CO2 pollution and 43% of mercury pollution. See the at WhiteHouseForSale.org.
Since 1999, the 30 biggest utility companies owning most of the 89 dirtiest power plants examined in the study have poured $6.6 million into the coffers of the Bush presidential campaigns and the Republican National Committee. The companies and their trade association, the Edison Electric Institute, have produced 10 "Rangers" and "Pioneers," Bush campaign super-fundraisers who collect at least $200,000 or $100,000, respectively, in earmarked contributions. The 30 companies hired at least 16 lobbying or law firms with 23 Rangers or Pioneers between them who have raised at least $3.4 million for the Bush campaigns. These firms, together with the private utility industry's trade association, met with Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force at least 17 times to help formulate the country's energy and pollution policies.
FEW MAD COW TESTS. When a cow staggered and collapsed at Lone Star Beef in San Angelo, Tex., it was condemned as unfit for human consumption and should have been tested for mad cow disease. Instead, it was sent to a rendering plant to be made into animal food and byproducts. Meatingplace.com, a meat industry Web site, reported May 5 that a federal inspector had started to take a brain sample but was ordered not to by the regional headquarters of the USDA in Austin, Texas. Only three cows have been tested for mad cow disease over the past two years at the Texas plant, Steve Mitchell reported for UPI May 4. The small number of tests occurred despite the fact that Lone Star Beef processes older dairy cows that are considered to hold a high risk of being infected. The only confirmed mad cow infection in US herds occurred last December in a 6-1/2-year-old dairy cow in Washington state. Lone Star is the 18th largest slaughterhouse in the country and processed about 350,000 animals over the two-year period.
ARIZ. CLEAN ELECTIONS THREAT. Supporters of Clean Elections in Arizona plan to hold 1,000 parties at private homes in an effort to raise $1 million to fight a business-backed initiative to repeal the public financing system for state elections. Under the Clean Election law, a candidate collects a certain number of $5 donations to qualify for public funds. In 2002, the system distributed $13 million in public money to hundreds of legislative and statewide candidates, including Gov. Janet Napolitano, making them less dependent on special-interest lobbyists. US Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a leading force behind the effort to repeal Clean Elections, said taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for political campaigns, especially when the state is facing financial problems. [And corporations are willing to pay for them ...] About 65% of the Clean Election fund comes from surcharges on civil and criminal fines. The rest comes from a $5 state income-tax check off and income-tax credit for up to $500. The "No Taxpayer Money for Politicians" group hired several hundred workers to secure 245,000 signatures on petitions, exceeding the 183,000 required to get the initiative placed on the November ballot. The committee has raised $125,900 from just 24 contributors, according to the Arizona Conservative (azconservative.org). See also Arizona's Clean Elections Institute (azclean.org) and Public Campaign (publicampaign.org).
CAL ORDERS E-VOTE SECURITY. California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley set tough new standards for electronic voting on April 30, barring the use of one-third of existing machines from November's ballot and ordering new security measures before thousands of others already purchased can be used, Reuters reported. Shelley also called for a criminal investigation into the state's largest e-voting machine supplier, Diebold, a firm he called "reprehensible," following glitches in the March ballot. He accused Diebold of "fraudulent action" and "deceitful tactics." Shelley said he nearly acted to bar all electronic voting machines, but then said it would give all but four counties, including San Diego, the chance to use them if they can provide a paper receipt and fulfill other conditions. E-vote critics hope that California will become a model for other states. At least 20 states are considering legislation to require a paper record of every vote cast after rushing to get ATM-like voting machines to replace paper ballots in the wake of Florida's fiasco with hanging chads in the 2000 presidential election, Wired.com reported. About 50 million people, or 29% of voters, are expected to vote electronically in November's election. The federal Election Assistance Commission held a May 5 hearing on e-voting that heard from both sides, including Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J), who was drumming up support for his Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (HR 2239), which would require voting machines to produce paper records. He said the bill would not take away accommodations for disabled voters.
VERMONT REGULATES GMOS. Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas April 26 signed the country's first law regulating genetically modified seeds. Effective Oct. 1, sales racks must label which seeds are altered through genetic engineering. The law also requires seed producers to report to the state's agriculture secretary how much modified seed has been sold in Vermont. Rep. David Zuckerman, one of four Progressive Party members in the Vermont House, has been working on regulating GMO seeds for much of his eight years in the Legislature. "As an organic vegetable farmer, I am directly concerned about what these seeds do to our land, to organic and non-GMO farmers, as well as consumers who ultimately eat GMO foods without knowing it," he said. He attributed the bill's passage to pressure from the grassroots. The measure passed the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 125-10, easily passed the state Senate and was signed into law by the Republican governor. In the past two years, over 65 towns in Vermont have approved non-binding referendums asking for a moratorium on planting GMO seeds in Vermont until more information is available.
SEEK MILK PROTEIN STANDARDS. The National Family Farm Coalition (nffc.net) filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) April 27, requesting FDA to notify all federal and state regulators of the necessity to examine all uses of milk protein concentrate (MPC) to make sure they meet "Generally Regarded As Safe" (GRAS) requirements in all food. Since companies did not use either MPCs or ultra-filtered milk prior to 1958, the coalition claims, these substances are subject to GRAS certification, which requires scientific analysis to meet FDA's human consumption standards. "This MPC is going into everything from cheese to baby formula," said Paul Rozwadowski, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and chair of the NFFC Dairy Subcommittee. "The consumer has a right to know that what companies put in their products is safe, and right now no company in the United States can claim that MPC meets any FDA standard."
DISNEY'S FANTASYLAND CENSORSHIP. Disney CEO Michael Eisner dismissed the idea that forbidding Disney subsidiary Miramax to distribute a controversial new documentary by Michael Moore was a form of censorship. "We informed both the agency that represented the film and all of our companies that we just didn't want to be in the middle of a politically-oriented film during an election year," he told ABC's World News Tonight (5/5/04), referring to Moore's Fahrenheit 911, which examines connections between the Bush family and the House of Saud that rules Saudi Arabia. But FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), noted that Disney is one of the largest distributors of political, highly-partisan media content in the country -- virtually all right-wing. Consider that almost all of Disney's major talk radio stations -- WABC in New York, WMAL in D.C., WLS in Chicago, WBAP in Dallas/Ft. Worth and KSFO in San Francisco -- broadcast Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. (Disney's KABC in L.A. carries Hannity, but has Bill O'Reilly instead of Limbaugh.) Disney's news/talk stations are dominated by other partisan Republicans, including Laura Ingraham, Larry Elder and Matt Drudge. Disney's Family Channel carries Pat Robertson's 700 Club, which routinely equates Christianity with Republican causes. Disney's ABC News prominently features John Stossel, who advocates for a conservative free-market philosophy in almost all his work.
FAIR also noted that Disney has financial involvement with a member of the same Saudi family whose connections to the Bush dynasty are investigated by Moore. Prince Al-Walid bin Talal, a billionaire investor who is a grandson of Saudi King Fahd, became a major investor in Disney's Eurodisney theme park when it was in financial trouble, and may be asked to bail out the troubled project again. It's not unprecedented for Disney to respond favorably to a political request from its Saudi business partner; when Disney's EPCOT Center planned to describe Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in an exhibit on Israeli culture, Al-Walid says that he had personally asked Eisner to intervene in the decision. That same week, Disney announced that the pavilion would not refer to Jerusalem as Israel's capital (BBC, 9/14/99). (See www.fair.org.)
POLITICAL SACRAMENTS. Conservative Catholics are still pushing bishops to deny communion to Catholic Democrats who support abortion rights. (They aren't very vocal about pro-choice Catholic Republicans.) The Catholic vote may be key in some of the "battleground states" this fall. Father Andrew Greeley writes in his syndicated column, "There is currently a discussion among some Catholic bishops about refusing the sacraments to Democratic Sen. John Kerry for not opposing abortion, thus doing the Republican National Committee's work for it. But the Pope and the national hierarchy also have condemned the death penalty and the war in Iraq. Are these bishops willing to deny the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support the death penalty or the Iraq war? And if not, why not? Moreover, will they tell Catholics that it is a sin to support an unjust war and to vote for a candidate who is responsible for such a war? And, again, if not, why not?
"I can think of a couple of reasons. First, denouncing abortion will get you attention in the Vatican. Attacking the death penalty and the war are not likely to promote your career. Second, the rules are different for Democrats and Republicans. It is curious, to say the least, that 30 years after Roe vs. Wade, the issue of denying the sacraments would be raised during this election year."
John Allen, Rome correspondent for the liberal National Catholic Reporter (natcath.org), wrote that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who leads a bishops' committee to study sanctions against pro-choice politicians, denied the bishops supported the election of George W. Bush. McCarrick said that while he appreciates Bush's stands on human life, Catholic education and HIV/AIDS relief, he has reservations about the president's policies in Iraq and the Middle East. "I hope that [Catholics] really study the issues," McCarrick said. "Look at the questions of life that are primary, but look at everything."
NCR's Joe Feuerherd noted that at least one US prelate seems to have had enough of the discussion. "Asked for the umpteenth time whether he would favor withholding Communion from pro-choice Catholic politicians (he's expressed reluctance to do so) Chicago's Cardinal Francis George deadpanned, 'I've been asked that question so often lately that I have considered a policy of denying Communion to reporters.'"
SENATE PROTECTS OVERTIME. The Senate voted 52-47 May 4 to reverse the Bush administration's attempt to deny overtime to millions of white-collar workers who now qualify for it. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, attached an amendment to a corporate tax bill that would guarantee the right to overtime pay for all workers who currently qualify. That amendment faces an uncertain future in the House as well as a possible veto threat. In a revision last month, Labor Department officials said the proposal would guarantee overtime rights to police officers, firefighters, other emergency and public safety workers and licensed practical nurses, groups of employees whose potential loss of premium pay had helped stir opposition. Unless the rules are blocked, the administration could put them in effect on Aug. 23.
CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF ORGANICS. US organic standards have once again come under attack, the Organic Consumers Association reported. First the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) announced on April 14 that they would no longer monitor or police "organic" labels on non-agricultural products, opening the door for unscrupulous companies to put bogus organic labels on products such as fish, body care products, pet foods, fertilizer and clothing. And corporate agribusiness and the biotech lobby apparently have called on their friends in the Bush administration to degrade organic standards and allow industrial agriculture practices such as the use of pesticides, antibiotics, non-organic feed, growth hormones and even genetically engineered animal drugs in "organic" food. USDA's NOP on April 28 announced controversial new directives on national organic standards. (See organicconsumers.org.)
BUSH RALLY REJECTS WW2 VET. Bill Ward stood in line for an hour to see President Bush at Dubuque's Grand River Center. When it came time to show his identification, Ward told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, he was asked if he supported Bush in 2000. "I said I didn't vote for him then and I won't vote for him now," Ward said. Saying he is a World War II veteran who served in Germany and France, Ward is strongly critical of the war in Iraq. "The only thing I wanted to do was get down to the riverfront and ask Bush some questions," he said. But Ward's lack of support for the president apparently was his undoing. "They asked some girl to escort me out and I told them I don't need to be escorted out," Wards said. "I'm a veteran of World War II." Dubuque was a stop on Bush's "bus tour" of the Midwest.