With Deputy Atty. Gen. James Comey leaving the Justice Department to take the post of general counsel at Lockheed Martin, the guy next in line to oversee special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's probe into the CIA leak is Associate Atty. Gen. Robert McCallum, an old college friend of George W. Bush, Newsweek reported in its 8/15/05 issue. With Fitzgerald's probe closing in on White House aides who leaked CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame's name, there are concerns that McCallum might try to shut down the investigation. Fitzgerald recently called White House aide Karl Rove's secretary and his former top aide to testify before the grand jury, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reported. They were asked why there was no record of a phone call from Time reporter Matt Cooper, with whom Rove discussed the CIA agent, says a source close to Rove. The source said the call went through the White House switchboard, not directly to Rove.
WHITE HOUSE SCUTTLED GOP LOBBYIST PROBE: A federal investigation of controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff more than two years ago was ended shortly after President Bush removed the supervising prosecutor, the Los Angeles Times reported 8/7/05. The previously undisclosed Guam inquiry is separate from a federal grand jury in Washington that is investigating allegations that Abramoff bilked Indian tribes out of millions of dollars. In Guam, an American territory in the Pacific, investigators were looking into Abramoff's secret arrangement with Superior Court officials to lobby against a court revision bill then pending in the US Congress that gave the Guam Supreme Court authority over the Superior Court. A day after a federal grand jury subpoenaed court records involving the lobbying contracts, including bills and payments totalling $324,000, which apparently were made in $9,000 increments through another attorney, the chief prosecutor, US Atty. Frederick Black, who had launched the investigation was demoted after a decade in the job. At the time he was removed, Black also was directing a long-term investigation into allegations of public corruption in the administration of then-Gov. Carl Gutierrez. The inquiry produced numerous indictments, including some of the governor's political associates and top aides, and Gutierrez's supporters had pressed for Black's removal. Black also arranged for a security review in the aftermath of Sept. 11 that was seen as a potential threat to loose immigration rules favored by local business leaders who operate sweatshops in Guam and the Northern Marianas.
RECLAIM LOCAL RADIO: In 2000, the FCC opened the nation's airwaves to low power community radio stations that allowed more than 675 local stations to get on the air in 50 states. Now, Robert McChesney of Free Press (FreePress.net) reports that the FCC is considering new measures that would prevent commercial broadcasters from pushing community broadcasters off the dial. "It's taken commercial saturation of the radio waves to create demand for something as revolutionary as LPFM. These stations are locally driven and noncommercial, providing news and information to communities often ignored by mainstream radio," McChesney wrote. "The FCC is modifying the 2000 rules that created LPFM stations. If you have and value a local station, or wish you had more homegrown broadcasting in your area, the FCC needs to hear from you right now." See www.freepress.net/lpfm/ or call FreePress toll free at 1-866-666-1533.
NEW SOCIAL SECURITY PRIVATIZATION PLAN: The Bush administration played down the 70th anniversary of the Social Security system while congressional Republicans headed home for the August recess with orders to sell Social Security privatization dressed up with a new coat of paint, the AFL-CIO said. Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) has introduced HR 3304, which the labor federation said is the first step toward President Bush's plan to privatize and ruin Social Security. When Congress returns from vacation in September, the House Ways and Means Committee will take up the McCrery bill, which would create private accounts, cut guaranteed benefits and increase the national debt, doing nothing to stop congressional raids on the Social Security surplus or keep the program solvent. "Now is the time to send a loud and clear message: No Social Security privatization, no way," according to the federation's Working Families e-Activist Network. See www.unionvoice.org or www.americansforsocialsecurity.com (phone 202-955-1002).
RICH LIBS TO FUND THINK TANKS: At least 80 wealthy liberals have pledged to contribute $1 million or more apiece over the next five years to form a Democracy Alliance that will fund a network of think tanks and advocacy groups to compete with the potent conservative infrastructure built up over the past three decades, the Washington Post reported 8/7/05. At the same time America Coming Together, which coordinated efforts to register and get out Democratic voters in 2004, is closing down most of its operation as funding has dried up. Steven Gluckstern, a retired investment banker, is chairman of the Democracy Alliance, which will act as a financial clearing house for established and proposed groups that will develop and promote ideas on the left. Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network and a leading promoter of the Alliance, said liberals and Democrats now face a conservative "information-age Tammany Hall, a 21st century political machine, that is simply better than what we have on our side. The infrastructure we have was built for a different time and mission. It was built around the congressional majority we had for 60 years in the 20th century, the labor movement and the urban-ethnic city machines."
GM CROPS CREATE SUPERWEED: Modified genes from crops in a genetically modified crop trial have transferred into wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant "superweed" and confirming farmers' fears, the London Guardian reported 7/25/05. The cross-fertilisation between GM oilseed rape (called canola in the US), and charlock, a wild mustard, had been discounted as virtually impossible by scientists, but it was found during a follow up to the British government's three-year trials of GM crops which ended two years ago. The new form of charlock was growing among many others in a field which had been used to grow GM rape. When scientists treated the charlock with lethal herbicide it showed no ill-effects. Unlike the results of the original trials, which were the subject of large-scale press briefings from scientists, the discovery of hybrid plants that could cause a serious problem to farmers has not been officially announced. Farmers the world over are troubled by what they call "volunteers" -- crop plants that grow from seeds spilled from the previous harvest. Farmers in Canada have found that canola volunteers were resistant to at least one herbicide, and became impossible to kill with two or three applications of different weedkillers after a succession of various GM crops were grown.
RED DELICIOUS NO LONGER IS: Does it seem to you that the Red Delicious Apple isn't what it used to be? Adrian Higgins wrote in the 8/5/05 Washington Post that over the years apple growers altered the classic sweet apple's shape, its firmness, juiciness and skin thickness to allow it to be stored longer. From its 1980s heyday, when the Red Delicious represented three-quarters of the harvest in Washington state, in 2003, the crop had shrunk to just 37% of the state's harvest of 103 million boxes. Red Delicious remains the single largest variety produced in the state, but others are ascending in market share as rapidly as Red Delicious is dropping, notably Fuji and Gala.
BUSH POPULARITY PLUMMETS: A Newsweek poll conducted 8/2-4/05 and published 8/6/05 showed 61% of Americans polled disapproved of the way George W. Bush is handling the war in Iraq. The 34% who approved was Bush's lowest rating on Iraq. And 50% of those polled said the US was losing ground in efforts to establish security and democracy. Bush's approval ratings dropped to 42%, as 51% disapproved of his handling of his job. An AP/Ipsos poll conducted 8/1-3/05 and published 8/5/05 also showed 42% approval of Bush's job performance, with 55% disapproval. On Bush's integrity, 50% said the president is dishonest while 48% said he is honest. The portion of people who view his confidence as arrogance has increased from 49% in January to 56% now.
GOOD JOB NEWS SPOOKS MARKETS: The nation's employers picked up their hiring pace in July, as payrolls expanded by 207,000 jobs, according to the 8/5/05 payroll report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Unemployment was unchanged at 5% but the Economic Policy Institute noted improvement in two key indicators that have shown relatively high levels of slack in the job market: the share of the population in the labor force (employed and unemployed) and the share actually working (i.e., employment rates). But manufacturing was down by 4,000 jobs and production worker employment was off by 10,000. Dean Baker also noted at MaxSpeak.org that wage growth of 0.4% in July spooked the markets, as interest rates rose by 6 basis points and the S&P 500 dropped 0.7%.
BUSINESS HEALTH REQUIREMENT MULLED: Idaho's Republican House Speaker Bruce Newcomb is mulling a proposal that could require businesses to provide employees with insurance or reimburse Idaho for publicly-funded health care costs, the Associated Press reported 8/5/05. His target is Wal-Mart, which regularly pays its workers so badly states are forced to foot the bill for Medicaid for Wal-Mart workers. "Rather than taxpayers subsidizing the wealthiest family in the world, maybe the wealthiest family in the world ought to reimburse Medicaid," Newcomb told the Idaho Statesman. In 2001, just over half of the 50,000 businesses in Idaho didn't offer health insurance. The number of uninsured Idahoans has grown 26% since 2000. About a fifth of Idaho residents, or 252,000, have no health insurance, and more than four-fifths of the people in that category were working.
BUCK STOPS AT PRIVATE: Nine soldiers have been prosecuted for prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, but none of them are officers, the *New York Times* reported 8/7/05. Many former officers at the Bagram, Afghanistan, base where prisoners were held have denied knowing about any serious mistreatment of detainees before the two deaths. But others said some of the methods that prosecutors have cited as a basis for criminal charges, including chaining prisoners to the ceilings of isolation cells for long periods, were either standard practice at the prison or well-known to those who oversaw it. In the first interview granted by any of the accused soldiers, a former guard charged with maiming and assault told the *Times* that he and other reservist military policemen were specifically instructed at Bagram how to deliver the type of blows that killed two detainees, and that the strikes were commonly used when prisoners resisted being hooded or shackled. "I just don't understand how, if we were given training to do this, you can say that we were wrong and should have known better," said the soldier, Pvt. Willie V. Brand , 26, of Cincinnati, a father of four who volunteered for tours in Afghanistan and Kosovo. "The buck stops with privates in Bush's America," a poster at DailyKos.com noted.
BEEF GLUT THREATENS PRODUCERS: The US Department of Agriculture has decided to re-open the Canadian border to cattle trade despite concerns about Mad Cow Disease in Canadian cattle and the closing of meat packing facilities due to excess cattle already in the US market. "The USDA said we should reopen the border with Canada despite [bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow] concerns because we didn't have enough cattle," NFU President Dave Frederickson stated. "Now the fourth-largest packing company in the nation says they have too many cattle. Which is it? Too few or too many?" The National Beef Packing Company said that the industry is killing too many cattle given the current domestic beef demand and the continued closure of the US' largest export markets. The closure of two of its plants will reduce the company's slaughter by 10,000 head per week. See NFU.org.
NEW GOP MONEY LAUNDERING SCHEME: Before Congress left Washington for the summer, Republicans quietly inserted a provision into the Transportation Appropriations bill that would repeal the cap on the amount of money a "Leadership PAC" can donate to a political party, Capitolbuzz.blogspot.com noted. The bill is set to come up for a vote in the fall and could be a political disaster for Democrats. By repealing the caps, lawmakers will be able to raise substantial sums of money for their leadership PACs from the same donors who have already maxed out to their campaign committees. As a result, they will be able to launder these contributions backs to their campaigns through the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee or National Republican Congressional Committee.
STATES LEAD RENEWABLES: While the recently-passed energy bill keeps federal policy relying on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, over 20 states are leading the way toward energy independence, having passed -- or actively considering -- significant clean energy policies, the Public Interest Research Groups noted. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that will double the state's renewable energy production, giving Texas the second largest renewable energy program (in total megawatts) in the nation. In the Midwest, the Illinois Commerce Commission voted unanimously in late July to adopt the Governor's Sustainable Energy Plan, which includes a significant investment in renewable energy power beginning with 2% of the electricity mix in 2007 and ramping up to 8% by 2013, with 75% of the renewable energy coming from wind power. Environment California is expecting a vote on the governor-backed Million Solar Roofs bill the week of 8/22/05 in the California Assembly. The bill would set up a 10-year-long, $1.8 billion rebate program aiming to build a million solar homes and businesses over 10 years. Arizona PIRG has been working on the Arizona Corporation Commission's (ACC) draft rules which, if adopted, would increase the state's Environmental Portfolio Standard (EPS) from 1.1% renewable energy by 2007 to 5% by 2015 and 15% by 2025. In addition, the State PIRGs planned release two studies at the National Conference of State Legislators conference in Seattle, Wash., the week of 8/14/05: "Achieving a New Energy Future: How States Can Lead America to a Clean, Sustainable Economy" and "Making Sense of America's Oil Needs: A Sustainable, State-Based Response to Dwindling Oil Supplies." See www.pirg.org.
'BUSH'S BRAIN' ON DVD: Bush's Brain, a documentary that chronicles the life of Karl Rove, George W. Bush's political strategist and "the most powerful political figure America had never heard of," at least until he was implicated in the CIA leak scandal, is out on DVD on Tartan Video. Bush's Brain tells how a nerdy political consultant with an acid tongue, a zealot's conviction and a long memory for enemies and slights, who played dirty ever since his years in the College Republicans during the 1970s, succeeded through masterful manipulation in building Bush into a political figure, making him governor and then winning two terms as president. Feared and admired by Republicans and Democrats alike, Rove has raised a new and disturbing question for America: Who really runs the country? Based on the book of the same title by journalists James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, the film (released theatrically in August) was directed and produced by Joseph Mealey and Michael Paradies Shoob. Original music is by Michelle Shocked, with a score by composer David Friedman. It features interviews with those who covered, worked alongside and have opposed Rove, and whose lives have been altered by him, including Slater and Moore, Molly Ivins, Richard Leiby, Joe C. Wilson, former Sen. Max Cleland and more. See www.bushsbrain.com/
BAGHDAD VOTES, D.C. DOESN'T: Even as residents of the nation's capital watched US troops protecting the right to vote in Iraq, they were painfully aware that they have no vote in the US Congress, Chellie Pingree, CEO of Common Cause, noted that the half-million Americans who live in the District of Columbia are still living in violation of the slogan on their license plates: "No taxation without representation. She noted that D.C. residents pay taxes, fight and die in wars, including the one in Iraq, and live and work in the city that houses Congress. "Yet they have no real voice in the institution that represents all other Americans. This is not right." Ironically, an international group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, meeting in Washington earlier this summer, pointed out this injustice, as the group called on the US to give D.C. residents voting representation in Congress. See the petition to give D.C. residents voting rights at www.commoncause.org or call 202-833-1200.
BALANCE RADIO FOR TROOPS. America's soldiers, sailors airmen and marines only hear one politically oriented talk radio host -- the intensely partisan Rush Limbaugh. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has proposed an amendment to annual Defense appropriation and call on the Department of Defense to ensure that Armed Forces Radio provides equal time and a balanced perspective on its network. You can sign the petition supporting the amendment at www.radioforthetroops.com or call Democracy Radio at 202-547-7700.
NO CHARGES IN DENVER 3 OUSTER: Federal prosecutors have declined to press charges of impersonating a Secret Service agent against a White House volunteer who forcibly ousted three people from a speech by President George W. Bush in Denver on March 21, the Rocky Mountain News reported 7/29/05. A Secret Service agent who investigated the incident said the man admitted ousting the spectators solely because they had arrived in a vehicle bearing a "No more blood for oil" bumper sticker. The Secret Service said the man was not an agent but refused to name him because he was not charged.
CAL REJECTS E-VOTE MACHINES: After extensive testing, California has rejected Diebold's electronic voting machines because of printer jams and screen freezes, the Oakland Tribune reported 7/29/05. "There was a failure rate of about 10%, and that's not good enough for the voters of California and not good enough for me," Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said. Rejection of Diebold's TSx by California, the nation's largest voting-system market, could influence local elections officials from Utah, Mississippi and Ohio, home of Diebold corporate headquarters, where dozens of counties are poised to purchase the latest Diebold touch screens. But McPherson's decision did send California counties from San Diego to Alameda to Humboldt hunting for potential alternatives to their plans to use the TSx. By January 2006, every polling place nationwide must offer at least one handicapped-accessible voting machine -- touch screens are one example -- and all California touch screens must offer a countable paper record so voters and election officials can verify the accuracy of electronic votes. So far, no voting system has been state approved that meets both requirements.
BIG BROTHER NIXES HAPPY HOUR: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that employers can ban off-duty fraternizing among co-workers, severely weakening the rights of free association and speech, and violating basic standards of privacy for America's workers, AmericanRightsAtWork.org reported. Security firm Guardsmark instituted a rule directing employees not to "fraternize on duty or off duty, date, or become overly friendly with the client's employees or with co-employees." In September 2003, the Service Employees International Union filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against Guardsmark, claiming that the company's work rules inhibited its employees' rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which grants workers the right to "self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection ..." While the law allows employers to ban association among co-workers during work hours, Guardsmark's rule was broader in that it applied to the off-duty association of co-workers. On 6/7/05, the NLRB ruled 2-1 that Guardmark's fraternization rule was lawful. See www.americanrightsatwork.org.