Monday, December 15, 2008


Bush's Final F.U.

The administration is rushing to enact a host of last-minute regulations that will screw America for years to come

by TIM DICKINSONPosted Dec 25, 2008 11:55 AM

In its final days, the administration is rushing to implement a sweeping array of "midnight regulations" — de facto laws issued by the executive branch — designed to lock in Bush's legacy. Under the last- minute rules, which can be extremely difficult to overturn, loaded firearms would be allowed in national parks, uranium mining would be permitted near the Grand Canyon and many injured consumers would no longer be able to sue negligent manufacturers in state courts. Other rules would gut the Endangered Species Act, open millions of acres of wild lands to mining, restrict access to birth control and put local cops to work spying for the federal government.

"It's what we've seen for Bush's whole tenure, only accelerated," says Gary Bass, executive director of the nonpartisan group OMB Watch. "They're using regulation to cement their deregulatory mind-set, which puts corporate interests above public interests."

While every modern president has implemented last-minute regulations, Bush is rolling them out at a record pace — nearly twice as many as Clinton, and five times more than Reagan. "The administration is handing out final favors to its friends," says VĂ©ronique de Rugy, a scholar at George Mason University who has tracked six decades of midnight regulations. "They couldn't do it earlier — there would have been too many political repercussions. But with the Republicans having lost seats in Congress and the presidency changing parties, Bush has nothing left to lose."

Detroit's Problem: It's Health Care, not the Union

The Senate's failure to pass the bailout of the U.S. auto industry strikes a big blow at one of labor's last stands in manufacturing in the U.S.

What's at stake? According to the bill: 355,000 workers in the U.S. directly employed by the automobile industry; 4,500,000 employed in related industries (the auto industry has the highest job creation multiplier effect of any industry); 1,000,000 retirees (with pensions and health care benefits).

Vice President Dick Cheney, mindful of his administration's economic legacy, reportedly pleaded to fellow Republicans in the Senate, "If we don't do this, we will be known as the party of Herbert Hoover forever."

Welcome to forever, Dick.

It's too late for Cheney, as his party and their think tank associates celebrated the opportunity of Detroit's woes to pin blame on their perennial target, labor unions. In September, the conservative Heritage Foundation, with a barely concealed smirk, was already spreading disinformation:

"There are plenty of auto industry jobs being created every day right here in America - and with no government help. Toyota recently opened a new plant in Texas, and is building another factory in Mississippi. Toyota already produces more than 1.5 million cars in America, and that number is set to soar as more factories like those in Texas and Mississippi come on line. Unlike the Detroit automakers, Toyota has a union-free workforce, which gives the company a huge competitive advantage. Toyota still pays good wages but its workforce is younger, not burdened by seniority rules, and the company has smarter and lower benefit costs."

Two contentions - that foreign automakers in the U.S. have received no government help, and that union workers are grossly overpaid-are either misleading or completely untrue.

First, let's start with government assistance. It's easy to forget that there are government subsidies other than the ones asked for in Congressional hearings. For foreign automakers such as Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, and BMW, the better way of wringing out public subsidies is to get Southern states to battle for your plants by offering a bevy of tax abatements, infrastructure projects, and even employee recruitment, screening and training. According to the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Michigan, between 1998 and 2003, the Southern states paid out an average of $87,700 in "government help" per nonunion auto job created-an average of $143 million per facility-compared to $50,180 per job created in the haplessly unionized North.

The second contention - that the unionized autoworkers of the north are grossly overpaid - is misleading. In fact, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), one of the opponents of the bailout, encouraged the deception. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported the Senator "said the automakers pay their rank-and-file employees an average of $70 to $74 an hour, including benefits, while foreign automakers pay an average of $42 to $44 an hour." The quote, repeated nearly everywhere in the news media over the past few weeks, obscures the situation.

Only a very few news organizations - Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic and David Leonhardt at the New York Times, among the few-bothered to break it down. As it turns out, the base wages are fairly close - about $29 an hour for Detroit's three automakers, and about $26 for the foreign automakers in the U.S.

Dumb and Dumber

by Susan Estrich

Trying to sell a Senate seat is dumb. Not realizing that getting caught means you have to give up your seat as governor is dumber.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's business-as-usual attitude the day after he was indicted for putting a price on Barack Obama's Senate seat — on tape no less — provides even more evidence, if any more were needed, that the guy is not only corrupt and craven, but dumb as they come. The presumption of innocence may protect the governor when it comes to trial, but it just doesn't apply to public officials caught on tape courting corruption.

Eliot Spitzer couldn't survive and all he did was use his own money to pay a hooker. It was certainly stupid of him to assume his private life would stay private once he became governor of New York (and had taken on half of Wall Street), but he didn't abuse the public trust. Blagojevich did. He not only made a fool of himself, but of the voters of his state.

It was apparently no secret that the Illinois governor played on the wrong side of the tracks. His own father-in-law, who helped him get elected, was sufficiently disgusted with what he saw once Blagojevich took over that he spoke out against him after his first year in office. Patricia, Rod's wife and partner in political hardball, stopped speaking to her own father. She might have fared better had she kept talking to her dad and told her husband off.

So how does a guy who is transparently crooked, hopelessly arrogant and dumb as a door manage not only to get elected, but re-elected as governor of a major state? Of course, he didn't have very big shoes to fill: Blagojevich's predecessor is currently residing in a correctional facility in Terre Haute. Maybe they'll be roommates. Governors Row.

Exclusive: Pentagon Pro-Troop Group Misspent Millions, Report Says

By Noah Shachtman


While the Pentagon preps for a new administration, a scandal from an earlier era is rearing its head.

A Defense Department project, supposedly designed to support U.S. troops, was used instead to channel millions of dollars to personal friends and allies of its chief. The "America Supports You," or ASY, program was led in a "questionable and unregulated manner," according to a Department of Defense Inspector General report, obtained by Danger Room. At least $9.2 million was "inappropriately transferred" by the project's managers. Much of that money served only to further promote ASY, instead of assisting servicemembers.

In 2004, the office of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld set up ASY as a six-month effort to showcase the U.S. public's backing for the troops and their families. "If you're serving overseas, and you watch the mainstream media coverage, sometimes you can't tell if America knows you're there," one official overseeing the program says. America Supports You was seen as a way to counteract that sense.

In time, however, the program grew. Pro-troop rallies were organized. Special wristband and dog tags were made. Special-edition comic books were printed up. Processions were held on the National Mall, on the 9/11 anniversary. Sesame Street characters were enlisted to make DVDs that encouraged families with young children to talk about overseas deployments. America Supports You became a kind of umbrella group for all sorts of charity-related work for service members and military families.

Meanwhile, ASY began to spend millions — not to help the troops, the Inspector General says, but to help itself. "Instead of focusing on its primary mission of showcasing and communicating support to the troops and their families, the ASY program focus [turned to] building or soliciting support from the public," the Inspector General's report notes. In 2006 and 2007, for instance, more than $600,000 was spent ginning up support for America Supports You among schoolchildren. Another $165,000 went to a pro-ASY concert aboard the USS Intrepid, docked on Manhattan's west side. And $15,000 went to actor and musician Gary Sinise's "Lt. Dan Band" to play a separate show. The report calls all of these "questionable and unregulated actions."

No bonus

You get what you pay for ...

When a columnist doesn't get paid, there's trouble, sort of.

This column may not meet the high levels of quality to which I have made you accustomed. That's because I haven't been getting paid.

News accounts of Tribune Co.'s bankruptcy filing on Monday detailed the $1 billion owed to JP- Morgan Chase and $737.5 million to Deutsche Bank, but the vast sums owed to Steinacopia Inc. were left out. These sums are so vast that my editors don't want me to mention just how much, for fear of making the other columnists jealous. I deeply suspect those other columnists are me.

But the vast amount -- let's just say there are four figures -- was payment for my last two columns, for which the L.A. Times had not yet sent me a check before entering Chapter 11. Apparently, those weren't columns; those were blogs.

But Steinacopia, as anyone who reads Companies With One Employee Created Solely for Tax Purposes Quarterly knows, can play rough right back. I called my accountant, Marty Fox, at Bernstein, Fox, Whitman, Goldman & Blaumbatt LLP, to ask how I can get in line ahead of JPMorgan Chase.

Fox explained that, unlike JPMorgan Chase, I'm not a "secured lender." So I'm automatically placed at the end of the payback line with the other vendors because I didn't ask for collateral when I gave Tribune my loan. I countered that the reason I didn't ask for collateral was that, unlike JPMorgan Chase, I had no idea I was giving a loan. This was clearly another example of the law bailing out big companies and their rich executives while ignoring a small company and its rich executive.,0,6339808.column

Bush Presidential Library

The Flypaper Theory

Why can't the oil companies bail out Chrysler, GM and Ford?

They just went through four years of obscene profits, largely thanks to their friends in Detroit who seriously dialed back fuel efficiency standards across the board, not to mention selling millions of enormous gas guzzlers.

Their profits from the last quarter alone would more than cover what the Big Three have been asking for. So let the oil companies extend them an interest-free loan. Do it for the good of America. Hell, do it for their own good. Because if the American car companies go belly up, it's going to impact Big Oil's bottom line. Big time.

The Legacy Tour!


Democrats Must Break With Rangel

by Froma Harrop

Company gives $100,000 to congressman's pet cause. Congressman protects company tax loophole worth tens of millions. Bam! Company gives pet cause another $100,000 check.

Sounds like old times in the Republican Congress of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. But this is happening in the Democratic Congress of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. What a way to greet the new dawn of the Obama era.

The congressman is Charles B. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The cause is the future Charles B. Rangel School of Public Service at the City University of New York. And the company is Nabors Industries, an oil driller that has pledged a total of $1 million to the school.

There was nothing subtle here. Nabors CEO Eugene Isenberg reportedly met with Rangel the day the Harlem Democrat's committee marked up the bill of interest. Shortly after the tax shelter was secured, the second check cleared. (Cynics will be happy to learn that there's also an Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, named in the executive's honor.)

And what useful economic activity did Nabors perform to justify this princely tax break? Opening an office in Bermuda and declaring itself foreign.

The loophole will cost the Treasury $1.1 billion in revenues over a decade. This is money that could have gone toward expanded health coverage, restoring the National Parks or whatever.

The Nature Of And Need For A Massive Workplace Campaign In Ethical Behavior

By Donald B. Ardell

An element of REAL wellness not included in current health promotion is applied ethics.  I think ethics education would add consequence, interest and effectiveness to worksite wellness programming, and benefit most exposed to ethical lessons.  If led by skillful facilitators, ethics awareness would help employees explore common personal and business conflicts in non-controversial ways.  This would show that ethical perspectives often play a subtle role, not a controlling influence, on decisions. Employees would be guided to explore unexamined, unrecognized and unclear assumptions that shape their ideas about right and wrong. In this manner, worksite deliberations on matters of applied ethics would likely prove consequential for both companies and individual employees.  Explorations of applied ethics would make more people aware of ethical gray areas warranting clarification. 

I think ethical matters are more consequential to individual employee and organizational productivity than medical matters related to risk factors, which gets all the attention in corporate health efforts.  Of course, it is not an either/or choice – companies could offer both. 

Applied ethics is likely one of the more fruitful areas of REAL wellness.  The field of health care is rife with ethical quandaries fit for exploration and ripe for new dimensions of wellness programming. The study and testing of right or wrong judgments applied to hypothetical issues would surely generate animated interactions.  Today, worksite wellness is rather boring, and many opt out or participate reluctantly, mainly for the incentives but without whole-hearted embrace of the idea.  The ethical discussions would raise levels of understanding dramatically in a short period of time.  In doing so, worksite wellness would facilitate moral and ethical character building. Nothing in the current agenda of medical management or risk reduction offers any possibility of such an impact.

Ethics are a vital element in the common decencies: Ethics affect human interactions in business and in social discourse.  Consensus on ethical matters are likely to render most communications, agreements and understandings more reliable, trustworthy and successful.

New School Students Sit-In At Board Of Trustees Meeting

SDS die-in at L3 Corporation
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

NEW YORK (RSU) — On Wednesday The New School's Radical Student Union, along with members of the War Resisters League, held a demonstration to demand university investment disclosure. The students also demanded the implementation of a committee on socially responsible investment and removal of the treasurer of the Board of Trustees, Robert B. Millard. The demonstration started at the headquarters of L-3 Communications, located at 600 3rd Avenue, and ended at the New School's Arnhold Hall at 55 W. 13th Street where the Board of Trustees was having their last meeting of the semester. At about 5 p.m., after the students' request to present their demands to the Board of Trustees was denied, the protest became an impromptu sit-in. Approximately 60 students entered the building and filled the lobby, demanding their requests be met.

Students were protesting the treasurer of the Board of Trustees, Robert B. Millard, because of his position as chairman of the executive committee of the military contractor L-3 Communications. L-3 Communications provides a large percentage of the "intelligence personnel" employed in illegal detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, and is currently facing four lawsuits from Iraqis tortured at Abu Ghraib. An L-3 subsidiary, Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI), armed and trained both sides during the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s and armed and trained the Georgian army prior to and during their attack on Russia.

Bob Kerrey, regarded as an obstacle to Free Inquiry by students
(Photo: Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress)

Last semester, the RSU brought these demands to the attention of the university's president, Bob Kerrey, when they held a demonstration against L-3 and Millard and attempted to attend a Board of Trustees meeting. At the demonstration they were granted a meeting with Kerrey - it was here where they first brought their research and demands around investment disclosure, Millard, and the Socially Responsible Investment committee (SRI) to the attention of the President. However, Kerrey refused to disclose the university's investments to them or anyone else and made it perfectly clear that he had no intention of ever letting students know what the university is invested in. He also made it clear that he had no intention of ever letting students sit as voting members of the board of trustees. The Radical Student Union believes this denies students an important right to have a say in their own education. Kerrey hosted a conference on "Free Inquiry" and threats to academic freedom in late October. Ironically, many students see him as the biggest obstacle to the free inquiry of students who care about the future of their university.

The Silent Winter of Escalation

by Norman Solomon

Soldiers rush for supplies in eastern Afghanistan.
Soldiers rush for supplies in eastern Afghanistan. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

    Sunday morning, before dawn, I read in The New York Times that "the Pentagon is planning to add more than 20,000 troops to Afghanistan" within the next 18 months - "raising American force levels to about 58,000" in that country. Then, I scraped ice off a windshield and drove to the C-SPAN studios, where a picture window showed a serene daybreak over the Capitol dome.

    While I was on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" for a live interview, the program aired some rarely seen footage with the voices of two courageous politicians who challenged the warfare state.

    So, on Sunday morning, viewers across the country saw Barbara Lee speaking on the House floor three days after 9/11 - just before she became the only member of Congress to vote against the president's green-light resolution to begin the US military attack on Afghanistan.

    "However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint," she said. The date was September 14, 2001. Congresswoman Lee continued, "Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, Let's step back for a moment, let's just pause just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control."

    And she said, "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."

    The footage of Barbara Lee was an excerpt from the "War Made Easy" documentary film (based on my book of the same name). As she appeared on a TV monitor, I glanced out the picture window. The glowing blue sky and streaky clouds above the Hill looked postcard-serene.

    But the silence now enveloping the political nonresponse to plans for the Afghanistan war is a message of acquiescence that echoes what happened when the escalation of the Vietnam War gathered momentum.

Reducing greenhouse emissions