Monday, January 29, 2007

The Washington Iraq Peace March: A Protest to Be Proud of

By Karen Houppert, Posted January 29, 2007.

In a protest event that organizers estimated at almost half a million, citizens of all stripes demanded an end to the occupation of Iraq.

WASHINGTON, DC -- A dazzling sun beamed down on peace activists from around the countrywho gathered on the National Mall Saturday to demand an end to the Iraq War. Beneath this benevolent sky, the event read as much like a victory parade as a protest march. These were not the angry demonstrators who took to the streets of New York City in February 2003 in an attempt to avert a war, or the beaten-down and beleaguered ones who marched through US cities in March 2005 to protest US occupation of Iraq, or the slightly bedraggled group who last Spring tied US spending on the Iraq occupation to mismanagment of the crisis as they traced Hurricane Katrina's path in a three-state "March to New Orleans".

Estimates of the crowd size vary -- CNN put it at "tens of thousands" and event organizers insist nearly half a million showed, DC police declined to speculate -- one thing is certain: Today's marchers were as satisfied as cats who stole the cream, cats who were almost ... celebrating.

"Before, we were a minority marching to convince a majority that occupying Iraq was a terrible idea," says Hany Khalil, spokesperson for march organizers, United for Peace and Justice. "But today, for the first time we are out in force representing a majority of Americans who want us to get out of Iraq."

United for Peace and Justice, a coalition representing 1,400 national and local groups, has orchestrated protests since before the war begin in March 2003. Today, its lineup of speakers ranged from celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins to political familiars like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). Standing beside a flag-draped coffin, the speakers were almost uniformly optimistic. "It's healing time. It's hope time," the Reverend Jesse Jackson said, exhorting the crowd to "keep hope alive."

For this day anyway, the peace movement seemed to have called a cease-fire in its ongoing debate over how to allocate its limited resources: Is it better to work in electoral politics and propel antiwar representatives to Congress or take to the streets with shows of grassroots power? Saturday's protest organizers apppeared to concede these are complementary tactics: grassroots organizing has indeed shifted public opinion against the war; this shift in public opinion, coupled with some strategic work to get antiwar politicians into office has clearly paid off.

Conyers acknowledged the impact of the November elections. "[George Bush] is the commander of the military but he's not the commander of the citizens of this country," he said, to roars of approval. "Not only is it in our power to stop George Bush, but it's our obligation."

"The women of this nation spoke loud and clear in November," Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal reminded the crowd. "They said 'no' to this war." Speaker after speaker referred to the elections as a referendum on the war and insisted the American people had sent a clear mandate to Congress: End US occupation of Iraq. The clock is ticking on that mandate. Nowhere was this more evident than among the military families, vets, and soldiers whom this peace movement has always made room who have been front and center in this and protests. Dozens of military families crowded on stage at one point to speak of personal experiences in Iraq orwhat it was like to lose a family member to this war. More filled the backstage overflow area because they couldn't fit, and Iraq War veterans in camouflage were evident in this crowd.

Mary Geddry, a member of Military Families Speak Out, came from Coquille, Oregon with her eleven-year-old daughter, Sarah, to push for a swift end to the war. In their case, the stakes were particularly high. Mary Geddry's son, John, is a Marine who served two tours in Iraq before getting out of the military -- but as a member of the Individual Ready Reserves, he is eligible to be called back to duty at any time. He is slated to return to Iraq for a third tour in May.

"Seven times the vehicles he was traveling in were hit with IEDs [improvised explosive devices]," says Mary Geddry. "He survived, but he's definitely screwed up." "He attacked our brother on Christmas eve," pipes up Sarah.

Mary Geddry explains her son now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that he is on medication for it. He also suffered some hearing loss and has carpal tunnel syndrome -- but none of this disqualifies him from service.

"Wanna see a picture of him?" Sarah asks, whipping out her digital camera and flipping through the shots until she comes to one of her brother, John, smiling up from where he lounges on the living room sofa. "He's really cute, right?"

Though she says her son is very disillusioned with the military, and thinks Americans aren't making any friends in Iraq, he remains conflicted about vocally protesting the war because he feels responsible for his fellow marines who are still over there and doesn't want to be perceived as not supporting them.

"I say, we need to separate the war from the warriors," Geddry insists.

Clearly, Mary Geddry is doing everything she possibly can to keep her son from being deployed again. She has joined multiple peace groups, writes antiwar editorials and letters to newspapers, attends protests all over the country, and participates in a weekly vigil in her home town. She understands that families of soldiers have a role to play: "As members of Military Families Speak Out," she says, "we want it clear that our children can't be used as an excuse to fund this war."


Iraq War veteran Charlie Anderson has been an outspoken critic of the war for more than a year and is active in Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Today, he takes comfort in the knowledge that the antiwar movement has turned a corner. The momentum is growing, he says, and now has a life of its own. "I like the fact that I went to bed last night and we had 12,016 people registering on our website and when I woke up this morning, there were 12,023." Anderson, who has been campaigning hard, looks tired but clearly pleased that the numbers grew as he was sleeping.

Still, he, like nearly every grassroots protester and celebrity speaker urged Congress to be more aggressive. "They have to do more than a nonbinding resolution," he insisted. "Congress holds the purse strings. They have the power. They have to use it."


Tagged as: washington dc, iraq, protest

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Rep. John Conyers: Saturday's Peace Rally In Washington



From Rep. John Conyers' Blog On Saturday's Peace Rally In Washington:

Celebrities joined many activists and Members of Congress to call for an end to the fighting now. There was a very big crowd on the mall and most media coverage has been pretty positive.

Jane Fonda returned to the peace movement, calling upon Americans not to forget the lessons of Vietnam. I had a chance to speak to Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, who have also used their celebrity as movie stars to bring the media focus to the growing anti-war movement.

Click here to read more.


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Sam Smith

I grew up part Jewish. It was hard not to if you lived in a New Deal
family where your father was involved in things like starting Americans
for Democratic Action. My own introduction to politics came as a
pre-teen stuffing envelopes for the local ADA director Leon Shull as he
helped organize the removal of the Philadelphia's 69-year-old Republican
machine. Shull was one of those who early convinced me that there were
three branches of Judaism: your Orthodox, your Reform and your Liberal
Democratic, with the last clearly the most powerful. I was certain that
Jews were put on this earth to run labor unions and win elections for
the good guys.

If you think I'm kidding, consider this: for many years we lived across
the street from a prominent activist couple - she black, he Jewish. One
day one of their sons came over and slumped at our kitchen table.
"What's the matter?" asked my wife. "I had a terrible night," the boy
explained. "I dreamt I was Jacob Javits." He had already learned to
fear becoming a Jewish Republican.

Although I knew Jews went to synagogue, I wasn't all that impressed.
After all, as my friend Peter Temin was going to Hebrew school on
Saturdays, I got to go to the Henry Glass music store and take drum
lessons, clearly the better deal. During the week we went to a Quaker
school where perhaps a quarter of the students were Jewish and nobody
thought it odd. The tradition continues. The joke about Washington's
Sidwell Friends School is that it is a place where Episcopalians teach
Jews how to act like Quakers.

Much later I would figure out what Quakerism and Judaism had in common:
a blend of individualism, pragmatism, and responsibility, with a
particular emphasis on the last. You didn't come into the world
pre-ordained and your primary goal wasn't to leave it saved; what really
mattered is what you did in the meantime.

For much of my life, what I have done and what I have thought have been
deeply influenced by existential Judaism and its practitioners. I can't
even begin to count the number of times I have come across Jews in the
lonely corners of hope trying to do what others, through lack of
interest or courage, would not.

But a number of things have happened since I was first introduced to
Judaism. The direct ties to the often radical Jewish immigrant tradition
began to fade. The offspring of the immigrants became wealthier and less
involved. America of whatever ethnicity began paying less attention to
others and more to itself.

As I put it once, "The great 20th century social movements [were]
successful enough to create their own old boy and girl networks,
powerful enough to enter the Chevy Chase Club, and indifferent enough to
ignore those left behind. The minority elites had joined the Yankee and
the Southern aristocrat and the rest of God's frozen people to form the
largest, most prosperous, and most narcissistic intelligentsia in our
history. But as the best and brightest drove around town in their Range
Rovers, who would speak for those who were still, in Bill Mauldin's
phrase, fugitives from the law of averages? The work of witness

A whole history began to disappear. A part of the story was told by
journalist Paul S. Green in his memoir, From the Streets of Brooklyn to
the War in Europe. He notes that by the dawn of the 20th century

"Jewish youth in Poland grew more and more impatient with the narrow
focus of their lives. They were determined to take part in the
opportunities opening up around them - exciting new developments in
science, the arts, in social relationships. This brought them into
conflict with their parents and grandparents. In seeking a different way
of life, they began to do the unthinkable - to reject the strict age-old
Orthodoxy of their ancestors. "

Out of this grew several new movements, one of which, Zionism, looked
towards retrieving a Jewish nation. Others were socialist, ranging from
hard-core Bolshevik to the Bund, which Green describes as

"An organization of free-thinking Jewish youth who whole-heartedly
embraced Yiddish culture and a Yiddish life that completely rejected
traditional religion. The Bundists believed that only a socialist
government - evolutionary rather than revolutionary - could hope to
bring together all peoples of whatever origin and outlaw racial and
religious conflict, with all men becoming brothers, thereby bringing an
end to anti-Semitism and pogroms."

And so we find, not too many years later, the New York City Jewish
cigar-makers each contributing a small sum to hire a man to sit with
them as they worked - reading aloud the classic works of Yiddish
literature. And the leader of the New York cigar-makers, Samuel Gompers,
became the first president of the American Federation of Labor.

Green's own family joined the rebellion:

"In embracing the principles of free-thinking non-religious belief, my
parents had made a profound break with the past. The generation gap with
their own parents was unbelievably deep. They had been born and brought
up in a world that brooked no deviation. . . They were turning their
backs on the fearsome God of their forefathers who had ruled Jewish
lives for thousands of years. . . They realized that maintaining their
beliefs set them apart from the mainstream of Jewish life, but the fact
that they were a small minority did not bother them. "

They became part of a Jewish tradition that profoundly shaped the
politics, social conscience, and cultural course of 20th century
America. It helped to create the organizations, causes, and values that
built this country's social democracy. While Protestants and Irish
Catholics controlled the institutions of politics, the ideas of modern
social democracy disproportionately came from native populists and
immigrant socialists, heavily Jewish.

It is certainly impossible to imagine liberalism, the civil rights
movement, or the Vietnam protests without the Jewish left. There is, in
fact, no greater parable of the potential power of a conscious,
conscientious minority than the influence of secular Jews on 20th
century modern American politics.

Sadly, however, social and economic progress inevitably produced a
dilution of passion for justice and change not just among Jews but
within the entire post-liberal elite. And, in many ways, Israel became
the icon that replaced the cause of social justice. This is not to say
that the two are antithetical. That certainly wasn't the case when I was
younger. But as Jewish rhetoric and politics became increasingly in the
hands of powerful conservative interests, an iconic, unexamined Israel
began to serve Jews much as an absurdly trivialized Jesus has been used
by the powerful conservative Christian interests to serve their ends.
And other things just got forgotten.

Just as it is important for Americans not to define their country's past
by the tragic distortions of the past quarter century, it is important
for Jews not to be misled by a powerful right wing's reduction of
Judaism to the goals of a deep misguided and militaristic nation.

The fact is both America and Israel have badly damaged themselves
through grandiosity, arrogance and narcissism. Beyond that is a truth
few want to admit: no culture, no ethnicity, no value system can exist
in a vacuum any more. This is not the fault of terrorists or
anti-Semites. It's the result of television and multinational
corporations that have usurped the role of culture, values and
ethnicities. Add to that Israel's demographic trends and you've got a
problem that AIPAC and Abe Foxman can't help you with in the slightest.

The answer, to the extent there still is one for the human species, is
to be found in honest, personal witness. You can't save Christianity
with hypocrisy and you can't save Judaism with missiles. What might
work, however, is to reach back into the past of one's own culture or
ethnicity and find examples of actions and behaviors that produced
positive change. Neither Christians nor Jews have always been as
absurdly self-destructive as they are today. And before they offer any
more dangerous directions for dealing with today's problems, they need
to rediscover their own good paths.

It is along such paths - and not on battlefields - that faith is
solidified, admiration is encouraged, and loyalty is attracted. And
along the way you may even pick up some unorthodox stragglers like me.


Manipulating The Oil Reserve

Thomas I. Palley
January 26, 2007

Thomas Palley runs the Economics for Democratic and Open Societies Project. He is the author of Plenty of Nothing: The Downsizing of the American Dream and the Case for Structural Keynesianism. His weekly economic policy blog is at

2006 was the year that oil prices came close to breaching $80 per barrel. This was despite the fact that there were no significant supply interruptions and oil demand actually fell in industrialized countries. That raises the question of what caused the spike.

It turns out there is good reason to believe that record oil prices may be due to our own strategic oil reserve, which the Bush administration may have been manipulating to drive up prices for the benefit of its clients. This is something Congress must investigate, and here is some preliminary evidence.

Any finding of manipulation would go far beyond corruption and be close to economic treason, because when oil prices increase America must pay more for its imported oil. That, in turn, increases the trade deficit and our foreign debt. Alternatively, one can think of price manipulation as the equivalent of a tax increase on American families that is paid to foreign governments, including Iran. While some small energy scandals are under investigation by Congress, the big enchilada is the strategic oil reserve, which may have been “strategically” manipulated to drive up oil prices. The key to understanding this manipulation is demand and supply and oil storage capacity.

The last three years have seen rapidly rising oil prices, and a tight oil market has meant that even small increases in demand have had large price impacts. During this period the Bush administration purposely expanded inventories of the strategic oil reserve, which rose from 600 million barrels in May 2003 to 700 million barrels in August 2005. The administration therefore increased demand by 125,000 barrels per day, and oil prices rose from 30 dollars per barrel to 70 dollars.

As oil prices rose, Wall Street became increasingly engaged in commodity speculation (the destructive effects of which is a story for another day), and this is where storage matters. As speculators entered the market the spot price of crude oil rose above the futures price. However, buying spot oil means taking delivery, which requires storage capacity. By adding to the strategic reserve, the administration not only increased oil demand but also increased storage capacity because the oil it bought was stored in the strategic reserve’s caverns. That helped speculators by adding storage capacity vital for cornering the market.

That brings us to today. Over the last month spot oil prices have been tumbling. The reason is that the market has finally run out of storage capacity, which means that all oil produced must now be immediately sold—and that has driven oil prices down. This suggests there has never been a supply shortage warranting seventy-five dollar oil, and absent the administration’s dealings, oil prices might not have risen as they did.

The story does not end here. With private sector oil storage capacity exhausted, the administration has now announced its intention to double the size of the strategic oil reserve from 700 million barrels to 1.5 billion barrels, and it plans to start purchasing 100,000 barrels of oil per day.

The result has been predictable, with the price of oil jumping from $50 to $55 per barrel over the last week (01/19- 01/24). Not only will these purchases increase oil demand, they will also provide new storage capacity needed to re-corner the market.

One last piece of evidence concerns Hurricane Katrina and the oil loan program. Following Katrina, gulf oil production was interrupted causing shortages of crude for refineries. The administration’s response was to loan crude to refiners who were to pay it back in kind. That was a huge gift to refiners who got the oil they wanted and then made a killing on the processed gasoline that was in short supply after Katrina. The proper way to handle the situation would have been to auction the oil, in which case taxpayers would have got the windfall disaster rent (excess profit) resulting from Katrina. This is because refiners would have been willing to pay a high price knowing that gas prices were high.

But there’s yet more damage. If government had auctioned the oil, it could have chosen when to buy it back. Instead, companies paid it back in kind in late 2005 and early 2006, and these payments tightened the market demand and also freed up private storage capacity facilitating further market cornering.

The oil market is full of smoke that provides perfect cover for corruption. Every price blip calls forth explanations in terms of Chinese demand, more violence in Nigeria’s delta region, cold weather, threats from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. The strategic reserve is the perfect vehicle for corruption since transactions can be cloaked in the veil of national defense. But the situation is clear. A motive exists, the bad character of the administration is known and the circumstantial evidence is strong.

Congress must investigate the strategic oil reserve, how it has been managed and what its purpose is. The recently announced expansion serves no real national security function (though that will be the justification) and will only drive up oil prices and add to the budget deficit and national debt.

One last factoid. A recent IMF study documented that oil prices in the U.S. appear to be politically manipulated, falling prior to elections—as they did in 2002, 2004 and 2006. If you are an economist you ask how that is done. The answer is the strategic oil reserve.

Union Membership Drops to Record Low

By Will Lester
The Associated Press

Thursday 25 January 2007

Washington - Union membership dropped to 12 percent of U.S. workers last year, extending a steady decline from the 1950s when more than a third belonged to unions.

After membership had held steady at 12.5 percent in 2005, it declined anew last year, a decrease of more than 325,000 workers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday.

Membership had been 20.1 percent in 1983, when the bureau first provided comparable numbers. About 35 percent of American workers were union members in the mid-1950s.

The latest gloomy news for organized labor comes at a time when the group is pushing legislation in the Democratic-controlled Congress that would make it easier for unions to organize.

But labor laws aren't the only obstacle to union membership.

"Much of the decline is coming from shifts in the economy," said Greg Denier, a spokesman for Change to Win, a federation of labor unions. Thousands of jobs are being outsourced or lost to technological changes. And employers are aggressively campaigning against the formation of unions, he said.

Labor unions are pushing legislation that would let workers form unions more readily by simply signing a card or petition, impose stronger penalties on employers who violate labor laws, and allow for arbitration to settle contract disputes.

Advocates of the legislation say they doubt that it will get signed into law by President Bush, but that they think passage in Congress would make eventual signing of the law more likely.

The continuing drop in membership has given them new motivation.

"There's no better argument for quick passage," said Stewart Acuff, organizing director of the AFL-CIO. The federation's own research suggests many people would join unions if they had the chance, he said.

Supporters say the proposal is more fair to workers because employers can't intimidate workers to discourage formation of a union. Opponents say it deprives workers of the right to vote privately on their union preferences, and can lead to union intimidation.

The union membership rate for government workers, 36.2 percent, was substantially higher than for private industry workers, 7.4 percent.

The latest membership statistics have to be "incredibly discouraging for labor," said Gary Chaison, a labor specialist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

"Before they can grow, they have to stand still," he said. "The unions are losing so many members each year because their jobs are being outsourced and they are organized in shrinking sectors of the economy, like autos, steel and textiles."

The pressures on organized labor led to a split starting in the summer of 2005, with more than a half-dozen unions breaking free of the AFL-CIO. The breakaway unions cited the need for more emphasis on organizing, though the split was also caused by power struggles and personality disputes among union leaders.

Much of the recent union recruitment has focused on industries unlikely to lose jobs overseas _ like the hotel industry, health care and service workers.

The continuing erosion of union membership is "just another sign of the collapse of the middle class," said David Gregory, a professor of labor law at St. John's University Law School.

"Health and medical insurance coverage and retirement pension security were the result of decades of work of the labor unions," he said. "I think we're going to dramatically see the cutting away of the safety net for workers."


State Of The Union: Deteriorating

Robert L. Borosage
January 22, 2007

Robert L. Borosage is co-director of the Campaign For America's Future.

Tomorrow night, President Bush will tell Americans that the state of our union is strong. He’ll celebrate a growing economy, enjoying rising productivity, rising profits, more jobs and record home ownership. He’ll stand as commander in chief of the most powerful military ever. He’ll lay out areas—energy, immigration, health care—where he envisions progress through bipartisan cooperation.

What he won’t do is level with Americans. In reality, America’s condition is deteriorating rapidly. We’re like a world-class athlete who has let himself go in middle age. Muscle is turning to flab; arteries are clogged, reflexes slowed. The body is not only more vulnerable to garden-variety ailments, it is susceptible to what might be crippling strokes.

An extreme metaphor? Consider the following realities that the president is unlikely to call to the nation’s attention.

Stock prices and productivity are up, CEO salaries are soaring, but workers aren’t sharing in the profits they helped generate. Incomes aren’t keeping up with costs. Since Bush took office six years ago, more Americans live in poverty (now 37 million), families have gone deeper in debt, more go without health insurance (over 45 million), fewer have pensions at work. Americans are working longer and harder than the workers in any other industrial nation, including Japan. But around their kitchen tables at night, they find it harder and harder to figure out how to make ends meet. For most Americans, it’s getting ever harder to provide the basics—stable jobs with family wages, adequate health care, affordable education for their kids, a secure retirement, enough money to keep up with their loans.

Step back and look at the country and our condition appears even more perilous. We face the worst foreign policy debacle in our history in Iraq, the largest trade deficits in the annals of time, the worst inequality since the Gilded Age, record family debt burdens, a health care system that is broken, an education system in dire need of basic investment, an energy policy that undermines our security and fosters catastrophic climate change, 13 million children raised in poverty and the worst budget deficits ever.

We are mortgaging the store—unsustainable trade deficits, record budget deficits and record family indebtedness. The rest of the world—led by central bankers in China and Japan—are financing our profligacy while they capture our manufacturing capacity. We now have a trade deficit with China not only in consumer goods for Wal-Mart, but in high-tech equipment. We are now, for the first time, paying more in interest abroad, $10 billion a year, than our global investments are generating in income. And the president’s trade and tax policies insure that we will keep digging the hole that we’re in.

Worse, we’ve squandered what we’ve borrowed. We should be investing in science and technology, in modern infrastructure, in education and energy independence so that we build a more competitive economy able to grow its way out of a $9 trillion hole. Instead, we’ve ladled the money out to the wealthy in tax breaks and to foreign misadventure in Iraq. Our communications system now lags behind that of Japan and Europe. Our energy dependence bets our economy on the shifting sands of Persian Gulf tribal politics. We aren’t even making the basic investments in education—early childhood health, universal preschool, smaller classes, better teachers and affordable college.

Meanwhile, the captains of our global banks and corporations bail out of America, moving jobs and investments abroad. We’ve witnessed an unprecedented criminal wilding in the corporate suites, as executives cook the books and backdate stock options to plunder their own companies. The federal government has been captured by corporate interests—with oil and gas companies pocketing billions in tax subsidies while wallowing in record profits, and the drug industry enjoying record rates of return while forcing Americans to pay the highest price for medicine in the world.

The U.S. is still prosperous, blessed with creative and hard-working people. Our universities are still the best in the world. A world-class economy—like a world-class athlete—maintains a lot of muscle, even while in decline. But don’t be confused—we’re living off of former glories. When the president says the state of the union is strong, he may be deluding himself, but he’s fooling fewer and fewer people here and abroad.

Beyond Net Neutrality: Internet Freedom

January 26, 2007

Ben Scott is policy director for Free Press, the national, nonpartisan media reform group.

A year ago, the future of the free and open Internet looked pretty grim. The telephone companies were firing up the engines of one of the biggest lobbying campaigns in history. All told in 2006, they would spend more than $100 million on advertising, lobbying, campaign contributions, slanted research from coin-operated think tanks and an array of astroturf groups—in an attempt to rewrite communications law. At the top of the priority list was the destruction of “network neutrality.”

Net neutrality is the basic principle that keeps the companies connecting your house to the global network from discriminating against content flowing over the Internet based on its source or ownership. As a result, the Internet has grown into the greatest engine of democratic participation, free speech and economic innovation since the printing press.

When the dust cleared in the 2006 fight in Congress over Net neutrality, the telephone lobby—and its hundreds of millions of dollars—fell short. They were thwarted by the grassroots Coalition, which brought together of more than 800 organizations and collected 1.5 million petitions supporting Net neutrality. Standing beside them were the titans of Silicon Valley and hundreds of small businesses, librarians, civil libertarians, journalists and thousands of bloggers and YouTubers. As a result of Coalition’s political pressure, Congress closed its doors for the year without passing a new telecom bill. It was a grand moment for supporters of a democratic Internet.

In the last days of 2006, the Net neutrality debate heated up again. This time it was not in Congress but at the Federal Communications Commission. AT&T was pushing for final approval of its $86 billion acquisition of BellSouth, the largest merger in telecommunications history. The FCC might have rubber stamped the merger for AT&T without a single public interest condition (as the Department of Justice did), but when one of the FCC’s three GOP commissioners, citing a conflict of interest, removed himself from the proceeding, AT&T was left with a divided FCC—two Democrats, two Republicans—and no choice but to compromise.

To get its merger, AT&T agreed to two years of clearly defined Net neutrality, an expansion of its network and low prices for new Internet subscribers. In the wake of the merger, much of the discussion in the Internet community has focused on trying to poke holes and find weaknesses in the Net neutrality condition that AT&T was forced to accept. This line-by-line critique has attained such a volume in certain circles that you might think it was the most significant element in this story. It is not, not by several country miles.

It was never possible to win a perfect Net neutrality victory at FCC through a merger condition. But the terms of this deal have reshaped the debate over the future of the Internet. The phone companies’ two most prominent arguments against Net neutrality are now dead. They can no longer argue that Net neutrality cannot be defined—because the FCC just did it. Neither can they argue that Net neutrality, network build-out, low-cost high-speed Internet and a profitable company are mutually exclusive. AT&T’s agreement means that in the new Congress, the debate is not about whether Net neutrality should be the law of the land; it’s about how and when Congress will move to make it so.

Once Net neutrality is back on the books, we can set our sights higher than protecting the free and open network we’ve always had. We can start pushing for the big goal: universal access to a world-class broadband network at affordable prices. We need a national broadband policy, not a series of laws designed to prop up the business models of incumbent telephone and cable companies. We want to make the information superhighway a public good, to bring the transformative spirit of free speech and free markets to every community. The organizers of the Coalition recently unveiled the "Internet Freedom Declaration" to pursue these goals.

This is an uphill fight, but the new Congress has leaders in key positions that favor an expansive, public interest broadband policy. In particular, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., now chairs the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over Internet issues. Judging by his speech at the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis, Markey has a very progressive agenda in mind. Together with Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., we can expect to see close scrutiny and oversight of FCC activities. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin will have to answer for why his commission has watched the United States tumble down the ranks of the world’s leaders in broadband. He will have to answer for why he has consistently opposed Net neutrality and pushed an agenda that is indistinguishable from AT&T’s wish list.

We'll also look to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, to put in place a national broadband policy with Net neutrality as its cornerstone. Inouye will be supported by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who recently re-introduced their Net neutrality bill. Other important issues for the future of the Internet are also being teed up in the Senate. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has introduced a bill to press the FCC to open up more of the public airwaves for wireless broadband.

Throughout the early months of 2007, we should expect House and Senate Commerce Committees to conduct a series of hearings to determine the best paths for bringing a bigger, better, more affordable Internet to the American public. For once, the lawyers of the largest corporations won’t be the only voices at the table. We’ll see scholars, consumer representatives, unions and entrepreneurs who can give testimony about why we need a universal broadband to super-charge our economy and enhance social opportunity.

The concessions made in the AT&T merger are a big victory for the millions of people who have followed and fought this debate to hang their hats on. We’re not playing defense any longer.

Muzzling Unions

Dmitri Iglitzin
January 22, 2007

Dmitri Iglitzin is a labor law attorney in Seattle and a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law.

Organized labor’s efforts to mobilize progressive voters played a critical role in last fall’s election. According to the AFL-CIO, in the final four days before the election alone, more than 187,000 union volunteers made 7.9 million phone calls, knocked on 3.5 million doors, and reached 2 million workers at the work site. The bottom line was an energized, mobilized and engaged union vote that made a difference in almost every close race in 2006. One in four voters nationwide was a union member, even though unions make up only 12 percent of the workforce, and three-quarters of them voted Democratic.

This effort is costly, though: the AFL-CIO and SEIU together spent about $100 million. While union members contribute mightily to various PACs, much of the operating money comes from union dues. A much smaller but significant amount, though, comes from so-called agency fees—deductions from non-member workers who pay for the financial and workplace advantages union contracts bring.

Which is why a dispute pending before the United States Supreme Court, involving the Washington Education Association and a 1992 Washington state campaign finance reform law, might matter so much.

The law itself results from the successful 1992 Washington state initiative, the “Fair Campaign Practices Act,” regulating political contributions and campaign expenditures. A progressive’s dream of a campaign reform law, it was designed to “ensure that individuals and interest groups have fair and equal opportunity to influence elective and governmental processes,” and to “reduce the influence of large organizational contributors.” Buried about halfway through the initiative, however, was a provision, Section 760, which precluded any labor organization from using the fees from non-members “to influence an election or to operate a political committee, unless affirmatively authorized by the individual.”

The Washington Education Association (WEA) challenged this rule in court, arguing that its First Amendment right to act on behalf of all of the employees it represents is interfered with if it has the heavy burden of obtaining “affirmative authorizations” from all of those employees before spending their money for political purposes. The WEA was successful in making this argument before the Washington State Supreme Court, which struck down Section 760 as unconstitutional.

The problem with this argument, which was not lost on the U.S. Supreme Court, is that the union has no underlying constitutional right to compel any employee to contribute any money to it. In fact, in many states, unions are statutorily forbidden to compel employees to pay dues of any sort—and it is clear that such prohibitions are constitutionally valid. Since Washington could lawfully forbid the WEA from involuntarily extracting any dues money at all from the workers it represents, why can’t the state take the lesser step of forbidding the WEA from extracting such money for certain purposes without “affirmative authorization” by the worker?

The danger is that the court may not only uphold the law, but also further limit the ability of labor unions to raise money for political activity. Some hint was given by Justice Scalia, early in the argument. The First Amendment, he opined, far from prohibiting a requirement that “affirmative authorization” be obtained from employees before unions may use their money for political purposes, in fact actually requires such an “opt in” scheme. “If this money is the non-union member’s money and an opt-in scheme is not much of a burden on the unions,” he asked, “why should the First Amendment permit anything other than an opt-in scheme?”

Were that to become the Supreme Court’s ruling, it would drastically alter the status quo, which currently requires unions only to give employees notice of their right to object to having their dues used for other than contract negotiation and administration. In the worst case, unions could be severely limited in their ability to raise money from non-members for any purposes at all beyond the so-called "core" union tasks of negotiating and administering collective bargaining agreements.

But there is no such clear line. Legislators make the laws that govern what a union can and can’t do, so that electing people sympathetic to unions is essential to their existence—as much as are negotiating and enforcing contracts. Without a progressive vision, unions are at risk, and vice-versa. That’s why the right works so hard to limit union activity.

An unfavorable ruling would not end labor’s political action. They could still raise and spend the money they received from members, as voluntary contributions, and from individuals who authorized such expenditures. That ruling would be a significant boost, however, to the efforts by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and other anti-union organizations to strip unions of their funding sources and thereby neuter them politically.

Ironic as it may seem, the ultimate outcome of Washington state voters’ effort to improve that state’s “elective and governmental processes” through campaign finance reform may be nothing of the sort. Should the Supreme Court rule as many fear, the result will instead be the further tilting of the balance of economic and political power towards corporations and special interests, and away from entities such as labor organizations which advocate on behalf of the working men and women of this country.

Letter to Dan Inouye from a Hawaii Resident

The Honorable Daniel Inouye
309 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

Dear Senator Inouye

As a native Hawaiian and excellent customer of the Internal Revenue
Service, I am writing to ask for your assistance. I have contacted the
Department of Homeland Security in an effort to determine the process
for becoming an illegal alien and they referred me to you.

My primary reason for wishing to change my status from U.S. Citizen to
illegal alien stems from the bill, which was recently passed by the
Senate and for which you voted.

If my understanding of this bill's provisions is accurate, as an Illegal
Alien who has been in the United States for five years, all I need to do
to Become a citizen is to pay a $2,000 fine and income taxes for
three of the Last five years. I know a good deal when I see one and I am
anxious to get the process started before everyone figures it out.

Simply put, those of us who have been here legally have had to pay taxes
every year, so I'm excited about the prospect of avoiding two years of
taxes In return for paying a $2,000 fine. Is there any way that I can
apply to be illegal retroactively? This would yield an excellent result
for my family and me because we paid heavy taxes in 2004 and 2005.
Additionally, as an illegal alien, I could begin using the local
emergency room as my primary health care provider. Once I have stopped
paying premiums for medical insurance, my accountant figures I could
save almost $10,000 a year.

Another benefit in gaining illegal status would be that my daughter
would receive preferential treatment relative to her law school
Applications, As well as "in-state" tuition rates for many colleges
throughout the United States for my son.

Lastly, I understand that illegal status would relieve me of the Burden
of renewing my driver's license and making those burdensome car
insurance premiums. This is very important to me given that I still
have college age children driving my car.

If you would provide me with an outline of the process to become
Illegal (retroactively, if possible) and copies of the necessary forms,
I would be most appreciative. Thank you for your assistance.


Kimo Alapai

Sunday, January 28, 2007


TIM DICKINSON, ROLLING STONE - If the Democrats were going to sit down
and construct the perfect candidate for 2008, they'd be hard-pressed to
improve on Gore. Unlike Hillary Clinton, he has no controversial vote on
Iraq to defend. Unlike Barack Obama and John Edwards, he has extensive
experience in both the Senate and the White House. He has put aside his
wooden, policy-wonk demeanor to emerge as the Bush administration's most
eloquent critic. And thanks to An Inconvenient Truth, Gore is not only
the most impassioned leader on the most urgent crisis facing the planet,
he's also a Hollywood celebrity, the star of the third-highest-grossing
documentary of all time. . .

Indeed, Gore is unique among the increasingly crowded field of
Democratic contenders. He has the buzz to beat Obama, the substance to
supplant Hillary, and enough stature to enter the race late in the game
and still raise the millions needed to mount a successful campaign. . .

Gore's biggest opponent for the nomination would likely be Hillary
Clinton -- and no one in the current field of Democrats is better
situated to capitalize on her weaknesses than Gore. In September 2002,
just before Clinton and every other Democrat who hoped to run for
president voted to authorize the war in Iraq, Gore gave a
no-holds-barred speech inveighing against the invasion. "The chaos in
the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq," he warned, "could easily
pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face
from Saddam.". . .

Thanks to his vocal opposition to the war -- and his decision to back
Howard Dean's anti-war candidacy in 2003 -- Gore has all but sewn up the
backing of the party's "Netroots" activists. . .

Gore's deep ties to online activists could neutralize Clinton's greatest
advantage: her fund-raising prowess. Gore retains a network of
big-dollar donors from his 2000 campaign, and many of the party's
biggest funders are reportedly sitting on their checkbooks, waiting to
see if he enters the race. "If Howard Dean could raise $59 million on
the Internet," says Carrick, "the mind boggles as to what Al Gore might
do." Joe Trippi, who managed Dean's campaign, believes Gore could raise
as much as $200 million on the Internet: "Gore may have more money than
anybody within days of entering the race."



Karl Rove Subpoenaed to Testify in CIA Leak Trial
White House anxiety is mounting over the prospect that top officials - including
deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and counselor Dan Bartlett - may be forced to
provide potentially awkward testimony in the perjury and obstruction trial of
Lewis (Scooter) Libby. Both Rove and Bartlett have already received trial
subpoenas from Libby's defense lawyers, according to lawyers close to the case
who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters.

Girl, 6, Embodies Cambodia's Sex Industry

By Dan Rivers
CNN News

Wednesday 24 January 2007

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - At an age when most children might be preparing for their first day of school, Srey, 6, already has undergone trauma that is almost unspeakable.

She was sold to a brothel by her parents when she was 5. It is not known how much her family got for Srey, but other girls talk of being sold for $100; one was sold for $10.

Before she was rescued, Srey endured months of abuse at the hands of pimps and sex tourists.

Passed from man to man, often drugged to make her compliant, Srey was a commodity at the heart of a massive, multimillion-dollar sex industry in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

"It is huge," said Mu Sochua, a former minister of women's and veteran's affairs who is an anti-sex trade activist.

The precise scale of Cambodia's sex trade is difficult to quantify. International organizations - such as UNICEF, ECPAT and Save the Children - say that anywhere from from 50,000 to 100,000 women and children are involved. An estimated 30 percent of the sex workers in Phnom Penh are under the age of 18, according to the United Nations. The actual figure may be much higher, activists say.

Global Sex Industry

Around the world, more than one million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year, according to the U.S. State Department. The State Department believes Cambodia is a key transit and destination point in this trade.

"Trafficking for sexual exploitation also occurs within Cambodia's borders, from rural areas to the country's capital, Phnom Penh, and other secondary cities in the country," the State Department wrote in a 2006 report. "The Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."

Sochua said that with millions of Cambodians struggling to live on less than 50 cents a day, many women turn to the sex industry. Poverty is also often what drives parents to sell their child or themselves on the streets.

"Always a child is left behind, often a girl, who is preyed on by traffickers," Sochua added.

An Unlikely Savior

Srey was rescued from the life of a sex slave by Somaly Mam, a former prostitute who runs shelters for the victims of Cambodia's sex trade. Somaly has rescued 53 children, so far. Many of them have profound psychological trauma. Some clearly are mentally ill.

"A lot of them, when they arrive, have psychological problems ... very big problems.... And they never have love by the people, by their parents," Somaly said.

One girl at Somaly's shelter appears especially disturbed. She was rescued after being imprisoned for two years in a cage, where she was repeatedly raped.

She needs psychiatric care, but there is none available. Somaly says she does her best to give this girl love and support, but that it's not easy with so many other needy children around.

Somaly herself suffered terrible ordeals when she worked the streets, including seeing her best friend murdered. She is determined to build something positive out of so much despair.

Her work has caught the attention of world leaders, celebrities and religious figures. Her office in Phnom Penh is adorned with photos of her meeting Pope John Paul II and messages of support from governments and charities.

Despite the attention, Somaly said the situation on the street is not getting better. Gang rapes of prostitutes are becoming more common, she said, and many of the attackers don't use condoms. Instead, they share a plastic bag.

"Poor women, they have been raped by eight, 10, 20, 25 men ... they hit them. They receive a lot of violence," she said.

HIV-AIDS also remains a persistent, though declining, problem among Cambodia's female sex workers.

About 20 percent of Cambodia's female sex workers are HIV-positive, according to Cambodia's Ministry of Health. This compares with the 39 percent of sex workers who tested positive in 1996, according to the Health Ministry.

To help sex workers transition to a more normal life, Somaly is hoping to expand her refuge in the countryside outside Phnom Penh, where former sex workers attend school and learn skills like weaving and sewing.

Asked what the future holds for Srey, Somaly stroked the girl's hair and paused.

Srey is HIV-positive, she said.

In such a poor country, without decent hospitals or medical care, Srey's future is bleak. Somaly just hopes she can make this girl's life bearable for as long as it lasts.


Administration Buckles on Warrantless NSA Spying. or Does It?

Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sent a letter to top-ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee making it known that the administration had submitted the infamous NSA warrantless wiretapping program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for review. However, the attorney general's description of the measures taken is vague and raises more questions than it answers.

If this is truly a step back toward crucial checks and balances, that is certainly a good thing, but the exact nature of the judicial review provided by the FISC is still not known. Worse, this could be an attempted end-run around much-needed congressional oversight.

PFAW and PFAW Foundation are working with our allies on Capitol Hill and in the civil liberties advocacy community to get to the bottom of this. The so-called 'Terrorist Surveillance Program' has been operating illegally for years and we hope the recent steps taken by the administration protect Americans' constitutional rights. But any program like this must have adequate oversight and those who have broken the law in the past must be held accountable.

Little-known Provision in Patriot Act Rears its Ugly Head

A provision in the Patriot Act reauthorization bill allows the Attorney General to fill U.S. attorney vacancies with interim appointments that can remain indefinitely, circumventing the usual Senate approval of these appointments.

U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, so the administration can ask for their resignation at any time - and the administration has done just that to several U.S. attorneys in recent months. What is noteworthy is which ones have resigned. It seems that some of the U.S. attorneys who have left their posts may been involved in investigations the administration would not be happy about. In at least one case, the vacancy was filled by a partisan operative - Karl Rove's former deputy.

Senator Feinstein (D-CA), along with Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Pryor (D-AR), has introduced legislation (S. 214) that would fix this affront to checks and balances and remove the attorney general's authority to fill U.S. attorney vacancies until another official appointment can be made, giving the authority back to the local district court (where it was before the Patriot Act changed it).

Why Hillary Is Ready

By Patricia Schroeder
Women's Media Center

Wednesday 24 January 2007

I've been asked, as one who has thrown her own hat in that particular ring, what advice I'd give to Hillary Clinton now that she's announced her candidacy. But Hillary probably knows more about running for President of the United States than anybody on the planet. After all, she's been up-close and personal to that experience.

I am glad the long period of conjecture is over. It made me crazy because the Hillary Clinton I know never does anything unless she's very well prepared and has briefed it every way to the moon. This is not a woman to go roaring out there thinking "Isn't this fun?" She knows what's in store for her - she has already met the Hillary Haters.

And she loves being a senator from New York. She has dazzled everybody by her skills. She really is a wonderful broker in the Senate, a power figure, and will only get more so. If you're a potential candidate for higher office, people tend to think you're so shaking with drive and desire you can't leave it alone. But Hillary Clinton does not do anything half-baked. It looks to me like she can be senator for as long as she wants to be, so the fact that she's announced her candidacy for President means two things: she really thinks she can win and, more important, she really wants to doit.

Because it's not easy. It takes a tremendous amount of physical stamina, a lot of hard work. You grind down your staff pretty fast. It is a couple of years out of your life, and it's hard on family. The real advice I have for anybody who would try it is that you have to have a fire in your gut. In my role as president of the Association of American Publishers, I talk to people every day who say, "I want to write a book." I say, "Do you really? Do you have any idea how hard that is?"

When I was making my decision in 1987 about running for president, there were seven guys out there who had been working on it for a long time. Gerry Ferraro had made her historic bid for Vice-President in '84, and I looked at the field and said, "This is just crazy. There aren't any women running." But they don't give you a discount for starting late, and I said clearly at the time, "If I can raise the money, I will go for this; but if I can't, it's crazy to go in there with your hands tied behind your back." We did raise a lot - our small donors were wonderful - but not enough to be competitive. I thought it was amazing that I kept coming out third in the polls, but I also couldn't figure out how to move beyond that.

Visuals are so important in this country, and the public has had a problem visualizing a woman as leader. People would say to me, "It's wonderful that you're in this race. All the others dress alike and sound alike. But you know? You just don't look presidential." I think that's changing. Also, for me, the big donors were just not on the horizon. I remember Shirley Chisholm telling me that when she ran, in 1972, people had said to her, "Oh, you really should run, Shirley, that would be great." But when she went back to ask for money they said, "Oh, we didn't mean we'd help you. We just thought it would be interesting."

That isn't happening to Hillary. Today, women have moved much further up in the political arena, and she's known the fat cats for a long time. She isn't a shock to them the way I was. And one thing I'm sure of: Bill Clinton is already being much more supportive of Hillary than Bob Dole ever was when Elizabeth made her short run at the presidency.

The next President of the United States, whoever it is, will have a terrible time, because we are in a very deep hole. This President doesn't seem to know the First Law of Holes, which is, "when you're in one, stop digging." Iraq, Iran, the whole Middle East - we have messed everything up. Whoever is President next will have to call all the world leaders, and say, "I'm new. I'm different. I want to talk to you."

I wouldn't have voted for the war in Iraq, but then I didn't have 9/11 happen in my state, either. Hillary is asking very tough questions. To me, America has always been about hope, and in the 'code-red-politics' days they've tried to make it all about fear. I think Hillary Clinton can answer the fear part very effectively, and then move back to the hope.

Patricia Schroeder, undefeated as a 12-term congresswoman from Colorado, ran for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. She is now president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers.


Bush's Health Care Conspiracy

By Marilyn Clement

Wednesday 24 January 2007

As I thought about the president's speech Tuesday night, I imagined his handlers sitting together joking conspiratorially about how to twist the issues and help the president's plummeting popularity. How could his handlers sneak through more support for his primary agenda, and that of right-wing fiscal conservatives, to decrease entitlements to Social Security and Medicare and transfer more of the people's tax money into Wall Street - while couching this scheme in the language of "health care for all?"

I thought of them saying to each other, "Wow, now that the voters have made clear that a universal health care system is their number one domestic priority - why don't we grab that issue from the Democrats? Since the Democratic Congress hasn't gotten the message and isn't really creating a new health care system, let's make it work for us!"

The president got it. One obvious thing he realized was that the American people want a national health care system for themselves and their children as much as they want our troops out of the killing fields of Iraq. So he offered several unworkable and ridiculous suggestions: relief from payroll taxes and a tax credit to the uninsured. What is he thinking? That the uninsured have big salaries and are seeking some kind of tax shelter?

His proposed $15,000 income tax deduction for middle-class families would jeopardize both Medicare and Social Security while not providing enough money to purchase real health insurance, projected to cost $16,500 for a family of four by the year 2009. And employers would be encouraged to bail out of the health care system even faster than they are today.

His plan for fixing the health care system is more of the same - more big bucks for the insurance companies. He believes that government has a responsibility for the children, the elderly and the disabled - but for everybody else, "private insurance is the best." Then he offers several plans to provide more billions of federal dollars to the private insurers who have driven the cost of the health care system up 73 percent since 2000.

I guess he means the private insurance companies that use up 31 percent of every health care dollar for their own CEOs' salaries, payments to lobbyists, media campaigns and the multiple bureaucratic costs of thousands of insurance companies rather than a single payer such as Medicare. Those same private insurance companies provide no health care to anyone in this country. (Well, maybe they provide health care for their own employees, who number in the tens of thousands.)

He must mean those same private insurance companies whose highest-paid CEO (at United Health) gets $122.7 million dollars a year - enough to cover the health care costs of roughly 34,000 American citizens.

The president also gave a big plug for the idea of so-called federal/state partnerships. He said he will be urging the provision of federal funds to the states so that the poor and the sick can be covered to purchase insurance - with an "affordable choice." More money for these same insurance companies! In every one of these instances, the president is talking about reckless additional spending for health care "insurance" - not a net savings such as that which we would get from a single-payer system. That's why his highly applauded promise to balance the budget rings false - and cold-hearted.

Of course, he wants expanded money to help develop health savings accounts that help the very rich. It's yet another tax break for them, since they can earn interest on all the money they save and continue to have their health care benefits provided from their employers - or they may even be the employers. Small business health pools, supplemented by government, for small businesses is another recycled idea. Both of these plans would provide yet more of our federal dollars to the insurance companies.

Other ideas, like new money for medical technology to decrease medical errors, sound like a good plan.

But "junk lawsuits?" Give me a break! This whole line of argument has been fully discredited by the facts. Only about four-tenths of a percent of medical malpractice lawsuits succeed in the courts. It is a big bugaboo to try to stop the common people from being able to bring lawsuits against the monied interests when we are injured. And guess who has been fueling the fire? It's the insurance companies, who convince the doctors that they must spend millions of dollars by purchasing insurance to protect themselves from lawsuits.

A single-payer system would end a lot of the problems of medical mistakes and malpractice because the medical costs of the miniscule numbers of suits that win in the courts would be covered in a universal system that would cover all health care costs for an injured person for the rest of her/his life.

So the president and the other administration ideologues hammered together a cruel package that would continue to send billions to "market-place" solutions rather than providing a less expensive, high-quality health care system for everybody in the country, a system more like those enjoyed by the 37 advanced nations of the world who have a better health care system than ours.

Let's hope the Democratic Congress gets the message. The voters did indeed vote for a national response to the health care crisis. They desperately need it. The Democrats must get over the chilling effect of the Newt Gingrich attack that left them trembling in their boots.

So much has changed, and the American people have made it clear through the polls and through their votes that they expect their new leaders to lead.

Marilyn Clement is the national coordinator of Healthcare-NOW.


Big Oil Gets to Keep Its Loot

By Laura MacCleery

Thursday 25 January 2007

When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to eliminate $14 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for the oil and gas industry on January 18, it left at least one item off its target list: a billion-dollar handout to a research consortium that includes publicly traded companies that reaped $100 billion in profits in 2005.

Without congressional action, the money will soon begin flowing to the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, a 501(c)(3) formed in 2002 by the Gas Technology Institute, a natural gas research organization that was facing the loss of a federally-mandated source of income that once topped $200 million annually.

Championed by disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the oil and gas subsidy was slipped late one night into the massive Energy Policy Act of 2005 after a House-Senate conference committee had completed its deliberations on the bill. The conferees thus had no chance to consider the provision before it reached the House and Senate floor. Though this is not the first time we have seen a corporate giveaway stealthily inserted into a bill in the early hours of the morning, it is a striking example of how taxpayers get bilked by corporations and Congress.

The provision called for a 10-year research program for up to $1.5 billion, of which a shocking $500 million was guaranteed without further congressional action. The study seeks ways to allow big oil and gas companies to extract natural gas from ultra-deepwater depths of more than 15,000 feet and hard-to-access on-shore locations. The provision allotted three-quarters of the money to go to a research consortium while the remainder was to go to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, a division of the Department of Energy.

Although it called for "open competition," the law was written - with the help of the GTI's chief lobbyist, a former DOE official - in a way that practically assured that RPSEA would not have competitors for the money. In the end, RPSEA was the only applicant and, predictably, was chosen to handle disbursement of the money, overseen by DOE.

RPSEA has more than 90 members, including research universities, national laboratories and privately owned energy firms. Its membership also includes 17 publicly traded energy giants like Halliburton, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, which combined had record profits in 2005 in excess of $100 billion.

The Republican chairmen and senior Democrats on the House and Senate energy policy committees were blamed for the late-night shenanigans. Incidentally, these committee members and DeLay had received significant campaign cash from companies that were then, or would become, RPSEA members.

On Jan. 17, Public Citizen called on Congress to repeal the part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that set up the research program. Public Citizen pointed out that RPSEA members could well afford to foot the bill by setting aside a tiny percentage of their overall profits. Even President Bush, a well-known friend of the oil and gas industry, said in the spring of 2005, before the bill was passed, that "With oil at more than $50 a barrel, by the way, energy companies do not need taxpayers'-funded incentives to explore for oil and gas." In April 2006 the Bush administration asked Congress to kill the RPSEA provision, but in December signed a $375 million dollar contract with the consortium.

So far, Congress has failed to do so.

Unfortunately, under current rules, this kind of big corporate payoff can happen again and again. While we certainly applaud the historic lobbying and ethics reforms passed Thursday night in the Senate, even that bill did not fully address this kind of last-minute, backroom deal that lacks any real consideration of public priorities.

In addition to repeal of the research consortium provision of the 2005 energy act, Congress should make it more difficult for corporate interests to win expensive and unnecessary earmarks. So while we disagree with the President's request for a line item veto, we did agree with his call for earmark reform in this year's State of the Union address. The House rules bill and the Senate lobbying and ethics bill passed in January taken together are a good beginning. Speaker Pelosi has said that the House of Representatives will take up their companion to the Senate lobbying reform legislation soon.

Public Citizen recommends the following reforms be included in the anticipated House-lobbying bill and in the final ethics and lobbying bill expected from a conference committee in the coming weeks:

* There should be full public funding of congressional elections - something that would cost $1.3 billion for a two-year election cycle, less than the cost of this research program - to eliminate the nexus between cash and legislation.

* The rules committees should define "earmarks" - under the new disclosure requirements - to include items that are a sham competition, tailored so narrowly that only one or a small group of applicants could possibly qualify.

* A strengthened restriction on government officials, including members of Congress and their staffs, passing through the revolving door to K Street.

* Extensive earmark disclosure and removal rules.

* If not included in the final ethics legislation, the congressional rules committees should define "earmarks" - under the new disclosure requirements - to include items that are a sham competition, tailored so narrowly that only one or a small group of applicants could possibly qualify.

You can read the whole story of the RPSEA rip-off, detailed in Public Citizen's report.

Laura MacCleery is the director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division.


Kerr-McGee Is Found Liable in Lawsuit Over Oil Royalties
A federal jury in Denver agreed Tuesday with a former top auditor for the
Interior Department that the Kerr-McGee Corporation had cheated the government
out of millions of dollars in royalties on oil it produced in publicly owned
coastal waters. The decision is a vindication for the auditor, Bobby L. Maxwell.
He became a whistleblower and sued Kerr-McGee as a private citizen after top
officials at the Interior Department ordered him to drop his audit findings.


Bush's Oil Stockpile Plan Could Raise Prices
George W. Bush's decision to double the emergency oil stockpile in the US may
help to stem a six-month slide in prices as China, India and South Korea also
add to the demand by bolstering their defenses against shortages.


Tomgram: Elizabeth de la Vega, The State Spies on the Union

a project of the Nation Institute

To send this to a friend, or to read more dispatches, go to

Tomgram: Elizabeth de la Vega, The State Spies on the Union

State of the what? Let's see, 28%, 31%, 33%, 35%. That pretty much sums up the State of the President -- or, at least, of his ever more dismal approval ratings in four of the latest major polls (and don't even mention his state of approval in similar nose-diving polls abroad). Only two Presidents, on the eve of a State of the Union Address have ever scored lower -- and one was Richard Nixon at 26%, seven months before he resigned his Presidency. (The other was Truman at 23% and mired i! n the Korean War.) Unbelievably enough, those aren't even the worst figures around for this administration. Try 26%, 29%, 29%, 30%; that's about how many Americans now think any presidential State of Iraq plan or strategy makes the slightest sense according to polls by Newsweek, CBS, the Washington Post/ABC News, and NBC/the Wall Street Journal. A little lower and you're in the polling basement, the sort of place not normally accessible even to a bunker-busting President.

Basically, if the networks didn't cut off all prime-time programming for the State of the Union Address, I suspect that the percentage of Americans bothering to listen to George W. Bush's words might prove infinitesimal. After all, as the latest polls all essentially indicate, but Mark Murray wrote of the NBC/WSJ poll, "Nearly two-thirds of Americans appear to have given up on success in Iraq and also on [George Bush's] presidency."

In fact, we would undoubtedly do better to stop listening to any of the official words of this administration, since they bear next to no relationship to administration acts. This State of the Union Address, which will be analyzed to death in the press and on TV, matters not a whit. Never has an administration reached for its dictionaries faster or more often to redefine reality to fit its needs. Seldom has the media spent more time parsing (and then generally passing on) words that were meant to do little but promote fantasies, escape responsibility, and confuse the public. It's the acts -- all aggrandizing, all aimed at promoting the unfettered power of a President and Vice President who never learned the word "enough" -- that matter, as former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega, shows in exploring the latest administration maneuvers to slip past any congressional or judicial oversight of, or responsib! ility for, its illegal program to spy on Americans.

If you want to read some words that do matter, check out De la Vega's remarkable new book, United States v. George W. Bush et al., which, in the form of a hypothetical indictment of the President and his key officials and fictional grand jury testimony, brilliantly dissects the way the administration used language to defraud the Congress and the American people into war in Iraq. This Tomdispatch book is, as Chalmers Johnson has said, "Much more powerful than the 9/11 Report. A tour de force." (You can order it either from Amazon or directly from Seven Stories Press, its independent publisher, but whatever you do, don't miss it.)

Now, as a bow to the real state of our tattered, battered union, which will go unaddressed tonight, Tomdispatch turns to de la Vega to explore a few of the acts for which this administration should be held responsible. Tom.

Lying and Spying

How the Administration Slip-Slides Away
By Elizabeth de la Vega

I hope I can be forgiven if animal images kept coming into my mind during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week. On the eve of the first such hearing to be held by the newly-elected Democratic majority, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sent a letter to Committee Chairmen Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa) announcing that, henceforth, the President's Terrorist Surveillance Program would be conducted under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Listening to Alberto Gonzales "answering" questions about this development during the hearing, the thoughts I kept having were of seals and snakes: Had the administration really flip-flopped on warrantless electronic surveillance -- like, say, a seal -- or was it merely attempting to slither away -- like, say, a snake?

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

New Booklet on Union Basics Covers the Bases for Beginners

by Mike Hall, Jan 20, 2007

The Labor Center at the University of California-Berkeley has just published Work, Money and Power: Unions in the 21st Century. The 24-page pamphlet, written by Fred Glass, communications director for the California Federation of Teachers/AFT, is an in-depth, but easy-to-understand, introduction to unions for new members, schools and the public.

Available at low cost for unions across the country, Work, Money and Power explains the role of unions and how they enable workers to benefit by joining together.

The reason why workers need unions boils down to this, says Glass:

Employers have far more power than workers do, especially if workers have to negotiate with them over wages and working conditions as individuals.

By forming unions, workers gain the power that comes with being part of a group created for collective action. As a group, workers can negotiate with their employers with greater chance of success than they can as individuals.

Glass also explains how workers organize and explores labor history. He describes the union advantage:

The record is clear. The power of collective bargaining supports higher wages and benefits and prevents management from viewing the workforce as little different than raw materials. Unionized workplaces have better safety and health conditions, and workers feel more confident that speaking their mind—a right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution outside the workplace—will not result in termination if the employer disagrees with what they have to say. To belong to a union brings important advantages to workers.

The booklet also highlights how the recent years of anti-worker politics have combined with a decades-long employer offensive against workers and their unions. The result is that workers have experienced lower wages, failing health care coverage, deteriorating health and safety standards and more.

That’s why, Glass writes, working families need unions.

Now, more than ever.

The booklets cost $1.25 each for up to 99 copies or $1 each for 100 or more. Click here to order online or call 510-643-7089.

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Tags: U.C. Berkley Labor Center, California Federation of Teachers
Channels: Organizing & Bargaining


State of Energy and the Environment

In 2006, fundamental debates over energy and the environment were largely put to rest, as President Bush finally acknowledged that America is addicted to oil, and Al Gore exposed the human-induced global climate crisis that threatens our national security, our economy, and our environment. The "do-nothing" moniker earned by the 109th Congress was particularly apt regarding its approach to energy policy. Yet Congress' inaction played a significant role in the results of the midterm elections, which swept several champions of renewable fuels and energy independence into power. A senior administration official has said that during tomorrow's State of the Union President Bush will announce policies that "will knock your socks off in terms of our commitment to energy independence." But the president has pledged to reduce our energy dependence every year since he took office while consistently making the problem worse. In 2006, the real leaders on energy issues were found in the states, in the global community, and among ordinary Americans; President Bush and Congress weren't even following. (American Progress has charted the way forward to a clean, renewable energy future, including specific proposals to end America's addiction to oil, improve global energy security, grow renewable energy solutions on American farms, and protect climate refugees.)

A YEAR OF ALARMING SCIENCE: Last year was the hottest ever recorded in the United States. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere "reached a record high in 2005," the United Nations reported in November, warning that "global average concentrations of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide" will be even higher in 2006. In 2000, carbon dioxide emissions were rising less than 1 percent annually. Today they are rising more than 2.5 percent annually, with 7.9 billion metric tons of carbon added globally in 2005 alone (up from 6.8 billion in 2000). The Energy Department’s latest report projects America’s carbon dioxide emissions will increase by one third from 2005 to 2030. Meanwhile, U.S. dependence on OPEC nations for oil imports "has risen to its highest level in 15 years." In September 2006, 70 percent of oil consumed in the United States came from foreign sources, up from 58 percent in 2000. The impact of these historic environmental changes is already being felt, and will grow more severe in the years to come. Arctic sea ice coverage in March 2006 "was the lowest in winter since measurements by satellite began in the early 1970s," and a team of NASA-funded scientists found that ice is melting so fast in the Arctic "that the North Pole will be in the open sea in 30 years." Research published this year found increasing evidence that "global warming is causing stronger hurricanes," that rainfall could drop by 20 percent by the end of the century, threatening the world's deserts "as never before"; that climate change has spurred the recent "sudden and dramatic” increase in the number of wildfires and the length of the wildfire season, and will directly "increase the risk of forest fires, droughts and flooding over the next two centuries"; one study found climate change will have a devastating effect on America's bread basket, shifting crop production northward into Canada.

A YEAR OF DANGEROUS INACTION: Despite promises at last year's State of the Union, President Bush's 2007 budget actually proposed to spend less on energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy resources in inflation-adjusted dollars than was appropriated in fiscal year 2001 -- $1.176 billion in nominal dollars in both 2001 and 2007. Even as he stalled meaningful action on climate change, President Bush lifted the drilling ban for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, "clearing the way for the Interior Department to open the fish-rich waters to oil and natural gas development." Likewise, the final legislation of the 109th Congress included a measure "that would open a large swath of the Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration." The United State climate policies ranked 53rd among the 56 countries that contribute at least 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, the environmental group Germanwatch found. “Only China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia” rank lower. Energy and climate science also continued to suffer. The Bush administration went so far as to break the law to hide global warming data, ignoring a congressional requirement that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produce a report on climate change. “They’re simply not complying with the law," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said. "It’s incredible." At the same time, NASA's earth science budget has fallen 30 percent since 2000, placing our "ability to understand and predict hurricanes, drought and climate changes of all danger." The House Government Reform Committee released a series of emails from the Department of Commerce that suggest that Bush officials “tried to suppress a federal scientist from discussing the link between global warming and hurricanes.”

AMERICA LEARNS OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS: Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" was a critical and popular success, and its message is increasingly reflected in mainstream American culture. Some 59 percent of Americans say climate change warrants “some action” or “immediate” steps, up from 51 percent in 1999, according to a WSJ/NBC poll. More than half of America’s hunters and fishermen “have seen first-hand the impact of global warming," a National Wildlife Federation poll found. Fully 71 percent “said they were concerned about diminishing fish and wildlife populations and many had seen direct impacts of climate change in the field,” and a majority “also rejected the Bush Administration’s fossil-fuel-based energy policy and want more conservation and clean fuels.” Notorious climate skeptics like ExxonMobil felt enough pressure to "soften" their public image on global warming, though as one financial analyst noted, "Although the tone has changed, the substance remains the same." The Union of Concerned Scientists documented how ExxonMobil has borrowed tactics from the tobacco industry to “manufacture uncertainty” about climate change, spending $16 million on groups that question global warming.

PROGRESS AROUND THE COUNTRY, AROUND THE WORLD: Perhaps the most significant international agreement on global warming last year came when British Prime Minister Tony Blair "sidestepped the Bush administration's refusal to act on climate change by signing what was hailed as a ground-breaking agreement with California, the world's 12th largest carbon emitter, to fight global warming." This pact followed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R-CA) signing of the California Global Warming Solutions Act, the "first enforceable state-wide program in the U.S. to cap all [greenhouse gas] emissions from major industries that includes penalties for non-compliance." These moves symbolize several recent trends in the energy policy landscape, including the progress being made on the state and international levels, and the growing bipartisan nature of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. The European Union declared this year that its member states should commit themselves to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent compared with 1990 levels, as well as meet 20 percent of all energy demands from renewable sources, by 2020. Also, the Supreme Court took up arguments in "perhaps the most significant environmental case ever to reach its marbled halls," a suit by 12 states against the Bush administration arguing that the Clean Air Act requires the government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. The outcome of the case will "likely determine whether the [Environmental Protection Agency] can regulate [greenhouse gas emissions] from power plants and other industries" as well. In Congress, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced the Safe Climate Act, the first bill ever to target global warming pollution.