Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Progress Report

 November 22, 2005
The Biggest Scandal In Congress In Over A Century
What's Hurting GM Is Hurting America
Go Beyond The Headlines
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The Biggest Scandal In Congress In Over A Century

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's "house of cards" has taken a big hit. Michael Scanlon, former spokesman for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and lobbying colleague of Abramoff, was right in the middle of Abramoff's deck. Yesterday, Scanlon pleaded guilty to one count of federal "conspiracy with others to commit bribery, mail and wire fraud, and honest services fraud" to cheat Abramoff's Indian tribal clients out of millions of dollars. He now faces "a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and repayment of $19.7 million to clients." But this case isn't going to end with Scanlon. Part of the plea deal is that he agrees to fully cooperate with Justice Department prosecutors. "What you're building is a ladder. You have Abramoff at the intermediate step, elected officials above him, and Scanlon...underneath," explained Stan Brand, former counsel to Congress. "He knows where all the bodies are buried," said a congressional aide who worked with Scanlon. Expect what Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) called "a disgusting story of greed unlike any [other]" to further unfold in Scanlon's testimony.

Abramoff has already been indicted in Florida on unrelated fraud and conspiracy charges and "his day in court...[may] only [be] a matter of time." He and Scanlon worked very closely -- Abramoff at one point gushed to his colleague, "How can I say this strongly enough: YOU IZ DA MAN" -- and collected about $82 million from his tribal clients from 2000-2004. In a scheme the duo termed "gimme-five," Abramoff "would direct tribes to hire Scanlon's public relations firm without telling them Scanlon had agreed to kick back half of the profits to Abramoff." At one point, the two men bilked the Coushatta tribe out of $1 million for a "public affairs" strategy, but then rerouted the money to a charity Abramoff had founded, "which was paying to build a school for his children and give 'sniper training' courses in Israel." Throughout their swindles, Abramoff and Scanlon showed a wild arrogance and contempt for their clients. In e-mail exchanges between the two men, "it is the junior partner who often displays his thirst for wealth. 'I want all their money!!!' [and] 'Weeez gonna be rich!!!'" wrote Scanlon. At another point, he referred to the clients as "monkeys" and "troglodytes." 

"I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century," said Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution. Already in hot water is Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who has received a subpoena from the grand jury investigating Abramoff and was named as "Representative #1" in Scanlon's indictment. Abramoff and Scanlon provided Ney and his staff with a "lavish" Scotland golf trip, tickets to sporting events, expensive dinners, and political contributions. In return, Ney "agreed to 'support and pass legislation'" benefiting their clients. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) also helped the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, one of Abramoff's clients, "win a $3 million government award." DeLay, who has been charged on money laundering and conspiracy in an unrelated Texas case, may soon face more trouble. "It's likely that Abramoff has lots of dirt on Tom DeLay," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice. DeLay traveled to Scotland on a trip paid for by Abramoff, an arrangement illegal by congressional rules, as well as on a trip in 1997 to Russia, "underwritten by business interests lobbying in support of the Russian government" and arranged by Abramoff.

David Safavian, former head of the powerful White House Office of Management and Budget, has already gone down as a result of the Abramoff scandals, arrested in September on charges of "lying and obstructing a criminal investigation" into Abramoff. Last week, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee heard testimony from Italia Federici, president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), about her "unspoken deal" with Abramoff. The lobbyist funneled nearly $500,000 in client money to CREA, and in return, Federici offered him access "to at least two of her close friends, [Secretary of the Interior Gale] Norton and Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles." Former Christian Coalition director, Ralph Reed, received $10,000 for his campaign to be chair of the Georgia Republican party, paid for Abramoff's tribal clients, unbeknownst to those clients. Additionally, Abramoff actively sought out Reed's guidance "in disguising Indian tribal money sent to anti-gambling campaigns whose leaders were wary of accepting casino cash."

What's Hurting GM Is Hurting America

Autoworkers in the Rust Belt and around North America suffered a rough blow this Thanksgiving week: General Motors announced plans yesterday to cut 30,000 manufacturing jobs (25,000 in the United States) and close a dozen plants, one day after Ford Motors announced 4,000 more job cuts. The GM layoffs are the company's most substantial "since a huge restructuring in 1991 when 74,000 jobs were lost," and the largest single round of U.S. layoffs in almost three years, "since Kmart said it would cut 37,000 jobs in January 2003." As Paul Krugman writes, the signs of decline in Detroit are a "reminder of how far we have come from the days when hard-working Americans could count on a reasonable degree of economic security." GM's move is the latest sign of a fundamental shift away from the progressive vision of an "opportunity society," where every hard-working person can realize his or her goals through education, decent work, and fair pay. Replacing this society is not President Bush's empty vision of an "ownership society," but the tough realities of greater job uncertainty, lower wages, higher health care costs, and a shrinking middle class. Critically, these changes are not simply dictates of the market. Rather, they are in large part the result of specific policy decisions that have left American workers and businesses unprepared for the dynamic changes occurring in the global economy.

THE DISAPPEARING OPPORTUNITY NATION: General Motors, once "an unassailable symbol of the nation's industrial might," is now a shadow of its former self, "and the post-World War II promise of blue-collar factory work being a secure path to the American dream has faded with it." But GM is not unique, and neither are the hardships of its workers. The forces affecting GM employees are simply "extreme versions of what's occurring across the American labor market," the Los Angeles Times notes, "where such economic risks as unemployment and health costs once broadly shared by business and government are being shifted directly onto the backs of American working families." Americans are owning more, indeed -- more risk, more debt, and higher health care costs. Detroit families are now aware that the good life auto work has afforded their families for generations, "and for hundreds of thousands of other families in Michigan and elsewhere across the country, is ending." Said one imperiled autoworker, Jerry Roy: "People survive somehow, regardless of what happens. I mean, it's sad, I could cry all night, but I'll figure out a way to get by - somehow."

UNDERCUTTING AMERICAN WORKERS: Even as the U.S. workforce faces greater vulnerability, the Bush administration has taken aim programs designed to help workers find new employment opportunities. President Bush sought to chop half a billion dollars out of federal job training funding in the most recent budget. Federal job training programs, including dislocated-worker training programs, would have been cut by $200 million. Federal aid to states for job training, which includes funding to help veterans re-enter the workforce, would have lost $300 million in funds. Bush has also neglected the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, one of the primary safety nets in place for workers displaced by trade. His administration "has tightened the eligibility requirements for TAA, denying many workers even the modest resources available under that program," and "pursued policies that leave many workers who qualify for TAA benefits without access to this program." At the same time, he has pushed to privatize or cut vital programs like Social Security and Medicaid when they are more important than ever, "now that workers in the world's richest nation can no longer count on the private sector to provide them with economic security." 

THE HEALTH CARE CRISIS: A leading cause of General Motors layoffs is our country's health care crisis.  "GM's problem," the New York Times reports, "at least in terms of its costs, is the enormous price of health care benefits for hundreds of thousands of retirees. G.M. is the largest private provider of health care, covering more than a million Americans." The trouble isn't that autoworkers have had too good a deal on health insurance -- it's that "most Americans have had too bad a deal." As Robert Kuttner writes, "Somehow, the rest of the industrial world can provide health coverage for everyone and only spend an average of about 10 percent of its national income," while America spend 15 percent and leaves over 46 million people without health insurance. One innovative way to start to address the auto industry's problem: health care for hybrids. American Progress has proposed a plan, now embraced by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) as the Competitiveness and Accountability Act, that would "offer automakers the following deal: If they invest substantially in fuel-efficient technology, Congress will relieve them of the health insurance burden of their retirees." (American Progress also has a systemic plan to provide affordable health insurance to all Americans.)

Under the Radar

KATRINA -- RELIEF EFFORTS LOSING STEAM: The effort to rebuild New Orleans has been largely unfulfilled "because of a leadership vacuum in Washington, where President Bush and Congress have been preoccupied for weeks with Iraq, deficit reduction, the C.I.A. leak investigation and the Supreme Court." Unlike responses to similar tragedies such as 9/11, "relief legislation remains dormant in Washington and despair is growing among officials here who fear that Congress and the Bush administration are losing interest in their plight." Walter Isaacson of the Louisiana Recovery Authority said, "We're still relying on the president's promise to help New Orleans rebuild." Meanwhile, 6,644 people remain missing in the Gulf Region, "raising the prospect that the death toll could be higher than the 1,306 recorded so far in Louisiana and Mississippi."

CIVIL LIBERTIES -- DENVER RESIDENTS SUE OVER EJECTION FROM BUSH EVENT: In a lawsuit filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union, two Denver residents have alleged that they were thrown out of a Bush Social Security "town-hall" event last March. They were ejected because of the bumper sticker on their car, the suit alleges. The two said they had no plans of disrupting the event, but were not allowed inside because the White House "set a policy of prohibiting anyone from attending this public event if they held a viewpoint other than that held by the president." "Similar incidents are alleged to have occurred in Arizona and New Hampshire, and in February, a 42-person blacklist apparently was used at a Bush event in North Dakota." One Denver plaintiff said, "He's the president of all Americans. He should feel comfortable talking to all of us."

AFRICA -- U.N. REPORT FINDS MORE HUNGER IN AFRICA: The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report that found "hunger and malnutrition kill nearly 6 million children a year, and more people are malnourished in sub-Saharan Africa this decade than in the 1990s." "Many of the children die from diseases that are treatable, including diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and measles," the report said. Ten years earlier, 170.4 million people in sub-Saharan Africa suffered from malnutrition; the number has now increased to 203.5 million. "If each of the developing regions continues to reduce hunger at the current pace, only South America and the Caribbean will reach the Millennium Development Goal target," the agency's director-general wrote. The news from Africa is brighter on the issue of HIV infections. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, found that several countries in Africa were seeing decreases in HIV infection rates, including Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Three days ago, freshman Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) took to the House floor and said she had received a message from Ohio state representative Danny Bubp that she wanted to share. Schmidt claimed, "He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message - that cowards cut and run, Marines never do." But Bubp, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he never mentioned Murtha by name, and he would never call a fellow Marine a coward. "There was no discussion of him personally being a coward or about any person being a coward," Bubp said. 

MEDIA -- WOODWARD GLOSSES OVER HIS PREVIOUS EFFORTS TO CONCEAL KNOWLEDGE OF LEAK CASE: In an interview with Larry King last night on CNN, Washington Post editor Bob Woodward admitted some degree of fault for not disclosing his knowledge about the Plame case to his boss, Leonard Downie. "I should have, as I have many, many times, taken him into my confidence. And I did not," Woodward said. But Woodward also acknowledged in the interview that he came forward recently because he knew he had information which Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did not have. This prompted him to go into "incredibly aggressive reporting mode." One reason why Fitzgerald was not able to determine Woodward's knowledge about the leak case earlier is because Woodward took efforts to keep his information concealed. After revealing to fellow Post reporter Walter Pincus in 2003 that someone in the administration had told him that Plame worked at the CIA, Woodward specifically told Pincus not to tell anyone else. Woodward did not discuss this issue last night on the program.


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