Political MoJo

Yet More Evidence That the Average Worker's Getting the Shaft

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 5:00 PM EDT

As those in the nation's highest income brackets continue to see gains, we now find out that the median hourly wage for American workers (adjusted for inflation) has declined a full 2% since 2003, even as the productivity of those workers has increased. Will the ever-increasing struggles of the average worker have an impact on Republican incumbents facing midterm elections this fall? That remains to be seen, but anyone who thinks the economy's not so bad for the every-man should think again. This summer Mother Jones detailed the many ways that, since Bush took office, the haves are getting more

-In 2005, there were 9 million American millionaires, a 62% increase since 2002.

-Only estates worth more than $1.5 million are taxed. That's less than 1% of all estates. Still, repealing the estate tax will cost the government at least $55 billion a year.

-Bush's tax cuts give a 2-child family earning $1 million an extra $86,722—or Harvard tuition, room, board, and an iMac G5 for both kids.

-A 2-child family earning $50,000 gets $2,050—or 1/5 the cost of public college for one kid.

-Public companies spend 10% of their earnings compensating their top 5 executives.

While the have-nots are getting even less...

-1 in 4 U.S. jobs pay less than a poverty-level income.

-Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor.

-Among households worth less than $13,500, their average net worth in 2001 was $0. By 2004, it was down to –$1,400.

-Bush has dedicated $750 million to "healthy marriages" by diverting funds from social services, mostly child care.

-Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50%.

The lists go on, with sources here and here.

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GOP Take Note: New Immigrant Voters Don't Respond Well to Offensive Comments

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 3:04 PM EDT

Try as they might, Republicans can't seem to make much headway with minorities.

One Republican senator described his house painter as a "little Guatemalan man." Another called an Indian man a "macaca," a type of monkey.

Just as the GOP is pushing for minority voters, the two recent gaffes have fed the perception among some blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans that Republicans are out of touch with the changing face of the nation.

"There is disconnect at some level," said Michael K. Fauntroy, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "The country is becoming browner and new voters, particularly new immigrant voters, don't respond favorably to (offensive) comments."

(Whereas experienced voters take offensive comments in stride?) True, the piece offers a few examples of Democrats saying idiotic and racially insensitive things. But Republicans, of course, labor under the perception that this kind of thing is close to the norm for them--a little unfair, perhaps (stuff happens!), but not entirely unfounded. And calling such comments "misstatements," as does an RNC type quoted in this story, won't change that. Hence, the polls show minorities squarely, though to shifting degrees, in the Democratic camp.

Question for Rumsfeld: How Many More Catastrophes? And Victory for Whom?

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 2:19 PM EDT

Donald Rumsfeld, deploying an analogy as cliched as it is scurrilous (at least in this case), likens critics of the Bush administration to those who opted for appeasement in the face of the Nazi threat.

"I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism," he said.

"Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?" he asked.

"Can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America — not the enemy — is the real source of the world's troubles?"

We needn't waste time tackling the substance, such as it is, of this slur. Far more interesting is Rumsfeld's later invocation of Clemenceau.

"You know from experience that in every war — personally — there have been mistakes and setbacks and casualties," he said. "War is," as Clemenceau said, `A series of catastrophes that results in victory."

This represents a sort of progress, I suppose: at least it recognizes, if obliquely, that the Iraq campaign has been catastrophic. But it also shows he's learned very little. That kind of self-serving, open-ended utopianism -- "just wait, you'll see" -- is precisely the habit of mind that got us into this mess. It could be that these catastrophes will lead to victory. But how many more catastrophes (avoidable and not)? At what cost? And victory for whom? (pace James Fallows, that's still a live question, in my opinion.) The corollary to Clemenceau's glib maxim is that one side has to lose.

Rumsfeld's optimism--to the extent that it's sincere--no doubt serves a psychological function as he contemplates a conscience-haunted retirement. But it also demonstrates that his hubris--one pulverized country and tens of thousands of lives later-- still knows no limits.

Blackwater Update: How They Got Those Contracts

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 1:45 AM EDT

Yesterday (okay, very early today) we noted that military-contracting giant Blackwater may have to go to court after all to defend its claim that it's not liable when its guards get killed in places like Fallujah. Over at TPM Muckraker, Justin Rood points out another interesting bit of Blackwater news, namely a tale about how you get started running one of the world's largest mercenary firms. Hint: It helps to have a friend at Langley.

Apple Gets Low Grade From Greenpeace

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 11:07 PM EDT

Greenpeace's new guide to green electronics puts Nokia and Dell at the top of the list and Apple near the bottom. Companies received scores on elimination of toxic chemicals and take-back and recycling. On a scale of 1-10, Apple scored 2.7 overall. Only Acer, Motorola and Lenovo scored lower.

For a company that claims to lead on production design, Apple scores badly on almost all criteria. The company fails to follow the precautionary principle, withholds its full list of regulated substances and provide no timelines for eliminating toxics Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and no commitment to phasing out all uses of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs). Apple performs poorly on product take back and recycling, with the exception of reporting on the amounts of its electronic waste recycled.

Apple markets itself as hip and progressive, so these scores should have an impact on environmentally conscious customers.

Chris Mooney's Republican War on Science, Revised and Updated

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 6:03 PM EDT

Last summer in the pages of Mother Jones, science writer Chris Mooney exposed ExxonMobil's efforts to thwart climate change research, complete with details you may not have seen until they showed up in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, a year later.

Today Mooney's New York Times bestseller, The Republican War on Science comes out in paperback. You can check out an excerpt on intelligent design and read the book's new intro, online. And Mooney's headed out on tour and may be coming to your town; he's a prescient writer, not to be missed.

-N.B., you can also catch Chris on Mother Jones Radio September 17th.

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How's New Orleans Doing on Katrina's Anniversary?

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 5:15 PM EDT

One year after Katrina, "renewal" or "depraved indifference"? Discuss.

Why It's Not Working in Afghanistan

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 2:23 PM EDT

TomDispatch has a valuable piece by Ann Jones, whose new book, Kabul in Winter, Life Without Peace in Afghanistan, begins thusly: "I went to Afghanistan after the bombing stopped. Somehow I felt obliged to help pick up the pieces. I was a New Yorker who had always lived downtown, and for a long time after the towers fell I experienced moments when I couldn't get my bearings... Four thousand collateral civilian deaths in Kabul brought no consolation for the death of thousands from around the world in the fallen towers of the city that had so long been my home. I thought America had lost its bearing too. So I left."

Today's piece wonders why Afghanistan, post-Taliban, has devolved into a state of chaos.

She writes:

The story of success in Afghanistan was always more fairy tale than fact -- one scam used to sell another. Now, as the Bush administration hands off "peacekeeping" to NATO forces, Afghanistan is the scene of the largest military operation in the history of that organization. Today's personal email brings word from an American surgeon in Kabul that her emergency medical team can't handle half the wounded civilians brought in from embattled provinces to the south and east. American, British, and Canadian troops find themselves at war with Taliban fighters -- which is to say "Afghans" -- while stunned NATO commanders, who hadn't bargained for significant combat, are already asking what went wrong.

The answer is a threefold failure: no peace, no democracy, and no reconstruction.

Read the rest here.

Blackwater: Soldiers Or Contractors?

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 4:35 AM EDT

In connection with the news that Blackwater, the huge private security company, has lost its bid to keep a lawsuit in connection with its Iraq operations out of federal court, take a look at Barry Yeoman's early coverage of the company in Mother Jones. This story, reported before the invasion of Iraq, notes that Blackwater's business has been growing by leaps and bounds because the military increasingly prefers to have contractors do the work of soldiers.

When the companies do screw up, however, their status as private entities often shields them -- and the government -- from public scrutiny. [...] "Under a shroud of secrecy, the United States is carrying out military missions with people who don't have the same level of accountability," says Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leading congressional critic of privatized war. "We have individuals who are not obligated to follow orders or follow the Military Code of Conduct. Their main obligation is to their employer, not to their country."

Ironically, Blackwater is now citing a program designed to protect the military--the Defense Base Act, which provides benefits to the families of soldiers killed on the battlefield--to argue that it can't be held liable by the families of four of its contractors who were killed in Fallujah in 2003 (after, the families say, being sent into a warzone unprepared and unequipped).

Thanks for Keeping Our Profits Up. Sorry, Can't Afford a Raise.

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 4:22 AM EDT

"The most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income." That's the wisdom from the smart guys at Goldman Sachs, per the New York Times' drab, but crucial story on how workers are still making American business more productive--but take a smaller share of the national pie than they did at any time since the government began keeping track just after WWII.

"For most of the last century, wages and productivity — the key measure of the economy's efficiency — have risen together, increasing rapidly through the 1950's and 60's and far more slowly in the 1970's and 80's.

But in recent years, the productivity gains have continued while the pay increases have not kept up. Worker productivity rose 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, while total compensation for the median worker rose 7.2 percent, according to Labor Department statistics analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. Benefits accounted for most of the increase.

"If I had to sum it up," said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the institute, "it comes down to bargaining power and the lack of ability of many in the work force to claim their fair share of growth."

And next time you hear the president talk about rising family incomes, take note: All of that "rising" involves the families at the very top of the income scale. The rest of you are just working harder to finance someone else's profit.