Where did America Go?

FALLING WAGES: Both average real hourly and weekly wages are falling, dropping 0.4 percent from December 2004 to December 2005. Since the 2003 tax cuts, real average weekly earnings have fallen 0.8 percent, from $554.92 in May 2003 to $550.60 in Dec. 2005; hourly wages fell even further -- 1.1 percent -- from $16.52 in May 2003 to $16.34 in December 2005. Similarly, real average weekly earnings have fallen for the past four years since the end of the 2001 recession. But the top executives of America's 500 largest companies were, on average, insulated from this trend. They received an aggregate pay raise of 54 percent in 2005, bringing their total group compensation to $5.1 billion.

SUSTAINED, RECORD DEFICITS: In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush promised that "our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term." And in 2003, Vice President Cheney stated, "I am a deficit hawk. So is the president." But neither of their statements has been true. The 2005 U.S. budget deficit was $319 billion, the "third-largest ever." Goldman Sachs predicts $5 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years and Federal Chairman Alan Greenspan argued last April that "the federal budget is on an unsustainable path. ... Unless that trend is reversed, at some point these deficits would cause the economy to stagnate or worse." The President's tax cuts would only "expand the deficit over the next five years," despite his promises to the contrary.

THE JOB DEFICIT: Job creation has been a central feature of Bush's past State of the Union addresses. But job creation during the Bush administration has been the lowest since World War II. Even since the 2003 tax cuts, job growth has been historically weak, growing at less than half the average rate for similar periods in comparable post-war recoveries. Jobs in the manufacturing sector have been particularly hard-hit, with California losing the most. General Motors and Ford have each announced cuts of 30,000 hourly jobs. Federal spending on employment and training for dislocated workers in 2005 was just $1.5 billion, less than the amount spend on highway aid and less than was spent in 2000 ($1.6 billion), when the unemployment rate was lower. The share of workers with a pension declined from 50.3 percent in 2000 to 40.6 percent in 2004, and the share without health insurance rose from 14.2 percent in 2000 to 15.7 percent in 2004.

RISING POVERTY: In 2004, Bush promised to "help more and more Americans...join in the growing prosperity of our country." But the poverty rate has risen each year since 2001, with 12.7 percent of the population now living in poverty. African-American poverty rose from 22.7 percent in 2001 to 24.7 percent in 2004, and child poverty went up from 16.3 percent in 2001 to 17.8 percent (1.3 million children are under the age of 18). Bush administration policies have further exacerbated these problems. The tax bills enacted since 2001 "have helped high-income households far more than other households," according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Households with incomes exceeding $1 million have received average tax cuts of $103,000, "an increase of 5.4 percent in their after-tax income." But in 2005, the bottom fifth of households "will receive an average combined tax cut of $18 from these bills, raising their after-tax income by 0.3 percent."

STAGNANT MINIMUM WAGE: The federal minimum wage has remained stuck at $5.15 an hour for nearly a decade, leaving about 7.3 million workers (5.8 percent of the workforce) unable to keep up with rising costs. A minimum wage increase would most benefit disadvantaged workers and would be an effective tool in the fight against poverty. Almost 61 percent of the workers who would be affected by a minimum wage increase are women, 15.3 percent are African-Americans, and 19.7 percent are Hispanics. The Economic Policy Institute concludes, "The minimum wage raises the wages of low-income workers in general, not just those below the official poverty line." While the federal government has been slow to act, states are taking action. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia currently have minimum wage rates higher than the federal rate. Members of Congress, by contrast, receives an annual increase of at least two percent in pay; current salaries are at $165,200. The last time Congress turned down its pay r NATIONAL SECURITY The Facade Crumbles

The administration's legal rationale for President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program -- already discredited by non-partisan legal experts -- has received another debilitating blow. Blogger and attorney Glenn Greenwald discovered that in 2002, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) proposed comparatively modest changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to lower the standards for government surveillance of foreigners in the United States. The administration, however, formally opposed the DeWine amendment in a way that "appears to contradict several key arguments that the Bush administration is making to defend its eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without court warrants." The story has undercut the administration's public relations offensive to justify its warrantless domestic spying program, receiving coverage this morning by the Washington Post, LA Times, Baltimore Sun, Associated Press, Knight Ridder.

ADMINISTRATION SAID LOWERING FISA STANDARD MAY BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL: DeWine's bill would have lowered the standard for surveillance of foreigners in the United States "from probable cause to reasonable suspicion." It was a much less ambitious effort than the administration's program, which lowered the standard not only for foreigners, but also for American citizens in the United States. Nevertheless, the Justice Department said it could not support the bill because it may have been unconstitutional. Even more significantly, unlike the administration's bill, the DeWine bill would not circumvent the FISA courts. James A. Baker, the Justice Department lawyer who oversees the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, wrote that the bill may not "pass constitutional muster," meaning, "we could potentially put at risk ongoing investigations and prosecutions."

ADMINISTRATION RESPONSE CONTRADICTORY AND INACCURATE: Department of Justice spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said yesterday, "The FISA 'probable cause' standard is essentially the same as the 'reasonable basis' standard used in the terrorist surveillance program. The 'reasonable suspicion' standard, which is lower than both of these, is not used in either program." First, this completely contradicts what Michael Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency, said on Monday. According to Hayden, the program was adopted precisely because there was a significant difference between "probable cause" and "reasonable basis." Hayden said, "The president's authorization allows us to track this kind of call more comprehensively and more efficiently. The trigger is quicker and a bit softer than it is for a FISA warrant." Second, a "reasonable suspicion" is not a "lower" standard than "reasonable basis." In constitutional law, "reasonabl ADMINISTRATION SAID EXISTING LAW HAS ENOUGH FLEXIBILITY: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claims the program, which started in late 2001, was put into place because existing law -- FISA-- was unsuitable for modern times. On Dec. 19, Gonzales said, "[W]e don't have the speed and the agility that we need, in all circumstances, to deal with this new kind of enemy. You have to remember that FISA was passed by the Congress in 1978." But Baker argued that existing law met the administration's needs. Baker wrote that modifications to FISA that were passed in the PATRIOT Act "enabled the government to become quicker, more flexible, and more focused in going 'up' on those suspected terrorists in the United States." Specifically, expanding the time between when the surveillance can start and when the government must obtain a warrant "has allowed us to make full and effective use of FISA's pre-existing emergency provisions to ensure that the government acts swiftly to respond to terrorist thr DEBATE UNDERSCORES THAT CONGRESS NEVER AUTHORIZED WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE: The fact that there was a debate on the DeWine amendment at all undercuts the administration's second argument. The administration claims Congress granted the administration the authority to conduct warrantless domestic wiretapping when it passed the September 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Al-Qaeda. If Congress already granted much broader authority, why did DeWine even propose the amendment? Moreover, the amendment was rejected by Congress. In other words, not only did Congress not grant the administration authority through the Authorization for Use of Military Force, it rejected a far less ambitious change to existing law.

Under the Radar

MILITARY -- 'DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL' POLICY COSTS MILITARY HIGHLY SKILLED SOLDIERS: Of the more than 10,000 people discharged under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, around 350 have been "military school graduates or service members who went to medical school at the taxpayers' expense - troops not as easily replaced by a nation at war that is struggling to fill its enlistment quotas." Beth Schissel, who graduated from the Air Force Academy before attending medical school, said, "You don't just go out on the street tomorrow and pluck someone from the general population who has an Air Force education, someone trained as a physician, someone who bleeds Air Force blue, who is willing to serve, and that you can put in Iraq tomorrow." Schissel is one of 244 health professionals who from 1994 to 2003 were discharged under the policy. "What advantage is the military getting by firing brain surgeons at the very time our wounded soldiers ar HUMAN RIGHTS -- IRAN AND THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION, UNITED IN ANTI-GAY BIGOTRY: "In a reversal of policy, the United States on Monday backed an Iranian initiative to deny United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people," according to a Human Rights Watch release. In May 2005, two international gay rights groups applied for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, "the only official means by which non-governmental organizations around the world can influence and participate in discussions among member states at the United Nations. Nearly 3,000 groups enjoy this status. States opposed to the two groups' applications moved to have them summarily dismissed, an almost unprecedented move at the UN, where organizations are ordinarily allowed to state their cases." On Monday, the Bush administration joined Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, the Russian F PUBLIC DIPLOMACY -- ACADEMIC GROUPS FILE SUIT AGAINST ADMINISTRATION FOR BARRING FOREIGN SCHOLARS: While Congress continues to debate renewal of the Patriot Act, a provision in the Act that has not attracted much public attention became the source of public lawsuit against the Bush administration yesterday. Three academic groups, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sued the administration to stop it from barring foreign scholars from enetering the U.S. -- a power given to the Bush administration as a result of the so-called "ideological exclusion" provision of the Patriot Act. The "ideological exclusion" provision was used by the administration to revoke a visa for Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Islamic scholar, in August 2004. Ramadan was blocked from accepting a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame. The exclusion of Ramadan indicates an effort by the U.S. government to discourage academic debate about the war and other issues. &q JUDICIARY -- BUSH RENOMINATES JUDGE PREVIOUSLY BLOCKED BY SENATE MODERATES: The White House "flexed its judicial muscles yesterday," renominating Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit even as the Senate nears a vote on its divisive Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito. Kavanaugh, the White House staff secretary, was first nominated in July 2003, but his nomination failed as part of a deal struck by the "Gang of 14" moderate senators. Several criticisms of Kavanaugh mirror those leveled at President Bush's failed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers: Kavanaugh has limited courtroom experience; has personally "coordinated" the administration's controversial and unsuccessful nominations of radical nominees Priscilla Owen and Miguel Estrada; and has demonstrated a history of twisting legal theories and philosophies "to best serve partisan interests," as typified by his co-authorship of the Starr repo BUDGET -- CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE NUMBERS SHOW INCREASING DEFICIT: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that the federal budget deficit will reach at least $337 billion for the current year, and "the deficit is likely to go higher because of tax cuts and new additional spending for hurricane relief and the war in Iraq." "Wall Street analysts expect the deficit to eventually widen to $360 billion or more." The estimate is above last year's deficit of $319 billion. The estimate also calls into question the accuracy of the White House's most recent budget forecast. The White House recently over-estimated the budget deficit -- predicting it to be over $400 billion -- perhaps in an effort to later claim victory when actual deficit numbers came in lower than expected. The long-term deficit projections remain far gloomier. According to the CBO, deficits for 2006-10 will total $1.3 trillion.

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