Grim News From Capital's Front Lines
A Return to the Bad Old Days?
CIA Official Wants to Swat Journalists

Grim News From Capital's Front Lines
It's the Economy, Stupid

Strengthening our economy
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Strengthening our economy

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's dotty performance Sunday on Meet the Press signals just how vicious Bush can be when he puts his buddies out to dry. O'Neill's insistence that the fundamentals of the economy are great is buttressed by the administration's deliberately twisted facts, such as:

• Bush projects that the stock market will rise this year, when it already has tanked. When Bush came to power, the Dow Jones industrial average stood at 10,600. Last Monday it fell below 8000. According to the Standard & Poor's Index of 500 stocks, Bush's first year and a half has been the worst ever recorded.

• Bush claims that tax cuts aren't responsible for the vanishing surplus, when in fact they contributed 38 percent.

• O'Neill says the fundamentals are good, but for younger workers unemployment rose last month to 12.2 percent from 11.6 percent. For blacks it stands at 10.7 percent. With the overall jobless rate hovering around 6 percent, job growth is flat, and payrolls in the private sector are declining. "Wages grew more slowly in the second quarter than in over six years," reports the Economic Policy Institute, "and the ranks of the long-term unemployed are historically high and, by some measures, growing."

Then, consider the following:

PENSIONS: Republicans in Congress successfully beat down efforts to give employees a say on committees investing their money. There is absolutely no protection within the laws administered by—of all places—the do-nothing Labor Department, which already has admitted it knew about the Enron debacle months before it became public and took no action to protect 401(k) holders.

CORPORATE CORRUPTION: The new accounting board will still be under the thumb of the weaselly SEC, which never has had the staff, money, or inclination to actually regulate Wall Street. The symbol of status quo is SEC chairman Harvey Pitt, who with one other commissioner (from the accounting business) dominates the agency. Pitt feels put upon and wants a higher salary.

MEDICARE: Dems and Republicans can't agree on a bill to help oldsters buy drugs.

WHITE-COLLAR CRIME: The Justice Department has squelched criminal prosecutions of white-collar crimes. Enron and WorldCom crooks are still on the street.

AFGHANISTAN: Our supposed national security asset in Central Asia is the Caspian Sea oil and gas deposits, which we had once hoped to cash in on through a pipeline across Afghanistan and through Pakistan. But it's too late. China is in the final stages of securing a major pipeline deal with Shell, ExxonMobil, and Gazprom, the big Russian pipeline operator. Meanwhile, Iran is building a pipeline to Pakistan and India.

SOCIAL SECURITY: Even though thousands of 401(k) holders have lost their shirts, Bush still wants to convert the entire Social Security system to an IRA-fund-type of operation, with individuals managing their own investments, which means Wall Street would be guaranteeing that everyone in the country will go broke at the same time.

BANKRUPTCY REFORM: Pending legislation would make it easier for credit card companies to seize houses, autos, and other assets and to collect debts ahead of every other creditor, including women receiving alimony payments.

A Return to the Bad Old Days?
Smears, Slime, and Snoops

If you were in a jam big time and needed a smart lawyer, you'd die for Michael Tigar. He is probably the most respected criminal defense lawyer in the United States today, having represented such clients as John Connally, Nazi prison guard John Demjanjuk, and the Chicago Seven, along with Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols. Tigar has also been a player in the international fight to get Chilean general Augusto Pinochet.

In the 1960s, just before Ronald Reagan became governor of California, the FBI ran a smear campaign to get rid of Berkeley chancellor Clark Kerr. The right-wingers in the state didn't like him and with the always-helping hand of J. Edgar Hoover's bureau, put out the line that Kerr was probably a Commie agent. Then the House Un-American Activities Committee arrived in San Francisco to hold hearings on the Red menace. Thousands of people protested, and police used fire hoses to disperse them. Tigar, at the time an influential man on campus, was among the protesters.

What happened next is instructive in light of Bush's nutty drive to overrun the Posse Comitatus Act and set up a neighborhood snitch system. The story, as Tigar himself recounts it in his new book, Fighting Injustice, goes like this:

As Tigar was finishing Berkeley law school, where he headed the law review, two of his professors suggested his name to Supreme Court Justice Brennan as a possible clerk. Brennan promptly offered Tigar the job. He accepted and prepared to move his family to Washington. Then the conservative press ripped into him, claiming, per usual, that he was soft on Communism. Hoover's FBI was soon gathering information on Tigar and passing it along to the LBJ White House. From there it went by LBJ's man at the Supreme Court, Justice Abe Fortas. Chief Justice Earl Warren was alarmed at the news of Tigar's appointment and pressured Brennan to dump Tigar. Brennan vacillated and called in Tigar to answer questions about his supposed Commie activities, i.e., why he went to a Communist training camp in Paterson, New Jersey. Tigar replied that he had never been to Paterson and had never attended a Commie camp. Tigar's responses seemed to calm Brennan's fears. He did not fire Tigar. Thereupon the Red-hunters redoubled their efforts. There was more pressure from Hoover to LBJ and from LBJ through Fortas to Warren. This time Warren actually asked Brennan personally to get rid of Tigar. Brennan caved in and fired the young attorney before he could even start work.

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