Jobless workers win a few weeks of relief

Although both combatants were standing when the battle was over, the House and Senate vote to extend the Temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for five months is a victory for the unemployed and the AFL-CIO, which stood as their champion.

True, it’s not a knockout and has its shortcomings. It does nothing for the million workers who have exhausted both their state and federal unemployment benefits. But outrage that Congress adjourned for the holiday without extending benefits for a million unemployed workers forced a Republican-controlled Congress to act on the first day they returned to Capitol Hill. They appropriated nine times as much money as they were willing to appropriate a month earlier. That’s a victory and, more importantly, an indication of what can be done.

We are not among those who think that the 108th Congress, led by Republicans Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, is any kinder or gentler than the 107th. And we know that George Bush hasn’t changed his spots.

In the face of their hostile, anti-worker policies, victory depended on which side was best at mobilizing and deploying the troops and the majority who favor help for the unemployed. A recent CBS poll shows 59 percent of the public thinks Bush’s economic policies favor the rich and only half approve of his handling of the economy. The poll said the people believe the highest priority for the new Congress must be jobs.

All the signs are that the economy is getting worse with unemployment rising, federal, state and local deficits at ruinous levels, and tens of millions without health care. Bush’s tax package, peddled as an “economic stimulus” plan will destroy, not create jobs. It offers crumbs to working people and a feast for the wealthy. So the need for jobless benefits, Medicaid and other emergency programs is going to grow more intense.

The battle that forced Congress to approve $7 billion for extended unemployment benefits shows that victories can be won.


Bush’s dilemma

When it comes to racism and affirmative action the Bush administration faces a dilemma of its own making. The most important case for educational equality since Brown v. Board Education is before the Supreme Court – Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger challenge the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies for admissions.

The Justice Department has until Jan. 16 to sign a “friend of the court” brief either supporting the white students and their far-right backers in dismantling affirmative action, or siding with the U-M and their pro-diversity arguments. Or the White House can decide to remain silent, which will be the loudest statement of all.

Since the outrage over Trent Lott’s racist statements at the party for pro-segregationist Strom Thurmond, both the Bush administration and the Republican Party have been on the defensive because of their deplorable record on racial equality. They replaced Lott with Sen. Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) as GOP leader. Frist is no different when it comes to racism. Frist has a similar voting record on civil rights as Lott, he just packages the racism with a sugar-coated pill.

Administration extremists like Attorney General John Ashcroft and Solicitor General Ted Olson want the Justice Dept. to side with Gratz and Grutter. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, himself an African-American U-M law school graduate, advise that the administration should remain silent, so they won’t further alienate minority voters.

Such is the brazenly cynical nature of Bush administration-style politics. Doing the right thing to ensure equal access to higher education for young people of color, and racial diversity at the nation’s campuses does not figure into their divide and conquer equation.

The Bush administration should feel the heat demanding that they side with the U-M. If the recent re-nomination of notorious anti-civil rights Mississippi judge Charles Pickering to a federal judgeship is any indication of the administration’s post-Lott stance on racism, it will take a lot of heat.