People Want Populist Issues Discussed

Strong majorities of Americans are interested in a range of issues that are rarely being discussed in the current political campaign. And on several key issues where candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore basically agree -- the benefits of international trade and increased military spending relative to other priorities, for instance -- the public does not.

The poll, commissioned by The Nation magazine and the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington-based think tank, found that:

• Despite the booming economy many Americans worry about the disenfranchised: they show concern for the many Americans without health insurance (91%) and the gaps between rich and poor (74%). An overwhelming majority (81%) supports an increase in the minimum wage.

• While both candidates express enthusiasm for the growth of international trade, a huge majority of voters (83%) wants to see this growth moderated by other goals -- protecting workers, the environment and human rights -- even if this means slowing the growth of the economy.

• While both candidates favor increases in defense spending, a strong majority (63%) is interested in the possibility of redirecting defense funds to education and other priorities.

• A clear majority considers it "very important" or "somewhat important" for the candidates to debate some of the foreign policy issues that are rarely being discussed, such as the comprehensive test ban treaty (80%) and contributing to international peacekeeping operations (86%). An equally strong majority (81%) wants the United States to work with other countries through the United Nations.

PORK FOR RELIGIOUS BROADCASTERS. The Senate Republican leadership -- in a last minute, pre-election payoff to political supporters in the Religious Right -- was planning to pass legislation granting special licensing rights to religious broadcasters. Congressional observers were expecting the "Noncommercial Broadcasting Freedom of Expression Act" (HR 4201) to come to the Senate floor as an amendment to a larger bill.

The legislation would give religious broadcasters virtually unlimited access to noncommercial educational radio and television stations that have traditionally been used by universities and nonprofit educational organizations. Under the measure, the Federal Communications Commission cannot regulate religious programming at educational stations and cannot require that a portion of time be set aside for educational material. Moreover, the bill exempts religious broadcasters from requirements concerning proof of educational programming. As a result, the FCC would be required to automatically grant religious programming "educational" status.

"It's outrageous that Congress is prepared to replace Bert and Ernie with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This scheme grants special rights to religious broadcasters because they're religious. Unfortunately, this bill undermines the whole concept of educational broadcasting by allowing religious networks to promote their beliefs under the guise of 'educational programming,'" Lynn added. "If this bill becomes law, religious broadcasters would be free to buy up stations and replace educational programming that benefits an entire community with sectarian broadcasts and evangelism."

The House of Representatives approved the bill on June 20 by a 264-159 vote.

The measure was brought up after the FCC last December ruled that at least half of a noncommercial station's broadcasts must be educational and that preaching and worship services would not count as educational. The FCC reversed itself a month later after the National Religious Broadcasters, Religious Right leaders and their allies in Congress expressed bitter opposition. For more information contact Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 202-466-3234. To contact your senators and member of Congress, call 202-224-3121.

NUKED SOIL FOR SALE? A controversial plan that would allow nuclear power plants to market contaminated soils to construction companies, farmers, golf courses and other commercial entities is moving closer to reality, the Environment News Service reported Oct. 19. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has selected "realistic reuse scenarios" for the many tons of "low-level" contaminated soils, including home landscaping projects, athletic fields and playgrounds. The NRC will take public comments on its report on human interaction with reused soils until Nov. 17. For more information call the Nuclear Information and Resource Service at 202-328-0002. See the NRC document at: www.nrc.gov/NRC/NUREGS/SR1725/index.html. Comments can be submitted by email to: tjn@nrc.gov or by fax to 301-415-5385.

Meanwhile, 21 years after Public Citizen petitioned the NRC to declare the accident at the Three Mile Island an extraordinary nuclear occurrence, the atomic agency has finally responded -- that the meltdown at Three Mile Island was not extraordinary. Public Citizen received written notification of the denial in October -- more than 21 years after the group filed the petition. Declaring the meltdown an extraordinary nuclear occurrence would have prevented the reactor owner from using certain legal defenses against citizens seeking to recover damages as a result of the accident.

BIG BUSINESS HAS LIGHT TAX LOAD. Goodyear, Texaco, Colgate-Palmolive, MCI WorldCom and eight other large corporations earned more than $12.2 billion in profits in 1996 through 1998, but none of them ended up owing corporate income taxes over that period, according to a study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Instead, as a group, the companies received $535 million in credits or refunds, the report found. The study of 250 large publicly traded corporations showed that 24 owed no tax or received credits against past or future tax obligations in 1998, up from 13 in 1997 and 16 in 1996. The study also found that 71 of the 250 companies paid taxes at less than half the official 35% corporate rate during the three-year period. The 250 companies in the survey paid an average of only 20.1%t in 1998. That was down from 22.9% in 1996, and far below the 26.5% that a similar group of large companies paid back in 1988, soon after passage of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, which was supposed to close loopholes. Corporate profits overall soared 23.5% during the three-year period, but corporate tax revenues grew just 7.7%. "With significant help from Congress, corporations appear to be finding ways around the tax reforms adopted in 1986," said Robert S. McIntyre, a principal author of both the new study and previous corporate tax studies in the 1980s. "We hope our findings will encourage lawmakers to reexamine this important area of taxation." For more information contact the Institute, which is associated with the progressive Citizens for Tax Justice, at www.ctj.org or call 202-737-4315.

WHISTLEBLOWING REPORTER WINS DAMAGES. A state court jury in Tampa awarded investigative Jane Akre $425,000 in August, finding that Fox-owned WTVT violated Florida's whistleblower law in retaliating against her because she threatened to report what she believed was a distortion of the news to the Federal Communications Commission. Akre and her husband, Steve Wilson, who also was fired from the TV station's news staff, sued Fox, claiming that WTVT asked them to use false information and eventually killed their story on the alleged dangers of bovine growth hormone under pressure from its manufacturer, Monsanto. After a five-week trial and six hours of deliberation which ended August 18, 2000, the jury unanimously determined that Fox "acted intentionally and deliberately to falsify or distort the plaintiffs' news reporting on BGH," according to www.foxbghsuit.com. The jury also found that Akre's threat to blow the whistle on Fox's misconduct to the FCC was the sole reason for the termination. The jury award makes her eligible to apply for reimbursement for all court costs, expenses and legal fees. Fox is appealing the award, although the trial judge Oct. 12 let the verdict stand. Steve Wilson, who was not awarded damages, also is appealing, based on the judge's restrictive instructions to the jury.

UNREST CONTINUES AT PACIFICA. According to a memo from Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman to the Pacifica Radio network's Board of Directors (leaked to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), Pacifica on Oct. 16 presented Goodman with a new set of "rules" that drastically curtail her freedom to decide what stories to cover and how, and even attempt to restrict her free speech rights. Over the last year, the national management of Pacifica has become increasingly hostile to the crew Democracy Now!, and in particular to Goodman, FAIR reports. Goodman's memo reveals that after fruitless attempts at good-faith negotiations, Goodman has been forced to file formal grievances against Pacifica's management charging "harassment, gender harassment and censorship," along with other violations of her union contract.

Pacifica has been in a running battle with its listeners since March 1999, when it fired Nicole Sawaya, station manager of Berkeley station KPFA; then a few days later fired veteran reporter Larry Bensky for discussing on-air his concerns about the network's autocratic management. In the wake of the firings, as many as 2,000 listeners took to the streets of Berkeley to protest the actions of Pacifica's management and demand greater accountability to the community. "Over the last year and a half, Pacifica's management has increasingly orchestrated censorship -- including of FAIR's own radio show, CounterSpin -- retaliatory personnel moves and the disenfranchisement of listeners and local advisory boards in order to impose its often regressive decisions on the network. The latest moves against Democracy Now! are a sad indication that Pacifica's management is making a final break with the progressive core values laid out by Pacifica founder Lew Hill," FAIR stated.

For more on the Pacifica situation, see www.fair.org or call 212-633-6700.

MARIJUANA 'LESS HARMFUL THAN ASPIRIN'. Cannabis, or marijuana, is a safer drug than aspirin and can be used long-term without serious side-effects, says The Science of Marijuana, by Dr. Leslie Iversen of Oxford University's department of pharmacology, as reported Oct. 21 in the London Independent. Iverson, a fellow of the prestigious Royal Society, found in his study that marijuana is an inherently "safe drug'' which does not lead to addictiveness, cancer, infertility, brain damage or mental illness. Legalisation of the drug for medical conditions should be considered, he says, citing its value for AIDS patients and people suffering severe pain.

Meanwhile, the US government not only is stopping states from legalizing medicinal marijuana but the Drug Enforcement Administration is proposing to ban certain hemp products in the United States. Complaing that hemp products can cuase people to test positive for marijuana, even if they have only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC -- the intoxicating ingredient found in marijuana -- the DEA is proposing to ban such projects as hemp seed cakes, nutritional supplements and personal-care hemp products, such as hemp-based shampoos, soaps, lotions, and lip balm, because they claim that hemp products that touch the skin might convey THC into the human system. Only hemp paper, clothing, rope, and animal feed (including birdseed) would still be legal, as long as people did not eat those products. For more information see www.SaveHemp.org or call The Body Shop, 919-554-4900.

FDA'S IRRADIATION APPROVAL QUESTIONED. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) legalized the irradiation of fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs while ignoring federal safety regulations and relying on dozens of tests that the agency's own expert scientists have dismissed as invalid, a new report from Public Citizen and the Cancer Prevention Coalition reveals. "For 17 years, the FDA has knowingly and systematically ignored its own testing protocols - protocols that must be followed before irradiated food can be legalized for human consumption," said Mark Worth, senior researcher for Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The FDA's record of regulating food irradiation is an utter embarrassment. The agency's failings should outrage everyone concerned about the wholesomeness of our food supply." The new report, "A Broken Record: How The FDA Legalized And Continues To Legalize Food Irradiation Without Testing It For Safety," is available at www.citizen.org or call 202-454-5150. Public Citizen and the Cancer Prevention Coalition are calling for the revocation of all food irradiation permits and a full congressional investigation into the FDA's role in regulating irradiated food.

CHEVRON-TEXACO MERGER: MORE CLOUT FOR BIG OIL. Consumers, democracy and the environment will be the losers in the proposed merger of Chevron and Texaco, said Athan Manuel of the Public Interest Research Group's Arctic Wilderness Campaign, as the public interest advocacy groups urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block the proposed $35 billion merger. "It's time to stop the oil industry merger mania," he said, noting that one of the consequences has been a lack of competition and record high gas prices for consumers. "This merger would make a bad situation even worse," he said, adding that the new ChevronTexaco would also contribute to an excessive concentration of political power in a small number of huge corporations. The new oil giant would undoubtedly use its increased political clout to push environmentally dangerous drilling plans in Alaska and Florida, he said. Chevron already is actively lobbying Congress to allow oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge and is trying to drill the first offshore drilling well 30 miles off of Pensacola Beach in Florida. For more information call PIRG at 202-546-9707.

BIG RADIO ATTACKS LOW-POWER INITIATIVE. Nearly two years after the Federal Communications Commission first proposed creating a new brand of low-power FM radio stations for non-profit community organizations, the initiative is fighting for its life as members of Congress, acting at the behest of commercial broadcasters as well as National Public Radio, seek to smother it during end-of-session horse-trading on Capitol Hill.

The alliance of the National Association of Broadcasters and National Public Radio against low-power radio was unable to pass a bill that would effectively kill low-power radio, but the alliance was working to attach the bill as a "rider" to one of the 13 must-pass appropriations bills -- a legislative end-run that would turn the bill into law without Senate debate or a straight up-or-down vote on the merits. Standing in the way, according to Salon.com, was Arizona Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Commission and a fan of low-power radio, facing off against two big-broadcasting allies: Minnesota Sen. Rod Grams and New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg.

Grams' bill is officially called "The Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000." It would allow the FCC to test low-power stations, but only in nine markets. Then, independent technical analysts would report back to Congress next year on interference issues. Congress would then have the final say on whether to continue the program. President Clinton is opposed to the proposed rider and Vice President Al Gore also supports low-power stations, since they would "give voice to the voiceless," says spokesman Doug Hattaway.

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