Progressive Democrats must make their choice between Vice President Al Gore and former Senator Bill Bradley and they're welcome to it. Many people we respect are supporting Gore, seeing him as the best hope to keep the White House in Democratic hands. Bradley's supporters see in their candidate a man of integrity who has brought issues such as racial justice, expansion of health care and campaign finance reform into the debate.
We see a pair of candidates with moderately liberal inclinations but who are both beholden to big business interests when it counts.
Either one of them is preferable to George W. Bush (or the rest of the Republican field, for that matter), but on matters of trade and economic policy Gore, Bradley, Bush or John McCain are likely to stay the course as enablers of the growing power of multinational corporations.
At least Gore, Bradley and McCain agree on the need for some campaign finance reform. They support measures that would limit the corporate control over government. Bradley and Gore support public financing of federal elections while McCain has been a leader in the push for a "soft money" ban. Bush Jr., the $60 million man, views any limits on campaign contributions as anathema.
With Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump battling for the Reform Party nomination, and Ralph Nader preparing to make another race as the Green Party candidate, populists likely will have alternatives to the D's and R's in the presidential race. But unless all you want out of this year's elections is to qualify the Reformers and/or the Greens for federal funds in 2004, progressives had better get working now to make sure that Republican majorities in Congress don't cheer George W.'s inauguration next January.
With the help of some of our friends, such as Granny D, Harry Kelber and the Campaign for America's Future, we have developed a handy questionnaire that you can use to identify progressive populist candidates for Congress and state legislatures. Take this quiz to your local political forums and find out where the candidates stand. Ask them:
* Will you pledge to give your support and full procedural vote to ban "soft money" -- the unlimited contributions to state and federal political races that are used to get around the limits on campaign contributions? Will you support the public financing of state and federal political races, so that candidates can run for office without seeking bribes?
* Will you pledge to defend and strengthen Social Security and Medicare for the 21st Century, oppose privatization schemes and support using budget surpluses to provide prescription drug benefits to all Americans covered by Medicare? Will you support measures to expand health care to the 44 million Americans who are uninsured?
* Millions of Americans work at or near the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, so even if they work 40 hours a week they do not earn enough to rise above the poverty level. Will you promote a living wage, either through an increase in the minimum wage or through expansion of earned income tax credits, so that a working parent can lift a family of four out of poverty?
* The U.S. has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the past few years as multinational corporations have moved factories to countries with the lowest wages and least government interference. Will you vote against any trade accords that do not have binding labor rights and environmental protections built in?
* Every year, about 10,000 workers are illegally fired by their employers because they want the protection of a union. Will you support the National Labor Relations Board so it can enforce the laws guaranteeing American workers the right to organize and bargain collectively?
* Affordable housing is a pressing need for many working families, but developers prefer to build luxury apartments and houses where they can turn a larger profit. Would you support spending federal funds to expand low-cost housing?
* Will you support small businesses which have been hurt by the predatory pricing of chain-store "category killers," by restoring the Justice Department Antitrust Division and at the Federal Trade Commission to 1980 staffing levels, and will you give them a mandate to preserve competition and protect the public good?
* The number of independent farmers continues to shrink as large agribusinesses take control of food production and processing. Large-scale industrialized production threatens natural resources and food safety as well as farmers. Will you support a farm bill that promotes small, sustainable independent farms, and dedicate budget resources to strengthening the competitive position of small farmers in American agriculture? Will you support the consumers' rights to know if their food is genetically modified?
* In 1980, the average CEO was paid 42 times the wages of a typical worker. By 1998, the pay gap had multiplied by a factor of 10, to an average CEO pay 419 times that of the average worker. Will you support a bill to limit the tax deductions allowable for excessive salaries of corporate executives?
* Will you replace corporate welfare for polluting industries with subsidies for ecologically sound products and services?
* The Pentagon sustains the military budget at virtual Cold War levels. We spend more on new weapons than any other country spends on its entire military. Will you give American taxpayers the peace dividend we have been waiting for ever since the Berlin Wall toppled in 1989?
Community activists won a major victory January 20 when the Federal Communications Commission, overruling the objections of big commercial broadcasters, voted 3-2 to allow educational, religious and community groups to operate low-power FM radio stations with broadcasting ranges of up to seven miles. Under the new rules the FCC will award licenses for noncommercial stations powered at 10 to 100 watts, based upon a group's ties to the local community. The commission could start accepting applications this spring.
This offers a chance for grassroots organizations to democratize the airwaves and restore local voices where commercial stations have been sold to out-of-town corporations. With transmitter kits running less than $1,000, the cost of opening a microstation is estimated at $2,000, compared with more than $1 million for a commercial station. The National Association of Broadcasters failed to sidetrack the commission's vote, but it plans to go to Congress and the courts to stop the low-power stations. U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, has introduced HR 3439 to prohibit the FCC from proceeding. So ask your congressional candidates if they'll support low-power radio. And for a bonus question, ask them if they would support a 10 percent tax on broadcast commercials, to pay for the expansion of public broadcasting and free it from the control of corporate funders such as ADM.
The World Economic Forum, a private group of 2,000 businessmen, economists, bankers, politicians and academics, will discuss globalization in a tightly guarded conference in the Swiss ski resort of Davis January 27, in the first attempt to regroup after the people's rebellion in Seattle last December sidetracked attempts to launch a new round of trade liberalization under the World Trade Organization. Elif Kaban of Reuters reported that diplomats see little chance of getting the free trade expansion proposal back on track before a new U.S. president takes over next January and gets his administration in place. Although most of the key sessions are closed to the public, the Forum will be monitored by "The Public Eye on Davos," a joint project of the Berne Declaration, Friends of the Earth/US and the Globalization Challenge Initiative. The project will advocate public concerns and disseminate information on important developments. For more information see www.evb.ch or phone Friends of the Earth at 877-843-8687. -- JMC