BANKRUPTCY REFORM ADVANCES. The Senate Dec. 7 voted 70-28 to make it more difficult for people to seek bankruptcy protection from their debts. Consumer groups complained that the bill remains too harsh on consumers who fall into financial difficulty because of illness, job loss or divorce. President Clinton threatened to veto the bill, which was a major priority of banks and credit card companies. Credit industry officials made $6 million in political donations in the first six months of the year as 17 Democrats joined 53 Republicans to pass the bill. If they hold on, that's three more than the two-thirds required to override a veto.
Democrats voting for the bankruptcy deform include Bayh, Ind.; Biden, Del.; Bingaman, N.M.; Breaux, La.; Bryan, Nev.; Byrd, W.V.; Cleland, Ga.; Conrad, N.D.; Dorgan, N.D.; Graham, Fla.; Hollings, S.C.; Johnson, S.D.; Kerrey, Neb.; Lincoln, Ark.; Miller, Ga.; Robb, Va.; Torricelli, N.J. Not voting was Landrieu, La. An earlier version of the bill passed the House last year by a veto-proof margin of 313 to 108.
The president could kill the bill with a "pocket veto" by holding onto it less than 10 days, if Congress adjourns within that period, but Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a backer of the legislation, urged Clinton to sign the bill or at least give Congress a chance to override his veto, since there at least are a few consumer protections in this version. "President Bush might sign a tougher bill without the consumer protections in it," Grassley said, according to the Washington Post. To contact your senator, call 202-224-3121.
SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS ARBITRATION. The Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote on Dec. 10 ruled that corporations can require their customers to give up their right to take disputes to court and instead put complaints through the expensive course of arbitration. The court decided against Larketta Randolph, an Alabama woman whose complaint began when she disputed a $15 charge in her mobile-home financing agreement.
A federal judge dismissed Randolph's 1996 suit against Green Tree Financial Corp. of Opelika, Ala., because in signing the original contract, Randolph agreed an arbitrator would resolve any disputes. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta revived the case last year, saying Green Tree didn't disclose the potential costs of arbitration when it signed the agreement with Randolph. However Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote "The 'risk' that Randolph will be saddled with prohibitive costs is too speculative to justify the invalidation of an arbitration agreement.'' The majority included Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy. Corporations are increasingly requiring arbitration to limit the rights of customers and employees.
SAFE HIGHWAYS: TRADE BARRIER. A trade tribunal on Nov. 29 ruled that the US is violating NAFTA by prohibiting unsafe Mexican trucks from roaming freely throughout the US. Under NAFTA rules, if the US does not open the border to Mexican trucks, it faces trade sanctions. Public Citizen urged the US government to seek a reversal of this interim ruling and if it stands, accept the trade sanctions rather than compromise the safety of US highways. US Department of Transportation data show that Mexican carriers licensed to operate in the US are more than three times as likely to have safety deficiencies as US carriers. Common safety problems include faulty brakes, tires, taillights and brake lights. In Mexico, trucks are allowed to carry heavier loads. Mexican truck drivers have no hours-of-service limitations compared to the limits set on US drivers of 10 hours of continuous driving. While operating in the US, Mexican trucks are supposed to comply with US standards, but the US does not have enough inspectors to ensure that trucks crossing the border follow US regulations. "This ruling is particularly galling because it allows unelected bureaucrats essentially to overturn American laws and safety standards," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, the top auto safety official in the Carter administration. "It is also appalling that the ruling was based on trade alone; the panel refused to hear evidence about safety and the risks that the trucks pose to the American public." See www.citizen.org or call Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch at 202-546-4996.
BIG BIZ THREATENS DEMOCRACY. Multinational corporations threaten democracy, the Institute for Policy Studies found. Of the world's largest economies, 51 are now companies and 49 are countries, the anti-globalization think tank reported. Trade and investment liberalization have given corporations ''increasing levels of economic and political clout that are out of balance with the tangible benefits they provide society,'' it says. The study also notes that sales of the world's 200 biggest companies -- from No. 1 General Motors to No. 200 Sanwa Bank -- are growing faster than overall economic growth and together top the combined economies of all but the 10 largest countries. Big companies but employ fewer than 1% of all workers and pay proportionately little in US taxes, while racking up sales that account for 27.5% of GDP. See the study at www.ips-dc.org or call Sarah Anderson at 202-234-9382.
FREE TRADE CONFRONTATION. Heads of state, finance ministers, and trade ministers from every country in the western hemisphere (except Cuba) will meet in Quebec City April 18-22, 2001, for the Summit of the Americas to draw up the text for a hemispheric free trade pact known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas, also known as "NAFTA on steroids." It would create the largest free trade market in the world and further the corporate agenda at the expense of workers, communities, and the environment. Activists throughout the Americas are gearing up to challenge and protest this latest step in corporate globalization. For more information contact the Toronto Mobilization for Global Justice, 416-516-7535 or see (www.mob4glob.ca), (www.cmaq.net) or (www.oqp2001.org).
MINOR PARTY VICTORIES. Four Progressives were elected to the Vermont state House on Nov. 7. In New Hampshire, Steve Vaillancourt was elected as a Libertarian to the state House. According to unofficial and incomplete returns compiled by the Ballot Access News, Greens had the third highest presidential vote with 2.7 million (2.71%), followed by Reform's 442,368 (0.43%), Libertarian's 379,380 (0.37%), Constitution's 101,278 (0.1%), Natural Law's 89,236 (0.09%), Socialist Workers' 10,691 (0.01%), Workers World's 4,347, Socialist's 4,242 and 9,376 going to various other parties. The Libertarians qualified for continued ballot status in 25 states, followed by the Greens in 22, Constitution in 13 and Reform and Natural Law in 12 states.
FDA OKS RADAR FOOD. The US Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 29 approved high-level radiation "treatments" of fruit and vegetable juice despite complaints that irradiated food may not be safe for human consumption. Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program requested a hearing by the agency (see www.citizen.org). Earlier, the FDA legalized the irradiation of eggs and sprouting seeds despite questions raised by the agency's own scientists. In past years, the FDA allowed flour, spices, fruit, vegetables, poultry, pork and beef to be irradiated despite well-documented side effects such as nutrient deficiency, corrupted flavor and texture, and evidence suggesting that irradiated food is harmful to human health.
CLINTON SCRIMPS ON FED WORKERS. About 1.8 million federal workers will get a 3.7% pay increase, President Clinton has decided, and not the 15% boost they could have gotten under a formula intended to keep federal pay levels in line with those in the private sector. Clinton said giving government workers the 15% increase would be a risky step away from budgetary discipline. Bobby Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal workers' union, said limiting the increase to 3.7% guarantees that the federal government will be an employer of last resort for the nation's most qualified workers. This, coupled with increases in health insurance premiums, aggravates the government's problem recruiting and retaining employees, he said.