Republicans agreed to a limited bipartisan inquiry into charges that Theodore B. Olson, George W. Bush's nominee to be solicitor general, deceived the Senate Judiciary Committee in testimony about his role in a controversial magazine investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton. A spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said May 18 that Leahy and committee chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) have agreed that there will be a committee staff inquiry into the matter, including interviews with witnesses.
Hatch earlier had brushed aside Democratic concerns about Olson's integrity as he cut off debate and bulled the Judiciary Committee into a 9-9 deadlock, which left Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to try to force the nomination out of committee to the floor of the Senate through a "discharge" motion. Republicans appeared to have a bare majority of votes to move the nomination to the Senate floor, as Sen. Zell Miller, nominal D-Ga., said he would vote for Bush's pick, but Democrats expected to have more than 41 votes needed to tie up the nomination in a filibuster. Faced with that reality, R's agreed to more investigation.
[Editor's Note: After this went to press, Lott moved to bring Olson's nomination to the floor before Republicans lost control of the Senate and Democrats agreed not to filibuster. Olson was approved 51-47. More about the Olson affair in the next issue.]
When questioned about his involvement in the "Arkansas Project, a five-year, $2.4 million effort by the tax-exempt American Spectator to investigate the Clintons' activities in Arkansas, Olson told the committee, "I was not involved in the [Arkansas] project in its origin or its management," although he was attorney for the magazine in 1994. In subsequent written answers to committee members' questions, Olson said he knew about the Spectator's stories but did "not recall giving any advice concerning the conduct of the project or its origins or management." However, former Spectator writer David Brock has alleged a far greater, and earlier, role by Olson in the project than the nominee has admitted to.
Salon.com, which led the reporting on the Olson scandal, reported that Olson was present at the first meeting of the Arkansas Project in 1994, in his office. He was a trusted friend and advisor to Richard Mellon Scaife, its wealthy benefactor. He provided the project with legal advice. He worked closely with, and was a longtime friend of, its principal players, including Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell and the two Washington attorneys who ran the Project, Stephen Boynton and Dave Henderson, who also had long-standing ties to Scaife. He represented the most controversial figure associated with the Project -- disgraced former Arkansas judge and con-man David Hale, who was accused of receiving Arkansas Project money while cooperating with Kenneth Starr.
Spectator editors claimed that Brock, a star writer at the magazine, had nothing to do with the Clinton-bashing project, but Salon.com reported that Brock produced records showing he received nearly $40,000 from the Project. Brock has claimed that Project operatives were engaged in partisan opposition research rather than journalism, which would be in violation of tax rules for a 501(c)3 organization, which the Spectator is.
As Salon.com's Executive Editor Gary Kamiya wrote on May 18, "Considering these facts, Olson's pious declaration that he knew nothing about the Arkansas Project is about as believable as Clinton's finger-wagging declaration that he did not have sex with that woman."
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION? Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill aired some big ideas in an interview published May 18 in the Financial Times, proposing abolition of the corporate income tax and the capital gains tax on business. He also suggested Medicare and Social Security should be overhauled to keep older people working and providing for their own health care. "Able-bodied adults who have the ability to earn income have an obligation not to pass part of their own responsibility on to a broader population," he said.
O'Neill also wants to curtail an international effort to crack down on offshore tax havens because of concerns the crackdown would lead to higher domestic taxes on multinational corporations. The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, representing 30 industrialized nations, had accused 35 tax havens of harboring tax dodgers. It proposed sanctions unless the offshore centers agreed to cooperate with foreign tax enforcement authorities, end special tax deals for foreign companies and lift the secrecy cloaking their banking systems. But right-wingers such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey regard the sanctions as trying to set up a "global network of tax police." O'Neill apparently agrees. "The United States does not support efforts to dictate to any country what its own tax rates or tax system should be, and will not participate in any initiative to harmonize world tax systems," O'Neill said. Neither he nor other right wingers so concerned about the tax liability of multinational corporations have expressed similar doubts about the broadened authority of free trade tribunals under NAFTA and the WTO to strike down health, environment and labor laws that are found to restrain trade.
INTERIOR DEPUTY WITH CRIME RAP? J. Steven Griles, Bush's nominee for the No. 2 spot at Interior, may have a criminal record, Tim Noah of Slate.com reported May 16. Noah learned that on July 9, 1975, someone named James Steven Griles was charged by the Richmond, Va., police with breaking and entering with "intent to commit assault felony." Griles was convicted on the lesser misdemeanor charge of trespassing. Noah was informed by an Interior spokesman that Griles would not answer if he was the same Griles who got in trouble in Richmond.
JEFFORDS EYES PARTY SWITCH. Republican efforts to punish Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., for his opposition to George W. Bush's tax cut for the super-rich might backfire: Jeffords reportedly is considering a switch to Democratic or independent status, which would transfer power in the Senate to the Democrats. R's blame Jeffords for forcing the White House to negotiate with moderate Democrats on a tax cut smaller than the $1.6 trillion Bush originally wanted. R's have been suggested that in retaliation the White House might kill the Northeast dairy compact that allows Vermont dairy farmers to charge more for milk. One hitch in Jeffords' party switch: The Vermonter reportedly is insisting on remaining as Education Committee chairman, which Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., otherwise would claim. [Editor's Note: After this went to press, Jeffords announced he would switch to independent, voting to put the Democrats in control of the Senate. Assistant Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada gave up his position as chair-apparent of the Environment and Public Works Committee in favor of Jeffords. More in the next issue.]
VOTERS MARCH ON DC. Thousands of voters May 19 protested the judicial selection of George W. Bush as president with a march from Lafayette Park, facing the White House, to the West Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. The Voter Rights March to Restore Democracy, sponsored by VoterMarch.org and co-sponsored by over 50 different pro-democracy groups gathered activists from as far as Connecticut, Florida, Illinois and of course, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. A West Coast march also attracted about 500 protesters in San Francisco. Louis Posner, a New York lawyer who organized the D.C. march, led off the speakers at the Capitol. Other progressive speakers included Robert Borosage, co-founder of the Campaign for America's Future; Ted Glick, national coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network; Ronnie Dugger, founder of the Alliance for Democracy; Michael Rectenwald, founder and chair of Citizens for Legitimate Government;. Phil Berg, the attorney who filed the Florida class action to overturn the presidential election; and Rev. O.U. Sekou, on behalf of the Democracy Summer Coalition (NAACP, IPS, IPPN, Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Global Exchange and others.) "Tears were brought to the eyes of many participants with the appearance of a group of WW2 veterans. Ranging in age from 76 to 92 they came from as far as Texarkana, Texas, to remind us, on this Armed Forces Day, that 14 million young Americans had fought, and many died, to protect what the Supreme Court, the amoral Florida and Texas twin governors and the Republican Party are destroying," Hal Rosenthal wrote at VoterMarch.org. Both marches were virtually ignored by establishment media.
BUSH CUTS NUKE SAFETY SPENDING. The Bush administration would cut $100 million from highly successful federal programs that keep tabs on Russia's nuclear weapons and material and prevent those materials from falling into the hands of hostile states and terrorists, Fiona Morgan reported on Salon.com May 16. The cuts are part of the administration's 2001 budget, which was approved by Congress. Morgan reported that many in the security field are particularly distressed by the cuts to the Department of Energy's Nuclear Nonproliferation Office, which oversees a variety of programs dealing with both the "loose nukes" and the "brain drain" problems, in Russia especially. The cuts come at the same time that Bush is trying to sell allies on a multi-billion-dollar missile defense system to combat nuclear ballistic missile attacks.
SENATE REBUKES LOTT ON REFORM BILL STALLING. The day after Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said he would not send to the House a campaign finance reform bill passed more than a month earlier, the Senate voted 61-36 on May 15 to urge that the bill be sent to the House "without any intervening delay." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chief sponsor of the resolution to ban large unregulated donations to political parties, drafted the bill, which did not mention Lott, but said the delay "appears to be an arbitrary action taken to deliberately thwart the will of the majority of the Senate."
BUSH FAULTS GERM WAR PACT. The Bush administration is expected to oppose a draft agreement to enforce the treaty banning germ weapons, the New York Times reported May 20. The recommendations appear certain to further distress allies, who back the draft accord and are concerned that the new administration is concentrating too much on new military programs and not enough on treaties and nonproliferation. After six years of negotiations, diplomats in Geneva produced the draft agreement, known as a protocol, which would establish measures to monitor the 1972 ban on biological weapons, which 143 nations have ratified. But Britain's Guardian newspaper May 21 reported that US biotech companies have fiercely opposed the proposal to conduct both prearranged and random inspections on private drug companies and state agencies. US agencies which are spending billions of dollars on "bio-defense" -- including vaccines and protective clothing -- are also hostile to inspections, the Guardian reported.
SENATE BARS OMB PICK'S CRITICS. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee refused to let any witnesses other than John Graham testify during a hearing on his nomination as regulatory gatekeeper at the White House, but that didn't stop health, safety, environmental and labor groups from opposing the pro-business critic of governmental regulations. As administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Graham would review federal safeguards on industrial chemicals, fuel economy standards, air and water pollution levels, tobacco regulation and other issues critical to human and environmental health but Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen noted in written testimony that Graham is an industry ally with a long record of crusading against health, safety and environmental standards. Others who were denied the opportunity to testify included Frank Mirer of UAW, the auto workers' union; Dr. Eric Chivian of Harvard Medical School, who shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize; Dr. Philip Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and Dr. Herbert Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The committee also refused to let Public Citizen view information submitted to the committee by Graham, although reporters were allowed to view it. For a copy of Claybrook's testimony see (www.citizen.org/congress/regulations/graham/Claybrook.htm).
PACIFICA CONTROVERSY. A congressional forum on Pacifica Radio drew community activists, listeners, dissident board members and fired Pacifica employees to Washington, D.C., May 14 to talk about the growing crisis at the network. US Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., sponsor of the forum, was switched off the air by management March 5 in a dispute with a labor news host related to the ongoing struggle for control of the listener-supported chain of six stations in five cities. Owens asked management to explain their actions at the forum, but they declined. That same day, Pacifica board treasurer Michael Palmer resigned after months of protests at the offices of his employer. The following day, Pacifica critic Juan Gonzalez wrote, network management launched another attack on Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!, shunting the program from the main studio at WBAI in New York to a smaller studio at the station. When Pacifica's May fund drive started the following day, Democracy Now! was pre-empted in New York and Los Angeles. More than 20 Pacifica affiliates have dropped the Pacifica Network News (PNN) and are replacing it with Free Speech Radio News, the program of the striking free lancers of Pacifica. Verna Avery-Brown, longtime PNN anchor until she resigned in protest against the network's policies more than a year ago, has become Free Speech Radio News anchor.
Gonzalez urges people to keep calling their local Pacifica station to protest what is happening to Democracy Now! and the entire network. For more information phone 646-230-9588; email firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.pacificacampaign.org.
GSA: BOGUS WHITE HOUSE VANDAL SCANDAL. The General Services Administration reports that departing members of the Clinton administration did not trash the White House during the presidential transition, as aides to George W. Bush insisted to a credulous press. "The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy," the GSA reported. There was no wholesale slashing of cords to computers, copiers and telephones, no evidence of graffiti or pornographic images, unidentified Bush aides had claimed, David Goldstein of the Kansas City Star noted. GSA didn't bother to nail down reports of pranks, such as the apparent removal of the "w" key from some computer keyboards and the placing of official-looking signs on doors, saying things like "Office of Strategery," after a popular Saturday Night Live spoof on Bush. After Goldstein broke the news of the GSA report clearing the Clintonistas on May 17, it was played inside by some newspapers and ignored elsewhere. The GSA also refuted claims that Air Force One was stripped of silverware, porcelain dishes with the presidential seal and even candy on Clinton's last flight to New York.
FEDS RAID MEDIA SITE. The evening of April 21, as the Independent Media Center (IMC) in Seattle was preparing to broadcast news of free trade protests in Quebec City, two FBI agents and a Secret Service agent served the IMC staff with a secret federal court order that required them to turn over information on who had visited seattle.indymedia.org April 20-21 and prohibited them from disclosing the existence of the court order. On April 27, US Magistrate Monica Benton issued an amended order, freeing IMC to discuss the situation without the threat of being held in contempt. The order stated that the action was part of an "ongoing criminal investigation" into possible violations of Canadian law, specifically theft and mischief, although the IMC itself was not suspected of criminal activity.
The agents were seeking postings to an IMC newswire that morning that reportedly contained documents stolen from a Canadian government agency, including classified information related to the travel itinerary of George W. Bush. IMC volunteers identified two articles posted to the affiliated Montreal IMC website (montreal.indymedia.org) which resembled the agents' incomplete description. These articles contained sections of documents purportedly stolen from a Quebec City police car during the Friday night anti-FTAA demonstrations, detailing police strategies for hindering protesters' mass action. It does not appear that any materials were posted to any IMC site containing Bush's travel plans.
Although the agents were concerned with only two posts, the court order demanded "all user connections logs" for a 48-hour period, which would include individual IP addresses for every person who posted materials to or visited the IMC site during the FTAA protests. IMC legal counsel David Sobel noted that US law requires that such efforts against the press be approved by the attorney general, only where essential and after alternatives have been exhausted. "There is no suggestion that these standards were met here," he said, adding that "prior restraint on a media organization goes to the heart of the First Amendment." For the IMC report see (seattle.indymedia.org).
WEB GUIDE FOR ANTIBIOTIC-FREE MEAT. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) announced a consumer guide specifically for buying meat raised without antibiotics. The guide at www.iatp.org/enviroag/, put together in response to growing consumer demand, gives consumers state-by-state contacts for buying these meat products.
CANADIAN CLERGY BLAST NAFTA. Members of a Canadian churches' delegation said they saw "soul-wrenching human suffering" during a fact-finding trip to Mexico to study the impact of free trade policies. "It was in Ciudad Juarez that I saw the worst living conditions I've ever seen in my life," Auxiliary Bishop Jean Gagnon of Quebec told Canadian Catholic News April 19 after a news conference in Ottawa, according to the Catholic News Service. He and four other church leaders visited Mexico March 28-April 6 to see what has happened to poor people under the North American Free Trade Agreement. "On the basis of what we saw, free trade is, for poor people, a monstrous fraud," said Rev. Robert Smith, former moderator of the United Church of Canada. He described "beautifully groomed" factories owned by Fortune 500 companies situated "cheek by jowl" with slums that were "as bad as anything I've seen anywhere in the world." Workers there make 40 cents an hour, compared with $5.40 on the US side. The clergy spoke out on the eve of the Summit of the Americas in Quebec, which set the course to expand free trade throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.
WATER RUNS SHORT IN CANADA. Hundreds of towns across Canada are under orders to boil their drinking water, Ruth Walker reported in the Christian Science Monitor May 17, as Canada's aging water treatment infrastructure comes in for criticism. A recent poll conducted for the National Post of Toronto found that in this nation of lakes and rivers, home to 20% of the world's fresh water, 46% of Canadians feel unsafe drinking from their own taps, because of fears ranging from inadequate treatment facilities to agricultural runoff seeping into drinking-water supplies and the lack of legally enforceable national water quality standards. In the US, legal standards and infusion of federal moneys are credited for enabling communities to meet national standards, although the Bush administration has suggested relaxing those standards.
WAL-MART OUSTED FROM SOCIAL INVESTING INDEX. Sweatshop conditions in overseas vendor factories and a history of contracting with firms in Myanmar caused KLD & Co., Inc. to drop Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the world's largest retailer, from the Domini 400 Social Index SM, which measures the impact of social screening on financial performance. "KLD removed Wal-Mart from its Domini 400 Social Index primarily because the company has not done enough to ensure that its domestic and international vendors operate factories that meet adequate labor and human rights standards. Wal-Mart's vendor contracting policies and procedures have failed to meet the standards set by prominent human and labor rights activists or those attained by other prominent companies that are similarly exposed to sweatshop controversies," KLD stated.
"Wal-Mart's market dominance puts it in a unique position to lead retailers in a clean up of sweatshop abuses," explained Peter D. Kinder, president of KLD, who collaborated with lead author Kyle J. Johnson on the report. "To date it has declined to do so. Wal-Mart has some real positives, but its failure to lead on issues such as this has made it unacceptable to social investors. KLD concluded that it had to remove the company from the DSI 400."
The KLD white paper, available at www.kld.com, details the shortcomings of Wal-Mart's existing vendor contracting guidelines, provides examples of documented human and labor rights abuses by Wal-mart's overseas vendors, and discusses the company's failure to ensure vendor factory compliance with human and labor rights standards.