House Republican leaders were planning on taking advantage of the bipartisan spirit in the House after the Sept. 11 attacks by moving a bill to give the Bush administration "fast track" negotiating authority on trade deals. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., wrapped the flag around HR 3005, which he is sponsoring, and pushed it out of the committee for a vote of the full House, with the suggestion that it would be unpatriotic to vote against it. The AFL-CIO has re-started its toll-free line (800-393-1082) to contact members of Congress and urge them to oppose fast track. For more information, phone Global Trade Watch, 202-546-4996, or see www tradewatch.org.
The Thomas bill would expand controversial "investor" rules that empower foreign corporations to challenge environmental and labor laws. Investor provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement are already being used to discourage countries from adopting badly needed protections for the environment.
According to the Sierra Club's Carl Pope, another opponent of "fast track," Thomas' bill denies Congress an effective decision-making role in shaping future trade agreements. "His bill retains the outdated fast-track procedure in which Congress' only real leverage point over negotiations is an up or down vote on a finished trade agreement. But by the time a trade agreement is finished, so much political momentum has usually built up behind it that some members feel compelled to support even agreements that undermine our environmental protections and democratic institutions."
Critics say there is no guarantee that future trade agreements will require "effective enforcement" of environmental and labor laws, even if Congress establishes this goal as a negotiating objective. Under fast-track procedures, Congress simply lacks the leverage to ensure that this or any future administration will deliver on the environmental or labor negotiating objectives that it might establish. Democratic House leaders oppose HR 3005, but the bill is expected to gain some Democratic support.
D'S TRY POPULISM. With a $75 billion stimulus package up in the air, Republican leaders want at least half the package steered to more tax cuts for upper-income levels while Democrats want far more of the package devoted to helping low-income or recently unemployed workers, Charles Babington reported Oct. 5 at Washingtonpost.com. Democrats are advocating $16 billion in health care subsidies, more than five times the amount proposed by the White House. Congressional Republicans are resisting Democratic calls for more spending on unemployment benefits and health insurance for employees losing their jobs in the aftermath of the attacks, many of them in the airlines and tourism industries. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, has criticized the proposals as "New Deal, Great Society-type things." Democrats hope the public will be in the mood for precisely such types of New Dealism. Congress also is battling over the federal role in airport security. Many Democrats contend that airport security workers &endash;- currently employed by the airlines &endash;- should become federal employees. House GOP leaders oppose the idea, saying there's no need to create thousands of new federal workers. Recent polls have found that the public has much greater faith in the federal government since the Sept. 11 attacks, which suggests the federalization of airport security might prove popular.
CONSORTIUM SPIKES FLA. RECOUNT REPORT. A group of news organizations that banded together and spent the last nine months and $1 million analyzing disputed ballots from last year's presidential election in Florida have decided they will not announce the results in the foreseeable future. Rick Berke of the New York Times on Sept. 23, in a story on the political fallout from the terror attacks, revealed that leaders of the media consortium, including the Times, CNN, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, decided the recount "might have stoked the partisan tensions" and "now seems utterly irrelevant." Bill Hamilton, assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, told Salon.com the recount effort doesn't necessarily demand immediate attention, but he says the recount study will likely run by the end of the year. While some critics alleged that the recount story was spiked because it showed Al Gore won the election, a spokeswoman for the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, which was hired to examine all 180,000 of Florida's rejected under- and overvote ballots, and to categorize them, told Salon.com members of the consortium had not yet received the data. After Sept. 11, the consortium told NORC to hold onto the final data until consortium members were ready to receive it.
LIES CATCH UP WITH WHITE HOUSE. The White House once again has been caught peddling stories at variance from the truth. First White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and his minions in January spread canards that departing Clinton aides had vandalized the White House and sacked Air Force One, only to be debunked by government investigators. Then, in an apparent post-blast panic Sept. 11, Air Force One fled first to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and then to Offutt Air Base in Nebraska before George W. Bush finally got the green light to return to D.C. When some right wingers criticized the president's skedaddling while New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was taking charge of the rescue effort at the World Trade Center rubble, White House officials set out to save face. Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, presidential assistant Karl Rove and Fleischer repeatedly insisted that a "credible threat" -- involving alleged code-word confirmation -- had convinced the Secret Service that terrorists were trying to hit Air Force One and the White House. When those assertions were shot down by CBS News and the Associated Press, the spinners backed down. Fleisher claimed it had all been a "misunderstanding" by staffers, and has not been interested in revisiting the topic. As Joe Conason wrote in Salon.com, "The question isn't whether Bush ought to have flown back to Washington immediately. He may well have had ample reason not to. The question is whether the officials in charge of national security and their spokespeople have been candid about one of their most crucial responsibilities. If the president cares at all about honor and integrity, he will demand that his aides either reveal the truth or tender their resignations."
TAXPAYERS CALLED TO BAIL OUT TERROR CLAIMS. The Bush administration and some members of Congress are considering plans to have taxpayers bail out insurance companies for claims arising from terrorist attacks, the New York Times reported Oct. 7. If there is no bailout, the Times reported, insurance companies are threatening to sharply curtail coverage for terrorist acts. Without such coverage, lenders will not finance real estate purchases, construction or investments by business in plants and equipment. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Ct., who heads the Senate Banking subcommittee that oversees insurance, said predictions of more attacks made it imperative to act. Sen. Charles A. Schumer, another member of the banking committee, said the government will have to be the "insurer of last resort." Under one proposal, insurers would cover initial terrorism claims, but losses would be limited. The insurers would finance an industry pool that would then provide terrorism coverage of perhaps $10 billion, with the government paying for any greater losses. The British government set up a similar program eight years ago. But US officials are exploring other plans including the creation of a new government-backed enterprise like the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. Another option would be modeled on the 1957 law that limits the liability of utilities for damages resulting from accidents at nuclear reactors. One other possibility, though unlikely, would be a tax break to enable insurers to provide coverage themselves.
NUKES SEEK NEW GUARANTEES. The House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality on Oct. 4 voted to reauthorize the law that calls for taxpayers to foot most of the bill in the event of a nuclear power accident. "This is absolutely the wrong time for the Congress to be considering the extension of this program," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The current law doesn't expire until next August, but the leadership in the House of Representatives has put this legislation on a fast track. It's foolhardy to consider this until a full and thorough discussion of nuclear safety is conducted." The Price-Anderson Act was passed in 1957 to provide government-backed indemnification in the event of any nuclear power accidents. Nuclear power plants must buy $200 million worth of insurance, and the industry's costs in the event of an accident are capped at $9 billion. However, a nuclear accident would likely cost $500 billion, according to government estimates. The government would pay for what the nuclear industry doesn't cover. Under the pending legislation, the act would be reauthorized for 15 years. Public Citizen opposes the reauthorization, but says that if lawmakers do approve it, they should impose strict security requirements to protect against terrorism and assure the security of the reactors and surrounding communities.
DON'T COUNT D'S OUT. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was surprised to hear that Democrats were having trouble recruiting challengers for next year's election, since many potential candidates assumed that the national unity would make it tough for the party in opposition, he wrote in the Oct. 3 New York Times. But he noted that in 1918, 18 months after the declaration of war, President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, lost both houses of Congress to the Republican opposition. In mid-term elections 11 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized the nation more completely even than the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Democrats lost 50 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. In 1950, five months after the start of the Korean War, the Republican opposition gained 28 seats in the House and five in the Senate. In 1966, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the Republican opposition gained 47 seats in the House and four in the Senate. In 1990, three months after the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war and in the glow of patriotic enthusiasm, the Democratic opposition gained seats in both houses of Congress. "The reasons are self-evident," Schlesinger wrote. "When the republic is in danger, there is always an immediate rally-round-the-flag effect. That fades away rather quickly, as F.D.R. discovered in 1942. War years are years of tension, suffering, frustration, sacrifice, panic. This, for better or worse, tends to help the opposition party, whatever it may be.
R'S HOLD UP APPROPRIATIONS. Senate Republicans threatened to delay the appropriations process until they get guarantees that the Democratic majority will confirm more judicial nominees. Roll Call reported Oct. 4. The move appears to have at least the tacit blessing of the White House. Democrats contend Minority Leader Trent Lott's threat to block appropriations is unreasonable, considering that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has focused almost entirely on anti-terrorism legislation since terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. "We're doing the best we can on nominations," said Majority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev. "It's not as if Senator Leahy hasn't been busy." Oct. 16 is the deadline for the current continuing resolution funding the federal government. The Senate has already confirmed three circuit court judges, as many as then-President Clinton had on the bench in his first year. Democrats are expected to approve a few more circuit-level judges before adjournment. In his first year in office, in 1989, President George H.W. Bush had five circuit court judges approved.
R'S SUGGEST POLICE POWERS FOR ARMY. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said it's time to re-examine the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that limits the military's domestic role to prevent the armed forces from turning into the nation's policemen, the Associated Press reported Oct. 4. Wolfowitz said he agreed "very strongly" with Sen. John Warner, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, that it was time to evaluate what the military's domestic role should be before a new disaster occurs. Wolfowitz testified before the committee on a defense strategy and force structure report released by Pentagon leaders.
GREENS CALL: JUSTICE WITHOUT VENGEANCE. Officials of the Green Party of the United States participated in various rallies and other events urging the US to avoid military strikes and incursions in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks, before the US attacked targets in Afghanistan on Oct. 7. "The Green Party opposes military strikes," said Anita Rios, an Ohio Green and member of the party's national steering committee. "The only truly patriotic strategy is one in which peace is the outcome. Peace is the only outcome that can guarantee the safety of all Americans, justice for the victims of the terrible attacks and their survivors, and relief for Afghanis suffering an economic disaster under a repressive regime." For more information see http://gpus.org.
'BUY NOTHING'. George W. Bush and other western leaders are telling everyone to save their faltering economies by buying things, but Adbusters magazine reminds us that "Buy Nothing Day" is coming up on November 23. Adbusters originated the symbolic day of restraint on the day after US Thanksgiving in 1993. "If it all seems too strange, well, it is. But really, which is stranger: that the world's most egregious overconsumers should observe a symbolic day of restraint, or that, in the nations that use 86% of the world's resources, shopping should be framed as an act of patriotism?" For more information see www.adbusters.org.
W'S LAWYER GETS SAUDI POST. Robert Jordan, the Dallas lawyer who represented George W. Bush in an insider trading investigation in 1990, was confirmed Oct. 3 by the Senate to serve as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Jordan, who has no diplomatic experience, is a graduate of Duke University and holds a master's in international relations from the University of Maryland and a law degree from the University of Oklahoma. The SEC investigated Bush's June 1990 sale of $848,560 worth of stock in Harken Energy, where Bush was a director, shortly before the company stock posted unusually poor quarterly earnings and Harken stock plunged sharply. The SEC also found Bush delayed reporting the sale 10 months. But the SEC, whose members were appointed by Bush's father, decided not to punish W.
US SEEKS CURB ON ARAB TV. The Bush administration asked Qatar to rein in the influential and editorially independent Arabic al-Jazeera television station, which gives airtime to anti-American opinions, the BBC reported Oct. 4. The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Khalifa al-Thani, said he reminded US Secretary of State Colin Powell of the need for "free and credible media."
'CHANGE FOR A BUCK' TAPES. Ralph Cole of JusticeVision is offering a series of audiotapes for $1 each. The first tape features Michael Parenti speaking at Modesto Junior College, 9/20/01, on "Globalization and Terrorism" for one hour 8 minutes. For more information see www.justicevision.org, email DemocracyU@aol.com or phone (213) 747-6345.
HIGHTOWER TAPES AVAILABLE. Videos of Jim Hightower's New Chautauqua program at Unity, Maine, Sept. 21-22 are available for $25 each from Radio Free Maine. The Friday session features Hightower, Richard Grossman and Ronnie Dugger and is also available on audiotape for $11. The Saturday session features Doris "Granny D" Haddock, Carolyn Chute and Bill "Rev. Billy" Talen, also available on extended audiotape for $15. Make check payable to Roger Leisner and mail to Radio Free Maine, PO Box 2705, Augusta, ME 04338. See www.radiofreemaine.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.