Republicans pulled off another coup Dec. 6 when they managed to eke out a win for "fast track" trade negotiating authority by one vote. The 215-214 victory for multinational corporations was a bitter defeat for organized labor, environmental, sustainable agriculture and human rights groups which had been fighting for months to limit the administration's ability to negotiate sweeping new free-trade pacts, including a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas deal. The measure still has to get through the Senate, where Democratic Leader Tom Daschle appears in no hurry to move on it, but the "fair trade" coalition, which had hoped to require binding labor and environmental standards on any trade deal, had banked on stopping the measure in the House. But many Republicans who voted to deny Bill Clinton "fast track" trade authority switched their positions now that one of their partisans in the White House.
Of the 215 votes for Fast Track, 194 were Republicans while just 21 were Democrats. Of the 214 votes against, 189 were Democrats, 23 were Republicans and two were independent members. John Nichols wrote for TheNation.com that some of the 21 Democrats who sided with the Bush administration were veteran free-trade advocates from conservative southern states. One of them, Ken Bentsen of Houston, could find that vote costs him labor support he needs in a Democratic primary for Texas' open US Senate seat. Other Democrats who voted for the Republican free-trade agenda were California's Susan Davis, first-termer from the San Diego area, Indiana's Baron Hill and Arkansas' Vic Snyder, all of whom got strong labor support in their elections. Several of them now face challenges from Green Party members who say they will make an issue of the Fast Track vote. In Indiana's industrialized 9th District, for instance, Hill has already drawn a challenge from Green Jeff Melton, who says he will use the incumbent's vote for Fast Track to pry away support from unionized workers in the area's electronics and steel industries. "The American labor movement may be wedded to the Democratic Party, but it's an abusive relationship," Melton said. "So-called 'free trade' agreements supported by Democrats like Baron Hill have been a black eye for American workers, costing thousands of previously well-paid union workers here in the 9th District their livelihoods. Hill solicits campaign contributions from labor unions by pretending to be a friend of working people, but so far he's mainly been a friend to sweatshops and corporate polluters, not workers."
On the eve of the vote Farbrizio, McLaughlin & Associates released a nationwide poll of 1,000 voters that showed by a 47-33% margin, voters believe Congress should use normal legislative procedures, not fast track, to consider trade agreements. That margin rises to 54-26% when respondents are reminded that fast track gave us NAFTA and the last WTO agreement.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and a leader of two successful fights against Fast Track in the 1997 and 1998, said the partisan nature of the Dec. 6 vote guarantees increased public and congressional opposition to future trade deals. "For the Bush administration, the cost of a short-term gain on this vote is a long-term standstill on US trade policy. The heated, partisan debate and narrow passage of Fast Track vaporizes the crumbling remains of the bipartisan consensus on trade and guarantees that future trade agreements negotiated by the administration will be met with great skepticism.
House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., was more pessimistic: "For the American people, Fast Track will be a bullet train to the unemployment line."
AFL-CIO CHIEF: BUSH WAR ON WORKERS. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney urged union leaders Dec. 3 to "take the offensive in a war here at home'' against the president, congressional Republicans and corporations who he accused of waging a war on workers, Reuters) reported. Sweeney called on the 66-union federation, meeting in Las Vegas, to recruit 1 million new union members a year and elect more labor-friendly lawmakers. "President Bush and his administration are doing an excellent job of waging war on the terrorists and we commend them for that,'' he said. "But at the same time, he and his corporate backers are waging a vicious war on working families ... and we condemn them for that.'' Union workers have been hard-hit by the recession, which has wiped out 887,000 jobs since it started in March, including 415,000 in October. Sweeney said the AFL-CIO would urge its affiliated unions with 13.2 million members to top last year's record turnout of union voters in the 2002 elections as part of an all-out effort to elect labor-friendly lawmakers. Union households accounted for a record 26% of voters in 2000, up from 19% in 1994, despite a drop in union membership. About two-thirds of them voted Democratic. Bush and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao declined invitations to speak at the convention.
HIGH HOPES FOR GREENS IN MAINE. For the first time in Maine, it appears as if the Green Party will have a primary race for governor. Jonathan Carter, who ran unsuccessfully for the US House in 1992 and for Maine governor in 1994 and led three referendum campaigns to protect Maine forests, likely will face Steven Farsaci, a minister and former submarine nuclear weapons officer who was discharged for refusing to pledge that he would launch nuclear weapons. Farsaci told the Portland Phoenix the benefits of getting out the Green message outweigh the potential downside of dividing a fledgling party. "If some Greens feel electoral politics are hurtful, that's perfectly fine," he says. "It's more important to persuade ordinary Mainers that this is an important and viable alternative than it is to get everybody who thinks of themselves as a Green on the same page." One of the attractions is the availability of "clean election" money. If candidates secure 2500 $5 contributions, they get access to as much as $1.2 million in campaign funds. US Rep. John Baldacci is the Democratic favorite for governor. Republican pollster and Bowdoin College professor of political science Chris Potholm told the Phoenix Carter can win if he plays to the middle, runs a serious campaign and avoids seeming weird. "The less he talks about duopolies and paradigms, the better ... He can put a Green cast on his message, but it can't sound weird." Carter focuses on bolstering the economy and reducing the burden of taxes to make it more equitable and make corporations pay their fair share. "I believe strongly that integrating environmental protections with economic growth is a key component of where we need to go ... But we've got real fiscal problems. [State government was] talking about 300 million [in shortfall]. It's going to be half a billion by the time red ink stops flowing."
RIGHT-WING JIHAD EXPLAINED. For a chilling look into the mind of the American Taliban, see "The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement," at (www.freecongress.org), where Eric Heubeck of the Free Congress Foundation provides a lengthy strategic statement of the Traditional Conservative Movement, which starts with demonizing and destroying the Left and any institutions that might be tainted by liberal thought. Heubeck writes of the need to destroy existing US institutions so they can be rebuilt from a conservative mold. "We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions.
"We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment's rest. We will endeavor to prove that the Left does not deserve to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American. ...
"We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs. For example, we could have every member of the movement put a bumper sticker on his car that says something to the effect of 'Public Education is Rotten; Homeschool Your Kids.' This will change nobody's mind immediately ... but it will raise awareness and consciousness that there is a problem. Most of all, it will contribute to a vague sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with existing society. We need this if we hope to start picking people off and bringing them over to our side. We need to break down before we can build up. We must first clear away the flotsam of a decayed culture.
"In terms of our long term prospects, because we will be seen as a purely defensive movement, not interested in imposing our views on anyone, only interested in being left alone, we will surely gain the sympathy of the public. The dominant culture will see its life-force being sapped, and it will grow terrified. It will do whatever it takes to destroy its assailant. This will lead to the perception that the dominant leftist culture is empty, hollow, desperate, and has lost its mandate to rule, because its only basis for authority is coercion, much like the communist East Bloc. Sympathy from the American people will increase as our opponents try to persecute us, which means our strength will increase at an accelerating rate due to more defections -- and the enemy will collapse as a result."
BuzzFlash.com, which reported on Heubeck's essay, notes that Free Congress Foundation, run by right-wing guru Paul Weyrich, has the ear of presidential strategist Karl Rove, who, according to Time magazine, dispatches aides to attend the foundation's regular conservative-coalition lunches, and often responds himself. Weyrich told Time his memos to the Reagan and Bush Sr. White Houses were rarely read, but he was impressed by the feedback from Rove.
D'S WIN HOUSTON SLUGFEST. The Houston mayoral runoff results indicate that any coattails from George W. Bush's reported popularity are short and frayed. Despite the fact that it was nominally a nonpartisan election, Republicans spent $200,000 a day in the last five days before the Dec. 1 runoff to promote endorsements of conservative Cuban-American candidate Orlando Sanchez by George W. Bush, his ex-president father, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other eminent Republicans, but Lee Brown, who was backed by local and national Democratic officials, managed to pull off re-election by a 52-48% margin. Pundits with the national press are reluctant to admit that momentum is with Democrats who also won governor's elections in New Jersey and Virginia in November, but Jan Jarboe Russell wrote in the Dec. 9 San Antonio Express-News, "The message here is that despite the non-stop spin game in Washington, bipartisanship is very much alive. Bush's wartime popularity does not translate into a free ride for Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections or in 2004."
LOBBYIST-IN-CHIEF? Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, George W. Bush's pick to head the Republican National Committee, is a well-connected lobbyist who in just one year in Washington has signed up a roster of clients that includes Enron Corp, railroad giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Recording Industry Association of America, which retained the former governor in its copyright fight against Napster, the Center for Responsive Politics reported at www.opensecrets.org. Racicot contributed ideas to the Bush energy policy, he personally lobbied Vice President Dick Cheney on the subject of forcing companies to update their clean air equipment, and more recently, Racicot pressed Tom Ridge, director of homeland security, for federal aid for energy companies looking to beef up security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. In October, Bush named Racicot as a special US envoy to help broker a settlement with Canada over a long-running trade dispute over lumber imports -- a subject Racicot is familiar with, considering that one of his clients is the American Forest & Paper Association, the trade group representing the timber industry in Washington. Racicot told reporters that he will not give up his lobbying practice in Washington -- becoming the first party chairman in recent memory to openly maintain such duties.
'STUPID WHITE MEN' STRIKE BACK. One of the victims of the war hysteria apparently is Michael Moore's new book, Stupid White Men and Other Excuses for the State of the Nation. The book is already printed but Moore recently told a group of activists in New Jersey that his publisher, HarperCollins, has threatened to pulp it because the content is "offensive." (They finally noticed!) Moore said he was told he was being "intellectually dishonest" not to state that Bush has done a good job in the last few months. Moore said he is still hoping to get the book released. Meanwhile, New Video is releasing the second season of Moore's TV show, The Awful Truth on home video (call 1-800-314-8822 or see www.docurama.com and mention "Mike's Militia" for 10% off). As for the show's future, the Bravo network "has still never said 'no' to more episodes, but perhaps I should take the lack of a beautifully-wrapped fruitcake delivered to me this holiday season as a hint."
COMICS QUALMS. "The Boondocks" has been yanked by faint-hearted newspaper editors for its criticism of war hoopla. The New York Daily News dropped the strip temporarily, Newsday in Long Island excised Sept. 11-inspired strips the first week they started coming out and the Dallas Morning News first moved the strip from the comics page, then decided not to run a strip that had "Huey," the politically conscious black child, saying grace on Thanksgiving Day: "Ahem -- in this time of war against Osama Bin Laden and the oppressive Taliban regime, we are thankful that our leader isn't the spoiled son of a powerful politician from a wealthy oil family who is supported by religious fundamentalists, operates through clandestine organizations, has no respect for democratic electoral process, bombs innocents and uses war to deny people their civil liberties. Amen" To which his grandfather replies, "This is the last time you say grace, boy."
SCADS OF CHADS FORETOLD. The Palm Beach Post reported Dec. 9 that Palm Beach County poll workers ignored voting machine problems before last year's election. In the county's 531 polling places, 261 had machines that registered errors on tests before the polls opened, but no election workers sought replacement machines, as they were supposed to. Of 4,867 test ballots completed that morning, 11.6% recorded errors in the presidential column, such as problems with chad, or several chads, refuting Republican claims that it was impossible to dimple a ballot when trying to vote.
After the election, one election worker even purposely stuffed a machine with chads and said he still couldn't produce a dimple. But the poll workers could. In fact, in 3% of the test ballots, poll workers made the kind of errors that made Palm Beach County voters synonymous with voting ineptitude," reporters Joel Engelhardt and Scott McCabe wrote.
FARMERS LIABLE FOR FRANKENFOODS? Farmers face legal liability risks related to genetically modified crops that the courts are only beginning to address, according to a report of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Genetically Engineered Food Alert, in collaboration with the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering. "Farmers assessing the costs and the benefits of growing GMO crops should base their decisions not only on production costs and expected yields, but also on the legal liability they may incur by planting, growing, and marketing GMO crops," says the author of the paper, David Moeller, a staff attorney at the Farmers' Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG), based in St. Paul, Minn. See the report at www.iatp.org
ASHCROFT GETS EXTREMIST'S VOTE. Clayton Lee Waagner, the anti-abortion extremist who is accused of mailing hundreds of anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics across the country, and who reportedly threatened to kill employees of abortion providers, said he has no hard feelings against US Attorney General John Ashcroft: "I understand he's anti-abortion also. He's a good man," Waagner, 45, told reporters in court in Cincinnati Dec. 7, the Associated Press reported. The FBI said Waagner had claimed responsibility for sending more than 550 anthrax threat letters to women's reproductive-health clinics in the past two months. The clinics received envelopes containing white powder and letters signed, "Army of God." The powder was not anthrax. Waagner has previously testified that God told him to kill doctors who perform abortions.
STAR WARS 'A SHOT IN THE DARK' The Palm Beach Post Dec. 6 noted that the Pentagon twice called off tests of its anti-missile system because of clouds. "Apparently, the umbrella doesn't work when it's raining," the newspaper editorialized. The weather finally cooperated in early December, and the Pentagon's "kill vehicle" successfully shot down a dummy missile. "Testing now stands at two failures and three successes. Even the Pentagon agrees, however, that the tests had little to do with reality. Defenders knew: when the 'attack' was coming; the missile's trajectory; that there would be no evasive maneuvers; that the missile would drop just one decoy.
"More complex tests won't deal with other realities, the most basic being the unlikelihood of a rogue missile attack. An anti-missile shield can't stop a truck carrying a nuclear device. Anthrax, to name just one weapon, is easier to make and deliver. Arguments in favor of developing a complex and expensive missile umbrella will not stand the light of day."
MILITARY RESENTS TRIBUNAL COMPARISONS. Former military lawyers are angered by a public perception, fed most recently by the top White House lawyer, that military tribunals authorized by President Bush are merely wartime versions of American courts-martial, a routine part of military life with a longstanding reputation for openness and procedural fairness, William Glaberson reported in the New York Times Dec. 2. In fact, the Bush tribunals are significantly different from courts-martial, which closely resemble civilian courts in due process, rules of evidence, rights to appeal, proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and a unanimous decision to impose the death penalty. Also, they usually are open. Bush's order is sketchy, but specified some differences from courts-martial. For example, it appears to allow hearsay evidence and sentences -- apparently including the death penalty -- can be imposed by a two-thirds vote of the tribunal members. "It bothers me that people are thinking we try thousands of people this way in the courts-martial system," said Ronald W. Meister, a New York lawyer who is a former Navy lawyer and judge. "We do nothing of the sort," he said. "These commissions are a totally different animal."
PRESS SCORES ASHCROFT. John Ashcroft finally got the attention of the nation's newspaper editorialists with his declaration that critics of the Bush administration's move to limit civil liberties for foreigners "only aid terrorists [and] give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of goodwill to remain silent in the face of evil."
The Washington Post on Dec. 7 called it "The Ashcroft Smear" and said his remarks "explain perfectly why many people have concerns about his leadership in this uncertain time. It is the attorney general's function, or should be, to ensure that a lively debate over policy is protected -- even during wartime. Mr. Ashcroft instead challenges the patriotism of those who dissent."
Jacob Weisberg of Slate.com called Ashcroft's appearance "an arrogant, bullying performance that went a long way to substantiating the views of his harshest critics."
The New York Times on Dec. 8 said Ashcroft "misses the point" of criticism of the executive orders that set aside civil liberties for aliens. The Sacramento Bee on Dec. 8 more directly called Ashcroft's attitude "contemptible." Of the attorney general's declaration that critics the Bee editorialized, "Draconian measures are exactly what America's enemies want. As for its friends, they have been given pause, all right -- not by those whom Ashcroft seeks to smear but by official steps that suggest the administration is prepared to abandon legal principles that America has long defended and take the kind of shortcuts it has condemned elsewhere."
The Des Moines Register, in a Dec. 8 editorial, called "Shame on Ashcroft," agreed that Ashcroft's remarks were contemptible, and added, "Ashcroft is dead wrong, besides. Nothing would give more aid and comfort to the enemies of America's freedoms -- such as the freedom to criticize the government -- than for the government to succeed in silencing its critics. That has not worked here since the demise of the Alien and Sedition Acts 200 years ago." The Register editorialized that it was too bad nobody had the sense of outrage to condemn Ashcroft in the tone of Joseph Welch's immortal put down of Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?"
Frank Rich, in a Dec. 8 New York Times column, "Confessions of a Traitor," wrote, "It's no longer just politically incorrect to criticize George W. Bush or anyone in his administration these days -- now it's treason." But he concluded, "If questioning our leaders' competence at a time of war is treason, take me to the nearest military tribunal. But the one thing we learned on that Tuesday morning, I had thought, is that it's better to raise these questions today than the morning after."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Dec. 9 called it a "cheap shot" and "an uncomfortable, if unintended, echo of complaints by some Red-baiting politicians in the 1950s that critics of particular policies were giving 'aid and comfort to the enemy.'"