Campaign for America's Future (www.ourfuture.org) said campaigns of several Republican members of Congress need watching after the GOP's congressional campaign committee sent a 280-page primer to candidates telling them, among other things, to stop using words such as privatization or stock market when talking about Social Security and avoid supporting any specific proposal for personal retirement accounts.
Rep. John Thune, R-S.D., running for the Senate against incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson, has a long history of support for diverting Social Security money into private investment accounts -&endash; as well as for specific benefit cuts such as raising the retirement age, CAF noted, but the Thune campaign ran a radio ad claiming, "Tim Johnson supports privatizing Social Security," when in fact Johnson has signed a Pledge against Privatization of Social Security while Thune has refused (see www.signthepledge.org). And Johnson has repeatedly said that he opposes diverting Social Security taxes into private investment accounts, while Thune continues to support that policy.
Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., in a tight re-election race against Democrat Tom Strickland, runs a TV spot portraying himself as a corporate reformer. However, more than a year before the Enron and Andersen scandals became public, Allard was one of several senators who sent a letter to then-chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission Arthur Levitt, urging him to postpone imposition of strict new accounting rules that would have prevented firms like Andersen from the conflicts of interest inherent in their roles as auditors and consultants to Enron and other companies. As a House member, Allard supported the Republican effort to abolish the alternative minimum tax designed to ensure that profitable corporations can't get away with evading taxes altogether [HR 1215]. And now, at a time when shareholder lawsuits against corporations are turning out to be one of the most effective ways to discipline corporate behavior, it might interest the voters of Colorado to know that Allard voted for legislation to make it harder for such citizen lawsuits to be carried out [HR 1058].
Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is one of many Congress members claiming to be fighters for pension reform. But Toomey, like most Republicans and a few Democrats in the House, voted for a so-called "pension reform" bill that actually worsens employee rights and erodes pension and 401k protections. The bill allows 100% of 401(k) assets to be invested in the employer's stock. The House bill also makes it legal for companies to hire firms and individuals with financial conflicts of interest to provide investment advice to employees regarding their 401(k) investments. It also makes it easier to exclude average employees from the pension plan altogether. The House bill does nothing to help employees sue to recover their losses. The House even rejected an amendment that would require the executives and the pension plan to notify employees when insider trading occurs. It rejected yet another amendment to require employee trustees.
In early July, television viewers in West Virginia were repeatedly exposed to an ad paid by the "United Seniors Association: that praised incumbent US Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., on the issue of prescription drugs. Similar ads ran in over 25 congressional districts praising members of Congress who voted for the House Republican bill. But the ad campaign, estimated to have cost over $3 million, was actually paid for by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade association and lobbying arm of America's drug companies, which first opposed prescription drug legislation for seniors, and then, when popular support became too great, helped to craft a bill that impinges minimally on their profits. United Seniors opposed the one prescription drug bill that actually passed in the Senate in this session: the Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals (GAAP) Act.
Elizabeth Dole, running for the US Senate in North Carolina, told the Washington Post she supports diverting funds out of Social Security and into private investments. "You know, if a young person or a grandson of that individual wants to voluntarily take a small portion of their payroll tax and put it in something like inflation-adjusted government bonds, a diversified bond account, over time I think that that is going to provide dramatically more than the current system would provide." But when the Post's Terry Neal followed up to clarify by stating that what "you support is a form of privatization," Dole said, "No one is talking about privatizing Social Security."
BIG BIZ HIJACKS EARTH SUMMIT. Activists accused big business of hijacking the Earth Summit from its goal of curbing poverty without damaging the planet, Reuters reported Aug. 27. "The resources of Mother Earth are being sold off," said Anuradha Mittal of Food First on the second day of the 10-day talks in Johannesburg, South Africa, tackling issues from promoting clean energy and preserving fish stocks to fighting AIDS. "The agenda has been taken over by the United States and the European Union in trade liberalization," she said, as activists complained about limited access to the main summit venue. Delegates from poor nations at the summit say the United States led resistance to their calls for more aid and new timetables to meet goals of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.
GREENS GAIN MEMBERS, D'S STILL BIGGEST. During the past two years the Green Party is the only national political party in the US to gain registered members, Ballot Access News (www.ballot-access.org) reported. The Greens had 246,854 members in 22 states, up 27.7% since October 2000. All other parties lost members, ranging from an 18% loss for the Reform Party, which had 81,208, to a 0.03% loss for the Republican Party, which had 28.8 million in 30 states that register according to parties (the totals do not include states with open registration). Democrats lost 582,028 members, or 1.5%, but remained the largest party with 37.9 million. Independents and miscellaneous grew 6.7% to 20.28 million.
ALASKA VOTERS NIX IRV. Alaska primary voters Aug. 27 rejected an initiative for instant runoff voting, 63.9% to 36.1%. The measure would have replaced the current plurality system with instant runoff voting for all federal races and most state races, except for the governor's race. Currently used in San Francisco, Louisiana (for overseas ballots), and within the Utah Republican Party, as well as internationally in places like Ireland and Australia, instant runoff voting is a cost-effective way to require candidates to earn a majority of the vote without holding a separate runoff election, the Center for Voting and Democracy (fairvote.org) noted. The measure was endorsed by the Republican Party and smaller parties in Alaska, but it was opposed by daily newspapers in Anchorage and Fairbanks and apparently many voters were unfamiliar with the concept. Ballot Access News (www.ballot-access.org) noted that it was the first time statewide voters had been given the chance to adopt an alternative voting system. BAN added that in San Francisco the first attempt to pass an alternative system failed, but a similar measure was approved a few years later, in March 2002. Other states where groups are promoting IRV include Vermont, where last March 53 towns urged the state legislature to adopt instant runoff voting; Washington; New Mexico; Utah; and Minnesota.
McGAA'S GREEN CRED SMUDGED. Green partisans found it harder to justify Ed McGaa, the Senate candidate who had been endorsed by the Minnesota Green Party convention to the consternation of progressive supporters of US Sen. Paul Wellstone. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Sept. 3 that McGaa led a 1986 project to ship sewage sludge from the Twin Cities to the his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, where he owned land. "How the Greens got messed up with him I'll never know," the paper quoted Deb Rogers, of Rapid City, S.D., an activist who fought the project. She added, "... this guy caused a lot of [environmental] damage in South Dakota." McGaa said he was just an employee of the waste management company, although Rogers called him "the point man." Salon.com's Joe Conason tagged McGaa "the Rufus T. Firefly of the Minnesota Green Party" McGaa was unrepentant about the sludge deal: "When I go in the Spirit World, I'll ask, 'Great Spirit, was that good or bad?' I think the Great Spirit will say, 'That's not a bad idea.' ... I deep down believe that it was a good idea," said McGaa. Green voters had another idea, and in the Sept. 10 primary Ray Tricomo, a writer who entered the race after McGaa's endorsement largely because he was concerned about McGaa's pro-military stances appeared to win the party's nomination.
NADER/GREEN RIFT? Some Green Party activists, apparently unsatisfied with Ralph Nader's independence, have signaled that they are looking for a new standard-bearer for the 2004 election. The Scrum political website (thescrum.blog-spot.com) reported that David Cobb, Texas Green Party general counsel and attorney general candidate, reported to the Texas party's executive committee July 2 that "There was discussion of terms which the candidate would need to accept in order to receive the Green Party's nomination." Cobb told The Scrum Texas isn't alone in discussions about finding a Green presidential candidate more to their liking than Nader, who, Cobb noted, is registered in Connecticut as an independent; whose presidential campaign never shared any mailing or donor lists with the national Green Party; and who gave the Green Party virtually no input into the decision-making of the Nader 2000 campaign. "There are several state Green Parties having internal discussions regarding the terms required to place any presidential candidate on their own hard-won ballot lines," Cobb said.
Nader told TPP he doesn't mind if the Greens explore other candidates, but he thinks the critics are only a few. "They can do whatever they want;" but he said he has done 34 GP fundraisers since December 2000 and had five scheduled in the next three weeks. "It's not like I've ignored them." He said he remains independent rather than get involved in intraparty politics. "I want to expand them outward. They can resolve their intraparty matters ... Do they really want me to get involved in intraparty disputes? Because I might not end up on their side."
RIGHT-WINGER REJECTED FOR COURT. George W. Bush thought Senate Dems were bluffing when they told him to send only moderate choices for federal appeals courts. But when he sent right-wing Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen for the 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals, the Judiciary Committee on a party-line 10-9 vote rejected her. Six months earlier the panel derailed US District Court Judge Charles W. Pickering of Mississippi, a friend of Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, for the 5th Circuit. R's warned they would retaliate, but D's noted that GOP senators showed no qualms about busting moderate nominees from Bill Clinton. (They also noted that even White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, when he served with Owen on the Texas court, labeled one of her dissents as "judicial activism.") The Washington Post noted that Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy read off a list of 10 Clinton's appeals court nominees who never received a vote of the committee or, in most cases, even a hearing.
The panel unanimously approved and sent to the Senate the nomination of US District Court Judge Reena Raggi to the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Democrats said Raggi, appointed to the district court by President Reagan, was a mainstream conservative who does not inject her opinion into rulings.
The partisan nature of Owen's nomination was revealed in a line from a White House pool report, ABC News noted: "On background, a top White House official said that 'Ron Kirk just lost the Senate race.'" The Kirk campaign questioned the Republicans' logic in blaming Kirk, who said Owen should get a hearing but that he would have voted against her, the Houston Chronicle reported. Among the controversial nominees waiting in the wings is Miguel Estrada, nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. A hearing is expected soon.
NEW FLORIDA VOTING SNAFUS. Florida election officials still can't keep their voting rolls straight as US Rep. Carrie Meek was denied an absentee ballot for the Democratic primary in Miami Nov. 3 because a computer couldn't verify the 10-year congresswoman was an eligible voter. Poll workers failed to follow procedures spelled out in a new Miami-Dade training manual, the Miami Herald reported Sept. 4. Instead of contacting the election office downtown, the poll workers reportedly told Meek and a other would-be voters to leave. "I thought the problems of the 2000 election were behind us. Apparently, they're not,'' Meek said. Lack of computers and phones at polling places had been a major complaint by local black voters after hundreds were illegally barred from voting in the controversial 2000 election. Massive problems were reported on election day.
OIL FUELS IRAQ WAR TALK. Mo Mowlam, former member of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet, says the Bush administration's real goal in staging a war with Iraq is to seize Saudi oilfields in case of an Islamic revolution against the unpopular monarchy there. In London's Guardian Sept. 5, she wrote, "The Americans know they cannot stop such a revolution. They must therefore hope that they can control the Saudi oil fields, if not the government. And what better way to do that than to have a large military force in the field at the time of such disruption. In the name of saving the west, these vital assets could be seized and controlled. No longer would the US have to depend on a corrupt and unpopular royal family to keep it supplied with cheap oil. If there is chaos in the region, the US armed forces could be seen as a global savior. Under cover of the war on terrorism, the war to secure oil supplies could be waged.
"This whole affair has nothing to do with a threat from Iraq -- there isn't one. It has nothing to do with the war against terrorism or with morality. Saddam Hussein is obviously an evil man, but when we were selling arms to him to keep the Iranians in check he was the same evil man he is today. He was a pawn then and is a pawn now. In the same way he served western interests then, he is now the distraction for the sleight of hand to protect the west's supply of oil."