Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris on Jan. 17 was expected to announce that the agency would shift its longstanding responsibility for overseeing corporate mergers to the Department of Justice. But the news conference was called off shortly after Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, called the Justice Department, angry that Congress had not been consulted about the change, the Washington Post reported Jan. 18. Consumer and technology advocates criticized the Bush administration plan, fearing it would give Justice too much control over media and software industries and remove the FTC, whose five commissioners come from both political parties, from key debates. FTC Commissioner Mozelle W. Thompson, a Democrat, also objected to the change, which would "deprive consumers of the benefit of the Commission's independence, expertise, and knowledge," particularly in the field of media mergers and "dynamic ënew economy' industries" that present "novel" antitrust issues. Steven Rosenfeld of TomPaine.com wrote, "the Bush administration wants less-stringent, narrower oversight of mega-mergers and so will shift authority from the FTC to DOJ, which is more susceptible to political manipulation." Jeff Chester, a public interest activist who follows media issues at the Center for Media Education, said, "This is an example of the kinds of permutations that the Bush administration will go through to help big business ... I'm not saying Clinton was different. But this administration wants to give big business a free pass."
NEVADA 'WINS' NUKE BOOBY PRIZE. After Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham approved the dumping of nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, John Sununu, hired by the US Chamber of Commerce to coax Nevada to accept other states' nuclear garbage, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that if Nevada didn't do its patriotic duty, the country should vacation elsewhere. Mary McGrory of the Washington Post noted Jan. 20 that Sununu, as New Hampshire governor and a nuclear power fan, fought like a tiger to keep the toxic waste out of his state.
While Abraham said Sept. 11 highlighted the urgent need to concentrate nuclear waste in one facility, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., notes that transporting 77,000 tons of waste currently stored at the nation's nuclear plants to Nevada would provide target practice for terrorists, he says. One hundred thousand trucks would be required, and 20,000 trains. Denver and St. Louis already have passed local ordinances against nuclear-bearing trains or trucks using their rails or streets. Congress must still pass the bill ordering the nuclear dump, but McGrory notes, Yucca Mountain is the only possible site and "fast track" rules nix the possibility of filibuster or amendments. [See "Mobile Chernobyl: Rolling Nuclear Thunder," by Karen Charman, 5/98 TPP.] Transporting all of its radioactive byproducts to one central location and storing it there -- both at taxpayer expense -- has long been at the top of the nuclear industry's wish list, CBS.MarketWatch.com reported. Currently, most nuclear waste generated from commercial plants is stored on-site, a cost shouldered by the operators. CBS.MarketWatch.com also noted that Abraham received thousands of dollars in contributions from the nuclear industry in his campaign for reelection to the US Senate from Michigan in 2000. They included Nuclear Energy Institute's $4,000; private nuclear-plant operators DTE Energy, with $5,000; Exelon, at $2,000; Constellation, $2,000; and FirstEnergy, also $2,000. Abraham also accepted at least $9,500 from energy-trading company Enron between February of 1999 and October 2000.
ANTHRAX MISSING FROM ARMY LAB. The Hartford Courant Jan. 20 reported that lab specimens of anthrax spores, Ebola virus and other pathogens disappeared from the Army's biological warfare research facility in the early 1990s. Documents from a 1992 internal Army inquiry also found that someone was secretly entering a lab at the the US Army Medical Research Institute at Fort Detrick, Md., late at night to conduct unauthorized research, apparently involving anthrax. Fort Detrick is believed to be the original source of the Ames strain of anthrax used in the mail attacks on Democratic senators and news media last fall, and investigators have questioned people there and at a handful of other government labs and contractors.
REP. JACKSON PLUGS INSTANT RUNOFFS. US Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., D-Chicago, endorsed San Francisco's charter amendment for instant runoff voting and is sending a letter to Mayor Willie Brown, asking him to support Prop A, which recently was endorsed by the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and the City Democratic Club, as well as more than two dozen other organizations. Jackson noted that Prop A, which will be on the March ballot, would be the first ballot measure to implement instant runoff voting in the USA since a 1974 victory in Ann Arbor -- a victory that was essential to the election of the city's first African American mayor in 1975. IRV "promotes coalition-building and liberates traditionally disenfranchised groups, including racial minorities and recent immigrants, from the difficulties of having to mobilize voters for a second election." Jackson has sponsored HR 3232 to implement instant runoff voting in general elections for president in order to expand the electorate and lessen the impact of "spoilers." See www.fairvote.org
GAS-MISERS STUNG. The Bush administration backed off requiring carmakers to increase their fuel efficiency, while the state of Oregon has moved to penalize buyers of existing gas miser cars by doubling their registration fees because they burn less gas. The US has spent $1.5 billion since 1993 on making cars more efficient, but produced little to show for it, and US automakers told Congress that producing vehicles that get 40 miles a gallon would be a crippling blow to their business, the New York Times reported Jan. 10 in a story on how the Bush administration is focusing instead on long-term research. Corporate average fuel economy standards, which have not been changed significantly in more than a decade, require 20.7 miles a gallon for each company's average new light truck and 27.5 miles a gallon for the average new car. Meanwhile Japanese carmakers Honda and Toyota have produced passenger cars that get more than 40 mpg. However, as a result of legislation that became effective Jan. 1, 2002, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles announced it will charge $60 to register those hybrid-powered vehicles. Regular gas guzzlers are charged $30. "While it is true that [hybrid] vehicles reduce emissions by using less fuel, they do create wear on the highways. They are charged higher registration fee to make up for the loss of revenue generated by collecting fuel taxes," DMV wrote owners of the hybrids, explaining the higher fees. Toyota Prius hybrid owner Karl Wright replied, "Raising fees on high mpg vehicles to recoup lost tax revenue is like imposing a fine on ex-smokers to make up for lost cigarette tax dollars."
WIND FASTEST GROWING POWER. Electricity generated by wind power worldwide jumped 31% last year, making it the fastest growing part of the energy sector, according to new estimates by industry and environmentalists, reported by Inter Press Service. The Washington-based Earth Policy Institute says global wind electric generating capacity rose from 17,800 megawatts in 2000 to 23,300 megawatts in 2001 -- enough to satisfy the needs of 23 million people. Germany leads the world in wind power capacity with 8,000 megawatts. The USA is second with 4,150 megawatts. It added 1,600 megawatts in 2001, a 63% jump in generating capacity since 2000. The cost of wind-generated electricity has fallen from 35 cents per kilowatt-hour in the mid-1980s to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour at prime wind sites in 2001, the Earth Policy Institute said. The White House is reviewing cuts in renewable energy research and development funding. It has called for extending federal wind energy production tax credit.
HARKIN HOPES FARM BILL ACTION. Sen. Tom Harkin hopes to get his farm bill out of the Senate when Congress returns in late January. Republicans have stalled the Ag Committee chairman's bill to deny the Iowa Democrat a legislative victory going into this fall's election. In addition to promoting conservation and aid to farmers, he noted his bill includes nearly $1 billion for food aid programs over a 10-year period. It expands the food stamp program, which has seen drops in participation among eligible individuals over the last five years while reliance on emergency food assistance has increased. The bill simplifies food stamp rules to make it easier to apply for them. It also promotes a smooth transition from welfare to work, ensures that benefits begin to keep pace with inflation and restores benefits to legal immigrants. The bill funds the International Food for Education and Nutrition program for four years, at a level of $150 million annually, offering food as an incentive to attract children in developing countries to attend school. The bill also raises the amount of commodities that can be shipped under the Food for Progress Program.
PRISON DOESN'T STOP NUNS. A defiant 88-year-old nun and her sister, who served six-month federal prison sentences for protesting at a US military base linked to Central American death squads, say the two will continue to pursue their cause. "Whatever you do, please say we'll continue with this because the school is not closed and that is our goal," Reuters quoted Dorothy Marie Hennessey, a retired Franciscan nun convicted with two dozen other protesters including her sister, Gwen, of trespassing at the former School of the Americas in November 2000. "I haven't changed my mind, haven't made an act of contrition for anything I did. If God is anything, he's against injustice to the poor and the marginalised," said Dorothy Marie, who lives with Gwen at Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Family, a convent and retirement home for 425 nuns in Dubuque. The Hennesseys were among 3,500 protesters who marched onto the grounds of the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., where several Central American military leaders later implicated in death squads received training. [See "Feds crack down on protesting nuns," by Bill Cullen, 5/15/01 TPP.]
MYTHS MULTIPLY POST-S11. Laura Bush says divorce is down, weddings are up and "families have come together'' after Sept. 11, but Ron Kampeas of the Associated Press noted Jan. 16 that in fact, fewer folks are taking vows and more are splitting up, while hounds are twice as likely as husbands to get wifely attention. Colin Powell, secretary of state and once the nation's top soldier, said more Americans are enlisting in the military, but Kampeas found enlistment figures haven't budged. And while more Americans tell pollsters they are finding religion, they aren't necessarily going to church more. Americans seem to have gotten a little nicer, "Except for that murder spike in Washington, D.C.," Kampeas wrote. "And the shoplifting in Denver. And the looming crisis at the charities."
WHITMAN MUZZLES CRITIC. Environmental Protection Agency ombudsman Robert J. Martin says he was punished by administrator Christine Todd Whitman after he opposed an agreement to sharply limit the amount of money financial titan Citigroup -- a principal investor in Whitman's husband's venture capital firm -- would have to pay in a controversial Superfund cleanup case. Martin, who functions as the agency's public interest advocate, alleges that Whitman ordered his office reassigned within the EPA bureaucracy and stripped of its independence after he opposed the nuclear-waste cleanup settlement with Citigroup. Martin made the conflict of interest charge against Whitman in a lawsuit filed Jan. 10 in US District Court for the District of Columbia. Martin won a crucial legal battle Jan. 11, when Judge Richard W. Roberts ruled in his favor, delaying his reassignment until Feb. 26, Mark Hertsgaard wrote at Salon.com Jan. 14.
US SUBSIDIES RILE WTO. The US and Europe appear headed for a trade war after the World Trade Organization confirmed that a $4 billion export subsidy program for some of America's best known corporations violates global trade rules, Charlotte Denny wrote in the Jan. 14 Guardian of London. The WTO rejected a US appeal against an earlier judgment in favor of the European Union and paves the way for Brussels to slap up to $4 billion in retaliatory sanctions on US goods. The ruling on US foreign sales corporations (FSC) laws, which channel tax breaks to big exporters such as Boeing and Microsoft, is likely to reignite festering tensions over issues such as proposed American restrictions on steel imports and the EU's ban on imports of hormone treated beef. Some trade specialists have speculated that the steel and tax issues may become entwined, with the US backing off on protective steel tariffs in exchange for Europe relenting in its pursuit of the tax dispute, the Washington Post reported. But that would risk arousing fury among US steel companies, steelworkers and their allies.
W'S TRIPLE PLAY AGAINST LABOR. In three recent actions, President Bush continued his administration's assault on working families and their unions, the AFL-CIO reported. On Jan. 11, Bush circumvented Congress and appointed Eugene Scalia, who has written that ergonomics is "quackery" and taken strident anti-worker stands as a corporate labor lawyer, to be the Department of Labor's solicitor, or chief attorney. With Congress out of session, the "recess" appointment prevents Congress from voting on the nomination. Scalia's appointment "is a slap in the face of American workers," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. On Jan. 7, Bush issued an executive order revoking union representation for hundreds of workers in five Department of Justice offices involved in law enforcement, intelligence and investigations. The White House claimed it was to prevent strikes by federal workers engaged in the war on terrorism, but current law already prevents those workers from striking. The same day, Bush fired the seven members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel. Because federal workers do not have the right to strike, the FSIP is the last resort when unions and federal agencies reach an impasse on issues such as organizing and contracts. It either seeks a compromise or imposes a settlement. On Jan. 11, Bush named four conservatives to the panel, including Becky Norton Dunlop, vice president of the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation, who will serve as FSIP chairperson.
FRANKENFOODS FAIL TO REAP MORE CASH. Farmers who plant genetically modified corn and soybeans fare no better financially than those who grow traditional crops, a study by Iowa State University economist Michael Duffy shows. The conclusion was the same one Duffy reached when he did a similar study in 1998, Jerry Perkins wrote in the Jan. 13 Des Moines Register. More than half of US soybean acres are now planted to genetically modified soybeans, Duffy said. Genetically modified corn acres have increased but at a lesser rate than soybeans. Duffy said seed companies and chemical companies have reaped the primary benefits of biotechnology, so far.
RIGHT-WING BLOWHARDS IGNORE THEIR OWN. Right-wing commentators had a field day drawing conclusions from the fact that John Walker was raised in liberal Marin County before he chose to become a fundamentalist Moslem and fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They have largely ignored the disclosure that Charles Bishop, the Tampa teenager and Osama bin Laden sympathizer who stole an airplane and crashed it into a Tampa high-rise office building, was an honor-roll student who, the St. Petersburg Times reported, belonged to the Young Republicans Club, read all of Tom Clancy's books, liked to travel and took pride in caring for his three dogs.
TERROR HELPER AT STATE. When George W. Bush named Otto Reich assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, he apparently overlooked Reich's role in helping Dr. Orlando Bosch enter the US after he was freed from a Venezuela prison for his involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that resulted in the death of 73 passengers and crew. Then Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Venezuela, Reich tried to use his office, Democratic critics charge, to at least help obtain a visa for Bosch to enter the US, despite State Department objections, Jake Tapper reported for Salon.com Jan. 11. Bosch, a longtime Castro opponent and the alleged mastermind of the airliner bombing, is now 75 years old and living freely in Miami. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said the US campaign against terrorism should prevent the appointment of a man widely believed to have abetted a terrorist. After Bosch's 1987 release from prison in Venezuela, President George H.W. Bush overruled his own Justice Department in 1989 to let Bosch stay in the USA under house arrest, despite a clear history of terrorist activities that included October 1968 convictions in the USA for conspiring to plant mines on foreign vessels and firing a bazooka at a Cuba-bound Polish freighter. Tapper wrote that Bosch brazenly tells the press about the myriad ways he violates his parole, including by providing arms for possible terrorist acts in Cuba.
FEDS OK BLASTING EVERGLADES. A plan to search for oil in the Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades by detonating dynamite in 14,700 holes and drilling a 11,800-foot exploratory well has won initial approval from the National Park Service, the Associated Press reported Jan.15. Collier Resources Co. still needs approval from the park service regional director in Atlanta, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state to start drilling in the 729,000-acre preserve that is a watershed for the Everglades and a home to the endangered Florida panther. The Collier family kept the mineral rights when they sold the land to the federal government for the preserve in the 1970s. The government allows oil drilling as long as it doesn't harm the preserve. The company currently draws about 2,200 barrels of crude oil daily from two well fields at opposite ends of the preserve. A Collier spokesman said oil drilling could increase to 10,000 barrels per day if all the requests are approved and oil is found below the surface.
JAILED JOURNO FREED. Vanessa Leggett was freed Jan. 4 after five months in jail for refusing to divulge confidential sources for a book she is writing about a Houston murder case, the Houston Chronicle reported. Leggett was released at the end of the term of a federal grand jury that had demanded she turn over all her research, including original notes and copies of all notes, on a society murder. The US attorney's office may convene another grand jury in the case, which could subject Leggett to jail again if she refuses to cooperate. Her lawyer, Mike DeGeurin, said he would continue Leggett's appeal to the US Supreme Court in hopes of protecting her from being jailed again. Federal prosecutors contend Leggett is not a journalist and does not fall under the First Amendment's protection of the press, since Leggett has not published a book or news articles.
FAST TRACK TO NOWHERE. The narrow House vote in December to extend trade promotion authority to the president may be a hollow victory for proponents of free trade, Robert E. Lighthizer wrote in the Jan. 3 New York Times. "When the blush of success wears off, they may well realize that this battle, won on a 215-214 vote, has significantly weakened the chances of Republicans -- traditionally the champions of free trade -- to maintain control of the House of Representatives. And only to enact a measure that is of little practical value," wrote Lighthizer, a trade lawyer and deputy trade representative in the Reagan administration.
To win the vote, he noted, Republican leaders used various enticements, but in the end it came down to old-fashioned arm twisting, a sudden surge of three votes by wavering Republicans and a strike of the gavel before opponents had time to react. "Given repeated polls showing that Americans believe, rightly or wrongly, that trade agreements cost jobs, this measure is likely to be a major election issue in 2002. And with the Republican majority in the House razor-thin, this vote could have a major impact." He cited Robin Hayes and Cass Ballenger, Republicans from highly competitive districts in North Carolina where many voters work in textiles -- an industry in which much production has shifted to plants and manufacturers outside the United States. "Both vowed to vote no and changed their minds under White House pressure. Their votes are sure to be used against them by Democratic opponents." Other Republicans whose seats may become less secure because of redistricting in New York, North Carolina, Iowa, Oklahoma and Georgia could find their votes in favor of trade promotion authority extremely damaging. No fewer than 28 Republicans who opposed fast-track in 1998 switched their votes last month. Thirty Republicans who received less than 55% of the vote in their 2000 contests voted in favor. Three Republican opponents of fast-track simply sat out the vote, a position sure to annoy constituents on what is seen as a critical measure.
Lighthizer added that the fight is not over, since the Senate will almost certainly make changes to the trade bill, sending a new version drafted in a conference committee back to the House in the midst of the congressional election campaign. "Not only will this be another excruciating vote for House Republicans, but the measure could easily lose its one-vote majority the next time around." He concluded, "Even if the consequences of last month's vote do not alter the results of the elections in November, the trade consensus that has predominated in Congress for much of the last five decades continues to erode. Indeed, we may be seeing that consensus go from fragile to totally broken before our very eyes."
WHITE HOUSE KIBOSHES DEM FARM BILL. After Republican senators came under fire for filibustering a Democratic farm bill in the Senate, key Republican senators got an agreement from the White House on Dec. 27 to support $72.5 billion in agricultural funding for the farm bill, according to Agweek magazine, but the White House made it clear it will not support the Democratic Senate version. Agweek quoted USDA Secretary Ann Veneman as saying, "the bill written by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that spends $45 billion over the first five years, is outside the budget." Both the House and Senate versions spend equal amounts over the course of 10 years, the difference being that the Senate version front loads $45 billion into the first five years -- and the White House is determined not to let farm-state Democrats run next fall on their passage of a farm bill.
AIRLINES: PROFITS TRUMP SECURITY. Terrorism has not stopped decades-long airline efforts to avoid security measures that they fear may affect their bottom lines, Common Cause noted. In December 2001, just before Congress recessed, airline lobbyists reportedly were on Capitol Hill shopping around an amendment to delay baggage screening requirements in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, signed into law on November 19, 2001. "For years, the airlines have operated free of the consumer mandates and state regulations that apply to almost every other industry," Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger said. "In 1999, they successfully beat back congressional efforts to impose customer service requirements. And just last year, airline interests weakened legislation to require background checks of all airport screeners. Hours after the terrorism of September 11, industry lobbyists were pushing for the safety and security, not of the public, but of the airlines' bottom lines." For the full text of "The $16 Million Soft Landing" see (www.commoncause.org/publications/jan0