Republican House members are joining Democrats to fight the Bush II administration's efforts to keep documents from the Reagan and first Bush administrations secret. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 established the principles for orderly release and a 1981 executive order by President Reagan set out the procedures under which all but a few presidential records were to become routinely available after 12 years. George W. Bush's executive order decreed that a sitting president, a former president, the family of a dead president or vice presidents could ice presidential records without even asserting a claim of executive privilege, which could be challenged in court, Tom Teepen of Cox News Service noted. Calling the order a violation of "the letter and spirit" of the 1978 law, Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., has introduced legislation that would restore the presumption that records are subject to release, allow privilege claims to be challenged in court and once again exempt vice presidents and the families of dead presidents from asserting any such claims. Some 20 Democrats have joined Horn as sponsors, as has Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind. Teepen called the Bush administration's instinct for secrecy "disturbing," noting that the White House has forced the General Accounting Office to go to court to find out how Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force operated; the Social Security privatization task force broke up into small subgroups to duck federal open-meeting laws; the White House refuses to let Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge testify under oath to Congress; and Attorney General John Ashcroft has made it clear the Justice Department will support just about any agency that rejects, for any reason, a request for information filed under the Freedom of Information Act. "Restoring the intended release of presidential records would usefully remind the administration that it was elected, not incorporated," Teepen wrote.
Also complaining about the hindrances placed on congressional oversight is US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who led a delegation of lawmakers that made an official visit to Afghanistan in early April and charged that the Department of Defense "intentionally lied" about security threats in order to prevent the group from visiting the key strategic stronghold of Mazar-e Sharif and meeting with several senior Afghan officials.
DC CROWD PROTESTS BUSH. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C., April 20 to protest the economic, international and military policies of the Bush administration. John Nichols noted in TheNation.com that D.C. police estimated that 75,000 people from across the country joined four permitted protest marches in Washington to protest corporate globalization, a seemingly endless "war against terrorism" and US military aid to Israel, while San Francisco police estimated that close to 15,000 people took part in one of the largest peace rallies that city has seen in years. Thousands more joined demonstrations in Seattle, Houston, Boston, Salt Lake City and other communities. A surprise for many organizers in Washington and San Francisco came in the form of the dramatic turnout of Arab Americans and others angered over continued US military aid for Israel at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was ordering attacks on Palestinian communities on the West Bank. "I think the movement is beginning to wake up," said 80-year-old Valerie Mullen of Vershire, Vt., part of a group of "Raging Grannies" at the Capitol. The spring meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund drew the protests, but Police credited the crowd with being peaceful and orderly, unlike some past anti-globalization rallies.
KUCINICH 'THE ONE'? Studs Terkel, in The Nation of May 6, proposes US Rep. Dennis Kucinich as a Democrat whom progressives could get behind for president. The Cleveland congressman, chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, recently created a stir with his "Prayer for America" (reprinted in the 4/1/02 TPP). As the Boy Mayor of Cleveland at age 32 he defied business leaders' attempts to force him to sell the city's electric utility in 1978 to refinance the city's debts from a previous administration. Kucinich succeeded in uniting whites and blacks, poor and middle class, in a citywide vote on the issues of saving MUNY Light and increasing the city income tax. He won both referendum issues but a year later Cleveland's newspapers and television and radio stations, as well as industrialists, defeated his re-election bid. In 1988 the Cleveland City Council honored him for saving the city's municipal electric system. He made a comeback as a state senator and is in his second term as congressman as an advocate for peace, human rights, workers' rights and the environment..
"I doubt whether he'll ever make People magazine's list of the most beautiful people, but the blue-collar Kucinich is the only one who can win back the blue-collar Reagan Democrats, among the other disenchanted, and the disfranchised," Terkel wrote of the truck driver's son. "He talks the language they understand and, at 55, with a remarkable eloquence.
"Imagine him in a televised, coast-to-coast debate with Dubya. Blood wouldn't flow, but it would be a knockout in the first round, and we'd have an honest-to-God working-class President for the first time in our history. It's a crazy thought, of course, but it's quite possible, considering the roller-coaster nature of our times."
ENERGY BILL STILL FLAWED. The Senate may have delivered a stinging rebuke to George W. Bush's hopes to let oil companies drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on April 18, but the surviving Senate bill still contains many anti-consumer, anti-environment energy policies, the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen said. The Senate bill subsidizes and promotes nuclear power and fossil fuels, and further deregulates the energy industry. Significant portions of the bill and the accompanying Energy Tax Incentives Act of 2002 cater to the special interests of polluting energy industries. Additionally, the Bush administration and key congressional Republicans have signaled that if the Senate manages to pass a bill, they will attempt to load up many of the House legislation's pernicious provisions during conference committee. "We would support the long overdue fuel economy, conservation and renewable energy provisions of this bill as stand-alone legislation. However, these goals need to be addressed on their own merits, not as bargaining chips in the massive Enron-influenced, Exelon-tested and Exxon-approved legislation currently on tap," said Public Citizen (citizen.org). Call senators through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or write them c/o U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510.
WEB RADIO THREATENED. A plan to charge webcasters royalties based on a flat rate per song could wipe out Internet radio for all but the same entertainment conglomerates that already control broadcast radio. The Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP), set up under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 at the behest of the Internet-phobic Recording Industry Association of America, recommended that web-only broadcasters be charged a royalty of 0.14 cents per song per listener. Worse, royalties could be charged retroactively to October 1998, when the DMCA was passed. Radio and Internet Newsletter estimated that a modest Internet webcaster with an average audience of 1,000 listeners for the past three years could be liable for $525,600 in retroactive royalties if the Copyright Office accepts the recommendation. Web radio advocates support a royalty rate expressed as a percentage of gross revenues, in the range of the royalty rate radio stations pay to songwriters. The webcasters also propose simplified reporting requirements to allow the young industry to survive and grow. For more information see saveinternetradio.org. The Librarian of Congress, who is in charge of the Copyright Office, is supposed to rule on the CARP recommendation by May 21. To support more reasonable royalties and recordkeeping for webcasters, write Hon. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, 101 Independence Ave., SE, Washington DC 20540. Or mail firstname.lastname@example.org and address remarks to James H. Billington.
RFK JR: HOG FACTORIES WORSE THAN BIN LADEN. Hog contractors blasted Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for his recent statement that the industrial hog producers were a greater threat to US democracy than Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, but Kennedy continued his attack on corporate hog producers on an April 18 visit to Sioux City, Iowa, calling big hog producers polluters and lawbreakers who threaten family farms. "I lost my law offices in the 9/11 blast, and I lost many friends ... so I don't say that lightly," said Kennedy, president of New York environmentalist group Waterkeeper Alliance. "What I believe is that the threat that is offered by an outside terrorist group like Osama bin Laden, who is clearly evil --our democracy is too durable to suffer any real damage from external threats," the Des Moines Register reported. The attacks unified the country and brought out its best, he said. Kennedy declared that the real threat, as Benjamin Franklin said, comes from wealthy individuals or corporations who influence the political process in a way that insidiously erodes democracy. "I'm not talking about family farmers or small farmers," he said. "I'm talking about an industry that is a pirate industry that's lawless in almost every respect."
D'S: BUSH MONOPOLIZES CABLE. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt complained that CNN, MSNBC and the Fox News Channel are letting George W. Bush monopolize cable news. "Beginning January 1, 2002 ... CNN carried a total of 157 events live featuring Administration officials. Over the same time, the network carried a total of only seven events featuring elected leaders of the Democratic Party. Anecdotal evidence indicates that Fox News and MSNBC coverage follows the same pattern," Daschle and Gephardt wrote in a letter to the cable news heads. Eric Boehlert of Salon.com did an electronic search of the Nexis database and wrote April 18 that since Bush's inauguration 15 months ago CNN has cut into regular programming approximately 150 times to feature Bush speaking live. In comparison, during President Clinton's final 15 months in office, CNN carried just 18 live remarks, or 132 fewer than Bush. "Even if Clinton's last two full years in office are included (since 2000 was an election year and he remained in the background politically), CNN aired just 50 live speeches, compared to Bush's 150." (Fox News and MSNBC tend to carry live Bush events as often as CNN, but CNN's programming logs are the easiest to track via Nexis.) Even before the attacks of Sept. 11, he noted, CNN had already broadcast 65 Bush addresses live. And an analysis indicates that of the 150 Bush "live events" CNN has broadcast, approximately 106 were not war related.
POWER PLANTS CAUSE 6,000 DEATHS. A private contractor estimates that pollution from more than 80 power plants owned by eight electric utilities will cause nearly 6,000 premature deaths in the year 2007. And that's assuming the EPA enforces new clean air regulations. The New York Times on April 18 noted the study was conducted by Abt Associates Inc., a technical consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass., for the Rockefeller Family Fund, which supports environmental projects. In addition to the 6,000 deaths, pollutants from the eight utilities will lead to 140,000 asthma attacks and 14,000 cases of acute bronchitis in 2007, the study projects.
CIGS COST US $7/PACK. Each pack of cigarettes sold in the USA costs the nation $7 in medical care and lost productivity, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The nation's total cost of smoking was calculated at $3,391 a year for every smoker, or $157.7 billion. Health experts had previously estimated $96 billion. The agency estimated smoking-related medical costs at $3.45 per pack, and lost job productivity because of premature death from smoking at $3.73 per pack, for a total of $7.18. The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in 1999 was $2.92. The agency also reported that smoking results in about 440,000 deaths a year in the US, up from the government's previous figure of 430,000, established in the early 1990s. The new study was conducted from 1995 to 1999.
DEBATE GROUP SETTLES WITH NADER. Ralph Nader got a letter of apology and a check from the Commission on Presidential Debates April 16, but no guarantees that he or other third-party presidential candidates would get to participate in future debates, the Washington Post reported April 17. Nader sued the commission after being blocked from attending the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore in Boston in October 2000. Nader, a Green Party candidate, had a valid ticket to sit in an overflow viewing room at the debate site, but the commission's security team refused to let him in. When the lawsuit trial was to begin, the commission agreed to give Nader $25,000, which will go to Nader's lawyers, an apology letter and $26,000 from the security consultant.
CAL LIMITS DUCT TAPE USE. The California Energy Commission is proposing to ban use of duct tape on ducts after the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that duct tape leaks when used in heating systems, the Associated Press reports. Duct tape makers protested, saying the scientists used questionable methods for their 1998 study, and asked for a three-year suspension of regulations. Even if duct tape is banned from heating systems, AP noted, Californians could still use it to patch the seats on their old Chevys.