The Alaska Legislature overwhelmingly approved a resolution enforcing the protection of individual liberties for all Alaskans in the face of intrusive federal actions taken since 9/11. Alaska's resolution is the 114th of its kind to pass in a city, county or state jurisdiction around the country. Over 13 million Americans are now covered by these resolutions. Alaska's is the second statewide resolution after Hawai'i approved a similar resolution in April.
"As a state, we have always led the Lower 48 in respecting and ensuring the individual rights of our residents under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights," said Jennifer Rudinger, Alaska Civil Liberties Union executive director. "This exceptionally strong resolution reflects our dedication to civil liberties and our deep-seated belief that Alaska -- and America -- can be both safe and free."
The Alaska House of Representatives adopted the resolution with a 37 to 1 vote May 24. The Alaska Senate passed it unanimously on May 20. The Alaska resolution explicitly prohibits state agencies from engaging in racial profiling and prohibits the use of state resources or institutions for the enforcement of federal immigration matters. It also bars state agencies from creating intelligence dossiers on the political, religious and social views of individuals and organizations, unless the information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities.
Further, in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity under Alaska state law, it prohibits participation in investigations, detentions and surveillance as well as seizure of personal library, medical, financial, student and sales records, even when authorized by the PATRIOT Act. The resolution also calls upon the Alaskan congressional delegation to work to correct sections of the USA PATRIOT Act and other measures that unduly restrict personal freedoms.
The joint resolution is a response to the USA PATRIOT Act, the federal anti-terrorism bill that was rushed through Congress in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, with little debate. Although some provisions in the bill are non-controversial, others expand government surveillance and law enforcement powers far beyond anything conceivably necessary to prevent terrorism or catch terrorists.
The New Mexico and Vermont houses of representatives have also approved resolutions. Arcata, Calif., was the first city to pass an ordinance that outlaws city officials from complying with the PATRIOT Act. City councils have established "safe zones" in Kenai, Alaska; Orange County and Greensboro, N.C; Baltimore, Md.; Albany, N.Y; Evanston, Ill.; Hartford, Conn.; Salinas, Calif.; and Orleans, Mass. See www.bordc.org for more information.
PROOF: MEDIA ISN'T LIBERAL. The silence of the right-wing commentators about the pending June 2 FCC action to allow media corporations to further concentrate their holdings is proof that the media are not liberal, Bob Harris noted at www.thismodernworld.com. "If the media really was in liberal hands, then centralization of that power would be absolutely terrifying to the right wing. It would be all you ever heard about ... And yet those guys are strangely silent. On their websites, neither Bill O'Reilly nor Rush Limbaugh so much as mention the issue, even once, at least as far as I can find. Point this out to people with ears and brains. It really should be the end of the 'liberal media' argument."
SINGAPORE TRADE DEAL SNUBS FAIRNESS. The US and Singapore Trade Agreement was signed May 6 at the White House with little media attention. The deal, which goes to Congress for "Fast Track" approval, rolls back on several key elements, including labor, the environment, investment, intellectual property and allows temporary entry for Singapore workers into the US without labor market safeguards. According to Global Trade Watch the deal fails Fast Track negotiating objectives on labor and environment requiring equivalent enforcement of all provisions including labor and environment. It also fails to repair significant problems of NAFTA's "Chapter 11" rights for investors who are allowed to sue to overturn regulations while adding dangerous new limits on the use of capital controls during economic crisis. It threatens consumers' access to affordable medicine with patent rules that go beyond NAFTA's tough terms and which contradict even the mild Fast Track negotiating objective established in the "Kennedy Amendment" calling for all future pacts to conform with the 2001 Doha World Trade Organization (WTO) Declaration on Public Health and Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This is the first trade agreement to be submitted for approval since Fast Track was authorized in 2002. See www.tradewatch.org and alert your Congress members.
GREEN DEMOCRATS ORGANIZE. The Green Democrats Network is organizing to bring Green values into the platform of the Democratic Party. Preliminary goals are to provide a home for grassroots organizers to push their agendas into electoral politics; to enlist the enthusiasm of young people and bring their issues into the dialogue and eventually into the platform of the national Democratic Party; to groom and run progressives to take back the Democratic Party and bring the "Party of the People" back to its roots; to develop an agenda focused on human rights, international cooperation, and recognizing the huge employment potential of the Green Economy; to support universal health care; and to advocate for free education for all Americans, through the university or trade school level Contact the Green Democrats Network by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.greendemocrats.net.
LIBERALS GET VERMONT RADIO SHOW. Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., has started a weekly talk radio program on WDEV radio, AM 550 and FM 96.1 (www.wdevradio.com) in central Vermont. "What I am trying to do here, in a sense, is to plant a seed that says that talk radio does not just belong to the extreme right wing," Sanders told the Rutland Herald. The hour-long show, scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on Mondays, is a "work in progress," but his first guest set the tone: author Eric Alterman, a critic of the corporate control of media and consolidation in the industry. The rest of the week Progressive Party stalwart Anthony Pollina will host the talk show. Ken Squier, owner of the Waterbury station and three other Vermont radio stations, said that trying a left-leaning talk show is the kind of venture that corporate radio wouldn't touch. "The big corporations have many, many dollars they can throw at station acquisition, which is a sad commentary," Squier said. "They keep talking about diversity of formats but what they're really talking about are music and nationally syndicated programs." He said Vermont's political landscape makes it seem there's interest in such a show. "It's an effort to provide listeners with some other viewpoints," Squier said. "It isn't for the liberals; it's for the listeners."
'MAD COW' SHOWS FOOD LABEL NEED. Discovery of an isolated case of bovine spongiform encephalopothy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease," in Canada May 20 illustrates the need for labels on food indicating the country of origin, food safety advocates say. The labels cannot prevent a disease like BSE, but it would help reassure consumers and markets and allow US agricultural producers to differentiate themselves from countries that may have disease or food safety concerns, said Dave Frederickson, president of the National Farmers Union. The US Department of Agriculture is gathering ideas for implementing mandatory country-of-origin labeling during hearings around the country. "Recent events should encourage farmers and ranchers even more to stand united to make sure mandatory country-of-origin food labeling is implemented in a way that benefits both consumers and producers," Frederickson said.
Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said more than 500,000 live cattle were shipped to the US from Alberta, where the infected cow was discovered, in 2002. "In this day of industrialized beef production and liberalized trade, it is disingenuous to say this is about one isolated cow. The BSE cow spent only the last three years on this farm. With an incubation period of up to six years for this disease, we need to be tracing not only that cow's history, but all the herds it has been a part of," said Ritchie. "The most likely method of transmission is through animal feed. If that's the case, we need to investigate and identify all animals that consumed that feed -- this investigation may cover multiple farms and multiple countries." He added that if the cow contamination causes a plunge in beef and feed crop prices, the US government should make money available to help the nearly one million beef producers and feed crop farmers in the US. He also called on Congress to enact a total ban on the feeding of animal parts of any kind to farm animals. "It is a dangerous practice that threatens the livelihood of our nation's farmers and the public health."
EUROPE PROBES CHEMICAL HAZARDS. The Bush administration is protesting a European Union proposal that would require manufacturers of industrial chemicals to test their products before they can be used. That could threaten $20 billion in chemicals the US exports to Europe each year, the New York Times reported. The proposal, which requires the approval of European governments and the European Parliament, would shift the burden to prove the safety of chemicals onto manufacturers instead of governments. Under current rules 99% of chemicals sold on the markets have not been subjected to testing requirements. The US chemical industry has lobbied hard against the proposal, criticizing it as excessive, bureaucratic and unnecessary. The dispute follows a pattern of Europe's trying to impose stricter environmental rules, which the US then labels as unnecessary, costly and potential trade barriers.
FARMERS CONCERNED ABOUT TRADE MODEL. As the US pushes for expansion of trade deals in the Americas, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) should not be used as a model for future trade negotiations, Dave Frederickson told a US Senate subcommittee May 20. "Farmers are rightly concerned that more trade agreements in the region, particularly if patterned after the NAFTA model, will only serve to increase the level of import competition while providing, at best, only modest export market opportunities," he told the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Narcotics Affairs. "It is hardly surprising that farmers are a bit cynical about trade when the free trade rhetoric continues the decades-old suggestion that agricultural prosperity based on expanding exports is always just around the corner, a destination at which producers never seem to arrive."
In regards to agricultural trade, the Western Hemisphere is important to both the United States and its trading partners, he noted: In 2002, more than 38% of US agricultural exports were sold in the Americas, and more than 55% of the products that compete directly with US commodities came from this region. The Farmers Union is not opposed to trade agreements, but it seeks a more equitable and beneficial global trading regime.
NUKE PACS GAVE CONGRESS MEMBERS MILLIONS. As the US Senate debates a comprehensive energy bill (S14) that features unprecedented subsidies to promote commercial nuclear power, the nuclear industry was poised to reap the fruits of millions of dollars in campaign contributions. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) and Public Citizen reported that political action committees (PACs) affiliated with oil and gas companies and electric utilities -- the main beneficiaries of the Bush energy policy -- gave more than $17 million to congressional campaigns in the 2002 election cycle alone. CRP calculates that total contributions over the same period from these energy interests (including individual and "soft money" contributions) were nearly $45 million. Among the giveaways to these lucrative industries, at the expense of consumers, taxpayers and the environment, is one provision that authorizes government loan guarantees and power purchase agreements to finance up to half the costs of reactor construction, which could leave taxpayers liable for an estimated $30 billion. See www.citizen.org.
WHITE HOUSE RESTRICTS TRADE INFO. The Bush administration has restricted access to negotiating texts and negotiators for all but industry advisers on trade deals, saying that this is the only way they can guard against "frivolous" lawsuits, aimed at stopping the administration's trade policies, the Inside US Trade newsletter reported (as noted by Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch). US officials argue that the new environment that has developed since the 1999 failed World Trade Organization ministerial in Seattle makes it impossible to share trade information informally with business lobbyists, non-governmental groups and other interested parties. "Some of the informal arrangements we've gotten used to probably aren't going to be able to survive," Commerce Under Secretary Grant Aldonas said April 16 at a forum on trade and transparency sponsored by the Global Business Dialogue. See www.tradewatch.org.
APPAREL SUPPORTS BURMA DICTATORS. The Free Burma Coalition is seeking public pressure to stop the Tri-Mountain promotional apparel company from importing huge quantities of "Made in Burma" products. Garment companies in Burma are controlled completely by the country's dictators, whom have been criticized by the US State Department, the United Nations, Amnesty International, and others for brutal violations of human rights -- kidnapping, killing, torture, slave labor, and rape. Write Tri-Mountain at email@example.com, attention: Rosy Tsai, vice president, and send a copy of your email and any responses you get from the company to firstname.lastname@example.org. See www.freeburmacoalition.org or call 202-547-5985
WEALTHY NATIONS SELL ARMS TO ABUSERS. Amnesty International (AI), has criticized the G8 countries including the United States of America, the Russian Federation, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Canada, for selling arms to developing countries involved in human rights abuses, This Day of Lagos, Nigeria, reported May 20. The human rights body noted that "weak national control of the international transfer of 'conventional' arms and security equipment contributes to the persistence of gross human rights violations. Of all the states with inadequate laws and administrative procedures to manage the export, transit and import of such arms -- of which there are very many -- none are more conspicuous than those states running the world's largest industrialized economies -- the Group of Eight." AI revealed that in recent years the US government hired or authorized private military consultants to train foreign police forces and military troops in more than 24 countries during the 1990s, including Angola, Bolivia, Bosnia, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Hungary, Kosovo, Peru, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Taiwan, Uganda and Nigeria. At least two thirds of all global arms transfers in the years 1997-2001 came from five members of the G8. The top supplier of weapons to the world was the US, accounting for 28% of global arms transfers, followed by Russia, with 17%; France, 10%; Britain, 7%; and Germany, 5%. US arms sales to developing countries quadrupled from 2000 to 2001, many of them with forces that persistently abuse human rights. In addition, US military aid is currently furnished to more than 30 countries identified by the US itself as having a "poor" human rights record, or worse, Amnesty reported.
GAO: 'TERROR CRIMES' INFLATED. In the first two months of 2003, the Justice Department charged 56 people as "terrorism." But the Philadelphia Inquirer found at least 41 of them had nothing to do with terrorism -- a point that prosecutors of the cases themselves acknowledge. Among the cases were 28 Latinos charged with working illegally at the airport in Austin, Texas, most of them using phony Social Security numbers; eight Puerto Ricans charged with trespassing on Navy property on the island of Vieques, long a site of civil protests of ordnance testing; a Middle-Eastern man indicted in Detroit for allegedly passing bad checks who has the same name as a Hezbollah leader; a Middle-Eastern college student charged in Trenton with paying a stand-in to take his college English-proficiency tests (he received a one-month jail sentence after pleading guilty). Several cases involved suspects with ties to foreign militant groups, including six on the list who are alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim group, charged with murdering two Americans and kidnapping a third in the Philippines. Several others have pleaded guilty to illegal money transactions believed to have terrorism connections. But in January, the US General Accounting Office reported that three-fourths of all "international terrorism" convictions were wrong in fiscal 2002. The GAO audit found the exaggeration was serious because it prevented Congress and the public from understanding how much taxpayer money was being spent to prosecute terrorism.
WEAPONS FOUND. From the Institute for Southern Studies, publishers of Southern Exposure magazine (www.southernstudies.org).
Liters of anthrax stockpiled by Iraq, according to President Bush's State of the Union Address: 25,000.
Supposed liters of botulinum toxin Bush claimed Iraq possessed: 38,000.
Supposed tons of sarin, mustard, and VX nerve agent: 500
Supposed number of munitions capable of delivering chemical agents: 30,000.
Percent of "top weapons sites" that have been inspected by US forces: 90.
Number of chemical agents and weapons that have been found: 0.
Pounds of banned chemical weapons currently housed in an Army depot in Anniston, Ala.: 46,830,000.
FRENCH TV REPORTERS OUSTED. Six French TV journalists seeking to cover the massive E3 video-game expo in Los Angeles on the weekend of May 10-11 were stopped for questioning by border guards at the Los Angeles airport before the reporters were barred from entering the country, and sent back to Europe. "These journalists were treated like criminals -- subjected to several body searches, handcuffed, locked up and fingerprinted," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard complained in a letter to the American ambassador to France, according to Matt Welch in Reason magazine. The journalists' offense? Trying to enter the US the same way European journalists have been coming for the last 17 years: on the visa waiver program, which allows the citizens of 27 friendly countries (from Andorra to Switzerland) to visit the US up to 90 days without a visa, as long as the trip is for "business or pleasure." Journalism, according to American consular writ, does not qualify as either. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services requires foreign journalists to obtain a special "I-visa," which costs $100 to apply for and requires a "comprehensive letter from the journalist's employer on the employer's letterhead identifying the journalist and describing in detail the nature and function of the journalist's position. The potential downside to this approach is reciprocity. "Consular relations, like trade policy and arms races, are notoriously tit-for-tat. Scores of countries may have specific visa policies covering journalists, but open democracies rarely enforce them (the only other country I've seen approach America's new enthusiasm was Cuba). If the rest of the world were to suddenly create [journalist] databases of their own, I'd be banned from most of Central Europe," wrote Welch. Joel Brand, a former Newsweek correspondent, told Welch he was only really pressed for a journalist visa by Yugoslavia, Russia, Indonesia, apartheid South Africa, Kenya and Pakistan. To get into some countries that demanded documents, he said, "Honestly, I faked such letters on a number of occasions when I needed such a visa or other accreditation ... I also lied numerous times, pretending to be a businessman or a tourist to gain entry into a country that had onerous media visa requirements. It's just a part of the job, dealing with corrupt and onerous governments that want to hinder or keep tabs on the foreign press."
CHURCHES PROMOTE CORPORATE ETHICS. Church groups from around the world May 20 launched a global corporate code of conduct that will be used to help determine whether their investment arms should buy or shun shares in corporations working in developing countries. "Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance" addresses a wide range of issues faced by the corporate social-responsibility movement, including sweatshop labor, pollution control and access to affordable drugs, including anti-AIDS medication for employees of multinational companies, Inter Press Service reported. The document, 10 years in the making, calls for corporations to ensure adequate and continuing consultation with the local communities where they invest, to ensure that their operations are understood and supported by the people most directly affected by them. The code was the product of consultations between church groups in the North with their counterparts and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in poor countries, according to Rev. David Schilling, director of global corporate responsibility at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (www.iccr.org) in New York.