US Recognizes Cold War casualties

The Clinton administration, in the first acknowledgement that workers who built the US nuclear arsenal during the Cold War suffered long-term health problems from radiation exposure, has proposed to spend $400 million over the next five years to compensate injured workers. The plan, which offers payments as high as $100,000, is subject to congressional approval.

A study ordered by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson found that workers at 14 DOE facilities were found to have increased risks of death from various cancers and nonmalignant diseases after exposure to radiation and other substances. Robert Alvarez, former senior policy advisor to Richardson, wrote in Salon.com on May 6 that workplace safety has been minimal at nuclear projects, where private contractors until 1988 were shielded from any criminal or legal liability for their operations. "This aggressive policy to avoid legal liability for worker compensation at all costs persists, despite the best efforts by a succession of energy secretaries to change it," Alvarez wrote.

"Even though the American victims of the Cold War have a powerful supporter in Energy Secretary Richardson, he will soon be gone, perhaps even before the end of the Clinton administration. In his wake, many questions will remain: Will the next energy secretary be as committed as Richardson to helping the sick workers? Even if Congress enacts compensation legislation this year, will it be enough? And will Congress be willing to continue the program next year? If the DOE is allowed to decide on compensation, will sick workers get as much priority in the next administration as nuclear weapons production and environmental cleanup? What form of justice, if any, will America's Cold War veterans ultimately get?

BRITS SNOOP ON E-MAIL, WEB BROWSING. By the end of this year, the British intelligence agency MI5 will have the capability to read any e-mail passing through the UK and track every web site that a person visits. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the British government is building a $39 million Internet spy center to watch all online activities. It's also requiring local Internet service providers, such as AOL, to hardwire links directly to the spy center at the expense of the ISPs. Privacy groups are appalled by the scope of the British effort, which rivals the Russian capacity for invasion of Internet privacy. Other governments are watching the British model closely. US spy agencies already have the capability to monitor private telephone conversations, faxes and e-mail messages around the world through the Echelon network, operated by the US National Security Agency in partnership with intelligence services of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the House Government Reform Committee to hold hearings on the threat to privacy and civil liberties posed by Echelon. [See "Watching Big Brother Watch Us," 3/1/00 PP, or www.echelonwatch.org.]

BIOTECH REGS DISAPPOINT ADVOCATES. New rules on testing and labeling of genetically engineered foods announced by the Food and Drug Administration May 3 drew criticism from advocates for scientific, consumer, environmental and farm groups.

"This initiative is little more than window dressing on what remains a rickety regulatory structure," said Dr. Margaret Mellon, director of the Agriculture and Biotechnology Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"FDA will not be doing any testing on genetically engineered food, but instead relying solely on industry data," said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. He predicted that the FDA's call for voluntary labeling of genetically engineered food will result in no labeling.

"The FDA fails to require mandatory labeling for all genetically engineered food products even though polls show that 70-90 percent of Americans want it," said Mark Silbergeld of Consumers Union. "Therefore, most foods on the supermarket shelf are unlikely to contain label information about GE content, whether they are GE or GE free. Consumers will be given little of the information they say they want when they do the family food shopping."

More than 50 scientific, consumer, environmental and farm organizations in March petitioned the FDA demanding the development of a thorough pre-market and environmental testing regime and mandatory labeling for GE foods. [For more information see www.centerforfoodsafety.org, www.consumersunion.org or www.ucsusa.org.]

BANKRUPTCY OVERHAUL TARGETS PENSIONS. Consumer advocates are mounting a last-ditch effort to prevent passage of a bill that would place more onerous conditions on debtors who file for bankruptcy. Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., is using parliamentary tactics to stall a bill that has bipartisan support but would impose harsh penalties on families that file for bankruptcy. One troubling provision would allow lenders to require, as a condition of receiving a loan or obtaining credit, that a borrower give up the traditional protection of pension and retirement benefits in the event of bankruptcy. "These institutions are just out of control. They've gotten so greedy that they're ready to steal from our grandmothers," said Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women. Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the US Public Interest Research Group in Washington, D.C., said the bill was a "bipartisan rush to take away the rights of people who in many cases have to commit bankruptcy because of some medical or other family emergency. ... This industry is papering the Congress with campaign contributions and, most importantly, it is papering the parties with soft money. And they're expecting a return for their dollar."

MEDICAL BILLS ARE MAIN CAUSE OF BANKRUPTCIES. Ruinous health-care costs, not profligate spending, are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy among Americans, a new study has found. "American families live just one illness or accident away from complete financial collapse," said Elizabeth Warren, a professor of law at Harvard Law School and one of the authors of the study cited by the National Post of Canada April 27. About 500,000 people sought bankruptcy protection in the United States last year because of the burden of medical expenses, says the study, to be published next month in Norton's Bankruptcy Adviser, a specialty periodical for lawyers. One million Americans filed for bankruptcy protection last year. The survey, carried out with Teresa Sullivan of the University of Texas and researcher Melissa Jacoby, looked at bankruptcies in eight federal judicial districts across the United States, from California to Pennsylvania.

Warren said her research painted a very different picture from the image presented by the credit card companies of lavish spenders trying to escape the consequences of their debts. Although joblessness remained the main cause of bankruptcy, she pointed out the "echo" effect in that "when people lose their jobs, they also lose their health insurance. The combination creates a blow that families cannot recover from without bankruptcy."

SENATE UPHOLDS NUKE DUMP VETO. For the third time this year, the nuclear industry lost an attempt to pass a bill that would move deadly nuclear waste from reactors across the country to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, as 34 "nay" votes were registered to sustain President Clinton's veto. Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen, which opposes the bill as a threat to public safety, noted that Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), the sponsor of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2000 (S.1287), received over $18,000 from nuclear PACs last year, while Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott got over $58,000 from nuclear PACs. "Although many senators are willing to risk the safety of their constituents for campaign dollars, there are enough lawmakers who will stand up for America and vote down this bill," Claybrook said.

The bill would allow temporary waste storage at Yucca Mountain as early as 2006, with waste traveling through 43 states for the next 25 years, past the homes and workplaces of 50 million Americans. [See "Mobil Chernobyl," by Karen Charman, 5/98 PP.] Spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste is currently kept at 77 sites across the country and would have to be transported by truck or rail to Yucca Mountain if that site near Las Vegas is approved as a geologic repository. "It is unfortunate that lawmakers have ignored the risks of a catastrophic release of radiation in the event of a crash," Claybrook said. "We are encouraged by the number of lawmakers who voted against the bill, however, and hold out hope that a veto will be sustained."

SPECULATOR TAX COULD RAISE $100B. The Tax Foundation, a conservative think tank, dubbed May 3rd as "Tax Freedom Day," calculating the percentage of national income that goes to state, federal, and local taxes and determining the date when the same percentage of the year has passed. But the Center for Economic and Policy Research noted that this method significantly overstates the tax burden for a typical family because wealthy households pay a larger portion of their income in taxes. "A typical family in the middle of the income distribution pays approximately 28 percent of its income in taxes, which would place its "Tax Freedom Day" at approximately April 12th," the CEPR stated.

One way to make the tax system more progressive, and further move up a typical family's Tax Freedom Day, is to place a tax on financial speculation such as the buying and selling of shares of stock, options, futures, and other financial instruments. Dean Baker, the CEPR's co-director, calculated that a modest tax of 0.25 percent on the sale or purchase of stock, along with comparable taxes on other financial instruments, could raise more than $100 billion a year in revenue, which could finance an income tax cut of 40 percent for a typical working family. Such an income tax cut would move up "Tax Freedom Day" for a typical family to the beginning of April, or possibly the end of March.

Alternatively, he noted, the revenue from the tax could be used to fund national health care insurance, or expansion of Head Start and Child Care. For more information, see his paper "Taxing Financial Speculation: Shifting the Tax Burden From Wages to Wagers," online or by calling 202-293-5380 x 206.

ADA ENDORSES GORE. The National Board of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the nation's oldest independent liberal political organization, endorsed Vice President Al Gore for the presidency on May 2. "We believe he is the best candidate because he will continue the fight for social and economic justice, protect a woman's right to choose and push for quality, affordable health care for all as well as greater educational opportunities," National Director, Amy Isaacs, said. Gore's ADA Lifetime Voting Record from his terms in the House and the Senate is a moderate 66 percent, but Isaacs noted, "It is important to remember that his voting record stops in 1992 when he became vice president. Since then, he has changed and grown."

CALIFORNIA TOWN REJECTS CORPORATE PERSONHOOD. The Point Arena, Calif., City Council on a 4-1 vote April 25 passed a resolution that questions whether corporations are persons and should be granted civil rights under the 14th Amendment. For details contact Jan Edwards of the Redwood Coast Alliance for Democracy, phone 707-882-1818; email janedwards@mcn.org.

points in the resolution:

* Democracy means governance by the people. Only natural persons should be able to participate in the democratic process.

* Interference in the democratic process by corporations frequently usurps the rights of citizens to govern.

* Corporations are artificial entities separate and apart from natural persons. Corporations are not naturally endowed with consciousness or the rights of natural persons. Corporations are creations of law and are only permitted to do what is authorized under law.

* Rejecting the concept of corporate personhood will advance meaningful campaign finance reform

* The City of Point Arena agrees with Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in his 1938 opinion in which he stated, "I do not believe the word 'person' in the 14th Amendment includes corporations."

For more information contact Jan Edwards of the Redwood Coast Alliance for Democracy, phone 707-882-1818; email janedwards@mcn.org

NADER 'MOST FAVORABLE' IN OHIO. Ralph Nader received the highest net favorability rating among four tested presidential candidates in an Ohio Poll released April 26. Nader's net favorability was 24 percent, higher than Bush's 22 percent, Gore's minus 3 percent and Buchanan's minus 36 percent. Net favorability was calculated by subtracting the unfavorability rating from the favorability rating received for each candidate. According to the Ohio Poll, conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati from April 5-April 22, Bush led Gore in Ohio by 47-39 percent, while 4 percent intend to vote for Nader, 3 percent for Buchanan, 2 percent for some other candidate and 5 percent of likely voters were undecided. The poll results can be found at http://www.ipr.uc.edu/ohiopoll/stories/Op42600.htm

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