POLITICS SLOWS CHINA BILL. Republican Senate leaders are delaying consideration of the bill to extend free trade to China until September in order to force Democratic senators supporting the bill to alienate industrial unions just before the elections. Business groups and prominent Republicans warn that Majority Leader Trent Lott's delay of the bill could introduce "complications" and risk passage of the measure, the Christian Science Monitor reported, as opponents of the China bill time have time to regroup over the summer.
Senate Government Affairs Chairman Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) are co-sponsoring an amendment making permanent normal trade relations contingent on China's nonproliferation of ballistic missiles. If passed, that could send the bill back to the House, where it passed by only 40 votes this past May. Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) also are working together to amend the bill to address human rights concerns when the Senate reconvenes.
The extra weeks also are giving Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, an advocacy group, a chance to pull together a report documenting the extent of pro-PNTR corporate lobbying. "The China PNTR vote was purchased by a combination of official campaign contributions, an ocean of slush money, promises to hold fundraisers within corporate sectors to get more money to bundle, and a boatload of paid advertising and lobbying," says Lori Wallach, director of the group. She estimates that the corporate campaign on PNTR will tally up to $80 million. Call your senators through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
PROTESTS CALLED 'CONSPIRACY'. Philadelphia authorities continued to hold protesters in jail under extraordinary bails for alleged misdemeanors the week after the close of the Republican convention. Bail originally was set at $1 million for John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society in Berkeley, Calif., after his arrest on a series of misdemeanor charges including conspiracy and reckless endangerment. Bail was reduced to $100,000 Aug. 7 but the judge rejected bail reductions for three other activists held on bonds ranging from $400,000 to $500,000 on misdemeanor charges. As of Aug. 7, 325 were still jailed with Sellers, and civil liberties lawyers complained to Salon.com that Philadelphia authorities appear to be using the abnormally high bail illegally as a tool to punish civil disobedience and to prevent the activists from attending the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, which begins Aug. 14.
Meanwhile, a right-wing think tank in Seattle is calling for organizers of protests to be prosecuted for conspiracy to riot and disrupt assemblies. Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman called on the US Justice Department and Congress to investigate the activities of groups such as Global Exchange, Direct Action Network, Rainforest Action Network and other groups that have organized protests against the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and other "free trade" advocates that he said has caused authorities to spend millions to prevent disruptions. Ironically, if anti-globalization groups and their leaders are prosecuted under federal racketeering statutes, it would be under the precedent established at the behest of liberals to suppress right-wing anti-abortion activists.
EMAIL SNOOPING: 'GET USED TO IT.' Electronic surveillance may eat away your privacy in the digital era, top lawyers told an Anglo-American law conference in London recently, but you'll get used to it; you have no choice, Reuters reported July 21. William Webster, a former federal judge who used to head the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, said tough measures might seem alarming today but people would get used to them. "Privacy must yield in some areas to the rights of others to be protected,'' he told the American Bar Association at a session in London. Britain is pushing a highly controversial law through parliament forcing Internet service providers to install equipment so authorities can intercept and decode any e-mail messages. The US runs Echelon, a spy system of satellites and listening posts which can intercept millions of telephone, fax and e-mail messages, and the FBI can intercept emails with its powerful Carnivore system.
NADER AIRS TV SPOT. Ralph Nader's campaign has started running a 30-second ad modeled after a popular MasterCard ad campaign. The "Priceless Truth" spot, which will air for at least a week in several major media markets at a cost of at least $500,000, shows footage of Gore and Bush glad-handing and back-slapping. "Grilled tenderloin for fundraiser: $1,000 a plate," a narrator says. "Campaign ads filled with half-truths: Over $10 billion. Finding out the truth: Priceless. There are some things money can't buy. Without Ralph Nader in the presidential debates, the truth will come in last." The ad sends viewers to Nader's campaign web site, www.voteNader.com, to find out how they can help him be included in the debates. (If you don't have Internet access, write Janet Brown, executive director, Commission on Presidential Debates, 1200 New Hampshire Avenue, NW Box 445, Washington, D.C. 20036 (phone 202-872-1020) as well as letters to editors calling for Nader to be included in the debates. The Nader campaign also announced it has qualified to be on the ballot in 34 states and expects to be on the ballot in 45 states.
CAL RETHINKS DEREGULATION. Soaring electricity rates since California deregulated its utilities in 1996 has people in the San Diego area wondering how they will pay their bills. State Sen. Steve Peace (D-El Cajon), who drove deregulation through the Legislature with promises of lower rates, wants government to step in now that his own constituents have seen their electricity bills double, the Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 4. State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer is investigating possible antitrust violations and unfair business practices among the few electricity producers and marketers who dominate the industry. An industry spokesman blamed recent blackouts and price spikes on the state's failure to anticipate how hot the economy would get and how badly that would tax the state's aging power plants and transmission system.
HEALTH COSTS TOP BUSINESS CONCERN. Rising health insurance costs is the toughest problem facing America's small business owners, according to 4,044 small business owners who responded to a National Federation of Independent Business survey. "Cost of health insurance" retained its number one ranking, a slot it has occupied since 1986, as 47 percent of all respondents rated this a "critical" problem for their firms, the NFIB reported July 26. Another 23 percent awarded it the second-most severe assessment possible out of seven choices. NFIB ranked "federal taxes on business income" as second-most compelling problem, with 29 percent deeming it a "critical" concern, while 31 percent of respondents cited "finding qualified employees" as a "critical" problem.
CLEAN MONEY ADVANCES IN OREGON, ARIZONA. The Oregon Secretary of State's office has qualified Oregon Political Accountability Act on the November 2000 ballot. Under the act, candidates agree to limit the cost of their campaigns, and accept no private campaign contributions during the primary or general elections. In return, they receive access to a limited amount of public support from the Political Accountability fund. For more information about the Campaign, call Campaign Manager, Maidi Terry at 1-877-92BFAIR or log onto their website at www.nobigmoney.com.
Arizona is implementing a Clean Election program, with 52 candidates for the state legislature -- one third of the total running -- agreeing to limit the money they raise in return for public funding of their primary and general election campaigns. All five Corporation Commission candidates are running "clean."
Voters approved the program in 1998 after years of political corruption in the statehouse and two sitting governors brought down by scandal. The fund is supported by fees on lobbyists, a 10 percent surcharge on civil and criminal fines, the $5 qualifying contributions that candidates collect, a voluntary tax credit up to $500 and a $5 check off on state tax returns. More than $5 million had been collected by mid-2000, more than enough to finance the election cycle. For more information about Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Act, contact the Clean Elections Institute, 602-840-6633, or Public Campaign, 1-877-Our-Voice, or see www.publicampaign.org.
FAMILY FARM FORUM. As economic conditions force farm families off the land at the rate of three per day -- faster than any other state in the country -- the Family Farm Stewardship Campaign, coordinated by Wisconsin Citizen Action, has developed an omnibus Family Farm Protection Act designed to level the playing field for family farms while ensuring adequate environmental protection. For more information contact Sam Gieryn at 608-256-1250 or see www.wi-citizenaction.org.
TIGER WOODS A 'SCAB'? Tiger Woods, the world's most popular athlete, may be kicked out of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for his decision to shoot a nonunion Buick ad in Canada during a strike by commercial actors. Woods' agent has portrayed the shoot as a contractual obligation that had to be fulfilled immediately because of its tie to the upcoming Sydney Olympics. Previously, the golfer had been a hero to SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (AFTRA) for refusing to shoot a Nike ad on the day after the strike began. According to Variety, sports consultant David Carter said the SAG initiative could create a short-term image problem for Woods but probably won't have much long-term impact, especially if he keeps excelling at golf. "Corporations tend to avoid people who have controversy attached, but he's one of those who are relatively bullet-proof," Carter said. "He may have decided that over the long-term, his key customers are corporations."