Al Gore got President Clinton to release 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to stabilize oil prices and avert shortages of home heating oil this winter while George W Bush said the reserves should not be used to drive oil prices down before an election. It doesn't seem to bother Dubya that his pals at the oil companies are increasing gas prices just before the election. Bush would rather relax restrictions on drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, a longtime goal of the oil industry.
Ralph Nader said the oil releases won't work and suggested Clinton instead should go after the big oil companies, but the consumer group Public Citizen (one of many Nader founded) endorsed the use of the oil reserve to stabilize prices in the short term. For the long term, Public Citizen suggests development of more efficient vehicles and alternative energy sources. The Sierra Club proposes that the government force SUVs and other gas guzzlers to go further on a gallon of gas. If light trucks and SUVs, which are supposed to get 20.7 mpg, got the same gas mileage as the 27.5 mph cars are supposed to get, we would save 1 million barrels of oil per day, the Sierrans noted. If standards were raised to 45 mph for cars and 34 mpg for light trucks, the USA would save 3 million barrels of oil daily. That's more oil than we import daily from the Persian Gulf (1.8 million barrels) and far more than would be generated by proposed Arctic refuge drilling (0.3 million barrels daily) and California coastal drilling (0.25 million barrels daily). Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program, noted that the technology already exists. Honda and Toyota already are selling cars that get more than 50 mpg.
OILERS RUN BUSH CAMP. Not only George W. Bush and Dick Cheney come from the oil industry, the Los Angeles Times noted. Bush policy advisers with extensive ties to the energy business include Condoleezza Rice, Bush's chief foreign policy adviser, on the board of Chevron Corp.; former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who also counsels Bush concerning foreign affairs, also on the Chevron board; Michael J. Boskin, an economist advising Bush and a director of Exxon Mobil Corp.; and the campaign's chief economic advisor, Lawrence B. Lindsey, a consultant to Enron Corp., a Houston-based natural-gas and electricity marketing firm that is one of Bush's biggest financial backers. Energy executives are giving nearly $4 to the Republicans for every dollar they give to Democrats, according to the Campaign Study Group of Springfield, Va. Bush raised $17 from the oil and gas industries for every petrodollar Al Gore got.
BUSH HEALTH CONFLICTS. Gail R. Wilensky, who shaped George W. Bush's prescription drug and Medicare "reform" proposal, has a multimillion-dollar stake in managed care, health insurance, nursing home and drug companies, Public Citizen reported. Wilensky holds shares and stock options in health care companies valued at $10.5 million, based on Sept. 20 market prices, and many of those companies could benefit handsomely from Bush plans. She serves on the board of directors of UnitedHealth Group and is a director of at least seven other health care companies. Another Bush health care adviser, lobbyist Deborah Steelman, has received $6.5 million in lobbying fees from drug, health insurance and managed care companies and associations in the past three years, according to Public Citizen. Most of those clients have a direct financial stake in the outcome of the Medicare debate.
CASH GREASES CHINA TRADE VOTE. The State Department on Sept. 5 reported the "marked deterioration" in religious freedom in China, and noted that the government tortures those who practice their faith, but despite reports that a Roman Catholic bishop was rearrested by Chinese authorities the week before, the Senate on Sept. 19 approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for China. Public opposition to PNTR -- polled at 79% in a Harris poll in April -- was overcome by $113 million spent by corporate America, including the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce and multinational members such as Motorola and Boeing on lobbying, media advertising and political donations, Public Citizen noted. "Congress has sold out to corporate interests and betrayed the concerns of working Americans," Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said. "When American businesses look to China, they see extraordinary profits made possible by the current regime's continued human rights violations and tolerance for inhumane treatment of workers." The coalition that opposed the bill -- including prominent Chinese dissidents, consumer, environmental, human rights, family farm, religious and labor groups -- will continue to demand that human and labor rights and public health and safety take precedent over international trade agreements.
Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minnesota, was in a rare alliance with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and other Republicans in failed attempts to amend the bill; all were defeated by wide margins for fear that the House would not approve any amended bill that was sent back.
Before the vote, Wellstone told the Senate: "I believe we will deeply regret the stampede to pass this legislation and the way in which we have taken all the human rights, religious freedom, right to organize, all of those concerns, and we have put them in parentheses and in brackets as if they don't exist and are not important. ... I think we will regret that because if we truly understand the implications of living in an international economy, it means this.
"It means that if we care about human rights, we have to care about human rights in every country. If we care about the environment--not just in our country--if we care about the right to organize -- not just in our country -- if we care about deplorable child labor conditions, we have to be concerned about that in every country. When we as the Senate and as Senators do not speak out on human rights, we are all diminished. When we have not spoken out on human rights in China, I think our silence is a betrayal."
DOG DAYS OF CAMPAIGN. George W. Bush's campaign and some media jumped on Al Gore's reported complaint that arthritis medicine for his mother in law costs three times more than practically the same drug used to relieve his 14-year-old dog, Shiloh. Investigative reporters at the Boston Globe found that the dog medicine actually only costs 2.3 time as much as the human medicine -- and noted that Gore, who took the figures from a congressional report, didn't have the receipts to back up the claims on his mother in law's drugs.
MINIMUM WAGE WON'T PAY RENT. Employees earning the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour over a 40-hour week cannot afford what the federal government considers a "modest'' two-bedroom apartment in any county, according to a study released Sept. 20. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group that favors raising the minimum wage, used the Department of Housing and Urban Development's definition of "fair market rent'' to determine the hourly wage needed to pay for an average apartment in each state, county and metropolitan area.
Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, all in California, tied for the least-affordable county, with a worker needing to earn $28.06 an hour for an average apartment. Barbour County, Ga., was ranked most affordable ($6.73). New Jersey was ranked the least-affordable state, with workers having to earn $16.88 per hour to pay for an average apartment, the study found.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in August he supports boosting the minimum wage by $1 over two years. President Clinton favors an increase in the minimum wage but is concerned about GOP attempts to tie it to tax cuts. Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and affordable housing advocates are using the report to push for an increase in the minimum wage and more funding for Section 8 rental assistance vouchers.
ANTI-GLOBAL HERO GETS JAIL TERM. Jose Bove, a hero of France's anti-globalization movement, was given a tougher than expected sentence of three months in jail Sept. 13 for leading an attack on a McDonald's restaurant in August last year. The judge in Millau, a southern French market-town, decided that the prosecution's request for a one-month term, plus nine months suspended, was insufficient for an act of criminal vandalism that cost the fast-food chain an estimated $95,000. The 47-year-old sheep farmer and others "dismantled" a McDonald's fast-food outlet in a symbolic protest against an American target. The co-defendants, all members of Bove's Peasant Confederation, were given short suspended jail terms and small fines. After the verdict Bove vowed to appeal and said his fight against blind market forces would continue. "Prison doesn't worry me. I've been there before and I'll go back if I have to. Justice does not emerge enhanced from this judgment. They obviously understood nothing of our movement," he said.
PUBLIC PRAYER: ONLY FOR CHRISTIANS? The Family Research Council, a major conservative group, complained that a Hindu priest gave the prayer at the opening of a House session. "Our founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship," stated the Family Research Council, a leading advocacy group for conservative causes, on its web site, the Associated Press reported Sept. 21. The Hindu priest from Parma, Ohio, recently delivered the opening prayer to the House in conjunction with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressing a joint meeting of Congress. The House has a full-time chaplain, currently a Catholic priest, but on occasion invites guest religious leaders to deliver the opening prayer.
JOBS, INSURANCE LOST DUE TO GENES. People already are losing their jobs as a result of genetic screening, the Guardian of London reported Sept. 19. In a recent survey carried out by the Shriver Center for Public Health in Massachusetts, doctors and genetic testing centers reported 582 cases of people who were turned down for jobs or health insurance because of "flaws" discovered in their genes. Another organization, the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG), says it has documented more than 200 cases of genetic discrimination by employers.
They include a social worker who mentioned at a staff workshop that her mother had died of Huntington's disease, giving her a 50% chance of developing the potentially fatal genetic condition. A week later she was dismissed.
An attempt to get Congress to pass an anti-discrimination law, led by Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, has been blocked by the opposition of the insurance industry and the corporate lobby in Washington.
FRANKENFOODS IN TACO SHELLS. The discovery in "Taco Bell" brand taco shells of an unapproved variety of genetically engineered corn that might cause human allergies is prompting more calls to label bioengineered foods. A bill by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, would require labeling and safety testing of foods made with genetically engineered corn, soybeans, potatoes or other crops, to conform with European standards. The USDA has resisted labeling, agreeing with the biotech industry that labels would scare consumers.
DEATH PENALTY NO DETERRENT. The dozen states that have chosen not to enact the death penalty since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that it was constitutionally permissible have not had higher homicide rates than states with the death penalty, the New York Times reported Sept. 22. Indeed, 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average, FBI data shows, while half the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average.
The Times found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 percent to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty.