Populist senators got their one hour of fame, or lack thereof, trying to jawbone the Federal Reserve from the Senate floor on Feb. 2.
Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, led the rant against interest-rate increases during an hour-long debate that most of the press and nation ignored.
The Senate went on after the debate to anoint Alan Greenspan to yet another term as Federal Reserve chairman.
The populists said that repeated interest-rate hikes were killing small businesses, farmers, homeowners and consumer debtors. Inflation, they argued, is practically non-existent yet the Fed continues to dampen what is not there.
The Fed also warned of more interest-rate increases to come before June as the economy posted a 5.8 percent growth rate in January.
Harkin tied up Greenspan's last nomination for three days in an attempt to discredit the Fed's tight money policy. This year, he got only an hour.
Why does no one pay attention? we asked Harkin. "Greenspan is one of those social mavens," Harkin replied. "There isn't a party in Washington where you don't find him. Since nobody understands what he says, they think he must be saying something really important."
INTEREST GROUPS PAID $697M TO LOBBY. Health insurers, high-tech companies, banks and other interest groups spent $697 million to lobby Congress and the federal agencies during the first six months of 1999, according to a report released today by FEC Info, an Internet consulting firm that specializes in tracking political money. The American Medical Association, which favored new health care regulations, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposed them, each spent more than $8 million from January to June. The health care industry spent more on lobbying than anyone else, shelling out $95.5 million as Congress debated whether to impose new regulations on managed care health plans. Communications and technology companies, which fought over providing high-speed Internet access and sought approval for several telecommunications mergers, spent $94.6 million. The financial services industry, which won approval of a long-sought bill to drop Depression-era barriers against banks, insurance companies and investment houses competing against each other, spent $89.8 million on lobbying. Lobbying expenditures were down slightly from the $710 million spent during the first six months of 1998, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that also analyzes federal lobbying disclosure reports.
BINATIONAL COALITION FIGHTS NUKE DUMP. Anti-nuclear activists are continuing their efforts to shut down an underground repository for nuclear waste in southeastern New Mexico. Despite a federal judge's March 1999 order that allowed the first shipments of nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD) are pursuing a lawsuit against the Department of Energy charging a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
John McCall, attorney for CARD, alleges that two environmental impact statements apparently were based on altered information -- "information which is crucial to understand the geology at the WIPP site. Also, because of recent security breaches regarding China, we believe that important security information has been concealed."
CARD also has a public nuisance claim against DOE, Westinghouse and Caste, the private companies contracted by the DOE. The complaint alleges that DOE has not conducted studies on environmental justice; DOE did not look for suitable alternatives; the waste has not been (and cannot be) properly characterized; and the site itself has not been characterized.
The nuclear dump poses an environmental risk not only to New Mexico but also to Texan and Mexican communities situated along the Rio Grande and Pecos River. Mexican officials have visited the WIPP site and activists in El Paso, Juarez and the neighboring area fear contamination of water, land and air in an area that already is burdened with health and environmental problems. The Binational Coalition Against Toxic and Radioactive Dumping was born out of these concerns. For more Information on WIPP, litigation and the Binational Coalition, call the CARD office: 505-266-2663. -- Lotti Abraham
PRISON INDUSTRIAL PROPOSITION IN CALIFORNIA. Prisons are big business, and a proposition on California's March ballot would make it bigger. The "Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act," Proposition 21, is sponsored by former Governor Pete Wilson and a host of multinational corporations, including Chevron and Transamerica. The state's Legislative Analyst's Office calculates the initiative could cost California taxpayers more than $5 billion over the next 10 years. And, Carrie Ching of AlterNet notes, not a penny of that money would go toward prevention or rehabilitation programs.
Wilson used money he raised while he was governor to garner the signatures to qualify for the ballot after he left office. Democratic Governor Gray Davis -- who received $2 million from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) during his 1998 campaign, recently announced his support of the initiative.
Packing more people into prisons means more cheap labor for corporations. California allows corporations to set up operations within prison walls -- promising "state tax incentives, discount rates on Worker's Compensation Insurance, and no benefit expenses" to corporate employers. As of January, 12 California prisons were already participating in the program, and 15 corporate employers were cutting costs with cheap labor. Ironically, while more states are adopting more repressive juvenile crime laws, juvenile crime rates are going down -- on both state and national levels. Between 1990 and 1998, California's juvenile felony rate dropped 30 percent, its juvenile homicide rate down 61 percent. And nationally, the rate of violent crimes committed by juveniles is lower than it was 20 years ago -- a fact which the Office for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention attributes not to an increase in punitive legislation, but to a decline in homicides by firearms.
MORE WORKING FAMILIES NEED FOOD HELP. Despite a continuing economic boom, hunger is becoming such an acute problem that increasingly many working Americans must rely on soup kitchens and food banks to feed their families, according to a Tufts University study released Jan. 20, according to the Boston Globe. The report, by the university's Center on Hunger and Poverty, estimated that 67 percent of people who ask for food assistance nationwide are employed adults. The report, compiled from local surveys across the nation since 1997, argued that government policies to reduce the welfare rolls have left many families in dire straits.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., are coauthors of the Hunger Relief Act, a bill aimed at expanding the Food Stamp program and restructuring the formulas the federal government uses to determine who qualifies for assistance. A vote on the bill is pending.
RALLY FOR RURAL AMERICA. The nation's rural crisis will take center stage at the "Rally for Rural America" set for March 20-21 in Washington, D.C. A cross-section of participants from around the country will gather at the U.S. Capitol to call on Congress to invest in rural America's future.
The event is being organized by a broad group of organizations, from the AFL-CIO to farm organizations and church-based organizations, concerned that rural America has been left behind during this time of record prosperity.
Record low prices on the nation's farms and ranches have rippled throughout rural America. Rural communities are facing numerous challenges, including a depressed farm economy, an escalation of mergers and acquisitions, a loss of businesses and jobs on rural main street, erosion of health care and education, a decline in infrastructure, a reduction of capital investments and a loss of independent family farmers. Rally participants will urge Congress to open up the farm bill and reform rural policies to alleviate the price crisis, ensure fair and open markets and pursue fair trade.
The centerpiece of the gathering will be a noon rally at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, March 21. That morning, a prayer breakfast will be held near Capitol Hill On Monday, March 20, a farmer's share luncheon will be held to highlight the small returns farmers receive on the commodities they grow. A town hall meeting on the rural crisis will follow that afternoon. For more information call 202-314-3104 or see www.rallyforruralamerica.org.
REFORMERS MEET CANDIDATES -- BUT NOT THE MEDIA. Four presidential candidates showed up in Mason City, Iowa, Jan. 23 for the Reform Party Iowa-Minnesota "Poll Bowl," one of the first organized events of the new year. The day began on the campus of North Iowa Area Community College with casual discussion and coffee with the candidates in classrooms. By afternoon, the activities shifted to the college auditorium where each candidate delivered his vision for the political future. A straw poll followed.
Not surprisingly, Iowa native John Hagelin captured 63 percent of the straw ballot, followed by Robert Bowman, who noted that "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to be President -- of course, I am a rocket scientist," and came away with 13.2 percent of the vote. Pat Buchanan was unable to attend, but delivered his message via live teleconferencing and carried 11.4 percent. Internet entrepreneur Charles Collins came up with 7 percent of the total, and relative newcomer Ken Dixon garnered 2.6 percent.
Coincidentally, right down the hallway in the college gym, Republican candidate George W Bush was preparing for a last-minute pep rally before the caucuses. He was accompanied by camera crews from as far away as Norway and reporters from every major U.S. news service. But apparently none had any journalistic interest in America's third largest political party.
"The event was tremendous success; I just don't understand the lack of media attention. It was their loss," said co-organizer Ray Holtorf of Iowa's Fifth Congressional District.
National Public Relations Chair Tom Johnson was not so forgiving. "We had five presidential candidates with some of the most remarkable political insight this country has ever seen, yet every mike and camera was down at the other end covering George's tired old train of thought. No wonder people have lost faith in democracy, you never get to see it in action!"
Meanwhile, Reform Party leadership continued to be split between the faction loyal to founder Ross Perot and the group supporting new Chairman Jack Gargan of Florida and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. The Perotistas, which claim a majority of the executive committee, want to have the national convention in Long Beach, California, while the Gargan/Ventura group want to move it to St. Paul. The national committee is scheduled to meet Feb. 12 in Nashville. Some sources believe Perot may be considering a third run for the presidency.
SOCIALISTS RUN MCREYNOLDS. David McReynold will make another run for president as the Socialist Party nominee. McReynold, 70, who recently retired from a staff job at the War Resisters League, previously ran in 1980 and this time will have Mary Cal Hollis, the 1996 Socialist nominee, as his running mate.
"This campaign will be a stealth campaign," he said in an email to supporters. "I think it is novel and rather wonderful to have a presidential slate which demands: a 50 percent cut in military spending, an end of all arms trading by this country, closing the CIA, closing all US military bases abroad, ending all sanctions on countries such as Iraq, Cuba, etc. ... A candidate who favors full medical care with a single payer plan similar to that in Canada. Funding low income public housing rather than the Pentagon. Civilian review boards for the police in every city and an end of police brutality. A defense of affirmative action. Ending the drug war -- medical treatment for heroin addicts, and decriminalization of marijuana. Increase the minimum wage. Ending the "prison industrial complex" which has given the United States the largest number of prisoners in the entire world -- our own Gulag. Gun registration and outlawing assault weapons. High progressive tax rates on the wealthy and the corporations. Defend labor's right to organize. Oppose the WTO.
To get on the campaign email list write ShaunRichman@sp-usa.org, see www.votesocialist.org or write the McReynolds Campaign Committee, c/o Campaign 2000, 339 Lafayette St., NYC 10012.
Greens Open Resource Center
The Electoral Action Working Group of the Greens/Green Party, USA and the Chicago Green Party have opened a Greens Electoral Action Resource Service (GEARS) Center at 202 S. State St., Suite 1500, Chicago. The GEARS Center will be a legislative research bureau for Green elected officials and candidates and a resource for Green public policy accomplishments and plans. "In the coming election cycle, GEARS will be vital to spreading the Green Party message of social justice and environmental concerns," said Karen Harris, the GEARS Center office manager.
This year, the Greens will choose from a field of at least four candidates for the Green Party presidential nomination, including: Jello Biafra (Eric Boucher), lead singer of the rock group Dead Kennedys; Stephen Gasken, activist and author of such publications as Cannabis Spirituality; Dr. Joel Kovel, college professor and former Green Party New York U.S. Senate candidate; and Ralph Nader, national consumer activist and lawyer. In addition, the Greens and the GEARS Center will be encouraging congressional candidates through the country.