Supreme Court Justice David Souter told prep school students in Connecticut he thinks he would have swayed Justice Anthony Kennedy to side with the four justices who wanted to let Florida count its own disputed votes in the presidential election, if Souter had had just one more day to work on him, according to Newsweek's David A. Kaplan. Instead, Kennedy joined four other Republicans on the high court in a Dec. 12 rush to judgment that not only overruled the Florida Supreme Court but awarded the election to George W. Bush. Even visiting Russian judges expressed surprised at the political action of the US court, asking in a January meeting with the US justices how it was that somebody other than the electorate decided who ran the government, the sort of thing that gave Communism a bad name. "In our country," Kaplan quoted a bemused Russian justice, "we wouldn't let judges pick the president." The Russian said he knew that, in various nations, judges were in the pocket of executive officials -- he just didn't know that was so in the United States. "It was a supremely ironic moment," Kaplan wrote in the Sept. 17 Newsweek. Meanwhile, there were protests Sept. 9 when Justice Antonin Scalia, an architect of the Bush vs. Gore decision, spoke at a law conference at Hofstra University. Inviting Scalia to discuss judicial ethics is "like asking Idi Amin to talk about human rights," one protester told Long Island's Newsday.
PREZ 'CAN'T QUIT TREATY.' Bruce Ackerman, a professor of constitutional law at Yale and co-author of Is Nafta Constitutional?, questions whether a president can pull the US out of a treaty without congressional consent, such as George W. Bush proposes to do to the Antiballistic Missile Treaty to allow further work to proceed on a national missile defense system. In a column published in the New York Times on Aug. 29, Ackerman noted that once a treaty is ratified by the Senate, the Constitution makes it part of the "supreme law of the land" -- just like a statute -- which presidents can't terminate at will. Precedents exist when presidents sought acts of Congress to withdraw from treaties, but in 1978, when Jimmy Carter unilaterally terminated our mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, Sen. Barry Goldwater sued, asking the Supreme Court to maintain the traditional system of checks and balances. The court on a 6-3 vote declined to make a decision on the merits of the case, but seven new justices have since joined the court. Ackerman wrote that there is no predicting how a new case would turn out, but he said Congress should recognize the seriousness of this matter. "If President Bush is allowed to terminate the ABM treaty, what is to stop future presidents from unilaterally taking America out of NATO or the United Nations?" He suggested that Congress should proceed with a joint resolution declaring that Bush cannot terminate treaty obligations on his own. "And if the president proceeds unilaterally, Congress should take further steps to defend its role in foreign policy."
FAST TRACK FATE DEPENDS ON D'S. Although George W. Bush is pushing "fast track," which could be voted upon in October, its fate right now rests in Democratic hands. "Bush needs 35 to 40 Democratic votes in the House in order to get his majority," Mike Dolan, deputy director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, told LA Weekly's Marc Cooper. The fight could hinge on Democrats like Jane Harman and Adam Schiff, both of whom were sent to Congress from Los Angeles last fall with strong union support. Both have yet to commit to opposing fast track. Labor was particularly crucial in helping Schiff unseat Republican Jim Rogan, only to watch Schiff enlist in the pro-business, conservative Democratic Blue Dog caucus. At a Labor Day rally in Los Angeles, union folks gathered at tables with signs asking, "Have You Called Jane Yet?" and "Have You Called Adam Schiff Yet?" "[L]ike most Democrats, Schiff calculates that labor is bluffing and that, in the electoral crunch, the unions will always support him against a Republican; that, all momentary bluster aside, labor has nowhere else to go and is captive to the Democrats. Until now, that has been a safe bet. AFL-CIO president [John] Sweeney told the Labor Day crowd that, as this congressional fight develops, labor should not flinch from using the 'most devastating weapon ... the truth.' Not much of a threat, really, given the standing view that Power generally has of Truth," Cooper wrote. "Much better if Sweeney had put Schiff on notice by saying something like: 'Punk out on us in the coming fast-track vote by siding with the Bush White House, and not only will we not support you next November, but we will sink you.' Imagine the unions running a third-party or independent candidate against a recalcitrant Schiff. In his marginal swing district, drawing off even a few points would end his tenure. Yes, a Republican would probably be elected. But the tradeoff would be well worth it. The unions would never have to beg Adam Schiff for anything again. I can dream, can't I?"
BUSH FREEZES UTILITY BILL AID. When George W. Bush visited California in May, he pledged to seek $150 million to help low-income households pay high energy bills, saying "I hope Congress acts quickly." Congress doubled the president's request authorizing $300 million in July to help energy consumers nationwide, Richard Simons reported in the Sept. 8 Los Angeles Times. But none of the emergency aid has been allocated, although officials in California and other states say the money is still desperately needed to help families pay off high bills from last winter and avoid utility shut-offs. At least nine governors and 18 US senators -- Democrats and Republicans -- say the money is needed now, but the White House won't release it, saying it might be needed next winter.
W POLL NUMBERS TANK. A CBS News poll released Sept. 5 shows that 50% of Americans approve of Bush's job performance, an all-time low for the president in that survey, and a 10-point drop since March. Over the same period, the portion of the public that disapproves of the president's work has climbed 16 points, from 22% to 38%. The worsening reviews of Bush's performance correspond with increasing concerns about the economy. The survey found that 48% of Americans believe that the economy is getting worse and only 8% believe it is getting better, the most pessimistic public assessment of the economy that the poll has tracked since 1992.
Another poll, conducted by Zogby International for Buzzflash.com in late August, found that 51% of respondents thought President Bush "is more interested in representing the interests of energy companies," while 34% said he had the interests of the average consumer in mind. Only 4% said he has the interests of both in mind. The nationwide poll of 1,020 likely voters was conducted by Zogby International from Aug. 25-29.
CHEVRON-TEXACO 'BAD NEWS'. Federal Trade Commission approval of the Chevron-Texaco merger on Sept. 7 sets up a lose-lose-lose scenario for American consumers, democracy, and the environment after four years of mergers in the oil and gas industry, said Athan Manuel of the Public Interest Research Group's Arctic Wilderness Campaign. "Consumers, already paying higher prices for gasoline, will continue to lose because of the lack of competition," Manuel said.
"Democracy will lose, as these mega-companies will exert more and more influence over the political process. The new ChevronTexaco will contribute to an excessive concentration of political power in a small number of huge corporations. The original authors of the antitrust laws sought to avoid excessive concentrations of political power by the oil industry. That is one of the reasons Standard Oil was broken up into 34 companies in 1911.
"Finally, the environment will lose as both companies have an aggressive anti-environmental agenda. Chevron is one of four companies pushing to open the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge for oil and gas drilling. Chevron is also trying to drill the first offshore drilling well off of Pensacola Beach in Florida."
EPA FAULTS BUSH NOMINEE. George W. Bush still wants Donald R. Schregardus to become chief enforcement officer of the Environmental Protection Agency, even after regional EPA investigators raised serious questions about his record as director of Ohio's environmental programs. Also, a federal administrative law judge last year was highly critical of Schregardus for interfering with an Ohio probe of a cancer cluster, and for unfairly disciplining a subordinate who was attempting to press the investigation. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) has ordered an extensive examination of Schregardus's record. The panel approved the nomination Aug. 1 after a cursory hearing, despite four Democratic dissenters, but Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) put a hold on the nomination before Congress departed for the August recess, after she heard of the pending EPA staff reports. Now key Republicans and Democrats told the Washington Post the nomination appeared hopelessly stalled, although White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said Schregardus has "a unique background and a strong record," and insisted that the administration would stand by the nomination.
BIG MONEY TALKS IN MICROSOFT CASE. Common Cause President Scott Harshberger was not surprised when the Bush/Ashcroft Justice Department announced it would seek relatively minor penalties against Microsoft. "This company performed an illegal operation but they will not be shut down. Nor, evidently, will they face any penalty likely to deter them from anticompetitive, predatory, and monopolistic behavior in the future," Harshbarger said, noting that Microsoft gave $10,000 to then-Sen. John Ashcroft's "shadowy soft money fund" while the Republican party collected more than $1 million from the company in the 2000 election cycle, and expects another six-figures this year. "This is a campaign finance system that needs an upgrade much more than the latest version of Windows does," he said. See the Common Cause study, The Microsoft Playbook, at (commoncause.org/publications/microsoft).
DISCHARGE NEAR FOR CAMPAIGN REFORM BILL. As Congress returned from its August recess, campaign finance reformers reportedly had 208 of the 218 supporters they need to force the bill onto the House floor, the Washington Post reported. The bill would stop the unlimited contributions of "soft money" to parties and political action committees. Some Democrats complain that they can't afford the loss of soft money, but Common Cause recently reported that the parties together raised $99 million in soft money the first six months of this year, and only a third of this year's money went to the Democrats. "The soft money system is no mystery. It's an effort by those who can afford it to buy influence with those it helps elect. It's wrong; it deserves to be banned," the Post editorialized. "The petition points the way."
W SNEAKS $200K FIREWORKS SHOW. Emergency phone lines in Washington, D.C., lit up after 11 p.m. on Sept. 5 as alarmed residents reported that they heard gunfire or bombs, only to find out that George W. Bush -- just returned from his monthlong vacation in Texas -- had ordered $200,000 worth of fireworks for a late night show to surprise visiting Mexican President Vicente Fox and a few other invited White House guests. "The president of the United States just woke up three-quarters of a million people for a private party," said the father of an 11-year-old girl who was awakened by the blasts, according to the Washington Post. "It's not a national holiday; it's a school night, it's a work night ... it's just about common decency that neighbors have for one another."
Meanwhile, Taxpayers for Common Sense called for an investigation to determine whether taxpayer funds were used to pay for the exclusive fireworks display. "Taxpayers have the right to know whether they paid for this elaborate and unnecessary spectacle," commented Jill Lancelot, legislative director at Taxpayers for Common Sense. "We need to make sure that we're getting the biggest bang for our buck with our tax dollars and picking up the tab for a fireworks display at an essentially private event isn't the way to do that.
"The federal government may have to take $9 billion from the Social Security surplus just to make ends meet," said Lancelot. "Spending money on glitzy White House celebrations sends a terrible message in this tense budget climate." The taxpayers group also noted that the White House awarded the contract to George Zambelli, the head of Zambelli Fireworks Internationale, which gave a $2,000 individual contribution to George W. Bush's presidential campaign last year, according to federal campaign finance data. "While it may not seem like much, this is a pretty good return on Mr. Zambelli's investment if taxpayers footed the bill," concluded Lancelot.
BANKRUPTCY SOARS WITH CREDIT CARD DEBT. Both personal and corporate bankruptcies are on the upswing, Christian Science Monitor's Ron Scherer reported Sept. 6. In the second quarter, new bankruptcies rose 24.5% over the same period a year ago, perhaps in anticipation of draconian changes in bankruptcy laws that Congress is considering. Bankruptcies appear on track to surpass the record year of 1998. The stock market has lost billions of dollars in value. And for the first time in 10 years, more people are carrying balances on their credit cards instead of paying off their monthly bills -- a sign that consumers are feeling the pinch. At the end of the first quarter, Americans owed $6.8 trillion, or 14.35% of their disposable personal income. That is only slightly higher than a 13.09% reading in the second quarter of 1991, a recession year.
HOUSING FUND WOULD GENERATE JOBS, HOUSES. A proposed National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Bill (HR 2349) would generate 1.8 million new jobs and nearly $50 billion in wages. as well as helping low and moderate income families buy homes, US Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said. The bill, co-sponsored by 78 members of Congress, would use a portion of the Federal Housing Administration's profits to create a trust fund to finance affordable housing rental units in mixed-income locations, to construct affordable homes for low to middle income citizens, and provide rental subsidies to low-income individuals. According to housing experts, if the FHA surplus was used to build affordable housing, decent housing could be provided for more than 200,000 families next year. "In recent years, Congress has put money into the Highway Trust Find to be used strictly for highways; money into the Social Security Trust Fund which can be used only for Social Security; and money into the Airway Trust Fund to be used for aviation needs. It is now time for Congress to, at the very least, use a portion for the Federal Housing Administration surplus to address the affordable housing crisis," Sanders said.
FED MIGHT BUY PRIVATE BONDS. The Federal Reserve is considering asking Congress for approval to start buying corporate bonds if the declining national debt makes US Treasury bonds scarce, USA Today reported Sept. 6. Such a move could open the door for other government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, which also holds only Treasury bonds, to invest in the private market in an effort to increase the rate of return and improve the retirement system's long-term solvency. The Fed reportedly is considering investing in mutual funds that hold an array of bonds that would eliminate any appearance of corporate favoritism. If the Fed adds corporate bonds to its holdings, that could give ammunition to many Democrats who advocate investing Social Security's reserves in the private market instead of just putting the money in Treasury bonds.
USDA OK'S 'TERMINATOR' SEED. After two years of intense debate over the dangers of genetically modifying plants to produce sterile seeds, the USDA has approved the use of so-called "terminator seed," the National Rural Community Outreach Campaign reported. Michael Schechtman, Executive Secretary to USDA's Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, made the official announcement August 1, saying the seed would available for commercial use in 2003. The terminator seed, also known as suicide seed because it is engineered to not reproduce, was originally designed to prevent farmers from illegally re-using harvested patented seed. While farmers see it as another form of monopolization, it concerns many scientists who fear the broader effects on ecosystems as this genetic trait cross pollinates with other plants. Hope Shand, Research Director for Rural Advancement Federation International (RAFI) said, "USDA's decision to license Terminator flies in the face of international public opinion and betrays the public trust." See (www.rafi.org) for "2001: A Seed Odyssey" RAFI Communique, January/February 2001.
R'S REDISCOVER EXEC PRIVILEGE. The Bush administration is trying to restore the White House's authority to keep internal information confidential, after the principle of executive privilege took a beating during clashes between President Bill Clinton and Republicans in Congress, Ellen Nakashima and Dan Eggen reported in the Sept. 10 Washington Post. In the past eight months, Vice President Cheney has refused to turn over information about his energy task force to the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm. "Congress," said White House spinmeister Ari Fleischer, "for too long has been on fishing expeditions and endless investigations." When Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and longtime nemesis of former President Clinton, sought telephone transcripts between Clinton and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak about the pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, the White House allowed Burton's investigators to review the records, which contents were quickly leaked to news media. The White House has since found it necessary to refuse Burton's request for records relating to alleged campaign finance abuses during the Clinton administration. Abner Mikva, a former federal judge and Clinton's White House counsel from 1994 to 1995, said the Bush White House can try to restore executive privilege but will not succeed. "If this White House really thinks there is some clear, firm executive privilege, I'm afraid they're going to find out they're wrong."