Al Gore was the choice of Florida's voters. That was the core finding of the eight news organizations that conducted a review of disputed Florida ballots, Robert Parry noted in Consortiumnews.com. "By any chad measure, Gore won," Parry wrote. "Gore won even if one doesn't count the 15,000-25,000 votes that USA Today estimated Gore lost because of illegally designed 'butterfly ballots,' or the hundreds of predominantly African-American voters who were falsely identified by the state as felons and turned away from the polls. Gore won even if there's no adjustment for George W. Bush's windfall of about 290 votes from improperly counted military absentee ballots where lax standards were applied to Republican counties and strict standards to Democratic ones, a violation of fairness reported earlier by the Washington Post and the New York Times.
"Put differently, George W. Bush was not the choice of Florida's voters anymore than he was the choice of the American people who cast a half million more ballots for Gore than Bush nationwide." However, the mainstream news organizations that financed the Florida ballot study structured their stories on the ballot review to indicate that the recount found Bush was the legitimate winner, with front-page headlines such as 'Florida Recounts Would Have Favored Bush' [Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2001]. In a box on page 10, the Post reported in "Full Review Favors Gore" that under all standards applied to the ballots, Gore came out on top. The New York Times' graphic revealed the same outcome.
Earlier, Parry noted, the Miami Herald and USA Today had found in less comprehensive ballot studies that Bush and Gore split the four categories of disputed ballots depending on what standard was applied to assessing the ballots -&endash; punched-through chads, hanging chads, etc. Bush won under two standards and Gore under two standards.
The new, fuller study found that Gore won regardless of which standard was applied and even when varying county judgments were factored in. Counting fully punched chads and limited marks on optical ballots, Gore won by 115 votes. With any dimple or optical mark, Gore won by 107 votes. With one corner of a chad detached or any optical mark, Gore won by 60 votes. Applying the standards set by each county, Gore won by 171 votes.
"This core finding of Gore's Florida victory in the unofficial ballot recount might surprise many readers who skimmed only the headlines and the top paragraphs of the articles," Parry wrote. "The headlines and leads highlighted hypothetical, partial recounts that supposedly favored Bush."
While the Bush administration dismissed the results of the recount and reportedly asked other Republicans to refrain from commenting on them, and Gore also reiterated his support for Bush, a Gallup Poll conducted Nov. 2-4 and released Nov. 6 reported that 42% of respondents say the events of that time represented either a constitutional crisis or a major problem. Only 41% of Americans have "quite a lot" or a "great deal" of confidence in the electoral system (the way votes are cast and counted), while 26% have "very little" or no confidence. And efforts to put national standards in place for voting have gone nowhere.
FRENCH: CIA TIES TO BIN LADEN. The French newspaper Le Figaro reported that a CIA agent met with Osama Bin Laden in July, while bin Laden was in Dubai for treatment at a hospital. While US media have virtually ignored the report, the London Guardian Nov 1, 2001, reported that the disclosures came from French intelligence, which wanted to reveal the ambiguous role of the CIA in dealing with the terrorist threat.
According to Le Figaro, bin Laden reportedly arrived in Dubai on July 4 from Quetta, Pakistan, with his personal doctor, nurse and four bodyguards, to be treated in the urology department. While there he was visited by several members of his family, Saudi personalities, including the head of Saudi intelligence, and the CIA agent, who was seen in the elevator, on his way to see Bin Laden, and later, it is alleged, boasted to friends about his contact. He was recalled to Washington soon afterwards.
The American hospital in Dubai denied that bin Laden was a patient there and the US government also denied the story. But the Guardian's Anthony Sampson wrote that even if the story cannot be confirmed, leaks from the French secret service throw a worrying light on the rivalries and lack of coordination between intelligence agencies, both within the US and between western allies.
Even within the US government and military there seems to be confusion about the goals of Operation Enduring Storm. George W. Bush has said from the beginning that he wants Osama bin Laden taken "dead or alive," but Gen. Tommy Franks, US combat commander in Afghanistan, said Nov. 8 that apprehending bin Laden isn't one of the missions of the Afghanistan operation.
ASHCROFT TIGHTENS SCREWS. After Attorney General John Ashcroft unilaterally decided to monitor conversations between lawyers and some clients in federal custody, criminal defense lawyers and civil libertarians screamed and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Nov. 9 accused Ashcroft of refusing to appear before the committee or to respond to questions about the number of people detained in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Leahy gave Ashcroft a list of questions to be answered by Nov. 13, including the constitutional basis for intercepting attorney-client communications. Ashcroft's rule permits the government to listen in on conversations and read mail between people in custody and their attorneys, for up to a year, if the attorney general certifies that there is "reasonable suspicion" that the inmate is using the contacts to "facilitate acts of terrorism" or violence. The rule can apply both to convicted federal prisoners and to people who have been detained but not charged with a crime.
Prosecutors also may turn anew to the Civil War-era law on sedition to hold people they suspect of involvement in terror plots. The rarely invoked law was cited in the case of a student being detained in New York, and according to the Associated Press prosecutors hinted they might make fuller use of it in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The statute gives the government flexibility in assembling prosecutions against people who plan but don't carry out criminal acts against the United States.
The law imposes up to 20-year prison terms when two or more people "conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the government of the United States, or to levy war against them.''
US law on sedition dates back to 1798 when the Alien and Sedition acts allowed John Adams' administration to imprison critics of the government. The acts expired in 1800-01 but a law passed during the Civil War targeted Confederate sympathizers in the North. The government used the sedition law after World War I to convict anarchists. In the 1950s, communists were imprisoned on sedition charges for teaching doctrines that were held to be subversive. In those cases, AP quoted constitutional law professor Richard Primus of the University of Michigan, "These weren't people blowing things up; they were basically basement seminars where people would read Marx.''
TERROR BILL COULD STIFLE PROTESTS. StratFor.com noted that the new USA Patriot Act of 2001 allows federal authorities to detain permanent US residents without any formal charges, randomly monitor voice and e-mail traffic and refuse entry to the US for suspected terrorist supporters. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has suggested the legislation could be used as a license by the government to target groups like Greenpeace. Activists also are concerned that security rules could be used to keep government critics from flying. Canadian officials used similar laws to keep anti-globalists from attending a world trade meeting in Quebec last year and activist leaders were detained before the G-8 Summit in Italy last summer.
A Green Party USA official accused airport officials in Bangor, Maine, of stopping her from flying to a party meeting in Chicago because of her opposition to the bombing in Afghanistan. Bangor airport officials said Nancy Oden was grounded Nov. 1 because she was uncooperative when singled out for extra screening. (Neither airport officials nor federal authorities would confirm to the Bangor Daily News what prompted the additional screening, but an airport official said it was likely the manner in which Oden bought her ticket online.) Green Party US officials (the political party unaffiliated with the rival Green Party USA) clarified that Oden was not one of theirs.
D'S WIN OFF-YEAR ELECTIONS. While the mainstream press played down the results of the off-year elections, Democrats beat anti-tax right wingers in the two highest-profile races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia. The Democratic National Committee noted that Democrats won 32 of 34-targeted mayor's races in cities over 100,000, picking up 11 new mayors seats, including Los Angeles earlier this year. As the Madison Capital Times editorialized Nov. 12, "Democrats won back the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia for the first time in eight years. They elected a former civil rights lawyer as Virginia's lieutenant governor; upset a decade of Republican control of both houses of the New Jersey legislature; took control of the Washington state House of Representatives; and won mayoral races in Detroit, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, Cleveland and dozens of other cities across the country. The one big Republican 'win,' in the race for mayor of New York, was for billionaire businessman Mike Bloomberg -- who backed gay rights, abortion rights, increased teacher pay, public investment to rebuild the city and most other planks in the Democratic platform. That may be because, until a few months ago, Bloomberg was a Democrat and a major contributor to the campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
"Republicans and their media apologists were quick to spin the off-year contests as local battles that should not be read as having sent a message about the popular appeal of their party nationally. That's funny. When Republicans swept most key contests in the 1993 off-year elections during the first year of Bill Clinton's presidency, they did not hesitate to claim a mandate. Rather than that, Democrats should this year simply recognize that the people of the United States are wise enough to welcome and support a loyal opposition -- even in a time of war and uncertainty."
GREENS WIN LOCAL RACES. Greens won two seats in Minneapolis, Minn., and New Haven, Conn., and reached the 110 officeholder count for the first time. Over 250 Green candidates competed in 2001 and at least 26 victories Nov. 6 brought their total for the year to a record high 42, including spring races.
Natalie Johnson Lee and Dean Zimmerman won seats on the Minneapolis City Council. Minneapolis (population 383,000) is the second largest US city to elect a Green to the city council. (San Francisco is the largest, with Green County Supervisor Matt Gonzales.)
In Hartford, Elizabeth Horton Sheff was re-elected to City Council. In New Haven, John Halle was re-elected to the Board of Alderman and joined by newcomer Joyce Chen to make New Haven the ninth city to have at least two Greens on the city council.
In other action, the Federal Election Commission on Nov. 8 recognized the Green Party of the United States as the National Committee of the Green Party. National committee status permits the party to accept contributions up to $20,000 per year from individuals, but party rules cap such donations at $10,000 per year. The party and its candidates also refuse contributions from corporations. GPUS is organized in 33 states, with other states' memberships pending. To contact state Green parties, see gpus.org.
BUSH'S SUPPORT SOFTENING. George W. Bush's overall job approval rating was still hovering around 90% but public opinion is wavering on the war. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Nov. 8 showed Bush's approval unchanged in the past month. About one in four Americans -- 23% -- believe the conflict is going "very well" for the United States and its allies. An additional 62% say the war has been "fairly" successful. But while two-thirds of those interviewed said they "strongly approve" of the way Bush is handling his job as president, that's a decline of 11 points in the past month. Nearly all of that decline is because of eroding support among Democrats. About half of Democrats -- 49% -- strongly approved of the job Bush is doing, down 17 points from early October.
CORPORATIONS SET WTO AGENDA. Top corporate executives carried out a series of closed-door meetings with government officials to set the pro-business agenda for WTO negotiations that took place in Doha, Qatar, Nov. 9-13, according to confidential documents obtained by investigative journalist Gregory Palast. Three documents from inside the World Trade Organization Secretariat and a group of London's top finance executives calling themselves the "British Invisibles," reveal the extraordinary secret entanglement of business and government in designing the European proposals for WTO rules. Many of these executives are the European representatives of US financial giants like Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Goldman Sachs, Prudential Corporation and PriceWaterHouseCoo-pers. Palast, reporting for CorpWatch and the BBC, corroborates activists' long-time assertions that top corporate executives shape the trade agenda in the US and Europe, CorpWatch stated. See "The WTO's Hidden Agenda" (www.corpwatch.org/issues/wto/featured/2001/gpalast.html).
AMTRAK PLANS LIQUIDATION. When the airline industry ran into financial difficulties recently, Congress appropriated $15 billion to help it out. When a federal oversight panel on Nov. 9 declared that Amtrak will not meet a congressional deadline for achieving financial self-sufficiency, it ordered the passenger train service to draw up a plan for its own liquidation within 90 days. Congress will review Amtrak's liquidation plan and a proposal to be drawn up by the council for a restructured national passenger rail system. Congress then will make a final decision about the future of Amtrak and rail service. In 1995 Amtrak cut train service by about 12% and laid off about 2,000 workers. Amtrak has pursued new routes and business opportunities such as package delivery. Its first effort in high-speed rail, the Acela Express, began service a year ago and reaches a top speed of 150 mph for a short span between Boston and New York, but Amtrak acknowledged Acela Express was falling short of ridership and revenue projections. To express support for rail service call your Congress member via 202-224-3121.
'CHARLESTON 5' FREED. Two members of the "Charleston 5" pleaded "no contest" to misdemeanor charges and paid $100 fines, and three other dockworkers were expected to make similar pleas to resolve what originally were felony charges stemming from a Jan. 20, 2000, confrontation when 600 police in riot gear broke up a lawful informational picket of 150 union members protesting use of a non-union crew to unload a Danish freighter in the port of Charleston, S.C. [See "Ghost of Denmark Vesey haunts S.C.," 8/1/01 PP.] State Attorney General Charlie Condon, a Republican running for governor, intervened and brought charges of felony rioting and conspiracy to riot on the dockworkers. After a Charleston judge dismissed those charges for lack of evidence Condon secured felony indictments against five of the men through a secret grand jury proceeding and subjected them to more than a year and a half of house arrest when the men weren't working or at a union meeting. Condon finally removed himself from the case Oct. 10 after attorneys for the dockworkers demanded that he be disqualified for gross misconduct. The case was transferred to a local prosecutor. ILA Local 1422 President Ken Riley said he believes Condon's prosecution was motivated by a desire to discourage workers in the state from exercising their rights on the job. South Carolina, a so-called "right to work" state, entices corporate investment by touting its anti-union climate and the lowest rate of unionization in the nation. "It's a tremendous victory, considering what we were stacked up against," Riley told Labor Notes.
STOP WAR PROFITEERS. The US House passed an "economic stimulus" that, among other things, would repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, which requires hugely profitable companies to pay at least some tax, no matter how many loopholes they can exploit. According to Campaign for America's Future, lobbyists succeeded in getting the repeal for 15 years of retroactive rebates, which would give IBM $1.4 billion, GM $833 million, GE $671 million -- "a total loss of over $12 billion in revenue next year alone." A Senate committee approved a more progressive bill. For more information, see www.ourfuture.org or phone 415-901-0117.
A new report released by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), and Public Campaign found that profitable corporations that will receive a total of $7.4 billion in immediate Alternative Minimum Tax rebates from the House economic "stimulus" bill gave $45.7 million to federal elections since 1991. The 30-page investigative report, "Buy Now, Save Later: Campaign Contributions and Corporate Taxation," shows how these companies and others use campaign money to manipulate the political process to win huge tax breaks unavailable to ordinary Americans -- and how they have been doing so for years. See the report at www.publicampaign.org.
PUBLIC POWER EDGED IN SF. Initiatives to create a public power authority in San Francisco were pronounced dead Nov. 11 after nearly five days of counting and questions about ballot security and accuracy. Measure F, which would allowing an elected board to buy Pacific Gas and Electric Co. infrastructure to serve the city, was defeated by 533 votes out of 129,077 counted. Proposition I, which would have created an independent municipal utility district, lost by 4,361 votes out of 124,575 counted. The count was delayed by damaged ballots, questions about ballot security and an anthrax scare in addition to San Francisco's legendary capacity for screwing up elections. Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano was among those who questioned the security and accuracy of the tally. PG&E and corporate allies, such as AT&T and Pacific Telesis, spent more than $2 million opposing the initiatives, and PG&E promised legal action if the proposals won.
AOL CENSORS NAUGHTY LYRICS. Bruce Springsteen may be the Boss, but not on America Online. "Those who think America's season of trauma might be a good time to reclaim morality in popular music will be pleased to know AOL, our largest provider of Internet service," has banned certain lyrics from being discussed in chat rooms, said David Hinckley in the New York Daily News (and recapped in The Week). About a dozen songs contain lyrics deemed too "suggestive," including "the sordid likes of 'Blinded by the Light' and 'Pink Cadillac,' as well as 'Spare Parts,' 'Spirit in the Night,' 'Book of Dreams,' 'Red Headed Woman,' and 'Ramrod.'" Among the lines in "Pink Cadillac" judged to be in violation of AOL's "terms of service" agreement decency clause is "My love is bigger than Honda, yeah, it's bigger than a Subaru." The chat monitors even took it upon themselves to delete postings that questioned AOL's suggestivelyrics policy, and some chatters were sent warnings that their discussions should "stick to songs."
ANTI-FAST-TRACK COALITION GROWS. The largest coalition in the history of trade fights -- 169 groups from the American Corngrowers Association to the Vermont Workers Center -- has signed on to a letter opposing H.R. 3005, which would approve Fast Track. "The 'free trade' boosters and fatcat lobbyists for the transnational corporate elites, with their deep pockets and astroturf campaign, will never match the sheer people-power of this enormous grassroots movement," said Mike Dolan of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "We believe the United States should show responsible leadership in the global economy by calling for a new generation of international trade and investment policies that will ensure the benefits of globalization are broadly shared, that the environment is protected, and that ordinary citizens can understand and participate in forming the policies that affect their daily lives. H.R. 3005 accomplishes none of these goals. It follows the same framework that led to the rejection of fast track legislation by the Congress in 1997 and 1998." See (www.tradewatch.org).
CAPITALISM HAS ITS SHINING SIDE. The Collins Cos., a Portland, Ore., firm with revenues of $200 million and the first privately owned company to begin having its forestlands certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as sustainable, won an award for environmental excellence from Minneapolis-based Business Ethics, a 15-year-old publication about corporate social responsibility. Chatsworth Products Inc. of Westlake Village, Calif., 100% employee-owned since 1991 and known sharing profits equally with all employees, won the award for employee ownership. An award for corporate citizenship went to the Timberland Co., based in Stratham, N.H. for its innovative new City Year New Hampshire program launched last year, which made Timberland the first company to house a youth corps right inside corporate headquarters. Selection of winners is made by an independent panel of judges. For the full story, see www.business-ethics.com.
AIRLINES HIRE SUSPECT SECURITY FIRM. Argenbright Security Inc., criticized for serious breaches at other airports, was hired to screen passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) said the airlines' hiring of Argenbright illustrates the need for the federal government, not cost-conscious airlines seeking the lowest bidder, to handle airline security. He said he found it "even more irritating" that the airlines -- Southwest, United and America West -- hired Argenbright over the objections of Maryland transportation officials. Argenbright remains on probation and has been fined $1.2 million for numerous violations at Philadelphia International Airport. Recently, company screeners at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport allowed a man with knives, a can of Mace and a stun gun through a security checkpoint. And last month, a spot-check of Argenbright employees at Dulles International Airport found that seven out of 20 failed a test required for employment and that many didn't speak English. Two of the planes hijacked Sept. 11 left from gates at Dulles and Newark where Argenbright controlled passenger screening.
PEACE AT PAFICICA? Plaintiffs in four lawsuits that have been filed against the Pacifica Foundation announced Nov. 3 that they expected to reach an agreement with Pacifica that could put an end to the struggles at the independent radio network. Lawsuits had been filed against the Pacifica Foundation by listeners, local advisory board members and national board members. They sought to regain control of the community radio network from board members and national managers who the critics alleged had eliminated community input at the network and censored and banned journalists who disagreed with them. A national campaign was launched earlier this year to boycott Pacifica fundraising efforts and unseat the board of directors members who created the imbroglio. Pacifica has been embroiled in controversy since 1999, when the network's managers shut down KPFA of Berkeley. In December 2000, Pacifica "re-programmed" its New York City station, WBAI, by firing and banning long-time programmers. Most recently, Pacifica suspended Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, and removed Democracy Now from the airwaves of four of the Pacifica stations. For more information see www.pacificacampaign.org.
LESS MEAT IN PIZZA. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), at the urging of the National Frozen Pizza Institute, wants to allow the frozen pizza makers to drastically cut meat content in their products and still call them "meat pizzas," the Washington Post's Al Kamen reported. Instead of the current rule that requires a pizza to have a 15% meat content to be called a meat or sausage or pepperoni pizza, the new rule would allow an 80% meat reduction -- down to just 3% meat content. "'Based on the data submitted' by the pizza makers, the Agriculture Departement said, 'this is what today's consumers appear to demand.' So pizza lovers finally will be able to get a meat and cheese pizza that's healthy for them and eat it without guilt. Also without meat or cheese. Perfect!"
TREATY SETS PUBLIC ACCESS TO SEEDS. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome on Nov. 3 approved a treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture that provides for access to seeds and germplasm for much of the world's food supply, as well as fair and equitable sharing of the benefits. It also includes a provision on farmers' rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed. The Bush administration joined Japan in abstaining, but the new treaty will enter into force 90 days after 40 nations approve it under their domestic legal systems. "This treaty represents a major step forward for farmers around the world by improving their access to seeds," said Kristin Dawkins, Vice President of Global Programs at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "It is also a blow to the biotech industry, which may no longer patent the raw material of food crops in countries that sign on to the treaty."
The most contentious provision states that farmers, researchers and others using the system "shall not claim any intellectual property or other rights that limit the facilitated access to the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, or their genetic parts or components, in the form received from the Multilateral System." Shortly before finalizing the new treaty, a US proposal to delete this provision altogether lost by a vote of 97-10. The US delegation supported deleting this clause despite a letter from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle urging Barbara Tobias of the State Department "to do all that you and the US delegation can to oppose any provision that limits farmers' rights" to the use of agricultural seed." Senator Daschle's letter concludes, "In sum, I believe, like many of my colleagues in the Congress, that agricultural research and resulting products of processes funded by and conducted in the public domain should remain in the public domain."
Ultimately, conflicts over attempts to patent seeds or genes received through the multilateral system may end up in the dispute settlement system of either the World Trade Organization or the genetic resources treaty or both. Under the new treaty, disputes that cannot be settled through negotiation, mediation or arbitration may be referred to the International Court of Justice. Non-governmental groups monitoring the negotiations in Rome welcomed this "historic" treaty while, at the same time, expressing grave reservations. Their November 3 statement, can be read at (www.ukabc.org/iu2.htm#e).