Jim Hightower's Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour drew 5,000 people to Chicago's Union Park June 15 for workshops on food, agriculture and democracy, speeches by the likes of Studs Terkel and Patch Adams, and music from artists such as Grammy Award-winning singer Erykah Badu.
For the most part, John Nichols wrote for the Madison Capital Times, supporters of the 2000 campaigns of Democrat Al Gore and Green Ralph Nader put old arguments behind them and focused on the task of beating Republican George Bush in 2004, but there was no consensus on who the best standard-bearer for progressives would be. Some promoted US Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Stickers were distributed by a group that wants to draft Hightower (see www.drafthightower.com), arguing that only Hightower &emdash; a former Texas agriculture commissioner with a long history of battling the Bush family &emdash; understands how to undo the popular president with a populist appeal. Their slogan: "Fight Texans With Texans!"
Hightower promoted Jesse Jackson Jr., who like Hightower said he is not running, but the hometown crowd cheered Jackson's rousing speech that proposed constitutional amendments guaranteeing equal rights for women, access to health care and education and &emdash; in the light of the contested 2000 presidential election result &emdash; the right to vote and have that vote counted.
FBI: KILLER ANTHRAX FRESH. Scientists have determined that anthrax powder sent through the mail last fall to news media and Senate Democrats was made no more than two years before it was sent, the New York Times reported. The new finding has concerned investigators, who say it indicates that whoever sent the anthrax, which killed five people, could make more and strike again. As the FBI has failed to close in on a suspect, the Times reported, "amateur sleuths and self-appointed experts have rushed in to fill the void and draw conclusions ..." Barbara Hatch Rosenberg of the Federation of American Scientists was not named, but she has been the FBI's most prominent critic, saying in a letter posted at www.fas.org/bwc/news/anthraxreport.htm that at least since December the FBI has known that the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American with evident connection to the US biodefense program. She met quietly with Senate staff members on June 18, Salon.com reported.
D'S DEAL ON JUDICIAL NOMINEES. Democratic Senate leaders have reached a deal to confirm more than a dozen judges in return for a Democratic nominee to the Federal Communications Commission, Roll Call magazine reported June 20. Senate Republicans expect 14 pending judicial nominations to be confirmed in exchange for the confirmation of Jonathan Adelstein, an aide to Majority Leader Tom Daschle who has been recommended to fill an FCC spot. Lott had blocked Adelstein in retaliation for the Judiciary Committee's rejection of his longtime friend, former segregationist US District Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi, to a circuit court seat. The 14 judges getting the green light include five nominees to the circuit courts, the most controversial being US District Judge D. Brooks Smith. Sensing opportunity to gain more lifetime right-wing judicial appointments in exchange for short-term regulatory minority commissioners, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he will block confirmation of Ellen Weintraub, a lawyer at the firm that represents Daschle's political action committees, to the Federal Election Commission until there is more movement on judicial nominees, Roll Call noted.
US ARAB DRAGNET EMPTY. In the nine months since last year's terrorist attack on New York and Washington, government officials estimate that 1,100 people, mostly Middle Eastern-born men, have been arrested or detained, Salon.com's Eric Boehlert wrote June 19. Independent observers, though, such as David Cole, professor of constitutional law at the Georgetown Law Center, suggest the number stands closer to 1,500 or 2,000. Yet only a single man, Zacarias Moussaoui, has been charged with being a Sept. 11 conspirator, and he was detained for immigration violations even before the dragnet began. In the meantime, hundreds have been deported for routine visa violations. The US Justice Department, under court order, reported that 147 detainees remain in custody &emdash; 74 on immigration-related charges and 73 on separate criminal charges.
EARTHQUAKE RATTLES NUKE SITE. A predawn earthquake near Yucca Mountain June 14, occurring just weeks before the Senate votes on siting a nuclear waste dump there, "seems to be nature's way of warning lawmakers to put the brakes on this bad plan," Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen said. More than 600 earthquakes of a magnitude of 2.5 or more have been measured within 50 miles of Yucca Mountain since 1910, she noted, and Nevada ranks third in the nation in frequency of strong earthquakes, but the Bush administration reneged on a campaign promise not to put the dump there and the House endorsed Bush's decision. Critics fear radioactivity will leak into the aquifer beneath Yucca Mountain and contaminate the source of drinking water.
SENATE 'ETHICS' BLOCKS ABM TREATY FIGHT. The Senate Ethics Committee has denied US Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., permission to join a lawsuit that asks federal courts to clarify whether it was appropriate for President Bush to unilaterally end US participation in the 30-year-old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But Feingold is not giving up on the suit brought by 31 members of the House of Representatives, or the cause of pushing the Senate to assert its Constitutionally-defined authority role in deciding whether the US enters and exits international treaties, John Nichols wrote for TheNation.com. The Senate requires that members receive an Ethics Committee waiver from rules regulating gifts before accepting free legal assistance. Senators forced to defend themselves against lawsuits are routinely granted waivers. But the rules were read narrowly in regard to Feingold's request because he sought to become a plaintiff in a legal action. Feingold, a lawyer, says he might file an amicus brief in support of the legal action. "I am going to continue to do everything I can to help the members of Congress that are bringing the suit." Some legal observers say the suit's prospects will suffer because there is not a senator among the plaintiffs, Nichols noted.
DRUG COMPANIES INVEST IN R'S. Pharmaceutical companies were among 21 donors paying $250,000 each at a June 19 Republican fundraiser that raised $30 million in "soft money". As Tapped, the "weblog" of The American Prospect, noted, "The hypocrisy is stunning, isn't it? Allow us to connect the dots: First, President Bush signs the new campaign finance law while holding his nose. Next, his party succeeds in undermining the rulemaking to implement it. Then, Bush further mocks the new law by holding these mega-fundraising dinners. And here are a few more dots to connect: This week the GOP unveiled its wolf-in-sheep's-clothing drug pricing plan in Congress and began moving it forward." According to the Washington Post, Robert Ingram, GlaxoSmithKline PLC's chief operating officer, was the chief corporate fundraiser for the gala; his company gave at least $250,000; Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group funded by the drug companies and a prime mover of the GOP's prescription drug plan, kicked in $250,000, too. Pfizer Inc. contributed at least $100,000. Eli Lilly and Co., Bayer AG and Merck & Co. each paid up to $50,000 to "sponsor" a table. Other drug companies reportedly donated money as part of the fundraising extravaganza.
W FUNDRAISES IN SMOG CITY. One day after proposing weakening pollution controls on more than 1,700 old power plants, refineries and other polluters, President Bush travelled to one of America's smoggiest cities June 17 to raise money. Houston, home to a number of energy giants, including Enron, is currently violating Clean Air Act limits for asthma-causing ground-level ozone. In the last three years, Houston residents have been exposed to ozone smog more often and at higher concentrations than residents of any other city in the United States. "It's incredibly ironic that one day after weakening the Clean Air Act, President Bush returns to the center of the energy industry to collect more money," said George Smith of the Sierra Club. "To let polluting energy companies off the hook one day, and then raise money two blocks from Enron headquarters the next, sends a disturbing message to the thousands of Houston children with asthma and other respiratory diseases."
RAILROAD SUBSIDY MYTH. While the Bush administration dragged its feet on Amtrak's request for an emergency $200 million bailout, it had the gall to suggest that the national rail service should be privatized and unprofitable lines shut down. This ignores the experience of Britain, where privatization has been a disaster. If Amtrak relies on subsidies, it pales behind the aid given to automobiles and commercial airlines. Jon Talton noted in the June 20 Arizona Republic, "In 2002 the federal government spent $33 billion in transportation dollars on highways, $17 billion directly on air, but only half-a-billion on Amtrak. And we're surprised that service and route options have deteriorated?" Americans want options, especially after Sept. 11, he noted. In May, airline passenger traffic dropped by 10%, but Amtrak saw ridership rise by 1.1%. Amtrak's top-line Acela service saw a 23% increase while revenue grew by 44%. Also, airlines lost a record $11 billion last year, but Congress rushed through $10 billion in loan guarantees (and $5 billion in grants) after 9/11. This on top of decades of federal airport building, parceling out of landing slots and assorted other government giveaways. When you add the cost of pollution from automobiles and US troops to maintain sources of cheap oil so we can drive gas-guzzling SUVs, Amtrak starts to look more cost effective.
TRADE BILL HEADS TO HOUSE. Republican House leaders are determined to vote on a pro-business "fast track" trade bill instructions in an attempt to strengthen House negotiators' position as they seek to reconcile differences with a Senate bill, the Associated Press reported. Last December the House on a 215-214 vote approved fast track only after the White House made last-minute concessions for textile-state lawmakers. The Senate approved its own version this spring after adding assistance to workers harmed by imports. It included a first-ever federal subsidy for workers to purchase health insurance after they were laid off due to import competition. It also included a provision to give Congress a chance to seek changes in certain trade deals. The new House version would omit that provision and reduce the assistance for workers. It includes the concessions that Reps. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Robin Hayes, R-N.C., and other textile state lawmakers gained when they helped pass the trade bill last December, AP reported. Call your House member via the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. [Editor's Note: the House passed the rule June 26 (after this issue went to press) on a 216-215 vote.]