Stop the Corporate Power Grab

President Clinton has sent his request for Congress to give him fast-track consideration of trade agreements. Other articles in this issue discuss the perils of greasing the skids for more "free-trade" agreements that open up American markets and export American manufacturing jobs. The bill the White House drafted does not mention the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI), the secretly negotiated deal to undermine local, state and national authority to regulate corporations, but the wording does allow MAI-type provisions on investment under the section on trade principles.

Such an agreement could allow corporations to sue governments to stop enforcement of performance requirements and other "unreasonable barriers" such as state or federal laws and regulations to protect the environment, workers or consumers [See "MAI Fast Track Set," 8/97 Progressige Populist]. Nations already are suing at the World Trade Organization to overrule U.S. environmental regulations.

We are at a pivotal point, not unlike the United States in the 1890s, when corporations consolidated their position after the Supreme Court declared that corporations were entitled to civil rights afforded natural persons. Then the corporations neutralized state power to regulate them. Now they are trying to neutralize national sovereignty in the name of free trade.

Opponents of free rein to corporations should call or write their congressional representative and senators. Call them toll-free at 1-800-522-6721, courtesy of the AFL-CIO. And remember that our enemies are not the Mexicans and other Third World workers, but the multinational corporations that are exploiting them and us.

WELL, DANG, Fred Thompson's Senate committee has found out that access is for sale in Washington. Now what are they going to do about it?

So Roger Tamraz, an oilman, spent $300,000 to get into the White House at least four times, despite National Security Council objections. He hoped for President Clinton's assistance with his project to build a 900-mile pipeline from Caspian Sea oil wells to the Mediterranean.

Tamraz, who also gave to the GOP in the Reagan-Bush years, didn't even get the favors he was seeking. Of course the obscenity is that regular citizens get no more than a passing glimpse into the Executive Mansion on the official tour, and not much more entree in Congress.

Our correspondent, Sam Smith, writes in his new Great American Political Repair Manual that six industries -- waste management, mining, natural gas, coal, oil and nuclear energy -- gave congressional candidates and political parties $31.1 million in contributions in 1992 and gained $34.4 billion in subsidies and tax breaks.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 1995-1996 all the tobacco companies together gave $6.8 million in soft money contributions -- $1 million to Democratic Party committees and $5.7 million to Republican committees. For that Big Tobacco not only gets kid-glove treatment, even after their executives perjured themselves before Congress a few years ago, but a $50 billion tobacco tax break was snuck into the budget bill.

Perhaps the biggest boondoggle in recent history is the B-2 stealth bomber, at $2 billion a copy. Now the General Accounting Office has found the B-2, the pride of the Air Force, can't fly in the rain and the plane's radar-deflecting skin is damaged by heat and humidity.

Molly Ivins noted in late 1995, the House voted to keep the B-2 program alive by a margin of 213-210. The 210 members who voted against the B-2 got an average of $113 in campaign contributions from the Northrop Grumman PAC -- Northrop being the maker of the B-2. The 213 who voted for it got an average of $2,073 from the Northrop PAC. Northrop also gave $182,000 in soft money during '95-'96.

Candidates and officeholders protest that they are obliged to scrounge for money from the get-go and keep after it, or they can forget about hiring the consultants and buying the media exposure that is needed to get elected and re-elected these days.

The solution is public funding of campaigns, under which candidates would voluntarily limit their private fundraising and spending in exchange for public funds. Last November in Maine, voters approved a Clean Money Campaign Reform initiative, by a 56 to 44 percent margin, that offers full public financing to candidates who reject special-interest contributions and agree to campaign spending limits.

The success of the Maine ballot initiative has given greater energy and focus to campaign finance reform efforts in more than a dozen states, including Vermont, Massachusetts, Missouri and Arizona. U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., has filed a "Clean Money, Clean Elections Act" for public financing. Senators John Kerry, D-Mass., and Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., are said to be preparing a similar bill for the Senate.

But the Republican congressional leadership, which has no problem raising funds under the current system, is in no mood to allow a substantial reform of campaign finance, knowing that it would benefit Democrats and/or honest politicians. They don't even want the watered-down reforms that senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) are promoting.

If it takes running reform candidates to change Congress, then it is time to start raising those candidates.

In the meantime, as Smith suggests, we should force politicians who talk about family values to talk about their own corporate dole; support legislative efforts toward public financing; work to reform state and local elections; and pressure parties to reform finance rules for their own primaries.

For information on campaign finance reform, contact Public Campaign, 1320 19th Street, NW, Suite M-1, Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 293-0222 phone; E-mail: info@publicampaign.org; Internet site: www.publicampaign.org

TWO RECENTLY PUBLISHED books ought to find their way to every progressive populist bookshelf. They are Jim Hightower's There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos and Sam Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual.

Hightower's long-awaited volume, due for release in October, survived the purges at Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins publishing house. That suggests that the New York bean-counters see commercial possibilities for Dead Armadillos, and why not? Dead Armadillos is a distillation of what Hightower has been saying for years on the stump, on the radio and in publications like the Progressive Populist. It is powerful stuff. Hightower examines the Dismal Science of Economics and what the big shots are doing to the little guys, writing in simple terms, so that anybody can understand it.

Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual, published by W.W. Norton and subtitled, How to rebuild our country so the politics aren't broken and politicians aren't fixed, also puts the political and economic theory down on the ground where the goats can get it.

If your local bookstore doesn't carry Smith or Hightower, but you have Internet access, you can order them and the books of other Progressive Populist writers at our book page.

THIS MONTH'S COVER stories are on transportation policy. I know that makes many of us snoozy but even rural people, who know little of gridlock, ought to care about developing alternatives to gas guzzlers.

Austin, Texas, used to be a nice, mid-sized, affordable city. Now growth is slowly strangling our city; thoroughfares are slowed to a crawl during "rush hour;" there is a call for more freeways to speed the newcomers to their suburbs; and we're building a new airport.

Meanwhile in our hometown of Storm Lake, Iowa, population 8,500, where four cars at a four-way stop is gridlock, an automobile is still a practical necessity. You could walk or bike around town, but you can't come or go; the town has not had intercity transit for years, since Greyhound stopped regular bus service. We used to have not only the bus but two passenger trains stopping every day, but deregulation allowed the railroads to drop those marginal routes in the '60s; then the bus lines were cut back in the '70s.

On tour promoting her book, Asphalt Nation, Jane Holtz Kay said she has met a number of young people, particularly those who have visited Europe, who return to the United States wondering why we can't have a diversified transportation system, including a first-class rail system.

"A good chunk of the public can't drive, including kids and old people, and they need public transportation, even in the smaller towns," Kay said.

So why do we put up with the tyranny of the automobile and the airplane? Urge your U.S. reps to support transportation alternatives in the ISTEA (pronounced ice-tea) bill explained in Ben Lilliston's report. -- Jim Cullen

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