Heading South Sans Fast Track

President Bill Clinton headed south on his free-trade tour of South America in mid-October without the fast-track approval he hoped for, as the controversial legislation was slowed down in Congress.

After a closed-door meeting on Oct. 1, the Senate Finance Committee opened up just long enough to gavel the bill through, in less than a minute. But the legislation had rougher passage through the House Ways and Means Committee on Oct. 8, the White House pulled in only four Democrats as Republican Chairman Bill Archer's version (HR 2621) passed out of committee 24-14. Archer told the Washington Post after the session, "The cause of free trade is clearly in trouble if the Democrats do not do much, much better on the floor of the House."'

Lori Wallach of Public Citizen noted that, instead of addressing labor, food safety and environmental concerns, the Archer fast track bill would limit presidents from negotiating those issues in trade talks.

The White House continues to declare that the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), which is designed to allow multinational corporations to overturn local, state and federal regulations, is not part of the fast track bill, but Ruth Caplan of the Alliance for Democracy notes that a "very mysterious section of the bill" excludes foreign investment negotiations from requiring prior consultation with Ways and Means and Finance committees. "With no prior notification required and with the inclusion of MAI objectives in the foreign investment section of the bill, a credible argument can be made that MAI can be put on the fast track without even giving Congress a chance to say yea or nay," she wrote.

Call your representative toll free 1-800-972-3524, courtesy the AFL-CIO, and let your rep know that the Archer bill (HR 2621) is a frontal assault on environmental, consumer and labor protection and on our democracy with the corporations allowed on the inside track. Also ask him or her to verify for you that the MAI is not in the Archer bill.

House Snubs WTO

By an overwhelming 356-64 vote, the House passed an amendment to an appropriations bill requiring U.S. trade representatives to better protect local, state and federal governments threatened by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Over the past several years, US environmental legislation protecting clean air, dolphins, and shrimp harvesting have been modified as a result of WTO influence. The amendment by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) would protect American democracy against WTO intrusion and voice opposition to this country's trade policy.

The Senate version of the bill covering Commerce, State and Justice appropriations does not include the Sanders amendment and conferees are expected to try to strike the provision from the final bill.

Contact each of the following House and Senate conferees (you can call toll-free at 1-800-972-3524) urging inclusion of the House provision protecting state and national rights to dictate policy, and not to give the WTO more power to overrule US law.

Senate conferees are Republicans Ted Stevens (AK), Chairman; Judd Gregg (NH); Pete. Domenici (NM); Mitch McConnell (KY); Kay B. Hutchison (TX); Ben Nighthorse Campbell (CO); and Democrats Robert Byrd (WV); Ernest Hollings (SC); Daniel Inouye (HI); Dale Bumpers (AR); Frank Lautenberg (NJ); and Barbara Mikulski (MD)

House conferees: Republicans Bob Livingston (LA), Chairman; Charles Taylor (NC); Ralph Regula (OH); Michael Forbes (NY); Jim Kolbe (AZ); Tom Latham (IA); and Democrats David Obey (WI); Alan Mollohan (WV); David Skaggs (CO); and Julian Dixon (CA)

PR Marches On

The Center for Voting and Democracy reports that proportional representation is making some inroads. Groundwork is being laid for PR campaigns in New York City and Santa Monica, Calif., and a coalition of alternative parties is working to mount an initiative for PR in Oregon [See story, 10/97 Progressive Populist]. There is an ongoing effort in Seattle and strong interest in PR and instant run-off in such cities as Burlington, Vermont, Austin, Texas, and Albuquerque, N.M. A new midwest network of PR activists has formed, joining active groups in Northern California, Illinois, Washington state and Minnesota. (For information contact the Center by phone at 301-270-4616 or email FairVote@compuserve.com.)

U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) plans to introduce a new version of her Voters' Choice Act, a bill to restore states' opportunities to use proportional representation (PR) systems to elect their U.S. House delegations. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has introduced two bills to help minor party and independent candidates for federal office. HR 2477 outlaws restrictive ballot access laws in federal elections. HR 2478 provides that major party presidential nominees who debate each other must also invite significant minor party and independent candidates or lose general election public funding.

Hearings are taking place in four cities in Georgia this fall on bills to adopt cumulative voting for congressional elections and preference voting for state legislative elections. In Florida, CV&D President John Anderson testified before the state's constitutional revision commission about lifting the requirement for winner-take-all elections. His proposal has made it to the second round among public proposals.

PR is helping to open up Mexican politics. Mexico's ruling PRI lost its congressional majority for the first time in 68 years. The PRI won 165 of 300 single-member district seats -- a comfortable majority -- but its 39 percent of the national vote led to only 74 of 200 party-list PR seats. Thus the 61 percent of voters for smaller parties was not denied a majority; the new speaker of the house is from the progressive PRD party led by Mexico City mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas.

Organizations Endorse PR: The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, with affiliates in several states, in September adopted a new policy supporting proportional representation. Another organization taking an active stand on PR is the Independent Progressive Politics Network, which has a special task force on the subject, and CVD's west coast coordinator, Steve Hill, led several workshops on PR at a national Green conference in August.

The Center for Voting and Democracy is making available a new booklet, Proportional Representation: The Case for a Better Election System, by Douglas Amy, as a resource for advocates of PR. The booklet is available for $3 from the Center, P.O. Box 60037, Washington, D.C. 20039. Also available is the Monopoly Politics report ($10), which predicts winners in 360 U.S. House races; the video Preference Voting: State of the Art Democracy ($10); the booklet Government Of, By and For the People ($2); and a new guide to electoral systems around the world called The International IDEA Handbook of Electoral System Design ($12).

Buy Nothing Day

International Buy Nothing Day, a celebration of simplicity and sustainable economy, is coming up November 28 (the first shopping day after Thanksgiving).

Adbusters magazine, sponsor of the protest, said plans are afoot to buy airtime for 30-second Buy Nothing Day TV ads -- if networks will sell them the time. Last year the major networks refused the ads.

Individuals are asked not to buy anything on Nov. 28. They are also encouraged to poster their communities, engage in street theater, stage credit card cut-ups and, finally, give "Christmas Gift Exemption Vouchers," which exempt friends and loved ones from buying you Christmas gifts conditional on them spending quality time with you instead.

For more information see the Buy Nothing website:


Save Small Farms

"Citizens from across the country have testified with insight and conviction to the USDA Small Farm Commission, providing constructive solutions to the problems of small family farms," writes Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs. "To tackle those problems, we only need our political leaders to match this conviction."

One of the highlights Hassebrook noted was Arthur Read of "Friends of Farm Workers," who challenged conventional wisdom and appealed to the conscience of the commission by proclaiming the common interest of small farmers and farm workers. Agricultural exemptions from worker protection laws, Read said, provide large farmers with a competitive advantage over small farmers seeking to pay themselves a middle-class wage.

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