Political Intelligence



Maverick Republican Ron Paul is one of two Texans (the other is Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee) who have signed the John Conyers Congressional letter calling on President Clinton to lift the brutal economic sanctions against Iraq. He is also one of the few Congressmen willing to take on the administration (and the U.S. press) for its “sad trail of lies” on the Kosovo war. In a statement released in mid-March, Paul compared the NATO version of the war to a Nazi or Soviet “propaganda barrage,” and cited a Liberty magazine report by David Ramsay Steele which investigated U.S., NATO, and U.N. charges of genocide by the Serbians and found them grossly exaggerated, and that most of the mass refugee crisis used to justify the bombing occurred in response to it. Noting pre-bombing casualty estimates of 100,000 or more ethnic Albanians, Steele found that actual deaths are now estimated at about 2,000 and, Paul notes, “it is hardly evident that each of those bodies was killed as a result of a campaign of ethnic cleansing.” Paul also cites similar reports in the London Review of Books and the Spanish daily El País.

Paul notes that neither the administration nor the press has been much interested in recent Kosovar attacks on Serbians, charging, “Instead of hearing the truth from our leadership, we were fed emotional tales of mass killing that were entirely blown out of proportion in order to justify force and violence in the region.” Paul blames a credulous press for not questioning those tales, and concludes, “Congress has shirked both its Constitutional responsibility to declare war before U.S. troops are sent into battle and its oversight responsibility to closely monitor the administration in its carrying out of foreign policy.”


San Antonio House Democrat Leo Alvarado made a half-hearted run for the Senate seat vacated by the death of Greg Luna, lost, and now faces a runoff to hold onto the seat he was elected to seven years ago. Hoping to broaden his base, San Antonio freshman Democrat Juan Solís shared campaign funds and resources with House candidate Roberto Vásquez and was narrowly defeated by former city councilman José Menéndez. (Vásquez also lost.) San Antonio Republican Bill Siebert offended his constituents by moonlighting as a lobbyist at City Hall. He lost by a 66-34 margin to Elizabeth Ames Jones, who questioned the ethics of a state rep lobbying before his hometown city council. Siebert said his legislative credentials in no way provided him with an advantage as a city hall lobbyist. He will have an opportunity to prove that next year.


“David Leibowitz Never Quits!” reads a campaign poster hanging on a fence near the San Fernando Cemetery on San Antonio’s West Side. And he didn’t. In the final ten days of the Democratic primary, Leibowitz spent a quarter of a million dollars on radio spots and direct mail aimed at interim Senator Leticia Van de Putte. After Democratic Rep Van de Putte won a special election to fill the seat vacated by the death of Greg Luna, she had a free ride in a district where no Republican has filed — until Leibowitz moved in from the upscale Dominion subdivision, rented a condo, filed in the primary, and started spending. Leibowitz hired Austin media consultant Dean Rindy and spent more than a half million dollars depicting Van de Putte as an elected Southwestern Bell lobbyist and an advocate of high prices for prescription drugs. (Van de Putte did carry Bell’s big bill last session, and one result is higher phone bills.) While some observers argued that Leibowitz’s progressive, pro-consumer campaign message sounded good when compared to Van de Putte’s House record, voters were turned off by a North San Antonio carpetbagger moving into town to buy an election. Outspent two-to-one, Van de Putte prevailed, winning 52 percent of the vote.


The Catholic Bishops of Texas recently appealed to Governor Bush to halt all executions in Texas, pending a study of the state’s criminal justice system and its capital convictions. The Bishops’ list of concerns includes significant evidence of racial bias in sentencing, lack of adequate legal defense for the poor, and the fact that of the eighty-five inmates declared innocent and released from death row since 1975, seven were released in Texas.

The Texas Catholic Conference (the public policy office of the state’s bishops) has focused on the death penalty for many years. According to Brother Richard Bailey of the Catholic Conference, this year the bishops were somewhat optimistic, hoping Bush might be influenced by a moratorium on executions declared by Republican Governor George Ryan of Illinois. Bailey said a spokesperson for the Governor informed him that the Texas Constitution does not permit the Governor to temporarily halt executions. When the bishops responded that the Governor and his appointed Board of Pardons and Paroles can suspend the executions on a case-by-case basis while a study is conducted, the spokesperson for the Governor replied that Bush does not intend to review individual cases as the Bishops requested. Bailey said he is concerned that Bush stated in a debate that he is “certain” that everyone on Death Row in Texas is guilty.


In the wake of his primary victory, Bush supporters are wondering how their candidate managed to spend $63 million in a few frenzied months — and where they’re going to find another $80 million or so to gear up for the campaign against Al Gore, who at the moment has more cash on hand than his once-flush opponent. While it’s true the Bush Pioneers are awash in bucks, there are only so many billionaires to go around. As Larry Makinson of the Center for Responsive Politics pointed out, “fiscal discipline” might make good anti-government rhetoric, but it certainly doesn’t apply to the winners’ campaign spending. (While Bush was breaking all records, Al Gore’s has spent a comparatively paltry $32.5 million.)

The battle of the big spenders has left friends of Political Intelligence wondering what the primary campaign spending spree might do to the Governor’s pretenses of being a fiscal conservative. One observer passed on the news that the Harvard Political Review recently queried esteemed economist John Kenneth Galbraith on federal finances, asking, “What would you do with the budget surplus?” Galbraith replied: “The problem, such as it is, of the Federal Revenue Surplus could be easily solved. One has only to look at the way Governor George Bush, candidate for President, handled the large fund he had accumulated for his campaign. It disappeared with magic speed. Accordingly, one can reasonably assume that he would handle the budget surplus in the same talented way. The solution for the American voter is thus obvious, although not one that I wholly recommend.”


The struggle continues at Pacifica. In February, Pacifica Network News stringers went on strike, following the reassignment of news director Dan Coughlin and the resignation of news anchor Verna Avery Brown. Coughlin ran afoul of management when PNN broadcast a story covering the “Day without Pacifica” boycott at several Pacifica affiliates. In November he was “reassigned” but given no duties, and he remains in organizational limbo without an assignment.

In late January, the Pacifica Foundation announced that embattled Board Chair Mary Francis Berry and Executive Director Lynn Chadwick would step down. Houston-based board member David Acosta will become the board chair. Berry will remain until the expiration of her current term in the fall, but Chadwick (who remains on staff as a “consultant”) has been replaced by Bessie Wash, the general manager of WPFW in D.C. Wash appointed Garland Ganter, general manager of Houston’s KPFT, as interim national program director.

The new administrators are strongly identified with management and its ongoing effort to mainstream the network. Wash’s D.C. station has repeatedly censored news items covering the Pacifica controversy, and has emphasized jazz programming over political news. Ganter has made similar changes at KPFT, and remains notorious for his role last year as acting general manager at KPFA, where at Chadwick’s direction he kicked KPFA reporter Dennis Bernstein off the air for alleged violation of the network’s “gag rule” concerning Pacifica-related news. Ganter presided over the “citizens’ arrests” of many of the Berkeley station staffers, and personally manned the station while the staff was locked out and thousands of protestors rallied outside.

Ganter told Political Intelligence he’s excited about the new Pacifica leadership, and that the departure of Berry and Chadwick should allow a “fresh opportunity” for the network to ease the controversy over local governance and other matters. He said he anticipates being in the job only for six or eight weeks, does not plan any programming initiatives, and expects to be replaced by a permanent hire by the beginning of May. “Basically, I’m going to be taking care of budget issues which have been lying around for a while, and taking a look at some personnel issues, and some national programming.” He hopes the changes will be welcomed by board opponents.

“A lot of the vitriol had been directed at Dr. Berry and Lynn Chadwick,” Ganter added, “and both of them will be stepping down. Bessie was a logical choice for the position: they wanted somebody based in Washington, and they wanted somebody from within the organization, to ease the transition. There are a lot of things happening at Pacifica, and we couldn’t take the time for a national search. We did that the last time, and apparently it didn’t work out too well for the organization.” Ganter called criticism of the ratings-based, mostly music-oriented programming at the Houston and D.C. stations a “red herring” because, Ganter insisted, programming decisions are made locally by local station managers and staff.

Bessie Wash and David Acosta did not return calls from Political Intelligence.