Political Intelligence

ACT FOR PEACE.

As NATO forces “accidentally” blasted the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, and fundraising President Clinton ducked war protesters in Austin, former U.S. Attorney General and U.T.—Austin alum Ramsey Clark delivered a sobering keynote address to an Austin convocation sponsored by Peace Action Texas May 7—8. Clark, who since leaving government office has worked in defense of human rights and against U.S. aggression abroad, called for a 90 percent reduction of the military budget. “It is imperative that we create a unified peace party in the United States that demands demilitarization,” he said. Clark denounced the growing U.S. militarism, founded upon a $300 billion annual military budget. “We now manufacture and sell more than 75 percent of all weapons that are killing people, all over the planet.” China, currently excoriated in the mainstream press for supposed nuclear espionage, has four to five times as many people as the U.S., Clark noted, yet spends only $34 billion annually for defense. Clark also provided grim details of current conditions in Iraq under the U.S./U.N. sanctions, calling the policy “deliberate destruction of human life,” and “responsible for the deaths of way more than 1.5 million people who never hurt us, and couldn’t.”

Sanctions against Iraq, the continued bombing of Yugoslavia, and the ongoing conflict at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas were the central issues at the weekend membership meeting, which also included actor/activist Martin Sheen and human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury. National Peace Action, headquartered in Washington D.C, is trying to build its lobbying strength by recruiting new members, especially in Texas, said state chair Lon Burnam, also the Democratic state representative from Fort Worth. Sheen was in Texas to visit his friend Kathleen Rumpf, serving a one-year federal sentence in Fort Worth for defacing a sign at the S.O.A., the U.S. training center for Latin American military officials, also known as the “School of Assassins.” S.O.A. graduates have been implicated in massacres and assassinations across Latin America, most recently by the Guatemalan Truth Commission report issued in February. Clinton later apologized for the covert U.S. role in Guatemala’s civil war, calling it a “mistake.” Fourteen U.S. representatives, including San Antonio’s Ciro Rodríguez, appealed in an April 29 letter to Clinton to close the S.O.A., “before we are responsible for more ‘mistakes,’ and before we are forced to apologize again.” Thousands of activists lobbied their representatives in Washington May 3, part of a four-day protest against the School; more than sixty were arrested after civil disobedience at the Pentagon.

Ten thousand activists are expected at November’s annual protest at the S.O.A. in Fort Benning, Georgia, and Burnam said Peace Action Texas intends to send as many buses as possible. For more information, contact Peace Action Texas: (817) 237-0111, or e-mail <[email protected]>.

BUSHWHACKED.

Does the Bush-Who-Would-Be-President have time for the public business of Texas, or just for Texas Big Business? That was the question May 13, the day after a late-night session of the House State Affairs Committee, which had finally managed to send to the floor (13—2) the massive, much-argued utility deregulation bill. Early word is that it has something for everyone – although apparently not enough for major corporations, whose lobbyists panicked when an amendment was added that would allocate so-called “stranded costs” (primarily money wasted on nuke development) on the basis of kilowatt-hour usage. Those costs are currently allocated by “peak usage,” placing a disproportionate burden on residential customers.

The amendment, proposed by Houston Democrat Kevin Bailey, initially passed 10—5, as Republicans joined their colleagues in giving a break to consumers, who use less electricity and in fairness should be charged less. But with a potential $1 billion in stranded costs at stake, cell phones started smoking. Goosed by the corporate lobby, the Guv dispatched legislative liaison Terral Smith to set things right. According to observers, Smith was twisting arms in the hallway, in the audience, even shamelessly on the dais to get the amendment overturned. (At one point, Smith even elbowed confused Longview Republican Tommy Merritt to attention and instructed him to change his vote to reconsider.) As Smith worked the votes, Bailey denounced what he called “a shameful attempt to frustrate the will of the committee.”

Stunningly, Smith’s late-night House call came to naught. The reconsidered amendment still passed (8—7), as three Republicans – Kim Brimer, Paul Hilbert, and Ken Marchant – defied the Guv’s bullying and helped send the bill to the floor with an amendment that Bush insisted (in a press conference the next day) could not stand. In the House, Bush may succeed where Smith failed, but Republicans will be hard pressed to explain why a bill heavily promoted as beneficial to consumers must pick their pockets for the benefit of big industrial power users. “Whatever happens on the floor,” said one consumer advocate, “Bush will have to expose himself as working directly for big corporate interests and against the public interest.”

TURNER FOR THE WORST.

Ricochets of the Littleton massacre continue to reverberate.The U.S. Senate had abruptly reversed its vote against requiring background checks at gun shows, after public outrage to a Republican counter-proposal of “voluntary” checks forced the leadership back to the drawing board, with a bill that makes pawn shops the last frontier in the handgun black market. And in Austin, citizens were still waiting in vain for Governor Bush to lift a finger to resurrect a gunshow background check bill that had been killed in the House Public Safety Committee the very night of the Colorado shootings (April 20), the day before Bush declared his “support.” Don’t hold your breath – the Guv now says it’s up to the feds.

As reported in Political Intelligence (“Wrong Answers,” May 14), Houston Democrat Debra Danburg’s H.B. 1199 – which would have closed a major Brady Law loophole allowing gun-show “hobbyist” sales to proceed without the background checks required of licensed dealers – was killed, 6—2. But Danburg (not on the committee) had left before the vote after committee chair Bob Turner, a Voss Democrat who opposed the bill, assured her he would not proceed until she told him she had the votes. “I don’t like to bring up members’ bills just to have them defeated,” Danburg said Turner told her. When Danburg was still one vote shy of passage, she let Turner know she would wait until another day and continue working. Instead, several hours later, Turner brought up the bill while even committee supporters were out of the room – hence the 6—2 defeat.

What changed Turner’s mind? He told Political Intelligence that if Danburg had an understanding on the bill, “it wasn’t with me, that’s for sure.” Turner said she may have talked to Austin Republican Terry Keel, who passed an amendment to the bill but still voted against it. But one observer in the room said that when news reports of the Littleton massacre became known on the dais, N.R.A. lobbyists quietly pressed the committee to kill the bill before public reaction might make it too difficult to do so.

Turner claims he “didn’t pay any attention” to the Littleton news, and that he didn’t work to defeat the bill “other than just stating my opposition.” Asked if subsequent confirmation that four of the Littleton weapons had been purchased at gun shows has changed his mind about the need for such legislation, Turner said, “No – because the person that bought the gun-show guns was a legal purchaser … what good would a background check be?”

By May 17 – when the House enthusiastically approved Senator Jon Lindsay’s bill to forbid city lawsuits against gunmakers – the only Lege response to the national outcry against handguns was to protect the guns.

HOW GOVERNMENT WORKS.

The headlines have noted the fervid debates in Congress over support for NATO’s war on Yugoslavia, and the Congressional determination to use the war as an excuse to fatten the Pentagon’s budget – but buried in the details are other curious matters. The Fiscal Year 1999 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill would officially aid military personnel in Kosovo and provide food and shelter to Central American storm victims. The Environmental News Network reports that the bill as proposed mysteriously blossomed a handful of anti-environmental riders, including the following sweet nothings: (1) a provision to overturn a moratorium and phase-out of commercial fishing in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, including federally designated wilderness waters; (2) a provision to delay implementation until October 1999 of an already long-delayed oil valuation rule by the Minerals Management Service that would make the largest oil companies pay their fair share of royalties for oil extracted from public lands; (3) a provision to prevent the Bureau of Land Management from issuing final hardrock mining regulations until four months after the issuance of a National Academy of Sciences study, meanwhile allowing the continued dumping of illegal mine waste.

Environmental groups, including The Wilderness Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association, are asking President Clinton to keep a promise he made at the Department of Interior’s 150th anniversary to veto legislation containing anti-environmental riders. “Let us not waste precious time battling over these bad anti-environmental riders, which I am going to veto anyway,” Clinton promised. “Instead, let’s go on with the work of America.” Read his lips.

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