Political Intelligence

AND THEN THERE’S ISENHAUER.

Don Cooper of the Hereford Brand is accustomed to Panhandle political mythology, so he wasn’t entirely surprised when he got a call from a local reader immediately following vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention. Cooper’s informant wanted to know what the big deal was about Lieberman’s nomination. Don swears to Political Intelligence that what follows is verbatim: “Everybody knows he’s not the first Jew to run. Roosevelt was a Jew who changed his name from Rosenfeld. His wife was a Jew, too. I wish I were a Jew, then I’da been rich because all Jews are rich. But Lieberman’s a pretty good Senator and I’m going to vote for him. I’d rather vote for a Jew than a Bush.”

Added Cooper sardonically: “Not a ringing endorsement, but I suppose Al Gore will accept any votes in Texas he can get.”

SUBURBAN ACCESSORIES.

Proponents of concealed weapon laws love low violent-crime rates, because they prove that criminals reconsider when citizens pack heat. But the landscape of concealed weapons is more complicated, and new results challenge pro-permit arguments, conclude M.V. Hood III and Grant W. Neeley in the June 2000 issue of Social Science Quarterly. Most pro-permit studies rely on state, county, and city data that’s relatively undetailed in geographic terms, which makes researchers assume that permit holders are randomly distributed in a city. Hood and Neeley looked at data from Dallas in a new way: by zip code. By comparing violent crime rates, per capita permits, and other demographic info on Dallas’ forty-four zip codes, they discovered that zip codes (or neighborhoods) with the highest per capita permits also have the lowest violent crime rates. Of course, gun proponents would say: moms with guns drive away bad guys. But other information – that 82 percent of the permit holders are whites living in areas with above-average incomes and education levels – suggests that those neighborhoods never had much violent crime. Therefore, the current low rates can’t be explained by gun permits (though for reasons Hood and Neeley don’t address, neither does it explain relatively higher property crime rates in those same zip codes), though they’re unlikely to stop anyone from joining the gun lobby’s well-heeled militia.

NIGHT WATCH.

In a most unusual August 26 press conference held on the U.T.—Austin campus at 1:30 a.m., workers from the University’s custodial staff addressed their grievances against U.T. and their plans for the upcoming September 6—8 staff “sick-out.” The press conference immediately followed the workers’ 5:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. shift, the most convenient time for them to speak to reporters. (Predictably, the only media in evidence were from Political Intelligence and the local microradio station, Free Radio Austin.) Absent TV crews and their bright lights, the half-lit basement auditorium classroom gathered about seventy members of the custodial staff. Speaking almost entirely in Spanish, they discussed with each other and through a translator their unhealthy working conditions, longer working hours, higher work load, poor benefits, and low pay. Many said supervisors and the university treat them “like children,” adding that such paternalism and administrative intimidation has thus far prevented them from changing a bad situation that is getting worse. (For more detail, see “The Forty Acres,” pages 20—21.)

Still in blue uniforms from the evening shift, the custodians peppered a University Staff Association spokesperson with questions ranging from the legal ramifications of participating in the sick-out to their treatment as compared to other staff. In response to a question about the cleaning chemical CSP, which the custodians are required to use in unsafe conditions, the T-shirted U.S.A. rep whipped out a CSP label and read: “Harmful or fatal if swallowed, causes eye and skin burns.”

The workers reiterated common themes concerning their working conditions. “Ninety-five percent of us work two jobs. We do it to support kids and get better living conditions. But we can never get ahead,” lamented a custodian through the translator. Said another, “Supervisors are really good at writing us up. Some workers have [discipline] records like books. That’s why there’s reluctance to stand up.”

The sick-out was described by the U.S.A. representative as a “last resort, after three years of demonstrations and meetings with the President.” One worker estimated that, despite the intimidation of administrator threats of firings, some 30 percent of the custodial staff will participate.

SOCIALIST ROAD-WARRIOR.

Ralph Nader is not the only progressive candidate riding the hustings looking for presidential votes. David McReynolds, the nominee of the Socialist Party, will be touring Texas in early September. McReynolds, seventy-one, is a longtime socialist and pacifist activist who first gained a national reputation in his writings for Liberation magazine and other publications. He has traveled the world working for anti-war causes. Notably, he served on the Council of the War Resisters International for ten years, during the height of the Cold War, and found himself trapped in Prague in 1968 when Soviet tanks rolled in. Later, he was prominent in the national and international opposition to the Vietnam war. He was hired by the War Resisters League in 1960 as a field secretary, and remained with the League until his 1999 retirement. During that time he traveled across the country, visiting almost every state, speaking for the pacifist position. He was arrested a number of times: in New York City for protesting the civil defense drills (for which he served a twenty-eight day jail term); in North Carolina on civil rights issues; at the Gimbel’s Department store on labor issues (along with others he was arrested for wearing a T-shirt in support of striking textile workers).

McReynolds is currently a member of the Socialist Party, the Committees of Correspondence, Democratic Socialists of America, Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Civil Liberties Union. He is certified as a write-in candidate for President in Texas. For more information, contact Steve Rossignol ([email protected]) or Shaun Richman ([email protected]) of the Socialist Party of Texas.

POPULAR DELUSIONS.

Syndicated columnist Norman Solomon provides the following bit of ancient wisdom: “In 1941, one of the country’s more acerbic editors, a priest named Edward Dowling, commented: ‘The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.'”

TEARS FOR FEARS.

Although it remains the conventional wisdom that Gore/Lieberman is the environmentalist ticket, many national activists say they’re unconvinced. In August, environmental leaders from twenty-seven states, calling themselves “Environmentalists Against Gore,” called on voters to “vote our hopes, not our fears” and “to remember that Gore is misleading the American people about his own stand on environmental issues.” The group, organized by longtime environmental activists (including David Brower, Sierra Club; Tim Hermach, Native Forest Council; Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch; Ronnie Cummins, Pure Food Campaign; and Janet Fout, Audubon Society), denounced what they called Gore’s “long history of trampling on the environmental laws that are already on the books.”

“Al Gore talks tough about protecting the environment,” said David Brower, “but whenever money and political dealers ask him to, Gore uses his power to hurt the Earth – from encouraging coal companies to strip away mountains and the timber companies to ruin our national forests, to helping the sugar industry steal water from the Everglades and the major oil companies damage our coasts and beaches.” The group did not issue an endorsement, but asked citizens to consider voting for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader. Regarding the candidacy of George W. Bush, the group insisted, “We can’t win by submitting to fear of imagined Republican actions.”

“Some people say we can’t vote for Ralph Nader,” said Tim Hermach, “because that would help put a Republican in the White House. But nature and public health will be better protected even if George Bush wins the election, because the national environmental groups that ignore or excuse Al Gore’s doubletalk may stand up and fight if a Republican makes those same bad decisions.”

Political Intelligence contacted Cindy Allsbrooks of Coldspring about her participation in the group. Allsbrooks is the mother of David Chain, killed by a falling tree in 1998 as he tried to defend the Headwaters Forest against logging by Houston-based Maxxam. Allsbrooks said that in the two years since David’s death, she has tried to get the Clinton/Gore administration to help her in court fights, and was repeatedly told it was a “state problem.” Asked her response to the argument, “Gore is terrible, but Bush is worse,” Allsbrooks said, “I’m not voting for Bush either. But Gore is the one presenting himself as an environmental candidate.”

PLEASE POLICE ME.

The president of the Southern California A.C.L.U. has condemned the use of police force during the Democratic National Convention in L.A. “The only ‘high marks’ that the Los Angeles Police Department scored in suppressing dissent during the D.N.C. were those indiscriminately inflicted by foam rubber bullets on civil rights lawyer Carol Sobel, law professor Karl Manheim, photojournalist Al Crespo and others caught in the terrifying melee August 14, created by police overreaction to a few rock throwers,” Sobel wrote in a letter in the Los Angeles Times. Sobel was referring to the forceful dispersal of a large demonstration outside the Staples Center on the first night of the convention. “Any military government can keep order by mobilizing shock troops,” Sobel wrote. “In a democracy, it’s the sworn duty of the police to arrest individual lawbreakers and protect peaceful, nonviolent dissent.”

Very few of the 150 or so arrested during the demonstrations remain in jail. The majority have had their charges reduced and have been released with no fines, according to a legal update distributed by attorneys representing protestors. This compares favorably to the situation in Philadelphia, where authorities seem determined to throw the book at those engaged in civil disobedience at the GOP convention in July. A small number of demonstrators in Philly flouted the organizers’ commitment to non-violence, and are facing felony charges for destroying a police car and engaging in a melee with police (during which Police Chief Michael Timoney got roughed up). But police are also vigorously prosecuting non-violent protestors, such as John Sellers of the Ruckus Society, a group that trains activists in non-violent civil disobedience. Sellers was arrested on misdemeanor charges – specifically, prosecutors said, for chaining himself to trash cans – but his bail was set at an unprecedented $1 million. Philadelphia police photographed and targeted “ringleaders” like Sellers for conspiracy charges, seizing on the use of cell phones and Palm Pilots as “evidence” of illegal activity. Sellers was eventually released shortly before the Democratic Convention – some have suggested the police strategy may have been to prevent him from helping to organize that event.

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