Page 8


A Young Cambodian women hand out free cigarettes ENFACT’s 1998 People’s Annual Report POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE TAKE ME OUT TO the cleaners. Like a long fly ball gradually twisting foul, the convoluted negotiations between the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane have finally, and inevitably, resulted in dumping the $240 million cost of building a new downtown ballpark directly into the public’s lap. Despite the sports authority’s previous insistence that McLane would have to share the construction costs for the new stadium with the taxpayers, the final agreement reveals that the Astros’ financial commitment is limited to a lease arrangement, involving yearly payments totaling $7.1 million. For their part, McLane and the Astros get to keep revenues generated at the stadium \(including those produced by non-baseball million annually. That’s on top of giving the Astros the naming rights for the stadium, an asset that may be worth as much as $50 million in these days of high-profile corporate sponsorships. In return, the sports authority heroically wrestled three hard-fought, key concessions from McLane: the right to keep 50 percent of all net revenues generated from the sale of brick pavingstones to be installed in the front of the ballpark; the guarantee that sports authority members would have office space inside the stadium with a clear view of the playing field; and thirty-six season tickets no doubt to be available on a firstcome, first-serve basis to every Houston citizen. How’s that for playing hardball? Dazzled by the prospects of bringing major league baseball into a downtown area that is turning into a hot real estate play for big investors, public officials critical of the deal are hard to find. A typical response is that of city councilman Orlando Sanchez, who told a Houston Chronicle reporter that he had not seen the lease agreement, “but I’m sure the sports authority did an excellent job with it.” Fortunately for baseball fans, Sanchez’s relaxed attitude toward his role as a public watchdog probably disqualifies him from joining the ranks of real umpires, who generally refrain from calling a ball or a strike until they’ve seen the pitch. GOVERNMENT BY LOBBY. In mid-June, the U.S. Senate held what was billed as a “hearing” on an African trade bill, barely noticed by the U.S. media, permanently devoted to Kenneth Starr’ s ejectamenta. Capital like water, ever seeking its lowest point is weary of paying a dollar a day in Indonesia, especially when wages are half that, or less, in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus the African trade bill, which like its “free trade” cousins in Asia and Latin America, will go a long way toward recreating the original “Golden Triangle” \(sugar, slaves, the slaves all the way here, the sweatshops will go there. Out of sight, out of mind. Citizens groups, like Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, have been battling this pernicious bill for months, and were fired up to join the fray at the Senate hearing June 17. But when they arrived at the hearing room, they discovered that a mere eight seats out of two hundred had been reserved for the public. The rest were taken by the corporate backers of the legislation, including the lead corporate sponsor, Chevron, which held a private lunch for those who had testified in support of the bill. Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach, who’s been a public interest lobbyist for more than a decade, experienced a first in official arrogance: she was physically removed from a public hearing room. When outraged citizens, alerted by Hightower Radio, called chief sponsor Arizona Senator John McCain’s office to complain, an aide frostily told them they had no idea what they were talking about: “You’ve never been to Africa,” he explained helpfully, adding that despite the bill’s title and the announced subject of the hearing, the bill has nothing to do with trade. He might have added that the democratic process, as practiced in the halls of Congress, has nothing to do with democracy. GEORGE W. WILSON? June 17 was also a bad day for public participation in Texas. Governor Bush snubbed yet another delegation from Mexico seeking a meeting over the proposed Sierra Blanca nuclear waste dump in West Texas, which the Governor supports. Two years ago, in 1996, it was schoolchildren from Acufla seeking a meeting at the Bush residence who were turned away by an aide. This time it was a dozen Mexican legislators, including some of the most respected members of the federal Senate, who had been trying to arrange a meeting with the Governor for a month. Many were unaware that Bush had refused to meet with them until they arrived in Austin and heard the news that the Governor had instead assigned his secretary of state, Alberto R. Gonzales, to handle the delegation. Bush spokesperson Debbie Head said no slight was intended, but the consensus among the officials was that Bush should have made time to see them. “We feel this is evidence that Bush is actually in the same category as Pete Wilson,” when it comes to relations with Mexico, said Federal Senator Norberto Corella of the P.A.N. Secretary Gonzales did little to assuage the 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 3, 1998