The Short Run

This article is from the September/October 1996 issue of Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/1996/0996srun3.html

This article is from the September/October 1996 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

issue 207 cover

Commercializing Old Faithful

The national parks face severe budget problems, and Congress is considering two solutions: raising entrance fees and creating official corporate sponsors for the parks.

The parks have more than $4 billion in overdue maintenance. Even Yellowstone has closed two museums and a highly-used campground, while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed 20% of its campgrounds, reports the New York Times. Almost 900 park ranger positions have not been filled this year, leaving much park land unpatrolled.

The parks have a budget of $1.3 billion this year, down $202 million from 1983. Deficit-cutters see subsidies for even treasured natural resources as viable targets ó even though the entire parks budget is only a bit more than the absurd cost of one B-2 bomber.

One solution preferred by the free marketeers in Congress is corporate sponsors, but this raises fears of rampant commercialism. ìHopefully, you wonít have ëBridal Veil Falls brought to you by Fujií, says Dave Mihalic, superintendent of Glacier National Park in Montana.

Bibi On Wall Street

In a speech to 200 potential investors at the New York Stock Exchange during his July trip to the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (ìBibi) Netanyahu took on the role of salesman for Israel. He vowed to dismantle its ìsocialist economy through deregulation, privatization and breaking-up government-run cartels, reported the New York Daily News.

Afterwards, activity on the trading floor of the exchange ceased in tribute to Netanyahu as he, on the balcony overlooking the floor, became a cheerleader chanting ìBuy, sell, buy, sell! Down below, inspired brokers yelled back, ìNo, buy, buy, buy!

Commenting on Netanyahuís performance, Donald Trump said, He's a fantastic guy, a great guy.

Cops Threaten Action

Senior officers of the Chicago Police Department threatened protests during the Democratic National Convention being held there in August, reported John Otrompke. The sergeants, lieutenants and captains were angry that the City had denied them collective bargaining rights and certain benefits provided to the rank-and-file police.

Right now weíre waiting to hear whether the Mayor [Richard Daley, Jr.] will appeal the recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board, said Sergeant Bruce Ingstrom. ìIf he does, thereís liable to be some picketing, maybe not at the convention site itself, but at strategic locations, such as where the media and the vice-president will be staying.

Californiaís Good and Bad News

With jails being the nationís fastest-growing industry, there seem to be new developments almost weekly. The good news from California is that the stateís Supreme Court overturned the 1994 ìthree strikes mandatory sentencing law, under which conviction for a third felony would require a sentence of 25 years to life. The court ruled that judges must have the discretion to choose lower penalties when they see fit, reported the Boston Globe.

The bad news is that California wants to ban the news media from holding face-to-face interviews with prisoners, according to the Prison Activist Resource Center in San Francisco. ìThe proposed regulations appear designed to protect the Department of Corrections from any meaningful public scrutiny..., said Kelli L. Sager, a lawyer representing several media outlets.

Slave Labor in Louisiana

In Louisiana, inmates at Angola State Penitentiary have been de-boning chickens for four cents an hour in the service of wealthy businessman David Miller, saving him millions of dollars in wages, says the Boston Globe. The FBI, the FDA, the U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge and the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney all are conducting investigations of the operation, which is still underway.

To date, U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola has fined the prison warden, Burl Cain, $1,000 for refusing to provide records. He also ordered state prison officials to take a course on constitutional rights, after they penalized an inmate who informed federal officials of the operation.

Juveniles Jettisoned

On the national front, Congressional Republicans want to end the long-standing principle that imprisoned juveniles be separated from adult criminals, says the New York Times. The federal government has mandated this separation since 1974, under legislation signed by President Gerald Ford. ìSexual and physical assault are already prevalent in adult prisons. One can imagine the scale of these offenses if we send in a fresh crop of younger and more vulnerable prey. Given the number of prisoners with HIV... sending children into adult prisons might as well be a death sentence, say Abbe Smith and Lael Chester of Harvard Law School. But Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah), the legislationís sponsor in the Senate, comments ìWeíve got to quit coddling these violent kids like nothing is going on. Getting some of these do-gooder liberals to do what is right is real tough. Weíd all like to rehabilitate these kids. But, by gosh, we are in a different age.

Exxon Lies

Exxon Corporation, its chairman and its lawyers engaged in an ìastonishing ruse during the jury trial that considered awards for victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, said federal judge H. Russel Holland. Under a secret agreement made in 1991 with seven seafood processors, Exxon paid them $70 million in damages, but the processors agreed to turn over to Exxon any claims won in the trial, reported the New York Times.

Jurors were unaware of this agreement when they awarded $5 billion in damages, of which the processors have applied to receive $745 million. What the judge found was ìa kickback agreement between Exxon and the seafood processors, said Brian OíNeill, the chief trial lawyer for the victims, including Alaskan natives, fishermen and land owners.

Gulf War Weapons Questioned

The high-tech weapons used by the U.S. military in the 1991 Persian Gulf War were far less effective than the Pentagon claimed, according to a recent study by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), reported the Associated Press.

Many of DOD's [Department of Defense] and manufacturersí postwar claims about weapons... were overstated, misleading, inconsistent with the best available data, or unverifiable, said the GAO. ìIt is inappropriate... to characterize the higher cost aircraft as generally more capable than lower cost aircraft, concluded the report.

The GAO specifically critiqued the F-117 stealth fighter, the Tomahawk cruise missile, and laser-guided bombs that were used against Iraqi forces.

Read the Fine Print

The mutual fund industry in Massachusetts, including Fidelity Investments, the largest fund group in the nation, has threatened to move out of state unless it is given new tax breaks. The state legislature has been sympathetic, but wary. A proposed bill would bind tax breaks worth $40 to $50 million a year to job creation of 5% a year within the industry, says the Boston Globe.

Slower to surface was an escape clause that excuses the industry from the job creation requirement under circumstances of ìeconomic adversity. If the Standard and Poorís 500 Stock Index falls 10% or more, or the average trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange drops at least 15%, or if a firmís assets fall by more than 12.5% within a year, mutual fund companies would be exempt from the job requirement, while still pocketing their tax break for that year.

For perspective, look beyond the outrageously bullish stock market of the 1990s to the more typical 1970s and 1980s. After applying the above three tests, the mutual fund industry would have been exempt from the job requirement seven out of ten years in the 1970s and six out of ten in the 1980s.

Election-Buying Unlimited

Despite heavy criticism this year of the influence of money in U.S. politics (see Democracy For Sale, special issue of Dollars&Sense, July/August 1996), the Supreme Court has voted to increase its role.

The Court ruled that political parties face no limits on ìindependent expenditures made on behalf of their candidates, reported the Washington Post. For an expenditure to be ìindependent, a political party cannot consult with the candidate about the best message, placement or timing of an ad it helps pay for. Otherwise, no restrictions apply.

An earlier ruling eliminated limits on contributions made to political parties, rather than to specific candidates (ìsoft money), since ìmoney equals speech.

Meanwhile, efforts by millionaires to buy elections with their own money are increasing, according to Federal Elections Commission data cited by the Associated Press. Seven Senate candidates have either lent or given more than $1 million each to their campaigns in 1996. Total self-financing by House and Senate candidates is $29.5 million this year, up one-third from 1994.

Noting the trend, retiring Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ), said "I just don't believe that a rich man's wallet is the equivalent of a poor man's soapbox."

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