"They say," Ralph Nader laughed the other day, "he's a has-been. They say he's doing it out of desperation." They are Washington reporters who for the last decade have been studiously ignoring the consumer advocate. Been there, done that.
But Nader, 66, is a pretty jazzed-up geezer. As in the past, he is running against the malign influence of corporations on everyday life. He sees the main parties as carbon copies of each other, both beholden to billionaire CEOs. Beyond narrow consumer issues, few outside of Washington know about his continuing influence in national politics. In the early '90s, it was Nader who took up cudgels against Clinton and Gore, managing the fight against NAFTA and putting together a coalition of left and right House members. It was Naderites who pushed the Justice Department to file the antitrust action against Microsoft. They campaigned against Gore's refusal to make cheap AIDS medicine available to South Africa, and eventually forced the administration to change its policy. Next week, Nader will be a key speaker at demonstrations in Washington, D.C., against the IMF and the World Bank when those organizationswhich set onerous terms for financial aid to third world countriesconvene here for their annual meeting.
Nader's first presidential bid was a barely noticed appearance in New Hampshire in 1992 where he was overshadowed by Jerry Brown, who stole his constituency. In 1996, he made a lackluster run on the Green Party ticket, drawing 1 percent of the vote nationally. This year he promises a serious campaign on the Green Party ticket and hopes to run in all 50 states. Currently, the Greens are on the ballot in 11 states, including New York and California. In 25 other states it takes petitions with up to 5000 signatures to qualify. In nine states, including Texaswhere the Greens want to run statewide candidatesthe bar is much higher. Texas requires 38,000 signatures, and North Carolina demands 52,000.
In an interview, Nader said he wants to widen his campaign to include students, union members, and consumer groups. Tony Mazzochi, a former official of the Oil, Chemical, & Atomic Workers Union, will give a speech in support of Nader at the Green Party's Denver convention in June, even though Mazzochi is currently organizing a labor party. Organizations that Nader helped start, like the Public Interest Research Group, and Clean Water Action, which canvasses door-to-door on pollution issues, will help from a distance. The idea is to establish the Greens as a viable third party. Though Pat Buchanan, the likely Reform Party candidate, has filed suit to gain access to the presidential debates, Nader says he probably won't file suit. But he argues that media groups that set the standards for participation through polling have a conflict of interest and are acting unethically as journalists.
So far, left-liberal politicians have kept Nader at arm's length. Jerry Brown, now mayor of Oakland, said he would lend a helping hand, but felt compelled to support Gore in the interests of maintaining federal funding for his city. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who did not support Nader in 1996, told the candidate he'll have to weigh his options this year.
While lame-duck Clinton traipsed across the Indian subcontinent, aggressive diplomats from the European Union last week quietly nailed down a treaty with Mexico that bodes trouble for the U.S. On March 21, the EU signed a trade agreement with Mexico granting it tariff-free access to the Union by 2003. Now the EU hopes to reach similar deals with other Latin American nations.
Such agreements will allow the Europeans an opportunity under NAFTA to shuttle their goods through Mexico into the U.S. and Canada. Over the next several months, tariff reductions will go into effect on about 95 percent of the trade between Mexico and the EU, including reductions in the highly sensitive automotive, energy, and agriculture sectors.
With instability in Asia, Russia, Africa, and the Mideast, the Europeans were left with little choice but to strengthen ties to Mexico and South America by capitalizing on Spanish and Portuguese cultural links, according to Stratfor.com, the invaluable intelligence Web site.
The Mexican treaty is certain to be unsettling to the Clinton administration because it now must defend itself in Congress against charges it dithered away trade opportunities in this hemisphere until it was too late. Nothing makes conservative Republicans more irate than the thought that the U.S. fiefdoms to the south are being exploited by others.
One of the triumphs of the deeply flawed primary process may have been the freeing of Gary Bauer from the grip of Pat Robertson's baleful Jesus freaks. Bauer had been a loyal follower of the master's fire-and-brimstone political doctrine in the early primaries, dutifully pushing all the far-right Christer views, cheerfully toeing the line against abortion and same-sex marriage, always enthusiastic in his efforts to hang the Ten Commandments in every public place, telling kids how things would have turned out differently in Tiananmen Square if only the Chinese teenagers had been able to exercise their Second Amendment rights and whip out Glock 9s. But although Bauer showed himself to be a skilled politician, scoring one-line zingers against George W., and becoming a star on the debate circuit, no one seemed to give a damn.
Then, during a Manchester pancake-flipping contest during an early-morning snowstorm on the day before the New Hampshire primary vote, fortune finally smiled on the Kentucky janitor's son. Dubya had just completed a mighty flip, and Bauer took the stage. Gathering himself, the diminutive right-winger arched his back and flipped the cake high with gustoand then, with a crash, fell through the curtain at the back of the stage and disappeared. Pandemonium reigned. TV crews, looking on with half-cold pancakes dripping from their mouths, raced into action. "Get him!" producers screamed at cameramen. For days, the scene was rerun on national TV: Bauer flipping the pancake high into the air and then disappearing, over and over again. Finally, he was famous!
The New Hampshire primary ended, and Bauer's numbers were even more dismal than his flapjack flop. He dropped out and backed McCain in South Carolina. But when the Arizona senator knocked Bob Jones University, Bauer got it from his old Christer buds, who thought he had turned sore loser or had a grudge against Robertson. Nowadays he can't get near the Jesus freaks, and isn't welcome at his old home base in the Family Research Council.
Last Sunday, Bauer told The Washington Post, "I don't think we can prevail unless the Washington establishment blows up."
Is Gary getting ready to fall off the stage again?
For those who have turned to herbal medicines as an alternative to prescription drugs, there is a warning from the respected British medical journal Lancet. In a recent issue, Adriane Fugh Berman, a research doctor at George Washington University School of Medicine, reports that feel-good herbs can have unfortunate consequences. Examples: Older people who take warfarin, a blood thinner used for heart conditions, and ingest ginkgo biloba to enhance memory can experience unexpected bleeding. People who take antidepressants along with ginseng can become manic. Senna and cascara sagrada, used as laxatives, speed up the workings of the intestinal tract and thus can interfere with drugs that are absorbed intestinally. "Patients with clotting disorders, those awaiting surgery, or those on anticoagulant therapy should be warned against the concurrent use of ginkgo, danshen, dong quai, papaya, or garlic," the article states.
In a recent U.S. survey, 18.4 percent of adult respondents said they used at least one herbal remedy or high-dose vitamin while they were taking prescription medication. Other surveys suggest that although patients are quick to report adverse effects of prescription drugs, they remain silent about the untoward effects of herbal potions, fearing that doctors will disparage the practice.
Even the increasingly popular St. John's wort soon may be headed for trouble, Fugh Berman says. "There is growing evidence that St. John's wort induces an enzyme (cytochrome P450) that is responsible for metabolizing about a third of drugs," she stated in an e-mail response to a query. "So if that is true (evidence mixed, but leaning heavily in that direction), St. John's wort could lower blood levels of dozens of drugs."
Made curious by Al Gore's down-home reminiscences of life on the farm, an 11-year-old Ohio boy last week asked the vice president how to hypnotize a chicken. Warning the students at a Cincinnati school "not to try this at home," Gore said that, first, the chicken's head should be held to the ground, and then you draw circles in the air around it with a finger or a stick. "He'll try to follow the stick and, in no time, he'll go, 'cluck, cluck,' and he's out," Gore said.
Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi
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