Gore Labors On
Eats Dubya’s Dust
Big Labor’s endorsement this week may give Al Gore a boost in the media, where his Tennessee reincarnation is being portrayed as the crucible for a new improved version of the same confused Veep— but no matter how Gore huffs and puffs, he seems un-electable. The harder he works at it, the more Gore accommodates the campaign of Republican front- runner George W. Bush, who is doing a reverse Clinton on the Democratic base with attacks on the Republican Congress targeted at “Reagan Democrats.”
In a Social Darwinian society where Wall Street looms larger than ever, and there is little difference among candidates or parties (granted, the Reform Party looks more and more like a caricature of Springtime for Hitler), Dubya echoes Daddy’s “thousand points of light,” and calls for religious and charitable groups— anybody but the government— to deal with social welfare. Clinton/Gore stands proudly on its “reform” record of cutting the poor off welfare. And of course, neither party has any real interest in ballyhooed health-care reform, with the result that over 43 million uninsured are left to fend for themselves, and the elderly, dependent on a reduced Medicare, face a dead end. The ideal of equality is as dead as Gore’s campaign.
Coehlo’s Wavy Gravy
New questions about Gore campaign chair Tony Coehlo’s controversial role as U.S. commissioner of the Expo ’98 World Fair in Lisbon, while Coehlo was promoting the Luso-American Wave Foundation, were made public last week by the Center for Public Integrity. (Coehlo was briefly eased out of the spotlight by the appointment of Donna Brazile, the Dukakis aide who was tagged as a smear artist in the 1988 presidential campaign after she called then vice president Bush a philanderer. Is Gore looking for trouble?)
According to the Center, Coehlo didn’t include a controversial $300,000 personal loan from a Lisbon bank in a federal financial-disclosure report he filed in 1998, an apparent violation of the ethics-in-government act. The disclosure form showed that he made more than $1.8 million in 1997 and had a net worth of $10 million.
Coehlo’s lawyer, Stanley Brand, initially told reporters that the loan “was paid off” with “donations”— including a large contribution from Coehlo himself. Later, however, Brand said that Coehlo “is in the process of paying off” the loan and still owes $109,000. A report by the State Department’s inspector general raised the question of whether the government is responsible for the loan, since it was held for a time in a government account while Coehlo was running the fair.
The potential liability could increase since the Foundation got contributions ranging from $100 to $5000 from Portuguese Americans whose names were to be engraved on a Lisbon monument called The Wave, erected to honor families that had emigrated to the U.S. Even now a Web site urges visitors to “contribute to the Wave and have your name engraved on the monument.” However, no names have ever been engraved on the monument, and Luso-American’s certificate of incorporation was revoked last month in Washington, D.C., “for having failed and/or refused to file any of the reports required by law.” It was never granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, and in fact was officially incorporated seven months after Coehlo first sought donations and two months after the fair closed. The Center maintained that “throughout the fair the Foundation was no more than a toll-free telephone number and a mailing address within the offices of a Washington lobbying firm.”
The loan was paid off last week with Coehlo’s personal funds, Brand said. The former congressman received the loan after the deadline for filing the personal-disclosure form. The IRS tax-exempt application is pending. As for the money to put names on the monument, it went to build the structure, Brand said.
Coehlo’s disclosure statement also reveals that he is a major investor in Portuguese funeral parlors, holding more than $1 million worth of stock in Service Corporation International, the behemoth mortuary conglomerate that allegedly was involved in irregularities in George W. Bush’s gubernatorial reelection campaign (see Mondo Washington, July 20). SCI allegedly pumped money into Bush’s campaign in hopes he could gut Texas Funeral Commission rules banning the employment of cheapo contract embalmers.
Coehlo’s involvement with the U.S.-based firm was aimed at helping it get a foothold in the lucrative Portuguese undertaking market, which features one-stop “death supermarkets,” including embalming, chapels, and even restaurants for mourners under one roof. SCI, from which Coehlo drew $283,000 in director’s fees and other compensation during 1998, reportedly contracted with the Catholic Church in Lisbon to bury approximately 5000 parishioners a year.
U.S. Says Nay to Spray
Despite suspicions that the mosquito-borne virus which precipitated the spraying of New York might be bioterrorism— first broached in the London Daily Mail and recycled in the current New Yorker— the greatest danger to the city remains the spraying itself. While Mayor Giuliani continues to insist that the pesticide malathion is harmless to people, the federal government has quietly asked the city not to spray in federal parklands within the metropolitan area.
Dr. John Tanacredi, chief of natural resources at the Gateway National Recreation Area in Brooklyn, said the park relies on natural methods, and uses pesticides as a last resort.
One very real danger of the massive spraying campaign is that additional heavy doses of the poison could affect the city’s vast population of poor children whose systems already are overloaded with pesticides. A recent study by Mount Sinai Medical School’s Department of Community and Preventive Medicine found that impoverished children are the most likely human victims of pesticide use. The study found that the heaviest use of pesticides in the U.S. is in New York City, where they are aimed largely at rats, mice, and roaches, and thus are easily absorbed by children playing on the floor. Long-term effects can include neurological damage as well as injury to hormonal and reproductive systems.
Indians Vow Mass Leap to Block Drilling
Defying threats of mass suicide by the 3600-
member U’wa indigenous community, which is opposed to oil exploration, the government of Colombia recently approved a request by Occidental Petroleum to drill a well just outside a new reserve inhabited by the group near the Venezuelan border. Although the proposed site is outside the U’wa reserve, it is on land they consider sacred.
The U’wa’s announcement that they would consider committing mass suicide by jumping off a cliff has a 300-year-old precedent. In the 17th century a community of U’wa jumped to their deaths from a cliff to avoid coming under the authority of Spanish missionaries and tax collectors.
Recently, the National Liberation Army (ELN) announced its intention to attack the Colombian affiliate of Occidental as well as public officials and employees of the Colombian Petroleum Enterprise (Ecopetrol) in support of the community’s demands. But with foreign investment in Colombian oil moribund and production stagnant at about 850,000 barrels per day, the government is desperate to jump-start exploration.
Reproductive Rights Mall on Web
The Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project has set up a potentially huge Internet mall (www.WRRAP.org), which offers a wide range of products, from computers to pantyhose, with a portion of the revenue dedicated to help poor women pay for abortions.
Joyce Schorr, WRRAP founder, said the project is beginning to yield proceeds. WRRAP focuses its efforts on states that impose restrictions on abortion or that don’t cover the procedure for women on Medicaid. The group has a 24-hour hot line. Shops on the mall include JCPenney, Disney Store Online, Swiss Army Depot, Office Max, Avon, The Sharper Image, and Dell computers.
Fearing that curious elementary school students might think the little orbs dangling rather low at George Washington’s waistband were the first president’s testicles, officials in two Georgia school districts acted swiftly to alter Emanuel Leutze’s painting, George Washington Crossing the Delaware, which is reproduced in the textbook United States in Modern Times. Teachers’ aides were ordered to paint over the offending orbs— which turned out to be part of Washington’s watch fob— in 2300 books. “Kindergartners wouldn’t even notice,” Due West Elementary School Principal Robin Lattizori told the Atlanta Constitution. “But fifth-graders? It would make their year.”
Additional reporting by Kate Cortesi and Ginger Adams Otis