How Can the Democrats Go With Him?

Dump Gore

A look at Al Gore’s just-released interview with the Justice Department’s campaign-finance task force director not only makes the vice president look like a barefaced liar but also makes you wonder why Janet Reno has not prosecuted him and why this man is the certain nominee of the Democratic Party.

The interrogation of Gore by task force director Robert J. Conrad, analyzed in a devastating piece in the July 8 Washington Post, centers around the scandal-ridden White House coffees, where big shots paid big bucks to gain access to the president and vice president in social settings. Questioned by Conrad in April, Gore denied attending any of the coffees. But two days later, his attorney, James Neal, wrote Conrad a letter saying that indeed Gore had hosted 21 coffees in the Old Executive Office Building and attended four others at the White House. In explaining the about-face, Neal said Gore had gotten mixed up because he hadn’t been prepared to answer questions about “EOB coffees.” It is safe to say that there is no one in official Washington — except maybe Clinton himself — who would try to imply that the Old Executive Office Building isn’t part of the White House complex.

Although Harold Ickes, Clinton’s former deputy chief of staff, had called the events “political/fundraising coffees,” Gore maintained he had not heard them described that way. He thought of them as gatherings of influential people who wanted to talk policy, and who in the future might contribute to the DNC.

“Sitting here today,” Conrad asked Gore, “you don’t have a concrete recollection of your attendance at any particular coffee, is that correct?”

“No, I don’t,” answered the vice president. “That was on the president’s side of things…”

Question: “You are not familiar with… $50,000 being the cost to attend a coffee?”

Gore: “Absolutely not… And it is my belief that would have been considered wildly inappropriate, if not worse, by those who talked about those coffees. I would be shocked if any of my colleagues who participated in the meetings I was at, or at any other meetings at the White House that I was not at, thought of the coffees in that way.”

Gore’s Farm in the Balance

Undermining the Environment

Gore’s oft-stated concern for the environment, which he made into a cause with the publication of his book Earth in the Balance, has been viewed as his strong suit. But now he’s caught up in a disgusting environmental mess on his own farm: the same estate at which a tenant who last month branded the vice president a “slumlord” announced over the weekend that she was moving because Gore has not acted to improve “intolerable” conditions in her small rental home — including flooding toilets, torn linoleum, and ripped screens. (A Gore spokesman insisted repairs had been made.)

In the environmental dilemma, Tennessee officials are threatening to take action against Pasminco Zinc, a mining company that pays Gore $20,000 a year for mineral rights on his farmland, for allegedly endangering wildlife. The state has cited high zinc levels in the Caney Fork River. Over the years, Gore has earned more than $500,000 from mining royalties on the farm, according to press reports. Although in reminiscences Gore has waxed reflexive about how he and his father swam in the pristine waters of the Caney Fork, this is not the first time Tennessee has tried to clean up pollution from mining on the Gore farm. A 1996 complaint stated: “The combined effect of these pollutants may be detrimental to fish and aquatic life.” Compare this to Gore’s purple rhetoric in Earth in the Balance, where he writes: “… the lakes and rivers sustain us; they flow through the veins of the earth and into our own. But we must take care to let them flow back out as pure as they came, not poison and waste them without thought for the future.”

Gore as been criticized for his family’s long-term investments in Occidental Petroleum, which has been involved in controversy over its oil-exploration efforts in Latin American rainforests. Armand Hammer, the founder of Occidental — which financed Gore’s father’s Senate career and contributed to young Al’s congressional campaigns — originally owned the the mining rights now being exploited by Pasminco.

Homeless Vow Philly March

Disappearing the Poor

While Gore is embroiled in a standoff with Hillary over prime-time slots at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, the Republicans are facing the possibility of an embarrassing parade of homeless people through Philadelphia. Usually, there is nothing worse than ending up in a presidential convention protest, miles from the delegates in a sweltering parking lot guarded by motorcycle cops, while a leftover radical wails about justice and equality. Even hot dog vendors don’t go near these wretched affairs. And Philadelphia at the end of July sounds like another Houston or San Diego. First Union Center, the convention hall, is located far from downtown and is pretty much isolated from hotels or commerce.

In an effort to appease protesters and avoid a possible Seattle, Democratic mayor John Street has given permits to two worthy-sounding protests — a march to save health insurance, and another for global economic justice — both presumably aimed at impressing people with just how responsible “radical participatory democracy” can be. But there’s at least the possibility of a wild card since activist Cheri Honkala, a resident of Philadelphia and mother of Hollywood actor Mark Webber, is planning a march of homeless people in the spirit of Coxey’s Army.

Honkala and her Kensington Welfare Rights Union made a big impression in the anti-WTO protests in the streets of Seattle. So far, the Kensington group has been denied two permits — one for a vigil and the other for a march. But Honkala vows she will march at noon on July 31 from City Hall to the convention center. “I’ve been here 10 years,” she said. “I lived in abandoned houses for nine months. I built this movement with my son and with other women who were in a similar situation.

“We’re tired of being run over,” Honkala added. “Our permits were denied because the city wants the poor to disappear during the Republican convention. It’s a shame that they don’t want poverty to end — just to disappear. Well, that’s not going to happen.”

Prison Phone Boycott

Off the Hook

An organization of prisoners and their families is trying to focus public attention on phone company rip-offs of state prison systems. Kay Perry, chair of CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants), says her group is asking prison families to boycott the prison phone system in August.

CURE says that in virtually every state, phone companies load surcharges on the collect calls prisoners make to the limited lists of people they are permitted to phone. (In George Bush’s Texas only minimum-security prisoners are allowed to make calls — and they get only one call every three months.)

Of the revenues from the surcharges, which range from $3.50 to $6 per call, between 40 and 60 percent go back to the states. (In New York, 60 percent of MCI’s surcharge goes to the state.) In some states, part of this money pays for prison programs; in New York, most of it goes for AIDS treatment. However, in some states, like Virginia and Michigan, the prisons see none of the money.

The funds involved can add up. In New York, revenues currently total about $21 million annually. California got kickbacks totaling $23 million; Florida, $14.7 million; Missouri and Ohio, $14 million apiece. Although contact with the outside world often is considered to be good for inmate morale and rehabilitation, the phone surcharge not only amounts to a tax on those who did not commit any crime but is, in effect, a sales tax on low-income people, often on minority groups.

“Why should the inmates’ families — some of the poorest people in the state — exclusively bear the burden of these programs?” asks Perry. “These programs should be supported by all taxpayers.”

Kazakhstan Floating in Oil

Kash & Carry

Those who thought the oil “shortage” was driving up prices will take heart from the formal announcement last week of a huge oil find in the Caspian Sea, making Kazakhstan one of the world’s five largest holders of energy resources.

“I can tell you today that there is oil, big oil, and it is good quality oil,” Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev told reporters. The Kazakh state oil company boasted recently that the offshore Kashagan oil field held at least 50 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves, making it one of the biggest ever discovered. The consortium exploring the field, Offshore Kazakhstan International Operating Co. (OKIOC), includes Mobil, Exxon, BP Amoco, Phillips Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, Agip, Totalfina, Russia’s Statoil, and Japan’s Inpex.

All Washed Up

“It’s a miracle they pulled it off,” explained Mel Gibson to The Washington Post in response to a question about what he’d learned from filming the movie The Patriot. “George Washington won some minor battles, but mostly he got his ass whupped.”

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi