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I’m Not Showing You a Damn Thing

A judge decided that the investigative arm of Congress doesn’t have the authority to check the executive branch of the U.S. government, and somewhere, in an undisclosed location, Vice President Dick Cheney is still cackling.

Last spring, the General Accounting Office filed a lawsuit against Cheney inquiring about the participants in and decisions made by the administration’s energy task force. Many of the administration’s cronies from its days in the energy business were involved in those meetings, and many speculated that the nation’s energy policy would largely reflect their interests. When the GAO requested the information, the administration simply wouldn’t supply it—hence the lawsuit. But on Dec. 9, a U.S. District judge, a Bush nominee, said the GAO did not have the authority to ask Cheney for information regarding those meetings.

While the decision may have pleased Cheney, newspaper editorial boards across the country were livid. Many fear that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent for the decision-making powers of the executive branch to go unchecked.

“If this ruling is allowed to stand,” wrote the editors of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “the GAO’s power to retrieve documents and other information would be eroded, and the president and his subordinates could remain largely invulnerable to aggressive oversight by Congress’ official investigative agency.”

The administration’s energy plan called for expanded gas and oil drilling domestically—including drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Reserve—and easing the restrictions on building nuclear power plants.

Informally, Cheney has maintained a defense of executive privilege, telling Fox News Sunday on Jan. 27 that the GAO’s requests were “unprecedented in the fact that it has never been done before.” But a report filed by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) noted otherwise, saying that the GAO had reviewed work by the Task Force on Health Care Reform established by Hillary Rodham Clinton. The editors at the Minneapolis Star Tribune agreed.

“The American people do not much like secrecy and insider influence in government,” the Star Tribune said. “[T]hey’re inclined to resent the proposition that a bunch of oil, gas, coal and electricity executives should quietly steer the country in territory as crucial as energy policy, where the national interest is often at odds with industry self-interest.”

—T.D.

How Much Are You Willing to Give?

According to a report released last week by the Center for Responsive Politics, big-money campaign donors provided the lion’s share of all itemized contributions in this year’s congressional elections. The report said that less than one-tenth of a percent of the U.S. population gave 83 percent of all itemized campaign contributions. In the most recent elections cycle, itemized political contributions totaled $873 million, and approximately 237,000 donors supplied $728 million. Approximately 600,000 citizens gave contributions large enough to be itemized by the Federal Election Commission for the 2002 congressional elections.

“That is the kind of thing we need to stop,” said Jon Bartholomew, clean money/clean elections coordinator for Citizen Action of New York. “These statistics state that there is a very small number of people who call the shots in the government. If a tiny number of people donate, then it is only that tiny number that influence our political process, and the general public is just left out in the cold.”

The Federal Election Commission requires recipients of any contribution over $200 to identify who donated the money. The CRP’s report accounted only for hard- and soft-money contributions made by individuals; contributions from political action committees to candidates or parties, and soft-money contributions made by organizations, were not included in the report.

Though McCain-Feingold-Cochran, the federal election-reform bill passed this year, aimed to curb the kind of exclusive influence wealthy individuals can exercise in U.S. politics, Bartholomew said he doubts it will have a real positive effect.

“[McCain-Feingold-Cochran] may lead to more itemized individual contributions,” said Bartholomew. “This may lead [contributors] to find other ways to donate. People will say to their family members, ‘Write a check and I’ll transfer the money into your account.’”

Bartholomew and Citizen Action of New York are seeking greater statewide sponsorship on a clean elections bill circulating the state Senate. The bill would require politicians to prove popularity among voters through a petition process and swear off contributions from individuals in return for state funding to run their campaigns. Bartholomew said the bill would bring the public interest back into politics.

“The end result of [clean elections] leads to a more representative government,” Bartholomew said. “It leads to greater voter turnout, more incumbent challenges. And then these people do not owe favors to anyone but the voters.”

—T.D.

Rights for Almost Everyone

Thirty-one years after gay-rights legislation was first introduced into the state Legislature, Gov. George E. Pataki signed into law a gay-rights bill hours after it was passed by the Senate on Dec. 17.

The governor’s signature on the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, first introduced in 1971, now grants gay and lesbian New Yorkers the same civil rights benefits and protections provided to people based on age, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, disability and marital status.

SONDA was passed each of the last 10 years by ever-widening margins in the Assembly and, for the first time this year, by a majority of Assembly Republicans. The state Senate approved the measure 34-26.

“People now know they have the law behind them,” said Ross Levi, legislative counsel for the Empire State Pride Agenda. “This law serves as a warning. New York doesn’t see sexual orientation as a reason for oppressing people in their public life. It doesn’t get rid of people’s prejudices, but it will discourage them.”

While members of ESPA, one of the bill’s main lobbyists, welcome the law with open arms, critics said New York’s civil-rights laws are still incomplete, as protections for transgender individuals were not included in SONDA.

“We were left off because the people who run ESPA think that transgendered people are less acceptable than they are,” said Cathy Platine, who runs a transsexual women’s housing collective in Pallenville. “The irony of it was that [SONDA] would have gone through with us. To outsiders, we’re all queer. Nobody is more queer than anybody else. You either have a problem with it or you don’t.”

Platine said she will continue to push the Legislature to include protections for gender expression.

Though Levi expressed remorse that the protections for transgender individuals were not included in the bill, he said it would have been a tough sell to some legislators.

“Since 1971, it has been the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination bill,” Levi explained. “Politicians have been lobbied in this manner, they have talked to their constituents about this, and unfortunately that hasn’t been the case for the transgendered community. But we’re going to look into strengthening civil-rights law.”

—T.D.

Comin’ Back at Ya

Instant karma has caught up with Adm. John Poindexter, the convicted Iran-Contra felon who has stirred controversy recently with a proposed Pentagon antiterrorist computer system that would keep the American public under surveillance by gathering several kinds of citizens’ personal records in a massive database [“O Big Brother, Where Art Thou?,” Dec 5). Wired.com reported on Saturday that hackers have taken the lead from a San Francisco journalist and plastered Poindexter’s phone number and address, photos of his house, and other personal information on more than 100 Web pages around the world.

According to Wired, Matt Smith—a writer for SF Weekly who feels “violated” by the aims and methods that Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness Office has planned for detecting and tracking terrorists within the country—maintains that the information on Poindexter that he included in a recent piece is all publicly available.

“Optimistically, I dialed John and Linda Poindexter’s number—(301) 424-6613—at their home at 10 Barrington Fare in Rockville, Md., hoping the good admiral and excused criminal might be able to offer some insight,” Smith wrote two weeks ago. “Why, for example, is their $269,700 Rockville, Md., house covered with artificial siding, according to Maryland tax records? Shouldn’t a Reagan conspirator be able to afford repainting every seven years? Is the Donald Douglas Poindexter listed in Maryland sex-offender records any relation to the good admiral? What do Tom Maxwell, at 8 Barrington Fare, and James Galvin, at 12 Barrington Fare, think of their spooky neighbor?”

Hackers quickly exploited the published information. Someone got into the Verizon computer system and found the details of the switch serving his house, and Cryptome, an online privacy site, published satellite photos of the Poindexter home after Smith urged that the admiral be made to feel the discomfort of the scrutiny to which he would be subjecting all of us.

Writing again on Tuesday on sfweekly.com, Smith quoted retired Sun Microsystems pioneer and cyberlibertarian John Gilmore, who has encouraged hackers to turn up the heat on Poindexter: “The question is, how to stop him? If he hears from enough people in his ordinary everyday life that he’s a terrible person, he just might decide to stop. What if the guy who delivers milk to him says, ‘You people are sons of bitches?’ What if his phone service constantly gets turned off, because teenagers are turning it into a pay phone? Wouldn’t it be great if his picture were up on posters all over Washington that said, “Don’t speak to this man. Don’t pick him up if you’re a cabdriver.’ ”

Glenn Weiser


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