Multinational Monitor

NOV 1998
VOL 19 No. 11


Oligopoly! Highly Concentrated Markets Across the U.S. Economy
Amy Taub and Robert Weissman

Terminator Seeds: Monsanto Moves to Tighten Its Grip on the Global Agriculture
by Hope Shand

Financial Deregulation Fiasco: HR 10 and the Consequences of Financial Concentration
by Jake Lewis


The Microsoft Monopoly
an interview with
James Love


Behind the Lines

Breathing Life Into Antitrust Policy

The Front
Sweating a Labor Rights Deal - Arbitrary in Alabama

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Money & Politics
A Connected Industry

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Ballot Victories

The tedium of a same-as-usual 1998 U.S. election was broken in November in Massachusetts, Arizona and the town of Arcata, California, where voters approved innovative corporate control initiatives.

In Arizona and Massachusetts, voters approved "clean money" campaign finance reform proposals. Massachusetts voters approved the state's Question 2 by an overwhelming 2-to-1 margin, while 51 percent of Arizona voters cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 200.

The "clean money" proposal provides full public campaign financing for electoral candidates who meet a numerical threshold of small campaign donations and agree not to raise any other private money. Candidates are free to opt out of the system, but the proposal guarantees that "clean" candidates will be given public movies equal to that contributed to opposing candidates who do not participate in the system.

Both states' measures will apply only to state elections.

"Arizona is leading the way for national reform," says Kaia Lenhart, political director of Arizonans for Clean Elections. "If sweeping reform can happen in a conservative state like Arizona, it can happen anywhere."

Maine passed a clean money initiative in 1996, and the Vermont legislature adopted a clean money bill in 1997. The New Mexico legislature is slated to consider a clean money proposal in 1999, and Missouri will consider a ballot initiative in 2000.

Meanwhile, by a 60-to-40 percent margin, voters in Arcata passed Measure F, an advisory referendum on democracy and corporations.

The core of Measure F resolved "That the People of Arcata support the amending of the California Constitution so as to clearly declare the authority of citizens over all corporations. To this end, we request that our City Council co-sponsor (in cooperation with the drafters of the Initiative [Citizens Concerned About Corporations]) two townhall meetings in the five months following passage of this ballot measure on the topic: `Can we have democracy when large corporations wield so much power and wealth under law?"'

"We believe this is the first ballot initiative in the history of the country that offers citizens a direct vote on the issue of corporate power and the democratic process," says Amy Field, volunteer coordinator for Measure F. "Now the real work begins: launching a citywide democratic process with the ultimate goal of governing ourselves."

Forced Contraception

Young women in free trade zones and maquila factories in Honduras are being injected against their will with Depo Proves, a contraceptive that blocks pregnancy for three months, the New York City-based National

Labor Committee alleged in November.

The women are often misled about what they are being injected with, with many believing they are receiving tetanus shots, says the Committee's Charles Kernaghan. "There is absolutely no supervision or education provided to the workers by qualified gynecologists."

Kernaghan says he learned of the practice from private nurses and doctors who often examine and care for the women in the maquila factories.

Kernaghan says that managers in the factories also indiscriminately pass out packages of contraceptive pills, again with no medical supervision, even to women who are still nursing.

Kernaghan says that maquila workers themselves say these practices have been going on for years. In the past, women were forced to receive injections, or they were suspended without pay.

Eighty to 90 percent of the apparel workers in Honduras are young women. Kernaghan says that factories in Honduras that are producing U.S. garments have long sought to "avoid delays to production resulting from pregnancy and legally mandated maternity leave."

Banking Aggression

The banking industry is pursuing aggressive strategies to increase credit card income and push consumers deeper into debt, according to a new survey released in November by the San Francisco-based Consumer Action.

The survey of 117 cards from 74 banks revealed a number of aggressive new strategies by credit card issuers:

  • Increased use of penalty rates. Especially in the past year, issuers have sought to increase fee income by defining stringent payment conditions which, if not met, trigger penalty rates of up to 25 percent. One late payment may trigger these penalties.
  • Increased late fees. Many banks now charge late fees of $29. On average, the 35 banks in the 1998 and an earlier 1995 survey increased late fees more than 65 percent during the three-year period.
  • Shortened grace periods. Most banks give cardholders 25 days from the closing of a billing cycle to make a payment without additional interest. But a member of banks have shortened this grace period to 20 days, thus increasing opportunities to assess fees.
  • Curtailed leniency periods. A leniency period is the time between the due date and when a payment can be received without incurring a late fee. Of 74 banks, 45 said they would impose late fees immediately if a cardholder's payment was not received by the due date. In the past, many banks gave consumers from 5 to 15 extra days to pay without a penalty.

"Banks arc pulling out all the stops to increase profits from fee income," says Ken McEldowney, Consumer Action's executive director.



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