Politics: May 2002 Archives

America's agenda, while it clearly does not include any real consideration for the welfare of the world outside, excludes most Americans as well, with the notable exception of only the very very rich, who remain the beneficiaries of our tender care.

The World Health Organization proposed last year that poor countries be provided with such basic items as antibiotics and insecticide-treated mosquito nets. If we had backed the proposed program, estimated to save eight million lives each year, our share would have been about $10 billion annually (about a dime a day for each American). The U.S. dismissed the suggestion with little grace.

In contrast and at about the same time, our legislators in Washington enthusiastically joined together in support of the administration's proposal to make permanent the recent repeal of the estate tax, a bounty which will affect only some 3300 families yet cost the country $20 billion in revenue.

So here are our priorities. Faced with a proposal that would save the lives of eight million people every year, many of them children, we balk at the cost. But when asked to give up revenue equal to twice that cost, in order to allow each of 3,300 lucky families to collect its full $16 million inheritance rather than a mere $10 million, we don't hesitate. Leave no heir behind!

[By the way, the foreign aid figures Krugman uses in the column linked above are respectively 11 one hundredths and 13 one hundredths of one percent, and not 11 and 13 percent of our GDP. These are figures which usually shock Americans, who like to think we give away scads of dough to foreigners.]

Back to the sixties---or worse! It's not the good parts this administration wants revived, but the infiltration and monitoring of political, religious and activist groups suspected of being critical of the government.

The NYTimes has it right in a sober editorial today.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has a gift for making the most draconian policy changes sound seductively innocuous. He was at it again yesterday, describing new domestic spying powers for the Federal Bureau of Investigation as nothing more than the authority to surf the Internet or attend a public gathering. That is profoundly misleading. In reality Mr. Ashcroft, in the name of fighting terrorism, was giving F.B.I. agents nearly unbridled power to poke into the affairs of anyone in the United States, even when there is no evidence of illegal activity.


At a press conference Mr. Ashcroft promised that the new rules would be put in place with "scrupulous respect for civil rights and personal freedom." The sentiment is welcome, but unconvincing. Mr. Ashcroft and his colleagues have missed no opportunity since Sept. 11 to expand the investigative powers of the federal government and to stampede Congress into supporting the changes by suggesting that opposition is disloyal.

Adding a modest obsevation: They couldn't even handle all the data they had gathered when they had "restrictions!" It does not seem to have been lack of information that kept us from preventing September 11.

The Green Party nominees for New York state offices carry background credentials a progressive voter normally only dreams of. Compare them to the candidates of the two "major" parties for office anywhere at any time.

What do we betray or throw away when we support the things we believe in? What do we betray or throw away when we do not?

Dr. Aronowitz said that key issues in his program would include energy policy, especially the need to close the Indian Point nuclear power plan; the effects of the growing permanent war machine on our ability to meet social needs in the state; and, tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporate welfare. Like many of the speakers at the Green convention, Aronowitz spoke of the need to oppose the efforts by the national Democratic and Republican Parties to use September 11th as an excuse to curtail civil liberties and increase corporate welfare.


The Greens are committed to ecology, democracy, nonviolence and justice.

The Onion's roving reporter "Opinion" box this week quotes one imaginary member of the public, in reply to a question about suicide bombers in our midst, as follows:

"The U.S. is safe, so long as the terrorists don't see us being critical of President Bush."

I just checked again. No need to worry yet.

Interesting that some people who think about these things are now arguing that in opposing same-sex marriage, social conservatives may actually be encouraging the legal recognition of such relationships, and in fact hastening the demise of marriage as an institution!

Jonathan Rauch argues in the Atlantic that the last thing supporters of marriage should be doing is setting up an assortment of alternatives, but that is exactly what they are doing, and not only for gays, when they offer "ABM" (Anything But Marriage).

Every year more companies and governments (at the state and local level) grant marriagelike benefits to cohabiting partners: "concessions fought for and won mostly by gay groups," as the Los Angeles Times notes, "but enjoyed as well by the much larger population of heterosexual unmarried couples."
ABM, perversely, turns one of the country's more culturally visible minorities into an advertisement for just how cool and successful life outside of wedlock can be.

So, eventually, a religious ceremony could become more like an alternative decorating choice!

In Paris yesterday an American reporter was the target of the ire of the unelected one, because the NBC News White House correspondent deigned to ask the French President in French the same question he had just asked Bushie in English.

Perhaps Mr. Bush thought the French question was directed at him, or perhaps he thought Mr. Gregory was showing off. Whatever the case, Mr. Bush, his voice dripping with sarcasm, said "Very good, the guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental." (Mr. Gregory offered to go on in French, but that only made things worse.)

"I'm impressed — que bueno," said Mr. Bush, using the Spanish phrase for "how wonderful." He added: "Now I'm literate in two languages."

Mr. Gregory seemed a bit abashed, but others noted that, during the trip, Russian, German and French reporters posed questions to Mr. Bush in English, and in their native tongue to other leaders.

Yuck. My guess is that our leader is trying to tell us that, if we are Americans, we should be excoriated for being courteous, smart or educated.

W's snap at the correspondent was totally out of line, stupid, childish, and especially egregious in the context of the gentle handling he has enjoyed from his hosts in Europe for almost a week. The French President had been especially solicitous:

Perhaps to help cover for Mr. Bush, Mr. Chirac opened the press conference with a lengthy and rambling monologue about their talks and the state of U.S. - French relations. Mr. Chirac's remarks ate up about half the time allotted to the press conference, and he then shut down the press conference after only a handful of questions.

Bush---Little Boy the World is Not Your Toy! (sign held by a protester in France as Bushie arrives)

But unfortunately it is! And we supposedly gave it to him.

Horrible to know not only that we can't expect intelligence or competence from the Bushies, but do we also have to be frightened out of our wits in the process? Can't Chicken Little at least pretend to have a little dignity? Read the first letter in today's NYTimes.

Making blanket statements about the inevitable success of terrorism in the United States plays right into the hands of the enemy and contributes to public hysteria.
Instilling fear in a population is a major objective of every terrorist cell.

The writer then offers his suggested outline of the message a government ought to send in these circumstances.

As Bushie arrived in the German capital, an anti-Bush banner hung from a Berlin Church reading "Peace for the world, pretzels for Bush."

Across Western Europe, the sharp criticism of the Bush administration's perceived unilateralism that predated Sept. 11 — and was then replaced by solidarity and shared mourning — has returned, resurgent.

Reuters reports that Cheney is worried about people finding out stuff.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney said on Wednesday he feared a new Sept. 11 inquiry proposed by the top Senate Democrat would leak intelligence secrets and undercut U.S. efforts to prevent future attacks.

Aside from the more than arguable theoretical merits of his position, it seems to me the security problem up to now has been that government "intelligence" has been entirely too secret for our own good.

We, or those with the necessary resources, have to hear this from, yes, the Israeli press. Shoulderchip describes the story being kept from Americans. No wonder we can't understand what's going on in the world.

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday said that Israel had made Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority less effective by destroying its security infrastructure, and it absolved Arafat and his senior associates of responsibility for attacks on Israelis in 2001.

I guess he doesn't trust his god enough. Our Attorney General stopped taking commercial aircraft last July, ". . . just as the intelligence 'chatter' about a possible al-Qaida strike on US soil was getting louder."!!!

Shoulderchip has the scoop, and, no surprise, it doesn't come from our own media.

I'm feeling so good these days about my government. Look at the first five headlines on Reuters as I write this:

N.Y. Police May Issue Landmarks Alert-Official Rumsfeld: Extremists to Get Weapons of Mass Destruction

Federal Official Rules Out Firearms in Airline Cockpits

U.S. Says Libya, Sudan Helpful Against 'Terrorism'

White House Backs FBI in Handling of 9-11 Memo

Oops! Merrill's story just slipped into the mix, but my point remains: How long can we take this stupidity?

Ok, we just found out that the world is a dangerous place, but America is making it more dangerous, in fact as well as in its imagination.

We are like a nation that has had a psychological break and is descending into rank paranoia. The destruction of the twin towers shows that there are things to be afraid of, but our government's mad responses are making us more vulnerable to such things, not less.

The ''war on terrorism'' has strengthened the hand of those who hate America. The US example of ''overwhelming force'' has pushed the Middle East into the abyss and has dragged India-Pakistan to its edge. The only real protections against cross-border terrorism are international structures of criminal justice like the recently established International Criminal Court, yet an ''unsigning'' United States slaps the court down with contempt.

Since September we have squandered our wealth and focus on a huge war while neglecting police work and intelligence at home and abroad. Hence the vagueness of the current warning. And how dare our government set off alarms about Cuba's putative bioterrorism project while it has done nothing to apprehend the anthrax killer? Oh, and - forgive me, just asking - where is Osama?

Castro is apparently no longer a threat to the Western Hemisphere, but only a weight on the shoulders of his own people. Bushie says we must continue the embargo designed by our Cold War, but now it is because he's not democratic enough, or sufficiently capitalistic.

"I want you to know that I know what trade means with a tyrant," Mr. Bush said. "It means that we will underwrite tyranny, and we cannot let that happen."

"For 43 years, every election in Cuba has been a fraud and a sham," Mr. Bush said. "Mr. Castro, once, just once, show that you're unafraid of a real election."

Well I think we smell a rat. No free elections in Cuba? Does he mean that Castro lacks the legitimacy of a Supreme Court appointment? And even ignoring our own shortcomings, shouldn't we be boycotting, among others, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, China, any number of former Soviet Union republics, and certainly Pakistan, rather than allying ourselves ever more closely with these non-democratic, occasionally capitalistic model states in the fight against freelance terrorism?

We don't understand. Please help us out, Bushie.

So, this supposedly democratic nation with its famed Bill of Rights cannot keep us safe without disregarding its own principles and standards. And, since we have been told that the "war on terorism" will continue until there is no terrorism (freelance) anywhere on the planet, we can expect never to see those principles and standards again.

HACKENSACK, N.J., May 20 — Justice Department lawyers, defending the federal government's refusal to identify the 1,200 foreign Muslims arrested after Sept. 11, said today that public disclosure would undermine counterterrorism efforts and put the detainees at risk of attack from angry Americans as well as terrorists.

Appearing before the Appellate Division of State Superior Court, the government lawyers insisted that national security interests outweighed any public right to know who is being kept in its jails, why and for how long.

"This is not secrecy for secrecy's sake," said Robert D. McCallum Jr., the assistant attorney general in charge of the department's civil division.

He added that revealing the names of detainees, even those cleared by investigators of involvement with terrorism, might open them to attack by American "vigilantes" or allow terrorists to piece together details of the government's counterterrorism efforts.

The arguments were the latest in a series of attempts by the Bush administration to justify its assertion of sweeping powers to hold secret immigration hearings, conceal the identities of foreign detainees and imprison people as material witnesses, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

In every case heard in the last few months, federal and state district judges in New York, New Jersey and Michigan have ruled against the government and in favor of disclosure.

Should we bother pointing out that these detainees were rounded up within our borders and most remain concentrated in camps (oops, Jails) largely in two New Jersey counties?

And is it still necessaary to point out that in all of the Government's counterterrorism efforts since September 11, among all of those detained after that date, here in the U.S. in Afghanistan, Cuba or anywhere else, not one person has yet been charged, other than John Walker Lindh?

Are we really sacrificing our liberties, and those of much of the rest of the world, and ignoring almost all domestic problems, to virtually no effect in the "war on terrorism?" Say it ain't so!

In the past six months, virtually any allied operation in Afghanistan has, upon examination, turned out to look about as farcical as the next.

Brigadier Lane complains that the [Al-Qaida/Taliban] are "not showing a predisposition to reorganize and regroup to mount offensive operations against us". They just won't come out to play. Well, would you if the place was crawling with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world? Far better to lie low and look after your goats, or visit some relatives over the border in Miram Shah in Pakistan's Waziristan, and brush up your Koranic chanting. [JAW---I know, the phrasing betrays a certain British cultural sarcasm at the very least]

Any [Al-Qaida/Taliban] strategist can rely on the fact that their commitment and patience will comfortably outstrip that of the western soldiers currently trudging up and down the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, like any terrorist organization, doesn't need a base in Afghanistan to launch its attacks, while the Taliban can sit tight, quietly recruiting and regrouping, before re-emerging in Afghan politics. It's an ignominious ending to the triumphalism of the fall of Kabul just over six months ago.

Afghanistan offered the perfect solution to September 11 - a massive expiation of US anger and, more subtly, guilt. Dropping all those bombs felt doubly good: it was retaliation for a terrible crime, but also getting rid of an evil regime. The emotional rush was everything; whether the latter actually worked has fallen off most people's radar screen. They're not interested. The selective memory means that what is remembered is that a few women in Kabul threw off their burkas in November, not that many more women in northern Afghanistan have been raped since then in a wave of ethnic revenge against the Pashtun. Nor is anyone much interested that since the fall of the Taliban, the old lawlessness of highway looting and illegal road tolls has re-emerged. Or that in the past few months there have been at least two major conflicts between warlords - in Mazar-i-Sharif and in Gardez - as an uneasy truce awaits the results of next month's loya jirga.

But maybe we can do better in Iraq, North Korea, the Phillipines, and all the other evil hotspots we still have to straighten-out.

How did we get here?

How many times have we heard that so many people voted for Bushie because he was the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with (whether or not he would want to on his part). I asked my own Mr. B what I thought was a rhetorical question, "Do people pick their doctors that way?" He said he thought they do. Lawyers too. Wow.

It's got to be only because presidents, doctors and lawyers aren't really that important---unless you really need them, and most decent Americans do not, of course.

So what about your auto mechanic (or plumber, if you are a New Yorker)? Is it more important to imagine having a beer with him or her, or to expect he or she can fix the car for a decent price?

Ok, let's admit it now, we all really need a president, not another drinking partner.

The following quote is posted not for the status of its source (modest), but for its pithy timeliness:

It is more than investigation of possible counterterrorism oversight that [the Bush administration is] resisting. They are resisting the erosion of the dissent-free culture of political orthodoxy that has dominated this nation's for the last eight months -- and it comes not a moment too soon.

The President who couldn't even name the leader of Pakistan has embarked on a foreign-policy nightmare. America has allied itself with a number of flagrantly undemocratic nations, from Uzbekistan to Malaysia. Evidence emerges almost daily of our probable role in an aborted coup in Venezuela, while our support of a brutal civil war in Columbia resembles the early years of Vietnam. One and a half million troops are massed at the India-Pakistan border, ready to plunge the Indian subcontinent into chaos. War with Iraq looms. The situation in Israel and Palestine threatens to destabilize the entire region, and our policies in the Holy Land risk birthing a new generation of anti-American terrorists.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has revived talk of using nuclear weapons on a first-strike basis, overturned the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, declined to sign a biological weapons treaty, hid our own production of biological weapons, refused to recognize International Criminal Court, held up the World Council on Children, and -- after rejecting the Kyoto Accords -- replaced the head of the International Panel on Climate Change. Domestically, we have an energy policy written by the same people responsible for staging an energy 'crisis' that cost the state of California $30 billion. The denial of public inquiry into the matter was justified with an invocation of, more or less, the divine right of kings -- fitting, perhaps, given the administration's disregard of the Constitution in the name of fighting terrorism.

To top it all off, contrary to Bush's campaign promises, our budget deficit is at least $121 billion -- and, according to a note from Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill in our government's 2001 financial report, it may actually run to half a trillion dollars.

The time has come to lift the star-spangled shroud of silence that has hidden the affairs of our nation.

Dan Rather is ashamed that he, and the American media generally, has not taken on the Bush administration over the war on terrorism, because of misguided ideas about patriotism, and of course, out of shear fear!

"It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. It carries through with a certain knowledge that the country as a whole - and for all the right reasons - felt and continues to feel this surge of patriotism within themselves. And one finds oneself saying: 'I know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time to ask it.'"

"It is an obscene comparison - you know I am not sure I like it - but you know there was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tires around people's necks if they dissented. And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck," he said. "Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions."

Are we waking-up now? But even if we are, is it too late?

Just a thought. But there are more and more stories, and more and more corroborations, of an alleged connection between oil and gas industry profits and "The War on Terror." Since the Bushie administration is essentially an oil and gas administration, will be be surprised to find that our present nightmare is really part of a horrrible, cynical game being played out of sight?

In the aftermath of September 11th, we were told the terror was brought upon us by people who hate our freedom and resent our way of life. In point of fact, however, it appears the attacks came as part of a broader game. The Bush administration willingly entered parley with the Taliban, despite their care and feeding of wanted killer Osama bin Laden, so as to further the goals on an American petroleum interest. In the process, they watered down American anti-terrorism measures to such a degree that a Deputy Director was compelled to quit in protest, and another has since filed suit against the agency.

This very provocative essay is logged here in order to get it out into the open, where it can be defended or dismissed as more information comes forward.

Bushie's only response to the growing uproar over his administration's foreknowledge of a terrorist attack, foreknowledge kept secret until now, is to ask God for wisdom. Well, we know we won't get it from Bushie or his handlers, especially if they're really looking for it to come from an Imaginary Playmate.

Bush made no immediate comment on the situation.

He attended a National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington and said prayer has helped Americans of faith to get through the last eight months.

"The last eight months have showed the world the American character is incredibly strong and confident. Yet, prayer reminds us that a great people must be humble before God, searching for wisdom -- constantly searching for wisdom from the Almighty," he said.

Still two countries, Georgie!

Would it be better to believe the Unelected One was simply under a misapprehension, or just generally stupid? Here are his exact words, as heard in news broadcasts, and as printed in the NYTimes today:

"Today, I'm pleased to announce that the United States and Russia has [sic] agreed to a treaty which will substantially reduce our nuclear arsenals to the agreed-upon range of 1700 to 2200 warheads."

The "sic" is my own, and was not present in the Times text, unfortunately.

The headline of the day, or even more, from Reuters:

New NATO-Russia Partnership Ends Cold War Again

Noam Chomsky, within the text of an extraordinary discussion (in an interview with a Croatian journalist) of the events since September 11 and of broader topics, joins other progressive commentators in arguing that Americans really are not asleep! So, we can't even believe the media when it reports our attitude toward its attitude?

More surprising, to me at least, was that the Sept. 11 atrocities had the opposite effect among the US population. Very quickly, it was clear that there is far more openness to critical and dissident analysis, and there has been a remarkable upsurge of concern, often activism, about issues that were pretty much off the agenda before - including, among others, the US role in the Middle East. Naturally the media and journals of opinion claim the opposite, hoping to still independent thought and impose obedience. But people who have any contact with the general population know better. Demands for talks have spiralled competely out of control, and the scale and engagement of audiences is without precedent apart from the peak moments of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s. The same is evident in sale of books, and in fact by every other relevant measure. Even the media have been to some extent effected, and though still highly restricted, are more open than they have ever been in my experience over 40 years of intensive activism.

The entire interview is fairly long, but long on fairness, and accuracy, and well worth a read.

It takes more than epithets to deal with complex problems. It never hurts to do some thinking. Sharon is almost an open book these days, but many of us want to know why we have such a problem with Arafat?

What is it about Yasir Arafat that makes him so troubling to the United States and Israel? In fact, the problem is not the man himself, as Mr. Sharon and President Bush seem to think, but the political position of the Palestinians in the Arab world today.

We pride ourselves as a nation on many things, but we are beginning to realize the extent to which there is much false pride. To include our treatment of children in the list may surprise many of us.

The other sticking point for the American delegation [to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children] is the degree to which the conference document can refer to a landmark 1989 treaty on children's rights. Along with Somalia, the United States is the only country [on earth] that has not ratified the so-called Convention on the Rights of the Child. The treaty prohibits countries from using the death penalty against criminals under age 18, a practice permitted in many American states.
Note that Somalia does not now and has not for some time had any semblance of a government, precluding the possibility of its ratification of an agreement of any kind. We have no such excuse.

Beautiful in its simplicity and its morality, and an argument against the blind anger and fear that surrounds us all, this letter in the New York Times today should pull us all up short.

Some 30 years ago, a Hebrew University law faculty member wrote, "A border is secure when those living on the other side do not have sufficient motivation to infringe on it."

As another Hebrew University professor put it: After every victory, "the abyss of mutual hatred will deepen and the desires for vengeance will mount."

A few months after the 1967 war, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a leading Israeli intellectual, said that the occupation was unjust and would lead to the subjugation of the Palestinians, and even to the corruption of Israeli society.

Ancient Israel gifted the world with the revolutionary idea that it is justice, not military might, that brings peace. Now is the hour for that wisdom to be reborn.

A reminder from some who were impacted the most by the neglect and malignancy of the late, unlamented Giuliani adminstration.

Shame on the Episcopalian hierarchy! Their generally tolerant and progressive members deserve much better, as does all of New York!

The Episcopal Diocese of New York honored former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani Monday, as a group of parishioners protested outside.

. . . .

"They're honoring him now for what he did September 11,” said protestor Glenda White. “We want him to remember what we went through for seven years.”

. . . don't have to be jewish to be gay; don't have to be jewish to be Israeli.

Not everyone has a problem with co-existence in this city of both jews and palestinians. Sometimes it helps to be gay.

[Jerusalem] Mayor Ehud Ulmert recently expressed the need for a massive march in the center of the city to show its citizens and the world that life goes on, El-Ad [director of the gay community center] mentions. "It's difficult for me to think of a more appropriate event than Gay Pride to celebrate life in Jerusalem and to do it in a way that is relevant and meaningful to the current situation."

The Onion reports this week, in banner headline, "God Re-Floods Middle East."

JERUSALEM—In what theological and meteorological authorities are calling "a wrathful display of Old Testament proportions," the Lord Almighty re-flooded the Middle East Tuesday, making good on last week's threat to wipe the region clean if there was not an immediate halt to the bloodshed between Arabs and Jews.

If I can be forgiven , just this once, a religious metaphor of the sort loved by all true americans, allow me to suggest that our appointed government is driving us all to hell in a handbasket.

Just think about what has happened to the planet in only the last year and a half, and, even more exciting, what mischief is planned for the future (all of this accompanied by skyrocketing approval ratings, or so we are told).

It's all so exciting, it makes one pee in one's pants.

Would the world, after the experience of the Holocaust, step in to stop a new wave of anti-semitism and persecution of the jews?

Any answer to the question should require an examination of how effective world opinion has been in a defense against the more than fifty (to be historical, maybe we should say one hundred) years of humiliation and persecution visited on another victimized people, the non-jewish palestinians.

This appalling and continuing world neglect would actually be the best argument for the continued need for a strong and independent jewish state, except that it hasn't worked. Jews aren't safe in Israel, certainly no safer than in 1948 or anytime after, and jews are now imperiled all over the world in a way not seen since 1945, largely because of a general tendency to confound the attitude of jews everywhere with the specific policies of the Israeli government, a confusion dangerously encouraged by so many jews themselves.

The strong jewish state is ironically a threat to itself and to jews everywhere.

What is to be done to help the jews and the palestinians in the Middle East? The people who seem not to be able to live with each other but not to be able to live apart from each other can realize what they want and need, if those wants and needs are separated from their respective fanaticisms, by constructing a single large, inclusive state which would comprise all of 1948 Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, or something close to all that, and call it Palestine, the Unholy Land, Abrahamland or whatever. It must however be a state where all residents enjoy full and equal freedoms and citizenship under a single, truly secular government, one which is recognized and jealously protected by its neighbors, and by the entire world, precisely for the safety of those neighbors and that world.

After the horrors of the most recent weeks, if not months, and those too easily imagined for the near and even distant future, this is certainly no more unrealistic or preposterous a proposal than any now being advanced.

It is a proposal which should be on the table now, and it surely will be there as all others are successivly rejected or, if effected, seen to be as calamitous as the jerry-rigged unstable status quo which repels us all now.

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from May 2002.

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