Politics: September 2002 Archives

While I was speaking during intermission to the two women who sat next to us tonight at the theater, one of them said that she really liked my button (the slash "WAR" button I've worn now for exactly 360 days). She enthusiastically accepted the duplicate I offered her, but when I asked her friend if she would like one too, she declined, also enthusiastically, even chuckling, with, "I would wear the opposite -- nuke em' all!"

Barry insists the second woman represents the real America. I guess I'm so out of touch with this real America, perhaps partly because the version I grew up with no longer exists, that I really didn't know that. In spite of my too obvious pessimism these days, I still don't want to believe it could be the case.

Unfortunately we no longer have the luxury of not knowing what the real America looks like. I expect we will all find out very very soon.

Are there really people out there? Maybe there is still hope, but we're going to have to let each other know we're here. Don't hide under a basket!

If you scratch the surface of the poll numbers about Bush and Ashcroft's overwhelming support, you get down to a lot of people with a lot of questions. Some of them are afraid that they are alone in what they are thinking. What it takes to get them excited and to get them involved is for them to see someone standing up so that they will know they are not alone."
A member of a Madison, Wisconsin, school board who took a supposedly very unpopular position and survived attests that Americans are ready for the debate being denied us by Washington.
"If the last year taught us anything, it's this: Yes, of course, if you step out of the mainstream you will get called names and threatened. But you will also discover that a lot of Americans still recognize that dissenters are the real defenders of freedom."

Some of you may not have heard, but in the last few years it's become clear that she's made what appears to be a 180 degree turn from her left-baiting personna. We can use her eloquence.

This morning Arianna Huffington describes the Bushies' latest economic relief program: more tax cuts for the rich, or "Trickle Down Trickles Up Again."

How did the free-market ideology of the Reagan revolution come to be the political consensus of our times? How did we get suckered by the fairy tale that as long as people kept shopping, the market could keep our prosperity going as far as the eye could see? And that by voting with our credit cards, we could spread the gospel of prosperous democracy to any corner of the earth where American products were made or consumed. Like all fairy tales, it's a nice story. But it's time to acknowledge that this one didn't have a happily-ever-after ending.


It would take a while -- and the fall of Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers, Sam Waksal, et al -- before the invisible hand was exposed as a pickpocket. But even after the free market parade had to be called off on account, not of rain, but of fraud, we have begun to hear the trickle-down marching bands warming up in the distance, ready to play their familiar siren songs. It's time we resuscitated Mark Russell's definition of trickle-down as "something that benefits David Rockefeller now and Jay Rockefeller later." Or, to be a bit more current, George Herbert Walker Bush then, and George Walker Bush now.

Mark Morford begins his characteristically-restrained critique (just kidding!) of the appalling usurper of the office of U.S. vice-president,

We have a war-crazed vice president. An addict, a verifiable military junkie. Many of us perhaps do not fully realize this.

We are very unfortunately saddled with one of the least charismatic least interesting most intellectually acrimonious and most desperately hawkish, violence-hungry, soulfully inscrutable vice president in decades, and he wants this country at war, now and always. Oh yes he does.

Yes, he's supposedly the second most powerful man in the world, but he essentially controls every decision made by the most powerful man in the world [Morford cautions, "which hence makes him the de facto most powerful man in the world shhh don't tell Geedubya or he might have a tantrum"]
And we have to realize there is no one in the upper Bush administration who is acting as a balancing voice, who is calling for peace, perhaps urging a major rethinking of our oil and military policies, someone of significant intellectual depth and compassion who understands the nuances of our voracious foreign policy and if you said Colin Powell you haven't seen the pictures, all slumped shoulders and vacant eyes and impotent trips to Israel, emasculated and exhausted. Powell is Cheney's favorite footstool.

So here is Dick Cheney, howling into a vacuum, calling for more and increased violence and major expenditure and further stirring of anti-US hate in the face of almost unanimous global opposition. And Rumsfeld is grinning like mad.

And Bush, well, he's on the horn to his dad every night, slumping in the Oval Office chair as the old man advises and snickers and grumbles about old grudges against Saddam and how we need to rip him a new one dag-nabbit. Poor Dubya is getting it from both sides, his two main puppeteers, urging war, as the world frowns, shakes its head, sighs.

We lost. We didn't know we were at war. We didn't even think there was an enemy. The weapons were all in the other side's hands, but since we were thoroughly brain-washed before hostilities began in earnest, we wouldn't have raised a hand against the enemy even if we had been armed.

Incredibly, the victors still want more even now.

Some days, you have to believe right-wing ideologues have lost touch with reality completely. Their latest proposal to prevent future Enrons is -- ta-da! -- cut the capital gains tax.

And exactly what does that do to prevent future Enrons? Nothing. Except Ken Lay won't have to pay taxes on the stock he sold while his company cratered and his employees watched their life savings disappear.

Molly Ivins is mad as hell!
It's amazing to me that only populists are ever accused of class warfare. Talk about losing a grip on reality. I'll tell you what class warfare is:

When the Gingrich Republicans mandate that the IRS spend more of its resources auditing working-class people who get the Earned Income Tax Credit than it does auditing millionaires who use countless tax evasion schemes.

In 1999, the average after-tax income of the middle 60 percent of Americans was lower than in 1977. The 400 richest Americans between 1982 and 1999 increased their average net worth from $230 million to $2.6 billion, over 500 percent in constant dollars.

By 1999, over one decade, the average work year had expanded by 184 hours. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the typical American worked 350 hours more per year than the typical European.

Less than half of all Americans have any pension plan other than Social Security. Wage-earners in the United States collectively ended the decade with less pension and health coverage, as well as with the Industrial West's least amount of vacation time, shortest maternity leaves and shortest average notice of termination. Among the Western nations, the United States has the highest levels of inequality.

From 1980 to 1999, the 500 largest U.S. corporations tripled their assets and their profits, and enlarged their market value eightfold, as measured by stock prices. During the same period, the 500 corporations eliminated 5 million American jobs.

This is class warfare. (All these figures are from Kevin Phillips' excellent book, Wealth and Democracy.)

There is, unfortunately, almost no precedent for the kind of attack this former President today directed against the current White House occupants.

Fundamental changes are taking place in the historical policies of the United States with regard to human rights, our role in the community of nations and the Middle East peace process -- largely without definitive debates (except, at times, within the administration). [President Carter here describes "a core group of conservatives who are trying to realize long-pent-up ambitions under the cover of the proclaimed war against terrorism."]


Formerly admired almost universally as the preeminent champion of human rights, our country has become the foremost target of respected international organizations concerned about these basic principles of democratic life. We have ignored or condoned abuses in nations that support our anti-terrorism effort, while detaining American citizens as "enemy combatants," incarcerating them secretly and indefinitely without their being charged with any crime or having the right to legal counsel.


While the president has reserved judgment, the American people are inundated almost daily with claims from the vice president and other top officials that we face a devastating threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and with pledges to remove Saddam Hussein from office, with or without support from any allies. As has been emphasized vigorously by foreign allies and by responsible leaders of former administrations and incumbent officeholders, there is no current danger to the United States from Baghdad.


We have thrown down counterproductive gauntlets to the rest of the world, disavowing U.S. commitments to laboriously negotiated international accords.


Tragically, our government is abandoning any sponsorship of substantive negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. Our apparent policy is to support almost every Israeli action in the occupied territories and to condemn and isolate the Palestinians as blanket targets of our war on terrorism, while Israeli settlements expand and Palestinian enclaves shrink.


Belligerent and divisive voices now seem to be dominant in Washington, but they do not yet reflect final decisions of the president, Congress or the courts. It is crucial that the historical and well-founded American commitments prevail: to peace, justice, human rights, the environment and international cooperation.

Former president Carter is chairman of the Carter Center in Atlanta.

but AIDS activism threatens governments, including China now.

The news item is now about a week old. A major Chinese AIDS activist, Dr. Wan Yanhai, "disappeared" sometime after August 24. Relatives and human rights groups believe he has been detained by the police.

I delayed posting anything last week, because I was expecting immediate follow-up news or, absent news, a large outcry in the world's press. But nothing.

The activist, Wan Yanhai, is a former Chinese health official who was fired after he took up the causes of gay rights and AIDS in the mid-1990's. He has been involved in various small but influential projects in the last few years, including a Web site about H.I.V. and the creation of small support groups for patients.

He has also been instrumental in exposing a devastating AIDS epidemic in central China that is centered on Henan Province, where as many as a million poor farmers were infected through unsanitary blood collection schemes.

We don't know anything about his whereabouts, or the circumstances of his disapparance, but we do know a lot about him, and it's awesome. This is just for starters:
A small, soft-spoken man who generally works behind the scenes, Dr. Wan nonetheless absorbed some of the confrontational style of American AIDS activists during a 1997 fellowship in Los Angeles.

At a regional AIDS meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malyasia, two years ago, Dr. Wan rose from the audience to confront China's vice minister of health, who was at the podium.

More recently he has been involved in creating support and counseling groups for people with AIDS in rural China.

Last week, the Health Ministry received two petitions, which Dr. Wan's group had helped prepare, from farmers suffering from AIDS.

"We demand that the government provide free medicine, or medicine we can afford, and we demand the government produce copies of Western medicines as quickly as possible," read one petition, signed by 30 patients from Sui County in Henan.

[I'm excerpting sections from a contributing OP-ED piece by Zbigniew Brzezinski in yesterday's NYTimes. The complete text fleshes out the skeletal, but succinct, argument posted here.]

Missing from much of the public debate is discussion of the simple fact that lurking behind every terroristic act is a specific political antecedent. That does not justify either the perpetrator or his political cause. Nonetheless, the fact is that almost all terrorist activity originates from some political conflict and is sustained by it as well. That is true of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, the Basques in Spain, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Muslims in Kashmir and so forth.

In the case of Sept. 11, it does not require deep analysis to note — given the identity of the perpetrators — that the Middle East's political history has something to do with the hatred of Middle Eastern terrorists for America. The specifics of the region's political history need not be dissected too closely because terrorists presumably do not delve deeply into archival research before embarking on a terrorist career. Rather, it is the emotional context of felt, observed or historically recounted political grievances that shapes the fanatical pathology of terrorists and eventually triggers their murderous actions.


Yet there has been a remarkable reluctance in America to confront the more complex historical dimensions of this hatred. The inclination instead has been to rely on abstract assertions like terrorists "hate freedom" or that their religious background makes them despise Western culture.

To win the war on terrorism, one must therefore set two goals: first to destroy the terrorists and, second, to begin a political effort that focuses on the conditions that brought about their emergence. That is what the British are doing in Ulster, the Spaniards are doing in Basque country and the Russians are being urged to do in Chechnya. To do so does not imply propitiation of the terrorists, but is a necessary component of a strategy designed to isolate and eliminate the terrorist underworld.


A victory in the war against terrorism can never be registered in a formal act of surrender. Instead, it will only be divined from the gradual waning of terrorist acts. Any further strikes against Americans will thus be a painful reminder that the war has not been won. Sadly, a main reason will be America's reluctance to focus on the political roots of the terrorist atrocity of Sept. 11.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser in the Carter administration.

Maybe the biggest downer of this argument for giving Americans the down-time which Europeans, even the Japanese, enjoy in quantities denied us you here is the part about our greed for consumption being the engine of our own social destruction. You mean we can't just blame it on the bosses, the ones who take as much time off as they please, emulating or being emulated by the august one in the White House, notorious for his commitment as a leisure enthusiast?

But four weeks off in one chunk? Real people have to really struggle to get more than one week at a time, always risking being charged with a different kind of lack of commitment. The French, and most Europeans, routinely claim eight weeks and are now talking about ten.

As long as we're scrutinizing the relationship between companies and their shareholders and pensioners [this year], how about looking at the inflexible work norms imposed on workers?

During the last six months, a national "Take Back Your Time Day" movement has gained momentum, urging Americans to take the day off on Oct. 24, 2003. The date, coming nine weeks before the end of the year, symbolizes the additional nine weeks Americans work in comparison to Continental Western Europeans.

In the end, even more than work schedules, incomes and employment are at stake: our choices affect the rest of the world. For the last half century, America's tendency has been to consume more, rather than work less. This propensity to work is central to why the United States is among the world's wealthiest nations as well as the unrivaled leader in resource depletion, carbon-dioxide emissions and environmental impact. By next Labor Day, perhaps, the message will be that we're slowing down, sharing the work and consuming a little less.

Are we better off knowing that they don't know what they are doing, or does that make them more dangerous?

Already under fire from abroad, the Bush administration was criticized across the political spectrum at home on Sunday for an Iraq policy in disarray, with top advisers seemingly at odds.
Some of the evidence includes:
Twice last week, Cheney took the lead in making the case for a pre-emptive military strike, arguing that the return of weapons inspectors should not be the key objective.

[On the other hand de facto secretary of state Colin] Powell said in a BBC interview released on Sunday that getting U.N. inspectors into Iraq "as a first step" was a priority, stating, "The president has been clear that he believes weapons inspectors should return."

Once more on top of things, their party chief explains everything.
Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot said differing views were the result of open debate.

"There's no mystery here," Racicot said. "It's just exactly what it appears to be."

Live shell loose on deck!

The other, little-guy countries on the planet may still make a difference after all!

Germany has told the United States it will withhold evidence against Sept. 11 conspiracy defendant Zacarias Moussaoui unless it receives assurances that the material won't be used to secure a death penalty against him, Germany's justice minister said in remarks released Saturday.


A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department said he had no immediate comment.

Outlawing the death penalty is a requirement for membership of the 15-member European Union.

Courage, mes amis! [ok, almost nobody knows the German equivalent]

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

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