Sun-Times Jan. 1, 2002 - Dec. 31, 2002
Jan. 1, 2002 - Dec. 31, 2002
January 1st is famous as a time for predictions, resolutions and remembrances. I, like most everyone, have a few of each.
Predictions are the trickiest. Last year, no one was apocalyptical enough to forecast anything like the September 11th attacks. Though, there was a government report, largely ignored, that expressed fears of global terrorism. But crystal ball readers need to be specific.
Given the number of people at the start of 2001 who were predicting a downturn in the stock market, especially in tech stocks, one wonders why so many people lost money hanging on to them till the third quarter. Bad advice is followed as often as good advice, doubtless.
This year I have only one safe prediction: Notre Dame will have a football coach in 2002. And he will be male.
Of the many memorable sights of the last year, amongst the strangest are the various videos that have turned up. After September 11th one was sure somewhere someone was privately celebrating what they saw as their great triumph, the destruction of the World Trade Centers towers and one side of the Pentagon.
But, I never expected there would be a tape of such celebration. Now, all sorts of strange things are recorded: arsonists, serial killers, all sorts of criminals take obvious pleasure in filming their deeds. But, the oddness of the taping, the nonchalance of bin Laden, as if he didn't care or realize he was being recorded, is still dumbfounding. As actors do on the so-called reality shows, bin Laden carried on as if all was normal. Perhaps, it is normal for him. The video has a number of internal contradictions (there is talk about people rushing to bin Laden's cause, despite little evidence of that, and bin Laden himself appears to already have moved on past our bombing of Afghanistan.) The location is as bare as an interrogator's set, betraying nothing about its time or space.
Bin Laden boasts of his knowledge of construction, saying he thought the buildings' "iron" would melt and the floors above where the planes struck would collapse, but that was all they had hoped for, which revealed very limited knowledge, indeed.
The Hannah Arendt's Nazi-inspired concept "the banality of evil" comes to mind, but this is way beyond banality. It is not meaningless from overuse, but ordinariness transformed into horror. We prefer adversaries to be extraordinary. It is even more terrible to look and see what the ordinary can do to us.
The other video, coming to light at the same time, is that of the CIA operative Mike Spann's interrogation of John Walker, inside the fortress used as a Northern Alliance prison, shortly before the uprising that resulted in Spann's death.
Though American press coverage has been checked, the public still gets to see, because of money and happenstance, first hand sights only the most dedicated war correspondents used to see during World War II--even Vietnam.
In this tape, Spann and his buddy "Dave," another CIA agent, are playing a variation of good-cop, bad-cop with Walker. Spann tries to get Walker to talk, "Dave" tells Spann, in a voice meant to be overheard by the trussed-up Walker, that he (Walker) will likely be killed, if he doesn't start cooperating with them.
We never hear Walker's voice on this tape, but both Spann's and Dave's sound as if they are under enormous stress, as if they do know they are nowhere safe at all, that the so-called prison is nothing but a corral full of restless killers.
The tape ends, or at least the part ABC and CBS paid 80 thousand dollars for.
It is probably a safe prediction that in 2002 a few more such strange and revelatory videos will surface.
And, it is almost a certainty, that the war on terrorism will not be over in 2002, since, as President Bush has assured us, that will be a long war, one that perhaps will never end, given that terror is the most effective means of waging war for the ordinary.
I do think President Bush understands that, which fulfills one of my resolutions for 2002. To say something nice about President Bush, as so many readers have exhorted me to do. There, I have done it. Happy New Year!
One under-reported story of 2001 was the death of the author J.H. Hatfield. Hatfield, whose 1999 George W. Bush biography,Fortunate Son, was yanked from bookstores immediately after it was published, deemed "furnace fodder" by its original publisher, St. Martin's Press, after it was disclosed that Hatfield was an ex-con and had likely fabricated the book's tale of then-candidate Bush's alleged youthful cocaine arrest.
Hatfield was found dead last July in a motel room in Springdale, Arkansas, having overdosed on prescription drugs, leaving behind notes for family and friends. A felony arrest warrant for him had been issued earlier in the week for financial fraud. Beyond stories in the local paper, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a very short AP dispatch, that was that.
Hatfield's book ended up being a gift to the Bush campaign. After its lurid account appeared and was denied and discredited, stories about the wild side of Bush's life disappeared from campaign coverage. The bar had been raised for proof required even to air old accounts and that bar was only reached the weekend before the election, when Bush's 1976 DUI arrest became news, because a copy of the police report finally surfaced.
Hatfield's suicide makes his book's claims even less credible, given the instability it reveals. But, the fact that Bush's DUI arrest had been suppressed for many years (and it was talked about and looked for during Bush's first governor's race) leaves the matter still unresolved. Yet, because of events since 9/11, Hatfield's fate might seem now just a squalid footnote to a sordid footnote, except, of all the things September 11th changed, it is important to note that one will be the way political campaigns in the near future are conducted.
The take-no-prisoners style of modern political campaigns will be even less palatable to the public than it has been in the past. When we are attacked from without we are less tolerant of attacks from within.
Even Democrats hope that the past presidential campaign will not be revisited--by not having Al Gore revisit the Democratic nomination in 2004. Since the country will still be on a war footing, this year's Congressional and governor races will avoid contesting international issues and concentrate on local ones.
Scandals and past character flaws will be overlooked, or down played, with, possibly, the exception of Gary Condit, though even his reelection is not out of the question. Actions, not failings, now reign supreme.
An example of the absolution being dispensed is the case of Rudy Giuliani, who left the New York City mayor's office as King of New York and Time's Person of the Year. His masterful public performance post-9/11 elevated him to a person beyond criticism. Mayors can be faulted for messy personal lives and conflicts of interest, but rulers can not. Majesty has its rewards, but such benefits only accrue during times of national crisis.
President Bush, too, has been elevated by the events of September 11th, even without displaying the same sort of public charisma. And, the lofty heights he has attained in the polls will likely last, certainly through the coming year, perhaps even until the next presidential campaign.
Bush's father's Gulf War popularity waned quickly and did not lead to his reelection. But the first President Bush only liberated Kuwait from the forces of Saddam Hussein. The second President Bush has the task of liberating Americans from the threat of terror, which was visited upon us so dramatically on September 11th. And the coupling of the current economic recession with fears of attack is a potent one. Our present situation is profoundly different and his father's eventual fading popularity (economics trumping military success) is unlikely to be repeated. And Democrats in Congress shouldn't rely on replaying the tactics used against Bush's father to succeed.
The invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent war was no national trauma. September 11th was, which is why (like Rudy Giuliani) the older, paternal figures of the Bush administration, principally Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have attained such high public regard. When attacked we want to be protected. Lesser failings are forgotten--as completely as the death of a disgraced author such as J. H. Hatfield is forgotten.
The present Supreme Court, once again, shows that it has nine lives. During the 1996 presidential campaign, a hot issue was the three or four resignations that would be coming in Clinton's second term. But, the second term came and went and no one resigned. That may have been because the whole court felt responsible for letting the Paula Jones suit go forward, which resulted, ultimately, in Clinton's impeachment, thereby leaving them with an unhealthy conflict of interest.
In the 2000 race, the probable resignations of three or four justices (most often mentioned, Rehnquist, Stevens, O'Connor, Ginsburg) was once more a critical campaign issue. Only who would go first was in question, but the ax would fall, we were all assured. Well, a year into George W. Bush's first term has seen no resignations and, because this is an election year, it is likely that none will come till after November, lest possible replacements and the hearings involved cause the Bush White House political problems.
Why no justices have yet resigned can be credited to the Senator from Vermont, the new Independent Jim Jeffords, whose switch of affiliation soon after Bush gained the White House (but not until Jeffords helped pass the wealthy-friendly tax cut) gave control of the Senate to the Democrats. Confirmation to the highest court immediately became trickier business.
The Rehnquist Court is now living through its own version of lame-duckness, but with a vengeance. There is no need to hide its various partisanships, after Bush v. Gore, and the decisions that have come down (such as the recent shrinking of the Disabilities Act and certifying that images of the Three Stooges are still worth a buck) and will be coming down, will only magnify the political stripes of the Court. They are as vivid as the gold stripes the Chief Justice has sewn onto his robes.
During last week's arguments before the Court concerning the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's "taking" suit (the Rehnquist Court is really opposed to the government "taking" anything, private property especially, regulatory action subsequently), the Chief Justice was heard muttering, disparagingly, "So it should all be a park?," referring to the land around the formerly blue Lake Tahoe basin that had been embargoed from development.
So, unless death intervenes, it's likely that the present Court will remain intact until after the November elections, and then the often cited three or four can jump ship.
Antonin Scalia, who leads the property-rights charge on the court, may, or may not, want to be Chief Justice then, after the expected Rehnquist resignation is received, depending on whether Scalia's son, Eugene, finally gets his permanent appointment to be solicitor general in the Department of Labor, though his record is decidedly sour on the pro-labor side. Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority leader, has been playing the old Trent Lott role, promising a vote and overlooking the fact that it never comes to the floor to be acted on.
Though Republicans blocked any number of Clinton appointees to a variety of posts, for a host of strange reasons, they have complained mightily about the treatment of Eugene Scalia. So much so, President Bush used a recess appointment (as Clinton had been forced to do at times) to put young Scalia in the job temporarily, bypassing confirmation now and hoping for it later.
Depending on how many appointments to the Supreme Court George W. Bush is able to make, Military Tribunals may not look like such a bad thing after all, given the possible lack of difference in the attitudes of both.
And, given the news that the military is building a new prison at our Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba for captured al-Qaida members, congress, in the spirit of private-property non-taking, should open that sunny bit of government property to the prison-for-profit entrepreneurs and build more jails there for our homeland population. We could turn our corner of Cuba into a regular Devil's Island. That should make Castro mad, something that President Bush could only applaud.
I doubt Chief Justice Rehnquist would be heard muttering then against those who would rather turn the whole thing into a park.
A fitting memorial commemorating the collapse of Enron would be the repeal of President Bush's not-yet-engaged tax cuts for the top tier of American households, set to take effect in 2004. But don't count on it happening. President Bush has been warning the public of nefarious tax-raisers lurking about, but, as a few Democratic politicians (Ted Kennedy foremost among them) have begun to say, suspending tax cuts not yet implemented isn't "raising taxes."
President Bush, during his presidential campaign, and his father before him, derided the language of "class warfare" being introduced into politics. And, last week, the Bush Democrat, Sen. Zell Miller (D.-Ga.), voiced a similar complaint. But, all of them needn't worry that pointing out the growing gap between rich and poor in America will result in much action. The public, it turns out, likes inequality of income.
Or, so three economists at the American Economics Association's annual meeting held recently in Atlanta contend. Their main finding to the question, "Inequality and Happiness Are Europeans and Americans Different?" is a big "yes." Inequality, their data showed, has a large effect on happiness in Europe, but not in our country. The researchers (Alberto Alesina, Rafael Di Tella, Robert MacCulloch) found that Europeans prefer more equal societies, whereas the majority of Americans, overall, are not made unhappy by inequality of incomes.
The economists discovered that only one small sub-group in the U.S. is made unhappy by inequality "rich leftists." That, unhappily, makes perfect sense, though some academics at the convention thought the study's results bizarre. Nonetheless, the American Dream has been well sold here in the states. The idea that anyone can succeed, acquire wealth, unlikely as that may be, is deeply believed. Upward mobility is our country's strength.
The inequalities of the Enron debacle crash against this stone wall, this bedrock belief, made out of hope for windfalls and spectacular advancement. Americans think there should be winners and losers. Most count on being winners. So, the fact that the top Enron executives cashed out their winnings, whereas thousands of employees were left with little or nothing, doesn't bother them all that much. Indeed, the newly-busted Enron employees had all thought they were winners, until they discovered otherwise.
The Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill, is certainly a cheerleader for winners and losers, announcing blithely on Fox News that "Companies come and go," adding, that circumstance was the "genius of capitalism."
Enron's case, however flamboyant, does sound distressingly familiar to most Americans. The bosses win and the workers lose. Where's the news?
And, similarly, the fact that various Bush appointees, Republican politicians, and their spouses, have financial dealings with Enron, entailing luxurious back-scratching regulations and rewards, is old news. Even the admission that John Ashcroft, the attorney general, has to remove himself from the Justice Department's "investigation" of Enron, because he banked its generous check, is a story heard often, too often to be shocking.
Indeed, though Enron's fall could resuscitate some mild version of campaign finance reform legislation, all the talk about the need for such reform over the years has only inured the population to all the lurid tales of payoffs and favoritism dispensed to high-roller donors throughout the land, Republicans and Democrats alike.
And, if even Ted Kennedy only wants to "postpone" the tax cuts for the super-rich, instead of repealing them altogether, why should anyone be surprised by the conduct of Enron's upper echelon. From President Bush on down, there will be much chest-beating by politicians, but little action, over the injustice of it all. But the rich will keep their tax cuts to come and they, like Enron's executives, will continue to make out like bandits.
Remember: Inequality doesn't make most Americans unhappy, with the exception of a handful of rich (and a few not rich) leftists. And who gives a hoot about them?
Given the recent news photos of a glamorized Chelsea Clinton, it is difficult to tell whether her new role model (in fashion and appearance, at least) is her mother, or Monica Lewinsky. A bit of both, doubtless. Nonetheless, Chelsea could be the third Clinton in line for high office, thereby surpassing (for now) the Bush family dynasty, if her mother does run for president some time in the future. And Chelsea, like George W. Bush before her, will have to age 40 to work out her wild oats.
If Hillary Clinton does make a serious run for the presidential nomination in 2004 (or, more likely, 2008), the longest-serving woman Democrat in Congress, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D.-OH.), could give her a run for the money.
But, only figuratively, not literally. Rep. Kaptur pointed out recently that to run even for the governorship in her state would cost in the neighborhood of 8 million. But, that is relatively cheap, considering running for governor in New York might reach 100 million. Rep. Kaptur, a twenty year veteran in the House, was discussing the hesitations that are fostered in any independent and unbought politician contemplating such a race. She did not bring up Hillary Clinton, though Kaptur did say that both parties were searching for celebrities, rich people, sport figures or film stars, who could either raise huge sums, or fund themselves the current costs of outrageously expensive campaigns.
Only a decade or so ago money didn't seem to be able to buy you a seat in the United States Senate. In 1993, Michael Huffington spent nearly 30 million of his own fortune in California, but lost to Dianne Feinstein. Huffington, though, was a decidedly ineffectual candidate, one hobbled by too many secrets.
His loss, at the time, showed that money wasn't everything. And, the two presidential campaigns of Steve Forbes, showed that too, though Forbes himself was no more an effective personality than Michael Huffington.
But, in the Senate, millionaires have been having a good run lately. Peter Fitzgerald was not held back by his fortune, nor was Senator Jon Corzine in New Jersey. Though not a seat in the Senate, the new mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, spent even more than Corzine, over 70 million, to gain the office.
If Marcy Kaptur doesn't run for governor of Ohio (or the presidency), because it requires consorting with the heads of, and taking money from, the likes of Enron, Rep. Kaptur should be considered for the vice presidency, running with whichever Not-Al-Gore the Democrats end up nominating, since she would be a powerful presence on the ticket in that spot, one of the few jobs that doesn't take millions up front to get.
Which brings us back to Hillary Clinton and Chelsea. The rumblings about the former first lady running for president have already begun and one reason they are being heard is that Senator Clinton could raise enough money to make a serious bid.
She is a celebrity and a millionaire and a Senator, a person who attracts additional support. Not to mention that her husband's chief former money-raiser, Terry McAuliffe, was put in charge of the Democratic Party's elaborate political machinery.
Americans have a high tolerance for unlikely occurrences, since they seem to happen every week, if not every day, such as the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, taking Osama bin Laden's place as the trophy prisoner, becoming the scapegoat a lot of the population has chosen to hate and want dead, since bin Laden continues to elude capture. If Osama turned up, dead or alive, Lindh could thankfully become the bizarre footnote he is.
Hillary Clinton capturing the Democratic presidential nomination also would be bizarre, though not, unfortunately, unbelievable.
In an age where money talks and everybody else walks, and high political office is largely for sale, as long as you don't appear to be a dead man walking, there is no reason to doubt that Sen. Clinton might be heading the ticket sooner or later. In that case, a true progressive reformer like Marcy Kaptur, alas, won't be considered for vice president. Big money politics, exemplified by Enron, will continue to rule and our country will look less like the democracy it is supposed to be and more like the plutocracy it is.
The scariest thing about President Bush's bellicose State of the Union address was that he might be giving the same speech in 2003 and 2004. Unlike his father's war, young Bush's war does not have to end. Indeed, not ending is its key to victory.
President Bush spoke of "tens of thousands" of trained terrorists out there somewhere ready to do "civilized" countries harm. And, beyond the amorphous mass infiltrating in the dark, there is the "axis of evil," Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, threatening us with weapons of mass destruction, which we will not permit. Bush came close to declaring war on those countries, which could be considered scary, even if it was just rhetoric.
But, the World War II vocabulary was obviously not lightly chosen by Bush's speech writers. Whether or not the rulers of those countries are shivering in their boots, their populations, if they ever get the message, are doubtless concerned.
Harking back to WWII serves another purpose (as does the term "homeland security" it lets us know we are all in this for the duration, and, as in the case of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the American people don't like to remove a war-time president while the fight is still going on.
The president's political advisors are all aware of the permanent campaign; what they have succeeded in doing is matching it with a permanent conflict, the war against terror. And they won't let us forget it.
One terrorist unmentioned in the speech was Osama bin Laden. That Bush's wanted-dead-or-alive poster hasn't produced a corpse, or the man, is a sore point. As is the fact we have returned Afghanistan to a country where its politicians are called "warlords," and the White House visit of its temporary "interim leader," Hamid Karzai, only showcased the newly minted prime minister's call to build a national army out of the gangs loyal to these regional warlords, who could then be turned into a WPA of sorts, and put to building roads and such. And that's Karzai's best hope, besides his hope for a lot of money to flow his way, the sooner the better.
Giving speeches used to be Bill Clinton's chief test of character, in so far as he had to give many surrounded by an atmosphere of personal scandal and derision. But, he always passed those tests, to the satisfaction of the public at least.
Though George W. Bush has now given two well-received speeches, his first State of the Union, and the address to Congress after Sept. 11th, speeches may not be enough for this president.
Actions will have to matter, sooner or later. President Bush, through none of his own doing, has found himself in a desirable position: circumstances have made him temper his ideological extremes. He no longer can publicly denounce big government, since only big government can wage a war against terrorism. And Enron's collapse allows him to speak against corporate abuse, even though his party represents all the abuses Enron championed: the end of regulation, corporate taxes, oversight--the free market unchained.
In other words, Bush can talk the talk and not have to walk the walk. He can say he wants a prescription drug plan, but not make clear what sort (recall his "discount card" proposal early in his term) and promise pension reforms ("We must make Social Security financially stable and allow personal retirement accounts for younger workers who chose them"), not admitting that, illustrated by Enron's collapse, stability and personal accounts are contradictory ideas already dismissed by most Americans.
Given the cover of the endless war, with the concomitant shrinkage of freedoms a lot of Americans are willing to give up in exchange for simple protection, he will be able to triangulate (talk center, govern right) better than even triangulation's champions, Bill Clinton and Dick Morris, could have dreamed.
Bush even took Clinton's maligned AmeriCorps program and renamed it the USA Freedom Corps, thereby making it part of the war on terror. "Security" is the administration's buzzword, now attached to everything: retirement, the economy, national service. And security for Bush's tenure in office.
A still-bearded Al Gore, looking more Civil-War-like than Talibanesque, reentered the public arena a week ago, but that news has caused few ripples, given the flood of Enron revelations and the release of President Bush's domestic program slashing and military procurement swelling, deficit-digging budget.
Gore chose a hair-shirt setting for his reintroduction to political life a low-cost ($25) reception for a thousand Democrats held back in Tennessee, which Gore lost in 2000, a costly personal rebuke, paid for by the Bush campaign, which outspent Gore in his home state. The speech was delivered in Gore's familiar campaign timbre, full of forced fervor and enthusiasm. "I intend to rejoin the national debate," he declared, dressed in an informal dark blue shirt, more Yankee in color than Confederate.
But, it is a hard task for Gore to emerge from the doleful shadows of his unique predicament. The man who most Americans voted for in 2000, but who nonetheless lost the presidency, has become a permanent victim of that troubling circumstance. It has turned him into an oddity, almost a freak of nature.
Indeed, it would have been easier for Al Gore to reemerge to a fresh political life if he had just simply lost to George W. Bush. A large part of the American electorate treats his singular case as an embarrassment, something unsavory we would like to avoid, not confront, and be done with. The recount battles of Florida are such a sore spot in the body politic that no one much wants to poke that old wound.
But, Gore himself is not sure he is done with. He was, in his not-too-charming way, coy about whether he would run in 2004, asserting, "I don't yet know." He will deal with that after November's elections. A further oddity in American politics may be in store: he actually might run again and win the nomination.
That unlikely prospect will continue the unhealthy twinship he shares with President Bush. Gore may eventually capture the nomination the way--and for the same reason--Bill Clinton did in 1992, thanks to the first President Bush's enormous popularity after the Gulf War, which scared away strong contenders like Mario Cuomo and left the field open to second-tier candidates, which let the governor of Arkansas stand out and emerge the eventual victor.
The young President Bush's current war-induced popularity may cause most Democrats to wonder if he too may be unbeatable in 2004 and the crop of candidates who hunger to offer themselves up to the travails of running for president might be smaller and thinner than most think. The names thus far mentioned are not startling for their star power: Senators John Edwards (N.C.), Tom Daschle (S.D.), John Kerry (Ma.), and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.). Gore's former running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, is interested, too, as long as he can run and keep the job he still has, though he may defer to Gore if asked.
Why Hillary Clinton's name keeps coming up is not because she is likely to walk away with the nomination, but that the others lack instant recognition and don't stimulate the passions she does.
Amidst the crop of available candidates Al Gore does stand out, though Lieberman, who would be in his early sixties in 2004, may be ready to run, even expecting to lose, because of the historic precedent his nomination would set. But, given the mixed feelings Gore now generates even amongst Democrats, he, because of his frustrated frame of mind, might be the person most willing to be sacrificed.
That Terry McAuliffe, the DNC head, has pushed through a front-loading of primaries, is also in Gore's favor. For better or worse, Gore will be the quickest one out of the publicity box.
The Republicans, obviously, are hoping Bush is able to follow Ronald Reagan's example once again: to cruise to a second term because of weak competition, presuming Bush's commander-in-chief popularity remains high. Democrats should be concerned about the same thing: Reagan's first-term, tax-cut-inspired deficits continued into his second, and the still widening gap between the rich and poor took off. And, like a race between Bush and Gore, it can happen again.
Though the recent Enron hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce received less coverage than the parade of prosperous males taking the Fifth in the competing Senate show, the testimony of Cindy Olson, Enron's executive vice president for human resources, was certainly more entertaining and illuminating.
Ms. Olson did look equally sharp for her House appearance. Evidently, she wanted to demonstrate that she had nothing to be ashamed of, even though she admitted sheepishly that she had sold her Enron stock for $6.6 million before the price went south.
Though other Enron top executives, especially those, including Kenneth Lay, Enron's former CEO, who took the Fifth and refused to testify, did the same thing, Ms. Olson's stock dump might be even more embarrassing, if not potentially criminal, or, at least, unethical, since she is a member of Enron's 401(k) Plan Committee and therefore has fiduciary responsibility to look out for the health of the plan and the assets of its members.
But, when Ms. Olson learned in August of 2001, via Sherron Watkins, that the company might soon "implode," Ms. Olson kept that information to herself and cashed out. Her 401(k) plan, which once reached $800,000, was not entirely decimated like so many lower Enron employees accounts, but only halved. This circumstance, Ms. Olson claimed, was brought about because she had been prodded by an independent financial adviser to "diversify." Unfortunately, she wasn't prodding the employees to do the same prudent thing.
Her testimony brought immediate calls for her to be removed from her post, given her apparent lack of due diligence.
After a long day of testimony, Ms. Olson was asked by Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) if she had ever heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Ms. Olson disconsolately shook her head "no.'
Had she ever heard about it, Ms. Olson probably wouldn't have been sitting where she was, since the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is one of the landmarks of labor history.
Rep. Rivers sketched the facts for her. In 1911, 146 women were killed in fifteen minutes in the worst factory fire in the history of New York City. The owners of the factory had locked the doors to keep the women at their sewing machines. The executives of the company escaped, since they weren't locked in.
The parallels to the behavior of Enron executives and their treatment of their employees was clear, even to those in the committee room who didn't know the history Rep. Rivers was citing.
But, as bad as all this is, the loss of money and retirement security of the Enron employees pales in comparison to those in the steel industry, especially those who worked long and hard for LTV.
Like Enron, LTV made financial promises to its employees shortly before it imploded, offering early retirement to many of its long-term workers, promising increased pension benefits to its employees in 1999, in lieu of higher wages.
A few thousand employees did retire after 30 years, a decade or more before they turned 65. Now, those retirement benefits are imperiled by LTV's bankruptcy and will likely be greatly reduced, when the federal government, which insures private pensions, begins to pay them.
USX has seen an opportunity in the recent bankruptcies of many steel companies and has proposed to become a super steel company by taking over weak ones and those that have gone under, if it gets the help of the government.
That deal is being overseen by Vice President Cheney, from an undisclosed location, though it is not likely that President Bush will go against his free-market impulses and impose the import quotas and tariffs required to restore the health of the nation's steel industry.
Nonetheless, on Feb. 27th LTV will complete its "auction" of its plants, now simmering on 'hot idle." If they are not taken over and kept running, they will become instant scrap metal. And, if President Bush lets the markets decide, thousands of steel workers will have their jobs, pensions and health plans scrapped, too.
In all the ink spilled because of Enron, few accounts have blamed its collapse on the culture of Texas. This stands in stark contrast to all the print expended on Whitewater, and other Clinton family scandals, which placed a good bit of the blame on Arkansas and the culture of Little Rock. Indeed, the voluminous Whitewater coverage was often cartoonish, lampooning the amusing rustics populating the state.
One reason why Texas and Texans have escaped the various calumnies heaped on Arkansans is that any criticism aimed in that direction would also hit President Bush, who shares the same gung-ho, young-man-on-the-rise spirit so many Enron executives personify, especially those who have become famous recently for taking the Fifth.
Kenneth Lay set the tone. What kind of CEO owns four houses in Aspen, Colorado? The sort who wants to be rich, but not square, conservative, but not backwoods, powerful yet popular.
Lay loaned his corporate planes to the Bush campaign and you need multiple homes to house important associates, friends of a certain type rich, successful, and, most important, well connected.
Which, of course, describes the president. Though Bush spent a good bit of his youth in a variety of far-flung dwellings owned by his family, he keeps reiterating his intention to go back "home" to Texas, but there are few photographs of the home he lived in before he became governor, only the ranch he bought just before he began his run for president.
That's "home," built a little more than a year ago, from profits from cashing out his interest in the Texas Rangers baseball team (14.9 million from a $606,000 investment, a case of Enron economics.) Baseball may have been good to Bush, but back in Houston, the owners of the Astros are desperate to change their ballpark's name, from Enron Stadium to almost anything else.
The Clintons had to endure eight years of Arkansas derision, but, during his campaign, Bush warned everyone not to pick on Texas and, by and large, the press hasn't. And the national consensus, which the press reflects, is to lay off (so to speak) the president while he exercises his role as commander in chief, to avoid anything that sounds like a personal attack.
So, Enron and Houston's post-modern cowboy culture gets a pass. Administration officials prefer to speak of Enron's collapse as a colossal "business failure."
Campaign finance legislation may be a small token of penance, if Bush doesn't veto the Shays-Meehan bill along the way, but Enron did not need to buy influence, since what it wanted done was what the president wanted to do, in any case.
When President Bush and Vice President Cheney let "Kenny Boy" Lay review potential presidential appointees, that was just taking advantage of their friend and fellow Texan, a guy who shared their values and vision.
When Bush administration officials claim they weren't corrupted by Enron money, they are doubtless speaking the truth. They're peas in a pod. The large amount of cash passed around was just a kind of gift exchange among friends. You don't need to buy people who already agree with you. That's how it works in the wealth culture.
Early on, President Bush was praised for skillfully running the government as a corporation, not shirking the role of the CEO, delegating power, but reserving for himself the tough decisions. Unfortunately, the business model he follows is Enron. Enron considered bank loans it received to be assets; Bush's budget believes tax cuts for the wealthy cure deficits. And the administration's penchant for privacy has turned into a national joke, with Vice President Cheney's "undisclosed location" becoming an often-used punch line. As in Enron, critical information is kept from the public (see Cheney's Energy Task Force stonewalling) and shared only with insiders at the top.
Arkansas hillbilly culture was often portrayed to be at the root of Bill Clinton's failings. What is less debatable is that Enron's corporate culture and the Bush administration's culture are undistinguishable.
Why Enron still captures so much of the public's attention, unlike many financial disaster stories of the past, is a consequence of the two-decade-long publicity campaign of the rabid pro-privatizers of Social Security. Bad ideas often have random good consequences. The privatizing lobby has trumpeted the growing participation in stock market, claiming that most every American owns stock.
Well, not every American, but estimates show that 54% of American households own some stock, mutual funds, or retirement accounts, up from just over a third in 1989. And when there is ownership there is interest. With any luck, the Enron debacle may produce some healthy legislation and accounting reforms, much to the distress of business sector, because of this growing participation and concern.
Of the 54% who own stock, slightly over three-fourths of the total amount is held by the top 10% of income earners. Of that 78%, 42% is owned by the top 1%, according to Edward Wolff, a New York University researcher.
Everyone else below the top ten percent owns around 21%. And 46% of the country owns no stock, money market funds, or retirement accounts. Except for Social Security--which President Bush, and the administration's foot soldiers of money market managers, still wants to privatize.
The lure of the stock market is enhanced by the get-rich-quick crowd, exemplified by Enron's top executives, who turned their company stock into millions of dollars. What they appeared to be running was a huge pyramid scheme and them that got there first got out wealthy.
The public has seen a decade of that sort of instant riches; the dot-com world of the '90s produced dozens of millionaires and thousands of bilked and busted investors.
In the past, stock brokers felt they had done well if their holdings matched, or beat by a point or two, Treasury bonds. The sort of astronomical winnings of the Enron brass and the dot-com few, nonetheless, was the carrot that brought so many people to the market. Many Americans are used to playing state lotteries and the odds of cashing in big are not too dissimilar.
Though not likely to happen during Bush's first term, the long march to Social Security privatization is not over by any means, demonstrated by the president's cheerleading pro-privatization remarks to the annual retirement summit held last week in Washington. There is too much money at stake for those who want it to happen and that includes a great many of the folk who surround Bush.
The growing gap between rich and poor continues to serve up egregious examples. Bar bills of $62,000 for one night's dinner libations rung up by bankers at Barclay's in London raise a few eyebrows these days, whereas the millions spent on the Olympics is deemed well-spent, even though it cost nearly a million dollars an athlete to put on, and the corporate sponsorship was unstinting, beginning with the bribes the folks in Utah had to shell out to get the games in the first place. At least that was a show, a circus for the whole country to watch, not a dinner for a few in a fancy London restaurant.
One would hope that Enron put an end to the campaign to privatize Social Security, but Bush still hopes parlay his war-on-terror popularity to the patriotic "reform" of Social Security. If the growing participation in capital markets proves anything, it shows that if people want to speculate and invest in equities they can do so on their own. But President Bush still describes Social Security as a mutual fund, not the insurance program it is.
Rep. Clay Shaw (R.-Fla.) chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, and House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R.-Tex.), want to send recipients of Social Security a letter saying that their current benefits will never be reduced. That may sound like a good, reassuring thing, though what that wasteful mailing is meant to do, is to convince Americans that it is safe to proceed with privatization, since the government will set a floor below which benefits will not fall. Let's hope that the majority of Americans do not fall for it.
Well, the media will no longer have Gary Condit to kick around and, if the defeated California congressman's prediction is correct, Chandra Levy, too, will fade completely from the public's consciousness, until and unless she, in one form or another, shows up.
Condit will wander off into the shadows of history, which, unlike Vice President Dick Cheney and the rest of the shadow government, is a place few emerge from intact.
Monica Lewinsky, consort of the last president, alas, has not yet become a shade, a ghost, even though she was largely shown on an HBO documentary recently in black and white.
Fame may be fleeting, but some people try to hold on more desperately than others. Ms. Lewinsky is irrepressible, which has always been her strong point, but, her appearance in black and white, sitting alone on an empty stage, brought to mind Lenny Bruce, the 50's-era comic who lives on in documentaries, mainly in black and white, a profane but perceptive entertainer, who also was hounded by American law enforcement for flaunting taboo sexual behavior and language.
Monica is seldom witty, but she does have a winning smile. As does Clinton's other eager suitor, Joe Klein, the former "Anonymous" author, who wrote the best campaign book of the '92 presidential race, Primary Colors, though it was marketed as fiction. Klein, appearing on any network that will have him, has just published his own apologia for his romance with Bill Clinton. It, too, is in black and white (though that is just the print on the page) The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. Though, given all that has been written about Clinton and his presidency, it may be just Klein who misunderstood.
But, Bill Clinton is fading fast, too, despite the release of Independent Counsel Robert Ray's sour-grapes-filled, I-could-have-been-a-contender-and-convicted-him, final Lewinsky report. Clinton's actual shadow, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-NY), is far more substantial than the former president. Indeed, it is Hillary who now appears on the covers of supermarket tabloids, whereas the former president only gets smaller photos inside, usually sharing them with some young woman or another.
It isn't just personalities from the news that are fading, it is the news itself. The head mouseketeers from Walt Disney who run ABC are looking to replace the venerable news show "Nightline" and replace it with funny man David Letterman, moving him, and his homespun brand of Indiana humor (stupid pet tricks, etc.), from CBS to the same time spot on ABC, which will complete Letterman's travels among the three old, large networks.
Cokie Roberts, the co-host of ABC's This Week, is going to fade from her show, too, but Sunday morning still might be the only time slot left for network news to huddle in, since those somber hours, thanks to organized religion, are still thought of as a time of reflection. But, the Disney corporation does have a lot of cartoons that could take the show's place. Sam Donaldson, Cokie's co-host, may or may not stay on. He is 68, which is close to the age of most of President Bush's senior advisors, the holdovers from his father's reign and before. Donaldson does not appear to be alarmed at the thought of leaving.
That, of course, is not the case with the folks in the shadow government, which might not be so troubling if the executive branch had bothered to tell the Congress about it. After all, the fourth hijacked plane on 9/11 was heading for the capitol building, which was the big fat target, not the White House, which would have been much harder to hit.
A short three years ago many businesses set up parallel facilities and computer capabilities because of fears generated by the millennium doomsayers at the time. After 9/11 those hitherto redundant facilities were a godsend to some companies.
The Bush administration, which is so good at controlling information, should have found its own way to announce its parallel facilities and not let them be branded a "shadow" government. Because, given the wishes and policies of so many of Bush's top people, there is already the fear that a shadow government is what Bush and company have wanted all along.
There has been a lot of coverage of former Clinton administration veterans vying for public office. Robert Reich running for governor in Massachusetts, Janet Reno ditto in Florida, Erskine Bowels, Bill Richardson in other contests, Rahm Emanuel here locally. Howard Kurtz, the press critic of theWashington Post, has been keeping track of the many columns devoted to their ambitions. What has gathered less attention is the former members of Republican administrations who are running.
One reason is that many of them have been candidates before, most often unsuccessfully. And, among those contesting, running for president has been a great favorite, though it is clear they ran not with the expectation of winning, but to raise their public profile and hence their marketability.
The two most prominent are Elizabeth Dole, the former First Nurse, and Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor and two-time candidate for the presidency. The second time around, Alexander dropped out very early, placing sixth in the Iowa straw poll. Upon entering the race for the actor and former Watergate counsel Fred Thompson's (R-Tenn) soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat, Alexander was quoted saying, "This is an unexpected course of action for me. I've been happy as a private citizen."
But, Lamar wasn't the happiest of candidates in the '96 presidential campaign. Though he wore almost constantly a populist red-and-black lumberjack shirt, when asked, he didn't know the price of a gallon of milk, though he did send a campaign aide to find out.
And, as it will doubtless be resurrected, Lamar was the recipient of Enron-like stock profits from companies while governor of the state and head of the University of Tennessee, which, back then, looked like smart business sense, though now it looks like something else.
Liddy Dole, in the '96 presidential race, ran as the First Nurse, coming off her controversial tenure as head of the Red Cross. Since this round of elections comes after 9/11, in the North Carolina Senate race she is again stressing her role in dealing with disasters, though the one disaster she didn't deal with was the problems of the Red Cross, which came to light after she left it, and culminated in all the complaints about how it handled the outpouring of donations it received after 9/11.
One Republican administration newcomer to electoral politics is Robert Ray, the successor to Kenneth Starr, who has recently resigned as the Independent Counsel, even though his final, final report on those land dealings back in Arkansas somewhere in the late Twentieth Century has yet to be released.
Ray is contemplating a race for Senator in New Jersey, where he will test his combative, pugnacious personality in that rough ring. Like Dole and Alexander, Ray has some baggage to deal with, the latest being why he continued to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on his superfluous labors as Independent Counsel, long after Congress dumped the position. There's a fellow who believes in government make-work programs.
Unlike many of the Clinton folk who are running, the Bush administration practices a different sort of on-the-job training. It takes formerly successful politicians and turns them into barely competent administrators. Tom Ridge, of the many-colored terror spectrum, the air raid siren updated and colorized, has left his prodigious political skills behind, as has Tommy Thompson, now a hapless Heath and Human Services head.
The press-conference-addicted Attorney General, John Ashcroft, the former one-term Senator from Missouri, is a different case, since every time he loses an election he is appointed to a better job, though his chief talent seems to be composing and singing patriotic songs, while managing to scare more Americans than al-Qaida terrorists with his actions and pronouncements.
Nonetheless, running for high office is often opportunistic and Clinton veterans aren't shy. The governorship of Massachusetts has been a subject of ridicule the last two years, so Robert Reich joins the fray. And, Janet Reno is either the most famous, or infamous, person in the state of Florida. In each and every case, voters will decide whether the Clinton connection matters.
It is still not clear which is more troubling: Andrea Yates sane, or insane. The Texas jury found her sane enough to convict her of murdering her children, but not sane enough to execute her, something Texas juries are not shy about doing. Women who kill their children, if they are white and, at least, middle class gather sympathy and attention, and often provoke a great deal of discussion and concern.
If Andrea Yates is insane, as her husband and family and many health practitioners all claim, it isn't a pretty picture imagining her getting well. Which, of course, would have been her fate if found not guilty by reason of insanity. She would have been treated by the same profession that failed her so dramatically before.
But, if she would ever recover, how would she remain sane living with the knowledge that she killed her five children? The guilt of that monstrous deed would drive most sane people insane. That is the paradox of these crimes.
In our society, murderers do get let out; even serial rapists and child molesters are often set free, eventually. Andrea Yates most likely, though, will spend the rest of her life incarcerated. That, given the circumstances, isn't the worst place for her to be. Indeed, it was the theatrical nature of her killing, so many victims, so ritualistically staged, that made her case so infamous.
Yates isn't the classical Medea figure, who kills her children as an act of revenge against a husband. Marilyn Lemak, the Naperville mother, was more straightforwardly that sort, since she killed her three children when her former husband began to court another woman. Doubtless, Andrea Yates had a good bit of hostility against her husband, a man most often described as "controlling," but her behavior seemed a most terminal act of a passive aggressive personality. Such crimes are thought to be not pleas for help, but a form of suicide. Though, in Yates' case, her actions were passive against herself, aggressive towards her children and husband.
Yates' imprisonment is in keeping with her religious delusions. In the past, the fate of an infamous and criminal woman of the upper classes would be banishment to a nunnery, to live the rest of one's days in prayer and abasement.
Yates' husband, Rusty, may have played his own role in creating his wife's peculiar form of liberation--from him, from motherhood, from society in general. He certainly has no gift for saying anything but inappropriate remarks, claiming that he was "offended" that his wife was prosecuted, that she was a loving mother, that everyone and everything failed her, except for him. Perhaps he is playing the fool, in order not to make himself seem sinister. In that case, he is succeeding.
There does seem to be a method in Andrea Yates' madness and everyone has cooperated. It isn't inconceivable that she has gotten what she wanted to be free of responsibilities, to be looked after and cared for. Trying to "cure" Andrea Yates may be a waste of time.
Kathy Boudin, the '70s radical, a member of the violent Weather Underground, did not kill anyone, much less her child, though, since the early '80s, she has been serving a 20-years-to-life sentence because her associates did, including murdering two police officers. Boudin has become a model prisoner and a great help to other inmates at the Bedford Hills correctional facility. But she was recently denied parole and is not likely ever to be released on parole. Killing law enforcement personnel guarantees one no leniency, unlike killing one's own children.
Forgiveness is a spotty thing in our culture. The Rev. Billy Graham would like to have it, claiming he never believed the anti-Semitic things he uttered in the '70s, which, given the evidence of his own recorded Oval Office remarks, is unbelievable.
Judge Charles Pickering, recently blocked by Democrats from the federal appeals bench, much to President Bush's displeasure, wanted to be forgiven for his early racist enthusiasms, including urging bans on interracial marriage.
To err is human, so goes the saying, to forgive is divine. But forgiveness is also selective, capricious, and, often, unfairly dispensed.
Writing against Social Security privatization always prompts a good bit of rancorous reader response, 99% of it from men. I would say 100%, but, over the years, one protest by a woman might have slipped by. The fact that women do not seem to be exercised in the same manner, or as eager for privatization, as men, reveals Social Security's strengths. Women understand the value of the program, since they are often the recipients of it, especially its insurance and survivor-benefits side. Indeed, over one-third of elderly women rely on Social Security to keep them out of poverty.
Many of the males who respond critically make the same points, ask the same questions, and hurl the same insults. Here are a few of the most repeated claims
1. The "return" on their tax money is far less than it would be if it was invested in the stock market.
The Social Security system is not a mutual fund; it is an insurance program. No one talks about the rate of their "return" on fire insurance. Social Security gives a young worker (married, 2 children, average income) a death and disability policy worth about $250,000. Irate readers point to studies showing the stock market returns are historically higher. That, of course, is true, if you can pick what year you are born and what year you retire and, in addition, never make a mistake investing.
2.) The whole system is not to be privatized, just a portion of it.
Even the Cato Institute, which was created to advocate a privatized Social Security, agrees that the President's Commission, charged with "Strengthening Social Security," estimates large transition costs that could reach 3 trillion, requiring benefit cuts, for even a partial privatization. Indeed, the report was so depressing that even the ideologues who put it together did not want to trumpet its findings and a good many Republicans running for office asked the president not to bring it up until after the 2002 elections.
But, President Bush still desires to privatize the entire system, since the example he gave at the 2002 National Summit on Retirement Savings last month was based on complete privatization. Bush claimed, "Someone retiring today after 45 years of work would be entitled to a monthly benefit of $1,128 a month from Social Security. If that same retiree, if those Social Security taxes had been invested in the stock market over the last 45 years, during the same period of time, that person would have a nest egg of $590,000, or income of more than $3,700 a month." Regardless of the fuzzy math errors, the president thinks that's the direction the system should take.
3. Why shouldn't Americans be given the chance to create wealth by investing in the stock market?
Who is stopping them? Indeed, the federal government already pays ordinary Americans for investing in the stock market, by providing tax breaks for 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and a variety of IRAs, to the tune of over 50 billion dollars. Given the number of administrative difficulties these programs generate, just imagine the problems running mandated, individual stock accounts would prompt.
One reader protested the 1993 tax code change that taxed Social Security income for couples earning above $32 thousand a year ($25 thousand for individuals.) What that law showed was the cowardice of politicians who, faced with a need for revenue for Medicare, went through the back door to get it, instead of just proposing a raise in taxes, or hiking the cap on Social Security taxes. Such behavior is bipartisan.
The Social Security system is progressive--low income workers get nearly 80% of their pre-retirement income, the well-off get 25%, a far lower rate of return (the average is 44%)--which is why so many libertarians and Republicans hate it. The go-it-alone crowd wants everyone to sink or swim on his or her own merit. Social Security is a safety net for the society as a whole. Those who want it privatized already have private investments. They just want more. The program can be "fixed" with a few small changes. Next week's column, the solutions to the Social Security "crisis."
The push to privatize Social Security has been, in part, a noisy diversion, a flanking movement to prevent the steps needed to be taken to "fix" Social Security for generations to come. The intent has been to damage the program, describe it in the most dire terms, in an attempt to end it. As one proponent of privatization wrote, "This is about Liberty, not money." Exactly.
The recent unheralded report by the trustees of Social Security has taken some of the steam out of the crisis-mongering by privatizers. It shows, without any changes, Social Security will pay out full benefits through 2041, 3 years longer than predicted last year. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and the rest of the Bush administration, tried to downplay the good news, claiming, "This reprieve provides little comfort." But this is the fifth year in a row that date has been extended.
Rather than the costly and unnecessary course of initiating "private" equity accounts, a few small adjustments could be made.
The boldest step would be to raise taxes just under 1% for both workers and employers--that would solve all the problems, but would require courage on the part of Congress. Post 9/11, such action would be patriotic, in so far as it would tap the generosity of all Americans for all Americans to come. What privatizers have been counting on all along is selfishness, rather than a sense of civic responsibility. "Let's roll!" could be a slogan for protecting Social Security, not just thwarting airline hijackers.
But, even smaller steps would satisfy the need.
One would be to raise the cap on Social Security taxes. Currently, Bill Gates stops paying Social Security taxes (the maximum is now slightly over $80 thousand) before New Year's day is over. When the Social Security cap was set it was presumed that 90% of the people would be under that base. Given the fact that the rich are getting richer, only 84% are under the base. It could be adjusted to bring it back to 90%. And, speaking of caps, lifting in on employers alone, taxing them on a worker's entire salary, would take care of half the projected 75 year deficit.
The few states that have been grandfathered out of Social Security could be brought in, thereby gaining more revenue for the system.
And, the Social Security trust fund could gradually move partially into the stock market, thereby resembling most private and public pension systems, which would certainly benefit younger workers (given the low administrative costs involved) and would gain higher returns, improving the benefit/contribution ratio.
Rather than finding ways to lessen Social Security benefits--reducing the cost of living adjustment, raising the retirement age--one should find ways to raise Social Security benefits. But, the hidden agenda behind "reforms" that cut benefits is to make Americans work longer in order to down hold wages.
We have become a debtor nation, rather than a saving nation. When credit cards became universally available, everyone could be Alan Greenspan and print money. Then home equity loans allowed people to eat their houses. The economy, of late, has been driven by consumption, hence the final step beckons. Let Americans gamble with the stock market and the security of Social Security. Let them "buy" retirement, rather than save for it.
When readers write and claim Social Security has "failed," I do wonder what world they live in. They claim it is nothing but a Ponzi scheme. Well, Ponzi schemes are only Ponzi schemes if they stop paying. They complain the "government" owns the money, not the people. If we do believe the government isn't the people there is an obvious problem, one far more serious than whether Social Security pays full benefits for nearly 40 years and falls into slight deficit in 75, if nothing is done.
What, clearly, shouldn't be done, what should be stopped, is the constant attack on one federal program that has succeeded and will continue to succeed, until those who oppose it get their hands on it.
Three great world religions are currently convulsing. In Israel, Palestinians and Israelis are slaughtering one another, with nationalistic and religious furor. Even the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has been under siege. In Pakistan, Daniel Pearl was beheaded by Islamic fanatics for being a Jew, not a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. As Ariel Sharon has said, "This is a battle for survival of the Jewish people." Yasser Arafat's term for suicide bombers is cloaked in piety martyrs.
And, here at home, the Catholic Church is roiling, with scandals of the most distressing sort, charges of pedophilia and the seduction of the young and inexperienced. Though, the deviant acts of desiring and exploitive men have not been so much the source of outrage, as much as the conduct of the hierarchy, the continuing revelations of decades of covering up and condoning.
It's the cover-up, Father, church leaders need to be reminded, not so much the crime, though the behavior itself, grievous as it is, is not unfamiliar, since it has cropped up often throughout the Catholic Church's history.
Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who, with any luck, will not remain too much longer in his job, despite his Friday letter declining to resign, has revealed overly solicitous concern for a number of his criminal brothers. He has shown so much sympathy for Fathers John Geoghan and Paul Shanley, and doubtless others yet unknown, that one can only presume Cardinal Law has too much personal insight into these troubled priests' predilections and predicaments.
During the weeks of our bombing of Afghanistan there were many tales of the horrors of the Taliban, the Islamic religious extremists, concerning their treatment of women. Many commentators spent time worrying over whether the Taliban, or other autocratic, male supremist Islamic countries, could be brought around. The word "civilized" was often employed and progress toward democratic institutions was offered as the only solution.
One reason why the Catholic Church's current scandals are having so much resonance throughout the country and, especially, with members of parishes everywhere, is not because abusive priests keep coming out of the woodwork, but that the institution of the all-male priesthood looks a little odd in 2002, given recent history and the critical examinations other religions have been undergoing.
Unlike a lot of Islamic countries, we incontestably live in the 21st century, with a democratic system of government (absent a few electoral oddities.) So, it is not strange that the rigid structures and male domination of the Catholic Church would come under scrutiny in the present atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Cardinal Law and his fellow leaders of the Church have not acquitted themselves well in the present crisis. Unlike President Bush, who raised his status generally when faced with our common national adversity, no one in the Catholic Church hierarchy, including the ailing pope, has been praised as an effective leader.
Indeed, three bishops have quit because of their own past histories and Cardinal Law needs to quit, given his role in the cover-up, an involvement that if not actionable in a court of law, is certainly a grand display of mismanagement and ineptitude.
All religions have peculiarities. And most of them remain unquestioned, until there is a crisis. The 9/11 hijackers and the Taliban were a catastrophe for Islam. They focused a huge spotlight on their religion and their cause, which has overlapped onto the other Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, which hitherto had been able to bask in its rich shadows, its medieval ways scarcely noticed.
Likewise, the pedophilia scandals and decades of cover-up have brought a lot of unwelcome light to the Catholic Church's inner workings. And Israel's recent military response to the terrorism it has suffered also shines a harsh light on it, as it crushes ancient buildings and shells historic sites, killing the innocent as well as the guilty along the way. None of these great religions looks particularly sacred today.
Two Clinton Administration veterans didn't do well at the state Democratic Party convention in Orlando, Florida, held two weeks ago. Janet Reno, the purported front-runner in the Democratic primary for governor, was upstaged by the less well-known (at least nationally) candidate, Bill McBride. And Al Gore's appearance drew more negative reaction than positive, more calls for him not to run, than to run, and was followed by articles pleading for Sen. John McCain to run for president as a Democrat in 2004. These are desperate days for Democratic presidential hopefuls.
But a Gore candidacy in '04 appears inevitable. For moral reasons, if no other.
As psychologists say, there are some unresolved issues that need to be worked out here, both Gore's own and the country's. Al Gore, evidently, is in a state of political shock and he needs to be brought out of it. Because of 9/11, the country has buried most of the discontents left over from the contested 2000 election, the unhealthy fact of Gore winning the popular vote and being denied the presidency by the Supreme Court's untimely intervention.
The former heavyweight champion, and current ex-convict, Mike Tyson, keeps bouncing from one venue to another, hoping for another chance to box, to free himself from his bouts of rage and irrationality, to mount one more purifying fight to prove he is contender, a man to be reckoned with.
Al Gore needs a rematch, too.
Who knows, as an underdog, as Gore (or any Democrat) will surely be, he might find some sense of self that would rise to the occasion. It is often said that George W. Bush has been made more serious by the events of 9/11, and has grown in stature because of them. Al Gore, with a real battle on his hands, could step up a notch, too.
Of the many miscalculations Gore made in the 2000 campaign, one of the most glaring was not to realize that he was in the fight of his life. It is clear he expected to win and he played the entire campaign on defense, not offense.
In 2004, whichever Democrat ends up contesting, he (and it will likely be a he--Sen. Hillary Clinton isn't, despite evidence to the contrary, eager to be a sacrificial lamb) will have to go on offense and never let up.
As most any sensible Democrat will tell you, Al Gore shouldn't run because the 2000 election was his to win and he didn't win it--or win it enough. The criticisms lodged against George W. Bush--primarily his lack of experience, the suspicion that he wasn't up to the job--have become less pertinent.
Such claims will be a hard sell in '04 even if one believes them. That leaves the race to be fought over, not simple competence, but issues, such as the growing tax cuts for the wealthy and the growing deficit for the rest of us, prescription drug plans for the elderly, environmental degradation, Social Security preservation, etc…
The 2004 election may be a replay of the 1996 race, which pitted a popular Bill Clinton against an out-gunned, and out-of-the-loop, Bob Dole, a race notable for invective, not inventive debate. And, it is doubtful that the country will have emerged from the trauma of 9/11 sufficiently by November 2004 to want to change horses in the war on terror mid-stream. That, of course, is what the Republicans are counting on. Indeed, victories in the 2002 midterm elections might end up a decidedly mixed blessing for Democrats. If they regain the House and keep the Senate, there will be even less inclination on the part of the American public to let them have the White House.
But, the election could be a period of education for the country, where the bitter 50-50 division, a map of red and blue states, that showed itself in 2000 could be addressed, and, if not healed, at least made less stark and more understood.
In this time when many hope to bring warring sides together in fruitful negotiation, most especially the Israelis and Palestinians, but others, too, it would be good if a presidential election gave us the chance to discuss our differences in a productive way, let red and blue America work together as red, white and blue America. And that requires not a new candidate, but GORE IN 'O4!
The protective shell that descended around George W. Bush after 9/11 seems to be cracking. The departure, for family reasons, of the chief steward of his public image, Karen Hughes, is the least of it. Hughes may be returning to Texas for the sake of her and her husband and son's homesickness, but, in a White House that values loyalty above all, exiting after only 15 months doesn't appear the act of a fervent loyalist.
President Bush was, apparently, powerless to change Hughes' mind. It's humbling for an America President to understand the limits of power and lately Bush has been learning that lesson again and again. Gone is the president's bold talk of Most Wanted posters emblazoned with the face of Osama bin Laden. Friendly fire deaths in Afghanistan have been receiving more publicity than unfriendly ones. Afghan warlords and impresarios of the heroin trade are returning to their old ways, and Pakistan continues to harbor Islamic zealots and members of al-Qaida, including, it has been alleged, bin Laden himself.
Ariel Sharon consulted Bill Clinton's dictionary to find the meaning of "without delay" after the president charged him to pull out of the occupied territories and Colin Powell's meandering visit to the Middle East brought even less results than the earlier trip by Vice President Cheney.
The public, meanwhile, has become more or less inured to Homeland Security alerts, the news that terrorists want to blow up neighborhood banks, malls and supermarkets, while gauging the level of John Ashcroft's disapproval at frequent press conferences (green, yellow, orange?), such as when he denounced the Supreme Court for declaring thought policing of computer-generated images of virtual children, no matter how repellant, unconstitutional.
Saddam Hussein, the axis of evil's chief villain, has been rattling gas cans, trying to match President Bush's saber rattling directed at him, though Saudi Arabia, in penance for its nurturing almost all of the 9/11 hijackers, agrees to step up oil production to replace Saddam's curtailment.
Terrorism doesn't speak truth to power, it reveals the limits of power. Though the 9/11 hijackers were fantastically lucky, their audacious acts revealed our vulnerabilities. Even the Pentagon turned out to be defenseless.
We can respond as we did, by bombing a country (though hardly altering its landscape), by removing a government of rag-tag religious despots (replacing it with a hodge-podge of tribal chieftains), by imprisoning detainees in cages in Cuba, by making a spectacle of a young American from Marin County, extracting a confession out of him after trussing him up naked in a metal container for three days, all of which shows power of a sort, but not the kind that reassures a nation.
Power may come out of the barrel of a gun, but it would be better if power could also be exercised by persuasion and reason, too.
Now that Afghanistan is subdued, if not under control, the Taliban and al-Qaida hobbled, if not eliminated, American displays of power will likely return to the conversation and persuasion level, the things President Bush has had the most trouble with.
Which is why the departure of Karen Hughes, the ghost-writer of President Bush's autobiography, may eventually loom large for the Bush administration.
If the war on terror becomes mostly a war of words, the president may well find a way to spend more time in Texas himself, seeking out Hughes' counsel and company. Or, the possibility, now so remote, of becoming, like his father, a one-term president, may grow.
Which is why Saddam Hussein, doubtless, has something to fear and why he is happy to pay the families of Palestinian suicide bombers such high bounties for the lives of their children. Hussein has helped turn President Bush's Most Wanted imagery on its head, leaving the walls of Palestinian towns plastered with laudatory "martyr" posters. As long as Israelis and Palestinians are at each other's throats, Hussein imagines he is safe from the war President Bush wants, and evidently needs, to wage against him.
The Roman Catholic Church has a problem with children and it isn't only the children who have been abused by wayward priests and mistreated by scandal-fearing bishops playing parish shell-games with the offenders they were charged with overseeing. It is the children that would be produced by married priests. And, one would think, quite a lot of children, given the Church's stand against anything but "natural" birth-control.
The word celibacy, often heard these days, means, in short, not married, but, through usage and misusage, it is often taken as a synonym for chaste, another state altogether.
The daffiest display of this confusion was broadcast during the dispiriting press conference put on by a handful of American cardinals after the two-day confab at the Vatican on how to deal with the sexual abuse scandal that, it appears, won't go away.
Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said, exasperated, "We believe in celibacy. It's not the easiest road in today's crazy world, but we believe in celibacy." Indeed, the Catholic Church has believed in it since the early 12th century, when the rule was handed down to stop married priests from passing on any property to their offspring. It's an inheritance question, first and foremost. This economic motive has been alluded to every now and then, though little discussed. But the hierarchy has always preferred the money and property to go one way: for priests to give whatever family wealth they might control to the Church, rather than the other way around. After eight centuries that's quite a bit of change.
Hence, the celibate priesthood. There are other arguments for an all-male priesthood and, if not compelling, they are at least interesting. But, they are all strangely familiar, since anyone alive for the last three decades has heard them in relation to the military, the Congress, corporations, colleges, the Elks and the Masons, private clubs--most recently, the Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters is played, which is still a male-only preserve, one that excluded African-Americans until a decade ago, when it admitted a black CEO or two.
When commentators claim that the percentage of pedophiles and abusers of adolescents in the Catholic priesthood is no greater than any other all-male population, one wonders how many reprobates there are rounding the links with young caddies at Augusta on any given weekend.
To introduce a married priesthood to the Roman Catholic Church would empty it of its riches faster than a broken hour glass would spill its sand. The high salaries alone needed to support families would drain Church coffers.
In this "crazy world," to use Cardinal McCarrick's phrase, half of those who have married in our country also believe in celibacy, since that's more or less the rate of divorce, and divorce does lead to downward mobility for the jettisoned spouse and the children involved.
Rather than entertaining the notion of married priests, which is no solution at all, to cure the present crisis, the Catholic Church will have to face the music and contemplate ordaining women priests.
It is a failure of the imagination not to see the benefits of ordaining women, the least of which is to avoid the money-losing complications of married priests. Obviously, it would deepen the pool of potential applicants. Women want to enter the priesthood for the same reason they became nuns in the 40s and 50s, for the status and advancement possible. These days, a new American nun is a rarity; most come from developing countries, where opportunities for women are limited.
But, because the male priesthood is one of the last bastions to fall to the modern idea of the equality of women, one of the final vestiges of pure patriarchy (at least here in the states), such an outcome will happen only when it is absolutely necessary.
And, unfortunately, the present scandal, heart-rending as it is, may not be enough. The American cardinals would rather do almost anything--ban homosexuals from the priesthood, institute a one-strike-and-you're-out policy, or any number of harsh steps (including doing nothing at all)--than confront their horror of letting women in and thereby changing the culture once and for all that allowed the problem to flourish.
Photographs of the Enron traders who wrote the damning Get Shorty, Death Star, Fat Boy, Ricochet memos, revealing how Enron manipulated last summer's California energy crisis for greater profits, are not readily available, but I'm sure they all are what a female economics professor calls "businessman beautiful." They are in sales, after all, where looks are important.
And Enron certainly was into appearances. During its heyday, Enron ran a stylish TV ad-campaign, featuring an updated tin man, along with a couple of distinguished older men on screen offering serious-sounding, worldly pronouncements, though the two men were never identified.
The Nobel-Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott was one of them and, at the time, I wondered how much he was getting paid to shill, however subtly, for the strangely named company. There wasn't much text in the commercial, other than the often repeated "Why? Ask Why," which echoed over the scenes of the tin man touring the world. One didn't learn from the commercial what Enron did, but it certainly promoted the idea Enron was rich and powerful. It was a high-fashion tribute to selling that which hadn't yet been sold. Hot air? Enron would sell it.
The newly released Enron memos are a piece with the scandalous Merrill Lynch e-mails that appeared early last month (proving, once again, that the e in e-mail stands for "everyone's"), showing that Merrill Lynch analysts recommended to their clients stocks of companies they privately disparaged.
None of this behavior, of course, is new, except for the public airing of the documents that show the firms' perfidy. The conventional wisdom--as of last week--is that the stock market of the '90s was a speculative run-up, the whole tech boom a bubble created by traders, investment bankers, snake oil salesmen of various sorts, but the short-term profits were quite spectacular. For some, that is.
The 1980s was a decade that saw clever businessmen (with nicknames like "Chainsaw") take over, unbidden, established companies, slash their workforce, cease investing in the firms, pocket the profits, leaving them dry husks. After that cycle, pension funds fat with Baby Boomers' savings, along with mutual fund investing and e-trading, helped popularize and diffuse stock ownership in the '90s, which rewarded managers for producing short-term profits. The tech boom took this a step further the stock market itself became the cash cow to milk, as it rapidly produced capital gains for a few that would eventually disappear for most. Financial markets became the "businesses" to be raided, where large profits could be stripped out quickly. A book describing the '80s leveraged-buy-out period was titledBarbarians at the Gate, but, by the '90s, the barbarians were inside, manufacturing profits out of thin air.
But they had help. In 1992, Wendy Gramm, Texas Republican Senator Phil Gramm's wife, provided Enron with a decade of no regulatory oversight through her role as chair of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, delivered by means of a rule change on her way out the first Bush administration's door and onto Enron's board.
The present Bush's Department of Justice has never moved faster than when it hauled Arthur Andersen into court, which, perhaps, the firm deserves. Yet, by doing so, John Ashcroft provided the administration with a noisy diversion from bad Enron news, the frequent reports that tied the Bush administration to it most intimately.
After the Enron memos surfaced, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D.-Ca.) vowed to approach Ashcroft about Enron's possible violations of federal law. By now, the administration may have finally decided which appointees with Enron connections have to be sacrificed (Army Secretary Thomas White being the likely first choice.) But, the more time Bush's crowd can put between itself and any Enron legal action, the better.
Andersen, it appears, had to be destroyed to save Enron. Enron's tin man commercial isn't likely to be resurrected, now that others are asking "Why?", but given the foot dragging on the part of the Department of Justice, asking Why? just might be the end of it. The question is where will the next pot of gold come from, now that the last one has been shown to come from nowhere?
President Bush's problems with ex-presidents continue. Last week, Jimmy Carter palled around with Fidel Castro, getting to know him in that personal way Bush himself usually employs, as when he looked into Russia's Prime Minister Putin's eyes and saw his "soul". During Carter's historic visit to Cuba, he even threw out the first pitch at the island's All-Star game, though one not as well thrown as George W.'s was, when he tossed the first pitch at last year's World Series.
Bush's difficulty with his own father, whom he tries to keep under wraps for a host of reasons (mainly those having to do with being upstaged and outclassed), flared up again when the Saudis came calling down at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, last month. The night after Crown Prince Abdullah met with Bush, the Saudi royalty had a lavish dinner with Bush's papa and cronies, which attempted to avoid press scrutiny and almost succeeded.
And Bill Clinton goes on hogging the media spotlight, even when he turns down jobs, such as the recently floated television talk show position, which generated a lot of buzz. Only Ronald Reagan and Jerry Ford give George Bush no trouble, but they both have medical problems and are largely out of public view.
Jimmy Carter is now the leading ex-prez thorn in his side. George W. threw a tainted scrap Bill Clinton's way and named him a member of a delegation to celebrate East Timor's independence from Indonesia, a country that the former president's conservative critics claimed Clinton had corrupt financial dealings with, involving the Lippo group and Machtar Riady. Clinton, too, had been irritated by Jimmy Carter's travels and meetings with heads of state, thinking the former president was trying to influence world events far too much for a sitting president to bear.
Jimmy Carter seems to have gotten over the fact that Cuba's summer 1980 Mariel boat lift debacle, along with the Iranian hostage crisis and 14% inflation, doomed Carter's re-election bid and put Ronald Reagan in the White House.
Carter now seems willing to let bygones be bygones, but successive administrations have not shown his highly developed sense of forgiveness.
As a people we tend to be sore losers. We lost in Vietnam and since then our policy toward the Vietnamese has been one of boycotts and banishments, which have only recently undergone some softening, though not much. Cuba also has been a lost cause and we repay it in kind. Castro's continuing endless reign seems to particularly gall President Bush. Perhaps, like the Bushes' coddling of the Saudis, it is because of long family history.
In the summer of 1988, the Nation magazine published a Nov. 29, 1963 memo of J. Edgar Hoover's stating that "Mr. George Bush of the CIA" had been briefed concerning the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which had occurred days before. This memo has never been adequately explained (Bush's aides at the time denied its assertions), though in '88 the tamest speculation focused on the fact that Bush's Houston-based oil business controlled wells in the Caribbean, which, if he was a CIA officer, could have been his area of interest. The memo did make Bush's appointment in 1975 by President Ford to head the CIA more understandable.
Cuba, though a small, sleepy country, has played an enormous role in our presidential history, from providing Teddy Roosevelt with the prominence required to launch a political career, to ending the life of JFK (if one believes Cuba's connection--one way or another--to his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald), not to mention the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile crisis, or Elian and the politics of Florida and the presidential election of 2000.
What small island that produces sugar cane and some tourism has wrecked more havoc on the history of the United States? And, Cuba continues to play its exaggerated role, despite its obvious limitations. The oddity of having a military base on an island the administration accuses of having a "limited" bio-warfare capability, even though it is where we chose to jail our detainees from the war on terrorism, seems lost on the president. Unfortunately, what hasn't been lost is the old pile of unsuccessful policies employed against Cuba since its last dictator, and the American mobsters who supported him, was thrown out in 1959.
The contentious rehashing of the "what did he know and when did he know it" blame-game over the pre-9/11 failings of the FBI and the CIA and the White House has unearthed some important history. Television news outlets replayed the 9/11 clips of President Bush being told about the attacks and Vice President Cheney's post-attack appearance on "Meet the Press," both of which had been quietly shelved in deference to the feelings of the administration.
The look on President Bush's face when the news was whispered into his ear, and his expressions thereafter, while he sat silently on the grammar school's stage, was a study in character. One aspect was notable: his lack of surprise.
Bush may have trained himself to not look surprised, but it was apparent he was mulling something over. What suffused his face was clearly disappointment.
It is now obvious why. The vague threats the administration had been hearing had become real. But, it appeared the "generalized" warnings (as administration aides have phrased it) were never taken seriously enough to prompt preventative action on the part of the president--or any president, including Bill Clinton. That is what Bush seemed to realize, sitting quietly while the teacher finished reading to the assembled children. Bush's great distress was unmistakable.
That first day was not a good one for the president, as many commentators pointed out. But he recovered. Vice President Cheney's appearance on "Meet the Press" a week later didn't help, though. Cheney seemed too much in command and he was thereafter sent to various undisclosed locations to keep him from overshadowing Bush. Cheney had made excuses for why he didn't ask President Bush to return immediately to Washington, saying there had been reports that "an airplane was headed for the White House." It's possible Cheney was speaking of the pre-9/11 information they had received of various potential targets, as he certainly was when he told Tim Russert that there had been warnings of terrorist activity and they get them "all the time," Cheney said, but nothing "specific," he added. It depends, as Bill Clinton would say, on the meaning of "specific." Cheney and Bush clearly did not know specifics, but Cheney still felt it necessary to downplay any information the administration had been getting.
Nonetheless, by that 9/17 interview, al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden had been identified as the culprits. The rapidity of intelligence gathering seemed astounding, except that it came about because a lot of it was known before the attack.
National security advisor Condoleezza Rice claimed recently, "no one could have predicted" that airplanes would be used as missiles, that hijacking would be anything but "traditional." Yet, not all agree, given the number of pre-9/11 examples that have come to light. Many have mentioned Tom Clancy's 1994 novel,Debt of Honor, which has a plane fly into the Capitol, but the imagining may have gone the other way--that the terrorists got the idea from Tom Clancy, not that Clancy divined their intentions.
The terrible events of 9/11 are disturbing for many reasons. One is that the audacity and success of the terrorists is the sort of thing Americans usually admire. In our popular culture, films and television, we often cheer for the handful of underdogs who outwit the many and accomplish some amazing feat. Or that some cockamamie plot actually is pulled off, one that requires stealth and skill and spectacular execution. That knowledge gnaws uncomfortably at the heart of our feelings about the catastrophe.
Which is why we applaud the passengers of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. Those folks didn't die dupes, but heroes. Yet, on 9/11, the terrorists beat us at our own game, the ingenious dream of pulling off the one-in-a-million caper.
If Hollywood had been in control, the good guy would have been the Phoenix FBI man, who somehow would have cracked the case at the last minute, thwarting the bad guys, aided by some spunky airline worker who thought the odd collection of men sitting in First Class looked like a gang of hijackers.
But, it didn't work out that way. The 9/11 terrorists spoiled a lot of things, even our cultural fantasy life. Now, since it is All Threats All the Time, we, despite evidence to the contrary, need to believe our intelligence agencies' intelligence isn't a fantasy, too.
Chandra Levy's bones and a handful of FBI terrorist memos lay long hidden from sight, or, at least, hidden from those who were supposed to be looking for them. But, both the FBI and the District of Columbia police learned their investigative techniques at the same school, one that obviously suffers from grade inflation, but the public seems quite willing to see through that and give both performances an F.
The excuse given by the D.C. police was that even though the building Chandra Levy looked up on the internet was nearby the location where her skeleton was found, the earlier "massive" search had been stopped fifty yards short of the jogging path and the cliff above her resting place, because that area fell beyond their prescribed search zone. That it was within two hundred yards of a parking area might have met another criteria for further searching, but incompetence came first.
The FBI has more excuses. Bad computers are leading the way as the chief culprit. Blame machines, not personnel, seems to be the line. Thirty years ago I wrote a book about a big FBI case, the Harrisburg 7, where J. Edgar Hoover claimed a group of priests and nuns and one Pakistani Muslim conspired to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up heating tunnels in Washington, D.C. The case did not go well for the government and Hoover died shortly after it ended in a hung jury on the major counts.
Recently, Attorney General John Ashcroft appears to be auditioning for the role of J. Edgar Hoover, a strange man in a strange land, letting the FBI's new director, Robert Mueller, play Clyde Tolson, Hoover's boon companion.
The second culprit of the FBI blame-game is its "culture." Second to machines, culture is a good villain, since it involves no one. The culture of the FBI hasn't improved much since Hoover's death three decades ago: the dress code remains the same, accountants and lawyers are still the preferred backgrounds of FBI personnel, followed by veterans of law enforcement. The FBI has shown that it is good at one thing targeting subjects and staging stings. J. Edgar Hoover did that a lot, especially getting the goods on politicians--which is what kept him in power till he died. No president was free from fear of Hoover and his files. That is why he dropped dead after nearly 50 years in the job at age 77.
Most of the FBI past successes have come about because of informers. That had been the genesis of the Harrisburg case. But the list is long. When the Bureau stumbles it is often because it doesn't heed informers--as it did when it turned away the entreaties of the brother-in-law of the long-serving spy, Robert Hanssen.
What the recent 9/11 revelations show is that the problem is top down and not bottom up. Individual FBI agents performed well--those in Phoenix and Minneapolis--but higher ups thwarted their initiatives. The ballyhooed "reorganization" of the FBI does not cure that problem: it's forward to the past.
Nothing will cure the Washington, D.C. police, it appears. It is too bad the Levy family didn't spend all its funds on hiring private investigators to walk Rock Creek Park near the Klingle Mansion, rather than spending so much money on lawyers and public relations people.
And Rep. Gary Condit could have used his offered reward money for the job and hired a private eye to search. Condit and the D.C. police were as effective as O.J., who vowed to find the real killers of his wife and her friend.
But Chandra Levy is just one unfortunate, unlucky, young woman. The nation has to depend on the vaunted investigative abilities of the FBI. During the Vietnam-war years (and before) the FBI was quite good at placing informers in the anti-war movement--as they had in the civil rights movement, and other domestic "terrorist" (as J. Edgar saw them) threats. There were plenty of hippies, young blacks, and racist white guys available.
But, the country changed and the Bureau lost the ability to blend in. Its job became harder and it didn't rise to the occasion. Robert Mueller's new reshufflings inspire no confidence the old culture will change. If he really wants that, Mueller would remove Hoover's name from the FBI headquarters' building that honors him.
Robin Leach, the megaphone-voiced host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, is featured in a new television commercial, one that parodies his 1980s program, his claim to fame he is shown in a middle class house, watching TV, eating snack food, telling the departing owners to enjoy their cheap vacation, their trip to the mall, or whatever. What the ad is selling is difficult to remember (inexpensive motels, discount ticket web sites?), but it is clear what the commercial is saying the high life, the age of excess, is over.
This commercial has popped up at the same time as a number of articles about fallen CEOs, which is not strange, since it charts the same phenomenon, the end of the unprecedented run up of the bull stock market, the collapse of so many tech companies, the bankruptcy of Enron, Global Crossing, and other companies, and the revelations and subsequent shock--shock!--at the bloated compensation of corporate America's top executives.
The most Rich-and-Famous-like of the bandit CEOs is one of the most recently indicted, Dennis Kozlowski, the former chairman of Tyco International. Mr. Kozlowski's connection is the source of his alleged criminality, trying to dodge the 8% New York state tax on some gaudy art purchases, 13 million dollars worth, one million a room for his 13 room Fifth Avenue apartment.
The seemingly indestructible Manhattan district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, hauled Kozlowski into court last week, the day after he resigned from Tyco. Kozlowski pled not guilty.
Getting a CEO on state tax evasion is like getting Al Capone on tax evasion (which is what Capone was jailed for.) It seems to miss the point. Tyco is looking into whether Mr. Kozlowski misused company funds for his own benefit. And the firm is not even talking about his salary, stock options and other compensation. That sort of killing is entirely legal, even though corporate governance activists, pensions funds, and even the Justice Department, are looking into making it a bit illegal.
Kozlowski was pulling down nearly a 100 million a year for the last three years from Tyco, a Bermuda-based (read tax-free zone) conglomerate.
Tyco joins Enron and Vice President Cheney's old firm, Halliburton, as companies that have lost value because of revelations about their "aggressive" accounting practices, used to inflate stock value, a temptation for top executives, since much of their compensation is in stock options.
Vice President Cheney was reluctant to sell his Halliburton stock when he took office, lest he lose a dollar or two of profit. But, given conflict of interest difficulties, he did unload most of it, making himself a bundle (around 18 million), since, with asbestos liabilities and the SEC now snapping at Halliburton's heels, it is worth one-fifth of what it was then.
During the vice presidential debate, Joe Lieberman--who, it appears, would like Al Gore not to run for president in '04, so he could--didn't respond to Cheney when Cheney said "And the government had nothing to do with it," after Lieberman mentioned how well Cheney had been doing after he left government service. Lieberman, who contributed to Gore's loss by not winning the veep debate, had no response to Cheney's bogus claim. Lieberman could have easily pointed out it was through Cheney's government contacts that Halliburton got so much international business.
Since the House Republicans want desperately to end the estate tax forever, one can only wonder if the age of excess is indeed over. The fact that a few CEOs have been shown to be not worth the millions they took out of their companies and have had to part with some of that loot (Enron's Ken Lay having to sell a few extra houses in Aspen, etc.), will only make those who haven't been dragged into the limelight more wily.
It's hard to abandon, as Robin Leach would say, "Champagne wishes and caviar dreams," once they've been so profligately sampled. Though, one can only be amused that the tax-averse former Tyco CEO's downfall came about because he couldn't bring himself to pay the extra 8 percent of art tax. Just like the Republicans who want to permanently repeal the estate tax, it must have been a matter of principle.
With all the talk about Homeland Security, I thought I'd look at the changes in Washington, D.C.'s security, since I was last there during Clinton's first term. Most of it has taken the form of concrete planters; they are everywhere, cordoning off buildings from potential truck bombs, some filled with petunias, others grass, others left empty to gather trash.
And more streets are closed to automobiles with highway work-site barriers, though pedestrians are still allowed to walk about. Across from the White House, Blair House was adorned with the Israeli flag. A large white tent was put up in front of it, in preparation for Ariel Sharon's low-keyed visit last week, the one that concluded with the president's announcement that "no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government."
The impressive and moving Holocaust Museum, like all buildings open to the general public (the White House, FBI and Capitol no longer are), required a search of purses and bags, and passage through metal detectors. The museum's grim displays were not as shocking as they could have been; the most graphic imagery was kept behind its own concrete barrier: one had to choose to look at it, films taken by Russians, British, and Americans when various concentration camps were liberated at the end of the war.
One of museum's disturbing first images is an oversized photograph of an SS officer and a snarling German Shepard. So, it was disconcerting to be thrust back out into the sunshine at the tour's end and see two things one, pro-Palestinian groups protesting Israeli occupation, and, two, a guard at the museum's driveway, a brutally fit young man, dressed more in the style of Israeli secret service than our own, with his own snarling German Shepard. It wasn't clear if the guard was a permanent fixture, or if he was there because of Sharon's visit.
The Pro-Palestinians who were leafleting the dazed folk exiting the museum certainly make use of mirror-image rhetoric and symbols, the Palestinians being the oppressed minority (though, one of the shocking facts revealed inside the museum was that Jews were less than one percent of Germany's population at the time Hitler rose to power), casting the Israelis as the powerful victimizers with racist, genocidal intentions. Just because symbols can be flipped doesn't mean they are equivalent. Regardless of the protestors' contentions, the Palestinians are not the Jews of WWII and the Israelis are not the Germans.
Washington's security bric-a-brac has grown exponentially since the early Clinton years. And it looks to be a permanent condition, the people's city made less public. A few years ago, one could wander through the Capitol practically unimpeded. Now, even equipped with passes, searches are thorough and, like at an airport, a Swiss Army knife I mistakenly kept in my pocket, had to be thrown away.
California's Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Richard Durbin were the only two legislators in the Senate chamber, sharing criticisms of the Bush administration for C-Span consumption, Boxer taking the lead, chastising the administration for its penchant for secrecy, not about the current terror war, but on domestic issues: Cheney's undisclosed energy advisors, Super Fund sites being removed from the list unacknowledged. Sen. Durbin complained about the Republican operative Grover Norquist's recent campaign to uncover the Democratic ties of lobbyists, in order to deny them access to GOP lawmakers, officials and staff.
Washington does seem to be a city under siege, but from what is unclear. All its monuments never before looked so singularly dedicated to slaughter and its aftermath. In front of the ever reassuring Lincoln Memorial, the water in the reflecting pool is shrunk back to drought proportions. At the far end, construction of the controversial new WWII memorial is under way, the controversy itself bulldozed under.
Every few minutes late in the afternoon, another large jet flies over, dipping down to Reagan National Airport, each one being its own memorial to the jet which smashed into the nearby Pentagon on 9/11. One sees how that plane's flight path wouldn't have appeared, until the very end, to have been out of the ordinary. But, these days, very little seems out of the ordinary in our rapidly evolving security state.
Why do the cases of sex-offending priests, those mishandled by the Catholic hierarchy, matter so much now, and not in the early '90s, when examples of the same behavior were in the press?
Even the "cover-up" aspect was clear then. It was standard operating procedure and echoed, at the time, the conduct of any number of large, guild-like institutions, insular ones such as medicine, law enforcement, government, or investment banking, and those corporations which overlap that tradition at the edges.
The "whistle-blower" has not been an honored figure in our culture. Indeed, he or she is ranked somewhere above traitor, but far below hero. The Minneapolis FBI agent, Coleen Rowley, was still worried that she would be fired and required congressional assurance that wouldn't occur, after her letter to the director complaining about upper FBI conduct in the 20th hijacker (Zacarias Moussaoui) case came to light.
And, given the recent 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, there has been a new spate of speculation about the identity of "Deep Throat," one of the most effective whistle-blowers in history. But, given whistle-blowing's dubious status, no one wants to step forward and claim the prize himself (since all that chicanery happened in the early sexist '70s, no women has ever been suspected of being Deep Throat.)
A journalism class at the University of Illinois has concluded that Deep Throat is none other than Pat Buchanan, once Richard Nixon's speech writer and current television pundit personality. Buchanan, whose star has faded somewhat since he last ran for president in 2000, has been coy about denying the honor. His supporters claim Buchanan's loyalty to his former boss would have prevented him from being Deep Throat, though his jumping from the Republican party in 2000 to run as a third party candidate revealed a crack in his loyalty, unless one believes that Buchanan's self-destructive Reform Party race was itself meant to be a dirty trick, devised to eliminate any effective challenge (no Ross Perot) from the right to George W. Bush's candidacy. That Buchanan won the "Jews for Buchanan" vote in Florida's disputed butterfly-ballot precinct was an unforeseen bonus for his yeoman service to the Bush family.
Doctors cover up for other doctors and hospitals often allow their problem physicians to leave unmolested, if they agree to leave the state and go elsewhere.
Bishops throughout the United States played the same shell game. But, this time around, the Catholic Church ran into a buzz saw not of its own making. People are finally get fed up with business as usual.
The events of 9/11 have had a lot to do with that, as well as the perfidy of other hierarchal institutions, especially those in the corporate world, Enron and Arthur Andersen being prominent culprits. Even Martha Stewart, under suspicion for insider trading of ImClone stock, is having trouble making a silk purse out of that particular sow's ear.
Insidious insider behavior, where the few protect the few at the expense of the many, is now being paraded for all to see--and scorned. In the case of the Catholic Church, its self-protective behavior is particularly odorous, since the victims were young people. Enron's victims were stock holders everywhere, especially the plain folk whose money went unbidden into pension funds and other retirement vehicles.
Like the ambiguous feelings people have for whistle-blowers, equally ambiguous feelings surround insiders. We all want to be insiders, but that leaves a great many restless outsiders. And, when the public feels that the pool of insiders has grown too small and too wealthy, it suffers insider revulsion and begins to balk.
Grand juries might make Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law and other church figures pay a price. But, rapacious CEOs and connected insiders and trimmers could yet pay, too.
More whistle-blowers may surface and join the outraged outsiders. Yet, it is unlikely Deep Throat will come forward. Unless, like the irrepressible Pat Buchanan, he thinks there's something in it for him.
When Al Gore was vice president, he headed the "reinventing government" initiative, which managed to eliminate, Gore claimed, 300,000 federal workers. But, it is really President Bush who is reinventing government, creating a new cabinet department, Homeland Security, which may reemploy that number, though over half would be current workers switched from other departments.
But, like unionized grocery stores that close down and reopen as nonunion shops, these employees will go from a protected work environment to one with less safeguards, one that makes even whistleblowing a no-no.
President Bush is aping private business tactics of the last twenty years in limiting workers' rights and these restrictions are done in the name of national security, which makes it ok for most Americans.
Recently, a state department analyst accused the American media of "treason," for pointing out vulnerabilities in our country that terrorists could exploit. Dennis Pluchinsky, a terrorism expert, wrote indignantly in the Washington Post, "Not only do the media identify potential target vulnerabilities for the terrorists but they also provide our foes with progress reports!"
What Mr. Pluchinsky objects to is education and information. Without the media's aid, he contends, terrorists would be helpless. But, one only has to think back to 9/11 to realize the hijackers required little help from the American media. Indeed, if journalists had written about the possibility of terrorists taking flight training lessons, that alone might have thrown a wrench into the works.
And, despite Pluchinsky's low opinion of terrorist know how, it doesn't take much for one to consider the possible use of a match and a dry forest to wreak economic and personal havoc on states like Colorado and Arizona.
Pluchinsky's qualms about the perils of a free press are shared by a lot of people in the Bush administration. But, President Bush has made no secret about his desire to remove Iraq's Saddam Hussein by any means necessary. Given Saddam's fashion style, he could be sent a new homburg (or trilby) with poison in the hatband. Perhaps the CIA needs help from the media?
Most likely not. Yet, President Bush unleashed Vice President Cheney to chastise congressional leaders for media reports citing NSA intercepts on September 10th referring to upcoming attacks.
The administration has limited access to what are now deemed sensitive web sites, Freedom of Information Act requests, and other previously open sources. The Bush administration had been doing some of that before 9/11. It is just doing much more.
Unfortunately, even those who would like to restrict freedom of the press will have a much harder time doing so today than, say, in the 1960s, when the New York Times' publisher agreed not to run reports of the upcoming Bay of Pigs invasion, an act of self-censorship that even President Kennedy later regretted.
The internet has had a paradoxical effect: it makes the dissemination of accurate information hard to suppress, while, at the same time, it allows the proliferation of inaccurate information to flourish. The internet is its own Tower of Babel; it allows everyone to chose his or her own reality.
Terrorism is not more efficiently fought by censorship, even self-censorship on the part of the American media. Indeed, the fact that the FBI and CIA and other investigative agencies didn't put together the puzzle of 9/11 from what information they actually had, shows the limitation of knowledge, even knowledge freely dispensed.
It requires imagination, as well as information, which the Bush administration would do well not to try to suppress, given that is what our security services lacked pre-September 11th.
Calling the media treasonous is folly and shows a considerable lack of imagination, something any state department terrorism analyst sorely needs.
The Supreme Court's term-ending summer dump of decisions has reaffirmed that, since Bush v. Gore, which ended the 2000 election, the Court continues to be more of a political body than a judicial one. Indeed, the lack of expected resignations on the Court is more of a political choice than a private one.
This time around, the justices even spelled out their public persona: in Atkins v. Virginia, which barred the execution of "mentally retarded" defendants, Justice John Paul Stevens cited an evolving "national consensus" against the practice, though both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, while governors, were helped into the presidency by their lack of hesitancy in executing one and all.
Has a rich mentally retarded person ever been executed? I doubt it, but, given our country's long history, there may have been one, but I have yet to find an example. The Court hasn't discovered a national consensus against executing poor people, though there is obviously one against executing rich people.
And, in the school voucher decision, the Court is now doing tax work for the Republicans, giving rebates to those who want to send their children to private schools. Unfortunately, in order to implement this policy, the majority had to resort to other subjective doctrines, such as governmental "neutrality," which, like "national consensus," can be used whenever the majority has something it wants done done (like ending recounts in Florida.)
And, speaking of recounts, Al Gore has reemerged once again, saying he did it all wrong in 2000 and will do it all right in 2004. This is troubling for a lot of Democrats, who, unlike Gore, realize that he had his best chance to defeat George W. Bush in 2000 and, since it didn't turn out that way, he has much less chance of beating him in '04. Not that it is impossible, but it is so improbable at this point, no one can be enthusiastic about the idea of a re-run.
The difficulty is that there is no obvious candidate for the Democrats to pass the torch to and, because of that, it may be Gore's to carry. It will be a painful race to behold, because the electorate will have to examine once again President Bush's past, which, since 9/11, most have been happy to forget.
The current head of the SEC, Harvey Pitt, a former Arthur Andersen lawyer, early in his tenure gave a speech before a group of accountants promising a "kinder and gentler" SEC. Given the avalanche of corporate malfeasance that has crashed down since then, Pitt's words, which echo George W. Bush's father's, are especially unfortunate.
Creeping back into public view are accounts of President Bush's early history, his business dealings in various failing companies that nonetheless somehow managed to make him money.
Harken Energy, in 1989, disguised losses and reported profits, a la WorldCom, but only to the tune of ten million, while George W. Bush sat on its auditing board. Later, Bush sold Harken stock for over $800,000, shortly before reports about its chicanery were made public.
The SEC investigated him (while his father was president), but did not prosecute Bush for insider trading, though it left him unexonerated. When asked about that last week, Bush replied defensively, "Everything has been fully disclosed and fully vetted."
Criticism of the president, post 9/11, has been muted. But, ever since Bush took office, there has been little appetite for re-examining questionable episodes from his past. Most of that comes from the lingering distaste the public has from the endless rehashing of Bill and Hillary Clinton's early histories, while they were in office, all to no account, other than deepening the animosity between ideological opponents and coarsening politics generally and forever.
President Bush owes the Clintons a substantial debt for this deep public aversion to partisan scandal digging. And when Al Gore rises zombie-like to speak, he reminds all Americans of what that time was like. The congressional races in '02 will be relatively free of presidential muckraking, which is why Republicans fear them. But no one looks forward to a Bush/Gore rematch in 2004, especially the public at large.
If Karen Hughes hadn't vacated her west wing office on Monday morning the 8th, would Karl Rove have been able to push George W. Bush out in front of a hastily called press conference late that afternoon? The first public act in a Hughes-less White House wasn't a big hit for the president, given the questions about the bad old days at Harken Energy that were awaiting him.
Rove, now Bush's chief image advisor after Hughes' departure, wanted to clear the air for last Tuesday's much ballyhooed "corporate responsibility" speech, by having the president respond the day before to the charges of corporate irresponsibility concerning his tenure on Harken's board. Karen Hughes, though, might have foreseen the peril involved: letting the press have more to report on, rather than less.
The president didn't raise his status as Mr. Clean of the business world. To a question comparing Harken's accounting methods to Enron's, Bush claimed, that "in the corporate world, sometimes things aren't exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures." And, replying to a query about his distant relations with the NAACP, he said, "Let's see. There I was sitting around the table with foreign leaders looking at Colin Powell and Condi Rice..." He shook his head dismissively and took another question. Evidently, the import of his description of Colin Powell and Condi Rice being on his payroll was black and white enough for him.
As a rollout for the next day's corporate responsibility lecture, the press conference was a toss-up, at best. It certainly left Tuesday's shape-up speech to Wall Street professionals with a decidedly "do what I say, not what I have done" aftertaste.
The president's support for SEC chairman Harvey Pitt (at the press conference Bush said he didn't understand Washington, that Pitt has barely put on his "uniform," and people wanted to be rid of him) counters any hope for real reforms, unless they are Senate driven.
Given that Bush's tax bill is an accounting triumph the managers at Arthur Andersen would cheer--rescinding its many provisions on Dec. 31, 2010, so that the true deficits it causes wouldn't be counted, etc.--one appreciates Bush's new nuanced view of a world made up, not of black and white, but grays.
The president's plain speech and fondness for nostrums has been effective when addressing the war on terror, but not when he scolds rapacious CEO's, threatening them with higher prison terms (10 years max instead of 5.)
Vice President Dick Cheney may, or may not, be shaking in his boots at the thought of ten years at some Club Fed, given the lawsuit filed against him and his previous employer, Halliburton, over some creative accounting the firm practiced. Judicial Watch, the so-called "conservative legal watchdog group" was a favorite of Republicans during the Clinton years, since its head, Larry Klayman, a recovering libertarian, was a tenacious foe of the former president and all his men and women, dragging a good many of them before video cameras for long depositions, while Klayman himself appeared on the cable attack news shows year after year.
Klayman seems irrevocably hooked on his own media exposure and has turned rabidly on the hand that used to feed him, the conservative constituency, and taken after the veep. The White House has labeled the suit "without merit," but if Klayman is half as tenacious with Cheney as he was with Clinton, merit won't matter much.
The Wall Street Journal leapt to the president's defense last week, saying it had displeased the Bush campaign when it covered the Harken story in 1999, but, regarding Bush's business past, it argued that "An informed election, it seems to us, wipes the slate clean."
The Journal was a more steadfast critic of Bill Clinton than Larry Klayman, during Clinton's entire presidency; of course, the paper didn't grant a clean slate to Clinton during his second term, after his second election by a very informed electorate. Once again, George W. Bush needs to be the beneficiary of special treatment. Karen Hughes, call from home.
Baseball season often propels writers into flights of poetry, though I am not one of them. But, the public dispute between Ted Williams' offspring over the disposal of their father's body does bring to mind a line of Robert Frost's, "Some say the world will end in fire,/some say in ice." It is unlikely Frost had in mind any burial procedures when he wrote the poem, "Fire and Ice," but those are the choices offered by the legendary ballplayer's children. Frost's poem concluded, either outcome would "suffice."
Summer sports can lead to moments of contemplation. One example is the recent Ford-sponsored Senior Players Championship golf tournament, held in Dearborn, Mich. The television commentators had a lot of space to fill; there were lingering shots of the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company, located across from the golf course.
Given the sorry state of corporate America, the toppling of Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, etc., the culpability of CEOs, the decline of confidence in President Bush's handling of corporate scandals and the economy, the gloomy talk coming out of Washington and Wall Street generally, views of the Ford building produced waves of nostalgia, not for Mustangs, or the 1950s, but for corporations as they used to be understood.
That is, for the time most American big business produced products that people bought and sold, where unionized workers realized the fruits of their labors, before the global economy sucked a lot of that sort of production elsewhere on the globe, as companies sought populations that would work for pennies, before American corporations became more "service" oriented, where investment banking and the more abstract world of electronic transactions became the norm, the sort of thing Enron became famous for, selling what others produced, being a company of middle men skimming profits off the top, filling buildings with assembly lines of computer-armed traders and salesmen, manufacturing practically invisible products, the market segment that led the charge of the Bull market.
President Bush has been criticized for the steel tariffs he levied, characterized as a crass political act, attempting to woo the few states that still produce steel. But, trying to save the steel industry has other benefits: it reminds the public of what American business used to be. As in Dearborn, Michigan, the home of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, which recreated and preserved Thomas Edison's laboratory, the Wright Brothers' cycle shop, it does have something of the anachronistic about it, the impulse to save historic sites. But Honda recently needed to airlift steel from Japan for its American plants. Homeland Steel is, actually, Homeland Security.
It is better to save some of our industrial past than propose, as Bush has done, to create Operation TIPS and make a million Americans a junior g-man, rivaling the citizen spy system Fidel Castro has put in place in Cuba.
But it doesn't take an amateur intelligence service to detect what has been causing injury to Americans and public life. Economists claim the present downturn is what one would expect after a decade of a speculative bubble, but, beneath that bubble was another one, that isn't as cyclical, the revelations of accounting fraud and CEO enrichment, where millions of dollars of cold cash were extracted from the bubble before it burst. That bubble was an aneurism in the economic system's artery. It, too, has burst, and that is why investor confidence has been on life-support.
Like the unseemly fight over the corpse of Ted Williams, the battle over corporate control might come down to choosing between competing versions of fire and ice, the ice of regulation and the fire of little or none, government intervention versus continuing lassiez-faire. But, the systemic problems of the transformed economy would still remain, the profound change from an export, industrial one, to an import, consumer driven one. And, given that, unlike Frost's poem, neither fire nor ice may suffice.
In the 2000 campaign, candidate George W. Bush's most effective moment in the televised debates with Al Gore came when Bush asked Gore, why hadn't he done anything about prescription drug benefits during the last eight years while he was vice president? It was a good question.
Some economists believe one of the Clinton administration's worst decisions was to leave office with such a large projected surplus. It should have spent more money.
It is fairly clear why Clinton didn't: Monica, the blue dress, etc. His second term was hamstrung by the scandals and the rancorous lead-up to impeachment. On the plus side, it appears that Clinton was entertaining notions of some form of privatization of Social Security, so, at least, the surplus wasn't squandered on that.
But, a prescription drug plan was a casualty. Now that there is no surplus and the projected deficits loom larger, while the stock market tanks, Bush's unquenched desire to begin privatizing Social Security has been scuttled for his first term. But the fight over a prescription drug plan has become a surrogate for that battle.
The Democratic and Republican plans that were rejected last week in the Senate are both based on the same ideological foundations that frame the Social Security debate. The Republicans trust private insurance companies and the good will of the drug industry. Their plan allows those corporations to reap profits from selling retirees drugs.
The partial privatization of Social Security, some form of personal accounts, would be a bonanza for investment houses. Even Bush's commission on Social Security reform admitted the initial cost of partial privatization would be the same figure the system's critics claim would take to make it solvent for 75 years. In either case, prescription drugs or Social Security, Republicans want to transfer money directly from tax payers to corporations.
The Democratic drug plan (expanding Medicare) lets us all reap the rewards of efficiency (buying power, etc.) and low administrative costs--as Social Security now does--that would be brought about by the thing insurance companies and the drug industry most fear: cost, hence profit, controls. That is why those industries spent so much to derail the Clinton health plan in 1994.
But nothing was passed during the boom years. Then it would have been a version of fixing the roof while the sun shines, though it would have taken skillful leadership on the part of either Clinton or Gore, given the Republican control of Congress.
Now leadership continues to be in short supply. If the Democrats win the House and retain the Senate in the mid-term elections, some sort of compromise drug bill will be passed--though an attempt to hastily cobble together a "welfare" version before then continues. It is unlikely President Bush will want to go into the presidential election having vetoed a prescription drug plan passed by both houses of Congress.
Just as the current corporate calamities have taken the air out of the push to privatize Social Security, given the tattered confidence the public has in the stock market and its handymen, trust in the drug industry and insurance companies to be sympathetic to the difficulties of the elderly remains compromised.
All along, Medicare has been the federal program in financial trouble, not Social Security. Rising medical costs, those beyond projection, imperil it. Medicare needs not just a prescription drug plan for the elderly, it requires genuine reforms, not a wholesale sell-out to the private sector. It may require a tax hike; certainly, it will take the rescinding of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Medicare should be strengthened, not splintered into poverty programs.
The Senate, wisely, has delayed action on the Department of Homeland Security until after the August recess. The Texas-sized stampede to reorganize the federal government, stripping worker protections along the way, has been slowed, but not stopped.
President Bush wants to sign the historic legislation as part of 9/11 anniversary commemorations, but that wish may be as ill-timed as President Ronald Reagan's desire to deliver his 1986 State of the Union speech with schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe orbiting the earth in the Challenger.
Since the impetus for creating the new governmental entity was the attacks of 9/11, one important question is whether those calamitous events would have been stopped by the cumbersome department the president envisions. The answer isn't obvious.
The House, against the White House's wishes, did pass Rep. Tim Roemer's (D.In.) bill calling for the creation of a 10-member independent panel to investigate the terrorist attacks by a vote of 218-189, which included 25 Republicans. But the president prefers the large commotion of manufacturing a complicated, costly new bureaucracy, to an independent investigation into whether such a department would solve any problems. He is putting a massive bureaucratic cart before the smaller legislative horse.
One of the horrors of the 9/11 attacks was their relative simplicity. What has become increasingly clear is the ominous combination of small, random human errors that led to the terrorists' success. A collection of misjudgments piled up that can be addressed without the burdensome trappings of a Homeland Security department. Pre-9/11 there was enough information available to have taken a few, prudent steps, any one of which might have foiled the terrorists.
The FAA could have made clear to the airlines that future hijackings wouldn't be necessarily the run-of-the-mill, "fly me to Cuba" sort. There was sufficient intelligence, domestic and foreign, to have informed airline personnel that hijacked planes might be used as weapons, not as bargaining chips.
Years ago, following the long-established Israeli example, cockpit doors could have been re-enforced, as they tardily have begun to be now. Pilots could have been instructed to land their planes at the first available airport whenever threatened with a takeover.
Such measures could have been implemented without the creation of a new governmental department, or arming the pilots. Guns in the cockpit are not the solution, when interior doors as flimsy as a cheap RV's are the problem.
Making the FBI, CIA and other security services more accountable is easier to do in their present configurations. Building new layers of management only provide more people and agencies to pass the buck to. The organizations in place need to be held accountable, not to be relieved of direct responsibility for their past failings.
Bigger is not always better, but the proposed department's foreseeable bigness does give President Bush a large legislative trophy, which seems to be the goal. All along, the department of Homeland Security was hatched as a political idea more than a practical one.
There has been greater public discussion about toppling Saddam Hussein, than debate over whether a new cabinet-level department and its concurrent reshuffling and staffing makes sense. First, the events of 9/11 should be investigated and the flaws in our existing structures should be pinpointed. Then, and only then, should a new large-scale department be considered.
The example of the recent rescue of the nine trapped miners is instructive. The collective response was inspired not by the nonunion mine company that was responsible, but by an old government agency, the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It and the on-scene personnel made the right judgments and decisions, unlike the various security agencies and their employees that had information pertinent to 9/11.
The miners and their rescuers also had the benefit of some good luck, which was, so lamentably, not available to the victims of 9/11.
During the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era there were a number of federal conspiracy trials where some defendants attempted to go "pro se" that is, to defend themselves. Judges didn't want that to occur (and most often wouldn't allow it), since it automatically turned what were already "political" trials into very political trials. It gave the defendant(s) a forum to make speeches, to present their point of view over and over.
Recently, there have been two examples of pro se defense: one concluded, the James Traficant trial, and one just beginning, the Zacarias Moussaoui case. Traficant's trial was largely farcical, the expelled Ohio Congressman finally convicted after a career of petty corruption. Moussaoui's case is more tragic, given his connection to the 9/11 terrorists. And that connection keeps changing. The government first labeled him the 20th hijacker; now it is claiming less involvement for him. Amended prosecutorial strategies are rather standard in federal court. What isn't standard has been the Justice Department's hit-or-miss handling of 9/11-related cases.
The Bush administration's decisions in this regard are difficult to fathom. The numbers of individuals involved form a nonsensical pyramid of allotted civil rights protection, from some to none. At the bottom are the detainees in the cages at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Then come the various immigration cases, the sweep of Middle Eastern nationals, both foreign and domestic. Above them are the three Americans, most famously John Walker Lindh, along with the former Chicago gang member, Jose Padilla, and Yaser Esam Hamdi, captured in Afghanistan, both cooling their heals, uncharged, in military jails.
John Walker Lindh, the California Taliban, was able to cop a plea, thanks to the persistence and media savvy of his parents. Padilla and Hamdi are more or less stateless and incommunicado.
For a man who had to undergo a mental competency examination in order to be permitted to act as his own lawyer, Moussaoui, a French national, thus far has been an effective critic of the judicial system that holds him. His manner, like Traficant's was, is clownish, an often chosen style of defendants who consider themselves political prisoners. Imagine the guerrilla theater of the '60s Yippies, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman.
Moussaoui has demonstrated in the Judge Leonie Brinkema's courtroom why, under normal circumstances, a case like his would have been settled with a plea bargain, which would have resulted in a conviction on a lesser charge, as was done with John Walker Lindh. If anyone requires a competency hearing, it is the federal prosecutors in charge.
Until the government's amended papers, the Justice Department felt it necessary to aggrandize Moussaoui. He had been underplayed by one and all before 9/11; afterwards, the judgment was made to overplay him.
The hasty decision by Attorney General John Ashcroft to try Moussaoui in federal court, unlike the way so many others are being treated, was seen as a way to blunt criticism and demonstrate the effectiveness of the war on terror, rather than revealing its murkier, messy accomplishments, which has resulted in prisoners of the not-quite-a-war, suspects without access to lawyers, individuals left without rights and therefore consequences.
But, with Moussaoui, they are stuck--and stuck in federal court. If he cannot be directly linked to the 9/11 plot, he no longer has the great symbolic value that led Ashcroft to grant Moussaoui a show trial.
It would behoove the Justice Department to deal with Moussaoui and whatever court-appointed representation he assembles and offer him a plea to a lesser charge, one without the death penalty. Whatever his connection to the 9/11 hijackers, Moussaoui clearly doesn't wish, like they did, to die a martyr for the cause. Even if the government beats the odds and does convict him on all counts--after a trial that may well become more farce than tragedy--killing Moussaoui will not be righteous vengeance.
However, keeping him on ice and learning what he knows would be sweet vengeance enough.
During last week's President's Economic Forum in Waco, Texas, one chant that wasn't heard sung by the economic recovery plan chorus of the Bush administration was "privatize Social Security!" And, apparently, it won't be heard during the mid-term election Congressional campaigns, either. At least, not uttered by Republicans.
They have been given their marching orders by GOP leadership not to talk up the president's discredited initiative. One egregious case of towing the new party line I'm observing up close and personal is Indiana's 2nd congressional district race, where the Republican nominee, Chris Chocola, has flip-flopped on his desire to see the entire Social Security system privatized.
Chocola, who became rich by engineering the sale of a family-owned business during the market's boom years, two years ago ran a largely self-financed losing race against incumbent Tim Roemer, who is now retiring from the House for greener pastures. Though all 435 House seats are up for grabs, only about a dozen are actually in play. Those will decide which party will control the House. Chocola's run against Democrat Jill Long Thompson in northern Indiana is one of the most hotly contested.
Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republican dignitaries have already traveled to stand by Chocola's side (and the president is on the way), raising for him about the same amount of money Chocola spent on his own (over a half million) the first time he ran. And there will be more to come, given the interest Republicans have in capturing this seat. Whereas Chocola's business success was a plus in 2000, it doesn't shine as bright in 2002, especially since, as the Wall Street Journal reported, Chocola's company cut medical benefits for retirees at the same time it awarded its executives large bonuses.
Chocola's back-pedaling on Social Security is extreme, though he is far from alone. Republican incumbents running in Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and elsewhere, have reversed their stands on Social Security.
Chocola was quoted in 2000 by the Elkhart Truth, saying, "Bush's plan of individual investment of 2 percent of the money is a start. Eventually, I'd like to see the entire system privatized. It's not a 'risky scheme.'"
Now, Chocola claims,"I do not support the privatization of Social Security."
Most politicians realize their pasts can be massaged beyond recognition, because most of the electorate lives in the present. You are what you say you are, not what you have been.
Democrats, too, have been back-pedaling. At least, Sen. Joseph Lieberman has. Lieberman now blames the "people versus the powerful" rhetoric of Al Gore for losing Gore the presidency and Lieberman the vice presidency, forcing him to remain marooned in the Senate.
This running away from the "people versus the powerful" rhetoric is the Democratic equivalent of not waving the privatizing flag during the mid-term elections. Lieberman wants the party to be corporate America's best friend. During the 2000 campaign, Lieberman was unenthusiastic about going after the powerful, forfeiting the veep debate along the way, when he did not attempt to refute Dick Cheney, after Lieberman alluded to the great financial success Cheney achieved post-government service and the former CEO of Halliburton claimed that "the government had nothing to do with it." If anything, Lieberman seemed envious of the loot Cheney had been squirreling away. Lieberman even offered that his wife wished he could be as canny as Cheney.
But, for the upcoming mid-term elections, the populist Gore rhetoric will be in the forefront; the pro-business Lieberman rhetoric will be saved for 2004, when it will become a centerpiece in the struggle for the heart of the Democratic party.
Republicans will also don populist garb for the 2002 elections, spurning raids on Social Security in behalf of Wall Street traders, claiming, as President Bush did in his brief Economic Forum appearances, that he was there, amidst the glittering CEOs, to listen to "ordinary Americans."
An October surprise is usually thought of as an election year gimmick designed to support the incumbent president or his party. If attacking Iraq is Bush's October surprise, it will come as no surprise.
This past year of saber rattling by the administration is unprecedented. It began with Bush's well received State of the Union speech in January, where he called Iraq part of the "Axis of Evil."
Speech writer David Frum left the administration shortly thereafter, when his wife boasted to friends that he was the "author" of the reworked cliche. The phrase has always been nonsensical, since "axis" implies a relationship, coordination, which this axis lacks. The other named states--North Korea and Iran--are not currently under threat, unless all this attention on Iraq is a diversion: North Korea or Iran, at this point, would be really surprised if we attacked either of them.
But surprise isn't necessary when it comes to attacking Iraq, or bringing about "a regime change," which is the president's object. The Gulf War came as no surprise to Saddam Hussein. He saw the amassing forces for a month before Baghdad's night sky became a television show, full of green light and bright explosions.
Attacking North Korea or Iran may or may not be in the planning stage. Bush has elevated Iraq as the maximum evil. A war on terrorism mainly produces only negative victories--no terrorist acts perpetrated. The Bush administration, though, is still searching for tangible triumphs, trophy wars that can be fought with limited costs.
There were reasons given for attacking Afghanistan, at least reasons most Americans could comprehend. The Taliban supported the agents of 9/11, al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, and wouldn't give them up. Our bombing brought about a regime change. We gave the country back to the war lords.
If there is a precedent for all this public contemplation by President Bush (and legions of commentators) over whether to wage war with Iraq, one has to reach back to World War II, before Pearl Harbor. But that is a stretch. The only connection of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor was planes, blue skies and surprise.
But, as it was in WW II, if you're battling an axis, you better have allies; indeed, it's implied. Where are ours? Though President Bush doesn't mind being compared to Teddy Roosevelt, he has altered Roosevelt's prescription of "speak softly and carry a big stick," to "talk loudly and brandish your national security team." All the bellicose talk may be a tactic to render Saddam Hussein cooperative, but the Bush team obviously favors bellicose action.
Condi Rice has been given the task to make the "moral" case for preemptive strikes, though the trouble with preemptive strikes is that they don't remain preemptive very long. They become long-term problems, requiring sacrifice and commitment. Apparently, we don't feel much commitment to Afghanistan, though it is less likely we will be able to bomb Iraq for months and then leave it largely to its own devices.
President Bush hasn't been praised much as an abstract thinker, but his announced desire to unseat Saddam Hussein has presented the entire country with a good many abstract notions the dreaded (by President Bush) subject of nation building, the various moralities of so-called just war, the rights of sovereign nations, the use of force as a political instrument, and so on.
The Bush doctrine that is evolving seems to be this: we can do what we want. Much has been written of the Bush administration's post-Cold War penchant for going it alone, its arrogant unilateralism. It's our way, or the highway. Either you're with us, or you're with the terrorists. President Bush said the latter in regards to the war on terror; the former is what the world is beginning to hear.
Whether Americans want that to be the message delivered for them by their president is still an open question. But, like the curtailment of rights that Bush's Department of Justice has gotten away with, the president gets his wish one bite at a time. Baghdad may be the next bite.
Statistics show that during the week after Labor Day more Americans are at work than at any other time. Indeed, Labor Day doesn't so much celebrate labor; it marks the date that labor begins again in full force.
Looking back at various "working" summer vacations, one can conclude, at least from the Secret Service's point of view, the man to vacation with is not the Commander in Chief, broiling away cutting brush in Crawford, Texas, but the Second in Command, Dick Cheney, fishing away on the Snake River in Wyoming.
Fishing is better duty than chopping wood, by any standard, much less all that basic-training-type running the president indulges in. There are over 140 Secret Service agents on Cheney family duty (three shifts) and a couple of them are scuba divers, on hand not to discover terrorist submarines menacing the veep, but in case he falls out of his boat and is hard to locate.
A helicopter is always nearby in case any heart-related problems crop up. I do not begrudge the vice president all this magisterial vacation care at tax-payer expense, though, given his previous history as an overly-compensated CEO, I'm only afraid he takes it too much for granted.
We can afford Cheney's level of care. We can afford a lot of things, prescription drug coverage for the elderly, etc., if we have the desire to provide them. No one is worried about financing a war on Iraq.
This past Labor Day was a milestone, given the amount of management perfidy that preceded it. It had been Management Day all the rest of the year. Adding up all the money corporate managers have stolen, or paid themselves, or listed as earnings, during the past year results in a figure (in billions) that might even impress Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador and the recent "western" White House vacation guest of the president, long-time Bush family friend.
President Bush may eventually be compared to Calvin Coolidge (there are a number of similarities), one being his endorsement of Coolidge's famous admonition, "The business of America is business." Prince Bandar's visit was certainly Texas-style biz'ness, the prince garbed in blue jeans and boots, chatting with his American counterpart, the prince of the Bush family.
Bandar has the distinction of being the longest serving ambassador in Washington. And his family is the longest ruling family of any nation. British royalty no longer rule. Reports of the suit filed by relatives of 9/11 victims against the Saudi government and stories of Saudi money being extracted from American banks and businesses in retribution, may or may not have spoiled the family visit, though both are sums that approach the amounts corporate executives made off with before the stock market's fall.
A couple of decades ago, a relative of mine, working for a company located in suburban Chicago, helped build underground airbases and runways in Saudi Arabia. I had always wondered how they functioned and, during the 1991 Gulf War, I finally got to see pictures of them. American corporations have done a great deal of business with the Saud family and if we had done as much for Saddam Hussein's family, we would not be talking about disposing of him.
Saudi Arabia is doing a half-hearted PR push to burnish its image after the fact that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and other connections to terrorism, came to light. But, they appear more angered by the bad press they have received than interested in changing it. They are not going to change. Why should they?, is their attitude. And why, indeed, when the President of the United States and his family are such close friends?
During the earlier April visit of Prince Bandar and Crown Prince Abdullah to Crawford, former President Bush and current vice-president Dick Cheney held a private dinner for them and their entourage without the president in attendance. Old friends had a lot to talk about.
Whether they talked about the Saudi sponsorship of terrorism was not disclosed. And President Bush, it appears, didn't push the subject this time. But, now that all Americans are back to work, even members of Congress, someone might ask.
September 11, so the conventional wisdom goes, changed everything. Well, what has changed and what has stayed the same?
There are the obvious things: the skyscape of New York City has stepped back in time, to its pre-1970 outline. Thousands of lives have been lost and thousands more have been directly affected by those deaths. The large concrete pit in lower Manhattan has yet to be filled. History has been stamped with another indelible date.
There are less obvious changes. Air line security personnel, over 38,000, have been federalized, resulting in better pay and benefits for all of them. It was the fastest successful living-wage drive ever accomplished.
And, because of that, the White House and the Senate are quarreling over the proposition that what it gives with one hand it can take away with the other, as the Bush administration attempts to remove civil service protection from an even larger group of employees, those destined to work for the Homeland Security agency.
What hasn't changed is the impulse to full-bore secrecy in the Bush Administration, and the inclination to limit civil rights on the part of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Both desires have gained momentum and a palpable rationale, which has been sold to a large segment of the population.
Now, history lessons for young people, such as those about internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII, do not seem to emerge from dusty history as much as from yesterday's news.
Though much of the population is willing to be more punitive, the contradictory response of generosity towards one's fellow citizen rose out of the rumble of the World Trade Center. For months, people were more patient and understanding with each other, inclined to random acts of kindness, even as the few acted out anger against foreign nationals. We acquired new empathy for victims of terrorism in other countries.
And, another change was in the common curriculum of the popular culture. For the last year Middle Eastern studies has been the media's favorite subject. \More is known generally about Islam and the governments and beliefs of various Arab states than at any other time in our history.
Rocks have been turned over along the way. Saudi Arabia's curious history and complicity in terrorism has been scrutinized as never before. Ditto Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and the various oil sheikdoms.
From President Bush's original hands-off stance when it came to foreign policy in general and nation building in particular, he has been forced, however reluctantly, to be hands on. So much so he wants America to be the policeman of the world, a role he once spurned. But, he prefers to be a selective member of law enforcement, making allowances for some and not others.
A year after 9/11 many have adapted to the new normal. We no longer see the world through rose-colored glasses, if we ever did. But, we do see the world through the smoke-stained glasses of 9/11: it isn't just that we are vulnerable, but we are vulnerable because of who and what we are. It was our planes that were turned against us, our flight schools that gave the hijackers their rudimentary skills, our airline personnel that welcomed them onto the planes, our immigration officials who let them in the country, our box cutters, etc.
The terrorists used us in a very intimate way and that is why the trauma is long lingering and why our initial reaction, the bombing of Afghanistan and the removal of the Taliban, the scattering of al-Qaida, so limited in satisfaction. As in horror movies, everyday objects turned on us and became monstrous.
The terrorists, of course, haven't "won," but the nature of the terrorism, the complicity of our own institutions in their success, has produced disquieting results.
We have been contemplating (and allowing) a sacrifice of our freedoms, tempted into a too-easy embrace of jingoistic nationalism. We've been responding in kind, an eye for an eye. Once infected, we continue to gnaw at our best selves. The terror of 9/11 continues to be its ability to change us permanently, if we let it, if we let them.
Janet Reno's botched race in Florida is, one hopes, the last of a series of bad mistakes on the part of the former Attorney General. Running for the Democratic nomination for governor in Florida at her age and in her state of health was an unnecessary act of hubris. It is hard to give up prominence once attained, and many members of the Clinton administration haven't lost their taste for public notoriety.
Reno, one must recall, was Clinton's third or forth choice for AG--and it showed. The only criterion that the nominees shared was their sex. The Attorney General had to be a female. Democrats feminized the AG position, Republicans labor.
Robert Reich, who is likely to go down to defeat in today's Democratic primary for governor in Massachusetts, didn't want to be Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, because he had seen what the Republicans had done to the position, turning it into a job for a powerful Republican's wife. But, Reich succumbed to Bill Clinton's blandishments, only getting back at Clinton when he wrote his sour memoirs.
Reich's campaign ran low on money toward its end and the Clintons, who still attract large sums, were not shoveling cash his way. This year's midterm races saw a number of name-recognition candidates scurrying to open seats. Clinton veterans include Reno, back to Florida, Erskine Bowels flaunting his family's North Carolina heritage, Andrew Cuomo giving up in New York, and Rahm Emanuel running locally. Of the Republicans, the Olympic organizer, Mitt Romney, transported himself to Massachusetts and Elizabeth Dole reclaimed her North Carolina roots.
Of course, Sen. Hillary Clinton jumped-started this trend with her successful campaign in New York. Even Vice President Cheney had to run back to Wyoming from his home in Texas to register to vote the week before he announced his candidacy in 2000, since the Constitution does not allow two people from the same state to run for the highest offices in the land.
Wealthy people are very mobile; their second (or third) homes are often in other states. When the poor move it usually is called migration, or a forlorn search for higher welfare benefits.
But the Clinton years are kept alive by the remnants of his administration who are running for office. Bill Clinton continues to try to find a place in history, other than that of a damaged two-term president, a cracked-mirror image of Richard Nixon.
As in the past, Clinton's enemies help keep him in the news, because they cannot shake their obsession with him. Clinton assists by looking for inappropriate jobs, musing about hosting a television talk show, visiting vacation retreats populated with women "friends", while Clinton haters still in office accuse him of not killing Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, etc., while he was president.
Vice President Cheney, safely registered to vote in Wyoming (while living in undisclosed locations wherever), a week ago on Meet the Press, asserted that Clinton wanted to invade Iraq in 1998. Only Monica Lewinsky held him back, evidently.
With Janet Reno, one hopes, in easy retirement, and with Robert Reich likely sidelined, we only have second-tier Clinton veterans to remind us of days gone by.
Given the calamities of the present, the war on terror, the accelerating talk of attacking Iraq, the market's decline and jittery ups and downs, the deepening woes of the unemployed and the scandals of the over-employed, the Clinton years appear not a golden age gone, but a period of squandered opportunities and misspent energy.
Previously, President Jimmy Carter's four years seemed to be a great disappointment, a time of failed promises and missed chances. But, they don't hold a candle to Clinton's eight years, which, from this vantage, not even two years later, appear to have been a waste of time and effort.
The memory of Clinton's presidency provided no bounce for Janet Reno or, it appears, for Robert Reich. And, in 2000, it was little help to Al Gore. The gaudy legacy of Bill Clinton's two terms has turned gray, colorless, practically overnight.
Both former Republican administration officials and campaign consultants have been giving free advice to the current Republican administration and its campaign consultants. Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, among others, have been counseling President Bush on how to campaign against Saddam Hussein, while Dick Morris, the former Trent Lott (and Bill Clinton) campaign guru, has been offering advice to Karl Rove, who doesn't seem to need advice.
Dick Morris, like the hooker he employed while serving Bill Clinton, which led to his disgraced retreat (but not for long) from public life, has always worked both sides of the street. Recently, he encouraged Karl Rove, the president's chief political advisor, to continue to push the campaign theme of "terrorism", the one issue for the president that "works."
Indeed, from the White House, it is all war talk all the time. For the few dissenters who ask the question, Why all the urgency about taking out Saddam Hussein?, the answer appears to be "the mid-term elections." It isn't only cynics who think so. What other subject has the normally secretive Bush administration been so unsecretive about, other than the whys and wherefores of getting rid of Saddam Hussein? Those aforementioned retired Republican grandees have even been enlisted to help to broadcast the news. If stealth equals dedication, there is less focused commitment here than meets the eye.
War talk drives out most other kinds, especially when it comes to politicians on the stump. Nowhere is this clearer than in the race for Indiana's 2nd congressional district's open seat, between Republican Chris Chocola and Democrat Jill Long Thompson.
During debates held a week ago, Chocola, the lapsed CEO of a formerly family-owned business, didn't so much wrap himself in the flag (though he did that, too), as accuse Long Thompson of being soft, not on Communism, but on the war on terror. Following the GOP's national campaign mandate to impugn the patriotism of Democratic candidates, Chocola attacked Long Thompson for not renouncing the endorsement of PeacePAC, a small anti-war group.
Long Thompson replied she was proud of all her endorsements, especially the one given her by the VFW, and pointed out Chocola's lack of past military service, despite his current bellicose rhetoric.
Indeed, Chocola's lack-of-military-service status is one he shares with a good many of the Bush administration's most ardent war proponents calling for an invasion of Iraq. In the debates, Chocola kept returning to Long Thompson's alleged weak support of the military, ignoring her husband's 23-year Air Force service and his current position as an airline pilot.
Chocola provides a cartoon version of the typical 2002 Republican campaign, a wealthy, sidelined CEO who would like to serve in the House as an interesting diversion, a place to mingle with the important and the powerful. By merely running he was able to fly on Air Force One with George Bush, who, unfortunately, intermittently referred to Chris Chocola as "Steve," when the president appeared in the district for a fund-raising trip that amassed over a half-million for Chocola's campaign.
When Chocola, a former champion of privatizing Social Security, praised his family's agra-business company (CTB International) as a beacon of "globalization", Long Thompson pointed out that if people had invested in it when the firm went public, instead of government bonds, as he wished Social Security participants could do, they would have lost money (9%) on the stock, rather than gained with government securities.
But, the Chocola campaign is awash in money. Long Thompson's is relying on more direct retail campaigning. In this congressional race, one that will help determine which party controls the House, the Republican candidate waves the flag as advised, hoping the old maxim, "all politics is local," will be canceled out by the White House's larger campaign, the one that hopes to draw all attention to the war on terror--its goals, not its causes. Will rattling sabers drown out issues like Social Security, prescription drugs, fair trade, corporate scandals? Dick Morris and Karl Rove, as well as the president, think so.
Madelyne Toogood, the woman caught on videotape beating her remarkably resilient four year old, has caught America's fancy, its dark side, at least, where scapegoats are paraded, carrying the collective guilt society bestows. My favorite picture of Madelyne Toogood is one of her walking to South Bend's courthouse for her arraignment, pressing her cell phone to her ear, doubtless booking her night's television appearances.
After CNN's Larry King and Fox's Greta Van Susteren, what is left? The morning shows, the afternoon shows, Dr. Phil? Gone is Toogood's badly dyed blonde hair captured by Kohl's camera, replaced by a somber brown color, more an admission of intent to flee and elude than a fashion statement.
The store's camera did capture the cell phone. That was visible hanging on her rear end. Since I frequent that parking lot (it is adjacent to the local Borders book store) all the attention lavished on Mrs. Toogood has, as they say, struck home.
The news that the area was under surveillance wasn't news at all, though the fact that the close-up capability of the camera is as precise as an NSA satellite was a revelation. In South Bend, even grocery stores have cameras jutting from their facades. This is an update of the old 7-Eleven precedent. Videotaping has gone from inside the store to outside the store. Intersections now are camera equipped. We are catching up with England, which, in its long war on terror (in the U.K.'s case, not with al-Qaida, but the IRA) has made great advances in public surveillance technology, winning social acceptance along the way.
Madelyne Toogood provided television with one of the world's unfunniest videos, but her act came after a long run of child abuse and abduction stories. Though it is clear what is worse (the beating, not its repeated showings), television's endless replaying of the tape in slow motion does approach its own version of kiddie porn, sex and violence division.
Had the Kohl's camera operator not been bored watching cars pulling in and out and focused not on Mrs. Toogood, but on anything else, there would have been no story and no instant celebrity for the young Irish Traveler.
In an age of images, no images often mean no story. In the few days before she turned herself in, the coverage mimicked the child abductions of the summer, and the subsequent alerts that the public endured, to be on the look-out for the snatched and the missing. But, the hurricane of reports has now dropped down to a drizzle, even though last week a Fox News roundup led with the Toogood story, reporting that the first meeting of mother and child after her removal from Toogood's custody was called off because of the child's cold. Happy to hear that. We report, you decide. I've decided.
Al Gore's recent resurfacing from undisclosed locations did not generate the television time afforded Mrs. Toogood. That is too bad for Al Gore. Al Gore has a lot of bad media exposure to live down.
Being the "loser" of the 2000 election has put him outside the pale, not that Mr. Gore didn't help extend his stay in the land of the exiled. Al Gore shares with Madelyne Toogood scapegoat status, though of a different sort. Now, when Gore reappears, this time offering measured, reasonable criticism of President Bush's plans for attacking Iraq, the media (conservative and liberal alike) rears up and responds with the equivalent of Madelyne Toogood's forty blows.
It yanks his hair, puts him in his car seat and bashes him a few more licks for good measure. Take that, loser. President Bush even avoids uttering Gore's name, so low in esteem the former vice president has sunk. It remains to be seen what Al Gore will have to do to get back on the media's good side. This, of course, presumes that Gore ever was on its good side.
We are being treated to a version of "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." Gore was high. Now he is low. Madelyne Toogood was no one, as insignificant as she could be. Now everyone knows her name. The smaller they are, the higher they can rise. Though it's open season on Al Gore, Toogood's cell phone hasn't stop ringing--yet.
Picture this: two Clintons in the Senate. Bill Clinton the junior Senator from New Jersey. Sound crazy? Maybe, but no crazier than the ballot shenanigans of the past week. The new season of the Sopranos has barely started and Senator Robert "the Torch" Torricelli has managed to upstage and prompt additional publicity for New Jersey's reigning first family.
Given the amount of thought that may or may not have taken place prior to Torricelli's ballot swan song--a performance some compared to President Nixon's many teary bowing-outs, though one longer than any Tricky Dick ever attempted--the Bill Clinton-as-Senator scenario must have been brought up.
It wouldn't take much brazenness (given how much was already being displayed) to claim that Clinton had a condo somewhere in the Garden State and was now stepping forward to save its citizens from a fate worse than death, the Republican challenger, Douglas Forrester, a businessman who appears well out of his depth (though ahead of Torricelli in the polls.) Bill Clinton's post-presidential office is only a stone's throw away, if you have a major league pitcher throw the stone, and if the NY Giants can play in New Jersey's Meadowlands, why can't Bill Clinton?
But, apparently, it is not to be. The expensively embalmed former New Jersey Senator, Frank Lautenberg, has risen to grasp the standard, a resurrection blessed by the NJ Supreme Court.
Torricelli, who once dated Bianca Jagger, did not have a wife to step into the job (though an ex-wife stood behind him during his farewell), as often happens with either dead, or term-limited, or scandal-ridden men who can't keep their seat. Torricelli has not quite fallen on the sword for his party. Though, at this point, a dead Torricelli, in Sopranos fashion, would be an easier mess to clean up. No unsightly trips to state and federal courts would be necessary.
But, if there is anything positive about Torricelli's self-serving bombastic and less-than-Shakespearian leave-taking--claiming he didn't want to be the one who cost Democrats the control of the Senate, a fine legalistic distinction that would appeal to his confidant, Bill Clinton, who Torricelli admitted was more of an alpha male than he, since Clinton never gave up--it is the fact that the Republicans running to the Supreme Court will remind the country of the climax of the 2000 presidential race, where judicial intervention settled the question, not the votes of the people.
The conventional wisdom, previous to Torricelli's departure, was that Arkansas Senator Tim Hutchinson, a leading spokesperson for family values during the Clinton impeachment, would lose his race in Arkansas to the well-connected Democratic challenger, Mark Pryor, because of hypocrisy even Arkansans couldn't stomach, Hutchinson's ditching his wife for a younger staff aide.
So, those races would even out. Yet, the Democrats appear worried enough to hand Republicans a large, though not completely unprecedented, campaign issue, a display of old-time, crude powerbroker politics carried out not in the backroom, but in the front room. The engineer of these events has not stepped forward to take the credit, or the blame. DNC head Terry McAuliffe is a good guess, since he pronounced Torricelli a smelly fish two weeks ago, when he said the Torricelli race was "dead even, at best." And if McAuliffe is involved, could Bill Clinton not be far behind?
However the Supreme Court rules, Torricelli could yet resign and the governor of New Jersey would appoint Lautenberg and order a special election after next year. That law's provisions are why Torricelli withdrew so late. Then, the Bill Clinton-for-Senator plan would be alive, no matter how improbable.
Given the disarray among the likely Democratic presidential contenders, who knows? The popularity of the at-war-or-we're-talking-about-war president has scrambled the usual calculations about the 2004 presidential race almost beyond recognition.
And, if President Bush appears unbeatable a month before the election in 2004, following a variant of the New Jersey sidestep, the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, could be yanked and the man who cost the Democrats the 2000 election, Ralph Nader, could be substituted to take the fall. He, like Torricelli, owes them.
When labor unions strike on the West Coast it isn't always about money. The Hollywood Writers Guild strike in 1988 and actors strike in 2000 were over control, as well as more dough, though, given the press coverage, their picketline chants could have been, "What do we want? Mercedes! When do we want them? Now!" Both strikes were settled without the president invoking the anti-labor Taft-Hartley act of 1947.
Not so with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose members didn't want to strike, but were locked out by the Pacific Maritime Association. President Bush has been wooing the Carpenters Union and the Teamsters since he ran for president, hoping to weaken the Democratic base, but when push comes to shove, big business didn't have to push hard to have the MBA president fall its way. Much has been made of the fact that a longshoreman's salary can reach a hundred thousand a year. Evidently, the working class can't be the working class if it earns upper-middle-class wages.
President Bush adds injury to insult by invoking Taft-Hartley: first management strikes, then Bush sabotages the union's negotiating power. He is taking his cue from Ronald Reagan, who managed to bust the better-than-average-paid air traffic controllers' union, PATCO, after he had happily taken PATCO's campaign contributions (PATCO was one of the three unions that supported Reagan's run for the presidency.)
PATCO became a management strike, a lockout, since Reagan fired the controllers when the union struck and brought in military air controllers (which forced some controllers to scab on themselves) and new hires.
The last great strike in Britain, following on the heels of PATCO's destruction, the National Union of Miners of 1984-85, was a version of a management strike. Margaret Thatcher's government wanted to close and privatize coal mines and the NUM objected, ultimately losing, which resulted in the union's decimation.
The same issue is at the core of the longshoremen's strike: survival. The sticking point is "technology", which isn't just automation--it is the elimination of longshoremen from the jobs that automation leaves behind. Management wants non-union "engineers" to push the buttons; it won't agree to train union members to do those jobs. It wants--as all American business and the president wants, given his continuing resistance to civil service protection for the workers in Homeland Security--to have the union wither away, become, like Britain's NUM, inconsequential.
The leadership of the Carpenters Union and Teamsters may enjoy being wined and dined by the president, but his intentions concerning labor could not be clearer since he invoked Taft-Hartley, its first use since 1978 and the first time it has been employed during a management lockout, not a union strike.
By stepping in just when collective bargaining was beginning to have some effect--management quickly retracted promises it had made once it was clear that the president would mandate a "cooling off" period--stacks the deck in PMA's favor.
The dream of American business is no unions no way. It is also George W. Bush's dream. When he announced his Taft-Hartley decision, Bush trotted out the same rationale he has used in his attempt to strip worker protection for the reclassified employees of Homeland Security: military concerns, the threat to our nation.
That has become the mantra of the administration for all its domestic as well as foreign initiatives: why the Justice Department can play fast and loose with civil liberties, why we must drill for oil anywhere and everywhere, why unions can be short-circuited in their labor negotiations.
The writers-actors' unions survived, despite bad press over their well-paid image, because collective bargaining was allowed to work--national security was not invoked, though the entertainment industry is one of our largest exports.
But, since Bush administration is able to carry out its anti-worker policies under the smoke screen of national security, it hopes to make the ILWU another anti-union trophy, like Reagan did with PATCO, like Thatcher did with the NUM. Carpenters and Teamsters, take note.
Our homegrown terrorists, except for the two forest rangers who started large fires out west last summer, have been as hard to capture as Osama bin Laden and other leaders of al-Qaida. The anthrax mailer and the Washington D.C.-area shooter have eluded law enforcement thus far, examples that do not bode well for Homeland Security's potential prowess.
If you are a Goliath, there's always a David around with a slingshot. High civilization is vulnerable to low behavior. The density of the cities, the efficiency of the mail system, the ease of travel, all the things that make the 21st century so productive, leave it open to new fatal forms of vandalism.
September 11th was the apotheosis of the phenomenon. Nineteen hijackers made off with four planes and left devastation in lower Manhattan, casualties in the Pentagon, a cratered Pennsylvania field, and a nation shaken. The anthrax mailer, a consensus choice to be a local product, followed up that terror with his own combination of high tech (the anthrax), low tech (the mail) terror. After that, disturbed forest rangers set their destructive fires. Now, the freelance marksman continues the low capital, high return, acts of terror.
Drive-by killings in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and other big cities, often take a larger monthly toll of innocent bystanders, but the D.C.-area shootings of the last two weeks have captured the national media's attention. Their very randomness induces terror. At least the 9/11 terrorists had targets, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the Capitol, and the anthrax mailer's envelopes had addresses, but the one-shot killings are nightmares of the most universal sort. No reason, no cause, just dead.
Various theories blossom about who (and what) the shooter may be, offered by a parade of former law enforcement types turned cable commentators, profilers offering profiles, but the only undisputed fact is the shooter's limited geographical range.
In the modern way, the sniper has been dubbed an "interactive" killer, the first so designated in our cyber times. He kills, checks its effects on television, and kills again.
A sniper movie, Phone Booth, due to be released is held up, given the sensitivity of the subject. Though, no one can hold the subject itself back.
Just as the anthrax mailer capitalized on the country's skittishness after 9/11 and the fire setters added to the summer's sense of things burning out of control--the economy, corporate scandals, pending war with Iraq, the scattering of al-Qaida--this killer steps in and fills yet another role, the van-cloaked anonymous avenger, adding more fuel to the age of terror, showing that you don't need the passion of jihad to want to kill unsuspecting Americans, just the personal willingness to do so.
The terrorists, both foreign and domestic, may not have won, but they continue to be effective. Every common event is now painted by the terror brush: opening mail, going to a gas station, the mall, loading purchases into one's car.
The shooter's victims are the sort who could have been on any of the four planes that were destroyed on 9/11. Individuals going about their business who ran into someone else's darkest work.
Though largely forgotten, many people made dire predictions as the millennium approached only three years ago; apocalyptic doomsaying abounded. But, no one predicted that the 21st century was going to be an age of terror.
President Bush (and members of his administration) contributes to this atmosphere, with his calls to attack Iraq, and his often repeated statements about the war on terror being a long one, long enough that, one suspects, it may go on forever.
Over the years there have been many examples of vicious and mindless killings of one sort or another. Yet, it now appears we are in for a series of crimes, which, in times past, might have seemed to be only deviant behavior, but, since the 24-hour news cycle is all-terror-all-the-time, they are destined to become part of an enveloping web of global terrorism that has been spun over us all since 9/11. And gun advocates cheer, while gun-control supporters cave.
Whatever Bill Clinton could do, President Bush can do better--at least, when it comes to fund raising for his party. The president and Vice President Cheney have raised close to 200 million dollars for Republican candidates throughout the country. Clinton only gathered a paltry $50 million for the 1994 mid-term election.
Bush and Cheney have harvested so much cash, since the traveling president has spent hardly two days in a row at the White House lately. And the vice president's undisclosed location is clearly somewhere up in the air, as he continues to hop from one congressional district to another.
However, all this fund-raising hasn't tarnished either the president or the vice president (they avoided going to Buddhist temples.) Ronald Reagan might have been the Teflon president (nothing stuck), and Clinton the Velcro president (everything stuck), but President Bush is the war-on-terror president and nothing gets through those stout defenses.
President Bush has charged more of his money-hustling travels to the taxpayers--especially to Florida, his second home, apparently, since he has gone there more than Crawford, Tex. recently--than Clinton ever thought he could get away with. But Bush continues to profit from the public's lack of appetite for partisan president bashing.
Imagine the beating a Democratic president would be taking if he appeared in Florida a dozen times, raising millions for his beleaguered, up for re-election, governor brother, having taxpayers pay for the visit by staging an appearance ("official" business) at some elementary school, proclaiming important policy pronouncements such as, "Teaching children to read is a heck of a lot more important than promoting any political parties."
President Bush promotes his brother and his party, claiming all the while that he isn't. This mid-term election reached new heights in shamelessness. Republicans throughout the country abandoned their pro-privatization Social Security positions and brazenly announced they never had wanted to do that in the first place. Up is down and down is up this time around.
President Bush can do what he wants, because there is no pack of Hillary haters attacking his first lady, no independent counsel with a large staff of bulldog prosecutors looking into Enron connections in his administration, no rabid cadre of congress members trying to impeach him. One can only marvel at the well-publicized outrage that would have occurred if Chelsea Clinton had been cited often for underage drinking and if his brother's daughter had been led off in handcuffs to jail from an Orlando courtroom the same day her father governor and uncle president were at fund raising events in Daytona Beach, rather than looking on in the courtroom, much less leaving the daughter without her mother, or her handsome, politically savvy brother, in attendance. That's carrying "tough love" too far.
It is just not that the public has gained some good taste and sense, but that it is not being whipped up into a partisan frenzy by dedicated Bush-haters, the way--for eight years!--Bill Clinton was vilified by a gang of vituperative far right politicians and a media more than willing to pile on.
If it was just money that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were raising for candidates around the country, it wouldn't be so questionable, or so unprecedented. But, they raised the flag at every stop, linking their money-grubbing efforts to the war on terror, citing their need to control every branch of government: the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court.
That's the trifecta they are hoping to win. And the country is, at least, ambivalent about letting the business of terror get mixed up with the sleaziness of political campaigns. President Bush made yet another visit to Indiana's 2nd congressional district, this time on Halloween, to pump up the Republican candidate, Chris Chocola, in his race against Democrat Jill Long Thompson. Most polls show the open seat a toss-up, but one controversial poll (for WNDU-TV and the Elkhart Truth) put Chocola ahead by over 10 points. That pollster explained, "I think these results have a lot to do with a feeling of heartland patriotism." Just what Bush and Cheney have been selling--and the voters may or may not be buying.
Before last Tuesday's elections, Democrats thought they had history on their side. They did, but it was past history, not current history. Expecting to gain seats in the House and retain the Senate, they managed neither. But past history, rather than the current climate, was all Democrats could think about.
Both Bill Clinton and Al Gore went stumping in Florida for the great local hope, Bill McBride, who, after beating the nationally-known Janet Reno, was the recipient of all the Democratic wishful thinking that he would unseat the nationally-known Jeb Bush, a candidate with many faults, but also a few insurmountable virtues, mainly family connections and access to unlimited campaign funds and federal largesse.
On election night, an elderly George McGovern was being interviewed on CNN and, for a moment, I wondered if some other Democratic candidate had died or dropped out suddenly and McGovern had been called upon to fill the spot.
The only place past history paid off was in New Jersey, with the reseating of Frank Lautenberg as senator. The DNC hoped history would repeat itself and midterm gains would befall the Democrats, help the party capture the House. Instead, Republicans added members in the House and reclaimed the Senate.
The Democrats ran armed with the past; the Republicans ran armed with the present, the power of Bush's incumbency, and a lot of cash. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend ran on her past, both her family's, and her eight ineffective years as lieutenant governor in Maryland, and both histories did her in.
Walter Mondale, called upon to step into Paul Wellstone's tragically emptied shoes, only filled them with the past, which is what the successful Republican challenger Norm Coleman managed to point out in the last few days of the truncated campaign. Mondale was all past, hardly any present, and even progressive Minnesotans passed him by. The memorial/rally was a two-fer that turned out to be an expensive mistake (presuming the aim was to save money by holding only one event), than if they had followed the usual model, a church service in the day for the visiting dignitaries and a wake rally in the evening. Trent Lott and other Republicans, and the risible wrestling governor, could have paid their respects in the pews and Bill and Hillary and other Wellstone supporters could have smiled, cried and cheered later in the evening.
There have been many complaints against the Democratic leadership for its failure to set an agenda, to take a stand against the Bush administration's adoption of preemptive war policy, to stop seconding Bush's plans for attacking Iraq, for not coming out against the excesses of Bush's tax cut for the permanently rich. Now there are criticisms of not knowing how to run campaigns. Dick Gephardt has exited his post. Terry McAuliffe, the DNC head, is the Democrats' Harvey Pitt and McAuliffe, too, should be shown the door.
President Bush's marathon campaigning paid off, as Vice President Cheney would say, big time. Not only did it help candidates, it monopolized the national news the days right before votes were cast.
The Bush administration successfully nationalized the midterm elections. The RNC made sure the same speeches, the same attack mailings, and television ads ran in every contested election. President Bush hardly altered his script as Air Force One went barnstorming across the country, from airport rally to airport rally. The generated show of support for the folksy, flak-jacket president was enough extra margin in 50-50 America.
It was a successful strategy. Democrat Jill Long Thompson was defeated by Chris Chocola in their contest for Indiana's 2nd district open congressional seat. President Bush came twice to the district to help Chocola, along with visits from Vice President Cheney and Speaker Hastert. The president's last trip was four days before the election.
Long Thompson ran a decent campaign, was outspent 2-1, and lost by only 4 percent. By the end, even Long Thompson supporters received recorded phone calls from the president urging them to vote for Chocola. Her defeat came about, not so much because of a wave of support (it was a ripple) for Bush and company, as much as an avalanche of support from the White House against her.
Now that Iraq has agreed to weapons inspectors, the president's saber-rattling brinkmanship against Saddam Hussein could turn out to be the latest example of a policy that rose to prominence during the Vietnam war. Daniel Ellsberg, the former Rand analyst, known infamously as the leaker in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers, the Robert McNamara-ordered study of America's involvement in the Vietnam war, takes credit in his new memoir,Secrets, for introducing Henry Kissinger to "The Political Uses of Madness" theory. Ellsberg had lectured to then Professor Kissinger's Harvard seminar on the subject in 1959.
And, when Kissinger was Nixon's National Security Advisor, Ellsberg quotes Kissinger telling a mutual acquaintance in 1970, "I have learned more from Dan Ellsberg than from any other person about bargaining."
Kissinger (who, the memoir confirms, Ellsberg still admires) hardly needed encouragement from Ellsberg on the benefits of this theory--loosely, increasing the power of threats by making your enemy think the man making them is unstable. It was a valuable tool and Richard Nixon was a good leader to employ it. The president's vices became virtues.
Ronald Reagan, too, made ample use of the tactic, along with increased military spending generally, which helped the Soviet Union bankrupt itself attempting to keep up with Reagan's stated ambitions for military supremacy and Star Wars platforms.
This ploy proved useless to Bill Clinton, but the strategy is alive and well in the Bush White House. The many months of President Bush's belligerence and bluster about regime change in Iraq has had positive effects: the UN resolution came about because of Bush's threats and it is possible that if inspections are carried out they could produce desirable results.
Seen from Ellsberg's and Kissinger's vantage, such talk is only effective if the intended adversary believes you will do what you say you will do. And President Bush, by saying it without prompting, on his own, without the common consent of the people, bringing Congress on board only at the end, ditto the UN, has played his role well. Now we wait to see if it works.
Because, if we attack Iraq, all the president's threats won't appear a means to an end, but just an end itself, resulting in a war few, outside Bush's inner circle, want carried out.
Not many wars are begun just to remove one person from power, but President Bush has assured the American people that is his intention. Vietnam wasn't a war to remove Ho Chi Minh from power. The Panama incursion, the subsequent capture of Manuel Noriega, had that goal in mind. But Iraq is not Panama, though the administration would like us to think it is, a place where the population will welcome our soldiers and cheer the removal of its tyrant.
Ellsberg's book is equally timely in its portrait of how a government wages these sorts of wars. Vietnam was preemptive in the sense that we wanted to preempt the Soviet Union's influence in that part of the world. Vietnam was to remain in our part of the Cold War's spheres of influence, rather than theirs.
Since Saudi Arabia is an unreliable ally, it appears we want another country in the region that welcomes our presence and interests. And if we want that, we may well have to take it. The war on terror gives the Bush administration the excuse.
Ellsberg's book has many scenes of government officials lying, saying one thing to their colleagues one moment and saying the opposite to the press the next. Recent examples are Condoleezza Rice's claim after 9/11 that she didn't think that "anyone" had ever thought hijacked planes would be used as weapons. Even the limited Congressional investigation revealed she was either woefully misinformed, or wasn't telling the truth.
And, the administration knew long before they got the Congress to vote on the president's resolution to do what he wants in Iraq, that North Korea had a nuclear weapons program, but it withheld that from Congress till after the vote.
Meanwhile, public privacy laws are weakened, while the government's are strengthened. The lessons of Vietnam are applied selectively. But our decades-long involvement with Iraq continues to be largely a secret history, one that is unlikely to have a Daniel Ellsberg around to expose it.
The war on terror aims to prevent disasters caused by evil-doers bent on our destruction. But we all remain under the threat of run-of-the-mill disasters, such as the sinking of the oil-tanker Prestige, which spilled some 10,000 metric tons of toxic fuel along the northern Spanish coastline, the fate of its remaining 70,000 tons still unclear.
The decrepit, single-hulled Prestige is a perfect example of the new world economy. The tanker is registered in the Bahamas, chartered by a Russian company based in Switzerland, but owned by a Liberian entity, commanded by a Greek captain working for a Greek management firm, manned by a largely Asian crew, and certified seaworthy by the American Bureau of Shipping.
Once again, we are treated to the usual picture: soiled birds, tar-bespattered beaches, furious ecologists, irate fishermen, blustering politicians. If the Prestige could be linked to al-Qaida, perhaps something would be done to guard the world against such ordinary terrorism masquerading as globalized big business.
Disasters come in all sizes. The Army suffered a minor public relations disaster recently, during a demonstration of the protective suits soldiers are to wear in Iraq in case of a chemical or biological attack.
Over the radio one heard a crash, then the presiding officer, who previously had been extolling the virtues of the suits, ordering harshly, "Get her out of here." A suited-up soldier had fallen headlong into some folding chairs arranged for the press. Her collapse had been brought about because of the heat generated by the television lights. The officer, realizing his command to get rid of the offending sight had just gone out over the air, backtracked and became an example of the kinder and gentler military and told the remaining soldiers to unzip their suits so they could cool down.
The first impulse is always to get the evidence of disaster "out of here," out of sight. It will take a while to get the oil out of the beaches of northern Spain, but as soon as it's done it will be easier to get back to normal, to business as usual.
The Democrats are trying to get the disaster of Nov. 5th out of people's minds, too. One way to do that is not call it a disaster at all. Given the even political division in our country between Democratic and Republican voters, it takes only the ability to sway a small portion of the electorate and thereby claim a mandate, as the Republicans have done. But a percent or two doesn't a mandate make, yet it was enough to make lame-duck Congressional Democrats cower and pass a Homeland Security bill which appears to be a bureaucratic disaster in the making.
Since no author claims the amendment in the Homeland Security bill guaranteeing pharmaceutical companies immunity against producing bad vaccines, perhaps there is an insurance bonanza among the bill's attached freebies for whoever might be held responsible for the offending rustbucket Prestige. But when many are responsible, no one is responsible.
And Al Gore may or may not be a disaster in the making. His come-back book tour hasn't generated the resounding welcome Gore might have hoped for. The press corp can't drop its old version of Al Gore, no matter how many new versions he shows them. The 2004 election could ultimately resemble 1992's, though the outcome will be reversed. The sitting Republican President will not be unseated this time around by a fresh-faced Democratic governor--unless the country has fallen into a state of misery even critics of the administration do not wish upon it. For that reason, Al Gore should run and, heroically, absorb all the blows, while forcefully speaking out for all the things that will need to be said, though not necessarily listened to by the American electorate, still too shell-shocked by the war terrorists brought to our shores to act upon. Gore, alone, has nothing to lose.
Doubtless the lot of have-nots and the working poor will worsen, though, one hopes, not to taking-to-the-streets proportions. And big business will continue to reap endless benefits, like the ones inserted into the Homeland Security bill. And more soldiers will collapse. And more beaches will be spoiled. But, it will not be enough. Gore in '04 is a necessary disaster.
When Sen. Tom Daschle attacked radio personality Rush Limbaugh for fomenting personal attacks—"people aren't satisfied to hate...they want to act"--Daschle only underscored the depth of the Republican victory in the midterm elections and the vacuity of the Democratic party's response.
Talk radio is not the enemy, as Walt Kelly's Pogo would say, he is us. Even liberal journalists (such as Ron Rosenbaum of theNew York Observer) now claim there are "Bush Haters" out there who are the equal of the "Clinton Haters" at their zenith. This is utter nonsense: it's the minor leagues vs. the major leagues.
If liberals have swallowed the right wing's new line--we're just fighting fire with fire--then Rush Limbaugh and the other conservative radio squawkers have won even more than Daschle's unhappy comments demonstrate.
Daschle's sour remarks followed the revelations in Bob Woodward's new book ("Bush at War") that Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, sent his friend, Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, a memo-letter after 9/11, offering some free advice as to how the president should act. An obligatory round of scolding by guardians of journalistic ethics has followed, claiming that there should be a line between the practice of journalism and the practice of government.
Ailes, though, is just the most prominent example of a trend that has been in vogue for the last three decades. The preferred route to a high-profile media positions (especially in television) has long been through holding high-profile positions first as political consultants.
Ailes was President George H. W. Bush's media advisor and, when Rubert Murdoch started the Fox News Channel, Murdoch put Ailes in charge, since Murdoch wanted to run a political operation. Launched right before the 1996 election, its chief goal was to put a Republican in the presidency in 2000. Ailes just continued his political role in another guise. It's a free press as long as you own one, so the saying goes.
Ailes' memo isn't the first time such partisan behavior has been revealed. John Ellis, a first cousin of George W. Bush, ran the network's "decision desk" during the 2000 election and Fox was the first to name Bush the winner. Earlier, Ellis had made six phone calls to Cousin Bush during the vote counting.
In the tit-for-tat school, the right wing claims CNN is the "liberal" equivalent, but, other than Ted Turner's once-upon-a-time marriage to Jane Fonda and his colorful personal political views, there is no comparison. CNN was founded a long time ago with the quirky motive of having news broadcasted around the clock and around the world. You don't see a lot of convicted liberal felons spouting their views, denouncing conservatives, on CNN talk shows, the way Ollie North, G. Gordon Liddy, and others regularly do on Fox News. Nor is there a stable of leggy blonde liberal lawyers castigating conservative opponents for every sin under the sun, and legions of former Democratic officials paraded as program hosts and guests.
Why? Rightly or wrongly, for a long time, liberals were represented in the "mainstream" media. Ranters of all stripes were kept largely to the margins. But, the margins have grown. When music fled to the FM band AM became the fertile soil of talk radio. The mainstream media remained, more or less, genteel. Think of network news before cable, think of newspapers before the ascendancy of the grocery store tabloids. And talk radio was nothing of the kind.
Listeners wanted "shrill", just the quality that Daschle denounces. They wanted loud. And they wanted a place where they would be free to vent their spleen and their prejudices. Unfortunately, as Daschle complains, they do more than "hate"--they vote. What Jesse Jackson once did for Democratic voter registration, Rush Limbaugh now does for Republican voter participation.
Talk radio is the secular side of televangelism. And both audiences overlapped for a while, the conservative revival under the biggest tent of all, American electronic media. It also had the energizing motivation of being thought unheard, neglected, unfairly treated. Now, talk radio and cable news are mainstream. That success, fortunately, may be their undoing.
Two disturbing stories have come from the University of Pennsylvania campus recently. One concerned five Penn students attacking a visiting Princeton University student debater, kicking and beating him, dumping motor oil on his hair and threatening to light it and the other involves the former head of the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, John DiIulio, a professor of politics at Penn, kicking his former friends in the White House in the pages of Esquire magazine, managing to set his own hair on fire in the process, forced to eat crow the day after the news got out, apologizing profusely, promising he'll never write, or say, anything again about "the Mayberry Machiavellis."
That's DiIulio's memorable characterization of the White House's political team. DiIulio, who resigned his post over a year ago, told Esquire's Ron Suskind, the author of a profile of Karl Rove, "What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis." DiIulio, in a long memo Esquire released, named Rove, "maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political-advisor post near the Oval Office." DiIulio didn't make clear if by "post-Hoover," he meant post-Herbert Hoover, or post-J. Edgar Hoover. I'd pick J. Edgar.
Not that any of this is particularly shocking news. But, the shock is having it confirmed by a former Bush insider--and the shock of DiIulio's back-peddling retractions coming hardly twenty-four hours later. His rapid repentance is worth repeating: My "criticisms were groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples. I sincerely apologize and I am deeply remorseful. I will not be offering any further comment, or speaking or writing further on any aspect of my limited and unrepresentative White House experience or any matters or persons related thereto. I regret any and all misimpressions. In this season of fellowship and forgiveness, I pray the same."
Wow. What horse's head was left on his bed? The words "Mayberry Machiavellis" clearly are not poorly chosen. Yoking the folksy family values domain of Andy Griffith's 1960s television town with the 16th century political philosopher, one of the world's earliest and most notorious political advisors, is quite brilliant. But, brilliance has a price, especially when it trumps loyalty, the president's first demand, and Professor DiIulio is now paying it. He has taken "sick leave" from the university. Whether the five student muggers at Penn pay a price for their Ivy League high jinks is yet to be seen.
But Bill Clinton doesn't take the blame for Democrats paying--and paying--a price for his disgraced presidency. He puts the blame squarely on everyone else's shoulders. Taking on the role of the wise head of the family, he instructed last week his old seminal group, the Democratic Leadership Council, that the fault lies elsewhere "Without a national message that says where we agree, where we disagree, that defends our record and has positive proposals for the future, we can't win a midterm election, and we sure can't win a national election." What Clinton wants defended is "his" record, his presidency's accomplishments. Clinton is no Mayberry Machiavelli, more a Banquo's Ghost from Hope, a doleful reminder of what could have been, of brightness falling, of dashed hopes.
Clinton did match his earlier rhetorical flourish of needing to know what the "definition of is is," when he told the conspicuously quiet audience Democrats need to be tougher "When people are feeling insecure, they'd rather have someone who is strong and wrong rather than somebody who is weak and right."
It doesn't sound like Al Gore will be getting Bill Clinton's enthusiastic support for a run in 2004, though Gore barely sought it in 2000. Indeed, Clinton showed the most passion when he defended his own presidential record and when he spoke of the Republican attacks on Tom Daschle's patriotism during the midterm elections "What was done...was unconscionable, but our refusal to stand up and defend him in a disciplined way was worse."
Could there be a Tom Daschle/Hillary Clinton ticket on the horizon? Perhaps in Bill Clinton's dreams, but as likely to come about as John DiIulio's appointment to another high post in the Bush administration.
The bad old days have been much in the news recently Trent Lott mourning the loss of segregation forever at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday celebration, plus John Snow, President Bush's choice to replace Paul O'Neill as Treasury Secretary, reviving once again memories of the Ford administration, plus Snow's belated resignation from that other Southern institution of life as it used to be, The Augusta National Golf Club, with its female-free comforts. And, most sorrowfully, the death of Phillip Berrigan, the anti-war former Catholic priest, who spent his life attempting to turn swords into ploughshares.
There is always a variety of pasts to chose from: Lott and Snow's versions may still command the attention of the powerful, but Philip Berrigan's was always aimed at benefiting the powerless.
Lott, the Senate Majority Leader to be, unless his paean to the Plantation era becomes his undoing, was doubtless infected by the occasion, Sen. Thurmond's centennial retirement party, which rendered the minds of many who should know better completely daffy. Thurmond has evolved over the years, from an out-and-out segregationist threat, to a dotty old freak show, though one dutifully reelected term after term by his state's all-too-accommodating electorate.
Treasury Secretary designate John Snow's chief virtue, allegedly, is that he will be a more effective PR spokesperson for the president's already-in-place economic policy (Cut taxes! Cut taxes!). Though, even the conservative Forbes magazine had already labeled Snow an inferior CEO of the heavily government-subsidized CSX railroad, giving Snow a grade of D for performance, noting he paid himself about $30 million, while overseeing a five-year annualized negative 1% percent return in his company. Doubtless, Forbes will find something nice to say about him now.
Philip Berrigan certainly could have been a CEO at a large company, if he had hankered for great wealth. He was tall, good looking, uncompromisingly certain in his views. He became a CEO, of sorts, of the anti-Vietnam war protest movement. After the somewhat disastrous 1972 federal conspiracy trial of the Harrisburg 7, which the government lost, insofar as there was a hung jury on the major counts charging Father Berrigan and six others of conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up heating tunnels in Washington, D.C., but was won because the trial itself deflated the moral capital of Berrigan's group of Catholic Left anti-war protestors, leaving their movement somewhat splintered and dispirited.
Philip Berrigan was drummed out of the priesthood, married the former nun Elizabeth McAlister, and started Jonah House in Baltimore and carried on with a smaller group of like-minded individuals. Their focus of protest became nuclear weapons, since the Vietnam war, which they had fought effectively through many anti-war draft protests--enough so to have brought the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover down upon them--finally ended.
Today, an anti-war movement continues to exist, but, unfortunately, with no greater public profile than Sen. Lott's pro-segregationist movement—"if the rest of the country had followed our lead we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years"--and the anti-women in golf clubs movement, advocated by corporate chieftains who enjoy the good life at Augusta.
Strom Thurmond's remarkable longevity is further proof that the good die young. But, fortunately, some of the good still die at 79, like Philip Berrigan. Given the Catholic Church's current bad press, it is remarkable to think back to the late 60s and early 70s, when Berrigan and his Jesuit brother Dan, were seen by American bishops as "bad" priests, their dastardly anti-war deeds filling the pages of newspapers. Then they were the public face of the Catholic Church, not today's predatory pedophiles and weak-kneed bishops.
All those involved in the trial of the Harrisburg 7 have scattered, most drifting away from the issues and lives that brought them together. Philip Berrigan, though, stood the course, fought the good fight. Unlike the departure of Thurmond and Lott (if he forfeits his leadership post), Berrigan's inspiring presence will be missed.
Henry Kissinger fell upon a sword in behalf of his Saudi clients, declining President Bush's offer to head the 9/11 investigation (too many privacy conflicts), and Al Gore decided not to sacrifice himself and declined to run for the presidency in 2004. Gore, too, said he didn't want to revisit past history, as he knew he would have to, if he ran again against George W. Bush.
Revisiting either history--the state of our intelligence services pre-9/11 and the 2000 election--would have been, in any case, a doleful task at best for either man.
Both endeavors would have required of Kissinger and Gore a large measure of self-sacrifice. The Warren Commission, prompted by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, did little good for the legacy of Chief Justice Earl Warren. It was a capstone to a career no one would want to repeat, given the rancor and suspicion that tome produced, an account haunted by controversy that continues to this day. Why would Henry Kissinger want to end his public career with the same sort of contentious and unlikely-to-be revered volume? Heading such an enterprise was a lose-lose proposition and he finally declined. Best to step out of the limelight before it began to curdle.
In Al Gore's case, the limelight had continued to be a free-fire zone. Gore had to endure the unfortunate circumstance of making even his former champions mad at him for losing in 2000, even though he won the popular vote by a half-million. The complicated emotions that turnabout caused (what kind of loser loses even when he wins?) created an unhealthy base upon which to build a new campaign.
Gore used the unfortunate new age word "closure" to describe his decision, but, at least, by using that word he pointed to the depth of psychological injury the 2000 campaign produced both in him and in those who supported him.
Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean has accepted the Kissinger role in the 9/11 investigation. By agreeing, Kean, who comes from a wealthy family, reveals a patrician streak of self-sacrifice often demonstrated by the old rich when it comes to public service. Whoever becomes the Democratic candidate in 2004 also will have to be capable of self-sacrifice. The '04 race may mimic the '96 contest. Who will be the Democrats' Bob Dole?
In the case of the Democrats, the most likely victor for the nomination will be the one with the least to lose. John Kerry won't risk his seat in the Senate, since he is not up for reelection in '04. He will doubtless vie for the job.
Joe Lieberman hedged his bets and ran for both the Senate and the vice presidency in 2000, and won his Senate seat. He won't have to display such an unbecoming lack of confidence this time around, since he, too, won't be up for reelection in '04.
But will Kerry gain anything by losing? Perhaps. Joe Lieberman certainly will gain something even if he loses. He will become the first Jew to head a national political ticket and that would be a distinction to savor. It is likely that motivation will make Lieberman run hard and run strong. He may end up wanting it more than Kerry and, given the rigors of campaigning nationally, that may give Lieberman the edge.
Indeed, a Lieberman-Kerry ticket eventually may be the strongest challenge the Democrats could mount. One of the many Al Gore "what ifs?" is the question what a Gore-Kerry ticket would have wrought in 2000, both men being able to hammer away back then at the sunshine soldier service George W. Bush did in Texas during the Vietnam war. As it was, the Vietnam war played almost no role in the 2000 campaign. In '04, the war on terror will.
Now, with Bush being the all-war-all-the-time president, there will likely need to be a hawkish component to the Democratic ticket and Lieberman-Kerry would fit that bill.
Kerry would lose less if he ran for the vice presidency in 2004. That would leave him not entirely damaged goods for 2008, just as Lieberman is not seen as too hurt by losing in 2000 not to run strongly in 2004. What role Al Gore will play in influencing which Democrat may prevail is far from clear. Gore is gone, but not gone. And Gore's new identity as a civilian may turn out to be his most winning role.
If your eyes don't cross at yet one more end of the year roundup, here goes. What stories should have been written about more, not less, during the past year?
One concerns the mirage created by the Republicans that some form of Social Security privatization is inevitable. Part of the administration's political strategy is to talk about something as already having been decided and to express surprise that anyone doubts the proposition put forward. President Bush's "war on Iraq" talk took this route. It's going to happen, we've been assured for over a year. But, this tactic is used with domestic, as well as foreign, policy. Social Security privatization has been dragged over that line.
The GOP points to all the midterm candidates who were elected who supported privatization as proof, regardless of how many of them downplayed that in their campaigns. How about this? Let's raise the FICA tax 4% on workers and employers, but let half that amount be deposited in individual accounts opened by the employees themselves. Alas, brokerage houses already have a plan that requires the government to manage those unprofitable small accounts. They only want the large accounts from upper income contributors, which would hide the hefty administrative costs involved. Privatizers don't want to fix Social Security; they want to profit from it.
On the 9/11 front, why Rudy Giuliani wasn't considered to head the federal 9/11 investigation should have been more of a story, especially since it was hardly reported outside of New York City. Giuliani, long before 9/11, was concerned about terrorist threats, but he was more worried about local terrorists and had a controversial bunker-like command center constructed in one of the World Trade Center buildings, number 7. Both the necessity and the cost of such a fortress was questioned locally at the time the mayor proposed it. It included large stores of diesel fuel to run generators, lest any loss of power occurred. Fire inspectors seemed to have been persuaded to overlook the bad idea of storing so much diesel fuel in a building. Giuliani became an unlikely choice to head any investigation of the whole disastrous event when that building unnecessarily burnt to the ground. 7 WTC has the distinction to be the first fireproofed steel structure to collapse due to fire alone, thanks to all that stored diesel fuel. 9/11 showed the command center's choice of location and its makeup was, as critics claimed at its inception, ludicrous.
Stories that don't get written about much usually are stories few know anything about. A simpler question is: what stories got too much coverage in 2002?
Working backwards, there was a lot about Trent Lott. Beware of stories that aren't over in a day. There were quite a few in 2002. As they went on and on they became harder to handle. But the Lott story tapped into an even bigger mother lode than, say, the violence of the D.C. sniper story: the story of race in America. That may not go under-reported, but most often it does get shunted aside, or looked at fleetingly.
But the Lott story became a seeping wound. Under its surface was the failed promise of the American dream, because Lott's blunder quickly flowed into the story of equal education and economic inequities: poverty, crime, decades of racism, a whole host of things people prefer to turn away from.
But Lott's lot was to make everyone take a look for a while, though even stories that get too much publicity can, in the end, not get enough. Al Gore finally learned at last that 9/11 cauterized the wound of the 2000 election. No one cared anymore. And the Republicans have tried to cauterize the Lott wound with the rapid ascent of Bill Frist (R.Tenn.) as the new majority leader to be.
Indeed, the Republicans want the subject of race put back in the shadows, the realm of comfortable neglect where a good bit of America's past stays hidden.
What one realizes at the end of a year is not that all hindsight is 20-20, but that a great deal of it isn't. Many Americans still don't know what to make of our past, reported or under-reported. But, at the beginning of 2003, our still divided nation happily has come to at least one healthy consensus: that Trent Lott's antiquated view of America's past could not stand.