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Robert Scheer

Contributing Editor

Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of and author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books), The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve) and Playing President (Akashic Books). He is author, with Christopher Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry, of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq (Akashic Books and Seven Stories Press.) His weekly column, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • Regions and Countries May 1, 2000

    Presidents, Not Kerreys, Bred Horror of Vietnam

    A tangled web of disingenuous calculation marked developments there, and the public was the more deceived.

    Robert Scheer

  • Business April 24, 2000

    Extra! Extra! Read Less About It

    * * *

    When legendary media critic A.J. Liebling issued that warning some decades ago about the corrosive effect of media monopolies on the First Amendment, media ownership was a great deal more varied than it is today.

    Even then, it was far more concentrated in a few hands than when the Bill of Rights was written, when "the press" was a low-capital venture, and newspapers were easily launched by those who had something to say. The founding fathers hardly anticipated today's media market, in which journalism is a vehicle for mega-corporate profits, and the diversity of opinion implied in the First Amendment is threatened less by a king or the state and far more by the motives of media barons.

    Nowadays, media mega-mergers are the rage, and the Bush Administration is determined to remove legal barriers to media conglomeration that long have prevented a few giant corporations from controlling all of print and broadcast journalism. But can we count on the very news organizations whose owners are zealously pursuing profit from those mergers to also objectively cover the implications of media concentration for a free society?

    The initial signs aren't promising. When America Online purchased Time Warner in the biggest media merger in US history, there was considerable analysis of the deal's business aspects but meager attention to implications for a representative democracy of having a significant portion of its media controlled by one corporation.

    Previously, one could assume that Time magazine, AOL and CNN, as well as other parts of the new conglomerate, at least reflected the voices of different owners, but that's no longer the case. Also, with that merger, AOL went from being an outsider company demanding open access to cable to being the second-largest cable operator. Suddenly it muted its open access demand, leaving the perception that the news outlets now assembled under the AOL banner might also have had a change of heart as to what's important in the cable controversy.

    Most recently, the new Bush FCC appointees relaxed a long-standing "dual network rule" barring one television network from buying another. The result is that Viacom, which owns CBS, will have a large stake in the UPN network. Will other broadcasters anticipating similar deals permit their news organizations to voice dissenting opinions, or launch investigations of the FCC's abandonment of its consumer watchdog role?

    Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has made clear his intention to purchase DirecTV from General Motors. If he succeeds, he'll combine the largest US satellite broadcaster with his existing satellite network, which is pervasive in much of the rest of the world. Will journalists laboring in his vast empire dare raise troubling questions about the danger of one man holding such overwhelming power in the world communications market?

    Further, Bush's new FCC chairman, Michael Powell, promises to eliminate the 1975 prohibition against cross-ownership--a company owning a TV station and newspaper in the same market. That might prove immensely profitable to the Tribune Co., which, in purchasing the Times Mirror Co. last year, acquired newspapers in three markets where Tribune already owned television stations. But is cross-ownership healthy for independent journalism in those markets, which include New York and Los Angeles? Will the news outlets that are subsidiaries in the deal fully examine the journalistic implications of media concentration? Or will they only report on the wonders of what the owners celebrate as "convergence" or "synergy"?

    The answer suggested by the last election is that media have difficulty covering themselves fully when the owners' financial interests are seriously in play. How else can one explain the scant attention paid to the difference between Al Gore--who opposed cross-ownership--and George W. Bush on this issue?

    Also ignored in the coverage was the stake that media moguls had in the Democrats not gaining control of Congress. Had that happened, John Dingell (D-Mich.) would be chairing the House Commerce Committee, which oversees the work of the FCC. Dingell was on record as opposing the Tribune purchase of Times Mirror because such mergers lead to a "huge concentration of power in a small group of hands."

    That's why Dingell and others believe that government regulation to preserve a diverse media market is essential. The rules concerning media ownership were not carelessly drawn up over the preceding decades to inconvenience the media industry. Rather, they were designed to save the media business from its worst instincts.

    Regulation is a reminder that there is a public interest in the news media as in no other industry because corporate concentration threatens the competition vital to an unfettered press. The free press belongs to us all and not just to the few who own one.

    Robert Scheer

  • Economic Policy April 17, 2000

    Cheney Was a Gusher Deal for Halliburton

    Let's not begrudge Dick Cheney his $36 million income last year. Sure, it dwarfs the puny $744,682 reported by the President, but George W. Bush represents old money, and he knows better than to be too showy, particularly when you're running for office as a Joe Six-Pack kind of guy. Better to roll over the income from inherited money into tax-protected accounts.

    Cheney didn't have time for such accounting niceties. Bush caught him right in the middle of a tax year with that Vice President nod, and remember, Cheney was only supposed to be advising Bush on the best choice for Veep. How was Cheney to know he'd be forced to recommend himself as the most qualified?

    Still, just because he had become Vice President didn't mean he had to take a vow of poverty. As Cheney told CBS News at the time, "I'd like not to give away all of my assets to serve the public." And why should he, since there's no law limiting the assets of federal office-holders or any requirement that they give up their acquired wealth? Cheney had only to look as far as Bush, who merely put his in a blind trust, no questions asked.

    Huge financial assets are now the norm for leaders of our representative democracy, and it wasn't unexpected that the mostly wealthy members of the Senate recently voted rich people like themselves an enormous tax cut, albeit not as large as the one Bush wanted for himself and his pals.

    Cheney's assets are only at risk of taxation if he wants to leave a huge amount to his heirs without paying additional taxes. Soon, even that will no longer be a problem because Bush and Cheney are sensitive to the unfairness of the estate tax to ordinary people like themselves, and they want to eliminate it.

    What was at issue during the campaign was not Cheney's assets or his income but his future stock options in Halliburton Co. These being tied to the rise and fall of Halliburton stock, presented a potential conflict of interest because, as Vice President, it was conceivable that he could influence stock prices. Under considerable pressure, Cheney decided to donate those stock options to charity, but he was left with a bit more than a hair-shirt.

    Even after taxes, Cheney cleared more than $20 million in 2000. If the Bush tax cut had been in effect last year, Cheney would've saved another couple of million, to which he obviously feels entitled.

    Don't forget, Cheney was playing catch-up after years in the public sector, first as a congressman and then as Defense secretary. As it turned out, he only had about five years in the private sector to cash in his chips, and he didn't really know much about the energy business. When he hired on to serve as the CEO of an oil services firm, he knew he would have to justify the big bucks he was getting paid.

    Fortunately for him and Halliburton, it all worked out in the end.

    For the Texas-based Halliburton, there initially was some concern. Only two years ago, with the company's stock floundering, the board of directors chastised Cheney for the company's poor performance. But then came the presidential election, and those same directors must have figured they had died and gone to heaven after Cheney got the Veep nod. That's when the board of directors turned around and rewarded him with an incredibly lucrative severance package providing the bulk of his reported $36 million income in 2000.

    Can you blame them? Most of Cheney's working hours last year were devoted to seizing the White House for the most avidly pro-Big Oil presidency in US history, and servicing Big Oil is what Halliburton Co. is all about. That and construction projects around the world that an anti-environmental Administration now seems all too eager to facilitate.

    Quite an impressive record for an executive who was just learning the business. They knew the guy would be good; after all, as a congressman he had one of most pro-industry voting records. And it was Defense Secretary Cheney who had made the decision to privatize logistical support facilities for the military, which gave Halliburton's subsidiary, Brown & Root, huge construction contracts for the US military at bases throughout the world.

    Of course, as the former Defense secretary who'd saved Kuwait, where Halliburton has huge contracts, Cheney was already known to be an effective player. But how could Halliburton have known Cheney would be this good? Not only did he help elect another Texas oil guy as President, but if you look at the short record of the Bush-Cheney Administration, when it comes to opening the environment for energy exploration, even that most pristine area in Alaska, these guys know no limits.

    Indeed, they must be guffawing down in Texas to have two good old boys running the White House without a scintilla of shame. It's been oil money well spent.

    Robert Scheer

  • Political Figures April 10, 2000

    Bush Could Really Use a Fireside Chat With FDR

    It's cherry blossom time in Washington, DC, and there's no better place to retreat from the lobbyist feeding ground that is called the US Congress than the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial. The stench of the trough recedes, and the optimism of spring is restored as one wanders down the beautiful Cherry Walk along the Tidal Basin to absorb the words of a president who cared so deeply about putting government at the service of all.

    At the Capitol, the avarice of the over-represented rich and powerful is on sickening display as their lackeys rush to pass the current President's plans to stuff the pockets of their kith and kin. This is a President who never learned that it's possible to be a leader born of privilege and yet be absorbed with the fate of those in need.

    Not so Roosevelt, a true aristocrat whose genuine love of the common man united this country to save it during its most severe time of economic turmoil and devastating world war. At the memorial, his words, cut in granite, are a stark reminder of how far greed has taken us from the simple but eloquent notion of economic justice that sixty-four years ago a President dared embrace:

    "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

    Does George W. Bush not know there are tens of millions in this country, many of them children, who have too little? Is it conceivable that he believes the best way to serve them is a tax cut whose main purpose is to add to the abundance of the super-rich? We may no longer be the nation that Roosevelt saw as one-third "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," but we are uncomfortably close.

    Rich people can be progressive, as Roosevelt so admirably demonstrated, but only when they step out of their own too-comfortable skins, a feat Bush the Younger has yet to attempt. Roosevelt, like Bush, was raised by servants, but for FDR they became the constituency he most faithfully served.

    Objecting to Bush's feed-the-rich policies is not class warfare, as GOP reactionaries claim, but rather a rational attempt to save capitalism from its worst excesses. That's why more than 800 wealthy Americans, led by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates Sr., have risen to decry the proposed repeal of the estate tax, which would further exacerbate class differences based on accident of birth.

    Even more obscene is the Bush administration's attempt to blame environmental safeguards for poverty when it's the poor who are stuck with toxic land and foul water. Roosevelt was ever mindful, as this administration isn't, that it's counterproductive when economic crisis is used as an excuse to rape the environment. In his message to Congress on January 24, 1935, Roosevelt warned: "Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men."

    That was said in the midst of the country's deepest economic depression, yet now we have the sight of our presumed leader smashing environmental safeguards when faced with the prospect of a mild recession.

    Finally, what Roosevelt and his saintly wife, Eleanor, brought to Washington, and which Bush seems bent on denigrating, is a respect for government as an indispensable ally to our betterment. At the FDR memorial, one is overwhelmed by the breadth of Roosevelt's achievements in putting the power of the government at the service of the people. Projects that transformed this nation, ranging from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought electricity to vast darkened swaths of this nation, to the Works Progress Administration, which treated artists not as a suspect and subversive cadre but rather as an indispensable source of light in the bleakest of times.

    There was no rural hovel or city ghetto beyond the reach of FDR's government. When Roosevelt died, I was a young kid living in a Bronx tenement being raised by a family of often unemployed workers, until Roosevelt became our salvation. Millions like us, of all ages, poured into the streets at the news of FDR's death, crying from love but also from fear that the man who had stood between us and the abyss was no longer our President.

    Secretary of State Colin Powell, who lived a few subway stops from my neighborhood, and who was in my class at the publicly funded City College of New York, has written in his autobiography that he and his family felt the same way about Roosevelt. Maybe he should take his boss down to the FDR memorial some quiet night to consider a new role model.

    Robert Scheer

  • Environment April 3, 2000

    The Heck With That Global Warming Stuff

    Time to ease up on George W. So what that he tore up the Kyoto agreement, which had been painstakingly hammered out among 100 nations in an attempt to control global warming. Bush doesn't know any better, and why should he, since he never seemed to think that there was a world out there worth visiting, let alone saving.

    Here's a guy born with credit cards in his cradle, enough to take him anywhere in the world, first class, who nevertheless pointedly refused to go. Even kids without any money manage to scrape up a few bucks and go see the world, but not young George, who satiated his curiosity about foreign lands with a few beer busts down in Mexico.

    Heck, this fellow is so partial to sleeping in his own bed that during the campaign his handlers had to cajole him into making appearances outside of Texas. A state that is, the then-governor would tell his out-of-state audiences, the most perfect place in the world. His bold plan for the nation is to make it "a greater Texas."

    What makes Texas perfect for Bush is that they have gas and oil profits there, which paid for Bush's run for governor and the presidency and made his Vice President and other key players in his Administration very, very rich. Nothing can be allowed to cut into those profit margins, especially those environmental extremists who are always talking about clean air and harmful emissions.

    Sure Bush is for clean air--as long as it doesn't hurt oil company profits. Why, when the black smoke in his hometown of Odessa got so nasty that you had to turn on your headlights in the daytime, Gov. Bush went so far as to politely ask the big oil companies to come up with a plan to regulate themselves. They're still working on it.

    What he would not buy, as he made clear in the presidential campaign, is that there is some sort of "greenhouse gas" effect already at work changing the world's climate in ways that all those alarmists say will prove disastrous. Yes, it's true that as part of his successful campaign strategy of conning the center and not frightening the Naderites, he did pledge to enforce limits on carbon dioxide emissions. So he lied. Big deal. At least it wasn't about something important, like sex.

    Greenhouse gases are not important to Bush because all you have is a bunch of scientific geeks with all their studies, such as the recent one by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that such emissions have "contributed substantially" to global warming. But our President still is not convinced, and that's all that matters now, thanks to a weird and dubious election.

    Anyway, no matter what those scientific studies show, Bush is not about to let other countries tell us--the United States of America!--what to do. So what that our 5 percent of the world's population accounts for 25 percent of its greenhouse gases--on a per capita basis twice that of Western Europe. Evidently the toxic Texan wants us to be No. 1 in everything, including pollution.

    Bush is impervious to the argument of other industrialized nations, which recognize that, being the source of most of the damage, they must take the lead in repairing it while also setting an example for more impoverished nations. The response to Bush's position from our traditional allies has been withering, as typified by France's environment minister, who termed Bush's actions "completely provocative and irresponsible." The heck with them if they can't take a joke.

    Bush's typically fractured response to the torrent of foreign criticism was breathtakingly insular: "We will not do anything that harms our economy. Because first things first are the people who live in America." Bush must believe that some sort of divine intervention will preserve the United States as the ice cap melts and the seas rise. Perhaps this is where the corporate greed faction of the GOP finds common ground with the party's religious right.

    It's sad that party moderates, led by Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman and Secretary of State Colin Powell, have not been able to bring Bush the younger up to speed on this issue. And a pity that Bush doesn't even listen to William K. Reilly, the EPA administrator during the first Bush presidency, who urged George W. to at least abide by the 1992 international convention to combat global warming, which his father signed.

    But Bush the younger is so steeped in the ideology of Big Oil that he obviously cannot think clearly about environmental issues. The mind, particularly of a president, is a terrible thing to waste. But when it comes to saving the environment, George Bush does seem uneducable.

    Robert Scheer


  • Economic Policy March 30, 2000

    Bush Crawls Into Bed With the Money Lenders

    If only George W. Bush were content to merely market nights in the Lincoln Bedroom or issue some questionable pardons, the public would be much better off. But no, the new President has taken the art of selling White House access to an unprecedented level, with disastrous consequences for millions of Americans.

    While the media remain obsessed with trying to prove that the Clinton Administration was on the take from corrupt fat cats, the Republicans have unashamedly turned over the federal government to the very corporations that purchased the dubious Bush electoral victory.

    MBNA, the world's biggest credit card dispenser, which hooks your kids with teaser rates that can quickly balloon to usurious proportions, is about to get the bill ending bankruptcy protection for little people that it had in mind when it led the Bush campaign contributor list.

    The big corporate givers are all lined up with wish lists in hand. "There is no longer any countervailing power in Washington; business is in complete control of the machinery of government," former Labor Secretary Robert Reich concluded recently.

    In less than two months, the Administration has reversed workplace protection for repetitive stress injury, betrayed Bush's campaign promise to curtail industry carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming and revved up plans for Arctic drilling. For all of his belief in a free market, the President used the club of the state to force mechanics at Northwest Airlines back to work.

    Not that congressional Democrats are without blame. As the bipartisan support for the bankruptcy bill demonstrated, corporate contributions are as compelling as they are pervasive.

    Bush has indicated he's eager to sign this atrocious bill--an identical measure was vetoed by President Clinton--which strips away a century of protection for small debtors. No longer will holders of unsecured debt, who average $22,000 a year in income, be given a fresh start. Under this bill, such debtors who file for bankruptcy will not have their debt eliminated under the easy-to-use Chapter 7 protection of the Bankruptcy Code but will be forced to file a repayment plan under the more rigorous Chapter 13. That places this unsecured debt on the same level as all other claims requiring payment, such as child support and alimony, leaving divorced spouses and their children competing with banks for a claimant's paycheck.

    At the same time, Congressional Republicans refused to accept any amendments restraining the marketing of credit cards or the regulating of usurious interests rates charged. These largely unscrupulous banking practices that prey upon the young and gullible, with billions of mailed solicitations a year, is what often leads people into bankruptcy.

    What in God's name is going on? The Bible warns against these money handler who charge usurious rates: "Let the exacting of usury stop" is commanded in Nehemiah, where the word "usury" is applied to loans among Israelites bearing a mere 1 percent interest. On a more secular note, the California Constitution had placed a 10 percent limit on interest, but that has been watered down by court decisions.

    By those historical standards, the current average charge of 18 percent on credit cards, often rising more than 24 percent, certainly qualifies as "exorbitant," to use Webster's definition of usury. Indeed, the common practice of the banks would seem to fall under the category of criminal loan-sharking, but just try to find a prosecutor with the guts to classify a leading bank as organized crime.

    The analogy with loan-sharking is valid, given that both credit card companies and gangsters loan money to people who have no means of repayment. The gangsters compel repayment with the threat of physical force, and banks will now have the legal intimidation of the courts.

    Because Clinton vetoed this legislation, the banking industry weighed in heavily for Bush in the last election. MBNA employees accounted for $240,000 in donations to Bush, compared to $1,500 to Al Gore. The bank's chairman hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner for Bush, and the bank contributed a nifty $100,000 to the Bush inaugural festivities.

    Financial institutions, which gave Republicans $26 million in the last election, have been rewarded with quick passage of the bankruptcy bill that Clinton rejected. The big difference this time around is that Bush has already stated that he will sign the bill, so there is no pressure on Congress to build in even the most minor consumer protections.

    This year alone, a million Americans, many of them young people suckered into financing their education by maxing out their credit cards, will attempt to use the bankruptcy court as a second chance, only to find the door closed. They should thank Bush the next time an election rolls around.

    Robert Scheer

  • Political Figures March 28, 2000

    It’s Payback Time for Bush Contributors

    Let's see which Bush softball we can hit out of the park this week. Should it be tolerating arsenic in the water supply, cutting funds for abused children or eliminating the historic and nonpartisan evaluation of judicial candidates by the American Bar Assn.?

    With the Senate hanging on one vote, this administration acts as if it has only limited time to do as much damage as possible to the environment, consumers, the non-rich and common sense.

    One day, President Bush appoints as the government's head regulator a professor who's made a career of milking corporate funding while opposing environmental regulation. The next day, we learn that our new UN ambassador-in-waiting aided Central American death squads. Not to mention earlier Bush Administration appointments, such as turning over the Justice Department to John Ashcroft and other right-wing zealots. As the Washington Post reported, "President Bush is quietly building the most conservative administration in modern times, surpassing even Ronald Reagan in the ideological commitment of his appointments."

    Hardly "conservative" in the sense of preserving clean air and water and pristine land in Alaska. To the contrary, the gang in power is out to pillage and rape the environment with an abandon not witnessed since the days when strip-mining was in vogue. The principle seems to be that what's good for a company that gave money to the Bush campaign is good for the country. As a Los Angeles Times front-page headline put it: "With Bush, Happy Days Here Again for Business Lobby."

    The Times quoted big business lobbyists claiming they were frozen out during the Clinton years of "over-regulation." Strange, isn't it, that the economic boom that benefited so many of them was hardly stifled by those same regulations. But public interest be damned as lobbyists enjoy a rapid string of successes, from wiping out workplace safety rules to freeing mine owners from having to post bonds to ensure they will clean up their messes. Last week, much to the pleasure of industrial polluters, Bush reversed President Clinton's order to lower the level of arsenic in the nation's drinking water.

    This followed on the heels of Bush's betrayal of a campaign pledge to prevent global warming by enforcing cutbacks on carbon monoxide emission from power plants. This is an administration that seems to thrill at high energy prices. It is even gutting federal programs to promote energy efficiency by a devastating 30%.

    Bush needs to be locked in a room with Erin Brockovich, either the movie or the person, to be reminded that corporations will lie to the public when profit dictates.

    But it's not only business greed that moves this MBA President. He's committed to turning back civil rights gains made through the courts by women and minorities. The theft of the presidential election by the US Supreme Court's right-wing junta is the harbinger of what's to come.

    If anyone doubts that, look at what Bush did last week when he ended the practice, used since President Eisenhower, of submitting federal judicial candidates to the ABA for professional evaluation. In doing so, Bush was catering to the far right, which has been unhappy with the bar group since 1987, when Judge Robert H. Bork, though rated "well qualified" by the ABA, received negative reviews from a few on the ABA review committee. Nor is the conservative right happy about the bar's support of the Supreme Court's position in Roe v. Wade.

    The rights of the unborn remain paramount to this administration. Too bad it doesn't care more about children once they are born, especially disadvantaged children. Bush trumpets a $1.6-trillion tax cut with 43 percent of the benefits going to the super rich, while his budget slashes funding for child care, for ending child abuse and for training doctors in children's hospitals. Data compiled by the states shows 900,000 children are abused or neglected each year, yet Bush cut $15.7 million a year destined for the states to investigate such cases. Bush seeks to "save" another $200 million by cutting child care funding at a time when limits imposed by welfare reform dramatically increase the number of working mothers who cannot afford caretakers for their children.

    A $20 million "early learning fund" to improve preschoolers' child care also was eliminated. When Clinton signed that bill last December, one of its co-authors, Alaskan GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, promised the new administration would be supportive: "I expect our new first lady, Laura Bush, a former librarian, to be a champion of early childhood education." Perhaps she is, but she is not the President.

    Unfortunately, neither is John McCain, the one Republican with the guts to buck the Administration's unseemly embrace of big money.

    Ralph Nader was wrong: There is a huge difference between the two parties. And for the Bush Administration, it's payback time on every front for his greedy legions.

    Robert Scheer

  • Politics March 13, 2000

    Pigsty Politics Dirties Davis More Than Actor

    Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor!

    Well, why not? I hadn't thought of putting in a plug for the actor's political career until Gov. Gray Davis' top political operative, Garry South, conducted one of the meanest political smear jobs in recent memory.

    South took the lowest of the low roads when he personally made sure that an article in Premiere magazine got into the hands of a host of reporters as well as potential Republican backers of a possible Schwarzenegger gubernatorial campaign. Not content with attacking Schwarzenegger as a womanizer, as the magazine did, South baited Republicans for even considering supporting a man whose political views might be described as more moderate than theirs.

    As South told me, Schwarzenegger "defined himself as a social liberal, pro-choice and pro-gun control, plus he's married to a Kennedy." What a crime. But South sputtered on, adding that Schwarzenegger also is pro-gay rights, pro-immigrant and supported Clinton during the impeachment farce.

    Most of this kind of talk is aimed at shocking Republicans, but apparently South got his call list mixed up and mistakenly placed me in the category of right-winger. Anything to destroy an opponent. South claimed Schwarzenegger's suggestion that he might be a gubernatorial candidate made him fair game. Referring to the actor's interview with L.A. Times columnist George Skelton, South said, "When Skelton put him in the ring, he [Schwarzenegger] trashed the governor."

    Not so. Schwarzenegger criticized Davis's handling of the California energy crisis as being marked by uncertainty (an assessment shared by many) and said Davis hadn't kept his campaign promises. But he said nothing personally denigrating about the Governor. In fact, he said of Davis, "I hope he does a great job so there's no reason for anyone to run against him. Because that's the ideal thing." I call that gracious.

    Yet South felt compelled to answer with a no-holds-barred smear, explaining: "When someone attacks my client, I will respond, that's what I do for a living--when you do what Arnold Schwarzenegger did, you put yourself in the line of fire. That's my rationale; I have no apology whatsoever."

    Nor does Davis. A campaign press spokesman, Gabriel Sanchez, when asked about the smear campaign conducted on behalf of the Governor's campaign committee, said, "The Governor hasn't made any comment on that issue, nor does he intend to."

    The Premiere piece, which South also e-mailed and faxed to a long list of reporters and political operatives, contained the kind of anonymously sourced dirt that gets hurled with impunity at public figures, who have less protection under libel laws. The primary thrust of the article was that the actor was a serial groper. Weirdly, the magazine's writer also went into Schwarzenegger's congenital heart problem, speculating that it was instead the result of steroids used when he was a competitive bodybuilder. As a smarmy aside, the writer made much of the evidently unfounded claim that pig, rather than human, heart valves were implanted in Schwarzenegger. (Schwarzenegger's surgeon insisted the magazine was wrong, that human valves were used and that there's no evidence that he used steroids.)

    In taking advantage of the hit piece, South began his e-mail with: "RE: Ah-nuhld's Piggish Behavior (Maybe It's the Pig Valve?)." How puerile.

    Why denigrate a man who has been an exemplary community activist? While Davis's hatchet man chose to ignore his many charitable and service contributions over the decades, two are particularly well-known: Schwarzenegger is national chair of the effort to bring sports to inner-city kids and has been a major booster of the Special Olympics. Whatever his failings, and who among us is without, he is a family man seen frequently in Santa Monica in the company of his wife, NBC reporter Maria Shriver, and their four children, doing normal family things. I have observed Schwarzenegger in various settings and have never witnessed a scintilla of the crudeness ascribed to him. Many years ago, I occasionally would run into him at Elaine's restaurant in New York, when he was the young Austrian immigrant bodybuilder who was suddenly the toast of the town after winning the Mr. Universe contest. It's amazing to me, after all the worldwide media attention over the following decades, that he survived to be someone this seemingly decent and balanced.

    This ugly episode tells more about Davis than about his feared opponent. We all know that the Governor is a control freak, and that South would not be doing this without his boss's approval. It is infuriating that Davis, whom I have long respected and thought to be a classy guy, would stoop to this level. It's time for Davis to terminate South's antics and issue an apology to Schwarzenegger.

    Robert Scheer

  • Criminal Justice March 6, 2000

    Many a US President Pays the Pardon Piper

    The media coverage of the Clinton pardons has been so biased, overblown and vituperative as to call into question the very purpose of what currently passes as journalism. It is difficult to recall a more partisan, one-sided hatchet job.

    Surely, even the faintest sense of fairness would compel a comparison of former President Clinton's actions with that of his predecessors and, as Rep. Henry Waxman pointed out at a recent hearing to a largely indifferent Washington press corps, Republican Presidents have more than matched the outrages of Clinton.

    Forget Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard M. Nixon, which, while effectively short-circuiting an ongoing probe of possibly the most egregious behavior of any US President, can be rationalized as a healing gesture. Nixon had accomplished much, and he was by then a broken man. We can also overlook Ronald Reagan's pardon of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, who had pleaded guilty to violating election laws.

    But unforgivable is what former President George Bush did. He protected himself--a former Reagan Administration official--in an ongoing investigation when he pardoned Reagan's Defense secretary, Casper Weinberger, and the rest of the Iran/contra gang of six.

    At the time, Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh bitterly charged that "the Iran/contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed"--by presidential fiat. Walsh called it "evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public" and said that, "in light of President Bush's own misconduct," he was "gravely concerned" about Bush's decision to pardon others.

    Bush could easily have been said to have covered up his own potential culpability--far short of anything Clinton has been accused of doing in his pardon of Marc Rich or anyone else. Nor did the Bush Iran/contra pardons pass the one-more-pardon-before-leaving-the-White-House "smell test" so liberally applied to Clinton's pardons; the pardon came after intensive lobbying by former Reagan aides and many last-minute White House meetings.

    As for pardoning drug dealers, so upsetting when ordered by Clinton, again why no comparison with Bush's similar and arguably more offensive pardon of that nature? Bush's pardon of Aslam Adam, a Pakistani heroin trafficker serving a fifty-five-year sentence, would seem more startling than Clinton's pardon of an LA Latino from a sentence one-fifth as long.

    And, OK, let's talk about Marc Rich. Let's compare his pardon to that of another financier, Armand Hammer. If Rich bought his pardon, he at least felt the need to employ the precaution of funneling a contribution through his ex-wife, as some charge. Hammer was considerably more blatant. Not only had he pleaded guilty to the charge of making illegal campaign contributions but also, when pardoned from that offense by Bush, he forked over two gifts of $100,000 to the GOP as well as to Bush's inaugural committee.

    Those represented fresh contributions to an incoming administration that could continue to bestow favors--not, as with Clinton, to a soon-to-be ex-President's library. But if it is library contributions that now so fascinate, why did House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton turn down ranking Democrat Waxman's request that the records of contributions to Republican Presidents' libraries also be subpoenaed?

    And imagine the outcry if Clinton had pardoned an immigrant exile accused of masterminding an airline bombing that cost the lives of seventy-three people, including twenty-four teenage members of an Olympic fencing team. Yet that is what George Bush did in acceding to the requests of his son, Jeb, to pardon Orlando Bosch, gaining Jeb support in Miami's exile Cuban community.

    The most serious of Clinton's pardon excesses, that of former CIA Director John Deutsch, does not rise to that level, but it is odd that it has not been criticized. By pardoning Deutsch, Clinton ended an inquiry into how sloppily top secrets are handled at the highest level. The Clinton Administration had held former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee in solitary confinement for mishandling data that wasn't even classified as secret at the time. It was Lee and not Deutsch who deserved a pardon. But that would have meant enduring criticism, and Clinton only does that for well-connected people.

    What Clinton did in catering to the wishes of his rich backers was probably less motivated by library gifts than by misplaced compassion for well-heeled but seedy people. That makes it all the more depressing, for one would have hoped that someone who came up the hard way would know that the filthy rich don't deserve special favors. But the rich pay the piper, and no matter who's in the White House, Presidents do dance.

    So it is, and so it always has been. The presidential pardon is a perk of office, which has only the function of exonerating those the judicial system would otherwise continue to condemn. It is a power begging to be abused, but no more so by Clinton than many a Republican President who preceded him.

    Robert Scheer

  • Law February 27, 2000

    The Court Did What Helms Couldn’t: Trashed the ADA

    The rogues in robes are on the move. US Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the leader of the pack, and the rest of the Court's right-wing majority have launched a judicial revolution that usurps the power of Congress as it applies to civil rights law.

    In its latest decision, the Court last week overruled Congress and held that state governments can arbitrarily deny jobs to disabled people without violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The Court's decision to gut the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990 by a huge bipartisan majority in Congress and signed into law by former President Bush, is yet another assault on representative democracy. Not content with short-circuiting the presidential election, the Court has now decided that it, and not Congress, shall make the laws.

    When passed more than a decade ago, the only significant opposition to the ADA came from a band of ultra-rightists led by Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who mustered just seven other ultra-conservative Senate votes. Unfortunately, the Senate's far right is now well-represented on the Court, and the Justices did what Helms failed to do.

    The ADA was the most significant civil rights legislation in decades, allowing the tens of millions of Americans with disabilities access to jobs, schools and buildings. The legislation was inspired by those, such as wounded war hero Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who believed that the barriers to the full participation of the disabled in our public life were a clear violation of their civil rights.

    In the recent case before the court, a registered nurse at the University of Alabama hospital was demoted upon returning to work after breast cancer treatment. Rehnquist, in helping to overrule a federal Court of Appeals decision that the ADA prohibited such discrimination, put cost accounting above the right to access when he wrote that it would be "entirely rational and therefore constitutional for a state employer to conserve scarce financial resources by hiring employees who are able to use existing facilities."

    Don't be surprised if the Court next rules that it is not necessary to provide ramps or other facilities to wheelchair-bound people seeking access to public buildings, or Braille numbers to aid the blind in elevators. The Court has already gutted barriers to age discrimination in employment.

    What is at issue is the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution extending the protection of universal civil rights to all Americans regardless of the state in which they reside. The Fourteenth Amendment--originally addressing the issue of racial discrimination--explicitly empowers Congress to pass "appropriate legislation" needed to guarantee equal protection of the law for all.

    In striking down key provisions of the ADA, Rehnquist dealt a body blow to the separation of powers, which grants to Congress sole authority to pass federal law. Rehnquist said that the law in question was ill-conceived because he didn't agree with Congress's evaluation of evidence on the subject, saying it was based on "unexamined, anecdotal accounts" that did not qualify as "legislative findings."

    Given that the ADA was one of the more carefully researched pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress, there's no reason to believe that the Court won't throw out any law it doesn't agree with. As Justice Stephen G. Breyer pointed out in his dissent, the ADA had been the subject of a dozen Congressional hearings. Breyer attached a thirty-nine-page list prepared for Congress of state-by-state examples of official acts of discrimination against the disabled. This is not enough? And, anyway, when it suits its political purpose, the Court's right-wing majority is quick to rule the opposite, insisting that Congress, not the courts, has sole power to craft federal law.

    Just this past weekend, Justice Antonin Scalia claimed in a speech that those who believe that the Constitution is an evolving or living document want to use judicial interpretation to make law. He taunted: "You want a right to abortion? Pass a law. That's flexibility."

    Yet when Congress did pass a law extending the scope of civil rights protection to the disabled, Scalia didn't like it. He joined the 5-4 opinion overturning it.

    Just a couple of questions: If the life of every fetus is sacred, why would we want to deny that fetus, if born with disabling birth defects, full civil rights? If one is denied a state job solely because he or she must use a wheelchair, is that not a clear violation of the equal protection of the laws called for in the Fourteenth Amendment?

    Hypocritically, the same five Justices who struck down the ADA as a violation of states' rights were all too willing to toss out the issue of states' rights on the Florida election count. The lesson then and now is that the current majority of the US Supreme Court seeks to usurp the power of the states and the Congress when--and only when--it suits its fiercely held ideological agenda. Sadly, civil rights are the prime target of that agenda.

    Robert Scheer