Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com 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.
* * *
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
It may be legal, but it's still a coup d'état. The nomination of
Theodore B. Olson to be solicitor general, a position of such influence
that it is often referred to as "the 10th member of the Supreme Court,"
affirms that President Bush has turned the US judiciary over to the far
We can't say we weren't warned when Bush, during the campaign, named
Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia as his role models for future judicial
appointments. They returned the compliment by obediently bowing to the
arguments of Bush's lawyer, Olson, that abruptly stopped the vote
counting in Florida, thus handing the election to Bush.
Once in office, Bush quickly appointed three of Thomas's closest
personal and ideological buddies to head the judicial branch of the US
government. Newly minted Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft made that point when he
rushed off to Thomas's chambers to be sworn in out of the public eye. Then
came the appointment of Larry Thompson, who had defended Thomas in his
stormy confirmation hearings, as deputy attorney general. Then the pièce
de résistance: Olson.
While newspaper editorials praised the Bush Administration for its
moderate style, the often mute Thomas emerged from the shadows to
celebrate the far right's triumph. At a conservative dinner soiree,
Thomas issued a militant call to arms decrying "an overemphasis on
civility." Indeed, instead of being civil to those with whom he
disagrees, we had the unseemly spectacle of a Supreme Court Justice
calling for ideological war: "The war in which we are engaged is
cultural, not civil." He chided moderates in his own party saying he was
"deeply concerned because too many [conservatives] show timidity today
precisely when courage is demanded."
Surely he wasn't referring to the President, who has given the GOP
right wing the prize it really wanted: control of the judiciary. Clearly,
the intention is to use the powers of the state to pursue the right's
social agenda while virtually dismantling the federal government as a
force for social justice.
The choice of Olson as solicitor general seals the right wing's
seizure of power. But it could not have happened without the denigration
of the Clinton Administration and its threat to marginalize the right by
moving politics back to the center. Key to the effort to destroy Clinton
was this same Olson, who will now represent the US government in cases
involving affirmative action, the environment and women's rights. Guess
what side of those issues Olson has represented in the past? Olson, a
member of the board of directors and legal counsel for the extreme right
American Spectator magazine, was a principal figure in smearing Clinton
even before the man was elected to his first term. The magazine used $2.4
million provided by far-right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife to dig up
dirt on Clinton in what started as Troopergate and ended up propelling
the Paula Jones case to the status of an impeachable offense. It was this
same Olson, a close friend of Kenneth Starr, who coached Jones' attorneys
before their successful request to the Supreme Court to allow a civil
suit to be heard against a sitting President.
Olson is one of those family values conservatives who evidently
believes that only wealthy women like his lawyer-talk show pundit third
wife should work. He argued unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court
against a California law that protected the jobs of women who took four
months of unpaid disability leave for pregnancy, terming it "destructive
Olson had another major failure when in 1996 he argued against women
being admitted to the publicly financed all-male Virginia Military
Institute on the grounds that the school's character would be
fundamentally altered. To which Justice Stephen Breyer tartly replied,
One of Olson's unsavory victories came when he got a federal appeals
court to rule that the affirmative action program for admissions at the
University of Texas was unconstitutional. An opponent of environmental
protection, Olson has gone to court to get sections of the Endangered
Species Act declared unconstitutional.
Now Olson and the other friends of Thomas are in a position to weigh
in heavily on future nominations to the Court, and their own names will
surely head the list. These are lawyers who have devoted not only their
professional lives but their personal political activity to reshaping the
Court as an activist vehicle to turn back the clock on the rights of
women, minorities and working people as well as to leave the environment
open to corporate exploitation.
By selecting this triumvirate to head the Justice Department, Bush has
sent the strongest of signals as to his intent to use the Court to
advance the far right's agenda. So much for moderation.