With the challenges and obligations created by the Katrina disaster, some political commentators have declared that George W. Bush's presidency is done, suggesting his agenda has been washed aside. That may not be so. He and Karl Rove may yet figure out how to exploit the tragedy in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to revive their Social Security plan, to sell more tax cuts for the well-to-do, and to justify their previously planned cuts in programs for low-income Americans. But if this is the end for a lame duck president, then perhaps it's time to look at Bush: The Next Generation. After all, we are already into the second generation of Bush presidencies, and bad news does come in threes.
I'm not going to bother with Jenna and Barbara Bush. They've received enough attention. (And who wants to revisit their icky "speech" at the GOP convention last year?) So let's turn the spotlight on the other Bush family in politics: the Jeb Bush clan--which just days ago had yet another brush with the law. Interestingly, every member of this family--with the exception of Jeb--has had legal trouble. In 1999, mother/wife Columba falsely stated on a Customs declaration form that she had bought only $500 in goods during a jaunt to Paris. Yet she had purchased $19,000 worth of merchandise while shopping in the City of Lights. Customs agents nabbed her, and she had to pay a $4100 fine (when the maximum penalty could have been a $19,000 fee). But we're looking at the younger Bushes.
* John Ellis Bush, aka Jebby, age 21. This past weekend, he was arrested by Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. He was stopped when the agents suspected he was drunk. He then, it seems, did not cooperate with these public servants, for he was arrested on two charges: public intoxication and resisting arrest. In the scuffle, Jebby received a chin injury and was treated at a hospital. He was released on a $2,500 bond. (Question: given George W. Bush's DWI charge and Barbara's and Jenna's underage imbibing issues, is getting into legal trouble over alcohol considered a family rite of passage?)
This was not Jebby's first encounter with the police. Five years ago--a month before the 2000 election--he was caught by security guards while in the act with a 17-year-old female in a Jeep Cherokee parked in a Tallahassee mall. Both were naked from the waist down, except Jebby was wearing his socks. The security guards called in the cops. A police officer arrived on the scene and investigated a possible crime of "sexual misconduct." In the subsequent police report, the officer wrote, "I became aware of the political ties" of the suspect. He then "contacted the watch commander...to inform him of the incident." After one of the security guards talked to Jebby's father--who happened to be the governor of the state--this guard told the on-the-scene cop that he believed that his own supervisor would "pull" the preliminary report. The cop replied that he would still have to complete an incident report. And a report was written. Nothing happened after that. The incident did not become public until two days before the presidential election, when this police report was leaked to the local media and a London newspaper. (Only the London paper went with the story.) According to Artie Brown, one of the two security guards who nabbed Jebby that night, the young Bush spoke to his father after being caught and then remarked, "My dad will fix it."
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Hurricane Katrina, Marjorie Williams' honesty in death; new ammo for abortion foes, and other in-the-news matters.
* Noelle, age 28. In January 2002, on the day when her uncle was to deliver his first State of the Union address, Noelle was arrested for allegedly trying to use a fraudulent prescription to obtain the anti-anxiety drug Xanax at a drug store. She was sent not to jail but to drug rehab. Did she receive any preferential treatment? Seven years earlier, a woman with the same name was busted for shoplifting at a mall in Arizona. If the governor's daughter did have a prior criminal record, she would have faced a stricter sentence than assignment to a drug rehabilitation facility. Then in September 2002, a fellow resident in Noelle's drug rehab center anonymously called the Orlando police and complained that the "governor's daughter" had been buying crack. Noelle received a ten-day jail sentence for crack possession. The following August, she was released from rehab and placed in the custody of her parents. Drug charges against her were dismissed.
* George P., 29. On December 31, 1994, George P. Bush, the much-hyped hunk of the Bush family and a fellow mentioned as a future prospect for politics, dropped by the Miami home of a former girlfriend. It was four in the morning and apparently he had not been invited. He broke into the house and began arguing with the woman's father. He then departed. But 15 to 20 minutes later, Bush, a Rice University student, was back. This time he drove his Ford Explorer over the front lawn, causing damage. The father contacted the police, and a Miami-Dade police officer called on George P. and his parents that night. But as the subsequent police report noted, George P. "was not arrested on the scene" because the woman's father did not want to press charges. The report also said that George P. and this woman broke up a year and a half earlier and that Bush "has been a problem ever since."
We all know that all families have their share of troubles. And, of course, it is always tough to grow up in a dynasty. (Al Gore's son was busted for speeding.) But what are the odds that in any family of prominence all three siblings will merit police reports? There is, however, good news for the children of Jeb and Columba Bush. Difficulty with the law was no career obstacle for their uncle, and it seems that with Bush family members there really is no such thing as a permanent record.
Research assistance was provided by Clarisse Profilet.
"What does it mean to be poor in America? We can offer no single description of American poverty. But for many, perhaps most, it means homes with peeling paint, inadequate heating, uncertain plumbing. It means that only the very lucky among the children receive a decent education. It often means a home where some go to bed hungry and malnutrition is a frequent visitor. It means that the most elementary components of the good ife in America--a vacation with kids, an evening out, a comfortable home--are but distant and unreachable dreams, more likely to be seen on the television screen than in the neighborhood. And for almost all the poor it means that life is a constant struggle to obtain the merest necessities of existence, those things most of us take for granted. We can do better."--Paul Wellstone, "If Poverty is the Question," The Nation, April 14, 1997
We can do better. That was Senator Paul Wellstone's abiding belief. Wellstone, who died almost three years ago on October 25, 2002 in a plane crash, along with his wife Sheila and six others, was the rarest of Senators--a man of principle, courage and passion. He fused progressive idealism with a stubbornly pragmatic politics.
Setting out in 1997 to "do everything I possibly can to start the national conversation" about the realities of poverty in America, Wellstone would have found these last days to be what he often called "a teaching moment." (He always remained the former Carleton college political science professor.) And Wellstone did travel the length and breadth of this country--as Robert Kennedy had done thirty years earlier, and as Eleanor Roosevelt did during the Great Depression--talking to the poor in towns, cities and counties coast to coast. He understood that "poverty has many faces." And he wanted to "reveal for many of [his] fellow citizens the face of poverty" as it existed at the end of the last century.
Wellstone would not have been shocked to see the poor and despairing faces millions of Americans saw on their TV screens in these last weeks. And while he would have been the first to deplore the moral scandal of such poverty in the world's richest nation, he would have quickly rolled up his sleeves to help rebuild America and the Gulf region. Wellstone understood that not only was it noble and right, but it was good and smart politics to fight on "behalf of good jobs, a living wage, good healthcare and good education."
He also understood that while we need a strong and activist government, he had spent enough time in Washington "and read enough history to know that [problems of poverty] will not be solved from the top. It was a combination of the civil rights movement and the activist movements of the sixties that generated our last truly national attack on the problems of poverty....[that] in a democracy significant social change comes from the bottom up, from an aroused opinion that forces our ruling institutions to do the right thing."
On this third anniversary of Senator Paul Wellstone's tragic death, many of us feel the absence of his energy, purpose and passion. Next week his supporters will unveil a memorial, located less than half a mile from where the airplane accident that killed him went down. As Bill Lofy, Wellstone Action! communications director, describes it, the memorial will be "a place of commemoration and reflection where people can come and learn about Paul and Sheila Wellstone, their lives and the lives of the people lost on the plane crash."
While the Wellstones respected reflection, they wouldn't have wanted too long a moment of silence. They would have been on the Senate floor, or in the Delta, helping with relief efforts, organizing, legislating. And they would have wanted us by their side, working to make this country live up to its unfulfilled promise.
As Wellstone wrote in The Nation, "I think we can do better. That is what Robert Kennedy always said. I think we can do better too. Won't you join me in the effort?"
(To join in the effort, and to support the future of progressive politics, consider a donation on this anniversary to Wellstone Action, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group set up by sons Mark and David Wellstone to train the next generation of progressive leaders.)
John Roberts, the President's nominee to become the seventeenth Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, says that the 1973 high court ruling that guaranteed a woman's right to choose is "settled as a precedent."
Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination that the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion is "entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis," the legal standard that long-established court rulings should not be casually challenged.
When pressed, Roberts suggested that only in extraordinary circumstances--when the precedent has proved to be "unworkable" or "difficult to apply"--should the Court even consider overturning settled law.
Since the Roe v. Wade precedent has survived basically intact through three decades of legal and legislative assaults, and since it has not proved to be unworkable or difficult to apply, Roberts has effectively promised the Senate--under oath--that he will not seek as the Chief Justice to outlaw abortion or other reproductive rights.
There can be no question that Roberts, who every observer agrees has an impressive awareness of the law and of politics, knows that this was the impression that he sought to convey with his comments.
Did Roberts seek to deceive the committee? Certainly, many Americans--and at least some senators--remain skeptical regarding this nominee. And, considering the sorry track record of the presidential Administration that has advanced his nomination, that skepticism ought not be dismissed casually.
But Roberts has clearly indicated a position with regard to Roe v. Wade. And that position is that, no matter what his personal opinions, he would not serve on the nation's highest court as the sort of conservative judicial activist who sets out to overturn established law.
It appears at this point that a number of senators who support a woman's right to choose will vote to confirm Roberts's nomination, which in all likelihood will gain the approval of the full Senate. It also appears, from the comments of these senators, that many of them were impressed with Roberts's performance before the Judiciary Committee--even if they would have preferred that the nominee be more forthcoming in response to questioning from Democratic and Republican senators.
While your correspondent continues to hold to the view that there are more than enough reasons to reject Roberts--beginning with his record on voting rights issues and certainly including his radical pro-business track record--he also recognizes political reality. In recognizing reality, however, it is important to set basic standards.
If and when senators who are supportive of reproductive rights cast their votes for Roberts, they ought make note of the nominee's statements to the committee with regard to this issue. Get it in the record again. And then add to the record a notation that a nominee who intentionally lies to the Senate must necessarily be subject to impeachment and removal from office.
These senators should also make it clear that, if John Roberts turns out to be the judicial activist that some fear, and if that activism takes the form of an attack on what he has described as "settled" law, then they will support a move to impeach the man and remove him from office.
If you want to understand how the right debases our political culture, take a peek at Bernard Goldberg's screed 100 People who are Screwing up America (And Al Franken is #37), which, as of yesterday, was number five on Sunday's New York Times bestseller list. The author of the best-selling books Bias and Arrogance has another smash hit on his hands--and it comes with all the vitriol and truth-twisting you'd expect from a man who's profited enormously from his role as cog in the right-wing smear machine.
Goldberg rails against liberal villains who, he claims, are out to weaken the very fabric of America. Who's Number #2? That dangerous radical Arthur Sulzberger, scion of New York's establishment and publisher of the New York Times. According to Goldberg, Sulzberger has "done more than anyone to destroy the confidence of millions of ordinary Americans in the fairness and basic integrity of the so-called mainstream media." He's got to be kidding.
If Goldberg's nasty mud-slinging was confined to one guy or one book, we could shrug it off. But he represents a far wider problem. How do people like Goldberg get away with pouring their toxic waste into our weakened political and media circulatory system? One reason, as Nation columnist Eric Alterman tells us, is the mainstream media's willingness to roll over. The right's truth-twisting pundits and commentators distort and debase our political culture. And they rarely get called on it by the so-called MSM.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly is one of America's most skilled mudslingers. Talking about Alterman, not that long ago, O'Reilly called Eric a "Fidel Castro confidant." (In this case, O'Reilly had to backtrack quickly when threatened with a defamation suit.) Then there's the inimitable Ann Coulter, who told the New York Observer this past January that "it would be fun to nuke North Korea" and that she was "fed up with hearing about...civilian casualties in Iraq").
In a smart piece posted at TalkingPointsMemoCafe.com, Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin argued that right-wing pundits and commentators should hold themselves to a higher standard. "A sense of decency should not be a sometime thing," he argued. When commentators write or say things that are either "flatly untrue...plain loathsome...or murderous," the slanderers should be exposed and should not be "invited back, and back, to talk shows."
Higher standards of decency and truth in our media are a worthy goal at any time, but in these last days, it's been heartening to see how some mainstream TV journalists have shed their usual reluctance to ask tough questions, tried to hold those in power accountable and raised long ignored issues of poverty and race. It's as if a window has opened. We need to monitor the truth-twisting rightwing media to make sure the window doesn't close, because if we ever needed a caring, aggressive, watchdog press, it's now.
(As for Goldberg, watch for Jack Huberman's forthcoming "100 People Who Are Really Screwing Up America," a spirited liberal riposte to Goldberg's latest screed, to be released by NationBooks.)
"It is time to come home, America. Time to look within our own borders and within our own souls," Sen. Robert Byrd said Tuesday on the Senate floor. "There are many questions to be answered and many missions to accomplish right here on our own soil."
The disaster in New Orleans has reaffirmed that America's ongoing failure to address racial injustice is our great, unaccomplished mission at home. African-Americans still face unequal treatment in housing, education, the workforce, and perhaps most insidiously, the medical care they receive (or fail to receive). Three recently released studies show that black patients are substantially less likely to receive heart bypass surgery, blood vessel repairs, joint replacements, and other important procedures than whites. According to Asish Jha of Harvard Medical School, these studies indicate that "Overall blacks and whites receive very different health care in this country."
Finally, an organization has emerged to confront the crisis of unequal care. This summer, Massachusetts General Hospital announced the creation of the Disparities Solution Center--the first institution specifically dedicated to bridging the health gap. As Dr. Thomas Inui of the Regenstrief Institute for Health Care, told the Boston Globe, "We're really finished with the time in which we need more studies showing disparities exist. Now, we need to show how to close the gaps."
The Center is being headed by Dr. Joseph Bentacourt, whose landmark study, "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial Disparities in Health Care," brought national attention to the issue. With $3 million in initial funding, Bentacourt says the Center will be a "living laboratory" in which doctors, academic researchers, and patients will collaborate on solutions and present their recommendations to hospitals, health care providers, and government officials throughout the country.
This deep-rooted problem won't be solved overnight, but the creation of the Disparities Solutions Center is a crucial first step--the exact sort of national soul searching and forward thinking we need in these devastating times.
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
On March 17, 2003, two days before the US invasion of Iraq commenced, four protesters--now known as the "Saint Patrick's Four"--entered a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and poured small amounts of their own blood around the building's vestibule in a symbolic protest against the coming invasion. By their own account, they were alone in the vestibule and no one was prevented from entering or leaving the center.
For this act of non-violent civil disobedience, the longtime Catholic peace activists--sisters Clare and Teresa Grady, Daniel Burns, and Peter DeMott--are now charged with conspiracy to impede "by force, intimidation and threat" an officer of the United States along with three lesser offenses. If convicted of federal conspiracy in a trial starting this Monday, September 19, they face up to six years in prison, a period of probation and $275,000 in fines.
The trial is the first time the Federal government has pressed conspiracy charges against civilian Iraq war protesters and comes after a previous trial last year in county court on charges of criminal mischief and trespassing which resulted in a hung jury, with nine of twelve members favoring acquittal. As public interest lawyer and law professor Bill Quigley who is acting as legal advisor to the defendants, says, "Federal intervention in this case represents a blatant act of government intimidation and will have a chilling effect on expression of the first amendment rights of any citizen to protest or speak out against their government." Which is, of course, the idea.
To counter the chilling effect, and turn up the heat, supporters of the Saint Patrick's Four have organized a Citizen's Tribunal in Binghamton the first week of the trial, to address the legal, historical and moral defense for civil resistance to the Iraq war. Scheduled speakers include Medea Benjamin, John Bonifaz, Camilo E. Mejia, Ray McGovern, James Petras and many others and the public is heartily invited to attend.Supporting the Tribunal is one good way to help. And check out other suggestions below for supporting the St. Patrick's Day Four and the rights of all Americans to engage in non-violent civil disobedience.
** Join 50,000 others and sign the letter in support of the St. Patrick's Day Four.
** Donate to the St. Patrick's Day Four's Legal Defense Fund.
** Help spread the word about the trial.
** Support the Citizens' Tribunal on Iraq.
Also, make sure to make plans to be in Washington, DC next weekend for what United for Peace and Justice and other activist groups are expecting will be a massive series of protests against the war in Iraq. Click here for info. (And watch this space for more on these activities.)
George W. Bush does not do the Big Speech thing well. How many times has a fretting White House dispatched Bush to deliver a Big Speech to rally popular support for the Iraq war? Four, five, more? I've lost count. And I seem to recall a Big Speech meant to revive his Social Security plan. None of those other Big Speeches did much for Bush or the flagging policy he was trying to advance. In fact, he hasn't succeeded with a Big Speech since the immediate post-9/11 period. Still, on Thursday night, it was time to try again--this time while standing in front of a podium in an empty Jackson Square in New Orleans. On this occasion, Bush's aim was not to shore up an initiative upon which the public had soured but to change the Hurricane Katrina narrative from what-went-wrong (a tale in which Bush and his aides played prominent roles) to what-we're-going-to-do (a brand new story in which Bush can recast himself as a hands-on leader, not a fly-over incompetent.)
Will this work? Can Bush pivot from being a president who presided over a post-disaster disaster and earned well-deserved criticism from across the ideological spectrum (neocon commentator Bill Kristol conceded Bush is not always "good on execution") to being a chief executive able to oversee the most massive reconstruction in American history in an effective and visionary manner? One speech is not going to bring about such a transformation. His administration's response to Katrina sparked outrage and disappointment that will not soon recede. My hunch is that many Americans are in a show-me mood. After Bush won the last election with less than 51 percent of the vote, this fellow claimed he had amassed political capital that he could spend as he saw fit. He was wrong. And his political capital--if recent polling is to be believed--seems to be, like his budgets, in deep deficit. That was before Hurricane Katrina, when the mess in Iraq and high gas prices were dominating the bad news. So Bush will not be getting off cheap with a moderately well-delivered speech in which he expressed noble sentiments and presented reasonably sounding--though generalized--proposals for assisting the victims of Hurricane Katrina and for rebuilding the Crescent City and other areas of the Gulf Coast.
There is, as he might say, much hard work to do. It remains to be seen if his administration--which, this tragedy has demonstrated, fancies cronyism over competence--can do a better job in NOLA than it has in Iraq. In Jackson Square, Bush declared, "We will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes." Where have we heard that before? There will be tough decisions and policy and political battles ahead. Can Bush rise above himself? In this speech, he offered broad strokes and grand promises of assistance and reconstruction. But he mentioned only three specifics, calling for setting up $5000 employment training funds for displaced workers, selling off federal property in the area to homesteaders, and creating a Gulf Opportunity Zone. This last idea is based on a policy hobbyhorse long favored by conservatives: create tax-free-zones free of regulations in hard-hit areas to encourage companies to set up shop there. Can this be done in a manner so that corporations don't end up dumping employees elsewhere and rushing to the GOZ to take advantage of depressed conditions there? With all money that will be heading toward New Orleans and the region--the estimated price tag for reconstruction appears to be several hundred billion dollars--won't there be enough incentive for businesses to flock to the region?
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Hurricane Katrina, Cheney and a pipeline in Mississippi, Bush's bathroom break at the UN and other matters.
Bush clearly has decided to throw money at what he called "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever known." But this enormous project will be managed by folks who don't like government. The Bush White House and Republicans in Congress were poised to cut tens of billions of dollars from Medicaid, student loan programs and food stamps prior to Katrina. But now Bush has committed himself to spending far more than that on reviving the Gulf Coast and NOLA. Can the Bush gang manage this task better than they have managed contracting in Iraq? Bush, sensitive to this point, noted that he would dispatch inspectors general to guard against fraud. (Good idea. Why not do the same in Iraq?) But he and his gang have not been so fastidious about the use of taxpayer funds elsewhere. Can he devise a system in which Halliburton and other mega-firms are not the big winners? Does he care to?
Or course, there was no mention of how to pay for this. That was in keeping with standard accounting practices in Bushland. He said about suspending--or, dare one say it, pushing back--the tax cuts he has handed to the wealthiest of Americans. He has placed his war in Iraq on the national credit card, further weakening the financial standing of the country. Will he do the same with New Orleans?
Bush did acknowledge that Katrina has revealed the fault lines of race and poverty in American society. How could he not? He conceded the federal government had not responded appropriately. Again, how could he not? He said he would review the government's performance, and he endorsed a congressional investigation (which, as of now, is to be controlled by Republicans). He offered no words of support for an independent and bipartisan investigation. Consequently, it seems that Republicans will be investigating Republicans. Perhaps Bush will put Dick Cheney in charge of his review.
Toward the end of the speech, Bush proclaimed, "I, as president, am responsible for the problem and the solution." But prior to his photo-op speech from Jackson Square, he had already proven the first part of that statement. He has much distance to go--to wade, to slog--to prove the latter.
Horrified by the realization that a great many Americans see him as an uncaring Herbert Hoover, the president who forgot New Orleans attempted with his address to the nation on Thursday night to remake himself as a Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the 21st century.
The president's speech from New Orleans was full of proposals, promises and pledges. But Americans will be excused if they wait for proof of this conservative's newfound compassion.
After all, the president was not just talking about rebuilding the Gulf Coast. He was talking about rebuilding his own reputation.
Nothing gets the Bush White House's damage control operation moving like declining poll numbers. And so it should come as no surprise that the president is suddenly "Georgie on the spot" in New Orleans.
After days of initially neglecting the humanitarian crisis that followed Hurricane Katrina, and then seeking to assign to others blame for the death and chaos caused by that neglect, the Bush team has suddenly noticed that the American people are upset. The president's approval ratings have dipped below 40 percent -- into what pollsters refer to as the "Nixon during Watergate" range.
So Bush is now positioning himself as the savior of the Gulf Coast. He has even taken what for him is the unprecedented step of accepting a small measure of accountability for his actions -- or, in this case, inactions. "To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," the president grumbled earlier this week. In his speech on Thursday night, Bush admitted that, "Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in times of emergency."
He'll get no debate there. Nor will he hear many objections to his opening of the federal-aid spiggots to help rebuild New Orleans and other communities along the Gulf Coast.
But there will be some lingering skepticism about whether George W. Bush really understands what it means to take responsibility.
In fairness, while Bush does not have a track record that inspires confidence in his ability to hold himself or his aides to account, his Thursday night address from New Orleans represented progress for an administration that has had a problem with accountability. At least Karl Rove did not dress the boy president up in a search-and-rescue team uniform and pose him in front of a banner, declaring "Mission Accomplished."
But if Bush really wants to be taken seriously when he says that he is willing to accept responsibility for federal failures, he needs to do more than simply tour New Orleans in an open truck, preach to the television cameras from that city's Jackson Square and promise to deliver the aid that any president -- Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal -- would offer in such a circumstance.
If the president is serious, he should:
1.) Make it clear that administration aides who engage in cynical and divisive efforts to discredit state and local officials will be removed immediately from their positions. In a time of national emergency, the White House should not be playing politics in order to shift the blame for the missteps and misdeeds of the president and his appointees.
2.) Support the immediate creation of an independent blue ribbon commission to investigate why the initial response to the crisis was so miserable. The president should recognize that if there are fundamental flaws in the nation's emergency management systems, they must be corrected now -- before the next disaster hits.
3.) Take steps to ensure that the federal response to the crisis and its aftermath will be fiscally responsible and ethical. At a time when massive new expenditures are being made, the administration should abandon its proposal to rob the treasury by cutting estate taxes for the wealthy. Additionally, while federal funding of relief and rebuilding initiatives should be generous, it should also be audited and appropriate.
Major contracts with private corporations should never be awarded without proper bidding, and strict limits should be set on the profits that firms are allowed to take away from those contracts.
One of Bush's predecessors, Woodrow Wilson, put it well when he said, "Big business is not dangerous because it is big, but because its bigness is an unwholesome inflation created by privileges and exemptions which it ought not to enjoy."
If George Bush is really going to take responsibility for the renewal of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, his most serious responsibility in the months and years to come will be to ensure that the hundreds of billions of federal tax dollars that are assigned to that endeavor do not merely enrich corporations that have contributed to his campaign and employed his vice president.
The president broke faith with the American people when, after Hurricane Katrina hit, he lost sight of his responsibility to provide immediate and sufficient aid to those most in need. If he now seeks to redeem himself, he must take personal responsibility for making sure that the promise of renewal is not squandered on profiteering.
The Hurricane and its aftermath have, rightly, seized our attention. I find it hard to focus on other news--even the growing violence in Iraq. But there is a world turning and churning out there. So, when a new (and wrinkled chapter) in possibly the biggest end-of-year story--Ukraine's Orange Revolution"--sprang into the papers in these last days, I didn't pay enough attention to it.
But then I remembered the extraordinary street protests in Kiev. Who could forget the riveting images of the thousands of demonstrators, many of them students, standing for hours in the city's Independence Square in sub-zero temperatures--waving banners, chanting and protesting 12 years of corrupt misrule and what they believed was a rigged election?
But while there was something exhilirating about the democratic awakening in Kiev and other cities, there was also a good deal of rank hypocrisy on display in Washington, DC. As I wrote then: This Administration celebrates pro-democracy rallies abroad, while showing no respect for America's pro-democracy protesters. And despite the exhiliration as The Guardian's Jonathan Steele noted at the time, "to suggest that [opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko] would provide a sea-change in Ukrainian politics and economic management is naive."
Just last week, events revealed how political infighting, accusations of corruption and pitched battles over power and property have sullied the democratic hopes of those pro-democracy protesters. The skirmishes also remind us how tough it is to translate people power into viable political change.
For an insightful analysis of the past week's developments in Ukraine--and their significance for the future of a revolution which so galvanized the world's attention--I asked Mark von Hagen, the Boris Bakhmeteff Professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies at Columbia University, for his reflections.
"This wasn't the future for which we froze on Independence Square lastwinter," laments the internet site of Pora, the political party thatclaims its origins in last year's Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Themajor source of discontent with the now dismissed government ofPresident Viktor Yushchenko has been a perception that it has becomebogged down in cronyism, corruption and counterproductive internalconflicts.
The crisis that brought on the dramatic events of last week--first thetelevised resignation of the president's State Secretary (his chief ofthe presidential administration) with demands for the resignation ofseveral other members of the government on charges that they havebetrayed the orange revolution for their personal financial gains,then the President's televised dismissal of the entire government andappointment of caretaker ministers, and most recently the angryresponses of two of the fired ministers (Prime Minister YuliaTymoshenko and Deputy Premier Mykola Tomenko)--was the culmination ofprocesses that were set in motion almost as soon as Yushchenko wasinaugurated in January.
First, the new government structure was designed to disperse power andcreated at least two (the Prime Minister and the National Defense andSecurity Council under Petro Poroshenko) and possibly three (thepresidential administration itself) axes of power that sentconflicting orders to the ministries and their officials. This wasoverlaid and in part motivated by the rival personal and politicalambitions of Tymoshenko and Poroshenko, nicknamed the "Chocolate King"for his oligarchic status in the sugar industry. Ukraine facesparliamentary elections next spring and a likely redistribution ofpower from a presidential to a parliamentary republic, in line withthe compromise worked out in December to resolve the political crisisthen. Tymoshenko represents a relatively more statist approach toeconomic reform, whereas the Poroshenko-Yushchenko team favor fastermarketization and privatization.
Almost from the start, the new government has been perceived by themedia and in opinion polls as riddled with conflicts ofinterest. Several ministers and other high-ranking officialsmaintained their profitable businesses after they took office and havecontinued to enrich themselves. This public discontent hit close tothe president's home this summer when the internet newspaperUkrainskaya Pravda published a story about the president's 19-year-oldson observed driving a BMW valued at Euro 133,000 on the streets ofKyiv, parking it illegally in the middle of a residential street, andalso sporting a very expensive cell phone. The president's firstreaction was to attack the press for doing the dirty work of theopposition (and hinting at other nefarious forces). Unfortunately,this has not been uncharacteristic of the government's responses toother exposes. The Minister of Justice was defended by both Poroshenkoand Yushchenko when it was learned that the PhD in political sciencethat he claimed to have earned at Columbia University on his officialwebsite never happened. Later the Minister even charged that hackershad violated the Columbia University registrar's system andmanipulated his records. At least in the case of the President's son,there was a different outcome. After hundreds of Ukrainian journalistscriticized the president harshly for his treatment of a fellowjournalist and for his government's attitude to the press in general,Yuschenko held a hand of peace to the offended journalist andnewspaper and apologized for his "father's" defensive impulse.
How to put this in some perspective?
Unfortunately, cronyism, corruption and even falsified credentials arehardly unique to Ukraine, as we learned again in the tragic anddisgraceful Hurricane Katrina history.
And that all this controversy has become known and is the subject of alively and critical media is a change, we hope, for the better. ThatUkraine appears to have a genuine political opposition that has accessto the media distinguishes its current situation from those in nearbyneighbors to the north, east and south. Similarly Ukraine has beenmore open to the NGO sector (including those supported frominternational sources) and did, after all, witness the most promisingpeople's movement in the region for several years.
At another level, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has nowhere thepolitical clout and inclination to reactionary nationalism that it hasin Russia; in Ukraine the Orthodox are split themselves, but also facea resurgent Greek-Catholic Church, evangelical Protestants, and a muchsmaller Jewish revival. These are generally positive trends.
Where will things go from here? Much depends on how Yushchenko reformshis government and what the new opposition will feel it can accomplishin the runup to the elections. The first two appointments, one asacting prime minister of an uncontroversial technocrat who hassurvived a couple regimes (Yekhanurov) and the second as new chief ofthe presidential administration of a former deputy minister forEuropean affairs (Rybachuk), send mixed signals. The first is seen assomeone who will not rock the boat and allow the president to reemergeas the leader of the state. The second enjoys a generally goodreputation, but is close to the president and a trusted aide. It'sclear that, as Tomenko--one of the ministers who resigned in protestbefore he could be fired--said, one stage of the Orange revolution hasclearly come to an end.
One can hope that a new government will get the nation moving forwardagain, but the experience of the past half year has reminded us to becautious when hoping that people power translates into real politicalchange.
In the first few days of John G. Roberts, Jr.'s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, most Senators have focused their questions on his views of privacy, precedent and free speech. So far, only Sen. Russell Feingold has asked Roberts about national security and civil liberties, a critical area of jurisprudence in this post 9/11 age.
As Raj Purohit writes today in TomPaine.com, a Chief Justice Roberts would guide the court's decisions on cases that test the Bush Administration's determination to emphasize the prevention of terrorism over both the rights of Americans and the rule of law. If the recent past is any guide, the Supreme Court could soon rule on the White House's efforts to wordsmith its definition of torture; the rendition of suspected terrorists to countries that openly employ torture; the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial; the Pentagon's Guantanamo tribunals, the scope of US obligations under treaties like Geneva, and various Constitutionally shaky provisions of the Patriot Act. And Roberts' record suggests he'll be strongly inclined to vote in favor of ever-expanding executive branch powers.
Unfortunately, the Democrats appear completely unable to stop or even slow Roberts, who seems to have obtained reasonable, nice-guy status by virtue of his John Edwards-like smile and his measured manner. Consequently, wrote The Nation's David Corn in his Capital Games blog, they can only have one political objective: to boost the number of "no" votes to Bush's nominee for Supreme Court Chief Justice. This would allow the Democrats to claim their party is the one that cares about privacy rights and could help lay the groundwork for opposition to Bush's next Supreme Court pick, in the likely instance of an extremist nominee.
This is where you can still help. If our legislators can be convinced that the political price of supporting Roberts is at least as great as that of opposing him, then we may yet see some backbone. Click here to send a letter to your elected reps imploring them to oppose Roberts' nomination. And find resources at the Alliance for Justice's Supreme Court Watch site detailing exactly why he's the wrong choice for Chief Justice. (The site has a running podCast of the senate hearings, too.) People for the American Way has also put out an excellent fact-sheet on Roberts's record as well as a campus activism toolkit.
Hurricane Katrina Relief
Click here to see a list of progressive, grassroots organizations, collected by Adam Howard, that we think are worthy recipients of hurricane relief donations. These groups are already on the ground and are dedicated to delivering aid to those who need it most.
The Moving Ideas Network has also just published a Hurricane Katrina progressive policy and action guide which is well worth checking out. It features a collection of articles and media coverage on the disaster as well as a call to support an independent Katrina Commission that would fully assess why it took so long for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond and how we can improve preparedness for future natural disasters.
Good for Shaq!
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Shaquille O'Neal provided an assist to police over the weekend, trailing a man who allegedly assaulted a gay couple before alerting an arresting officer.
The 7-foot-1 Miami Heat center, who is in the process of becoming a Miami Beach reserve officer, was driving on South Beach around 3 a.m. Sunday. He saw a passenger in a car yell anti-gay slurs at the couple, who were walking, said Bobby Hernandez, a spokesman for the Miami Beach Police Department.
The man then got out of the car and threw a bottle, hitting one of the pedestrians, who was not seriously hurt. The man got back in the car, which sped off. O'Neal followed, flagging down an officer who made an arrest.