September 11-Plus-One approaches. And so does remembrance and commemoration. Media envoys will visit with survivors and relatives of those murdered that awful day. Video footage will air, and towers and bodies will fall once more. President George W. Bush will, according to the White House, "talk to the country in a way that is serious" (and do so exclusively on 60 Minutes II with correspondent Scott Pelley). Firefighters, police officers, rescue workers will retell harrowing tales. Rudy Giuliani will shine once more. The traditional start of the off-year congressional campaigns will be overshadowed; politicians will steal what they can of this God-bless-America moment. Some might wonder--but not too many people will do so aloud--what happened to US efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Commentators will share their thoughts--wise and foolish, meaningful and Hallmarkian--on what the attack wrought, how the country has been altered, how the war on terrorism has fared and what lies ahead.
In the shock-ridden and depressing days following 9/11, there was talk that the horrific event would transform the country. That Americans might embrace a stronger sense of community. (Drivers did seem less aggressive for weeks.) That Americans might gain a newfound appreciation for union workers and public servants, after watching firefighters and police officers lose their lives in gallant service to others. Some left-of-center, politically-minded people hoped that out of the ashes and rubble would rise an environment friendly to progressive and populist politicians who pitch for-the-common-good government activism.
Evidence of such change, though, is not abundant. In fact, it is damn hard to find proof that American life--whatever that may be--is much different. Sure, Bush was reborn in the polls, and the political equation shifted. The military budget has become even more untouchable and bloated. In Washington, there are more concrete flowerpots, and the nervous jokes about living in a bull's-eye city remain. But are people in Cincinnati still on-edge? There are indeed new laws, new regulations, new precautions. Several hundred non-citizens apprehended in post-attacks sweeps by federal officers saw their lives dramatically altered. As did Afghan civilians struck by errant US weapons; as did the relatives of US military and intelligence personnel killed overseas. But has 9/11 changed us? Snatched children, corporate scandals, Wall Street's wild ride, rescued miners, Ted Williams' frozen head--American life is, in most ways, what it would be without 9/11.
Which brings us to Bruce Springsteen. Six weeks before the first anniversary, Springsteen and his E Street Band have issued a new album, The Rising, an explicit response to 9/11. With this effort--launched with a multimedia blitz including a Time cover story and appearances on the Today Show, Nightline, and Letterman--Springsteen is getting a jump on the 9/11 recallathon to come. And he has chosen a quotidian route to challenge an impermeability that, with time, can conquer even an event such as 9/11. Song after song details the loss of that day. Springsteen focuses upon individuals who woke up on September 12--assuming they were able to sleep the previous night--and realized their love-partner was gone forever. Across most of the tracks, his protagonists crave one more kiss, one more touch, one more taste. And the dead wish for the same. With this series of songs--some gritty and gripping, a few sappy and sentimental--he has produced an epistle of yearning. In doing so, he reminds his listeners that 9/11 did spark desires among those not directly hit by the assaults--yearnings for family, for community, for safety, for connection, for time. As Bob Dylan once wrote, "Either I'm too sensitive, or else I'm gettin' soft," but for a while after the assaults, it was my belief (or was it a wish?) that a collective yearning of this sort did arise.
And Springsteen knows yearning. It has been the essence of his music--from his early, breakout days as a let's-blow-this-town loner/greaser-with-a-Telecaster to his middle period as a rock-star chronicler of working-class challenges to his later gig as an overtly socially conscious musician penning anti-Gingrich tunes about immigrants and their travails. At the start, it was a first-person yearning for a way out of his own deathtrap town. Once that was accomplished--thank you, rock and roll--he sang about the yearning of others (hard-pressed workers, the out-of-luck unemployed, AIDS sufferers, stressed-out Vietnam vets, undocumented immigrants) who longed for escapes from their troubles and for havens of safety, joy, love, community, or dreams--ideally, all of the above.
Is there any spot where that collective post-9/11 yearning actually took root? Write me, if you can point to such a place and please send directions. In any event, that communal yearning is not on Springsteen's map. He's exploring the bedroom of the bereaved. A widow or widower sings about making it through a "lonesome day." The spouse of a fallen firefighter says to the departed, "May your strength give us strength." Another of his nameless characters notes, "I woke up this morning to an empty sky." One fellow complains he is now but "half a party in a one dog town." On the gospel-flavored title track, a dead-and-gone firefighter pines for his wife and asks her to "come on up for the rising." The songs are as heartfelt as it gets--even if, on occasion, less-than-inspired melodies support the sad vignettes. Two of the more intriguing cuts look--poetically, not politically--at the clash of cultures marked by 9/11. On "Worlds Apart"--as Pakistani singer Asif Ali Khan wails--lovers from different backgrounds meet "in this dry and troubled country" (Afghanistan?) and try to surmount the external circumstances of their lives. ("Sometimes the truth just ain't enough/ Or it's too much in times like this/ Let's throw the truth away.") "Paradise," a moody and somber track, juxtaposes a suicide bomber ("in the crowded marketplace/I drift from face to face") with an individual who lost his or her partner at the Pentagon. Both are waiting for paradise--one to find Allah, one to regain love--and paradise, Springsteen notes, may well be empty.
Having assumed a large and possibly risky task--responding to 9/11 with pop music--Springsteen works small. He keeps his eye on the coffee cup on the counter left behind from a last breakfast. He offers no hope for the grieving--some death traps cannot be escaped--but he nobly recognizes the search for hope. The last song, "My City of Ruins," ends with one of his lonely survivors asking, "Tell me, how do I begin again?" and praying for strength and faith.
No questions, no answers. No calls for understanding this or that. No politics. No jingoism. (This is the opposite of country singer Toby Keith singing, "And you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A./ 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass/ It's the American way.") Springsteen obsesses over the painful and passionate mourning that followed the attacks. It's the latest--and deepest--yearning he has explored. Not every song succeeds--which won't matter to the survivors. But if he does prompt others to recall the enhanced yearnings for love, family and community they experienced last year, he will have provided a public service, as preparations for September 11, 2002, proceed.
At 3:28 a.m. Saturday, with senior members of Congress decrying the legislation before them as a "fraud" and a "hoax," the United States House of Representatives voted by a razor-thin margin of three votes to grant the Bush administration authority to secretly negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.
"This night will be remembered as one of the largest surrenders of Constitutional authority in American history," said US Rep. David Bonior, D-Michigan, as the House voted by a 215-212 to allow the president to engage in Fast Track negotiations to create a North American Free Trade Agreement-style corporate trading zone that would include virtually every country in the western Hemisphere.
The 215 supporters of the bill included 190 Republicans and 25 Democrats; while 183 Democrats, 27 Republicans and two Independents opposed it. Seven members did not participate in the vote.
Though organized labor has fought for years to block Fast Track legislation – and passionately opposed this bill – several of the members who cast critical votes in its favor were Democrats who had been elected with strong labor support, including California's Susan Davis, Washington state's Richard Larsen and Utah's Jim Matheson.
The House vote was seen as the critical test for the current bill, since an earlier version of Fast Track passed the House in December by a one-vote margin. The Senate passed an alternative version of the legislation this year by a wide margin. The differences in the House and Senate bills required a Conference Committee headed by free-trade enthusiasts from both parties – House Ways and Means Committee chair Bill Thomas, R-California, and Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, D-Montana – to craft a so-called "compromise." With House consideration now done, the Senate is expected to pass the compromise bill next week, clearing the way for President Bush to become the first president in almost a decade to possess Fast Track authority.
Going into Saturday morning's vote in the House, both sides knew the margin would be exceptionally close. This raised the intensity of the debate to a level rarely seen in Congress.
A particular bone of contention was the fact that most members had not had time to read the measure they were voting on.
The most important trade and economic vote by the current Congress came just hours after members received emails telling them they could review the 304-page bill on a Congressional web site. The House had to employ the so-called "Martial Law" rule in order to waive the requirement that members get at least one day to review legislation.
Even members who often support free trade measures complained that they were being asked to pass omnibus legislation without sufficient consideration.
Rep. James McDermott, D-Washington, bitterly accused the bill's chief House sponsor, Ways and Means Committee Thomas, of hiding the legislation from members until it was too late for a serious review of its contents. Rep. Robert Matsui, D-California, a 12-term veteran of the House with many years experience on the Ways and Means Committee, decried the fact that most members would vote on the dramatic piece of legislation "sight unseen."
However, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who for two decades has battled the corporate free-trade agenda with a consistency unrivaled in the Congress, told the House the rush to judgement on the part of Fast Track supporters was no surprise. Condemning the legislation as a move to make it easier to create "corporate slums and global plantations with penny-wage jobs," Kaptur said: "They want to (debate) it in the middle of the night while most people are sleeping."
And so they did.
The debate, which came after a day that saw President Bush take the extraordinary step of personally coming to the Capitol to lobby for the legislation, may have played out in the middle of the night. But it did not lack for energy or passion.
"Fast Track essentially extends our current trade policies, and why in God's name would anyone want to do that?" demanded Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. "When you have a bad policy, why would you want to extend it?
Noting that the United States now has a $346 billion trade deficit and that ten percent of the nation's manufacturing base has eroded in the past four years, Sanders asked supporters of the legislation: "When will you catch on? When all of our kids are flipping hamburgers?"
Georgia Republican Charles Norwood described the Fast Track legislation as "the last nail in the coffin of America's textile industries," while other foes detailed the damage expansion of the current free-trade model would do to automotive, steel and agricultural industries in the US. Other members noted that the legislation did not include protections for workers who lose their jobs when a corporation closes a US factory and moves operations to China, that it creates a slush fund so that the administration can pay trade-related fines without Congressional approval, and that it removes the ability of Congress to defend protections for US workers and farmers. New York's Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, complained that the bill undermined even "minimum standards" for defending the rights of workers and the environment.
Fast Track critics explained that, while the legislation was bad news for America workers and farmers, it represented worse news for the people who live in developing countries that could become US trading partners in a Free Trade Area of the Americas governed by corporate-dictated "trade promotion" rules as opposed to democracy. Kaptur, who has traveled extensively to examine the impact of unrestricted free trade schemes, explained that, under NAFTA, conditions for Mexican workers and farmers had dramatically worsened. Rep. David Wu, D-Oregon, bitterly criticized a provision in the Fast Track bill that limits the ability of the US to use the threat of trade sanctions to promote human rights.
At every turn, Ways and Means Committee chair Thomas and a coterie of Fast Track backers mocked concerns expressed by opponents, gleefully suggesting that they were slow readers because they had not read the bill – which weighed six pounds when printed out – in the several hours that it had been available to them.
But the supporters of the legislation did not choose to confront the most stinging criticism to come from the opposition – the charge that it represented a capitulation by Congress to the very corporations that members are supposedly cracking down on in the wake of the Enron, Global Crossing and WorldCom scandals.
"This Fast Track shifts power from democratic governance to corporations," boomed Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who correctly described the legislation as "corporate America's top priority."
At precisely the same time that members of the Bush administration and Congress are scrambling to publicly declare their willingness to crack down on corporate wrongdoing, they are working behind the scenes to reward corporate lobbyists with a dramatic victory.
Key members of Congress reached an agreement late Thursday night to give President Bush Fast Track authority to secretly negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. The deal was necessary because, earlier this year, the House and Senate passed different Fast Track resolutions. Last night, representatives of the two chambers cobbled together a "compromise" plan that now faces final votes in the House and Senate.
If the legislation passes, Fast Track authority will be granted to Bush and a new era of trade liberalization will open the door to a dramatic expansion of corporate power in the US and abroad.
Under mounting pressure from the White House and the corporate lobbyists who continue to dominate the Congressional discourse, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-California, who is chairing the conference committee negotiations, and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, jumped into action this week on behalf of the very same corporations that Congress is supposedly moving to regulate.
Thomas and Baucus now want to spring a surprise Fast Track vote in the House within days. Thomas is reportedly pushing for a vote as early as Friday (July 26). "It has got to happen," said Thomas, as he and Baucus frantically finalized a deal that guts protections for American workers and farmers that had been added to the Senate version of the legislation.
Why the rush? Not because workers, farmers, consumers, environmentalists or human rights campaigners are demanding it. The Fast Track legislation that has been presented to Congress has been opposed by labor, farm, church and community groups representing virtually every sector of civil society. The push to negotiate a compromise and then force a vote before most members of Congress have read the fine print is coming from multinational corporations that have long seen free-trade agreements as vehicles to undermine regulations of corporate behavior -- including rules protecting workers, farmers and the environment.
Corporate lobbyists see quick passage of a Fast Track as essential because:
* Enactment of the legislation would jumpstart secret negotiations for a hemispheric trade agreement that allows multinational corporations to eliminate regulations, rewrite rules and shed responsibilities.
* The legislation makes it easier for corporations to use global trade groupings, such as the World Trade Organization, to eliminate existing public interest safeguards regulating accounting, energy, food safety, insurance, pensions and public utilities.
* The legislation will make it easier to continue weakening international accounting standards, a move that could make it impossible for the US to control the sort of abuses exposed in the Enron, Global Crossing and WorldCom scandals.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the list of corporations contributing in recent years to the multi-million dollar lobbying effort for free-trade legislation -- including Fast Track -- includes the names of Enron and other firms now embroiled in controversies over accounting abuses and the use of campaign money to influence regulatory policies.
If this Fast Track "compromise" is approved by the full House and Senate, corporate lobbyists will be able to say that, even as Congress talks of controlling corporate abuses, corporations can still buy the legislation they want.
Corporate lobbyists are swarming Capitol Hill in anticipation of a quick Fast Track vote. Citizens can counter the corporate campaign with telephone calls to their House and Senate representatives. Use the AFL-CIO's toll-free number to tell members of Congress to reject trade legislation that has not been adequately debated and that puts the interests of corporations ahead of those of workers, farmers, consumers and the environment. The number is 1-877-611-0063.
During wartime--and, officially, it's still wartime--the super-patriots are ever more watchful for acts of cultural treason. And the latest victim of the red-white-and-blue lynch mob is musician Steve Earle, whose offense is writing and recording a song entitled "John Walker's Blues." Before the tune was released, the cowpies were being hurled. First, Steve Gill, a conservative talk-show gabber in Nashville, denounced the song. Then Fox News Channel and The New York Post picked up the story. The website of the latter headlined its dispatch, "Twisted Ballad Honors Tali-Rat" and claimed "American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh is glorified and called Jesus-like in a country-rock song...by maverick singer-songwriter Steve Earle." Another Nashville DJ, Phil Valentine, called the song "politically insane." Gill declared, "This puts [Earle] in the same category as Jane Fonda and John Walker and all those people who hate America."
Wire services and The Washington Post covered the fuss, with the Post's Richard Harrington, usually a fine music critic, reporting the "song offers a sympathetic view of Lindh." Reuters echoed this sentiment: "It offers a rare sympathetic view of Lindh." The New York Post noted that the ballad is "backed by the chanting of Arabic prayers and praises Allah." While the phones went berserk at the Nashville office of Earle's manager, Earle was on vacation in Europe and declined to respond to the attacks.
The to-do says more about Earle's detractors than his song. The track, which is part of Earle's forthcoming album, Jerusalem, hardly glorifies Lindh. Nor does Earle compare him to Jesus. The tune is "sympathetic" only in the sense it seeks to understand how Lindh viewed himself. It praises neither Lindh nor his choices. It does not recommend that others emulate him. The anti-Earle criticism shows that those eager to root out traitors often don't have time to think. Here are the complete lyrics to "John Walker's Blues":
I'm just an American boy--raised on MTV/And I've seen all those kids in the soda pop ads/But none of 'em looked like me/So I started lookin' around for a light out of the dim/And the first thing I heard that made sense was the word/Of Mohammed, peace be upon him
A shadu la ilaha illa Allah/There is no God but God
If my daddy could see me now--chains around my feet/He don't understand that sometimes a man/Just has to fight for what he believes/And I believe God is great/All praise due to him/And if I should die I'll rise up to the sky/Just like Jesus, peace be upon him
We came to fight the Jihad/ And our hearts were pure and strong/As death filled the air we all offered up prayers/And prepared for our martyrdom/But Allah had some other plan/Some secret not revealed/Now they're draggin' me back with my head in a sack/To the land of the infidel.
Earle's song--which features his growling voice over sparse, guitar-driven instrumentation--explores what Lindh was thinking. Earle speculates Lindh believed he would receive Jesus-like treatment if he sacrificed his life for jihad. It is Lindh who is praising Allah, not Earle--not that there would be anything wrong with Earle doing so. And the ending--mullahs reciting a Koran passage--is eerie, not an endorsement. This is storytelling. In fact, Lindh ends up screwed in the song. He expects holy reward but finds himself shit-out-of-luck in chains and a sack. If you had to squeeze a morale out of the song--and I doubt Earle set out to preach--the lesson could well be, kids, don't try this at home. But since the song does not blast Lindh--what rhymes with scum-sucking maggot?--it's deemed a pro-Taliban anthem. Apparently, 9/11 killed nuance, as well as irony.
Earle is a lefty redneck. Once a rising country-rock star, he became a close-to-dead junkie and then resurrected himself and his career as a gritty, eclectic, whiskey-voiced singer-songwriter. He has long been a passionate foe of the death penalty. "I'm somewhat to the left of Mao," he told me five years ago. (See "Death-House Troubadour," The Nation, August 25, 1997.) And he's no fool. He foresaw the storm. When he performed "John Walker's Blues" at a Canadian folk festival earlier this month, he cracked, "This song just may get me fucking deported."
In the PR material for the new album, Earle says of the track, "I'm happy with the way the song came out, but I'm nervous, not for myself, but I have taken some serious liberties with Walker, speaking as him, in his voice. I'm trying to make clear that wherever he got to, he didn't arrive there in a vacuum....My son Justin is almost exactly Walker's age. Would I be upset if he suddenly turned up fighting for the Islamic Jihad? Sure, absolutely. Fundamentalism, as practiced by the Taliban, is the enemy of real thought, and religion too."
The new album, due out September 24 on the Artemis Records label, contains several topical or political songs. On "Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)," Earle pokes at HMOs, walled communities and the war on drugs. "The Truth" questions the over-reliance on incarceration to fight crime. The title track challenges the belief that conflict in the Middle East is inevitable and ends on a hopeful note. The album reflects Earle's worry that post-9/11 fear has trumped democratic principles. He calls the USA Patriot act "an incredibly dangerous piece of legislation. Freedoms, American freedoms, things voted into law as American freedoms, everything that came out of the 1960s, are disappearing, and, as any patriot can see, that has to be opposed."
In a statement he wrote on July 4--before he started catching flak--Earle declared, "Lately, I feel like the loneliest man in America. Frankly, I've never worn red, white, and blue that well. I grew up during the Vietnam War and whenever I see a flag decal I subconsciously superimpose the caption: AMERICA--LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT across the bottom stripe. Back then, as now, it was suggested by some that second-guessing our leaders in a time of crisis was unpatriotic if not downright treasonous....In spite of our worst intentions and ignorance of our own history, our Constitution has, thus far, proven resilient enough to withstand anything that we throw at it, including ourselves....It was framed by men whose names we are taught to remember by rote: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Aaron Burr....In times like these, it is also important to remember the names of John Reed, Emma Goldman, Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King...those who defended those same principles by insisting on asking the hardest questions in our darkest hours. God bless America, indeed."
Any rightwing commentator who pays true attention to what Earle writes, sings or says--which is often over-the-top--can find plenty of material worth a debate. But "John Walker's Blues"--neither anti-American nor pro-Taliban--does not warrant the hair-pulling. The hyperbolic reaction to it, though, confirms Earle's fears about post-9/11 America. He might want to thank his critics for making his point for him.
A crack in the façade of Congressional congeniality was discovered last week, as Senate Democrats gathered to discuss particulars of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.
That bill was passed with overwhelming support from Senate Democrats and general opposition from Senate Republicans. But that does not mean that Democrats really favor reform; for most of them, backing McCain-Feingold was an act of political positioning, as became obvious at last week's closed-door gathering of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
At the session, senators heard from Democratic campaign lawyer Bob Bauer, a favorite of those senators for whom reform is less progress than threat. Bauer delivered dire warnings about the dangers of the McCain-Feingold law -- and of moves by US Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wi., to toughen Federal Election Commission regulations and enforcement procedures.
Feingold disagreed. Arguing that Democratic senators ought to embrace reforms aimed at driving the influence of big-money out of politics, Feingold dismissed claims that law-abiding senators could be overwhelmed by legal threats from the FEC and Republican operatives.
Feingold's remarks rubbed US Sen. Hillary Clinton the wrong way. "Russ, live in the real world," yelled Clinton, one of the Senate's most aggressive fund raisers. Recalling the struggles of her husband's presidency and her own Senate race, sources say Clinton told Feingold he should be wary of "political adversaries." "They will be all over you like a June bug," counseled Clinton.
Clinton's outburst stunned the 20 senators who were present into silence. Finally, Feingold replied, "I also live in the real world, senator, and I function quite well in it."
Feingold was being modest. For someone who had no prominent name or big bankroll to get him started, the senator has done a remarkably good job of mastering the real-world politics. He has prevailed in ten primary and general election battles since 1982 -- winning every single contest where his name has been on the ballot. He has defeated better-known and better-funded Democrats in primaries and dispatched entrenched Republican incumbents in a swing state.
In 1998, despite being targeted for defeat by the entire Republican establishment and their allies in the anti-abortion movement, Feingold refused to accept corrupt campaign money through the Democratic party's sleazy backdoor channels. As a result, the man whose net worth statements regularly get him listed as the Senate's poorest member was dramatically outspent in that hard-fought contest. He won the election narrowly, but the significance of that victory proved to be overwhelming -- as it proved that it remains possible to practice honest politics in Wisconsin and America.
Feingold's refusal to play politics according to the rule book distributed by Democratic party insiders -- as well as his attempts to reduce the influence of corporate special interests on party policies -- has frequently put him at odds with fellow senators. Of late, he battled what he calls a "core group" of half dozen Democrats who want to find ways to get around the McCain-Feingold bill's ban on soft money -- large, unregulated donations to political parties from corporations and powerful interest groups. Feingold identifies Clinton as a member of that group, although Clinton aides challenge the characterization.
After his clash with Clinton last Thursday, Feingold said, "It was a troubling display for a party that claims to be for trying to clean up the system." It was also a reminder of the dramatic differences between the worlds -- real or otherwise -- in which Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton travel.
Where Clinton has, since her election in 2000, proven to be a cautious, predictably centrist Democrat on most issues, Feingold has a record of rocking the boat. A defender of civil liberties who cast the only vote in the Senate to block the USA Patriot Act's assault on Constitutional protections, Feingold has also been the Senate's most consistent foe of corporate-sponsored free trade schemes, its loudest critic of the death penalty and its most unyielding proponent of government ethics and reform.
Feingold is a maverick whose votes sometimes offend Democrats; for instance, he backed the continuation of the Senate's impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, and he cast a lonely Judiciary Committee vote for the confirmation of the loathsome John Ashcroft as Attorney General. (At the same time, he has opposed more Bush judicial nominees than Clinton and most other Committee Democrats.)
This year, Feingold waged a solo Senate battle to prevent George W. Bush from eliminating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the Wisconsinite has recently challenged Bush administration attempts to launch a war on Iraq without consulting the Senate.
Feingold relishes pushing his party to stand up for progressive principles. He openly condemns the conservative Democratic Leadership Council and that group's attempts to make the Democratic party more appealing to corporate America. On issues of corporate power and politics, Feingold can be a scold -- not to mention a purist. Yet, it is worth noting that his own ethics have led him to eschew the Senate's business-can-do-no-wrong line with a regularity that illustrates the freedom that comes from rejecting the bundles of "soft money" that invariably come wrapped in corporate strings.
Feingold does live in a very different world from Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe and other Democrats who have chosen to go the big-money route. Democrats can debate whether the Clinton or Feingold is more closely associated with real world. But, for those who take seriously the issues of corporate power and corruption with which the Congress is currently wrestling, there should be little doubt that Russ Feingold's worldview is superior.
It's awfully tough to be Mr. Corporate Responsibility after you have profited from the actions of an irresponsible corporation that engaged in a shady deal. George W. Bush is finding that out, for as he tries desperately to stay ahead of the assorted corporate scandals, his own past as a failed oil man has emerged as an issue for reporters, columnists, and the cable-news crowd. What's drawn the most attention is Bush's handling of his 1990 Harken stock deal. Much of that story was public during the presidential election of 2000 (and it had been a minor issue when Bush first ran for governor of Texas in 1994). But two years ago, few seemed to care that Bush had made a bundle through his association with an oil company that employed phony accounting, that he benefited by selling shares in this troubled company (in which he happened to be a director) before these problems became known publicly, and that he failed to meet the federal deadline for disclosing this stock dump (as well as several others).
Now, reporters jump on any new factoid they can unearth. A few days ago, it was reported Bush had received a "flash report" in early June 1990--sixteen days before he sold his Harken holdings--that might have indicated the company was facing a huge loss. The White House says Bush believed the company was going to lose $9 million that quarter--not $23 million, as the losses turned out to be. The latest news, courtesy of Associated Press, is that Bush signed a "lockup" letter on April 3, 1990, pledging not to sell his Harken stock for six months after a proposed public stock offering. Yet two months later, he cashed out his Harken shares for nearly $850,000--a transaction that bolstered his financial position at a crucial time, for he had to cover a loan he earlier used to purchase the Texas Ranger baseball team.
With the public offering unconsummated at that point, perhaps Bush had a loophole to slide through. But here's another question: who bought his Harken securities? Supposedly, an institutional investor that has not been identified. The White House maintains it is in no position to release the minutes of Harken board meetings from this period, but it has not explained what prevents Bush from publicly requesting that Harken disclose these records or that the institution that purchased his stock identify itself.
At the end of two weeks of Harken-ish news (and don't forget Vice President Dick Cheney's troubles, as Halliburton, the company he once chaired, faces investigation for accounting irregularities), conservative journalist William Kristol was left saying (hoping?) it was unlikely Bush would suffer political repercussions, for the recent details did not prove the Harken deal was illegal. (Remember when conservatives scoffed at an it-wasn't-illegal standard for the president?)
Details, of course, matter. But the story is already complete enough to justify a judgment, for the issue isn't merely the legality of Bush's Harken stock sale. It's Bush's record as a beneficiary of insider capitalism. Whether he sold his Harken stock due to insider knowledge or not, he was only in a position to conduct this transaction because Harken had rescued his sinking oil business. In 1986, Bush's own oil firm, Spectrum 7, was collapsing. Before it went belly-up, Harken purchased Spectrum for $2.25 million worth of Harken stock and made Bush a Harken director and consultant. That is, Harken saved Bush from ruin.
Why? It wasn't Bush's record as an oil man. He had run two oil companies into the ground. Could it have been Bush's insider credentials as the son of a vice president?
At the time, Harken was owned by global billionaire George Soros, the Harvard Management Corporation, and others. A few weeks ago, I was at the opening of the new Washington offices of the Open Society Institute, a nonprofit policy and advocacy organization founded by Soros. OSI reflects the left-of-center beliefs of Soros. In the United States and overseas, it promotes campaign finance reform, government openness, drug policy reform, abolition of the death penalty and many other issues. At the party, practically the entire liberal policy community of the capital was present. Well-wishers (and grant-seekers?) were eagerly congratulating Soros. While chatting with one of his employees, I said to her, "One day, you should ask Soros what he knew about the Harken deal and why his company took on Bush." She blanched and mumbled that she could never raise that with Soros.
Later, when I saw the billionaire almost alone, I sidled up to him. "Nice offices," I said. "But can I ask you about some ancient history?" Sure, he said, with a good-natured smile. What was the deal with Harken buying up Spectrum 7? I inquired. Did Soros know Bush back then?
"I didn't know him," Soros replied. "He was supposed to bring in the Gulf connection. But it didn't come to anything. We were buying political influence. That was it. He was not much of a businessman."
Then my time with the billionaire was up. If Soros--who disagrees with most Bush policies--is telling the truth, it means Bush only survived in the corporate jungle because of his surname and connections. Yes, that hardly comes as a surprise. But it does render Bush a purebred embodiment of the central issue of the current business scandals: those on the inside play by a different set of rules than the rest of Americans (including workers and small investors). The market works for Bush--as well as for Martha Stewart and the execs of WorldCom and Enron--in ways others can only imagine, or read about, once in a great while, in an indictment.
Had it not been for Soros and his Harken partners, what might have become of George the Younger? Because a liberal billionaire and his corporate allies sought political juice in 1986--for they knew the business world is no meritocracy--Bush's corporate career was artificially inflated. Consequently, he was able to enter politics, citing his business experience, and land in a position where he could implement policies that make Soros gag. (O. Henry would enjoy this turnabout.)
Even if Bush did not trade on inside information, he fully exploited insider capitalism. If it takes a crony to bust up crony capitalism, the nation has the right man for the job.
US Rep. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who has for years been one of the Congress' most consistent critic of corporate excess, is worried about the current controversy about corporate governance. Don't get Sanders wrong: He's delighted that revelations about wrongdoing by executives of Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom and other corporations -- not to mention the whole Martha Stewart insider-trading scandal-- has forced everyone from President Bush to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, to recognize that government must reassert itself as a regulator of business behavior.
The problem, says Sanders, is that, while today's corporations are just as bad as the trusts that needed busting at the start of the last century, Bush is no Teddy Roosevelt and Daschle is no William Jennings Bryan. Instead of real reform, Republican and Democratic leaders are proposing half-steps aimed at requiring accountants to produce better balance sheets. While Democrats and Republicans frequently stop Sanders in the halls of Congress these days to tell him they should have listened to his complaints about corporate misdeeds, most refuse to recognize that the corporate crisis is about a lot more than accounting.
"The American people have a much better understanding that members of the Bush administration or members of Congress that this is not just about a few bad rules or a few bad apples. This is about how corporations do business in America today, and about what members of Congress who take immense amounts of corporate money to finance their campaigns allow those corporations to get away with," says Sanders. "Sure, corporations and their accountants have taken advantage of loopholes and lax regulations to inflate their earnings statements, and sure they have used their campaign contributions to make sure that the loopholes stay open and that the regulators let them get away with murder. But if you close the loopholes and increase the level of oversight, that is not going to usher in a new era of corporate responsibility. If all that comes out of this are a few accounting reforms -- necessary as they may be -- most Americans are going to say, rightly, that the corporations were let off the hook again."
Sanders is frustrated with the refusal of top Congressional Democrats to show even the level of leadership that some Republicans have displayed. It is notable that, while Daschle has pulled the brakes on some reform proposals, Arizona Senator John McCain is busy denouncing "crony capitalism," calling for the resignation of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt, and saying, "A range of proposals to reform corporate governance and government oversight are now before Congress. Others will be considered in the weeks ahead. Many of their provisions are commendable. Some fall short of doing all that is necessary."
Sanders is not the only House member expressing frustration over the caution of some Democratic leaders. "The good news is that there is a ripening suspicion about corporate ties to the Bush administration. There is a growing sense that when George W. Bush proposes to allow more arsenic in the drinking water, it may have something to do with his relationship with his corporate campaign contributors. The field is fertile to really make a difference on a whole host of issues," says US Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. "The bad news is that not everyone on our side recognizes what a remarkable opening has been created in the past few weeks."
Sanders argues that the opening for reform could be as wide as members of Congress are willing to make it. Yes, the Vermont socialist says, corporations have used their lobbying muscle to warp accounting and corporate governance regulations. But if Democrats think those are the only places where corporations have overstepped their boundaries, they are destined to squander an opportunity to open a great debate about corporate influence over government. "These (corporate executives and their representatives) are the same people who lobbied against having corporations pay their fair share of taxes. These are the same people who have done everything in their power to reshape regulations so they can steal the money from employee pension plans. These are the same people who pressure Congress to grant them the ‘freedom' to close factories in America, send our jobs to China and then ship back products made using prison labor," says Sanders.
Democratic strategists say they want to make corporate abuses an issue in this fall's election. But that won't happen if the debate remains focused on accounting rules. "We have to broaden the debate," says Sanders. "We have to tie the debate into the trade issue. We have to tie the debate into the estate tax issue. We have to tie the debate into pension issues. What we should be saying is that this whole debate is about a culture of corporate greed that has wrecked our communities, robbed our retirees and lowered the standards for ethical business behavior to a level that disgusts average Americans."
Anyone searching for hypocrites on issues of prayer and patriotism would be well advised to begin the hunt on Capitol Hill.
On most days when Congress is in session, the overwhelming majority of members cannot be bothered to show up for the morning prayers and patriotic pronouncements that open the House and Senate. However, after a pair of senior jurists on the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals questioned the Constitutionality of laws requiring schools to organize recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance -- with its "one nation under God" line -- it became clear that political points could be scored with shows of national pride and piety. So Congress' sunshine patriots and preachers came rushing into the Capitol.
All but a handful of members of Senate crowded the Senate floor Thursday to listen to the usually neglected prayer and to join in a fumbling recitation of the Pledge. Over in the House chamber, members gathered to chant the Pledge -- with many shouting the phrase "under God!" The lawmakers gave themselves a two-minute standing ovation before breaking into an off-key rendering of the song "God Bless America."
This was all for show. The real action came in the form of votes on legislation condemning the appeals court ruling. The Senate voted 99-0 in favor of a long-winded resolution that started by recalling the embarkation of the Pilgrims and ended up by declaring, "The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals erroneously held, in Newdow v. U.S. Congress, (9th Cir. June 26, 2002) that the Pledge of Allegiance's use of the express religious reference `under God' violates the First Amendment to the Constitution, and that, therefore, a school district's policy and practice of teacher-led voluntary recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional." Only ailing Senator Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, missed the vote.
In the House, where the "emergency" legislation was introduced by Judiciary Committee chair F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., a conservative Republican from Wisconsin, the vote was 416-3 in favor of a differently worded but similarly intended condemnation of the court's decision. (Ironically, the House bill, which was passed amid much over-the-top speechifying about the role of the Almightly in all things American, included the line: "Whereas the Pledge of Allegiance is not a prayer or a religious practice, the recitation of the pledge is not a religious exercise...")
The three House members who voted "no" were veteran California Democrat Fortney "Pete" Stark, five-term Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott and first-term California Democrat Mike Honda.
Stark, one of the most outspoken members of the House, was blunt about why he opposed the bill. "While I don't oppose anyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, I think it was wrong to add the words 'under God' to the original pledge in 1954," he said. "I believe the phrase does not accommodate the diversity of religious and personal beliefs in our nation as the Constitution requires." Like Scott, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who has in recent years emerged as one the House's most consistent defenders of civil liberties, Stark has frequently cast lonely votes against the Congressional consensus.
Honda, a freshman lawmaker, explained his opposition in terms of his concern for religious minorities and his sense that the "one nation under God" line makes a law mandating recitation of the Pledge an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. "Everyone should be able to practice their religion without a lot of interference from the state," explained Honda. "If it's patriotic, then we should be pledging allegiance just to our country. But our country is based on pluralism. It's based on freedom of religion and not having religion imposed on other folks."
Like Scott, an African-American who grew up in the segregated south, Honda's concern for protecting religious, racial and ethnic minorities is rooted in personal experience. A California native of Japanese-American descent, he spent some of his childhood in an internment camp in Colorado during World War II.
The eleven members of the House who voted "present" were all Democrats: Gary Ackerman (New York), Earl Blumenauer (Oregon), Michael Capuano (Massachusetts), Barney Frank (Massachusetts), Luis Gutierrez (Illinois), Alcee Hastings (Florida), Jim McDermott (Washington), Jerrold Nadler (New York), James Oberstar (Minnesota), Nydia Velazquez (New York) and Mel Watt (North Carolina). Nadler is the ranking Democrat on the House Judicary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution. Frank and Watt also sit on that subcommittee.
It is not often that a Democratic primary for a US House seat representing rural Alabama is big news in the United States -- let alone abroad. But the defeat of US Rep. Earl Hilliard, D-Alabama, in Tuesday's primary election runoff made headlines around the world. While voters in Selma and Tuscaloosa may have thought they were simply choosing between an aging veteran of the civil rights movement and an energetic challenger born the same year that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, analysts around the world were reading the results for signals about the character and scope of the debate over US policy regarding the Middle East.
"Mideast Was Issue In Democratic Race," read the Washington Post headline. "Mideast Fires Up Alabama Runoff," declared the Washington Times. "Mideast Conflict Comes To 'Bama," reported CBS. A National Review editor went so far as to declare the primary contest "a sideline skirmish in the war on terror." Overseas, Al-Jazeera's website described "The Middle East Conflict in Alabama's Seventh." The mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz thought enough of the story of Hilliard's defeat to publish an analysis that cited the result as one explanation for why President Bush's recent stances regarding the Middle East peace process have been so sympathetic to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"To understand the political background to Bush's speech, it's worth taking a look at the Web site of the US Federal Election Commission," noted an analysis by Akiva Eldar for Ha'aretz. "Look for contributors to Artur Davis, a black lawyer who won the Democratic primaries in the 7th Congressional District in Alabama on the day of the speech. Davis beat his rival, the 60-year-old, five-term Earl Hilliard, who is also black, by a 56-44 percent vote. Here are some of the names from the first pages of the list of his contributors: there were 10 Cohens from New York and New Jersey, but before one gets to the Cohens, there were Abrams, Ackerman, Adler, Amir, Asher, Baruch, Basok, Berger, Berman, Bergman, Bernstein and Blumenthal. All from the east coast, Chicago and Los Angeles. It's highly unlikely any of them have ever visited Alabama, let alone the 7th Congressional District.
"What do the Adlers and Bergmans have to do with an unknown lawyer running for a Congressional seat from Alabama. Why should Jews from all over the United States send hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign coffers, which reached $781,000 - compared to the $85,000 he had in his coffers the last time he ran, and lost? The answer can be found in the AIPAC index of pro-Israel congressmen. Hilliard, who once visited Libya, is paying (with) his Congressional seat for a number of votes the Jewish lobbyists didn't like. The most recent vote was when he did not vote with the overwhelming majority of congressmen who passed a resolution in support of Israel's war on terrorism. A little while later, his opponent, Davis, discovered that a shower of checks was pouring into his campaign chest. Most of the signatures on the checks had Jewish names. The message was clear -this is what happens to politicians who upset Israel's friends."
There is always a danger when analysts attempt to read political tea leaves from afar. But, in the case of the Hilliard-Davis runoff, it is fair to say that this remarkable race cast some doubt on Tip O'Neil's "all-politics-is-local" mantra. The twist is that the infusion of out-of-district money into Davis' campaign was not merely motivated by Mideast politics.
Let's start be recognizing that there is no question that Arthur Davis, the Harvard-educated lawyer whose 2000 primary challenge to Hilliard was a fund-raising and vote-getting failure, benefited tremendously from 2002's changed -- and charged -- debate over the US role in the Mideast.
Hilliard has long argued for a shift in US foreign policy that would make this country more friendly to the Arab world in general and the Palestinian cause in particular. In May, the congressman cast one of 21 votes opposing a House resolution expressing solidarity with Israel. Citing Hilliard's history of support for Palestinians, Davis went on the attack -- portraying the five-term congressman's vote on the Israel resolution, various other votes and a 1987 visit by Hilliard to Libya as evidence that the incumbent was "out of step" with the Bush administration's "war on terrorism." The issue does not appear to have had much traction in rural Alabama, where voters are occupied with the loss of family farms, crumbling schools and health care affordability. But it went over well on the out-of-state fund-raising circuit.
As he geared up for his challenge to Hilliard, Davis visited pro-Israel donors around the country with the message that their contributions could help him dispatch a critic of Israel from Congress. Davis even traveled to Washington to attend this year's American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention. By May 10, the Forward newspaper was reporting that, "The Democratic primary in Alabama's Seventh Congressional district is being closely watched by Israel's supporters, who view it as a chance to unseat an incumbent with ties to Arab countries and a spotty record of support for the Jewish state."
When Hilliard and Davis essentially tied in an early June primary, which forced the runoff, Arab-American groups began to raise money for the incumbent. But Davis had already emerged as the rare challenger with a financial advantage over a sitting member of the House. (The latest figures from the Center for Responsive Politics show that Davis raised $879,368 to Hilliard's $516,658.)
With Hilliard's defeat came broad speculation that pro-Israel donors would find in Hilliard's defeat an encouragement to target their contributions to defeat Congressional Black Caucus members who have been critical of Israel. Seventeen members of the Black Caucus failed to vote for the "Solidarity with Israel" resolution in the House. Among the "no" voters was US Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia., who faces an August primary challenge from a retired judge who has been busily raising funds from contributors who object to McKinney's frequent criticism of US policy in the Mideast.
The Hilliard defeat and the upcoming challenge to McKinney have raised concerns among some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Arab-American community. Black Caucus members have already engaged in intense closed-door meetings with House Democratic leaders, Jewish Democrats in the House and AIPAC officials. "The fear is that this is not just about Earl Hilliard," says James Zogby, executive director of the Arab American Institute. "The fear is that this is about an effort to take out African-American members who have tried to adopt a balanced stance on these issues."
The tension resulting from the Hilliard defeat is real enough.But the full reality of what happened is more complex.
Hilliard was defeated by outside money. But it was not just "pro-Israel" or "Jewish" money that took him down. And it was not just spending by an opponent that led to the congressman's first defeat in a political career that stretched back to the mid-1970s.
To understand the full story of what happened to Hilliard, it is important to begin with the recognition that his stance on Mideast issues is a much bigger issue outside than inside Alabama. A far bigger issue at home was the reprimand Hilliard received in 2001 from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for alleged campaign finance abuses. Even supporters of the incumbent acknowledge that the incumbent went into the 2002 race looking more vulnerable than in the past. "Hilliard's troubles had to do with perceptions about his performance in office," explains David Bositis, the senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, who is one of the country's ablest analyst of African-American politics. "Nobody was voting on the Middle East in Selma, Alabama."
But what about the money Davis raised from pro-Israel donors? "It certainly helped Davis to mount his campaign at the start. For a challenger, getting money early is hard -- and Davis had that," says Bositis. "In general, however, you have to remember that Davis was not just attractive to people who didn't like Hilliard's stance on the Mideast. He was more attractive to business people than Hilliard. For a lot of business interests, the issue is whether a candidate they like has a credible chance of winning. When Davis started to look strong, the money started flowing. It wasn't just the Jewish money. As the race started turning, the money began to flow in -- and a lot of it was business money coming from individuals and groups with no interest in Israel."
Industry groups, such as the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, inked checks to Davis, as did big corporations, such as Viacom.
Why did business like Davis?
Bernadette Budde, a senior vice president of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, was blunt. Business was not pleased with Hilliard's vote to protect the rights of workers, farmers and the environment in a rapidly globalizing economy.
Hilliard, one of the most progressive members of the House, has been a consistent critic of corporate excesses and a solid vote against free trade agreements that harm workers, farmers and the environment in the US and abroad. In the current fight over granting the White House permission to put negotiation of a sweeping Free Trade Agreement of the Americas on a "Fast Track" schedule that limits congressional input, Hilliard has been a solid "no" vote. That makes sense, as free trade agreements have done dramatic damage to the economic prospects of rural areas and mid-sized manufacturing districts like those of Alabama's Seventh District.
Davis, on the other hand, indicated during the campaign that he would be willing to support granting the Bush White House greater freedom to negotiate trade deals. That's what Budde wanted to hear. So her group inked a check for $1,000 to Davis' campaign -- and urged other business donors to do the same.
Notably, McKinney has also been one of the House's most consistent foes of the Bush administration's free-trade agenda. As her August primary nears, it is a safe bet that most media reports will try to spin her race as another "sideline skirmish in the war on terror." Rarer, no doubt, will be the reports of the "stealth campaign" of business interests seeking to buy a Congress that backs the corporate free trade agenda no matter what the cost to their home districts.
Here's a question for George W. Bush. Do you believe your June 24 speech on the Middle East crisis would give a Palestinian living in a refugee camp--perhaps in a town where Israeli forces shelled a market, killing women and children, and destroyed parts of a hospital--any solace, any hope?
Bush's remarks were not--as they had been billed--an attempt to present a peace plan. The headline on the White House transcript said it all: "President Bush Calls for New Palestinian Leadership." In very explicit terms, Bush declared that the fundamental problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rests with the people in charge of the Palestinian Authority, notably Yasser Arafat. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the conditions of the Palestinians--none of that is the main deal. Sure, these are matters that ought to be addressed. But before anything else can happen, Bush said, the Palestinians have to elect different leaders, create "entirely new political and economic institutions," build a market economy, end all corruption, and stop every act of terrorism. Then--maybe then--the United States will support a "provisional" Palestinian state of uncertain borders and uncertain sovereignty. And Bush is looking at backing such a "state" several years from now.
This is a tremendous leap backward from the position of pro-Israel hardliners--here and in Israel--who had been arguing that there should be no Israeli-Palestinian peace talks until all terrorism against Israel ceased. Bush dramatically expanded the list of conditions. Any Palestinian who bothered to pay attention to Bush's speech--which was not broadcast on Palestinian television--might well say, "Previously, they only wanted us to stop the terrorists before talking about establishing a Palestinian state. Now, they want us to totally rebuild our society, develop a new political elite from scratch, establish government bureaucracies that actually work, develop a Western-style economy, and--while we're busy with all this--prevent the worst extremists from striking at Israel. Once we've done that, they'll deal with our primary grievances."
What a deal. If they jump through all these hoops, the Palestinians, as Bush noted, "can count on American support for the creation of a provisional state of Palestine." Bush might have as well come out and endorsed House majority leader Dick Armey's suggestion to pack up all the Palestinians and move them elsewhere. (Where? Armey didn't say.)
As pro-Palestinian author/activist Edward Said has noted, the crony-ridden and inept Palestinian Authority is in dire need of extensive reform. But Bush's concern for democracy, transparency and good-government in Palestine is a smokescreen. (Does he call for such change, in say, Pakistan? Or China?) How does his approach respond to the desperation that leads Palestinians to cheer on suicide bombings? It is unrealistic to assume that any policy a US president adopts is going to cause most suicide-bomb plotters to pause and reconsider. The extremists behind these horrific actions are not interested in a negotiated two-state solution. But one goal of US policy should be to change the way suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism are received by the Palestinian populace. If such actions are widely seen as unproductive and a threat to tangible economic and political advances for Palestinians, there is a chance these strikes can be limited or, at least, isolated culturally. But there must indeed be gains that are threatened. Bush's plan holds out nothing of the sort. His speech provides sustenance to the suicide-bombers and those Palestinians who argue negotiations are useless, for Bush is not even offering real-time negotiations.
This is a triumph for the pro-Israel hawks in the Bush administration--people like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz--who have been wrestling with the let's-get-negotiations-going crowd led by Secretary of State Colin Powell. When Powell went to the Middle East a few months back, he said that justice for the Palestinians was as important as security for the Israelis. In his speech, Bush did recognize the deprivations of the Palestinians, criticize permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and call for an end to further Israeli "settlement activity" in the occupied territories. But this was all secondary to his main thrust: Palestinians, it's up to you to change. Moreover, when Bush in April requested that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon end Israel's military incursion into the West Bank, Sharon ignored him and paid no price. The demands Bush presents to Sharon seem much more flexible than those he issues to the Palestinians.
This is no peace plan. It is more akin to a wish list. If only those unruly and unfortunate Palestinians would transform themselves into a democratic and prosperous community--without a trace of Arafat--wouldn't life in the Middle East be less complicated? Then, of course, they could have a quasi-state of their own.
Days before Bush spoke, Arafat told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that he was now willing to accept a peace plan put forward by Bill Clinton in December 2000. The plan allowed Israel to keep control of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and to retain some of its settlements on the West Bank. It also required Palestinians to forego returning to homes they left in 1948. The plan went nowhere originally, as Clinton was heading out of office, violence had already broken out in the Middle East, and Prime Minister Ehud Barak was about to be defeated by Sharon. Perhaps Arafat's nostalgic invocation of this missed-chance peace plan was merely a cynical ploy meant to buy him more time. (Over the years, he has been a master at acquiring time.) But it is unfortunate that he cannot be put to the test in a meaningful forum, for there is currently no process for settling the conflict. And if Bush has his way, there will be no talks until the Palestinians recreate themselves on his terms. This is not diplomacy, this is dictating. And it likely will do nothing to prevent future tragedies and acts of hatred.