It's cherry blossom time in Washington, DC, and there's no better
place to retreat from the lobbyist feeding ground that is called the US
Congress than the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial. The stench of the
trough recedes, and the optimism of spring is restored as one wanders
down the beautiful Cherry Walk along the Tidal Basin to absorb the words
of a president who cared so deeply about putting government at the
service of all.
At the Capitol, the avarice of the over-represented rich and powerful
is on sickening display as their lackeys rush to pass the current
President's plans to stuff the pockets of their kith and kin. This is a
President who never learned that it's possible to be a leader born of
privilege and yet be absorbed with the fate of those in need.
Not so Roosevelt, a true aristocrat whose genuine love of the common
man united this country to save it during its most severe time of
economic turmoil and devastating world war. At the memorial, his words,
cut in granite, are a stark reminder of how far greed has taken us from
the simple but eloquent notion of economic justice that sixty-four years ago a
President dared embrace:
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance
of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who
have too little."
Does George W. Bush not know there are tens of millions in this
country, many of them children, who have too little? Is it conceivable
that he believes the best way to serve them is a tax cut whose main
purpose is to add to the abundance of the super-rich? We may no longer be
the nation that Roosevelt saw as one-third "ill-housed, ill-clad,
ill-nourished," but we are uncomfortably close.
Rich people can be progressive, as Roosevelt so admirably
demonstrated, but only when they step out of their own too-comfortable
skins, a feat Bush the Younger has yet to attempt. Roosevelt, like Bush,
was raised by servants, but for FDR they became the constituency he most
Objecting to Bush's feed-the-rich policies is not class warfare, as
GOP reactionaries claim, but rather a rational attempt to save capitalism
from its worst excesses. That's why more than 800 wealthy Americans, led
by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates Sr., have risen to decry the proposed
repeal of the estate tax, which would further exacerbate class
differences based on accident of birth.
Even more obscene is the Bush administration's attempt to blame
environmental safeguards for poverty when it's the poor who are stuck
with toxic land and foul water. Roosevelt was ever mindful, as this
administration isn't, that it's counterproductive when economic crisis is
used as an excuse to rape the environment. In his message to Congress on
January 24, 1935, Roosevelt warned: "Men and nature must work hand in hand.
The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of
balance also the lives of men."
That was said in the midst of the country's deepest economic
depression, yet now we have the sight of our presumed leader smashing
environmental safeguards when faced with the prospect of a mild
Finally, what Roosevelt and his saintly wife, Eleanor, brought to
Washington, and which Bush seems bent on denigrating, is a respect for
government as an indispensable ally to our betterment. At the FDR
memorial, one is overwhelmed by the breadth of Roosevelt's achievements
in putting the power of the government at the service of the people.
Projects that transformed this nation, ranging from the Tennessee Valley
Authority, which brought electricity to vast darkened swaths of this
nation, to the Works Progress Administration, which treated artists not
as a suspect and subversive cadre but rather as an indispensable source
of light in the bleakest of times.
There was no rural hovel or city ghetto beyond the reach of FDR's
government. When Roosevelt died, I was a young kid living in a Bronx
tenement being raised by a family of often unemployed workers, until
Roosevelt became our salvation. Millions like us, of all ages, poured
into the streets at the news of FDR's death, crying from love but also
from fear that the man who had stood between us and the abyss was no
longer our President.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who lived a few subway stops from my
neighborhood, and who was in my class at the publicly funded City College
of New York, has written in his autobiography that he and his family felt
the same way about Roosevelt. Maybe he should take his boss down to the
FDR memorial some quiet night to consider a new role model.
Time to ease up on George W. So what that he tore up the Kyoto
agreement, which had been painstakingly hammered out among 100 nations in
an attempt to control global warming. Bush doesn't know any better, and
why should he, since he never seemed to think that there was a world out
there worth visiting, let alone saving.
Here's a guy born with credit cards in his cradle, enough to take him
anywhere in the world, first class, who nevertheless pointedly refused to
go. Even kids without any money manage to scrape up a few bucks and go
see the world, but not young George, who satiated his curiosity about
foreign lands with a few beer busts down in Mexico.
Heck, this fellow is so partial to sleeping in his own bed that during
the campaign his handlers had to cajole him into making appearances
outside of Texas. A state that is, the then-governor would tell his
out-of-state audiences, the most perfect place in the world. His bold
plan for the nation is to make it "a greater Texas."
What makes Texas perfect for Bush is that they have gas and oil
profits there, which paid for Bush's run for governor and the presidency
and made his Vice President and other key players in his Administration
very, very rich. Nothing can be allowed to cut into those profit margins,
especially those environmental extremists who are always talking about
clean air and harmful emissions.
Sure Bush is for clean air--as long as it doesn't hurt oil company
profits. Why, when the black smoke in his hometown of Odessa got so nasty
that you had to turn on your headlights in the daytime, Gov. Bush went so
far as to politely ask the big oil companies to come up with a plan to
regulate themselves. They're still working on it.
What he would not buy, as he made clear in the presidential campaign,
is that there is some sort of "greenhouse gas" effect already at work
changing the world's climate in ways that all those alarmists say will
prove disastrous. Yes, it's true that as part of his successful campaign
strategy of conning the center and not frightening the Naderites, he did
pledge to enforce limits on carbon dioxide emissions. So he lied. Big
deal. At least it wasn't about something important, like sex.
Greenhouse gases are not important to Bush because all you have is a
bunch of scientific geeks with all their studies, such as the recent one
by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which
concluded that such emissions have "contributed substantially" to global
warming. But our President still is not convinced, and that's all that
matters now, thanks to a weird and dubious election.
Anyway, no matter what those scientific studies show, Bush is not
about to let other countries tell us--the United States of America!--what
to do. So what that our 5 percent of the world's population accounts for 25 percent of
its greenhouse gases--on a per capita basis twice that of Western Europe.
Evidently the toxic Texan wants us to be No. 1 in everything, including
Bush is impervious to the argument of other industrialized nations,
which recognize that, being the source of most of the damage, they must
take the lead in repairing it while also setting an example for more
impoverished nations. The response to Bush's position from our
traditional allies has been withering, as typified by France's
environment minister, who termed Bush's actions "completely provocative
and irresponsible." The heck with them if they can't take a joke.
Bush's typically fractured response to the torrent of foreign
criticism was breathtakingly insular: "We will not do anything that harms
our economy. Because first things first are the people who live in
America." Bush must believe that some sort of divine intervention will
preserve the United States as the ice cap melts and the seas rise.
Perhaps this is where the corporate greed faction of the GOP finds common
ground with the party's religious right.
It's sad that party moderates, led by Environmental Protection Agency
chief Christie Whitman and Secretary of State Colin Powell, have not been
able to bring Bush the younger up to speed on this issue. And a pity that
Bush doesn't even listen to William K. Reilly, the EPA administrator
during the first Bush presidency, who urged George W. to at least abide
by the 1992 international convention to combat global warming, which his
But Bush the younger is so steeped in the ideology of Big Oil that he
obviously cannot think clearly about environmental issues. The mind,
particularly of a president, is a terrible thing to waste. But when it
comes to saving the environment, George Bush does seem uneducable.
If only George W. Bush were content to merely market nights in the
Lincoln Bedroom or issue some questionable pardons, the public would be
much better off. But no, the new President has taken the art of selling
White House access to an unprecedented level, with disastrous
consequences for millions of Americans.
While the media remain obsessed with trying to prove that the Clinton
Administration was on the take from corrupt fat cats, the Republicans
have unashamedly turned over the federal government to the very
corporations that purchased the dubious Bush electoral victory.
MBNA, the world's biggest credit card dispenser, which hooks your kids
with teaser rates that can quickly balloon to usurious proportions, is
about to get the bill ending bankruptcy protection for little people that
it had in mind when it led the Bush campaign contributor list.
The big corporate givers are all lined up with wish lists in hand.
"There is no longer any countervailing power in Washington; business is
in complete control of the machinery of government," former Labor
Secretary Robert Reich concluded recently.
In less than two months, the Administration has reversed workplace
protection for repetitive stress injury, betrayed Bush's campaign promise
to curtail industry carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming
and revved up plans for Arctic drilling. For all of his belief in a free
market, the President used the club of the state to force mechanics at
Northwest Airlines back to work.
Not that congressional Democrats are without blame. As the bipartisan
support for the bankruptcy bill demonstrated, corporate contributions are
as compelling as they are pervasive.
Bush has indicated he's eager to sign this atrocious bill--an
identical measure was vetoed by President Clinton--which strips away a
century of protection for small debtors. No longer will holders of
unsecured debt, who average $22,000 a year in income, be given a fresh
start. Under this bill, such debtors who file for bankruptcy will not
have their debt eliminated under the easy-to-use Chapter 7 protection of
the Bankruptcy Code but will be forced to file a repayment plan under the
more rigorous Chapter 13. That places this unsecured debt on the same
level as all other claims requiring payment, such as child support and
alimony, leaving divorced spouses and their children competing with banks
for a claimant's paycheck.
At the same time, Congressional Republicans refused to accept any
amendments restraining the marketing of credit cards or the regulating of
usurious interests rates charged. These largely unscrupulous banking
practices that prey upon the young and gullible, with billions of mailed
solicitations a year, is what often leads people into bankruptcy.
What in God's name is going on? The Bible warns against these money
handler who charge usurious rates: "Let the exacting of usury stop" is
commanded in Nehemiah, where the word "usury" is applied to loans among
Israelites bearing a mere 1 percent interest. On a more secular note, the
California Constitution had placed a 10 percent limit on interest, but that has
been watered down by court decisions.
By those historical standards, the current average charge of 18 percent on
credit cards, often rising more than 24 percent, certainly qualifies as
"exorbitant," to use Webster's definition of usury. Indeed, the common
practice of the banks would seem to fall under the category of criminal
loan-sharking, but just try to find a prosecutor with the guts to
classify a leading bank as organized crime.
The analogy with loan-sharking is valid, given that both credit card
companies and gangsters loan money to people who have no means of
repayment. The gangsters compel repayment with the threat of physical
force, and banks will now have the legal intimidation of the courts.
Because Clinton vetoed this legislation, the banking industry weighed
in heavily for Bush in the last election. MBNA employees accounted for
$240,000 in donations to Bush, compared to $1,500 to Al Gore. The bank's
chairman hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner for Bush, and the bank
contributed a nifty $100,000 to the Bush inaugural festivities.
Financial institutions, which gave Republicans $26 million in the last
election, have been rewarded with quick passage of the bankruptcy bill
that Clinton rejected. The big difference this time around is that Bush
has already stated that he will sign the bill, so there is no pressure on
Congress to build in even the most minor consumer protections.
This year alone, a million Americans, many of them young people
suckered into financing their education by maxing out their credit cards,
will attempt to use the bankruptcy court as a second chance, only to find
the door closed. They should thank Bush the next time an election rolls
Let's see which Bush softball we can hit out of the park this week.
Should it be tolerating arsenic in the water supply, cutting funds for
abused children or eliminating the historic and nonpartisan evaluation of
judicial candidates by the American Bar Assn.?
With the Senate hanging on one vote, this administration acts as if it
has only limited time to do as much damage as possible to the
environment, consumers, the non-rich and common sense.
One day, President Bush appoints as the government's head regulator a
professor who's made a career of milking corporate funding while opposing
environmental regulation. The next day, we learn that our new UN
ambassador-in-waiting aided Central American death squads. Not to mention
earlier Bush Administration appointments, such as turning over the
Justice Department to John Ashcroft and other right-wing zealots. As the
Washington Post reported, "President Bush is quietly building the most
conservative administration in modern times, surpassing even Ronald
Reagan in the ideological commitment of his appointments."
Hardly "conservative" in the sense of preserving clean air and water
and pristine land in Alaska. To the contrary, the gang in power is out to
pillage and rape the environment with an abandon not witnessed since the
days when strip-mining was in vogue. The principle seems to be that
what's good for a company that gave money to the Bush campaign is good
for the country. As a Los Angeles Times front-page headline put it: "With Bush, Happy Days Here Again for Business Lobby."
The Times quoted big business lobbyists claiming they were frozen out
during the Clinton years of "over-regulation." Strange, isn't it, that
the economic boom that benefited so many of them was hardly stifled by
those same regulations. But public interest be damned as lobbyists enjoy
a rapid string of successes, from wiping out workplace safety rules to
freeing mine owners from having to post bonds to ensure they will clean
up their messes. Last week, much to the pleasure of industrial polluters,
Bush reversed President Clinton's order to lower the level of arsenic in
the nation's drinking water.
This followed on the heels of Bush's betrayal of a campaign pledge to
prevent global warming by enforcing cutbacks on carbon monoxide emission
from power plants. This is an administration that seems to thrill at high
energy prices. It is even gutting federal programs to promote energy
efficiency by a devastating 30%.
Bush needs to be locked in a room with Erin Brockovich, either the
movie or the person, to be reminded that corporations will lie to the
public when profit dictates.
But it's not only business greed that moves this MBA President. He's
committed to turning back civil rights gains made through the courts by
women and minorities. The theft of the presidential election by the US
Supreme Court's right-wing junta is the harbinger of what's to come.
If anyone doubts that, look at what Bush did last week when he ended
the practice, used since President Eisenhower, of submitting federal
judicial candidates to the ABA for professional evaluation. In doing so,
Bush was catering to the far right, which has been unhappy with the bar
group since 1987, when Judge Robert H. Bork, though rated "well
qualified" by the ABA, received negative reviews from a few on the ABA
review committee. Nor is the conservative right happy about the bar's
support of the Supreme Court's position in Roe v. Wade.
The rights of the unborn remain paramount to this administration. Too
bad it doesn't care more about children once they are born, especially
disadvantaged children. Bush trumpets a $1.6-trillion tax cut with 43 percent of the benefits going to the super rich, while his budget slashes funding
for child care, for ending child abuse and for training doctors in
children's hospitals. Data compiled by the states shows 900,000 children
are abused or neglected each year, yet Bush cut $15.7 million a year
destined for the states to investigate such cases. Bush seeks to "save"
another $200 million by cutting child care funding at a time when limits
imposed by welfare reform dramatically increase the number of working
mothers who cannot afford caretakers for their children.
A $20 million "early learning fund" to improve preschoolers' child
care also was eliminated. When Clinton signed that bill last December,
one of its co-authors, Alaskan GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, promised the new
administration would be supportive: "I expect our new first lady, Laura
Bush, a former librarian, to be a champion of early childhood education."
Perhaps she is, but she is not the President.
Unfortunately, neither is John McCain, the one Republican with the
guts to buck the Administration's unseemly embrace of big money.
Ralph Nader was wrong: There is a huge difference between the two
parties. And for the Bush Administration, it's payback time on every
front for his greedy legions.
The first son seemed anointed, then
The tide began to ebb.
Did anybody ever ask,
"So could we bring in Jeb?"
It may be legal, but it's still a coup d'état. The nomination of
Theodore B. Olson to be solicitor general, a position of such influence
that it is often referred to as "the 10th member of the Supreme Court,"
affirms that President Bush has turned the US judiciary over to the far
We can't say we weren't warned when Bush, during the campaign, named
Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia as his role models for future judicial
appointments. They returned the compliment by obediently bowing to the
arguments of Bush's lawyer, Olson, that abruptly stopped the vote
counting in Florida, thus handing the election to Bush.
Once in office, Bush quickly appointed three of Thomas's closest
personal and ideological buddies to head the judicial branch of the US
government. Newly minted Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft made that point when he
rushed off to Thomas's chambers to be sworn in out of the public eye. Then
came the appointment of Larry Thompson, who had defended Thomas in his
stormy confirmation hearings, as deputy attorney general. Then the pièce
de résistance: Olson.
While newspaper editorials praised the Bush Administration for its
moderate style, the often mute Thomas emerged from the shadows to
celebrate the far right's triumph. At a conservative dinner soiree,
Thomas issued a militant call to arms decrying "an overemphasis on
civility." Indeed, instead of being civil to those with whom he
disagrees, we had the unseemly spectacle of a Supreme Court Justice
calling for ideological war: "The war in which we are engaged is
cultural, not civil." He chided moderates in his own party saying he was
"deeply concerned because too many [conservatives] show timidity today
precisely when courage is demanded."
Surely he wasn't referring to the President, who has given the GOP
right wing the prize it really wanted: control of the judiciary. Clearly,
the intention is to use the powers of the state to pursue the right's
social agenda while virtually dismantling the federal government as a
force for social justice.
The choice of Olson as solicitor general seals the right wing's
seizure of power. But it could not have happened without the denigration
of the Clinton Administration and its threat to marginalize the right by
moving politics back to the center. Key to the effort to destroy Clinton
was this same Olson, who will now represent the US government in cases
involving affirmative action, the environment and women's rights. Guess
what side of those issues Olson has represented in the past? Olson, a
member of the board of directors and legal counsel for the extreme right
American Spectator magazine, was a principal figure in smearing Clinton
even before the man was elected to his first term. The magazine used $2.4
million provided by far-right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife to dig up
dirt on Clinton in what started as Troopergate and ended up propelling
the Paula Jones case to the status of an impeachable offense. It was this
same Olson, a close friend of Kenneth Starr, who coached Jones' attorneys
before their successful request to the Supreme Court to allow a civil
suit to be heard against a sitting President.
Olson is one of those family values conservatives who evidently
believes that only wealthy women like his lawyer-talk show pundit third
wife should work. He argued unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court
against a California law that protected the jobs of women who took four
months of unpaid disability leave for pregnancy, terming it "destructive
Olson had another major failure when in 1996 he argued against women
being admitted to the publicly financed all-male Virginia Military
Institute on the grounds that the school's character would be
fundamentally altered. To which Justice Stephen Breyer tartly replied,
One of Olson's unsavory victories came when he got a federal appeals
court to rule that the affirmative action program for admissions at the
University of Texas was unconstitutional. An opponent of environmental
protection, Olson has gone to court to get sections of the Endangered
Species Act declared unconstitutional.
Now Olson and the other friends of Thomas are in a position to weigh
in heavily on future nominations to the Court, and their own names will
surely head the list. These are lawyers who have devoted not only their
professional lives but their personal political activity to reshaping the
Court as an activist vehicle to turn back the clock on the rights of
women, minorities and working people as well as to leave the environment
open to corporate exploitation.
By selecting this triumvirate to head the Justice Department, Bush has
sent the strongest of signals as to his intent to use the Court to
advance the far right's agenda. So much for moderation.
George W. Bush has a sweet appealing face until he reveals his dark
side, as when he, in one of his first official acts, cut off funds to
international population control groups.
The pundits said he was merely getting even with organizations like
Planned Parenthood, which have opposed John Ashcroft's nomination as
attorney general. But the stark consequences of that political vendetta
will be tens of thousands of women around the world who will not have
access to safe birth control and who will die in self-mutilating attempts
at abortion. These women find themselves in such dire straits because
they are, in many cases, the victims of forced sex, whether by husbands
or strangers, who have total power over them.
In his message to the throngs bused into the nation's capital last
week protesting on the 28th anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling
that abortion is legal, Bush said, "We share a great goal--to work toward
a day when every child is welcomed in life and protected by law."
That sounds noble, but it begs the question: For how long is that
child welcome--an hour or a lifetime?
What if that child is an 8-year-old street beggar in Rio de Janeiro or
Bangkok? Will he still be welcome, and under what law will he be
protected from pimps, perverted tourists and local merchants who hire
gunmen to blow street urchins away? And what about the mothers of those
children? Will they, and their families, sink deeper into poverty because
of a birthing decision over which they had little or no control?
Assuredly, they and their progeny will not be welcome to immigrate to the
US to escape the economic collapse of their own part of the world. Nor
has Bush even suggested an increase in the pathetic $2 annually per
American allocated to foreign aid for the world's poor. Instead, he
proposes a $236 billion tax cut over the next decade for the wealthiest
2 percent of Americans, money that if spent on the world's poor would represent
a strong pro-life statement. In effect, he's cynically cheering on
spiraling and unsustainable populations abroad.
That's the reality faced daily by the folks at Planned Parenthood and
those other international population-control organizations that Bush--in
a sop to the right wing of his party--decided to cut off from US
funding last week. There isn't a reputable social service organization
that doesn't prefer contraception to abortion. Denying these groups
funding undermines their effort to educate about birth control, which
would help head off abortions and also curb population growth. Fully
one-third of the world's work force is effectively unemployed, and the
United Nations estimates that 500 million new jobs must be created just
to accommodate new arrivals in the job market over the next decade.
Developing economies do not stand a chance of meeting that demand without
aggressive population control.
Yet Bush has chosen to cut funding for the very organizations, most
notably Planned Parenthood, that work hardest to make birth control
information available throughout the world. These groups do not use a
penny of government money when they counsel women for whom birth control
has failed that abortion is an option. But Bush would deny funds to any
organization that offers abortion information in any of its privately
For all his praise of private charities, Bush does not trust one of
the nation's most venerable social service organizations to organize its
work so as to not compromise the law. This is an organization actively
supported by his grandfather, Prescott Bush, who lost his first campaign
for the US Senate because Democrats confused Catholic voters with
charges that Bush had contributed money to Planned Parenthood. When he
finally won the seat, Prescott Bush was a strong advocate for the
His son, George Herbert Walker Bush, as a young congressman was the
author of the Family Planning Act of 1970, which George W. is now
attempting to reverse. He should heed the words of his father back in
1973: "Success in the population field, under United Nations leadership,
may, in turn, determine whether we resolve successfully the other great
questions of peace, prosperity and individual rights that face the
Bush Sr. abandoned that sensible position to obtain the vice
presidential slot on Ronald Reagan's ticket. The Reagan Administration
first imposed the "gag" rule on family planning organizations, denying
them funds if they even mentioned abortion as a choice in their
educational work. That is the ban that Bill Clinton reversed and which
George W. has re-established.
Bush's purpose seems to be that of placating the far right while
punishing Planned Parenthood for having dared to suggest that John
Ashcroft, who equates abortion to murder, cannot be trusted to enforce
the law protecting a women's legal right to choose that medical
One suspects that if Prescott Bush had been given the choice of
trusting Planned Parenthood over Ashcroft to obey the law, his answer
would have been obvious.
Although he endured great hardship, Bill Clinton comes out of the Oval Office smelling like roses.
That John Ashcroft is a right-wing, pro-gun religious fanatic who
laments the civil rights gains of the past decades and believes that
leaders of the pro-slavery Southern Confederacy are deserving of
veneration should not disqualify him from holding an important office.
No, indeed, he would make an excellent president of the National Rifle
Association, or leader of the Christian Coalition or an anti-abortion group.
Perhaps there's even a job for the defeated Republican senator in the
federal government, say on some historical commission devoted to the
restoration of Civil War artifacts, such as the holding cells for runaway
But how can George W. Bush appoint as US attorney general a man who
gave an interview to the pro-Confederate Southern Partisan magazine that
praised the magazine for its "heritage...of defending Southern
patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis"? Ashcroft said it was necessary to
stand up for the leaders of the Old South "or else we'll be taught that
these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes
and their honor to some perverted agenda." Never mind that the agenda
these people were defending was slavery. This can only lead one to
believe that Ashcroft's strenuous opposition to affirmative action is
based on the view that slavery and segregation were not all that damaging
to the lives of black Americans.
Ashcroft represents the extreme flash point of the culture wars that
are threatening to tear this country apart. He's of the school that
interprets Christianity as a mandate for condemnation and exclusion
rather than tolerance and inclusion. He's so imbued with his own personal
connection to the Almighty that he interprets his electoral defeats as
"crucifixions" and his return to public life as "resurrections."
His religious arrogance allows for no other interpretation of God's
will. For example, Ashcroft has made support of the death penalty a
litmus test in his selection of judges; what about the Roman Catholic
Church's position condemning capital punishment? Ashcroft finds a
biblical basis for his stern condemnation of homosexuality, but there are
leading Christian and Jewish denominations that strongly disagree.
Ashcroft has every right to practice his variant of Pentecostal
Christianity, but the idea that the nation's chief law enforcer might
force his interpretation into the law of the land is deeply troubling.
The attorney general is charged with protecting the civil rights of
minorities and women's reproductive freedom. Yet Ashcroft's view of what
rights are protected by the Constitution is so narrowly defined as to
condone the reversal of most of the advances in human rights in the past
For example, at a time of rising hate crimes aimed at homosexuals, he
voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act as well as bills banning
discrimination in employment. He even voted against AIDS funding.
On a woman's right to choose, which is accepted by a clear majority of
Americans and by the courts, Ashcroft has endorsed the most extreme side
of the anti-abortion position: "If I had the opportunity to pass but a
single law," he has said, it would be a constitutional amendment to "ban
every abortion except for those medically necessary to save the life of
the mother." He excludes rape and incest as justification for abortion.
Ashcroft's abortion views are so extreme that he would favor banning
some contraceptives, such as the pill and IUDs, that can prevent a
fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus, thus causing, in his
view, de facto abortions. As attorney general, he would play a crucial
role in picking federal judges, including the US Supreme Court, and
there is no way that he would be party to nominating judges who accept
the court's decision in Roe v. Wade.
Finally, we don't need an attorney general who's been the NRA's most
reliable vote in the Senate and the recipient of much funding from that
organization. He was one of only twenty senators who opposed mandatory safety
locks for guns. He also opposed a ban on assault weapons, and he urged
Missouri voters to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons.
The last job in the world that Ashcroft should be offered is that of
US attorney general. Imagine the outcry if Bush had appointed Jesse
Helms to that position. Yet according to the National Journal, Ashcroft's
voting record as a senator was to the right of Helms.
Bush has betrayed the vast majority of Americans who voted for the
politics of inclusiveness and moderation advanced by both him and Al
Gore. Why is there not a single Republican senator, let alone more
Democrats, who are willing to condemn this obvious disaster of a
Let's assume that Linda Chavez had the best of intentions when she
broke the law by harboring an illegal immigrant. More power to her for
her compassion, even if at the very same time that she was playing
hostess to her house guest, she was criticizing Zoe Baird, President
Clinton's choice for attorney general, for hiring "an illegal alien."
Let's face it, crimes involving the use of immigrant labor are
committed by many otherwise law-abiding citizens on a regular basis in
any of the large states--California, Texas, Florida and New York, for
example--where immigrant labor is a mainstay of the local economy. As
with the absurdly constructed drug war, our irrational and unenforceable
immigration laws have made law-breakers out of many otherwise upright
citizens. It is difficult to always live within the confines of a
contradiction that passes as a policy.
But beyond that, Chavez's predicament forces us to recognize that it
is both compassionate and prudent for this nation to rethink its
immigration policy. It is time to lower the obstacles to immigrants who
want to come here and to grant amnesty to the millions who have been
law-abiding citizens in this country for many years but cannot prove they
Historically, when we loosened the laws for European immigrants, it
was noncontroversial, but recent amnesties that have mostly benefited
Latin Americans and Asians have met strenuous resistence. Never mind that
all previous amnesties, no matter the prime ethnic beneficiaries, have
worked out splendidly. Indeed, our ability to absorb immigrants is the
key to the success of the US economy. A new, far-reaching amnesty is
once again needed, particularly to unify families on opposite sides of
the US-Mexico border and in Central America.
Meanwhile, there is much that can be done to slow the flow of illegal
immigration and to ensure that undocumented workers already in this
country do not undermine the prevailing wage rates. The main weapon is as
simple as it is often ignored: Enforce and strengthen the existing labor
laws. If we would only enforce the existing laws on minimum wage,
overtime pay, the requirement that employers provide workers compensation
and myriad occupational safety rules, that would ensure the end of
sweatshops in factories and the fields.
The fact is, employers largely rely on cheap labor made possible only
by a failure to improve and enforce this country's labor laws. In
California, former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, empowered the state
labor department (under the inspired leadership of Victoria Bradshaw and
Jose Millan) to enforce the laws, resulting in a dramatic decline of
exploitation of immigrant labor. The success of the California program
was so obvious that the US Labor Department, to great effect, expanded
a similar campaign to other states with high immigration.
Key to that program is establishing and enforcing a minimum wage that
makes work attractive to legally documented workers. The evidence shows
that when wages are good, the jobs are taken by documented workers. And
if the jobs do not exist, the flow of immigrants will dramatically
decline into a non-problem.
Yet the Republicans in Congress have resisted even the idea of
adjusting the minimum wage to keep up with increases in the cost of
living. Chavez was a lousy choice for secretary of Labor precisely
because she has been one of the main voices in the Republican camp
against the very idea of a minimum wage. In a 1995 Denver Post article,
she criticized the Clinton Administration's attempt to adjust the minimum
wage to account for inflationary increases in the past decade, writing:
"A 90-cent minimum wage hike over two years isn't just bad politics--it's
bad policy. The folks at the Clinton Labor Department seem to think wage
policy should follow Karl Marx's dictum 'from each according to his
abilities, to each according to his needs.'" What a bizarre thing for
her to say.
To increase the minimum wage in real dollars to where it was decades
ago under Republican Presidents is hardly a radical step. Chavez should
not have worried that it might produce an egalitarian society, since
people making less than $6 an hour still are deep in poverty and require
food stamps not to starve.
But someone so heartless as to deny the need for even meager
guarantees of subsistence for those who work should never have been
appointed secretary of a department whose purpose is to look out for the
well-being of workers. The pocket change she gave her house guest for
cleaning the toilets is no substitute for federal guarantees of decent
pay for hard work.
If this is the sort of "compassionate conservative" that George W.
Bush has in mind, it will be a grim season for the vast number of
hard-working people who, though they did not benefit from the boom of the
past decades, have helped make Bush and his key backers even richer.