We Were Distracted…
By Michael I. Niman
ArtVoice April 24th, 2003
The Mayor’s Shrubs
A few weeks ago I rode my bike past the home of
’s mayor on my way to work as I do on most days.
This day was memorable, however, since city workers assigned to the
“Mayor’s Impact Team” were outside hizzonor’s house doing a few
gardening chores. The mayor’s
house abuts city owned property, and the Impact Team was busily clearing away
brush and installing a shrub on a parcel contiguous to the mayor’s front
garden. Two blocks away, the
sidewalk on a highway overpass was still encrusted with ice from a previous
storm. High School students on their way to school were precariously trying not
to slip off the icy sidewalk and into rush hour traffic. The Impact Team usually
clears the sidewalk on the overpass. On this day, the students would just have
to struggle on and hope for the best. The
impact team was otherwise occupied. The
mayor’s shrubs had obviously arrived.
I just shook my head, and rode on.
This is the kind of thing journalists are usually elated to stumble upon.
But not me. The war in
was raging, and I had no time or editorial space to deal with the minutia of
’s day to day corruption. People
were dying en masse. Journalists
were being killed. The rule of
international law was going to hell. The
story of the misappropriation of city resources at a time when
could hardly provide essential services would just have to go unreported.
Of course the mayor’s inappropriate gardening is not the
only story to slip by unnoticed in the fog of war.
The Bush team has been at least as busy on the domestic front as
they’ve been in Iraq, but the horrors of a bunch of frat boys threatening to
hijack the US military on a joyride across the Middle East has been rather
distracting -- and rightfully so.
It has also all but monopolized the domestic press corps in a way that is
usually reserved for a presidential blowjob or a celebrity murder trial has.
So let’s look at some of the other underreported stories.
The war in
is raging once again, with Taliban forces regrouping and asserting control over
increasing parts of that country. It’s
been 18 months since the
, but all we’ve seen so far is a puppet government that controls little
, and a host of oil pipeline contracts for associates of the Bush/Cheney
administration. Pro-war hawks
are raucously invoking
as a model for the rebuilding of
– no doubt banking on the public’s ignorance regarding that country and our
ongoing war there.
The war in
is also heating up, with US military personnel getting deeper and deeper into
that conflict, much as the
slowly became involved in the Vietnam war in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In
, US forces are currently deployed in 141 other countries – with each place
posing unique challenges or threats.
The scariest stories, however, are coming from the home
front. That’s where the Bush
administration, without much attention from the media, is undertaking a radical
multifaceted attack against American political traditions and values.
They’re also waging class war against the poor and an ecocidal war of
pillage against the environment.
The current regimen of tax cuts for the rich promises to
produce enormous gashes in America’s social fabric, cutting funding for public
education, benefits for veterans (including those future veterans putting their
lives on the line today in the Bush wars), health care for senior citizens,
environmental law enforcement and so on. At
the same time, these cuts will create the largest American federal deficit in
history – driving up interest rates and hence, cutting the supply of capitol
to businesses. The new deficit
culture will mandate an otherwise politically untenable redefinition of
government – undoing a century’s worth of progress by eliminating the social
On the line in this new
are public education and health programs that are the hallmark of industrial
democracies the world over. The Bush
tax cuts will essentially bankrupt the
government – forcing a Guatemalanization of the
economy. The new America, like
Guatemala, the “model democracy” where I was living when the elder Bush was
elected president, will be populated by a small rich elite and a massive
population of poor people who toil longer and longer hours for less and less
money, unable to pay for the basic
needs of their families. The Bush
tax cuts, coupled with his administration’s propensity to give public monies
to corporate benefactors, also means that working Americans will be nickel and
dimed by a plethora of new little taxes and fees.
Hence, as federal funding to municipalities dries up, and federal
spending for education evaporates, we’ll see ever increasing college tuition
bills, new municipal user fees and a host of other regressive taxes.
The economic restructuring of
which began during the Reagan/Bush administration, is accelerating to
supersonic levels – all obscured by the fog of war.
What War on Terrorism?
Also on the chopping block are anti-terrorism and homeland
New York City
, which ironically is the nation’s prime terrorist target even though it’s
ground zero for anti-Bush political power, has already been forced to cut 4,000
police positions since 2001. Hurt by
the Bush recession and starved for the federal funds promised after the 9/11
attacks, New York is also planning to close 40 fire companies and eliminate as
many as 1,500 fire fighters. Among
the firehouses slated to be closed are many who sent fire fighters to the
September 11th, 2001
’s four billion dollar deficit is exacerbated by one billion dollars worth of
annual mandated counter-terrorism costs, partially as a result of the heightened
terrorist threat accompanying the
war and the ensuing anti-American hatred it is inspiring.
Every homeland security agency from the Coast Guard and
Customs Service to the Atomic Energy Commission is starved for the funds needed
to safeguard domestic targets from potential attacks. One nuclear plant in East
Rutherford, New Jersey recently visited by journalists, for example, could cause
the deaths of seven million people – yet it doesn’t have funding for a
security staff. Bush’s Energy
Secretary Spencer Abrams went public over one year ago, detailing the security
threat posed by nuclear power plants such as the one at Indian Point New York,
which the 9/11 hijackers chose to fly over instead of diving into.
Abrams give a preliminary bare bones budget needed to start to secure
such plants. The Bush administration
funded only seven percent of Abrams’ request.
The list goes on and on. What
is clear is that the Bush administration does not view the supposed terrorist
threat as real – which is another unreported story in and of itself.
Whether or not the terrorist threat is real, the threat
posed by anti-terrorist legislation is indeed real.
While we were watching the carnage in
, the Bush administration has been quietly pushing their new, more threatening,
oxymoronically named Patriot Act II. The
new proposal would give the federal government the power to strip American
citizenship away from citizen’s deemed “enemy combatants” by the Justice
Department. Once stripped of
citizenship, they can be held indefinitely without charges, trial or conviction.
The bill will also further increase the big brotheresque surveillance
powers of the emerging police state while allowing it to detain or even punish
people simply suspected of “terrorist” crimes.
See You In Jail
The very notion of the world “terrorism” is also up for
review, with an
bill providing a warning of legislation to come.
’s Senate Bill # 742 redefines a terrorist as anyone who "plans or
participates in an act that is intended, by at least one of its participants, to
disrupt" business, transportation or government.
The minimum sentence is 25 years to life.
While this bill is destined to be voted down in committee, it is telling
of the bold and shameless political culture that is festering under the tutelage
of the Bush regime. Bill # 742, if
applied in New York, would have put at least 200,000 of New York’s February 15th
anti-war protestors in prison for a minimum of 25 years, tripling the state
prison population at a cost of about $8 billion per year.
Such nonsense would be laughable in its absurdity if it weren’t real
– but it is not atypical in Bush’s
. Perhaps this is why traditional
right wing groups such as The Eagle Forum and the American Conservative Union
have joined with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the
Electronic Frontier Foundation to oppose the new expanded Patriot Act.
There are also larger issues being left unreported as we
focus on the daily saga of American troops in
. Foremost is the fact that each one of the
’ military victories during the last 15 years seems to have left us less, not
more, secure. The sudden collapse of
in 1989 left the world’s second largest arsenal of Weapons of Mass
Destruction dispersed among a slew of impoverished chaotic little countries, as
well as a crime ridden
. When we speak of terrorists
acquiring weapons of mass destruction, we’re usually referring to these former
Soviet weapons, left in the charge of bankrupt agencies and hungry corrupt
Nukes for Everyone
The first Gulf War showed the world the US had no
compunctions about slaughtering Arab peoples, and hence fueled a generation of
suicide bombers – including probably, the 9/11 terrorists.
war was supposedly about Weapons of Mass Destruction – which by all accounts
were destroyed by the Iraqis in accordance with UN mandates. If the Bush
regime’s claims that these weapons weren’t destroyed are true, then where
the hell are they? If we are to take
the Bush folks at their word – that
this war wasn’t about oil, but about weapons of mass destruction – then
this war certainly hasn’t made us any safer, since Saddam Hussein and the
weapons are both missing. Saddam now
has nothing to lose, and there is no country to blame, if he turns these weapons
over to his former enemies in al Qaida, who are also floating around the missing
in action underworld. So what
is it? Are the Bush folks are liars?
Or are we fucked?
Nuclear weapons proliferation will now be a bigger problem
than ever before in history thanks to the
war. The message there was clear.
If you do not have nuclear weapons you are vulnerable to one of the
’ new “preemptive” wars. If
you really have weapons of mass destruction, on the other hand, you have an
effective deterrence, not just against a
attack, but against any attack. The
race is on. Oh yeah, the South
Korean (they’re our friends, in case you were confused)
newspaper, the Korea Times, reports that an unarmed North Korean test missile
recently landed in
Rebuilding Republican War Chests
The story of the rebuilding of
is another story that seems to be about the
war, but if reported differently, is actually a domestic issue. Take for
instance Bechtel and Halliburton, where Dick Cheney was CEO prior to his Vice
Presidency. Both corporations just received down payments on what promises to be
multibillion dollar contracts to rebuild
. Both corporations have very close
ties to the Bush administration and the Republican party.
Both have already seen tremendous paybacks on their comparatively minor
investments in the Republican party. Now,
with millions pouring into their corporate coffers, they will no doubt exercise
their largess in the next election cycle. Dozens
of corporations are in similar situations – with a new federal money train
funneling tax dollars into corporate coffers and ultimately into the Bush
re-election campaign. This is especially frightening considering that in the
last federal election cycle, the congressional candidates who spent the most
money won in 95% of the races. The multibillion dollar campaign to rebuild
threatens to further poison the remnants of our democratic culture as the
kickbacks start pouring in. And
please, do not doubt that political regimes doling out no-bid billion dollar
deals are rewarded for such favors.
Even so, the 2004 election is still a crap shoot.
Call me romantic, but I don’t think the American electorate is brain
dead. Anesthetized maybe – but not
Michael Moore offers one of the best rays of hope.
His book, Stupid White Men, which is primarily about the Bush
administration, spent 50 weeks on the New
York Times bestseller list – with eight weeks in the top slot.
His film, Bowling for Columbine, about
’s culture of violence and racism, with a strong anti-Bush message, just broke
all records for the most money grossed by a documentary film – by a factor of
three. Preorders for the VHS version are running higher than those for
, which won the Oscar for Best Picture. Bowling
for Columbine is also the longest running commercial release in
today, with 28 weeks as a first run film and still going strong.
’s website now gets up to 20 million hits per day – besting the White House
on some days. The point is – you
can stand up to these people. You
just have to stay out of small planes.
The Dixie Chicks are in a similar position.
After their lead singer spoke out against the Bush administration’s war
plans, corporate-owned radio stations began boycotting their songs.
Record stores cancelled orders. And
the media generally reported that sales of their music was way down.
But this isn’t true. To the
contrary, Michael Moore points out that their CD stayed at #1 on the Billboard
country charts and rose from #6 to #4 on Entertainment
Weekly’s pop music charts.
And Ani DiFranco, threatened with a last minute cancellation of a
show because she wanted to invite guests to speak out against the war, went
ahead and invited those guests up on stage anyway.
The show wasn’t cancelled and Ani remains unstoppable.
The point is – the anti-war momentum never waned.
It only became lost in the fog of war.
Lost as we became obsessed with an army of embedded reporters.
According to The
Nation, more people watched Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (4 million) at the height of the war, than watched
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News (3.3 million). And
why not – Comedy Central actually had better war coverage.
Though, ironically, Fox’s coverage was funnier.
Hang in there.
to Articles Index