Comes a Time
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Sunday, 27 October, 2002
"There used to be a thing or a commodity we put great store by. It was called the People. Find out where the People have gone. I don't mean the square-eyed toothpaste-and-hair-dye people or the new-car-or-bust people, or the success-and-coronary people. Maybe they never existed, but if there ever were the People, that's the commodity the Declaration was talking about, and Mr. Lincoln."- John Steinbeck
There are times when history seems to drift idly from one year to the next with no profound milestone to mark its passage. The decade of the 1990s was such a time; after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world seemed to pause for breath. The Clinton administration saw a number of moments pass that have revealed their importance over time - the first bombing of the World Trade Center, the war in Bosnia, the coup in Russia, the passage of the budget that heralded the Wall Street boom, the shut-down of the government - but in their chapter, these moments came and went with the flick of a page. Even the historic impeachment of a sitting President collapsed under its own turgid weight into sordid, tabloid nonsense.
There are also times when history finds a fifth gear and puts the go pedal to the mat. It is our common fate to live within such a chapter, and it serves to remember all that we have experienced in the last 700 days:
* The chaos of our democratic process gone horribly awry, as evidenced by the month of madness in Florida following the 2000 vote. For the first time in our history, a President was chosen by the Supreme Court, and not by the voters.
* The defection of Senator James Jeffords, whose move from the Republican party into political independence handed control of the entire Senate over to the Democratic party. The dramatic consequence of this was unprecedented - there have been party-switchers before, but none have caused so momentous a reversal of power. Given the plans Bush had for faith-based programs that decimated the separation of church and state, more tax cuts, more industry deregulation, and the constitutional restrictions that have come in the aftermath of 9/11, the profound nature of Jeffords' defection cannot be overstated. Historians will look back at this event and stand in awe at its significance.
* The passage of the Bush tax cut, which removed well over a trillion dollars from the then-assumed budget surplus. The wealthiest 1% of Americans received half of that payout, while the vast majority of citizens received $600, $300 or nothing at all. The aforementioned surpluses were discovered, in the aftermath of the Enron collapse, to have been based upon expected tax revenues from corporations which have since' readjusted' their earnings, because they had been lying on the profit reports. Those lies 'readjusted' the forecasted budget surplus. The tax cut has, in fact, bitten deeply into the federal budget, introducing a phenomenon not seen in years - deficit spending.
* Enron, Halliburton, Harken: Enron flamed out in one of the biggest bankruptcies in history, even after rigging the California power grid in an act of hydraulic despotism that reaped billions in blackmail profits, bilking investors and employees out of billions in retirement funds once their accounting lies were exposed, and thus instigating the death spiral we continue to endure in the stock market. Halliburton is under an SEC investigation for decidedly Enron-like behavior, and faces questions about the multi-billion dollar business deals done with Saddam Hussein. Harken went broke years ago after executives lied about the profitability of the stock and then bailed out before said stock bottomed out.
The importance of this - the umbilical connections between these corporations and the Bush administration. Enron was Bush's biggest funding contributor, all the way back to his Texas days. Enron basically wrote America's energy policy behind closed doors with Vice President Dick Cheney, who was an executive of Halliburton for the time period currently being investigated. Harken, simply, was a harbinger of things to come - Harken executive Bush knew the company was tanking, that it was lying about its profits, and he cashed in his chips before the hammer came down. The investors were soaked, a common occurrence since Bush abandoned the oil business for politics. Such a collection of compromised and profit-driven businessmen has not been seen in the White House in 100 years.
* September 11th: In the numbing aftermath of the attacks, Americans have been left fearful of blue skies and airplanes. 9/11 was many things, but was first and foremost a cataclysmic intelligence failure. Rather than storm to the forefront and demand a detailed investigation of how such an attack could happen, why it happened, and take far-reaching actions to make sure it never happens again, the Bush administration has worked to quash and deflect both a Congressional investigation into the attacks, and an independent investigation preferred by the grieving families of 9/11 victims. Pearl Harbor was vigorously investigated, as was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This was done as a matter of course. The Bush administration, however, wants no questions asked or answered regarding 9/11. This is unconscionable, for it means the security loopholes that existed on that terrible day are very likely still in place.
* As a crude replacement for an actual determination of cause and solution regarding the security failures of 9/11, the administration has put forth a piece of legislation that has no peer in American legal history - The USA PATRIOT Anti-Terror Act. In the pages of this legislation lies the dissolution of many basic freedoms outlined by the Constitution. Section 213 of the Act, nicknamed the "Sneak and Peek" provision, allows federal agents to enter a private home, conduct a search, and attach data-tracking devices to any computers found, all without warrant or notice. Ostensibly, this was to be used against non-citizens who are under suspicion of terrorist activities. Then came the case of Jose Padilla, suspected of plotting to explode a "dirty" nuclear device in New York. It turned out that Padilla was not capable of such an act, having no means to produce one. Yet he sits today in federal prison, denied attorney or trial or even a timeline for release. He is to be held indefinitely with no chance for the justice system to determine his guilt, and with no chance to plead his case.
Padilla is an American citizen. If an American citizen can be held indefinitely on the word of the Bush administration, then private homes of American citizens are subject to searches based upon Section 213, so long as the Bush administration decides to label that citizen 'suspicious.' The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution were cast aside with the passage of this Act. When questioned about it before the Senate, John Ashcroft, U.S. Attorney General and the highest law official in the land, said, "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists - for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve." So much, then, for the First Amendment.
This is the short list, and history has not begun to slow down. Economic dissolution has been replaced on the nightly news by a barnstorming push for war in Iraq. The Bush administration has failed to offer any definitive proof that Iraq is a pressing threat, that the war can be won, that we have an exit strategy, that democracy will ever work in Iraq, that the Middle East will not explode in reaction to our war, that the precedent of 'pre-emptive war' against a non-threatening nation will not forever poison diplomatic relations between all nations, or that such a course will not in any way cause new and more terrible terrorist attacks on our shores by agents not connected with Iraq but who will react from a sense of outrage after Iraqi civilian casualties are filmed by al-Jazeera television cameras. Osama bin Laden is still alive and free, as are many al Qaeda lieutenants and operatives. War on Iraq will not slow them down one bit, and will drive new warriors into their ranks.
The speeding train of history, and the whirling grist mill of the 24-hour news media, seems to have left this short list behind. No one talks about Jeffords any more, nor Enron, nor Halliburton, nor the 2000 election, nor the PATRIOT Act. We are continually trying to look around corners for the next big surprise, losing in that process an appreciation for what has taken place already, and how those events continue to affect us. We are offered no breathing space, and therefore we have no time to think.
More than anything, we feel powerless to slow this train down. We are punch-drunk with blows from profound event after profound event, and we are slowly turning into a nation of shell-ensconced turtles because of it.
The sudden and inexplicable death of Senator Paul Wellstone only adds to these feelings of dismay and disconnection. Like Senator Mel Carnahan before him, Wellstone's light was darkened at the moment of greatest tension. Locked in a tight race to retain his seat, Wellstone's success in the November election seemed likely to be a determining factor in the question of which party would control the Senate. Now he is gone, martyred to the cause he had served so well.
To quantify Wellstone as simply an important factor in an election season is to ignore the passage of a great man. If you work for a living, Wellstone was for you. If you have concerns for the cleanliness of the air youy breathe, Wellstone was for you. Wellstone was a man who stood in the path of that speeding train, a question always on his lips and true concern for this American nation always in his thoughts. Now this great man has fallen, while working as best he could to represent the people of his state, and the speeding train of history keeps moving.
There is a way to slow this train down, and it is coming soon.
The Congressional midterm elections of 2002 will happen all across the country on November 5th. Control over both houses of Congress is up for grabs, and many of the races are tight. In the end, it will all come down to turnout. The GOP base is energized - they see an historic opportunity for Bush and the Republicans to take Congress and overthrow the Jeffords jump. The Democratic base, as it stands, has been demoralized by recent 'yes' votes cast by many Democratic Congresspeople that allowed passage of Bush's resolution for war on Iraq. Green Party campaigns in races all across the country have likewise sapped strength from traditional Democratic voting bases.
The economic uncertainty, coupled with broad disquiet at the notion of an Iraq war, would seem to offer the Democrats an opportunity to make large gains in November. If the turnout is not high enough, this will not happen. If the GOP should retake Congress after November 5th, a number of things will happen in rapid succession:
1. There will be more ruinous tax cuts that will push us further into deficit spending;
2. There will be no justice for the crimes of the corporate robber barons who have bilked American investors of trillions of dollars;
3. Bush will be in a position to nominate as many as three new ultra-conservative Justices to the Supreme Court before his re-election campaign. Those nominations will not be stopped;
4. The PATRIOT Act will be reaffirmed, and likely given sharper teeth;
5. Roe v. Wade will fall;
6. Regulations controlling inflated profit reporting and pollution will be further watered down;
7. Further ill-conceived and nebulously-defined wars across the globe will be pushed;
8. No answers to questions regarding 9/11 will ever, ever come.
This, again, is a short list.
History happens fast these days, and seems beyond our grasp to control. We forget, in the blur, that it is the people who make history oftentimes, when they make their minds up to do so. Remember what has passed, and consider what may come, as you mark your calendar for November 5th. This administration has not demonstrated the competence or goodwill required of their position in the world. Handing all three branches of the federal government over to them would be a blunder of millennial proportions.
If for no other reason, act in the memory of one fallen man. Paul Wellstone worked every day for the betterment of this nation. On November 5th, remember him, and act in his name.
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in April 2003 from Pluto Press.
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