Dirty Done Deals

Against the Current, No. 91, March/April 2001

The Editors

THE BOMBING OF Iraq in mid-February drew immediate condemnation from the Arab world and from peace and justice and human rights organizations around the world.  The Bush-Cheney-Powell administration, for its part, referred to the bombing and the civilian deaths it caused as “routine.” Both, of course, are correct: The bombing was a murderous atrocity, and also a representative symbol of Bush-to-Clinton-to-Bush continuity.

The transfer of government authority and warmaking power took place on schedule, reaffirming the underlying strength and stability of the Constitutional order in the United States.  Let no one underestimate the extraordinary power of this political system, crafted over two centuries to serve the needs first of slaveowners and landed gentry, then of industrial and finance capital.  But neither let us misunderstand the filthy, slimy dealings that lubricated the change in administration from one bourgeois clique to the other.  The following list, which barely scratches the surface, will give some limited insight into the true meaning of that sacred term “bipartisan:”

  • When the U.S. Congress in solemn joint session convened to ceremonially ratify the Electoral College vote for the restoration of the Bush family dynasty, the Congressional Black Caucus rose to challenge the blatantly stolen Florida vote. To reach the floor for formal debate, the challenge required the endorsement of one (1) United States Senator.

    There are no Black U.S. Senators, but there are fifty (50) Democratic ones of whom a large majority owe their seats to heavy African American support.  Not even a single liberal one of them—not Rodham Clinton, not Boxer or Feinstein, not Wellstone, not one—would endorse a token challenge to an election stolen from the Black voters of Florida.

    Hence the man in the chair, none other than the pathetic Al Gore in his final exercise of vice-presidential power, contemptuously ruled the challenge out of order, showing the greatest possible disrespect in the process.  Two cheers for the CBC congresspersons who walked out of the session in protest.  The pity is they didn’t (and won’t) walk out of the Democratic Party as well.

  • W’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Linda Chavez, whose anti-labor record stretches almost as long as the list of Bill Clinton’s lies, was promptly skewered by the Democrats and hastily dumped by the Bush team. For what?  For having sheltered and unofficially employed an undocumented immigrant, quite likely the most honorable and decent thing Ms. Chavez ever did. With Chavez’s head mounted on the wall as a symbolic trophy, the AFL-CIO promptly fell in line with a letter from John Sweeney to Bush on working together, while the IAM (Machinists) leadership expressed the union’s eagerness to begin building the Star Wars missile shield.
  • The sanctimonious sacrifice of Chavez also gave a few leading liberal Democrats (notably Christopher Dodd and Russell Feingold) the pretext to fetch, roll over and play dead in the debate over John Ashcroft’s appointment as attorney general.

    The Ashcroft nomination, of course, is the sinister payoff to the religious right for its uneasy but loyal support to the Bush campaign.  Ashcroft lied like a Clinton fundraiser about his white-supremacist political associations, his intent to wipe out Roe v. Wade if the opportunity arises, his gay-baiting of an ambassadorial nominee and blackballing of the nomination of Judge Ronnie White to the federal bench.

  • But the greatest obscenity of all was Bill Clinton’s own plea-bargaining, pardon-peddling departure from office.  This character bought his way out of a perjury indictment; pardoned his brother Roger on a drug-peddling conviction (while prisons remain stuffed with non-violent drug users); and pardoned John Deutch, the CIA head who downloaded high-security files to his home computer, but not Wen Ho Lee, the Chinese-American scientist who was threatened with a treason frameup and possible execution for the same offense.

    Most notoriously, Clinton issued a pardon to Marc Rich, the billionaire financier on the run from tax evasion prosecution since the early 1980s.  This pardon was flagrantly purchased from what columnist Maureen Dowd calls the Clinton “cash-and-carry White House,” and not cheaply either, by his wife “Denise Rich’s $3 million fundraising lunch and personal donations—$450,000 to the Clinton library, more than $1 million to Democrats, $10,000 to the Clinton legal defense fund, $7375 for Clinton furniture.” (New York Times, 2/11/01, WK17)

    Yet among some 176 pardons and commutations on Clinton’s final day in office, there was NO PARDON FOR LEONARD PELTIER, the Native American political prisoner convicted in the 1975 killing of two FBI agents—whose actual killers the United States government openly admits it does not know—in the most notorious federal frameup of the past quarter century.

    In the face of an international appeal spearheaded by Amnesty International, with Peltier’s health deteriorating, Clinton had been widely expected to allow this victim of injustice to finally return to freedom.  But no—a march of FBI agents demanding Peltier stay in prison, and the reported intervention of Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, caused Clinton to withhold the Peltier pardon.

And so the final returns are in on the Clinton presidency, from the Iraq sanctions to the elimination of welfare to the final, gratuitous Peltier atrocity.  Truth to tell, if George W. Bush devoted the remainder of his life to personal corruption and abuse of power, he couldn’t touch the achievements of Bill Clinton in these fields of endeavor.

But (as the Democrats ceaselessly remind us) Clinton’s personal dishonesty and corruption are secondary matters in comparison to the issues that will actually affect people’s lives.  The fact is that in most of these, the junior Bush presidency will be largely a continuation of the senior Bush and Clinton administrations combined.

Rocky Times

Curious George has taken office at a less than propitious moment, just as the long period of U.S. capitalist expansion has dramatically slowed (whether or not a full-fledged recession has begun).  The dot-com bubble burst months ago; now the real economy is suffering serious blows with large-scale cutbacks in auto. The “market miracle” is looking somewhat tarnished as California energy deregulation produces power blackouts and monopoly-pricing obscenities.

To whatever extent political leadership matters in steering a capitalist economy through a troubled period, Bush inspires no confidence in anyone.  It’s to his advantage, in fact, that the business and financial elites regard his economic policies as largely irrelevant in comparison to the decisions that really matter, made by Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve.

Bush, of course, will continue to push a massive tax cut for the deserving rich, the permanent program of the right wing whether in times of boom or bust. As mainstream economist Paul Krugman observes, Bush’s tax-cut planners “ignore the payroll tax [15.3% of income up to $70,000, which funds social security]—that is, they propose no cut in the tax that is most of what most families pay, while demanding a large cut in the income tax .  .  .  And they want to eliminate the inheritance tax, which is overwhelmingly a tax on the downright wealthy.” (New York Times, 2/11/01, WK17)

Even before the debate begins, Democratic opposition to these giveaways is visibly weakening, especially after Greenspan’s partial endorsement (even though the Fed Chair had repeatedly stated that such cuts do not act as a timely economic stimulus).

There’s a larger issue that is overlooked.  No one in Congress—not one single Democratic liberal—proposes a massive tax reduction for working people, who gained little if anything from the 1990s prosperity while the rich benefitted so enormously, and who desperately need and deserve a major tax cut.

The biggest danger to stability is beyond Greenspan’s control: that a slowing U.S. economy cannot provide the market to cushion the impact of some new shock to the world economy in Asia or Latin America.  If a new Asian crisis, for example, were to trigger a global recession, the promised glories of “globalization” could be replaced by vicious regional trade wars and competitive currency devaluations.

Globally, there are a number of crises for which U.S. imperialism appears to have no solution, only a hope of containment: These include most notably the protracted revolutionary crisis and social agony of Indonesia, and the war in the Congo that is destroying Central Africa.

The United States seems increasingly unable to maintain the international discipline of the embargo on Iraq, except possibly by organizing another military mobilization against that country.  Meanwhile, the level of Israeli violence against the Palestinian uprising threatens to rise to a level that could trigger an anti- American explosion from North Africa to Indonesia.

None of these issues much mattered as recently as the 2000 election, when the warning signs of an economic slowdown were only first appearing.  With the slowdown now a fact of life, the combination of global political instability and an illegitimate U.S. presidency takes on a more ominous cast.

Besides Iraq, the second immediate threat of U.S. military intervention is the toxic combination of “drug eradication” insanity with counterinsurgency in Colombia.

Under Clinton’s Plan Colombia, Washington provided $950 million to the Colombian military and police with millions more for the armed forces of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.  This money will also refurbish a key air force base in Ecuador to be used by U.S. spy planes.

Plan Colombia also includes the training of two new Colombian anti-drug battalions.  Comments from incoming Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the new administration doesn’t differentiate between anti-drug and counterinsurgency.

The Bush administration does have its own international initiative, in the form of the missile-defense system to be constructed against the ostensible rogue-state threats from Iraq and North Korea.  If this doesn’t make you feel safer already, consider what this mini-Star Wars program will accomplish:

  1. For openers, it will provide somewhere between a $60 and $100 billion subsidy to the high-tech research-and-development sector, helping to keep this rugged free-enterprise sector prosperous and vibrant.
  2. By breaking down existing treaty restrictions on anti-ballistic defenses, it will compel Russia and China to undertake new weapons programs, thereby forcing Europe into renewed reliance on the American nuclear shield and forestalling dangers of any independent European policies.
  3. Best of all, since the program as initially proposed cannot possibly work, it must ultimately be replaced by the much more ambitious full-fledged Star Wars program, locking in hundreds of billions in expenditures over decades to come. This is obviously a bargain price to pay to guarantee continued United States leadership of the Free World.

After Clinton: Bush, Ashcroft and Star Wars on the same bill. Such dealings.  Such a deal.

ATC 91, March-April 2001