Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Who is the most despised elected official in modern American political history? If you guessed Richard Nixon or Rep. Gary Condit, you'd be wrong. The lowest public approval rating -- 14% -- has been reserved for Miriam Oliphant, the Broward County Supervisor of Elections who was removed in November by Gov. Jeb Bush for gross incompetence. Both dim-witted and arrogant, this prominent African-American office-holder also contributed to racial polarization in South Florida. She's been selected as City Link's "Jackass of the Year," and the story of her rise and fall also offers lessons to anyone who lives in a racially polarized urban area.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

During the holidays, let's remember that our troops are even more at risk because they're too often not getting the supplies they need to protect themselves. That holds true even if you feel that they were sent there by an administration and President that misled the American public.

But neither the left nor right seems to be making too much of an issue of the shortage of supplies, from bullet-stopping vests to, sometimes, the bullets themselves, because it doesn't fit in with their pre-packaged ideologies. The anti-war left doesn't want the soldiers there in the first place, so critics of the war don't seem too concerned if the troops overseas don't have the supplies needed to fight effectively. And the right and administration apologists don't want to mention the problems soldiers are having on the ground, in large part because it doesn't square with the rosy fictions of Iraq's restoration promoted by the neo-cons.

The result is that National Guard troops and other reservists are especially hard hit, as this report from the Broward New Times shows with a leaked memo from a National Guard commander begging Governor Jeb Bush's administration for help. And, as this UPI dispatch illustrates, the National Guard and Army Reserve forces are being denied the bulletproof body armor they need to survive, while the regular Army is getting them more promptly. Some families have been scrambling to raise money themselves to buy the protective armor for their loved ones in Iraq. The former weekend warriors, now stuck in Iraq long after they were supposed to be sent home, are just as vulnerable as the regular soldiers to getting shot.

The agenda-setting major media outlets are generally not giving this issue the attention they should, even as often obscure political leaders and smaller newspapers are starting to speak up about the crisis. Congress recently added a $300 million rider to a war funding bill to add additional money for protective vests, but they still aren't getting there in time to save all the lives they could. As an editorial in the little-known York Daily Record pointed out:

"In an Oct. 9 speech to Air National Guard Reservists in New Hampshire, the president said, `Any time we put our troops into harm’s way, you must have the best training, the best equipment, the best possible pay.'”

"From that statement — and countless others like it — it would be fair to conclude that the president believes our troops should have the best training, best equipment and best pay.

"You’d be wrong.

"Case in point: Nearly one-quarter of our soldiers do not have modern body armor that can stop bullets fired from assault rifles.

"Soldiers are so concerned for their safety that they’ve taken to asking relatives stateside to buy body armor and send it to them."

All this illustrates a typical pattern of the Bush administration in arenas beyond the battlefield, ranging from education reform to AIDS: talk big, get the photo ops, but don't follow through on the money needed to get the job done.

Some politicians are finally speaking out about the supply problem, but it still hasn't become an issue of great concern to either the president's critics or supporters. Here's one -- too rare -- voice of sanity on the issue, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.):
Democrat & Chronicle: Slaughter: Troops need supplies

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Even Saddam's capture doesn't erase the legacy of the deceptions of the Bush adminstration on issues including the environment, the economy and the misguided war on Iraq. Here's a good overview of them for 2003:
Center for American Progress - Claim vs Fact: 2003 - A Year of Distortion, 12/14/03 - Page

Friday, December 05, 2003

Why isn't this an important national news story?: The AFL-CIO calls for a criminal investigation of Miami police. Thanks in part to a national media largely gorging on a diet of Scott Petersen and Michael Jackson (with occasional attention to Iraq), there doesn't seem to be much interest in police attacks on peaceful union members -- many of them elderly -- during the free trade protests in Miami last month. The national media didn't pay attention then, and they're still not noticing it now, despite mounting evidence of widespread abuses.

Locally, the boosterish hometown papers have also been giving the quasi-police state a virtual whitewash, with the exception of Miami Herald columnist Jim Defede (see my previous postings) and Miami New Times. Their latest accounts include a horrifying account of police attacking a medical treatment clinic and a new overview article on the wildly divergent claims by police and unions about what happened. All this isn't meant to downplay the real violence -- thrown rocks, torn-down fences, trash fires -- generated by a relatively small group of anarchists. But the importance of the Miami events to the rest of the country is this: the police tactics used here are now being dubbed the "Miami model," because there wasn't the large-scale damage seen in Seattle in 1999, and it is now being promoted as a way for other cities to confront large-scale protests of any kind. But the cost to the Constitution -- and the health and safety of peaceful protesters -- is far too high for the "Miami model" to become the template for police responses elsewhere in the country. (See my earlier postings on Nov. 23 and Dec. 1, to learn about troubling accounts of law-abiding citizens being attacked, shot [with rubber bullets] and pepper-sprayed by police, and often arrested on trumped-up charges.)

It isn't only because of an entertainment-driven, profit-hungry media culture that these issues are being slighted. In addition, with the decline of labor unions in the workforce and the lower status given what used to be called labor reporters, few reporters at major dailies or broadcast outlets specialize in union concerns. At the same time, when competing stories are far more sensationalistic, anything having to do with "free trade" is doomed to be viewed as a dull-but-worthy snoozefest, unless there are major Seattle-style window-smashing property violence and attacks on police by black-masked anarchists. So, since police overkill and trampling on constitutional rights (and, literally, the protesters themselves) meant that such violence was largely shut down, there's been little interest in paying attention to the police violence unleashed on protesters. When the Miami model comes to your hometown, though, the media neglect on this issue could come back to haunt the citizens of other cities.

Monday, December 01, 2003

"The whole world isn't watching": In 1968, a police riot in Chicago against anti-war protesters attracted worldwide attention and live TV coverage. An equally troubling -- if not as widespread -- pattern of police attacks on those free trade protesters who were acting peacefully has been virtually ignored by the national media and most local reporters. But if anyone still doubts that Miami police ran amok during the free trade protests, check out this detailed account by a New Times reporter who was arrested and witnessed numerous abuses while covering the events in late November. Elsewhere in the paper, columnist Tristam Korten gives a useful overview of the police-state tactics used by police. Labor unions, the AARP and the ACLU are furious at the roughing up of senior citizen protesters, and so are planning lawsuits against the city. The unions have also vowed to foil the planned Senate race of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, who did nothing to protest or halt the police rampages. There was even video taken of police shooting a lawyer in the back with rubber bullets and trampling on protesters. For more information, check out my Nov. 23 posting during the week of the police abuses.

"The Reagans" wasn't nearly as severe a hatchet job as conservatives predicted, but it still made Reagan look like a complete oaf and Nancy Reagan as the worst shrew since Lady Macbeth. Reagan, despite his reputation as an actor reciting speeches and lines written for him by advisers, actually had a good grasp of his own policy priorities: stopping the spread of Communism, building up our military defenses and lowering taxes. (Of course, he left a legacy of deficits and indifference to the poor and those with AIDS.) And as the book on his self-penned radio talks demonstrates, he had the knack of understanding and translating policy issues into easy-to-understand language. This Boston Globe review is a balanced look at what was essentially a campy melodrama:
Boston.com / News / Boston Globe / Living / Arts / Beyond `Reagans' hoopla, a critical, typical biopic

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