Friday, November 12, 2004

Safer Every Day

They told us New York was safer now because they’ve got Saddam Hussein locked up. Now Clyde Haberman of the Times tells us we’re safer because Yasir Arafat has been laid in the cold, cold ground. He’s only half joking.

He quite seriously accepts all the fantasies in the obituary of Arafat by Judith Miller. Neither Arafat nor Hussein had anything to do with any acts of terrorism that we know of here. In fact Homeland Security has quietly lowered the level of alert it raised during the Republican convention. That’s a relief for the city, which kept an army of policemen on overtime for the duration. Mayor Bloomburg noted that Bush had promised to pick up the tab, but hadn’t produced. His Times flak at City Hall, Jennifer Steinhauer, tells how he boldly wrote his complaint into his speech of welcome to the convention. The Bushwackers said no sirree, so Bloomburg threatened not to speak at all. Then he agreed to cut it down to a paragraph, to a sentence, to a few words. In the end, if you followed the story over to the next page, you learn that he took out the few words as well.

Steinhauer tells it as if it was a tale of heroism: This is the billionaire who was going to get so much for our town by turning Republican and snuggling up to Pataki and Bush. It has not been money in the bank.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Saving Falluja

The reporter said Arafat was "very much alive, though perhaps just barely." Then the scene shifted to Falluja, which was clearly shaping up as an American victory, though perhaps only barely.

Nobody who remembers Vietnam can forget that officer who said we had to destroy the village in order to save it. Now they have to destroy a whole city in order to save it. And then what will we have? A smoking minefield of rubble stained by the blood of -- what shall we call them - heroes? Martyrs? Terrorists? Crusaders? Losers, anyway.

In this war, our spin doctors don’t let us see our dead, even in coffins draped with flags. But our triumphant president chose this day to visit injured servicemen, right after his daily chat with Jesus. He told them he feels their pain.

On the other hand, Iraq veterans and students are speaking out for peace. Our WBAI colleague Christ Hogan will be serving tonight in a panel with Mike Hoffman of Iraq veterans against the war, and Jacob Levich and other organizers, at Hunter College Student Lounge, 68th Street and Lexingon Avenue. Begins 7:30 -- do check it out. There is a battle that has to win, in the end.

Burying Arafat

Yasir Arafat had a lot to answer for, but he did not deserve to be buried by the Times in an obituary by Judith Miller. It is as loaded with lies and distortions as her revelations about weapons of mass destruction. For a more balanced picture, check out Shimon Peres, the hawkish leader of Israel’s Labor party, in the Washington Post, or my own reporting, for the Times during the summer of 1970, which ended in what Palestinians call Black September.

In New York, by the way, the word Palestinian was not quite kosher. It implied that another ethnic group might claim a share of the land that Jehovah had awarded in perpetuity to William Safire. If you had to mention them, the preferred term was Arab -- pronounced Ay-rab in the red states. I shocked readers one day by calling Arafat a moderate in the Palestinian resistance. A blowhard, bossy, a terrible manager -- Texans might find the type familiar -- except that he was no draft dodger. As I relate, when he dithered his way into disaster in Amman, he grabbed a rocket launcher, tipped a car over and faced down a Jordanian tank. But contrary to Judith Miller, he did not target civilians, or take hostages, or hijack airliners. In fact, he expelled from the PLO the factions that committed those deeds. But he was an icon -- with that kaffiya over that Semitic cartoon of a face - so they blamed him for everything.

A myth repeated so often that it couldn’t be beaten to death with a stick is the legend that Arafat turned down an offer of nearly everything the Palestinians were asking for. He was offered nothing. Bill Clinton invited him to agree in advance to a plan that included a map that looked like fly-paper, with hundreds of settlements crisscrossed by highways and checkpoints reserved for settlers. Arafat wanted to negotiate -- like buying a rug. But all the pressure was put on his side.

So now many world leaders are in Cairo, attending the funeral of the president of a state that we and Israel have never recognized. Millions of Moslems around the world are in mourning. And tomorrow, he will be laid to rest -- for now -- in the courtyard at Ramallah ringed by Israeli armor. Ariel Sharon has chuckled at this arrangement. It is nothing to laugh at.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Do We Live Too Long?

Not to worry. Our leaders have all pledged to keep those Social security checks coming, to those who get them now. They have a different plan in mind for workers now under 50 or so. They’ll take two percent from each paycheck and turn it over to Wall Street to invest it in a choice of mutual funds. When their time comes, they will retire on their profits, like good capitalists.

One problem is that this would divert literally trillions of dollars of withholding tax revenue that has been financing the government. We had balanced the budget and were on our way to wiping out the national debt when the Bush gang took over. It also slashed taxes on the rich and went on a military spending binge. So how can they plug this new hole?

One serious answer, loudly repeated this weekend, is to raise the retirement age, to 70. Not for us lucky survivors but for our kids, and their kids. It was pointed out as a tribute to Senator Pat Moynihan that he helped lift the regular age from 65 to 67. It was pointed out that we’re living longer, so why not work three more years? Which raises the question -- who’s hiring? Corporate management, and many public services, are laying people off at age 50 - and when they do find jobs they pay less.

One of Moynihan’s accomplices made a splash by calling on the elderly ill to die and make room for the young folks. That was early in a bipartisan campaign to whittle away at social security that has been going on for 35 years. Bill Clinton gave it a slogan worthy of George Bush, when he said "Save Social Security first." Now, nobody mentions Social Security without promising to save it, by taking another nibble at it. So that is at the top of the agenda in Washington, with no serious opposition from either side of the aisle. That doesn’t mean it’s hopeless at all. The very fact that they talk of saving Social Security reflects how precious it is. People will march to save it -- I promise.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Rove as Nerd

The talking heads were marveling at the disaster they helped bring about, and tried to soothe their consciences. Now that Dubya has won by a clear majority, they said, he surely won’t go for the jugular, the way he did last time. They remind me of the old punchline: "Boy, have you got the wrong vampire!"

His ace blood-sucker, Karl Rove, offered a cheerful anecdote to prove it. He was the class nerd -- the boy who knows all the answers, and gets picked on by the jocks in the back of the room. They didn’t pick on Karl Rove. He got his dad, who happened to be the principal, to tell them that if they did, he’d yank them off the team, forthwith. Karl the Nerd didn’t care for games where he might get hurt; instead he led the band oom-pahing for the guys who did get hurt -- which made Karl right at home in the gang that now rules us.

It may perhaps be a comfort to know how big a role ignorance played in the disaster. Bob Herbert of the Times points out that a majority of Bush voters think Saddam Hussein bombed the World Trade Center and was caught with a stock of weapons of mass destruction. A lot also believe that our attack on Iraq has been a catastrophic success, as Dubya put it, and that the world was rooting for Bush to win. I say it may be a comfort because it has to discomfort our punditry.

You may enjoy reading, and checking out his forthcoming piece in FAIR - that’s Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting - and other progressive websites. But let’s face it: we are in for a rough ride. Hang in there.