Different Players, Same Game

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

But hold! Isn’t it the demand of enlightened people that all within these borders have a right to work without being hassled by the INS or kindred agency of the state? You can argue whether Linda Chavez treated Marta TK, her sometime Guatemalan employee well or badly, and that such poor treatment might disqualify her as secretary of labor. But the spectacle of Democrats like Senator Tom Tom Daschle solemnly denouncing Chavez for giving work to an undocumented Latina was nauseating.

Here’s Chavez, who has appalling views on almost every issue relevant to the job for which she was briefly nominated, and the Democrats go after her for the one decent deed on her record, if you believe the testimony of Marta, to whom Chavez appears to have behaved well.

Chavez has been cruelly taken from them but what an immense favor Bush-Cheney did the Democrats by putting up Aschcroft and Norton! It’s hard to stir up liberal passions over Powell at the State Department or Rice as national security director, or even O’Neill at Treasury. How could you be worse than Madeleine Albright or Samuel Berger? And who cares about O’Neill when the effective ruler of the economy is over at the Fed.

But with Ashcroft scheduled for the Justice Department there are rich political and fund-raising opportunities for the Democrats, painting lurid scenarios of the Klan Grand Wizard taking up residence in the DOJ and telling the Naderites, We told you so. Here comes the Beast: Ashcroft, the foe of choice; Ashcroft the militia-symp; Aschcroft the racist hero of the old confederacy. What can you say for the guy, except that he’s probably marginally to the left of Eminem, great white hope of the rap crowd and currently in line for his fifth Grammy.

But will Ashcroft be effectively worse than Attorney General Janet Reno. This time eight years ago she was four months away from incinerating the Branch Davidians at Waco, and on the edge of a tenure that has seen her fervent support for the “war on drugs”, aka a war on the poor, most especially the blacks; her contributions to the crime bill of 1994; the targeting of minority youth; her complaisance towards expansions in the power of the prosecutorial state, and onslaughts on the Bill of Rights? It’s a tough act to follow.

The environmentalists see similar rich opportunity with Gale Norton, graduate of the Mountain States Legal Center, an anti-environmental think tank based in Denver, Colorado, headed by James Watt, greatest fund-raiser for environmental causes in our history. No doubt about it, Norton is scarcely nature’s friend. Her dreams are of Exxon’s Grand Canyon and Disney’s Yosemite. But once again, we should retain our perspective.

Consider, for example, Bill Clinton’s exit order, banning roads and logging on national forest “roadless” lands. Then look at the exceptions: Clinton’s ban excludes timber sales now in the pipeline, which can be grandafathered in over the next six years. Other huge loopholes include an okay for logging for “ecological reasons”, such as fire-breaks and habitat for deer. It’s amazing how much timber you can harvest out of these so-called “fire-breaks”. In the California Sierra they make the breaks up to quarter of a mile wide. There’s also an okay in Clinton’s order for roads for mining and grazing allotments, and for fire control. In all, the order envisages a 2.5 per cent reduction of total timber sales in the national forests, which isn’t much

If she’s smart, Norton will reverse the order simply by opting for one of the other options offered in the environmental impact statement what formed the basis of Clinton’s order.

There’s likely to be a big fight over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where outgoing Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has just done Norton and the oil industry a big favor by advising Clinton that to designate ANWR a national monument would be “a meaningless gesture” that would invite the Republicans to reverse all such designations made in Clinton time. You can read this as a startlingly forthright admission that national monument status doesn’t mean much, which is true, also that Babbitt is as gutless as ever. To have made ANWR a national monument would have drawn the line in the sand, or in this case, the snow a bit deeper and made the forthcoming onslaught on ANWR a little tougher for the Bush-Cheney crowd.

What else can Norton do that Babbitt hasn’t already set in motion? Not much. Last year Babbitt put a moratorium on the listing of endangered species, and he’s smiled on the privatization of public assets through land trades, whereby timber corporations get old growth and we get the cut-over terrain. Salmon protection? The Clinton administration has let the Republicans off the hook on that one, insisting that the dams on the Snake River won’t be breached. Oil leasing off the continental shelf? For Bush-Cheney it would be political suicide. Reagan tried, and had to back off. Norton will go after the National Environmental Protection Act, but here again Babbitt and Gore paved the way, with their Habitat Conservation Plans that have ushered so many corporate foxes into the coop.

Over at EPA it’s hard to demonize Christy Todd Whitman, and at USDA could anyone be worse than Dan Glickman, friend of factory farms and saboteur of organic standards?

So, all in all, the Bush-Cheney directorate has done a fine job of rallying the Democrats, just as the Democrats, with their weak-kneed surrender to the Florida putsch and talk of bipartisanship, have given ammunition to the radicals denouncing the two-party consensus. For the activists, there’s plenty of opportunity. Militant green groups, including the reinvigorated Greenpeace, are fired up, and right here on the doorstep is the prospect of a national fight for microradio, whose prospects have been sabotaged by the National Association of Broadcasters. The NAB successfully shepherded through a legislative rider late last year that effectively outlaws new low power stations in most urban areas.

So we’re back where we were in the dawn of Clinton time, with courageous people asserting their rights, and defying corporations and the state. What else is new? Welcome to Bush-Cheney time. The basic map hasn’t changed. CP

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch. Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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