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Last week, your nation’s capital was a bit more surreal than usual.
First and foremost, there is the sniper.
And just when the sniper arrives in the neighborhood, here comes Michael Moore with his much awaited critique of violence in America — Bowling for Columbine.
We have three words of advice: go see it.
In one scene, Moore, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, goes to door to door in Toronto, Canada, doesn’t knock, and just walks in.
Apparently, in Canada, many people don’t lock their doors.
This in a country, Canada, where there are 7 million guns for a population of 33 million.
But in Canada there are fewer than 400 gun deaths a year.
In the United States, we hit 400 in two weeks — that’s 11,000 gun deaths a year.
In the U.S., eight children under the age of 18 are killed by guns in America every day.
Moore raises a disturbing question: if it’s just the guns, stupid, then how come Canadians are not slaughtering themselves the way we are slaughtering ourselves?
This question takes Moore to Littleton, Colorado, the site of the Columbine massacre, home to the war machine Lockheed Martin, the war machine that sponsors the news on National Public Radio.
There he interviews a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, who tells Moore that the weapons the company builds there are used by the United States for defensive purposes.
Moore then cues up the war footage and runs through the history of U.S. aggression throughout the world — from Central American, to the Middle East, to Southeast Asia.
This juxtaposition of government and corporate violence with grainy film from the Columbine school’s security camera capturing young children massacring young children drives home Moore’s larger point — that the violence and duplicity in our society starts at the top.
Which brings us back to our nation’s capital, where both parties’ leadership, in part at the urging of the military-industrial-complex, gave the green light last week for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.
We attended a press conference held by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri), the day after Gephardt went to the White House, stood by Bush, and gave the green light for war.
We had with us an editorial from that morning’s St. Louis Post Dispatch titled “Gephardt Caves.” Our sentiment exactly.
In it, Gephardt’s hometown paper said that the reason he sided with Bush was because he wanted to be Speaker of the House, and then President. (This pattern, by the way, followed for other Democratic presidential hopefuls — Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), Hillary Clinton (D-New York), John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), Diane Feinstein (D-California), John Edwards (D-North Carolina) — all of whom voted with Bush on the war.)
All said it was not about politics — not when young (American) lives are at stake.
But the Post-Dispatch called Gephardt on it.
Gephardt “protests too much when he says he is rising about politics.”
“He wants to be speaker of the House — or president,” the Post Dispatch wrote. “He can’t achieve either goal taking an unpopular stand against a war against Saddam.”
We asked Gephardt whether he wanted be speaker or President.
“That’s irrelevant,” he shot back.
We then went over to the White House, where Ari Fleischer was conducting one of his press briefings.
We wanted to know about a two-sentence letter from Theodore Sorensen, the former legal advisor to President John F. Kennedy, that was published in the New York Times.
Sorensen wrote this:
“President Bush has not yet openly reprimanded his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, for suggesting that ‘a bullet’ is the cheapest way of accomplishing his goal of regime change in Iraq. Is it possible that the United States now endorses for other countries a policy of presidential assassination, the very epitome of terrorism, after our own tragic experience with that despicable act?”
So, Ari, did the President reprimand you?
Ari says: “As far as that is concerned, on the policy, as you know — I think you were here when I said on the record that that is not — and people heard it the day I said it — that is not a statement of administration policy.”
But did the President reprimand you for saying that?
Ari says: “I think I have made the views clear of where the White House is on this.”
We then head back over to the Congress, where the war-mongerer Senator Lieberman was releasing a Senate Governmental Affairs report on why Enron happened.
The conclusion: “All the public and private agencies that were supposed to exercise oversight and protect investors failed miserably.”
The report was especially critical of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for failing to review any of Enron’s annual reports after its 1997 filing. Before going over to the Lieberman briefing, we rang up former SEC chair Arthur Levitt.
We asked Levitt what we should ask Lieberman.
“Ask him — where was Lieberman?” Levitt told us. “He was busy tying up the SEC in knots over auditors’ independence, over the budget, and over options accounting.”
We put this to Lieberman.
Lieberman gets testy and shoots back:
“Well, I hope he didn’t say that, and if he did, it is grossly unfair and inaccurate.”
Actually, quite fair and accurate.
Michael Moore is a political agitator.
Go to see his movie — and take as many friends and family members with you as possible.
Gephardt, Lieberman and Bush are political leaders.
Listen to them, and you can only get angry — and then organize to kick these guys out of office.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and co-director of Essential Action. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999.)