Back in the early 1990s, the right-wing taste of the year was Newt Gingrich. He led the Republican sweep into Congress in the 1994 mid-term elections. His “Contract With America” loomed in every headline. Liberals wailed that Gingrichism was invincible.
The counterattack began right in Gingrich’s front yard, in Georgia. The Atlanta Central Labor Council and Jobs with Justice staged a noisy sit-in in Gingrich’s local Congressional office and seized the headlines with stinging descriptions of the Contract as a cruel assault on the poor and the working class. For months, groups of union workers dogged the Congressman at his every stop across the country. This noisy guerrilla warfare rallied the faint-hearted and threw Gingrich, then Speaker of the House, off balance. By 1995 a rattled Gingrich had lost his touch, faltering badly in the famous budget face-off with Clinton.
In the 2000 Democratic primary campaign the AIDS coalition ACT UP (involved in the earlier Gingrich protests) adopted the same tactic against Al Gore, showing up wherever he made public appearances and shouting out protests at the rotten AIDS policies he’d signed on to. There weren’t always many protesters, but they were always there, and they had an effect. Gore changed his line, and so did the Clinton Administration.
Now it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn. California’s nurses have got him rattled, and it’s already costing him. A February 23 Field Poll showed his approval ratings declining ten points since last September, a significant drop. One might have thought that it’s a no-brainer to realize that kicking Florence Nightingale’s butt is not a sure-fire way to the public’s heart. But the Governor is so used to browbeating the press that he thought he could do the same to the California Nurses’ Association (CNA), one of the most militant unions in the country, with 60,000 members and representing registered nurses at 171 health facilities throughout the state. Schwarzenegger has been trying to roll back the union’s gains on nurse/ patient ratios, safety standards and kindred issues.
Schwarzenegger’s version of Howard Dean’s scream came in December in Long Beach. As the nurses barracked him during a speech, he denounced them as one of the “special interests” and said, “I’m always kicking their butt.” This witty response from the breast-grabber got plenty of play, and did the nurses nothing but good. At a January Capitol protest in Sacramento the nurses carried coffins and had a New Orleans jazz group play a death march. During the Super Bowl they flew a small plane over the steroid-swollen Governor’s party at his Santa Monica home. When he was in Washington they took out a full-page ad in Roll Call flaying his record. During a Schwarzenegger speech in a Sacramento hotel, nurses held up a banner saying RNs Say Stop the Power Grab.
On February 15, when Schwarzenegger and his platoons of body guards and flunkies trooped into a screening of Be Cool, 300 nurses demonstrated. Kelly DiGiacomo, 46 years old and 5’2″, a nurse at a Kaiser hospital near Sacramento, had a ticket. She ensconced herself in the fourth row, wearing her nurse’s scrubs.
A bodyguard rushed up, and under the pretext of a possible meeting with the governor, led her to a room with a California Highway Patrol cop at the door and began to grill DiGiacomo. A few days later a CHP investigator called. DiGiacomo asked why she should be considered a threat. The investigator replied, “Well, you were wearing a nurse’s uniform.” “Oh, sure, the international terrorist uniform,” DiGiacomo scoffed. Californians scoffed with her when they saw the news stories. At least Bush and Cheney can claim they’re being targeted by hairy men from the dark side of Mecca. Here’s Arnold hiding behind his goons from the woman who cares for you when you’re in the hospital.
Schwarzenegger’s strategy has been to project an image-calculatedly fascistic in style-of irresistible momentum, aiming to crush all opposition with threats to go directly to the people with rallies backed by the mountains of corporate cash he’s been raising since he was elected.
It’s no idle threat. Schwarzenegger has a swollen war chest, albeit one that’s also starting to get him bad press. One of the reasons Gray Davis, his predecessor in Sacramento, got recalled was his 24/7 addiction to fundraising. If anything, Schwarzenegger is even more relentless, with a corporate cash IV permanently stuck in his arm. Last year he raised $28.8 million, and this year he plans to raise at least another $50 million to promote his agenda.
Schwarzenegger’s agenda is crudely simple: Attack and if possible destroy social safety nets in health, pensions, insurance, workers’ comp, job security, education, etc., with a green light for business to pillage, outsource jobs and not pay taxes.
He’s already tripped. Near the end of February Schwarzenegger was reportedly abandoning his proposal to abolish the independent Board of Registered Nursing, along with eighty-eight other regulatory and policy boards. But he’s still planning to roll California into DeLay-style redestricting and to ramp up the use of “emergency” diktats to undercut democratic opposition from the legislature. One such example is in the area of healthcare: an emergency order by the Governor in November to roll back patient safety standards in California hospitals, reversing the intent of a 1999 law. A CNA lawsuit challenging that order was just heard in Sacramento Superior Court. Late Friday afternoon Judge Judy Holzer Hersher vacated the emergency regulation by Gov. Schwarzenegger that suspended key portions of the landmark law mandating minimum RN-to-patient hospital ratios. Hersher’s decision means California hospitals must immediately restore safe staffing in emergency rooms and implement ratios of no more than one RN for every five patients in general medical units as they were supposed to do in January. Judge Hersher also denied a request by the hospital industry for a stay–to prevent the restoration of the ratios pending an appeal.The CNA’s is the first successful lawsuit against the governor.
You might have thought Schwarzenegger would have some sympathy for nurses, who incur long-term back trauma from having to haul patients up in bed, a task equivalent, on average, to lifting about 1.8 tons a day. No. The Governor vetoed a bill requiring hospitals (heavy Schwarzenegger donors) to install safe-lift policies and equipment. And yes, he vetoed another bill to educate school coaches about the dangers of steroids and performance-enhancing diet supplements.
As I said, political momentum is the key to Schwarzenegger’s game. But what happens when you trip over a 5’2″ woman in nurse’s scrubs? You lose momentum. What happens when you start screaming abuse at nurses and teachers? What happens when you make working women your enemies? The humbled president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, might want to have a word with Governor Schwarzenegger on that one.
Flip-Flop Johnson: Now He Doesn’t Want to Nuke Syria
The Republican Congressman who twice called for nuking Syria now contradicts what his chief of staff told Roll Call, says he was ‘kind of joking. Here’s the latest bulletin on The Nuke ‘Em Rep, from Jackson Thoreau whose first piece ran on this site last week.
After substantial public outcry about twice saying he wants to “nuke” Syria, U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson [R-Texas] is now back-pedaling and contradicting what his chief of staff told Roll Call, the non-partisan Capitol Hill publication that broke the story.
In a March 4 article in the Dallas Morning News, one of numerous places I sent the Roll Call report, Johnson claimed he was “kind of joking” about the matter. The paper quoted Johnson as saying: “I was kind of joking. You know. We were talking between veterans. We were swapping sea stories – things that we’d done in the military.” Then Johnson added, “Syria actively opposes our allies’ efforts on terrorism, and they finance and harbor terrorists in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon. We’re sure of that. They even fought against us on the border during the Iraq incursion. So I don’t think they’re a friend of the United States at all.”
Johnson has said at least twice he wanted to kill everyone in Syria in one nuclear swoop, just because he has some unproven notion that weapons of mass destruction are being hidden there. He has said this to a public gathering in a speech in a church, no less, on Feb. 19, and privately to Bush himself at the White House.
I don’t buy that Johnson was joking about wanting to nuke Syria. For one, when Roll Call asked his chief of staff, Cody Lusk, about the remarks, Lusk failed to say it was a joke. He simply reminded the Roll Call reporter that Johnson had been a fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam. “He was just speaking to a crowd of veterans,” Lusk said. A week after the Roll Call report and a bunch of public outcry, Lusk and Johnson suddenly decided that Johnson was “kind of joking” about the nuke Syria remarks.
I don’t think it was a joke, and even if it was “kind of a joke,” murdering so many people in one act is not something a country’s leader should be joking about. And if it was supposedly a joke, why did the tape played to Roll Call only depict people applauding after he made the remarks, and not laughing? A lot of people in this country agree with Johnson that Syria should be “nuked,” that’s why. Of course, former President Reagan made such a “joke” about outlawing the former Soviet Union and beginning bombing in “five minutes” during the 1980s. Bush also mocked a Texas woman whose death sentence he signed.
Many people have emailed me to express their disgust about Johnson’s remarks after I wrote the column that exposed what he said to more people.
One of them, Jim Abourezk, a former member of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate from South Dakota, wrote Johnson a letter highly critical of his comments. Abourezk wrote that he has relatives in Syria, and he recalled “a lot of idiocy when I served, but nothing as idiotic as these latest ravings from Mr. Johnson. What I don’t think he understands is that when someone who is draped in a congressional flag says something even as foolish as urging that nukes be dropped on Syria, it gives it the imprimatur of authority. He’s not much of a role model, unless it would be for the arms industry.” Abourezk said he had never heard anyone threaten any country like that, especially a “small harmless country like Syria.” He took a businessman friend of his from Sioux Falls on a trip to Syria last summer, and his friend agreed the U.S. was picking on a harmless country. “The Syrian government can barely threaten their own people or the people of Lebanon, and certainly not any country of any size or strength,” Abourezk wrote. Moawia Tayyarah, a congressional affairs officer with the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, also did not take Johnson’s statements lightly. She wrote a letter to Roll Call, pointing out how “this kind of ignorance and warmongering can only worsen the terrible image of the United States across the entire Middle East at a time when America actually needs to re-establish itself as an even-handed and fair world leader.”
Johnson’s remarks will only incite Arabs into “greater anger toward the leadership of the United States,” Tayyarah wrote. “The fact remains that neither Johnson nor any American intelligence agency has a shred of evidence that these phantom and fictional Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are in Syria. The reasons for this are simple. First, these weapons do not exist. Second, anyone who understands the Middle East knows that the ex-Iraqi regime and the Syrian government never got along, and these kinds of relations did not exist between the two countries.
“Does anyone remember that Syria joined the United States against Saddam Hussein in 1991? I guess Rep. Sam Johnson does not.” The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee also pressured Johnson into back-pedaling on the issue. In a letter faxed to Johnson, former U.S. Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, president of the committee, wrote, “While we recognize the current differences between the Bush Administration and the Syrian Government, these differences should be addressed in negotiations at the conference table, in coordination with our international partners, rather than confrontation in the battlefield by using nuclear weapons. We are sure that you would not want to see any harm to any civilians, let alone to the tomb of John the Baptist, St. Paul’s Church where he converted to Christianity, and the ancient icons of St. Luke, all of which are historical treasures of significance to all faiths located in Syria.
“Advocating for genocide is completely unacceptable and contrary to our American values and traditions. Indeed, it is a sad day when an elected member of the United States Congress openly advocates for attacking another country, any country, with nuclear weapons. The remarks attributed to you demonstrate that you are an advocate for mass destruction and genocide. These remarks have no place in the United States Congress.”
Martha Coakley and the Amiraults
Last week I ran a letter here from Martin White about Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts DA who prosecuted Paul Shanley. Amid pertinent abuse of La Coakley White remarked that all the Amiraults had been sent to prison on false charges brought by Middlesex County DA Coakley.
Now Ralph McGaughey writes, “As I recall Scott Harshbarger was DA over in Middlesex when the Amiraults were persecuted. The case was defended by the Middlesex DA during the 90s, Thomas Reilly, presently MA AG and gubernatorial hopeful. The last several years the dirty deed has been handled by Martha Coakley, presently Middlesex DA and MA AG hopeful. In 1930s movies DAs act like this lot. They all want to follow Bob Bradford’s path to the corner office. Bob, by the way, was a good man and a R. Guv ’47 to ’49. The office has been infected ever since. Keep up the good work.”
Where Was Archbishop Romero Assassinated?
In his fine piece The D’Abuisson Memorial Lawrence Reichard wrote that “according to El Salvador’s South Africa-style Truth Commission, D’Aubuisson authored the hit on Romero, which was carried out in the middle of Romero saying Mass to hundreds in the National Cathedral.” Reichard now tells us that “I now have it on good word that Romero was shot while saying a small mass in the chapel adjacent to his home, not in the National Cathedral before hundreds, as stated in my piece. This from Mario Davila, a Salvadoran friend of 20 years or so who works for AFSC in Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
For Nepalese Monarchism?
Elsewhere on our site this weekend you’ll find a trio of pieces about Nepal, one of them markedly pro-King. Now I have my tendresse for Jacobinism, and had a plaster of paris medallion of Robespierre (modeled on the bust by David d’Angers), on my sitting room wall until it fell and shattered in Petrolia’s 7.9 earthquake in 1992. Another medallion, of St Just, survived and hangs on an outside wall, but in truth I was never so keen on St Just, unlike my maximalist comrade in arms, Jeffrey St Clair, a far more ardent Jacobin than I. Jeffrey murmured that maybe we might pass up Bhishma Kharki’s piece saying Nepal would be better served by a constitutional monarch than by the Maoists, and that emergency requires ruthless measures.
Let’s give Bhishma Kharki the benefit of the doubt, I urged, pointing out we have a couple of other pieces on the site this weekend to flesh out the options facing Nepal. After all, I am somewhat of a Carlist. Between Tony Blair and Prince Charles I’d chose the latter any day. As my dear friend Jack Finnegan, long since gone from this world, used to say in his thick Glaswegian accent as he viewed the latest turpitude of the Labor Party, “Alex, I’m a monarchist-Leninist”. Anyway, we did run Ron Jacobs’ extremely generous review of Bob Avakian’s autobiography a few weeks ago. Nepal’s Maoists will just have to take their lumps from Bhishma, who did do hard time for his beliefs and who now has to live in Lawrence, Kansas, which is probably about as far from Nepal in contour and custom as you can get.
[The Schwarzenegger item in this column appeared in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last week.]