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16 DECEMBER 2017

 

More Important Than Boxing




By Thomas Hauser
I received an email recently from a reader complaining about an article that I wrote twenty-one months ago. The article was entitled "Jack Newfield and George Bush" and recounted my final conversation with Jack Newfield, who died of cancer in December 2004.

The article was posted on Secondsout in January 2005 and was timed to coincide with Mr. Bush's second inauguration. In it, I wrote, "For many Americans, myself included, the reelection of George Bush feels like a death in the family. Our rulers have retained power by distorting the truth and twisting reality into a grotesque fantasy. Contrary to some, we don't find George Bush charming as a person. We think he's a smug arrogant little man and we dislike him intensely. But our feelings go far beyond the personal. We're appalled and devastated by how he and his administration are changing our country. We're horrified at what our government is doing around the world in our name."

Each year, Sport Classic Books publishes a collection of the boxing articles that I've written the previous year. "Jack Newfield and George Bush" was included in the most recent volume. That seemed fitting, since the three public areas of Jack's life were journalism, politics, and boxing. Indeed, after the article went online, one of Jack's friends wrote to me, "Jack would have especially loved it that this was published on a boxing website."

The email referenced in the first paragraph above was from a dissenting reader. "Dear Mr. Hauser," he wrote. "A friend gave me your new book. If I want to read about politics, I'll buy a book about politics. Take your conversation with Jack Newfield and shove it."

I assume the writer has more of an affinity for George Bush than I do. I also assume that he won't like the column that follows. But I believe that the distortion of American values by the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress is more important than the result of a prizefight and should be commented upon in every forum possible. Thus, with the November elections approaching, this seems like a good time to revisit some important issues that effect us all. Anyone who is offended by the presence of politics on a boxing website need not read on.

I believe that the administration of George Bush, acting in concert with the Republican-controlled Congress, has done more damage to the United States than any other group of politicians in our nation's history.

The invasion of Afghanistan was a necessity. We didn't take military action there on the pretense of bringing freedom to the Afghani people. We did so because the government of Afghanistan condoned, aided, and sheltered the terrorists who were responsible for 9/11.

The invasion of Iraq was a poorly-chosen war of choice. It was launched on the fiction that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction and is now justified on grounds that it is about "bringing freedom" to the Iraqi people. It is an unwinnable war. A historical equivalent would have been Franklin Roosevelt responding to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by invading China. Saddam Hussein was a malevolent dictator, but neither he nor Iraq was responsible for 9/11. It is a war that has diminished our resources, led to tens of thousands of deaths, and exponentially increased hatred toward America in the Islamic world. It is the most misguided act in the history of our republic.

The "reconstruction" of Iraq has failed. Mouthing platitudes like "freedom is on the march" is not a substitute for an effective foreign policy. Iraq is in chaos, and the chaos is worsening with each passing month.

Iraqi oil production is still below pre-war levels. Baghdad has an average of slightly more than three hours of electricity per day. American and Iraqi officials acknowledge that, even as insurgents ravage the country's infrastructure, corruption within the new Iraqi government is rampant. Forty to fifty percent of all profits from the smuggling of Iraqi oil are flowing to the insurgency.

The strain on our military caused by the war in Iraq has forced military recruiters to lower standards with the result that our armed forces are now inducting soldiers who have serious drug problems and score far below what was once considered an acceptable level of intelligence for military duty. It has also led to the induction of an alarming number of recruits who belong to militant white-supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. In April of this year, the Army acknowledged that young officers were choosing to leave the service in unprecedented numbers and that one-third of the West Point Class of 2000 opted out of the military as soon as their five-year commitment had been fulfilled.

And most significantly, a formal National Intelligence Estimate compiled with input from all sixteen spy services within the United States Government determined in April 2006 that the war in Iraq has INCREASED, not decreased, the threat of terrorism against the United States by creating a new generation of terrorists and uniting Islamic radicals in common cause around the world. National Intelligence Estimates are approved by the Director of National Intelligence and are the most authoritative documents produced by our intelligence community with regard to specific national security issues.

Meanwhile, it now appears from events in Haditha that some American soldiers in Iraq have engaged in the same type of slaughter of innocent civilians that Saddam Hussein and the terrorist factions we oppose have perpetrated. Last November, at least 24 civilians were killed without just cause by our troops in Haditha. Unfortunately, this is the logical extension of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and the absence of acceptable standards for the conduct of the war, particularly as those standards apply to the responsibilities of command. A nation that abhors torture is now led by an administration that promotes and utilizes torture in secret prisons around the world.

During the Persian Gulf War, General Norman Schwarzkopf evaluated Saddam Hussein's military prowess with the observation, "He is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he's a great military man."

The same can be said of Donald Rumsfeld, who as Secretary of Defense is primarily responsible for the conduct of the war. Mr. Rumsfeld's explanation for the present chaos in Iraq is that "stuff happens." He still enjoys the support of George Bush, as does Dick Cheney, who told the nation in 2003 that our troops would be greeted in Iraq as liberators. Mr. Cheney is also the military sage who assured us in May 2005 that the insurgency was "in its last throes."

The architects of the war in Iraq are reckless with other people's lives. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is devolving into chaos because we don't have enough troops there to do the job that they were sent to do. In September 2006, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the opium harvest in Afghanistan this year was an estimated 6,100 metric tons. That's an increase of almost fifty percent over opium production in 2005 and accounts for 92 percent of the world's total opium supply. Much of the money generated by this cultivation falls into the hands of Taliban rebels in the southern part of Afghanistan. It's now estimated that 35 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic national product comes from the narcotics trade.

In December 2002, the Bush Administration estimated that the cost of the war in Iraq would be no more than $60 billion. The invasion was launched in March 2003. To date, the bill to the American people has been in excess of $300 billion with no end to the spending or killing in sight.

Meanwhile, the war in Iraq has diverted resources that should have been used to inspect cargo entering our ports, develop an effective medical response to biological attack, and secure our nuclear power plants, chemical factories, and transportation lines against terrorism.

Let's take the operation of America's ports as an example. At present, only five percent of containers that enter our ports are inspected. Yet, while shaping a bill on national security earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Congress removed $648 million that had been earmarked for inspecting cargo containers. The cut came at the request of the Bush Administration, which said that the proposed inspection program was too costly.

Too costly? At the time of the cut, the administration was pushing to eliminate all taxes on estates left by the wealthy, which would reduce tax revenue by $355 billion over the next ten years. The federal estate tax is currently levied only on estates in excess of $2,000,000.

It should also be noted that, in February 2006, the Bush Administration sought to transfer management of port terminals in New York, Baltimore, Miami, Newark, Philadelphia, and New Orleans to a company owned by the royal family of Dubai.

Dubai is one of three sheikdoms that comprise the United Arab Emirates. The United Arab Emirates is one of only three countries in the world that formally recognized the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan. Two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the United Arab Emirates. The 9/11 Commission formed by Congress found that "the vast majority of the money funding the September 11 attacks flowed through the United Arab Emirates." The Bush Administration, which is quick to invoke national security as a justification for the torture of prisoners in violation of international law and domestic eavesdropping without a warrant in violation of American law, said that national security was not at issue where the management of our ports by the royal family of Dubai was concerned.

There are many patriotic Americans who fear that the effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security, like the financial wellbeing of Enron, is a myth. In June of this year, the DHS announced that security grants to combat terrorism in New York and Washington DC were being cut by forty percent while grants to cities like Omaha and Louisville were being increased. That defied common sense. Then, one month later, a report by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security revealed that the National Asset Data Base used by the department as a tool in apportioning funds listed 77,069 potential terrorist targets in the United States. The state with the most "targets" was Indiana. Wisconsin was number two on the list. The list included such "terrorist targets" as a petting zoo in Alabama, an Amish popcorn factory in Pennsylvania, and a "Mule Day Parade" in Tennessee. Times Square was not on the list. This is lunacy.

Indeed, the perfect metaphor for the Bush Administration's "war on terror" might be Brian J. Doyle. On April 4, 2006 (while serving as deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security), Doyle was arrested and charged with 23 counts of trying to seduce a 14-year-old girl over the Internet. The indictment alleged that, in pursuit of the seduction, Doyle sent hardcore pornographic movie clips, engaged in explicit sexual chatroom conversations, bragged that he worked for the Department of Homeland Security, and gave his target his government-issued cellphone number. Doyle was allowed to plead "no contest" to the charges against him, which means that, while he can be sentenced to prison, there has been no admission of guilt on his part.

A majority of Americans alive today grew up in the most privileged and secure environment in history. That security is now gone. Those of us who live in New York and Washington DC do so with the knowledge that our homes are primary terrorist targets that could be turned into a modern-day Pompeii should a nuclear weapon fall into the wrong hands. But the war in Iraq has rendered the United States unable for military and geopolitical reasons to halt the production of nuclear weapons by two countries that we KNOW are in the process of producing them; Iran and North Korea.

On October 8, 2006, the governmment of North Korea announced that it had conducted an underground nuclear test (the blast registered a 4.3 tremor magnitude). To put that stark reality in perspective; a single nuclear weapon contains more explosive force than all of the bombs dropped on Europe in World Wars I and II combined.

Meanwhile, in February of this year, a bipartisan statement issued by the nation's governors expressed concern that the Bush Administration is stripping the National Guard of the manpower and equipment necessary to respond to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other disturbances. Almost one-third of the American ground forces currently in Iraq are National Guard members. More than $1.2 billion worth of National Guard equipment has been sent to Iraq without having been replaced at home.

The enormous financial cost of the war in Iraq coupled with massive tax cuts for the wealthy (more on that later) is decimating our nation's infrastructure. The Army Core of Engineers warned that the 17th Street Levee in New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen. But before Hurricane Katrina struck, the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress cut funding requests for repairs. A June 2006, audit revealed that, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid more than one billion dollars in fraudulent claims and ordered a half-billion dollars worth of mobile homes that have not been used.

America's infrastructure is now characterized by crumbling bridges and inadequate water tunnels. Our national system of electric power grids is hopelessly antiquated. The issue is not if they will cease to function properly but when.

We have failed to develop an alternative energy policy. That increases our dependence upon the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. Of course, it's also good news for large oil companies. Exxon Mobile posted a $36 billion profit in 2005; the largest one-year profit for any corporation in the history of the United States. Exxon Mobile's projected profits for 2006 are even higher.

Meanwhile, our government is presiding over the continuing deterioration of our planet's infrastructure by despoiling the environment and ignoring the very real danger of global warming.

Global warming results from the burning of coal and oil, which adds billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gasses" to the atmosphere each year. It is on the verge of causing irreversible changes to the earth's climate and ecosystems. Unless we reverse course, oceans will rise to the point where, within the next century, many coastal cities will be dependent on levees for survival.

Economically, the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress have serviced the wealthy in the form of massive tax cuts skewed in favor of the rich and created unprecedented budget deficits that undermine the longterm economic stability of our country.

In the last year of the Clinton Administration, the United States government had a budget SURPLUS of $236 billion. In 2004, there was a budget deficit of $412 billion. The projected deficit for 2006 is $300 billion. The national debt when George Bush took office was $5.8 trillion. It is now approaching $9 trillion. In addition to mortgaging the economic security of future generations, this debt gives foreign holders of United States Treasury obligations (such as China and Saudi Arabia) increased leverage over our economy.

The Bush Administration has also been delinquent in collecting the taxes that are due under law. A February 2006 report by the Department of Commerce found that Americans failed to report more than one trillion dollars in taxable income in 2003 (a 37 percent increase in unreported income from the last year of the Clinton Administration). Needless to say, union workers and others who have taxes withheld from their paychecks are the least likely to cheat.

In July 2006, the Bush Administration revealed plans to cut the number of estate tax lawyers in the Internal Revenue Service from 345 to 188. The audits overseen by these attorneys are the most cost-effective audits in the entire IRS, generating more than $2,200 in delinquent taxes for each hour of legal work expended.

And not only does this administration fail to collect taxes that are due; in July 2006, the IRS acknowledged that it had sent out between $200 million and $300 million in fraudulent tax refunds in the first six months of 2006 because a new computer program designed to catch fraudulent refund claims wasn't operating properly.

According to statistics released by the Treasury Department in April 2006, 32 percent of the Bush tax cuts went to the richest one percent of Americans. Fifty-three percent of the Bush tax cuts went to the richest ten percent. The four hundred taxpayers with annual earned incomes of $87 million or more now pay income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes at the same percentage of their income as people making $50,000 to $75,000 a year.

Yet in May 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress passed another tax cut for the wealthy; this one for five years at a cost of $70 billion. Eighty percent of the benefits in this new enactment will go to individuals in the top ten percent of income recipients. One percent of the benefits will go to individuals in the bottom sixty percent.

Department of Commerce statistics reveal that, in 2005, Americans had a negative personal saving rate. In other words, the American people collectively spent all of their after-tax income and were forced to dip into savings and borrow more money to make ends meet. This phenomenon occurred previously on only two occasions; in 1932 and 1933 at the height of the Great Depression.

The federal minumim wage has been $5.15 an hour since 1997, but the Republican-controlled Congress refuses to increase it. Under federal guidelines, the "poverty line" for a family of three is $16,700. $5.15 an hour translates into $10,712 per year for a forty-hour-a-week minimum-wage job. If the minimum wage for American workers had advanced since 1990 at the same rate as the pay for the chief executive officers of major American corporations, it would now be $23.03 an hour.

This economic inequity extends to virtually every area of American life. Almost a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt warned, "The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they themselves have called into being. There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done."

Yet more and more legislation today, from energy policy to laws governing medical care, is being written by industry lobbyists. The Department of Health and Human Services acknowledges that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance of any kind. A staggering thirty percent of American high school students now leave school without graduating. So much for "no child left behind."

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the Pentagon in 2005 determined that eighty percent of the Marines killed in Iraq from upper-body wounds could have survived if they'd had a form of body armor that had been available since 2003. But despite calls from military field personnel for the armor, the Pentagon declined to supply it because of the cost involved. Which is more important? Tax cuts for the wealthy or life-saving body armor for our soldiers in Iraq?

It also troubles many of us that the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress have placed religion at the core of government policy. In justifying that conduct, they tell us that religion has been inbred in every society since the dawn of civilization. But so have crime and war.

The Bush administration contends global warming is "junk science" but tells us that "intelligent design" should be taught in our public schools. "Intelligent design" is theology, not science. One could, with as much validity, teach the Resurrection in anatomy class.

We're also offended by the use of religious doctrine to curb stem-cell research. Even if one regards the Bible as "the word of God" (some people do and some don't), we don't believe that right-wing clerics should have a monopoly on interpreting it. Jesus is said to have miraculously healed the sick. Isn't stem-cell research consistent with that healing?

The opposition of the Bush Administration to stem cell research is reminiscent of opposition among some elements of the Christian church to the practice of medicine a thousand years ago. The practice of medicine, it was said then, was antithetical to Christianity because it evidenced a lack of faith in God's healing power.

We find it remarkable how many people insist on taking the Bible literally when it comes to stem cell research and teaching evolution in our public schools, but ignore the clear "word of God" when their marriage falls apart and they want a divorce.

Mark Twain once wrote, "If Christ were here now, there is one thing he would not be: a Christian." That's food for thought.

And while we're on the subject of religion, let's take a look at moral values from a slightly different perspective. Earlier this year, the Justice Department subpoenaed every search query entered on Google during a two-month period; ostensibly to help it draft an anti-online-pornography law. Similarly broadbased subpoenas might also be used to search for and prosecute those who download unlawful pornography.

Here's an idea. Let's subpoena the record of Google searches made from Clarence Thomas's home computer. Many Americans remember Justice Thomas's 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings and the allegation that he sexually harassed a subordinate employee at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with repeated references to pornographic videos and a character named "Long Dong Silver".

According to Google, more than forty percent of all Internet users visit at least one pornographic site each month. If Clarence Thomas is one of them, perhaps he should recuse himself from cases involving pornography that make their way to the Supreme Court. And while we're at it, let's not stop with Justice Thomas. I wonder what Antonin Scalia, Karl Rove, Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh, and other guardians of our moral values have been viewing online.

And then there's the whole sordid matter of Florida Congressman Mark Foley and the Republican leadership in Congress. On September 29, 2006, Foley resigned from the House of Representatives when it was revealed by ABC News that he had repeatedly sent sexually explicit email message to underage male pages who worked for several of his colleagues. What makes this matter particularly troubling is that Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner and Thomas Reynolds (chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee) had been advised of the matter months earlier. Reynolds says that he personally raised the issue with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Hastert says that he can't recall the conversation. Either Reynolds or Hastert is lying. One doesn't forget a conversation like that. Meanwhile, through it all, Foley was allowed to retain his position as head of a Congressional caucus on children's issues. The hypocrisy of these people is breathtaking.

When it comes to governing, the Bush Administration has been grossly incompetent. Perhaps that's because government programs are unlikely to succeed when they're administered by people who pay lip service to their purpose while not really believing in them. But there's one area where the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress have been extremely effective. They know how to win elections.

The key to the Republicans' electoral success has been the systematic suppression of voter turnout in minority areas that traditionally vote Democratic and the ability to galvanize single-issue constituencies. Those who oppose gun control vote Republican to the exclusion of other considerations. It doesn't matter that they've lost their health insurance. Those who oppose abortion vote Republican. It doesn't matter if they've fallen below the poverty line. An overwhelming percentage of Evangelical Christians vote Republican regardless of whether or not they favor the war in Iraq. If you're rich and want lower taxes, vote Republican. It's irrelevant that you or a loved one might die from an illness that could be cured by stem cell research.

But from the war in Iraq (symbolized by George Bush's "Top Gun" cameo in front of the now-famous "mission accomplished" banner) to disaster relief efforts in New Orleans ("You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie"), the Bush Administration has been marked by arrogance and incompetence. If a foreign power wanted to undermine the United States, it would hope that we did the following:

(1) Send our troops to fight an unwinnable war that stretches our military capacity to the breaking point and further inflames passions against us throughout the world.

(2) Stand idly by while Iran and North Korea develop nuclear weapons.

(3) Fail to enact common-sense measures to protect our ports, nuclear power plants, chemical factories, and transportation lines against terrorism.

(4) Weaken our economy through inequitable taxation, corruption, and huge budget deficits.

(5) Let our physical infrastructure crumble.

(6) Diminish our educational system through reduced funding and the teaching of religious doctrine as science.

(7) Foul our environment and fail to provide adequate health care for tens of millions of Americans.

Over the past six years, all of the above have been done by the Bush Administration and it allies in Congress. There's a perfect metaphor for their conduct.

On February 11, 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney shot a companion in the chest while they were duck-hunting in Texas. After the shooting, Mr. Cheney exhibited all of the qualities in a personal crisis caused by his own incompetence that the Bush Administration exhibits in political ones.

First, there was secrecy. The shooting occurred at 5:50 PM on a Saturday. It wasn't made public until the following afternoon, when the owner of the ranch where the vice president had been hunting (Katharine Armstrong) telephoned a local newspaper. Then Mr. Cheney's proxies blamed someone else; in this case, the shooting victim for standing in the wrong place (a hunter is always responsible for when and where he shoots).

Initially, the members of Mr. Cheney's hunting party were adamant that no alcohol had been involved. Armstrong was asked and answered "No, zero, zip; no one was drinking." But four days after the shooting, Mr. Cheney sat for an interview with Brit Hume of Fox News and acknowledged that he'd had at least one beer before the incident. He also told Hume that he'd delayed making the shooting public because "this was a complicated story" and he felt that the owner of the ranch should put it out. He didn't say what was complicated about the story or why, if it was complicated, the task of making it public should fall to Armstrong.

The world is moving dangerously close to an irrevocable tipping point. We are living in a time that cries out for a leader like Franklin Roosevelt, who led the United States through the greatest depression and most horrific war that our nation has known. But instead, we have a ruling class that has brought a senseless war in Iraq upon us. It treats 9/11 as a political opportunity, not a grievous loss. It sees national security, not as an urgent imperative but as a building block to achieve other goals. Instead of offering the American people a "New Deal", it has made economic inequity a hallmark of our society. Instead of leading the scientific community, it is intent upon limiting stem cell research and teaching our children "intelligent design."

The Bush Administration and its allies in Congress have failed totally to made the world a better place or our place in it any safer. It's a matter of survival that we begin to reverse the damage that they have done. The way to start that process is by electing a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress on November 7th.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com



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