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A Nation at War Against Itself

Two years after 9/11—with armed conflict and vague threats of terrorism still hogging media attention—the Bush administration quietly continues its domestic assault on ordinary Americans

It’s war, stupid. Or at least that has been the unrelenting message from Washington and the media for the past two years. But while Americans have been caught up in the very real concerns of terrorism and overseas invasions, the Bush administration has not been giving foreign policy its whole attention. On the home front, with surprisingly little uproar, Bush and company have been agressively pursuing industry-friendly and radically right-wing policies that are going to hit average Americans hard in every aspect of their lives. The following stories deal with a half-dozen general areas in which the administration is inflicting significant damage: the environment, health, civil liberties, poverty, the privitization of services, and the federal judiciary.

Bush to Business: This Land Is Your Land

Last month, Georgie Rancher went off on a Western jaunt designed to boost his image as a good steward of America’s environment, and targeted key election states that he carried narrowly in 2000.

“The decades of neglect, the decades of failed policy have meant that our forest fires are incredibly hot, incredibly catastrophic,” said President Bush, flanked by Arizona park rangers and surrounded by charred forest. “Our job is to slice through the red tape and to get thinning projects moving forward.” Translation: Ditch the safeguards. Let in the loggers. The policy failures and neglect he mentioned are conservation law and lack of logging in sensitive preserves. While thinning is a necessary form of forest management, what Bush means is more serious and points to a much bigger set of problems than a forest in Arizona.

George W. Bush has the worst environmental record of any president since the EPA was created in 1971 and no one cares. The current administration has been on a tireless and nefarious campaign to gut environmental-protection policies, expand the exploitation of our natural resources—including some that happen to be in protected land—and come off sounding green at the same time. The administration exclusively advances environmental policies embraced by the gas, oil, mining, and logging industries, but not by the nation’s conservation groups.

The Bush agenda started early in his term, by withdrawing the United States from the Kyoto treaty on global warming and advancing a plan to seek energy independence by drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For now ANWR was spared, thanks to citizen outcry, but Bush has made a point of looking at the United States as a vast resource that should be open for the taking; to be stripped of protections, and strip mined for all she is worth—economically speaking, of course.

Under various initiatives, protected areas are now up for logging or drilling, not the least of which are red-rock desert in Utah, sequoias in California, rainforests in Alaska and even parts of Grand Canyon Monument. Furthermore, many programs are suffering from the tax-cut blues; national parks don’t have enough money for basic upkeep, and the federal Superfund program is vastly underfunded, leaving the states with the cleanup requirements for these neglected sites.

Thanks to Bush, more arsenic is allowed in tap water, polluters go unpunished, and his campaign promise to cut carbon-dioxide emissions was taken back saying it was a “mistake,” and those are just the beginning.

“I have sent you a comprehensive energy plan to promote energy efficiency and conservation, to develop cleaner technology, and to produce more energy at home. I have sent you Clear Skies legislation that mandates a 70-percent cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years. I have sent you a Healthy Forests Initiative, to help prevent the catastrophic fires that devastate communities, kill wildlife, and burn away millions of acres of treasured forest,” said President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union Address.

The reality: Clear Skies is expected to result in over 40 million tons more pollutants into the air over the next 15 years, creating public health hazards and thereby costing millions in tax dollars. The Healthy Forests Initative seeks to open many forests to roads for logging, supposedly to help prevent forest fires, although the evidence indicates roads actually increase the risk of fire.

In the cases of water and air pollution, the administration severely weakened key provisions of the long-standing Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. Up to 20 million acres of wetlands, lakes and streams will be opened to development under a proposal lifting federal protection of “isolated waters.” Polluters are increasingly getting off easier when it comes to clean-up, while states are being forced to pick up the task and the tab. The newest, perhaps most outrageous, development in the chain of dastardly deregulation and preposterous PR campaigning was the rolling back of a vital section of the Clean Air Act last month.

The Bush administration signed a rule permitting changes to industrial plants without simultaneously installing new anti-pollution controls—even if the changes will increase pollution—provided that the replacements cost less than 20 percent of the plant’s core production equipment. Under the Clean Air Act’s “new source review” provision, new pollution control devices were required when over 20 percent of a plant was being replaced.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed suit, along with 13 other attorneys general, in federal court this year to preserve and reinstate effective new source review. After the new rules were enacted, Spitzer said in a statement, “Relaxing pollution regulations to legalize harmful smokestack emissions that have been illegal for decades is like relaxing accounting rules to solve the Enron fiasco.”

And what’s worse? The administration tore up the Clean Air Act under an interim EPA administrator. So no one will have to take the blame for gutting the act, especially not the nominated replacement for Christine Todd Whitman, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. While Whitman had a respectable record as a moderate Republican interested in greener business practices, Leavitt has no such credentials. As a governor, he advocated far less regulation at the federal level, and the use of financial incentives rather than protection standards. Leavitt’s Senate confirmation hearings will be later this month.

The Bush administration, packed with business-friendly players at every level, will continue removing the teeth from 40 years of environmental-protection regulations, as well as from the EPA itself. Its policies have so far successfully flown below the radar of the public and the media while attention focused overseas, in what can only be called de facto deception. This administration’s abhorrent record has been far more dedicated to advancing the interests of industry and business than it is to protecting our environment.

As Mike Smith, an assistant secretary in the Department of Energy, told the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia last year, “The biggest challenge is going to be how to best utilize taxpayer dollars to the benefit of industry.”

—Ashley Hahn

Everything Must Go

Want to buy a passenger railroad? Step right up and buy a piece of a special oil reserve designed to protect consumers from winter shortages. For you sharp-eyed state governors and legislators, there’s a 40-year-old anti-poverty program soon to be available in tasty, easily digestible block-grant form. Perhaps, instead, some of you multinational reps might be interested in bidding on the jewel of this fire sale: employment contracts for nearly a million federal jobs.

Come one, come all: The Bush administration (and its neoconservative fellow travelers) would love to talk to you. It’s privatization time.

Ronald Reagan liked to say that he wanted to get government off of the backs of the American people; Bush the Younger wants to wrestle government to the ground and slit its throat.

The most stunning example of this is the Bush administration’s plan, announced in November 2002, to privatize approximately 850,000 federal government jobs that the Office of Management and Budget described as “commercial in nature.” The plan—which was put into effect through directives from the OMB—is to put these positions out to bid. Employees in nearly every arm of the government would be affected, from Justice Department policy analysts to employees of the National Park Service.

The high-minded, stated motive is cost savings. “This is inherent,” the Associated Press quoted OMB spokesperson Trent Duffy as saying, “to getting the taxpayers the best deal for their dollars and the best service from the government.”

Naturally, the affected workers don’t see it this way. A rally held on May 20, 2003 (at the time the privatization initiative formally went into effect), brought together a coalition of civil rights groups and federal-employee unions. They expressed concerns about job security, possible downward pressures on wages, and the danger that formerly nonpolitical jobs could be hijacked by those with an ideological agenda.

A beautifully simple question about “competitive bidding” with regard to federal employment was raised earlier (in December 2002) by a particularly trenchant editorial in the St. Petersburg Times (Fla.): “What model of federal contracting does the president seek to emulate?”

The editorial went on to wonder if the administration wanted to repeat some of the worst excesses of federally sponsored competitive bidding: “The $2.69 self- locking nut the Defense Department bought from its contractor for $2,185.50? The 30 contractors that were identified by the Project on Government Oversight as having been fined $3.4 billion for federal violations while continuing to keep government contracts worth more than $100 billion? The four corporations that last year raked in $2.7 billion in federal contracts while using Panama and Bermuda as their headquarters to avoid paying U.S. taxes?”

In a stunning reversal for the Bush administration on Sept. 9, 2003, the House of Representatives passed a measure that kills these new competitive- bidding privatization rules. The House also, against the wishes of the president, voted a 4.1-percent raise for federal employees. The true believers in the West Wing are unfazed, however: A presidential veto has been threatened.

Every day, George W. Bush, his administration and the rest of their government- and think-tank-based ideological ilk reveal another facet of a truly jaw-dropping radicalism. To paraphrase columnist Maureen Dowd, they want to take us back to the ’50s—the 1850s. These unapologetic reactionaries seem to believe that the best form of government is that which essentially ceases to exist. Consider:

In July 2000, after a particularly tough winter that saw a spike in the price of home heating oil, then-President Clinton established a special “home heating oil reserve,” which could be released into the marketplace in case of emergency. It took George W. Bush exactly a month and a half in office before he suggested privatizing the management of the reserve. Congress has so far resisted this plan.

As of this writing, Congress is debating the reauthorization of the Head Start program for low-income preschoolers. Republicans and Democrats generally agree that this still-extant remnant of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which offers nutrition, health and education services, is a success. The Bush administration has proposed, however, a pilot plan that would turn the money and administration over to the states in the form of block grants. At the very worst, critics see this as a backdoor way to begin the dismantling of Head Start; at least, they fear that a lack of federal control will dilute Head Start’s mission.

Also as of this writing, the Bush administration is locked in a game of chicken with the Congress over the national passenger railroad, Amtrak. The administration wants to break up Amtrak into three companies: a private passenger railroad that operates under state contracts, another company that would operate the Northeast Corridor, and an Amtrak “shell” that would retain the corporate name and compete with the private sector to operate passenger services.

Never mind that the freight railroads—over whose track Amtrak must operate—are opposed. Never mind that a similar privatization plan undertaken by the United Kingdom a decade ago was a disaster. Never mind that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)—a passenger-rail advocate—has said that “if you turn Amtrak over to the states, it’s gone.” Nothing deters the Bushies; according to a July 29, 2003, report in the Associated Press, an unnamed Department of Transportation official insisted that the program, though it may require “a leap of faith,” will work.

Faith. For these believers, as Iraq has so definitively illustrated, it’s all about faith-based policymaking. (Let’s not even mention the recent Bush-appointed postal commission plan to gut the United States Postal Service.) As moderate Republican commentator and historian Kevin Phillips has observed, red-meat, unregulated capitalism is especially at home in George W. Bush’s Texas, “where market fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism have joined to create a uniquely strident culture.” “In Texas,” Phillips wrote, “government doesn’t get in the way of ‘bidness.’ ”

To George W. Bush, the bidness of government is bidness.

—Shawn Stone

Do You Feel More Secure?

In the two years that have followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, our government has peddled a number of bureaucratic fixes to make the homeland more secure and quiet the nerves of the American people.

A congressional inquiry into intelligence lapses that may have led to the attacks was undertaken and, at the request of victims’ families, a citizens’ commission was formed to offer independent verification to Congress’s official report. In an attempt to better focus domestic defense and intelligence, the Bush administration created the Department of Homeland Security, a mammoth, umbrella bureaucracy overseeing most of the nation’s security organizations. The vein in the forehead of Ashcroft’s Department of Justice seethed as the attorney general expressed rabid enthusiasm for tracking and punishing enemy combatants and “domestic terrorists.”

These steps were supposed to ensure that America was a better, safer place in the post-Sept. 11 era. But questions have surfaced with these measures: Has the Bush administration been withholding information from the independent citizens’ commission? Is the federal government doing enough to ensure domestic security? Do the plans for stopping further terrorist attacks go too far?

The independent 9/11 commission was to start with the official congressional inquiry into what was known by U.S. intelligence, and when, and how that information could have been used to stop the horrific events of Sept. 11. When Congress’s report was issued in July, the independent commission’s investigators were infuriated, but not surprised, to find 28 consecutive blacked-out pages that are said to fault the Saudi Arabian government for being soft on extremist groups within its borders.

The move didn’t come as too much of a surprise to the independent investigators who for months had been claiming that the White House was dragging its feet on document and interview requests. Members of the 9/11 commission are seeking memos, interoffice communications and other documents explaining what the Clinton and Bush administrations knew of terrorist intentions in the years leading up to the attacks. But despite initial claims from the White House that the independent commission would be given unfettered access to sensitive and classified intelligence, a DOJ-minder has been put in charge of reviewing all of the commission’s document requests. As of yet, no information requests have been denied, but the process has been considerably slowed.

Thomas H. Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey who serves as chairman of the independent commission, recently issued a report stating that his group may not complete its inquiry by the strict deadline imposed by the White House, of May 2004. As for an extension, Kean told The Wall Street Journal on July 8 that “the White House has made it known they don’t want it to go into election period.”

The amount of money Washington has allocated for homeland defense and emergency preparedness since the creation of the Homeland Security Department has come under fire as well. The Council on Foreign Relations, a relatively moderate think tank, issued a report June 30 stating that Washington was planning on shirking its responsibility to fund homeland defense and emergency first-responders nationwide, spending one-third of what it should.

As predicted, a few weeks later both houses of Congress passed an appropriations bill dedicating approximately $39 billion dollars to be doled out to states in grants over the next five years. The council’s report called for $98.4 billion to be spent on emergency preparedness over the next five years, a number that the Department of Homeland Security called inflated. The council’s report said that these grants should cover or reimburse local governments for providing adequate breathing apparatus and communications equipment to fire and police departments and could also help local hospitals equip their facilities with cordoned-off units to deal with victims of chemical or biological attacks.

Emergency-preparedness officials across the country obviously don’t find the council’s figures inflated, as stories have been cropping up nationwide about local first-response teams being unprepared to deal with a terrorist attack.

“I think, on a countywide basis, we’re poorly prepared,” Capt. Steven Wilson, a member of Westchester’s Disaster Preparedness Committee, told the Journal News, an online newspaper for Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties. “Funds coming into Westchester, be it from the federal government or the state, are very little. There’s a lot of empty promises.”

Under the adopted federal spending bill, which ensured that all states received money rather than focus funds on states likely to be attacked, New York received the highest dollar amount of funding, about $321 million. But according to an AP analysis of the funding formula, the state of Wyoming received more than double the amount of money per capita, $36, than did New York, $17. Some, like New York’s Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, have called for a threat-based funding formula, but the idea didn’t amount to much more than a press release.

The bright spot in the homeland security appropriations bill though was a buried passage repealing one of the nastier provisions of Ashcroft’s Patriot Act, following on the heels of three states and over 158 legislative bodies nationwide who’ve called for the repeal of all or parts of the act. Congress nullified the legislation’s so-called “sneak and peak” provision that allowed law-enforcement officials to, without warrants, enter the homes of “domestic terrorists,” a term so broadly defined in the act that it could encompass social activists.

Critics have assailed the Patriot Act, a voluminous piece of legislation hastily passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist and Capitol Hill anthrax attacks in 2001, for weakening many constitutional checks on law enforcement, like the need for warrants and probable cause. The act, which is being challenged in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union, gives the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies easier access to citizens’ medical, student and library records.

But instead of a national debate on the merits of trading civil liberties for “safety,” instead of answers to lingering questions about homeland security spending and the defanged 9/11 commission, we get sales pitches. As this goes to press, the attorney general of the United States is making a nationwide bus tour trying to sell the Patriot Act, hocking the idea that civil-liberties infringements are helping us win the war on terrorism. Are you buying?

—Travis Durfee

Fervor in the Court

The process of judicial nominations is always contentious.

As vacancies appear in the federal judiciary, which consists of 645 district judges, 179 appellate judges, and nine Supreme Court Justices, all with lifetime appointments, the sitting president nominates candidates to fill the void. In our system of checks and balances, the Senate is responsible for ensuring that the president’s selections are fit to decide some of the country’s most important cases.

When there is political balance in Washington, circumstance forces the president to nominate judges who won’t create partisan waves. But such circumstance is not ours. Republicans control the White House and hold slim majorities in both houses of Congress. When the stampede of elephants trampled into D.C. in January, critics began sounding the alarms. With such an imbalance in legislative and executive power, went the warning cry, Republicans might be able to stack the courts with conservative, activist judges in an attempt to overturn a number of longstanding decisions like Roe v. Wade. If those were the warning cries, Bush is certainly living up to his end of the bargain, according to Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School.

“The Bush administration has nominated some individuals who are just clearly unacceptable,” Bonventre says. “Not all or even most of their nominees are unacceptable, but some, for example Miguel Estrada, Priscilla Owen from Texas, Bill Pryor from Alabama, I mean these are right-wing ideologues far out of the mainstream.”

While it is typically the job of the judicial branch of the government to enforce existing laws, circuit and appellate judges often have the power to make decisions on landmark cases that could change the laws as they are written.

In reality, only a handful of Bush’s judicial nominations have been blocked by Senate Democrats on the grounds that the nominees are too conservative, have shown a racial bias or are opposed to abortion.

On his Web site, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, keeps a tally of judicial nominations since Bush took office. Of Bush’s 196 nominees, 146 have been confirmed and three have been “stalled,” reads the site—numbers that Bonventre says shows that not all Bush nominees have faced such challenges.

“When Bush nominated Richard Wesley, a member of New York Court of Appeals,” Bonventre says, “he went through unanimously with the backing of [Sens.] Schumer and Clinton. The reason was because he’s not a nut, he is not an ideologue.”

Two of the three judges mentioned, Estrada and Owen, have faced the strongest opposition with Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee enacting a filibuster that has halted hearings on their nominations for the past two years. Critics said Estrada, who just last week withdrew his name from consideration, offered little written record to explain his judicial philosophies. Senate Democrats said without such information they could not properly evaluate Estrada. Owen, a State Supreme Court Justice in Texas, was criticized for being an outspoken opponent of Roe v. Wade.

The Senate Dems’ attempts to block judges like Owen and Pryor—who backed Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s refusal to remove a monument emblazened with the Ten Commandments from one of the state’s judicial buildings—has infuriated the Bush administration. Republicans in Washington, conservative groups and right-wing talk shows have attempted to paint Senate Democrats as unprecedented obstructionists impeding the country’s criminal justice system, a claim that isn’t quite true, according to Bonventre.

“You know the Republicans do the same thing when you have a Democratic president,” he says. “This kind of thing has been going on since the beginning of the republic.” Bonventre adds that Republicans gave President Clinton an equal if not more difficult hassle when they gained control of Congress in 1994.

But Bonventre says that the Republican criticism is more than just faulty short-term memory; it is a calculated political strategy. Bonventre explains that by pushing such ideologically biased judicial candidates, Democrats are forced into the obstructionist role.

“The political gain is that there are only so many filibusters. There are only so many nominees that the Democrats can hold up without there being the possibility of considerable public backlash,” Bonventre says. “If he can convince the American public that the Democrats are impeding the proper filling of judicial vacancies, well then it will be a lot easier for Bush to nominate who he chooses.”

—Travis Durfee

And Getting Poorer

Editor’s note: Over the past week and a half, two new reports have been released presenting compelling evidence that more and more Americans are slipping into poverty. A U.S. Census Bureau report reported that the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by more than 1.3 million last year, despite economists’ reports that the country technically edged out of a recession. And many of those left behind—more than 600,000, according to the Census—were children. Overall, 19.8 percent of American children under age 5 live below the poverty line.

Another study, by Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group the National Low Income Housing Coalition, titled Out of Reach 2003, reported that in 40 states, renters need to earn at least twice the federal minimum wage in order to afford basic housing. With both unemployment and deficits on the rise, experts noted, the two most likely routes to more people being able to afford rents—increased housing subsidies and higher wages—do not appear to be on the horizon.

In light of these reports, Bush administration critics noted the irony of his recently enacted child-tax credits, which gave nothing to approximately 6.5 million low-income working families with children.

Break out the champagne on Wall Street! A new report is out called Labor Market Left Behind, coauthored by Economic Policy Institute senior economist Jared Bernstein and the institute’s president, Lawrence Mishel. “Unemployment has continued to trend upward, from 5.6 percent in November 2001 to 6.2 percent in July 2003. . . . (There are) three unemployed people for every job opening. . . . Unemployment has risen 0.6 percentage points overall and 1.3 points among African Americans,” according to Bernstein and Mishel.

And get this: “Employment opportunities have declined more for college graduates than for high school dropouts. Underemployed workers—those working fewer hours than they want to or in a job for which they are overqualified—reached double digits (10.2 percent) in July 2003.” And that doesn’t include the 2 million workers who’ve stopped looking for work in this abysmal job market.

Fortunately for the Bush administration, the question “Who would Jesus bomb?” is crowding other important inquiries, such as, “How do we end poverty as we know it?”

Loyola University’s distinguished professor of law, William P. Quigley, addresses the latter question in his new book Ending Poverty As We Know It (Temple University Press). You should check it out, even if you’re too busy trying to make ends meet.

The book is full of facts kept safely away from the consciousness of the voting public. For starters, Quigley reports: “There are approximately 30 million people in the United States who are working full-time but earning poverty-level wages.”

Now, add to that the 15 million or so who are either out of work or are working part-time but would love to be working full-time, and we’ve got one big, good-news story for the investors who, like a teenager reading Penthouse, get their jollies from reports of surplus labor.

“Historically, the first response to poverty has been to advise the poor to work. But if the poor are already working or cannot find a job, what’s the next response? Usually, silence. And because of that silence, more and more people join the ranks of the poor,” Quigley writes.

Of course, we have this persistent belief that work is the way out of poverty and into affluence. “While I applaud the sincerity of these beliefs,” Quigley observes, “as a longtime student of poverty issues I know that they simply are not true.”

Then he suggests we ask ourselves the following questions: Do you think that every person who wants to work should have the opportunity to do so? And, do you think that every person who works full-time should earn enough to be self-supporting?

In speaking in various venues across the country, Quigley gets an overwhelming “yes” to those questions.

The problem, as was so pointedly stated by University of Washington professor Diana Pearce, “this is not about people doing a bad job of budgeting or making bad choices. They simply don’t have enough to make it.”

Quigley’s solution? A Constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to a job with a living wage. You’ll have to read the book to understand his proposal and how it would work. The idea is not a new one. Martin Luther King made similar proposals back in the ’60s.

Speaking of which, since 9/11, we’ve had two Martin Luther King Days and two “celebrations” of his Aug. 28, 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Yet, somehow, we manage to forget that King was assassinated while working in solidarity with unionized Memphis sanitation workers seeking a living wage.

As we follow policies that lead us further down the path of escalating violence and destruction, we take time out to get all warm and fuzzy, holding hands singing kumbaya, congratulating ourselves about integration or bad-mouthing the goals of affirmative action while citing King’s famous “content of our character” line, which our neoconservative brothers and sisters have shamelessly wrenched out of context.

—Sean Gonsalves

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.

Prescription for Disaster

Profit motives and rigid moral proscriptions have a bad record of keeping anyone healthy—but if the current administration has its way, that may be all Americans have to go on. From privatizing major health programs to investigations of local organizations, ideology is being hidden inside a thin veneer of concern for Americans’ health.

The battle over prescription drugs for Medicare is perhaps the top health priority for the Bush administration, says Richard Kirsch, executive director of Citizen Action of New York, and it is the most fundamental health-care battle since the Clinton reform attempts in the mid-’90s. Everyone wants a prescription-drug benefit for seniors added to Medicare, and many groups like the AARP are pushing hard for it to be delivered. But the details of the current bills, especially the one that passed the House of Representatives, clearly show that the driving force is something other than getting seniors affordable prescriptions.

Kirsch and others say that the underlying motivation of the prescription-drug bill appears to be the privatization of Medicare. The prescription benefits (which are quite weak, due to high deductibles and gaps in coverage) are delivered through private insurance companies, and the bills forbid the government to negotiate for reduced prices with the pharmaceutical companies like the Canadian government (or our own Veterans Administration) does. Such negotiations have saved veterans 40 percent on drug costs.

But more troubling is that embedded in the House’s prescription drug bill is a provision that will force the traditional Medicare program to bid competitively against private insurance plans, beginning in 2010. Those who are accepted—the younger and healthier—are likely to enter private insurance programs, says Kirsch, leaving the public system straddled with those with the worst needs, decreasing its ability to compete and increasing its premiums.

“The thing that’s ironic is that Medicare has a better history of controlling costs than private insurance even though it deals with older, sicker people,” Kirsch says. The privatization of Medicare would be an immeasurable setback for anyone supporting universal national heath care.

The privatization provisions are not in the Senate version of the bill, and Ron Pollock of Families USA is optimistic that the Senate version—which also contains better provisions for low-income seniors—will prevail.

At least Medicare has a bastion of supporters. More vulnerable, according to some observers, is Medicaid, which has also come under ideological attack. Earlier this year, Republicans were attempting to change Medicaid from an entitlement program to a block grant program. As it stands now, the federal government guarantees to the states a matching percentage of the full cost of coverage for people who qualify. With block grants, there would be a cap on the program, and states would get a finite amount of money to spend as they see fit—possibly even on things other than health care for the poor.

The cover for this attack was providing fiscal relief to struggling state governments. But in the face of an active campaign against the proposal, Democratic governors—whose support was considered crucial—didn’t buy it. The bill has not been withdrawn, but it is not likely to be acted on this year. Still, Pollock says it’s certain to come up again.

When it comes to reproductive rights, the administration’s ideology is rather more well-known, but it is still being pushed harder than may appear on first blush. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, for example, which has been proposed several times in the past and is now being considered again by both houses of Congress with administration support, is supposedly about “protecting women and children.” It makes an embryo or fetus a person for the purpose of criminal law. But reproductive-rights activists, and even many people who work on domestic-violence issues, are opposed to the bill, says Robert Jaffe, spokesman for the National Abortion Rights Action League, because it doesn’t actually reduce violence, but does set a dangerous precedent of legally recognizing embryos as people.

“It’s a false attempt to protect women from violence. It’s an attempt to play with the American public, sneak something through whose goal is ending legal abortion,” says Jaffe. UVVA supporters are coy about the connection. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a supporter of the act, told CNN in May, “They say it undermines abortion rights. It does undermine it. But that’s irrelevant.”

NARAL and other reproductive-rights advocates are supporting additional penalties for anyone who attacks a pregnant woman.

The “partial-birth abortion” ban, which has been passed by both houses and is in conference committee, also is more aggressive than it seems. “Partial-birth abortion is a made-up, nonscientific term,” says Jaffe. Most people think it refers to a specific procedure that happens in the third trimester, he says, when in fact it is incredibly vague in a “very creative, ingenious effort to incorporate abortions that happen in the second trimester.”

Bush’s opposition to abortion is well-known, and he made it even clearer on Aug. 29 when he extended the “global gag rule” to state department money. The gag rule, an executive order, prevents U.S. AIDS funding from going to any group that provides or encourages abortion. But this administration’s moral absolutism is not limited to the abortion debate. Quietly, while reaping qualified praise for finally directing some funds to fighting AIDS in Africa, the Bush administration has been imposing its rigid sexual mores on the fight against AIDS at home.

A recently announced policy at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is redirecting AIDS funding toward identifying and tracking people who are HIV-positive rather than providing comprehensive risk-prevention and education. “This is going to defund programs in minority-controlled organizations that are doing culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach,” says Mark Hayes, statewide organizer for Housing Works. They want to “identify and track, with no means to put people into care,” he continues, saying that he gets quite nervous hearing “this administration talk about a . . . national behavior surveillance system.”

Even more chilling, the New York City newsmonthly City Limits reported in its Sept./Oct. issue that the administration has launched investigations into and audits of a number of prominent AIDS-prevention organizations, accusing them of using CDC money for “promoting sex” in their education work.

From the insidious to the absurd, there are multiple fronts to the health care battle, and among advocates on every side, there’s a sense that the onslaught is just beginning.

—Miriam Axel-Lute


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