The Body Impolitic


With most people not able to tell the difference between the two major parties, and not bothering to vote, the nation is increasingly run by one of two camps of ideologues.

For many nonvoters, the only brush with political involvement comes through independent candidates and third-party movements that momentarily catch their fancy. Third parties never go anywhere, but they define issues for the main parties. Ross Perot’s Reform Party challenge cost the Republicans votes in the last two elections, while in 2000 a candidacy built around someone like Jesse Ventura could very well hurt the lackluster Al Gore.

In last fall’s Minnesota gubernatorial election, Ventura brought out people who generally don’t bother to vote. Since then he’s been derided as a fool. In fact, he shows all the signs of becoming a skillful pol. In Washington recently, he drew crowds of reporters, who stayed through boring Agriculture Committee hearings. “So,” Ventura said at one point, “for all those naysayers out there who say, ‘Oh, the governor shouldn’t be standing in front of the cameras, the governor shouldn’t be bringing attention to himself,’ and all of that stuff that I get, all the crap from the people that don’t like me out there, well, this is in your face now, because you all can shut up.”

Attacking one of his persistent critics, Darrell McKigney, president of Minnesota’s Taxpayers League and a conservative Republican, Ventura called him a “fat load,” who “ain’t never ran around the block before in his life.”

McKigney claims Jesse is just trying to deflect criticism for such things as state-paid security during book-publicizing trips. “My battle with the governor is not a personal one,”
McKigney said. “He has to realize that he’s the governor now and is not with the AWA [American Wrestling Association] right now.”

Bogus Budget Surplus

Clintons’ Long Con

The Clintons are at it again, this time playing politics with the budget surplus and health care-the president with his unrealistic Medicare proposals and Hillary (a/k/a “the savior of New York” and ever the opportunist), coming on as the loyal opposition in the White House inner sanctum. Has everyone forgotten that it was the Clintons who got the nation into this mess to begin with by trumpeting the so-called savings to be had from com petition in the managed-care industry? Their lack of judgment on health insurance led to higher rates, a worsening system of regulation, and a medical industry that is cracking open at the seams.

As arrogant as the royal couple is, they are hardly alone in taking the public for a ride. They join almost every other politician on Capitol Hill trying to harness the purported bud get surplus to pet “issues” in the 2000 campaign. Guess what? There isn’t any budget surplus (or if there is one, it’s very small).

As yet another study by the reliable Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes clear, the supposed surplus depends on further cutting of
social-welfare programs. Congressional Budget Office projections released last week show that the government will begin running non-Social Security budget surpluses in FY 2000 totaling $996 billion over the next decade. This is the figure politicians throw around when they are projecting tax cuts, talking about shoring up Medicare and Social Security. But it’s entirely unrealistic because it assumes that total expenditures for discretionary programs will remain within what the Center calls “austere and politically unrealistic” levels set by the 1997 budget law. In fact, these programs include defense spending, which both parties are determined to increase. The Center’s number crunching brings the surplus down from nearly $1 trillion to $235 billion.

Tightens Repression of Muslims, Hungarians

Milosevic’s Death Grip

As predicted, Milosevic has begun to tighten his repressive machinery in Serbia while starting low-level ethnic cleansing of the Sanjak Muslims, who live in an area that borders Montenegro. In Montenegro itself, the Serb army, which usually numbers 9500, grew to 40,000 during the war, and remains at that level.

Despite the anti-Milosevic demonstrations in Cazak last week and the Clinton administration’s claim that Milosevic was weakened by the air war, NATO commander Wesley Clark told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Milosevic “has his hands still on the sinews of power in Serbia,” adding, “He controls the army, he controls the police, including a very effective and brutal secret police net work. He controls the economy and finances.”

In the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad, whose large Hungarian population has little love for Milosevic, thousands of people went into the streets last Friday with banners demanding, “Down with Milosevic! Where is the money? Where are the bridges? Where is fuel? Where is electricity?”

“They did not bomb us because we are guilty, but because we are led by a fool,” said opposition politician Nenan Canak. Demonstrators also called for more autonomy for the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina.

Serb ‘Dummies’ Outsmart NATO Bombs

Tanks But No Tanks

NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which involved thousands of sorties and the most sophisticated weapons, damaged only 13 of 300 Serb tanks in Kosovo, according to the London Times. NATO had claimed that up to 60 percent of Serb artillery had been hit and about 40 percent of the Yugoslav army’s main battle tanks had been damaged or destroyed. But Kfor troops found only three damaged T55 tanks left behind in Kosovo. “What we have found is a huge number of dummy tanks,” one source said.

The U.S. claims to have destroyed 122 tanks and 220 troop transporters. Last weekend, Agence France Presse quoted an unnamed military expert in Paris as saying, “I do not believe these figures at all. I think that in strictly military terms, the effects of the strikes were very limited. Very disappointing.”

Vegas Moguls Turn to Democrats

Snake Eyes

Sick and tired of lousy treatment at the hands of right-wing GOP fund-raisers, Vegas wheels are turning to Democrats in hopes that they can re take the House and put the brakes on anti-gaming legislation pushed by Bible Belt congressmen.

Steve Wynn, chairman of Mirage Resorts, and J. Terrence Lanni, head of MGM Grand, met last month with minority leader Dick Gephardt and Ways and Means heavy Charles Rangel. As a result the congressmen collected $250,000 in soft money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from Mirage, according to AP. During the 1997-1998 election cycle the DCCC got over $500,000 in soft money from the gambling industry.

“I’m a Republican,” Lanni was quoted as saying in the Las Vegas Sun. “But from this industry’s stand point, we would be far better off to have the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives.”

Elderly Face Poverty Without Net

Social Insecurity

Census data show that without Social Security, nearly half of the U.S. population age 65 and older would have been living in poverty in 1997, according to a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In New York State, Social Security lowered the proportion of elderly people who were considered impoverished from 50 percent to 15.1 percent. Nationally, Social Security reduced the numbers of elderly poor from 15.3 million to 3.8 million in 1997.

Clinton Eyes Chase Exec for Fed

Right Relationship

Temporarily buried in the news by Kosovo, the Wall Street boom rolls on, with the House finally approving legislation al lowing banks to own brokerages. Al ready passed in the Senate, the big bank merger bill brings back the all-powerful money trusts of the turn of the century. Broken up during the New Deal by the Glass-Steagall Act, banks once again will be free to own anything, including their Wall Street competitors.

Meanwhile, Clinton is screening candidates for two posts on the board of the Fed, the private bankers’ club that-more than Congress or the president-sets rules that affect people’s lives. The president has put out word that he wants to pick at least one director with knowledge of community rein vestment. His administration-at least in theory-is backing the idea that big banks ought to invest in their own backyards. But instead of picking an aggressive mayor, or a community activist, or someone like New York’s public advocate Mark Green, Clinton is considering Carol Parry, head of Chase Manhattan’s Community Development Group.

Additional reporting: Ioana Veleanu