Feeding-Tube Frenzy


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Coming during Easter week, the Terri Schiavo feeding-tube event is D.C. political lifesaving at its best.

The Christian right has been growing frustrated with Bush. He’s been shilly-shallying around on the marriage amendment, and it now looks like it will take ages to happen. Condi has been running her mouth on abortion, saying the government shouldn’t mess around with a person’s private business. What’s that all about? Rehnquist doesn’t die and he won’t go. So when does Roe v. Wade get overturned? And what’s the problem about displaying the Ten Commandments? Is it true the Catholic Church is going to fight the death penalty? C’mon, Mr. President, get with the program!

No wonder Bush ran like a stuck pig back to the White House and stayed up late to sign the Terri bill.

As a practical bit of politics, the victor here is Tom DeLay, who is not only the Christian right’s man in the House, but to all intents and purposes the real House Speaker. He called the House action a “Palm Sunday compromise.” Official House Speaker Dennis Hastert did his part, according to The Washington Post, when he “presided over the three-hour debate and he quoted Pope John Paul II on the subject of life-sustaining treatments.” Actually, the pope has made it clear he doesn’t want to be artificially kept alive.

Reinvigorated, the Christian right might help Bush accomplish some of his more secular goals, like changing Social Security, gaining final approval for Alaska oil drilling, and increasing the amounts of money for Iraq and other wars.

At first, Terri Schiavo looked like a win-win situation for Bush. The Democrats could muster only token opposition. Lobbyists for the disabled were sympathetic to Bush. And from DeLay’s point of view, Terri draws some attention away from his own campaign-finance scandal.

But by Monday night, the possibility of a backlash had arisen. In an ABC poll released earlier in the day, 60 percent of those surveyed wanted the federal government to stay out of the Schiavo case. Later in the day, attorneys in Texas claimed that Bush, while governor, had signed a law that would have indeed permitted removal of a feeding tube in situations similar to Schiavo’s. If so, that would make Bush look like the most cynical of politicians.

To keep the SUVs running, there may be other wars for energy

Energy for war

Schiavo may have shoved what’s left of the Alaska oil issue off the front pages, but oil prices aren’t going anywhere but up, and there’s a dawning realization that the U.S. may very well have to go to war with China to guarantee enough oil for SUV families.

The world is definitely not running out of oil. But known reserves are running down and, based on sound geological analysis, huge new future reserves are unlikely, even in places like Iraq, where oil deposits have not been fully mapped.

A tightening oil supply puts the U.S. in a delicate situation vis-à-vis China, now the world’s second-largest energy consumer, and increasingly our rival for untapped oil and gas—like in the Caspian Sea area, where we and Europe are trying to suck oil westward, while the Chinese build pipelines to carry it east.

The Chinese have opened oil development projects in South America, one of the areas we have been trying to exploit more fully in an effort to diversify away from the Middle East. They are also interested in developing the Canadian tar sands, an enormous but expensive source of petroleum.

Against these swings in energy trade, drilling for oil in Alaska is almost inconsequential, and at any rate, it presages what soon will become an all-out Bush push for plundering our public lands—there’s gas along the eastern front of the Rockies, oil and gas still untapped in the Gulf of Mexico, and even some along both the East and West coasts. The details of Alaskan drilling must still be worked out either by both houses of Congress as they draw up their respective budget resolutions or in energy committees where precise arrangements are noted.

Environmentalists may want to preserve pristine land from spoilage and see alternative energy more speedily developed. But as last week’s report from the Center for Responsive Politics makes clear, money calls the shots in Washington. And it comes from the oil companies that want to drill. Since 1989 the oil and gas industry has contributed $179.7 million to federal candidates and political parties, with three-quarters going to Republicans.

The center points out: “Two oil companies, ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil, rank among the top all-time campaign contributors. ChevronTexaco has contributed $8.9 million since 1989 in individual, PAC, and soft-money donations, 75 percent to Republicans. The company, second-largest oil producer in the country, has spent more than $38 million since 1997 to lobby Congress and the federal government. ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil producers, has contributed $8.2 million since 1989 in individual, PAC, and soft-money donations, 87 percent to Republicans. The company has spent more than $62 million on lobbying since 1997.”

ExxonMobil is a member of Arctic Power, a nonprofit umbrella group that includes state oil and gas associations and the Alaska Chamber of Commerce. Arctic Power is endorsed by the Alaska state legislature and is solidly for drilling, saying it will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

The Teamsters Union, which normally supports Democratic candidates, also is all for the new drilling and is trying to swing votes in Washington. Alaska’s Republican senator Ted Stevens works with the Teamsters on the issue. Alaska’s other senator, Lisa Murkowski, won a tight election campaign last year. She received nearly $200,000 from oil and gas companies and is all for drilling, as is the state’s sole representative, Don Young. He too draws financial support from the industry.

Democracy in hot water

George Bush’s march to spread democracy across the Islamic world proceeds across the Middle East, but it comes to a halt in the Caspian Sea basin at the borders of Uzbekistan. Since the mujahideen war to expel the Soviets in the 1980s, Uzbekistan has been of great interest to U.S. policy makers and politicians, who have long viewed the former Soviet republic as the soft underbelly of the Soviet Union.

During that war it was a staging point for Soviet supply lines into Afghanistan. Under the leadership of Reagan CIA chief William Casey, the agency worked with the mujahideen to run border raids into Uzbekistan. The thrill of attacking the Soviets on their home turf exhilarated the Americans and must have seemed like just payback for the Soviets having put missiles in Cuba.

Times have changed, and now we control Uzbekistan. It has become a major base for our war efforts in Afghanistan, and when it comes to democratic institutions and their beneficent results, well, we just look the other way. “Independent human rights groups estimate that there are more than 600 politically motivated arrests a year in Uzbekistan, and 6,500 political prisoners, some tortured to death,” reported The Guardian of London, which added, “According to a forensic report commissioned by the British embassy, in August two prisoners were even boiled to death.”

We used to condemn such Uzbek activities as boiling prisoners to death, but since we made it a base, “the government of President Islam Karimov has become Washington’s new best friend in the region.”

Culled from the files of, here is a list of the U.S. officials who have visited and paid homage to Uzbekistan: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of state Colin Powell, former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, then first lady Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state Madeleine Albright, General Tommy R. Franks, General Richard B. Myers, General Anthony Zinni, and numerous senators and representatives from both parties, including McCain, Lieberman, Daschle, Gramm, and Shelby. In turn, Karimov visited the U.S. in March 2002 and was warmly greeted by Bush and Rumsfeld.

Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte