Prime-Time Purge in the Senate


    “I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important to people across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party.” —Mississippi Congressman Trent Lott In 1984

If Americans expect the impeachment trial of the president to be per verse entertainment along the lines of the O.J. Simpson fiasco, they are likely to be disappointed. Even assuming there is a trial—and not a stop-short censure solution along lines suggested by New York’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan—it will bear little resemblance to a spectacular criminal proceeding.

An impeachment trial, rooted in vague constitutional directives and precedents from the mid-19th century, would differ markedly from criminal trials. For example, a majority of senators could overturn rulings by Chief Justice Rehnquist, and even vote on pretrial motions. And a motion to adjourn that carries by a simple majority could totally shut down the trial.

In fact, the Senate proceedings are more in the nature of a show trial, which does not call to mind historic precedents in American democracy as much as it invites comparisons with trials in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Show trials are pure politics packaged as legal ritual. They have little to do with the law, or even vague moral nostrums that underlie the law, let alone anything to do with ethics. They are purges, conducted by which ever political faction happens to have the upper hand.

A trial of this kind may be appealing to congressional Republicans who want to humiliate the opposition. However, with congressional approval ratings sinking to Starr-like levels, turning the already tarnished Senate into the setting for a political purge risks disaster.

Even now, pundits are speculating that Congress is becoming the arena for a farcical replay of the Civil War, with Southern leaders once again acting out roles of rebellion against the federal government. In this scenario, majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who portrays him self as a spokesman for the New South, is accurately pictured as a GOP leader who reverences links with the likes of Jefferson Davis. As was pointed out in the Sunday New York Times, Lott, then a congressman, stated in 1984: “I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important to people across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party.”

Of course, the inimitable Henry Hyde and his crew of House “managers” will lead the mostly Southern inquisition in the upper chamber. It may be left to West Virginia’s Robert Byrd to repulse the Judiciary Commit tee’s boarding party. Just as important, though probably far more problematic, will be minority leader Tom Daschle’s ability to restrain Clinton from putting his head on the block.

Happy Star Wars New Year

Strangelove Lives

Hottest topic in Washington in the coming year will be more money for the military—everything from rotting infrastructure to new Star Wars systems that wacko politicos believe can stop marauding “rogue states” like Iraq and North Korea from lobbing missiles into the U.S.

Chief beneficiaries of the new arms race will be the Big Three weapons manufacturers—Lockheed Mar tin, Boeing, and Raytheon—which receive one of every four dollars the Pentagon spends on munitions, according to William D. Hartung’s recent study “Military-Industrial Complex Revisited,” which was done for the World Policy Institute.

With the Clinton administration’s recently announced five-year budget plan for the Defense Department, they’ll get even more. The plan calls for a 50 percent increase in weapons procurement—from $40 billion a year now to over $60 billion a year by 2003. Currently at $270 billion a year, the military budget is about as high as it has ever been since the start of the Cold War.

Tightly linked to Congress, into which they pour campaign contributions, defense contractors have become accustomed to getting money they don’t even ask for. Take the C-130 transport, built near Newt Gingrich’s Georgia district. Although since 1978 the Air Force has requested only five of these planes, Congress has authorized the purchase of 256 of them, leading Republican senator John McCain of Arizona to remark that so many have been bought that “we could use them to house the homeless.”

According to Hartung, the extra 251 C-130s don’t go to the Air Force, but are doled out to National Guard units in key members’ districts. More than half will be based at Kessler Air Force Base in Trent Lott’s Mississippi.

However, the biggest rip-off in 1999 will be a revival of Reagan’s loony Star Wars system, which right wingers insist we’ve just gotta have to beat back missiles they imagine will be otherwise raining on the U.S.

Already, Boeing is on board with a $1.6 billion contract to run Star Wars “systems integration.” Lock heed Martin has a prime Army contract for a $3.2 billion Theater High Altitude Defense System, and Raytheon will run a $1.4 billion Theater Wide Defense System for the Navy.

Goaded by conservatives, the ad ministration figures things are getting worse instead of better. Instead of one opponent, there now are numerous “rogue states”; thus, instead of being prepared to fight one war, we’ve got to be ready to fight multiple wars.

Not everyone buys this argument, of course. Military analyst Franklin Spinney calls the Pentagon’s two-war strategy “just a marketing device to justify a high budget.” And Merrill McPeak, Air Force chief of staff during the Gulf War, says, “We should walk away from the two-war strategy. Neither our historical experience nor our common sense leads us to think we need to do this.”

The Prison President

Free Willy Indeed

It’s not fair to attack Clinton as a do-nothing president. Along with the right-wing Republicans in Congress, he has enthusiastically presided over such an invigorated prison-construction program that jails—not education—have become the major growth industry under his tenure.

For instance, in New York over the last decade, spending on prisons has increased by nearly the same amount that spending on higher education has decreased. A joint study by the Justice Policy Institute and the Correctional Association shows that since 1988, spending for city and state universities has fallen by $615 million, while funding for the state department of corrections has risen by $761 million. And New York reflects a national trend: states budgeted 30 per cent more for prisons and 18 percent less for higher education in 1995 than they did in 1987.

Keep in mind that most of those ware housed in this growing industry are low-level, petty, or first-time of fenders. Mandatory sentencing laws generally don’t put hardened criminals away. The Boston Globe, citing department of corrections figures, found that eight of 10 prisoners in Massachusetts are first offenders serving an average of five years—nearly one year longer than the average sentence for violent crime.

“I have never had a really top dealer before me,” said Superior Court Judge Robert Barton, who has been on the bench for 20 years. “In variably they are street dealers or mules… Most do more time than those who commit crimes of violence against another person.”

Another effect of expanded prison construction is that it cuts the number of people who vote. Nearly four million U.S. citizens with felony convictions are denied the vote in 46 states and the District of Columbia, including over one million who have completed their sentences, according to the Sentencing Project. Thirty-two states do not allow felons on parole to vote. Twenty-nine bar the vote for those on probation.

The level of prison-related disenfranchisement in the U.S. (reminiscent of medieval times, when offenders were banished from the community) is unprecedented among democratic countries. Some 1.4 million African American men—13 percent of the adult African American population—are not eligible to vote. Put another way, more than one third of the people who cannot vote in the U.S. are black men.

Disease Raging, Says Establishment Nemesis

Cancer War(d)

Despite the trumpeted “War Against Cancer,” Dr. Samuel Epstein, the public-health expert and nemesis of the cancer establishment, reports in his updated book, The Politics of Cancer Revisited, that the disease is increasing, not declining.

Epstein writes that “From 1950 to 1994, based on the latest published… data, the overall percentage [of cancer] in whites increased by 54 percent [or] approximately 1 percent per annum, while overall rates increased more sharply, by 23 percent, from 1973 to 1994. These increases are real, and persist after adjusting for a slowly aging population and for smoking. Nevertheless, NCI persists in its claims that cancer is a declining public health threat.”

Epstein quotes former National Cancer Institute epidemiologist Dr. John Bailar’s testimony in 1997 before a Senate Labor subcommittee. “I’m convinced that a major emphasis in cancer research should be shifted from cancer treatment to cancer prevention,” Bailar said. “The war against cancer could be judged as a qualified failure.”

The new edition of Epstein’s book includes an account of the work of Dr. Ulrich Abel, an epidemiologist at the University of Heidelberg who found, in Epstein’s words, that “for most patients chemotherapy is, at best, nothing more than a placebo.”

Duck and Cover

Far from being over, the nuclear arms race is entering a virulent new phase. And nowhere more so than in the U.S., where the Clinton administration wants to turn nuclear production over to the free market.

To that end, Bill Richardson, Clinton’s erstwhile international negotiator, now secretary of energy, has been working behind the scenes promoting production of tritium for new nuclear warheads not at military installations, but in commercial nuclear reactors owned by the Tennessee Val ley Authority.

In response to Richardson’s overtures, congressmen Edward Markey of Massachusetts and John Spratt of South Carolina wrote to him last month, stating: “Production of weapons material in any commercial reactor establishes an unacceptable position for the United States in its efforts to stem nuclear proliferation.”

In September, the House voted against allowing tritium production in commercial reactors.