Issue One: Senator Trent Lott's Political Troubles Multiply after his Pro-Strom Thurmond Remarks

Issue Two: Al Gore Announces He Will Not Run for the Presidency in 2004




The 2002 Election and Problems with the Polls

The Meaning and Aftermath of the 2002 Election

Al- Qaida Attacks U.S. Marines In Kuwait; One Marine Is Killed As The Global Threat Of Terrorism Intensifies

Who Should Receive Smallpox Vaccinations?

Once Again, Florida’s Voting System Falters

The U.S. Again Characterizes Iraq as a Serious Threat to both American Security and the Legitimacy of The United Nations

The Democrats Consider Their Presidential Candidates for 2004 as Gore, Lieberman, and John Kerry Maneuver

A Florida Judge Rules That the State’s Voucher Law is Unconstitutional

The Bush Administration and its Position on Global Warming

President Bush Proposes a Solution to the Problems Plaguing Tom Ridge and "Homeland Security": A New Cabinet Department Is Needed

The Bush Administration Proposes a Reinterpretation of the Second Amendment (Gun Control)

The Problems Plaguing Tom Ridge and "Homeland Security"

The U.S. Senate passes its version of the Election Reform Bill

Congress Acts To Overhaul The Immigration And Naturalization Service (INS)

The House of Representatives finally passes the Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform Bill

The Bush Administration "Targets" Iraq

Osama bin Laden: The potential of nuclear weapons; His verbal attack upon the United Nations/Secretary General; and the long-term threat posed by him to Saudi Arabia

The "butterfly ballot" cost Al Gore the election but the issue of "overvotes/undervotes" remains controversial; Will electoral reforms follow?

Was Iraq involved in the September 11TH terrorist bombings?

Former Attorney-General Janet Reno Announces that She will Run in the 2002 Florida Governor's Race

Terrorists Strike the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The Lockerbie Verdict and the Problem of International Terrorism

Linda Chavez, President-Elect Bush's First Choice for Labor Secretary, Withdraws Her Name From Consideration

Revisiting Disputes Ballots in Florida and Looking Toward 2002, 2004

The Bush Presidential Transition, Challenges Facing His Administration, and Lingering Issues From Election 2000

Will America's Voting System Be Reformed After Election 2000?

Should The Electoral College Be Abolished?

Middle East Upheaval, The USS Cole Bombing and Election 2000

The Cheyney-Lieberman Vice-Presidential Debate

George W. Bush Retools His Campaign

Election 2000: Key States, Polls, and the Electoral College

Bush vs. Gore on the "Hollow Military" Issue

When Will America Have Its First Woman President?

The United States and Vietnam Sign an Historic Trade Agreement

The Florida Class-Action Suit Against Big Tobacco

Ralph Nader and The Green Party - A Threat To Al Gore?

A Report From the National Commission on Terrorism

The National Rifle Association "Strikes Back" Against Al Gore and Gun Control Advocates

Senator John McCain's "Endorsement" of Governnor George W. Bush

Who Will Gore and Bush Choose as Their Vice-Presidential Running Mates?

The "Flag Desecration Amendment" Dies in the U.S. Senate

The Supreme Court, The FDA, and the Tobacco Industry

The Dawn of Internet Voting

OPEC, Rising Gasoline/Fuel Heating Prices, and the Administration's Response

President Clinton's Proposal To "Licencse" Handguns

The Commission on Presidential Debates and Third Political Parties

The Results of the Iowa Caucuses and Their Implications

Senator Trent Lott's Political Troubles Multiply after his Pro-Strom Thurmond Remarks

     Senator Trent Lott (R, Miss.) was looking forward to reacquiring the position of Senate Majority Leader in 2003 after 2002 election results gave the Republicans control of the U.S. Senate. Lott had been toppled from that post after Senator James Jeffords' (now an "Independent" from Vermont) defection from the GOP had given the Democrats a 50-49 majority. Tom Daschle had become the Senate Majority Leader. But the swing of several Senate seats to the Republicans in the midterm elections had now reinstated Lott in that leadership position for 2003. But Lott, in what many political commentators (even diehard talk-radio conservatives like Rush Limbaugh) saw as an incredibly stupid blunder for such an experienced politician, literally shot holes in his political standing by proclaiming unbridled enthusiasm for Strom Thurmond and his 1948 pro-segregation "Dixiecrat" campaign. The proclamation occurred during the retiring South Carolina Senator's 100th birthday party on December 5th. At that celebration, Lott asserted the following: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." At first, those remarks were brushed off by Lott supporters as merely birthday rhetoric for the retiring Thurmond (even Lott admitted that he had been carried away by the moment). But civil rights organizations charged that Lott's remarks were racist, a blatant endorsement of segregation while also being a simultaneous condemnation of the progress that African Americans had made during the last half century's struggle for integration into white American society. The NAACP leadership called for Lott to resign as Majority Leader, terming his remarks synonymous with bigotry, bigotry that had no place in the halls of Congress. Senator Daschle characterized Lott's remarks as offensive and a repudiation of the dream of equality for all Americans. After several days, even President Bush was forced to condemn Lott's behavior. Before an audience of mainly black religious leaders in Philadelphia, Bush declared that Lott's remarks ran counter to the spirit of America. The President made clear that Lott's remarks compromised the ideals of the GOP as a party. In addition, journalists investigating Lott's background soon found that Lott had other racial "blots" in his background, ranging from appearances in the 1990s before the "Council of Conservative Citizens" (the leaders of this group have repeatedly uttered extremist, racist views) to Lott's action as a student at the University of Mississippi, when he worked to prevent the Sigma Nu fraternity from admitting black students to any of its chapters across the nation (Time Magazine) to Lott voting against making Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday.

     Lott, sensing the political storm enveloping his Majority Leader status, promptly apologized several times for his remarks (as of this writing, some five times, including an interview on the Black Entertainment Network). In one apology, Lott argued that he was really praising Thurmond's strong 1948 stands on national defense, balanced budgets, communism, and economic issues in 1948. In another apology, Lott acknowledged that segregation was morally evil, and that he had no intention of stepping down from his Majority Leader position. In yet another mea culpa, Lott insisted that his mistakes should be forgiven while emphasizing his support for the "practice" of affirmative action. Lott admitted past mistakes, but vowed to make amends through new commitments to the African-American community. However, the question remained though as to whether these "multiple apologies" would save Lott's leadership position. Already, storm clouds were gathering among Lott's fellow GOP Senators. Republicans were fearful that Lott's presence would hurt the party's standing with minorities and especially African Americans (12% of the U.S. population). Ironically, some Democrats hoped that Lott would stay on, thereby becoming a convenient political target during the next two years.

     A subsequent move by Oklahoma Sen., Don Nickles complicated Lott's future. Nickles asserted that Lott had been so weakened by his racist remarks that he could no longer represent the Republican Party in Congress. Nickles was apparently urging other Republicans to consider a new Majority Leader. Senators John Warner of Va. and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska likewise suggested that party leaders needed to reconsider Lott's position in Congress. So the question remains--will Lott survive? By mid-December, it did appear that Republican Senators would evaluate Lott's status as Majority Leader on January 6 after Congress reconvenes.. At that meeting, any one of the 51 GOP senators could propose new elections to select another Majority Leader, although a majority of this caucus would have to approve actual balloting. However, Lott supporters warned that if deposed, Lott might resign from the Senate altogether. If that were to happen, the Democratic Governor of Mississippi might appoint a Democrat to the Senate, thus dividing that august body once again along a 50-50 partisan fault line.

     Discussion Questions

  1. What were some of the specific problems with polling techniques in the 2002 election?
  2. What events in Lott's background have compounded his political problems?
  3. How do Lott's words possibly hurt the GOP's electoral appeal to African Americans?
  4. What was the reaction of President Bush to Lott's remarks?
  5. What may or may not happen on January 6th?

Back to top

Al Gore Announces He Will Not Run for the Presidency in 2004

     The 2004 presidential election is now less than two years away! But its shape was radically transformed with the surprising announcement by former Vice President Al Gore that he would not run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. In an interview on the CBS news program 60 Minutes, Gore stated the following: "I personally have the energy and drive and ambition to make another campaign, but I don't think it's the right thing for me to do . . . a rematch "would inevitably focus on the past that would in some measure distract from the focus on the future that I think all campaigns have to be about (USA TODAY, 12/16/02, p. A1)." Perhaps Gore was acknowledging the fact that the bitter and controversial 2000 campaign had left a permanent scar on any hopes that he might have had for a triumphant victory in 2004. In the words of one pundit, Gore had too much "excess baggage" left over from the 2000 campaign. However, while some Democrats may have felt relieved that Gore would not run again, fearing he would be a certain loser against the popular George W. Bush, Gore had still been the preferred choice by a plurality of registered Democrats for the 2004 nomination. Those supporters reiterated that the vice-president's 2000 campaign, while plagued with problems, had still resulted in a national popular vote margin of over half-a-million votes. Gore's presidential defeat had come about due to an unusual array of factors--a conservative, pro-Republican Supreme Court, flawed ballots ("the infamous hanging chads") in several key Florida counties, and the presence of Ralph Nader's Green Party that had hurt Gore far more than Bush by siphoning off thousands of votes. In short, this unhappy confluence of events had literally robbed Gore of what should have been his presidency.

     But all of this was now in the past. Gore's resignation to many Democrats was courageous and the act of a true statesman. Other Democrats might now be able to beat Bush in 2004, especially if the U.S. economy continued to founder and if Bush's leadership of the war against terrorism encountered unexpected difficulties. Who were these Democratic hopefuls? It appeared that the three front-runners were Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina (a young southerner who was almost chosen by Gore as his running mate in 2000), and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. (Lieberman had been Gore's running-mate in 2000 and had previously promised that he would not run against a Gore renomination effort). However, upon hearing of Gore's withdrawal, Lieberman announced that he would announce his decision to run or not run in early January). All three men immediately asked Gore for an endorsement after the former Vice- President had issued his withdrawal statement, but Gore demurred for the moment. Other observers pointed to Rep. Richard Gephardt and Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota as strong contenders for their party's nomination (but note that both men were blamed for the Democratic Party's poor electoral performance in the 2002 midterm elections). There was even a smattering of support for outgoing Governor Howard Dean of Vermont. Assuming these men do make a run, it is certain that they will all be visiting the states of Iowa (the state's caucus is tentatively scheduled for January 19, 2004) and New Hampshire (that state's primary is scheduled for January 27, 2004) many times in the months ahead.

     So who is now the Democratic front-runner given Gore's announcement? The consensus pick of the pundits was Kerry, whose political organization and fund-raising capabilities seemed to be on track (Kerry will probably formally announce his intention to run next year). Kerry appears to be the early favorite in New Hampshire. Yet, preliminary polls support other candidates as well. Gephardt, a favorite of organized labor, seems to be the front-runner in Iowa. A national survey of Democrats taken by the Washington Post in late November revealed that with Gore out of the 2004 picture, Lieberman finished first, followed by Daschle, Gephardt, and Kerry. In short, Gore's announcement means that the race for the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nomination is now a wide-open affair. But there is one final, possible twist of fate. Assuming that the Democrats lose the White House in 2004, would not Gore be the obvious candidate in 2008? Could Gore not pull a Richard Nixon, who was elected president after an eight year hiatus from political life (losing to John F. Kennedy in 1960, then winning in 1968 against Hubert Humphrey)? While Gore recently admitted that another opportunity to run for the presidency is not likely, history can change both voter perceptions and the shape of partisan politics. In this respect, Al Gore may not necessarily be through with national politics.

     Discussion Questions

  1. What were Al Gore's "public reasons" for not seeking the presidency in 2004?
  2. What is the impact of Gore's announcement upon the Democratic Party?
  3. What are the respective political strengths and weaknesses of potential Democratic nominees for 2004?

Back to top

The 2002 Election and Problems with the Polls

     In an historic 2002 mid-term election, the Republican Party gained control of both houses of Congress. Typically, the president’s party loses seats in an off-year election. But surprisingly, the GOP gained "seven" seats (five of those seven are assured, but there were still two races that were undecided, although learning GOP, a week after the election) in the House (at last count, the GOP will control the House by a probable margin of 228 to 203) and regained control of the Senate (as of this writing, by a margin of 51 to 47, with one Independent and one Senate seat still undecided in Louisiana; a gain of 2 Senate seats). A first-term president’s party had not gained seats in both the House and Senate since the 1934 midterm elections during the reign of FDR. While the polls had detected a general GOP resurgence several days before election day (attributable in part to President George W. Bush’s cross-country speeches, rallying his Republican base), November 5, the outcomes of several key Senate and gubernatorial races (Missouri Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan was given the edge over his Democratic opponent, but the latter won big; likewise, in Georgia, incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes was given a big lead in the polls–ranging from 6 to 11 points––over his GOP opponent, Sonny Perdue–Perdue won by five percentage points;) were still political shockers because many of the polls prognostications were simply wrong.. In Minnesota, polls were mixed in the Mondale-Coleman race, with many being unable to gauge the impact of voter shifts to the GOP after the much-publicized and politicized funeral of Senator Wellstone (Mondale lost in Minnesota). Similarly, polls incorrectly showed the Democrat, Tom Strickland, winning over GOP incumbent Wayne Allard, in the Senate Colorado race. So, the problems with accurate public opinion polling have increased over the past decade. Accordingly, the 2002 election was illustrative of those deepening difficulties

     As described in an intriguing post-election Wall Street Journal article (Harwood and Leung, "Why Some Pollsters Got It So Wrong This Election Day," 11/8/02, pp. A1, A6), causes of polling errors "may be as various as the recent popularity of caller ID and cellphones, which hamper efforts to reach voters, and the nation’s increasing diversity, which makes it harder to get an accurate statistical sampling of the electorate (p. A1)." To some pollsters, such as John Zogby (he admitted that his polling firm had "blown" the Missouri gubernatorial race and others as well), the polling industry is at a crossroads. Another experienced pollster, Richard Wirthlin, asserts that polling is "an ABC science–Almost Being Certain (p. A1)." So once again, what are the specific problems? "One of the big stumbling blocks is declining cooperation from people who simply don’t want to be bothered. Many Americans use caller ID telephone technology to screen out calls from survey takers. Others hang up in exasperation because they are tired of calls from telemarketers (p. A1). In the past, Americans were willing to take calls from poll interviewers and answer questions for perhaps twenty minutes or so, thus improving the quality of the sample. Today, the many "nonresponses" may be biasing the pollster’s so-called "representative sample." Second, there is the challenge of America’s growing racial/ethnic diversity. In the past, pollsters could concentrate primarily on white and black responses. But with Hispanics and Asians, "pollsters have the further challenge of divining how to ‘weight’ their ethnic samples to reflect the expected rate at which demographic groups will actually turn out at the polls on Election Day. In reasonably close elections, assigning different weights to various groups can markedly change a pollster’s assessment of who’s likely to win. And often that process is little better than educated guesswork (p. A6)." This may not be a problem in racial/ethnically homogeneous states, but as America becomes a "nation of minorities" as expected by 2050, the problem is likely to grow.

     Other difficulties for pollsters include (a) changes in lifestyles–interviewing people under 40 is harder because they increasingly rely on cell phones, not traditional phones that pollsters use to contact individuals in their sample and (b) working women who are not home to receive phone calls from polling interviewers. Pollster quick phone switching to other households may create inaccuracies. In addition, the cost in time and money of repeatedly calling back the same households has led some polling organizations to try Internet sampling. But other pollsters argue that Internet interviewees may not be representative of the entire voting population.

     What will happen to future polling? Clearly, pollsters are facing not only the problems mentioned above, but also the growing number of independent voters who may or may not vote on election day. There are also those voters who deliberately deceive poll interviewers by stating they will not vote (when their real intention is to do so) or stating they will select candidate "A" when their real preference is for candidate "B." One should remember that polls are fundamentally only a "snapshot" in time. What is true about the electorate's intentions today may not be true tomorrow. The volatility of the electorate along with inaccurate polling methodology can spell trouble when trying to achieve an accurate, representative sample.

     Discussion Questions

  1. What were some of the specific problems with polling techniques in the 2002 election?
  2. Why was the late GOP resurgence not picked up by some polling organizations?
  3. If you were the head of a national polling organization, which polling methodologies would you adopt in order to counter the growing volatility, complexity, and deceptiveness of the American electorate?

Back to top

The Meaning and Aftermath of the 2002 Election

     As mentioned above in Issue #1, the 2002 midterm elections were indeed "historic." The Republicans regained control of the U.S. Senate (they already controlled the House), dashing Democratic hopes of substantial gains in Congress and a stronger political position vis-ˆ-vis the continued popularity of President George W. Bush (63% approval rating), especially since 9/11. In the month or so before election day, trends seemed to be shifting toward the Democrats. While voters considered the battle against terrorism (and the possibility of a war against Iraq) to be an important issue, they also indicated that the status of the economy (unemployment, a declining stock market, etc.), corporate scandals (Enron and Worldcom), health care, and social security were perhaps even more important. But then President Bush and his advisors decided to gamble. President Bush went out on the stump, campaigning for GOP candidates across the nation during a frenzied three weeks of political activity. Deriding Senate Democrats for frustrating his Homeland Security Bill and "playing politics" with the nation's war against terrorism, the President seemed to strike a responsive, patriotic chord. As some experts put it, President Bush "nationalized" the midterm elections, asking voters for a national referendum on his proposed policies, existing programs, and the overall quality of his presidential leadership. Also, perhaps "swing" voters were reluctant to vote against the President during an era of major threats to American lives at home and abroad. Democrats appeared reluctant to attack the President and the GOP on their handling of terrorism, perhaps fearing a patriotic backlash from the electorate. Perhaps another factor was the rally of the stock market (albeit brief) prior to the election, a rally that may have given the impression that better economic days were ahead. Perhaps it was a very popular President who actually used his proverbial "coattails" to help GOP gubernatorial and congressional candidates who were locked into very tight races with their Democratic opponents. Whatever the precise reason or combination of reasons, it does appear that the Republican Party's base of support was energized far more than the Democratic Party's equivalent foundation. The result of all of this was a significant GOP victory.

     But Democrats, aside from asking what went wrong, were quick to point out that Republicans were now in a position to deliver key legislation. The excuse that Democrats were "sabotaging" important policies could no longer be employed. The GOP will now control all committee chairmanships in Congress and with these posts the legislative schedule and agenda. Immediately after the election, GOP leaders, such as Trent Lott who will become Senate Majority Leader next January, expressed support for new legislation that would (a) establish a Homeland Security Cabinet Department (it appeared that such legislation would be passed relatively soon), (b) make the President's 10 year tax cut permanent and reform the income tax code, including a small tax or corporate dividends, (c) open up oil drilling in the environmentally-sensitive Arctic National Wilderness Refuge, (d) reconsider--perhaps much later--the controversial idea of a limited privatization of Social Security, and (e) create a new prescription drug plan for seniors that is supported by the pharmaceutical industry (the plan relies more on private companies). Still, it is likely that frictions between the two parties will not disappear by any means. President Bush will have to employ all of his political skills to build bipartisan coalitions that will result in the enactment of any or all of his planned legislative agenda. Whether he will be successful depends upon a whole host of variables, including how he guides the nation in the continuing war against terrorism, whether war with Iraq materializes in the next few months, and if the sluggish U.S. economy improves. Political uncertainties are everywhere and rightfully so. After all, the 2004 presidential election is now less than two years away!

     Discussion Questions

  1. Which proposed legislation does President Bush wish to see passed by the new GOP-controlled Congress?
  2. Why did the Democrats lose ground in the 2002 election?
  3. Which issues were important to the electorate in the election? Also, how did President Bush galvanize his Republican base across the country?

Back to top

Who Should Receive Smallpox Vaccinations?

     Ever since 9/11, the Bush Administration has repeatedly warned about the dangers of future terrorist strikes upon U.S. soil, including the very real threat of bio-terrorism. One specific danger is the possibility of a smallpox attack that could possibly infect and kill thousands of American citizens. In short, without vaccinations, the death toll would be substantial (roughly one-third of smallpox victims die from the disease and another third would become blinded or disabled). Traditionally, the health recommendation by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.) on how to contain smallpox outbreaks is the "ring vaccination" technique, whereby anyone who came in contact with an infected individual would be quarantined in the hope that an epidemic could be contained. However, this strategy assumes that smallpox outbreaks would occur in only a few areas. A planned terrorist strike might involve the use of smallpox viruses in multiple metropolitan areas/airports. Hence, ring vaccination approaches could be overwhelmed by the rapid spread of the disease beyond the quarantined "firewalls". The Bush Administration has speculated that Iraq might have ample supplies of the smallpox virus (the only confirmed, official stockpile locations for the virus are the CDC and Siberia, Russia) and would be willing to use it against the U.S. population as a form of retaliation for a future American invasion aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein from power. Immunizations against smallpox ended in the 1970s and the last known case occurred in 1977. The official eradication of the disease was announced in 1980. Therefore, virtually no one in the nation has full protection against the dreaded disease. The question remains whether the Bush Administration should begin anew immunizations not just for the military (soldiers being sent to the Gulf will be inoculated) or health personnel (these individuals would be on the frontline trying to contain the epidemic in its earliest stages) but for all Americans. Critics of mass immunization point out that an individual exposed to smallpox does have a four to five day period to receive the vaccine and still be protected. But, would this be enough time to inoculate millions of citizens, especially in the midst of a generalized panic and long waiting lines at hospitals, clinics, and emergency rooms around the country? Would it not be preferable to protect the American people well in advance, thereby substantially reducing casualties and perhaps even deterring terrorists from launching such bio-terrorist strikes?

     But, on the other hand, smallpox shots do carry risks, including life-threatening side effects (possible death, paralysis, encephalitis, gangrene, eczema, blindness, among others), especially for those citizens with impaired immune systems (estimated at some 50 million citizens who may be HIV-infected, had organ transplants, undergoing chemotherapy, on long-term drug therapy programs, etc.). Current Bush Administration policy has wavered, reflective of changing views from the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Last summer, a CDC advisory team recommended that roughly 20,000 Americans be inoculated, consisting of "state smallpox response teams" whose goal would be to detect victims and staffers at designated hospitals who would treat the infected. But in September of 2001, the HHS embraced the idea of 500,000 vaccinations, thereby protecting medical staffers at nearly every hospital across the nation. Then, early in October of this year, the HHS upped the ante by proposing to the White House expanding vaccinations to 10 million citizens (hospital, police, fire, and emergency personnel) and perhaps even to the entire population. In general, major newspapers/prominent national legislators have supported the public's right to receive the vaccine. Public opinion polls show a majority favoring vaccination. But important medical groups such as the American Medical Association and many state health officials oppose the idea, fearing that the side effects of the vaccine outweigh the risks of a terrorist-caused epidemic. Unlike vaccines for mumps or chickenpox, the smallpox vaccine contains a "live virus" that can cause infection (the virus in the vaccine is not actually smallpox but the related virus Vaccinia). The individual builds up an immunity as his/her body responds, but the live nature of the virus means that it can be transmitted through open sores to other body parts or even to other people. Hence, CDC estimates are that administering this vaccine to the entire U.S. population might result in over 300 deaths and the serious health-impairment of thousands of others. In conclusion, the controversy continues. By the end of this month, the CDC/HHS may be reexamining their policies and sending any proposed changes to the White House once again.

     Discussion Questions

  1. Why is a massive smallpox vaccination program being considered?
  2. What are the risks associated with the smallpox vaccination program?
  3. What have been some of the previous smallpox proposals from the CDC and HHS?

Back to top



Al- Qaida Attacks U.S. Marines In Kuwait; One Marine Is Killed As The Global Threat Of Terrorism Intensifies

     The U.S. global war against terrorism intensified this month as 150 American Marines, on military maneuvers in urban warfare on Failaka Island, northeast of and about 20 miles from Kuwait City, suffered a fatality from al-Qaida snipers. On October 8, two young Kuwaiti men in a pick-up truck armed with AK-47's and dressed in civilian clothes, fired at those U.S. marines, killing one, (Lance Cpl. Antonio J. Sledd of Hillsborough, Fla.) and seriously wounding another (Lance Cpl. George R. Simpson). Both assailants were themselves killed by U.S. soldiers when they attempted another attack upon a second cluster of troops. The identities/motivations of the attackers were acknowledged by Kuwait's interior minister, Sheik Muhammed Kahled al-Sabah, who further stated that a terrorist group of 15 people (several of whom had been trained in Afghanistan) operating inside of Kuwait had been planning other terrorist operations against both U.S. personnel (about 8000 American civilians and 9,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Kuwait) and miscellaneous targets, including oil tankers, American teachers, and even entertainment parks frequented by Americans. The two Kuwaitis, Anas Ahmad Irbrahim al-Kandari and his cousin, Jassem al-Hajiri, had confessed in a previously videotaped message that the attack had been dedicated to Osama bin Laden (Kandari was described by a brother as a Islamic zealot who was angry over the mistreatment of Palestinians and Muslims throughout the world). As a response to the killing, the Kuwaiti government announced that it has intensified security at American installations and U.S.-affiliated schools.

     The 10/8 murder led to another incident the next day, when an American serviceman fired a shot at an unmarked civilian car, after the driver had pointed a gun at the soldier. The car went off the road but the driver regained control and sped away. Both incidents reflected a growing tension not only throughout Kuwait, a country that has been the strongest ally of the U.S. since the end of the Gulf War, but throughout the Middle East and the world as a whole (but other Middle Eastern experts noted that while Kuwait was grateful for the Gulf War liberation from Iraqi forces, there was still a growing level of support inside the country for Islamic fundamentalism; at the funeral of the two killers, a dozen protesters shouted anti-American epithets; furthermore, there are many Palestinians who reside in Kuwait as guest workers). American officials noted that other probable al-Qaida-sponsored attacks had previously occurred involving a French tanker off the coast of Yemen (disrupting the flow of oil to the West) and the October 2 killing (via the detonation of a bomb) of an American Green Beret in the city of Manila (Philippines). On October 13, another wave of bombings in Bali, Indonesia killed/wounded more than 300 people. Suspicion focused on Jemaah Islamiyah, an affiliated group of al-Qaida. The group wishes to establish a pan-Islamic state involving Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines. Jemaah is also charged with plans to destroy American and other embassies in Singapore. In short, there were growing fears that the al-Qaida global network was resurfacing with a dangerous intensity (an alleged tape of bin Laden's voice promising this scenario had been played over the Al-Jazeera TV station), perhaps coordinating a new series of strikes upon Americans and/or U.S. allies. Finally, since Kuwait would be an important staging area for any U.S. attack against Iraq, U.S. officials openly speculated that al-Qaeda may wish to disrupt vital military planning essential to such an enterprise.

     Discussion Questions

  1. Who attacked the U.S. Marines in Kuwait and why?
  2. What was the relationship of Al-Qaeda with the two snipers?
  3. How might the Kuwaiti attack be linked to the possible U.S. invasion of Iraq?

Back to top



Once Again, Florida’s Voting System Falters

     The Democratic Party obviously remembers the infamous “dangling chads” of the 2000 presidential election and the recount issue that eventually was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Republican candidate George W. Bush. After that electoral debacle, the state of Florida spent 32 million dollars to fix its balloting problems. But, in the first statewide election since 2000, a plethora of difficulties ensued, including (a) defective ballots found on quirky touch-screen voting machines; (b) malfunctions by voting computers in one Miami-Dade County district that recorded nine times more votes then the actual number of eligible voters; (c) the inability of the new machines to record any votes at all in precincts where there were thousands of registered voters or the recording of only Republican votes; (d) hundreds of voters being turned away in Miami-Dade county because poorly-trained poll workers did not know how to “boot-up” the touch-screen machines; (e) the failure of optical scanners to read “flawed” paper ballots due to irregular sizing; (f) fatigued poll workers closing up precincts earlier than the extended 9:00 p.m. time limit set by Governor Jeb Bush upon learning of the voting difficulties; and (f) absentee ballots having to be laboriously read by hand when voters made multiple errors on those ballots.

     The upshot of all this was another flawed election, especially in the case of the Reno-McBride contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Reno, the former Attorney General of the Clinton Administration, found herself trailing Tampa corporate lawyer Bill McBride by 8,196 votes. Unfortunately for Reno, no automatic state recount was forthcoming, since her trailing margin was actually greater than 0.5% of the total Florida vote. Also, most of the voting discrepancies were in key Miami-Dade and Broward County precincts, two counties where she was revealed great political strength with the electorate. Those “lost votes” clearly hurt her chances of securing the Democratic nomination. Even after rechecking some 80 South Florida precincts, she was unable to overcome the McBride lead, although McBride’s victory margin was eventually reduced to around 4800 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast (Reno conceded, deciding not to go to court to challenge the election or seek a recount). Reno charged that the new touch-screen voting machines had cost her the election, and that the failure of those machines was due to Governor Jeb Bush’s administration not taking pains to eliminate all of the possible glitches that occurred with the new voter technology and election officials. Governor Bush fired back, arguing that in 65 of the 67 counties, the voting process worked reasonably well, and that Florida’s election system was mishandled by incompetent officials (Democrats) in Miami-Dade and Broward counties (however, in Jacksonville/Duval County, optical scanning equipment did malfunction.) “Neutral experts” argued that Florida’s voting problems were a result of a combination of factors, including revised and/or new voting laws, procedures, training, equipment, and ballot design/layout.

     It also appeared that state Democrats were going to make an issue of another botched voting system, especially since the 2000 presidential election was anything but a distant memory. These Democrats insisted that under Jeb Bush’s “incompetent” leadership, Florida was once again the laughing-stock of the nation. They reminded the media that a substantial amount of taxpayer money had been spent on repairing the state’s voting procedures. The result was another disaster. Finally, Democrats asserted that their voter base would be energized by this new electoral debacle. Democrats whose memory of 2000 was slowly fading would now be have reinvigorated motivation to vote against Bush in November. For the Democrats of Florida, the spectre of the disputed 2000 presidential election had been resurrected. Whether these new political sensitivities would spell trouble for Jeb Bush in November remained an open question.

     Discussion Questions

  1. What voting problems were encountered in the Florida election?
  2. How did the new voting problems in Florida affect Democrats in the state?
  3. Why and how did the voting failures affect the Reno-McBride race?
  4. What electoral problems occurred in the Florida counties of Broward and Dade?

Back to top



The U.S. Again Characterizes Iraq as a Serious Threat to both American Security and the Legitimacy of the United Nations

     Ever since 9/11, the Bush Administration has repeatedly warned about the dangers of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. Not only has the Bush team argued that Iraq is a state sponsor of terrorism and has been involved in the planning of previous attacks against the U.S. (one example–the indirect support of the terrorists by Iraq in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; another involves the alleged link, still disputed by some authorities, of the 9/11 hijacker-leader Mohammed Atta-Iraqi intelligence agent Ani meeting in April of 2001 in Prague, six months before America was attacked;), but also that Iraq’s leadership is both truly evil and vicious (pointing to Saddam’s use of poison gas against the Kurds). Thus, the Bush Administration has repeatedly called for “regime change” and the dismantling of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” arsenal. Finally, the U.S. has noted that Iraq is in violation of United Nations resolutions, especially since Saddam has not allowed UN inspectors back onto Iraqi soil for almost four years.

     From the American perspective, Iraq cannot be permitted to add nuclear weapons to its already ample supplies of biological (anthrax, plague, botulism, etc.) and chemical weapons (mustard, sarin nerve gas) which went undetected by UN inspectors after the 1990-1991 Gulf War (according to a study by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Saddam would have developed a dozen nuclear weapons if his capabilities had not been destroyed during the war). Vice President Dick Cheney has been particularly vocal in declaring that the United States cannot simply wait and allow Saddam to finish his nuclear program. Cheney, in a speech before the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), declared that time was running out. To do nothing would invite potential disaster for not only the United States but for its allies in the Middle East in the relatively near future. A nuclear-armed Saddam could intimidate Kuwait, threaten Israel and Saudi Arabia, and could even take the step of giving a nuclear device to a terrorist network, such as Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network. Few American intelligence officials doubt that Al Qaeda would hesitate to use a nuclear weapon against the U.S, a horrific terrorist attack that would kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.. From all indications, Al Qaeda has actively sought to buy a nuclear weapon on the global “black market.” In short, the U.S. military must prepare to attack Iraq if that nation does not unilaterally disarm and/or destroy all of its weapons of mass destruction.

     Critics, including America’s allies in Europe and the Middle East, dispute the Bush scenario. They argue that while Saddam desires nuclear weapons, he is years away from actually acquiring them, since he and his scientists lack the necessary fissile material (U-235 or plutonium). It is far better, the allies argue, to work through the United Nations and the global community to contain Saddam rather than for the United States to “go it alone,” i.e., to act in a “unilateral” fashion. Furthermore, a U.S. attack upon Iraq will be very costly, both in terms of lives lost and funding (President Bush’s chief economic advisor, Lawrence Lindsey, has estimated that a U.S. war against Iraq could cost anywhere from 100 to 200 billion dollars!). The necessary number of U.S. troops to topple Saddam could range anywhere from 80,000 to 250,000. Furthermore, Saddam is preparing for “urban warfare,” whereby U.S. troops would have to fight inside Baghdad against an entrenched enemy in a “Somalia-Black Hawk Down” debacle. U.S. casualties could reach 30%, since American troops would not only be exposed to brutal sniper fire but even chemical and biological weapons. But the Bush Administration rejects this disaster scenario, arguing that a coordinated air-ground attack will prevail (one plan is to lay siege outside of Baghdad, avoiding the risk to U.S. troops) and that there will be massive defections within the Iraqi military (critics retort that this is a dubious, fragile, and unlikely development). But even if this happens and Iraq is liberated, critics then ask what happens after regime change. Will the U.S. have to occupy Iraq indefinitely with large numbers of troops? Also, how will an U.S. attack upon Iraq affect the Israeli-Palestinian struggle? Will there be new terrorist attacks upon Americans in the Middle East in retaliation for a U.S. attack?

     Amidst all of this controversy, President George W. Bush went to the United Nations, outlining the Iraqi threat, reminding the world body of Iraqi duplicity, and warning that Iraq must recognize the authority of UN resolutions. Otherwise, the UN will become a modern day, ineffectual “League of Nations.” World opinion seemed to rally behind the President. However, Iraq subsequently announced that it would allow UN inspectors to reenter the nation. No “conditions” would be placed upon the inspectors. A skeptical U.S. noted that Iraq could still hide its weapons of mass destruction from the inspectors using a clever “hide and seek” technique. Reports surfaced that Iraq’s biological weapons had been placed in mobile trailers, chemical weapons were now stored in underground bunkers, and that nuclear facilities were being placed in schools, hospitals, and even private residences. To the U.S., waiting six months or so for a report from UN inspectors would accomplish nothing while moving Iraq ever-closer to nuclear acquisition. Even as the UN diplomats argued over whether a new resolution condemning Iraq was necessary (the Russian and Egyptian foreign ministers argued such a resolution was simply not necessary, given Iraq’s acceptance of new inspectors), the U.S. continued its gradual military build-up in the Middle East.

     Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the United States consider Iraq to be a threat?
  2. Will the U.S. offensive against Iraq be stalled now that Iraq has “agreed” to inspections?
  3. Why did President Bush tell the United Nations that its “basic legitimacy” was being tested by Saddam Hussein?

Back to top



The Democrats Consider Their Presidential Candidates for 2004 as Gore, Lieberman, and John Kerry Maneuver

     The Democratic Party obviously wishes to regain the presidency, especially after the disputed 2000 presidential election when the Al Gore-Joseph Lieberman ticket, despite winning the greatest number of popular votes nation-wide (some 537,000 more than the GOP ticket), lost to the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney Republican duo. A Republican victory ensured when the state of Florida gave the Bush-Cheney ticket its vital 25 electoral votes after the historic Bush v. Gore U.S. Supreme Court decision. Hence, the emerging question for the Democrats in 2004 is simple-- who should be their presidential nominee? Should Democrats overlook Al Gore’s lackluster campaign of 2000 and his tarnished image with the electorate? This selection is mired in controversy, especially after Senator Joe Lieberman, in a speech at the Democratic Leadership Council Meeting in New York City (Gore skipped the meeting), criticized Gore for running an excessively “populist campaign,” i.e., one that appealed too much to “rich-poor” class differences or a misguided “people vs. the powerful” theme, rather than appealing to the political center. Meanwhile, Gore, in a Washington, D.C. speech and in an op-piece in The New York Times, defended his 2000 campaign tactics, arguing that the Bush Administration remained truly oblivious to the vast majority of hard-working Americans. The recent disclosures about accounting shenanigans of corporate America, such as the infamous “cooking of the books” from Enron and WorldCom executives, represented further proof, at least to Gore, that his populism of 2000 had not only been right on target but had also been vindicated by post-2000 events as well.

     However, while a plurality of Democrats still viewed Gore as the most likely nominee in 2004, the former vice-president confronted a growing groundswell of detractors. To this group, Gore had indeed run a clumsy campaign, refusing to use President Clinton’s ample campaign skills, failing to even win his home state of Tennessee (that would have given him the election, no matter what happened in Florida), and squandering the political appeal of the Clinton-Gore Administration’s accomplishments, especially the presence of a growing, prosperous economy. Furthermore, Gore’s financial supporters and former campaign workers have become disillusioned with the former vice-president and have increasingly observed, publicly, that another Gore try for the presidency would also certainly be doomed. Although Gore has observed that he would run a far better, more effective campaign in 2004, skeptics observe that Gore simply does not resonate with voters. That is why millions of voters chose a candidate who while admittedly a political lightweight, ranked far higher on the trust index. Another Gore campaign would once again be plagued by those same feelings of mistrust and boredom, i.e., in the words of one pundit during 2000, “Al Gore is a snore.” But conversely, supporters argue that Gore was cheated out of the presidency by a conservative, partisan Supreme Court and is deserving of renomination. Furthermore, who else in the Democratic Party would be a better presidential nominee in 2004? To Gore devotees, Senator Lieberman lacks charisma (he was out-debated by Dick Cheney in 2000). Senator John Kerry of Mass., while a decorated Vietnam veteran (and antiwar protester) and articulate critic of Bush’s foreign policy, is perceived as being too far to the political left, i.e., another liberal from Massachusetts ala Michael Dukakis. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, while a fresh voice in the party, is inexperienced and not well known nationally. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt has already experienced unsuccessful runs for the nomination. Yet, on the other hand, those candidates have been actively campaigning/fundraising in other states, while constructing political networks essential to a 2004 presidential run. By comparison, Gore has been largely absent or even perceived by Democratic insiders as aloof. On balance, Gore may be able to gain the nomination once again, but he will have to wage an all-out campaign against a number of determined opponents who will obviously remind voters in the Democratic primaries of Gore’s performance in 2000. In short, Gore’s opponents will argue that a “new face” has the best chance of defeating George W. Bush in 2004.

     Discussion Questions

  1. What charges did Joe Lieberman, Gore’s running mate, level at Al Gore regarding the vice-president’s 2000 campaign strategy?
  2. What is the difference between a “populist” and a “centrist campaign”?
  3. Can Al Gore gain the 2004 nomination–why or why not?
  4. Who are other Democratic hopefuls for the 2004 presidential nomination? What are their respective political strengths and/or weaknesses?

Back to top



A Florida Judge Rules That the State’s Voucher Law is Unconstitutional

     On August 5, a Leon County (Tallahassee) Circuit Judge, P. Kevin Davey, ruled that the state’s voucher law violated the Florida Constitution. Davey’s legal rationale was that the state’s constitution explicitly forbade (it was “clear and unambiguous”) the funding of students to religious schools through the use of public tax dollars. Vouchers represented this type of illegal funding. As Davey put it in his ruling, “while this court recognizes and empathizes with the . . . purpose of this legislation–to enhance the educational opportunity of children caught in the snare of substandard schools–such a purpose does not grant this court authority to abandon the clear mandate of the people as enunciated in the constitution (David Royse, “Judge rules school voucher law violates Florida Constitution,” USA TODAY, 8/6/02, p. 7D).” The aim of the Florida voucher law was ostensibly to rescue children from failing schools in the state, i.e., to take them out of those schools and allow them to go into private non-sectarian or religious schools via the public treasury. But Davey had underscored the constitutional illegality of such an action. As noted by Royse, 50 students were already attending private schools through vouchers, with approximately another 340 Florida students intending to use those vouchers in the upcoming school year. Furthermore, nearly 9000 students from some 10 public schools were now eligible for vouchers in 2002-2003. Given the fact that Davey’s ruling had placed Florida’s statewide voucher program in legal disarray, it was not surprising that Governor Jeb Bush immediately announced his intention not only to appeal the Davey ruling but also to raise private funding for those children attending failed schools in the state. The Governor argued that the Davey’s ruling endangered the education of hundreds of schoolchildren; hence, an appeal to a higher court was vital. Equally expected was the reaction of Maureen Dinnen, head of the Florida Education Association or the state’s teacher’s union. Dinnen asserted that she had expected a favorable ruling outlawing Florida’s voucher system. In her words, “it is absolutely wrong to divert tax money to private schools. Now we can focus on public schools again.” (Royse)

     The Davey ruling occurred less than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Cleveland, Ohio voucher program to be constitutional, i.e., not violating the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. In the Cleveland program, the high Court found that since parents had a “choice” in sending their children to privately-funded religious schools, there was no apparent violation of the “church-state separation” principle. But conversely, scores of state constitutions have stricter statutes regarding that principle. In this sense, pro-public school advocates consequently argued that such “strictness” was proper and necessary. To these advocates, vouchers were destroying the public school system by diverting precious tax dollars to private educational institutions. It would be far better to avoid vouchers, using those public funds to improve existing schools and their overall academic accountability. These funds would help to reduce class size, modernize school buildings, improve summer school programs, and hire high-quality, well-paid new teachers. Why waste money on driving students away from public schools and subsequently involving them in unconstitutional and unwarranted educational alternatives? On the other hand, voucher advocates insisted that too many public schools around the country had already failed their students and were essentially unsalvageable. Parents should have a “choice” in providing the best educational experience possible for their children. Consequently, proponents of vouchers confidently predicted that the United States Supreme Court would overturn Judge Davey’s ruling. In so doing, the “Supremes” would likely rule that state constitutional statutes that discriminate against religious educational alternatives in education are actually violating the U.S. Constitution’s concept of “neutrality” toward organized religion. To advocates, the constitutionality of vouchers was a given, representing the educational “wave of the future.” The Florida ruling was, in this sense, a legal blessing.

     Discussion Questions

  1. Which individuals and groups hailed Judge Davey’s ruling and why?
  2. What is the difference between a “populist” and a “centrist campaign”?
  3. What was the difference in the Florida ruling vs. the Supreme Court’s ruling involving the Cleveland, Ohio voucher program?
  4. How many Florida students were affected by the Judge’s ruling?
  5. Why did voucher advocates consider the Davey ruling a “legal blessing” in disguise?

Back to top



The Bush Administration’s Plan for Attacking Iraq

     On July 10, the U.S. House of Representatives, by an overwhelming vote of 310-113, unexpectedly passed legislation permitting over 70,000 commercial airline pilots to bring guns aboard their planes. What was surprising was that the original proposal being considered by the House was essentially a "trial-training program" of two years duration involving only 1,400 pilots. This somewhat tentative plan was designed to test the feasibility of a broader, more comprehensive policy, and was consistent with legislative guidelines that had been passed by Congress last year in the aviation security bill. In that law, Congress had given permission for pilots to have both lethal (regular firearms) and non-lethal weaponry (stun guns as one example) in the cockpit. However, the power to actually authorize pilot gun use was left up to the newly-created Transportation Security Administration (part of the Department of Transportation). Officials of the TSA have consistently rejected the gun-use idea (so has Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta), arguing that reinforced cockpit doors and the expansion of the federal marshal corps (these undercover, highly-trained, armed individuals would be on a large number of flights, ready to foil any attempted hijacking). In addition, the White House had previously voiced its objection to the idea, fearing that pilots firing shots aboard a plane would jeopardize the lives of passengers and perhaps even the stability of the aircraft (despite this dissent, White House spokespersons did not categorically state that President Bush would veto this bill if it got to his desk). Nevertheless, House supporters argued that pilots were the last defense for a hijacked airliner, and that the gun-use program should include all pilots who could pass a TSA-run security course. In other words, why only arm 2% of all pilots if your ultimate aim was to achieve a heightened sense of security throughout the airline industry, especially after 9/11 and the endless revelations about airport/airliner "insecurity"? By successfully completing the course, pilots would in effect become federal law-enforcement officers. Furthermore, the House bill mandates self-defense training for flight attendants and establishes a 90-day time frame whereby the TSA must react to any airline request for pilots/flight attendants to be given non-lethal weaponry. What may have prompted the House to expand the breadth of the bill was the solid support from key interest groups, including the Air Line Pilots Association (representing some 62,000 pilots), the Allied Pilots Association (13,600 pilots represented), and the National Rifle Association. Polls also revealed that well over 70% of members from both pilot groups endorsed guns in the cockpit. Interestingly enough, the Association of Flight Attendants, while welcoming the self-defense training included in the bill, objected to the fact that the legislation specifically forbids the cabin crew from carrying either handguns or stun guns (House supporters argued that a passenger could overpower a flight attendant and gain access to the weapon).

     Despite the legislative success in the House, the bill to arm pilots clearly faced serious obstacles in the U.S. Senate. For example the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee (where hearings on the House bill would normally be held), Senator Hollings of South Carolina, has publicly announced his opposition, arguing that a locked, impenetrable cockpit door is the preferable form of security. Other naysayers in the Senate wondered aloud what would happen if terrorists seized the guns from pilots or pilots shot at a terrorist, missed, and thus killed a innocent passenger? Nevertheless, the fact that the House passed the bill by such an overwhelming margin, representing a coalition of support that transcended party lines and united both liberals and conservatives, was a telling point not totally ignored by some U.S. Senators (Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California, noted that the bill was a matter of great urgency, a necessary weapon in the war against terror; arming pilots was an important step to undertake until a full complement of air marshals could be hired and trained; currently air marshals only ride aboard a small percentage of all flights in the United States). Consequently, Senate sponsors suggested other legislative tactics to get the gun bill to the floor for debate such as bypassing Hollings’ Committee by offering the legislation as an amendment to another bill. Finally, the pilot unions and the NRA promised a massive lobbying effort to attract Senate support. To these groups, arming pilots will ultimately prevent hijackings and provide a last-resort defense. Supporters argue that if the pilots of those four hijacked planes of September 11 had been armed, then the terrorists would have been thwarted and the tragedy averted. In short, this is one bill that (a) the Senate cannot easily dismiss and (b) the flying public will not ignore.

     Discussion Questions

  1. Why was the rationale of the House in passing this legislation?
  2. Why is it unlikely that the U.S. Senate will also pass this legislation? Conversely, for what reasons are some Senate supporters optimistic about passage?
  3. Which groups apparently favor airline pilots having guns? Which groups oppose the idea?
  4. If this legislation were passed by both houses of Congress, would President Bush sign it into law–why or why not??

Back to top



The Bush Administration’s Plan for Attacking Iraq

     U.S. planning for an eventual attack against Iraq was apparently gaining momentum according to published news accounts in July. A source in the Bush Administration apparently "leaked" a top-secret battle plan directed at toppling Saddam Hussein and his regime from power in Iraq. As reported in The New York Times (see Schmitt, Eric, "U.S. Plan For Iraq Is Said To Include Attack On 3 Sides, 7/5/02," pp. A1, A6), the plan delineated attacks upon Iraq from the air, land, and sea. As described in the Schmitt source,

The document envisions tens of thousands of marines and soldiers probably invading from Kuwait. Hundreds of warplanes based in as many as eight countries, possibly including Turkey and Qatar, would unleash a huge air assault against thousands of targets, including airfields, roadways, and fiber-optics communications sites. Special operations forces or covert C.I.A. operatives would strike at depots or laboratories storing or manufacturing Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to launch them (p. A1).

     Schmitt revealed that President Bush had been briefed by military leaders on the details. Still, the plan was in a preliminary stage and by no means finalized (it appeared that any actual offensive would not begin until "early next year"--p. A1) Nevertheless, the main assumptions underlying the plan were that (a) without a major U.S. combat operation, it was unlikely that Saddam could be driven from power by a political coup or by employing anti-Saddam, indigenous Iraqi forces (such as the Kurds) alone, and that (b) Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had to be destroyed as soon as possible or the U.S. and its allies, both in Europe and the Middle East, might someday face a serious threat posed by them. Hence, the U.S. was already taking steps to prepare for war, from thousands of marines conducting mock combat drills in Camp Pendleton, California to the expansion of a key air base (Al Udeid) in Qatar to the stockpiling of ammunition, bombs, and spare parts at storage sites throughout the United States and the Middle East (likely locations here include the nations of Kuwait, Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain).

     But the leaked plan did not specifically address other key aspects of an Iraqi invasion (there may be other secret documents relating to the overall war plan that do), such as the probable U.S. casualty rates (as many as 250,000 U.S. troops may be needed for the battlefield), what kind of Iraqi government would be placed in power after Saddam’s fall (the Bush Administration’s assumption is that anti-Saddam forces, inside and outside of Iraq, would together create a democratic government after Saddam’s fall and subsequently become an important U.S. ally, politically and militarily, in the region), the Iraqi use of biological/chemical weapons against U.S. soldiers (chemical weapons could be deployed against Americans in an urban warfare environment within the city of Baghdad in a worst-case scenario), the uncertainty of employing Saudi air bases (the Saudis have placed constraints upon U.S. operations), the impact of the current Israel-Palestinian conflict upon Arab support for the Iraqi operation (some Arab leaders have told President Bush that a solution to the former expedites the prospect of a united Arab front for the latter), and whether the Iraqi opposition could play a similar role to the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan (i.e., the Kurds and other dissident forces might provide intelligence and target identification for U.S. air and ground forces as did the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan; however, Kurdish leaders have been hesitant on agreeing to this role, remembering their abandonment by President Bush in 1991 and subsequent slaughter by Saddam’s forces; they want assurances that U.S. forces this time will march all the way to Baghdad). Interestingly enough, on the day this attack plan was leaked to the media, Iraqi officials were still refusing to readmit United Nations’ weapons inspectors back into their country. Those inspectors left in December of 1998. What progress Iraq has made in its quest to develop and/or improve weapons of mass destruction in over three years is a question that not only haunts the Bush Administration but also accelerates its planning for a possible Iraqi intervention.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the Bush Administration want to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power in Iraq?
  2. What specific tactics are contained in the U.S. plan to attack Iraq?
  3. Which specific nations in the Middle East is the U.S. counting on to assist in its military campaign against Iraq?
  4. In why way does the U.S. want a war against Iraq to resemble the war fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Back to top



The Bush Administration and its Position on Global Warming

     The controversial issue of global warming resurfaced for the Bush Administration in June. President Bush had previously announced his opposition to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that asks the industrialized nations to reduce their production of greenhouse gases. The President’s opposition has traditionally been based on several assumptions–(a) the division in the scientific community about the causes and true dangers of global warming, i.e., that increasing global temperatures are mainly a naturally-occurring climatic variation, rather than a result of human activity; (b) the impact upon the American economy if the U.S. ratified the Protocol (Bush contends it will harm economic productivity); (c) that Kyoto unfairly discriminates against industrialized nations while asking developing nations to do relatively little to reduce greenhouse emissions; and (d) that the world cost of implementing Kyoto is way too high–new forms of energy will replace fossil fuels long before the true impact of Kyoto would be felt by the nations of the planet. Given this standing policy position, it was somewhat surprising that a written report, coordinated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and representing the scientific opinions of experts in six other federal agencies (among them, the President’s own Council on Environmental Quality), partially refuted Bush’s policy on global warming. Essentially, the report, entitled "U.S. Climate Action Report 2002," acknowledged that humanity is behind global warming and that the main culprit is the combustion of fossil fuels which in turn disseminates heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the upper atmosphere. The report also predicts major changes (global warming-related) in the U.S/planetary ecological systems during the next few decades, such as drought, the disappearance of coral reefs and barrier islands, damage to buildings/roads in coastal and arctic areas due to a rise in sea levels, more air pollution, an increase in diseases transmitted by insects, ticks, and rodents, and the melting of snowpacks in Alaska and the western states, leading to the disruption of water supplies. Conversely, global warming may have some positive impact, such as a possible increase in crop yields and the more rapid growth of new forests.

     However, this report does not invalidate all of the basic tenets of the Administration’s global warming policies. For example, the report does not advocate Kyoto’s mandated cuts in emissions, but rather accepts the Bush position that only voluntary measures to slow the growth of those emissions are necessary. Little can be done to eliminate the large amounts of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere according to the report. Hence, President Bush, when asked his reaction to the report, dismissed it as just another product of the "bureaucracy." Still, environmental groups pointed to an inherent contradiction in the Bush Administration’s position on global warming–the Administration’s own bureaucracy was predicting dire, potentially disastrous environmental changes in the future stemming from the now acknowledged, man-made threat of global warming–and yet refusing to adopt any real proactive solutions that might head off the problem. Environmental critics further pointed out that the report was a requirement of signatories to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and that it had been forwarded to that international body. How could the U.S. persist in its policy of rejecting Kyoto when it had produced a study for the United Nations acknowledging that global warming and its adverse implications were all too real? After all, Kyoto was recently ratified by both Japan and the 15 nations of the European Union. A total of 74 nations have now approved Kyoto. As the world’s greatest polluting nation (the U.S., with 4 percent of the world’s population, produces 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases), did the United States and its political leadership not have an obligation to the American people and the global community? Despite the reaction of the environmental lobby, the Administration responded by reiterating that the President’s voluntary approach to greenhouse gas emissions was still preferable to the mandated reductions of Kyoto. Ironically, in the same week, NASA scientists reported in the journal Science that the glaciers of Greenland were moving far more quickly toward the ocean than expected, hence accelerating the threat of rapidly rising world sea levels. In addition, other press reports revealed that Antarctica’s fringe of ice shelves was disintegrating at a record pace.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What has been the general position of the Bush Administration regarding the causes and significance of global warming?
  2. How did the new report coordinated by the EPA both refute and support the President’s position on global warming?
  3. What was the reaction of environmental critics to the report? How did they use the report to attack the Bush Administration’s policies on global warming?

Back to top


President Bush Proposes a Solution to the Problems Plaguing Tom Ridge and "Homeland Security": A New Cabinet Department Is Needed

     As reported last month, Tom Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security has grappled with endless problems stemming from the war against terrorism in the aftermath of the horrendous September 11 attacks. Ridge’s planned anti-terrorist policies have been affected by innumerable political, bureaucratic, and budgetary obstacles. In short, his organizational mission was compromised. Despite the president’s confidence in the former Pennsylvania Governor’s abilities, Ridge has been undercut by other cabinet officers and federal agency heads who are also involved in the fight against terrorism. As previously noted, there have been so many government agencies involved in the war against terrorism that any attempt by Ridge to coordinate their activities through bureaucratic centralization became a virtual impossibility. Hence, as a response to this bureaucratic problem and the publicity surrounding FBI/CIA intelligence failures prior to September 11, President Bush, in a move that surprised many members of Congress, proposed a new Cabinet Department of Homeland Security, involving an extensive reorganization that would place most domestic security/anti-terrorist agencies under one bureaucratic umbrella. Approximately 169,000 government employees from some 100-plus federal entities (among them, the Customs Service, Secret Service, the INS, and Coast Guard) will be transferred into this new Cabinet post. As planned by Bush, the Department of Homeland Defense (hereafter abbreviated as DHD) will then be the third-largest Cabinet department after Defense and Veterans Affairs. It will also have an impressive budget of $37.5 billion.

     To the Bush Administration, creating DHD will have a number of advantages. First, it may make it easier to control the overall homeland security budget, since it will now be consolidated rather than being dispersed through multiple agencies. Second, DHD symbolizes to both Congress and the American people the resolve of the Bush Administration to find a better way of fighting terrorism, especially in the light of revelations that (a) the FBI and CIA each had information about the hijackers of September 11, but failed to share that information appropriately (the President’s evening speech proposing DHD occurred at the same time that Minneapolis FBI agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley testified before Congress, asserting that senior FBI officials had bungled available terrorist information prior to 9/11) and (b) new government warnings about a plethora of terrorist threats from biological attacks against subways to sabotage of nuclear power plants to the use of a "dirty bomb" (radioactive material mixed with a core of conventional explosives) against a major American city were both serious and potentially catastrophic. Consequently, the planned internal "divisions" of DHD will handle border and transportation security, responses to terrorist attacks (led by the Federal Management Agency and supported by the Department of Energy’s NES--Nuclear Emergency Search Teams–apparatus), and countermeasures against chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear attacks.

     However, while Congress appears generally ready to approve DHD (but with some modifications), there are congressional representatives and federal agencies that may resist DHD within the original Bush "reorganization" blueprint. For example, agencies will be placed into DHD whose functions do not relate to the anti-terrorism goal. Thus, the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that prevents birds from attacking crops and oversees horse shows would become part of DHD. Then there is the objection to having important specific bureaucratic functions that are already being implemented under other Departments from being moved to DHD. Thus, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) argued that the beleaguered Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) functions of processing tourism visas and temporary foreign-worker permits are best left to the Justice Department, the place where the INS is currently housed. Another problem is moving the Secret Service out of Treasury where it has traditionally investigated counterfeiting, credit card and Internet fraud. To critics, those functions seem out of place in DHD. Third, there is the problem of the precise relationship of the FBI/CIA to DHD. Critics argue that the DHD job of "synthesizing" intelligence information from the FBI/CIA may simply be adding another layer of distortion to the intelligence analysis process. Furthermore, DHD will not have access to raw intelligence data nor will it assemble intelligence information on its own (in short, any intelligence info DHD does receive may be "watered down," inhibiting real and meaningful analysis). But in spite of these objections, President Bush reiterated his belief that the sooner DHD becomes reality, the better the nation will be protected from future terrorist attacks. He expressed hope that DHD would be "operational" by January 1, 2003.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did President Bush propose a new Department of Homeland Security?
  2. What bureaucratic problems are associated with this new proposed reorganization?
  3. What role will "turf fights" play in the planned reorganization?
  4. Will American intelligence analysis of potential terrorist threats be improved by DHD? Why or why not?

Back to top
The Bush Administration Proposes a Reinterpretation of the Second Amendment (Gun Control)

     The issue of gun control and its legal relationship to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment was raised once again in May by key members of the Bush Administration, i.e., Attorney General (AG) John Ashcroft and U.S. Solicitor General (USSG) Theodore Olsen. Traditionally, both Democratic and Republican Administrations have accepted the 1939 U.S. v. Miller Supreme Court ruling that explicitly linked gun ownership not to an unfettered, constitutionally-protected individual right, but rather as a privilege of bearing firearms only within the Amendment’s specified "well-regulated militia" context. AG Ashcroft has promulgated the contrary view. In 2001, he wrote a letter to the National Rifle Association in which he stated that the current Supreme Court interpretation was wrong (Ashcroft noted in the letter that a majority of constitutional scholars also believed in this interpretation; however, other scholars disputed Ashcroft’s assertion). In his opinion, the Second Amendment conferred upon individuals the constitutional right of gun ownership and that only narrowly-based, state-mandated restrictions upon that right were permissible. This year, a lower federal appeals court also questioned the Supreme Court’s long-standing position on Second Amendment "militia" exclusivity (U.S. v. Emerson), finding that the Second Amendment did indeed protect individual rights to own guns and that only relatively narrow or limited exceptions to this principle could be enacted by government (see Greenhouse, "In Shift, Justice Dept. Tells Court Individuals Have a Right to Guns, New York Times, May 8, 2002, pp. A1, A25). Subsequently, Ashcroft directed all federal prosecutors to adopt the Bush Administration’s view that gun ownership was an individual right regardless of the "state militia" legal standard. Hence, USSG Olsen then filed legal briefs for two gun control cases being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in which he argued that governments must prove a "compelling interest" if restrictions on individual gun ownership are to apply (Olsen did suggest that laws preventing criminals or unfit persons from obtaining firearms were still appropriate).

     Gun control advocates charged that Ashcroft and Olsen’s "extremist reading" of the Second Amendment, if eventually accepted by the Supreme Court, would undermine existing gun control laws such as the Brady Act’s background checks prior to gun purchases or even the ban on assault weapons. Furthermore, they charged that the AG and USSG’s conception of historical precedent was incorrect. The constitutional framers had never envisioned the Second Amendment as guaranteeing individual gun ownership (Madison’s draft of the Amendment had only stressed the "state militia" focus). Finally, Democrats/gun control advocates argued that the Ashcroft/Olsen strategies stemmed not so much from personal conviction, but rather from the Bush Administration’s need to solidify its support from its right-wing, conservative base. In the words of one gun-control spokesperson, "the Justice Department ‘has shown its willingness to throw red meat to the gun lobby and put its political agenda over its institutional interests and obligations’ (Greenhouse, p. A25)." In doing so, the Administration was again ignoring the dangers of unchecked gun ownership, from the roughly 29,000 gun-related homicides annually to the issue of school gun violence to the harm inflicted upon the nation’s law-enforcement personnel.

     Conversely, gun control opponents and the National Rifle Association reiterated that both Ashcroft and Olsen were rectifying a long-standing, but erroneous constitutional standard. They cited numerous historical quotes from the Framers indicating their approval of individual gun ownership (example–Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that "no free man shall ever be debarred from the use of arms") and the need of early Americans to resist the British through a well-armed citizenry. Other conservatives, such as those from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), argued that if the Miller precedent were abolished and gun ownership expanded, then crime would actually decrease. As John R. Lott of AEI stated, "gun-control advocates conveniently ignore that the countries with the highest homicide rates have gun bans . . . In the four years after the U.K. banned handguns in 1996, gun crime rose by an astounding 40% . . . (see "Gun Laws don’t reduce crime," USA Today, 5/9/02, p. 11A). In short, broadening of gun ownership in America was the proper policy, not the further restriction of guns. Finally, these opponents noted that neither Ashcroft nor Olsen were advocating the abolition of all gun-control laws. The two men were on record as supporting the idea that the state could qualify gun ownership through rational standards and the denial of firearms to disreputable individuals. Nevertheless, to handgun controllers, the AG/USSG’s views provide legal fodder to those who may wish to overturn Miller and then subsequently weaken or even abolish gun control legislation.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the Bush Administration’s view of the Second Amendment break with
  2. previous Supreme Court precedent regarding the Amendment’s meaning?
  3. Why do Democrats charge that the Bush Administration’s "new version" of the Second
  4. Amendment is "politically" motivated?
  5. How do some historians interpret the motivations of the Founding Fathers in formulating the
  6. Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
  7. How might the Ashcroft/Olson interpretations influence current gun-control laws as well as future
  8. gun control legislation?

Back to top


The Problems Plaguing Tom Ridge and "Homeland Security"

     In the aftermath of the traumatic events of September 11, Tom Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security has grappled with the endless problems confronting the nation in its war against terrorism. But Ridge’s planned anti-terrorist policies have been affected by innumerable political, bureaucratic, and budgetary obstacles. In short, his organizational mission has been compromised. Despite the president’s confidence in the former Pennsylvania Governor’s abilities, Ridge has been undercut by other cabinet officers and federal agency heads who are also involved in the fight against terrorism. The examples are numerous. A recent intelligence report stating that the nation’s banks were facing a possible terrorist attack was announced by Attorney General Ashcroft, not by Ridge. Then, after advocating a more expansive, stronger border patrol presence, President Bush overruled Ridge and announced plans for a more modest agency. Third, the decision to stop air patrols over New York City was initiated by the Pentagon without any consultation with Ridge’s office. Furthermore, there are so many government agencies involved in the war against terrorism that any attempt by Ridge to coordinate their activities through bureaucratic centralization is a virtual impossibility. Ridge simply does not have the budget or statutory authority. Hence, Congress has gotten into the act. Through a bipartisan effort, a plan has been launched by both Democrats and Republicans to create a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. This new Department would combine the Federal Management Emergency Agency, Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, and parts of the Department of Agriculture. Nevertheless, this expansion of "big government" through the addition of another Cabinet post roils political conservatives. There appears to be equally strong sentiment in Congress for decentralization, i.e., leaving intact the current pattern of independent, specialized agencies.

     Apart from the Cabinet post issue, it is obvious that Ridge has both his critics and defenders. While Ridge has insisted that he has made great strides in creating a genuine national domestic security system, involving the cooperation of health, law enforcement, fire-fighting and local/state officials, other observers find fault with his approach. For example, as reported by Elizabeth Becker of the New York Times ("Big Visions for Security Post Shrink Amid Political Drama," 5/3/02, pp. A1, A16), the Brookings Institution, a liberal think-tank in Washington, asserted that Ridge "had focused too much on air safety without recognizing other vulnerabilities; that he has not given enough help to the Coast Guard, Customs Service, or Border Patrol; and that plans to secure private building and other sites were too scattershot (p. A16)." Conversely, Ridge supporters note that he has correctly stressed that homeland security is strongly linked to America’s "hometowns." Consequently, Ridge, responding to his critics, intends to publish a new strategic plan by July 1, by which his agency will "build up the public health system, finance programs to fight bioterrorism, improve border security and give new technology and training to the police, fire and other officials at the front lines of trying to protect the public. The plan . . . has to streamline communications among thousands of agencies, departments and offices across the country to coordinate resources and intelligence. It has to impose safety standards and detail how to protect vital private installations like banks and skyscrapers (Becker, p. A16)." To accomplish such a gargantuan task is incredibly costly and challenging.

     Regarding cost, federal money to the tune of some 3.5 billion (recommended by Ridge) for the states and localities to train anti-terrorist personnel has not yet been approved by Congress. Second, states and localities are facing serious financial constraints from the recession and major financial choices in terms of supporting other worthwhile programs such as education. Third, as noted above, the goal of close coordination between the states and the federal government is still a visionary goal rather than a reality despite the best efforts put forth by Ridge. Few states, if any, are fully ready to handle another major terrorist attack on their soil. But conversely, all 50 states have created their own offices of homeland security since September 11. In many states, any or even all of the following have been created/implemented--anti-terrorism planning commissions, web sites sharing important intelligence information about terrorist activities, training for local governments in bio-terrorist safety procedures, and new surveillance procedures of suspected terrorists, to name but a few. So, in the final analysis, it appears that the value of Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security (OHS) does not now lie in its creation of a fully-functional, coherent anti-terrorist infrastructure that assures all Americans of immunity from terrorist attacks in the future. The value of OHS today is that it is a symbolic reminder to the nation and its citizenry that this war against terrorism requires an extensive and persistent vigilance projected over a very long period of time. An effective and secure anti-terrorist infrastructure at home will, like the proverbial jigsaw puzzle, have to be put into place incrementally and slowly. Despite its flaws, Ridge’s OHS is trying to fulfill this vital mission against the backdrop of America’s first war of the new century.

Discussion Questions

  1. What bureaucratic problems has Tom Ridge encountered as Director of Homeland Security?
  2. What perhaps is the fundamental "value" of OHS?
  3. What has Ridge tried to accomplish as Director of Homeland Security?

Back to top


Congress Acts To Overhaul The Immigration And Naturalization Service (INS)

     The aftermath of the traumatic events of September 11 has not been particularly kind to the reputation of the Justice Department’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The hijackers who flew civilian airlines into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on "9/11" had all entered the United States using "temporary visas." Two of the hijackers were in the country illegally. The INS had "lost" track of those terrorists. Furthermore, in an especially embarrassing development, INS personnel had in March of 2002 sent out letters to a Florida flight school approving visa extensions to two of the now-dead hijackers! A third blow to the INS unfolded when an INS port inspector in Norfolk, Va. ignored post-September 11 national security rules by permitting four Pakistani seamen to come ashore. Three of the four subsequently disappeared. While the men did not appear to be national security risks, the event further tarnished the professionalism of the INS. As noted in a Wall Street Journal article, the INS "hasn’t has a top-to-bottom overhaul in decades, and its record-keeping problems have led to embarrassing glitches . . . they have kept it from adequately tracing the 300,000-plus foreigners who have ignored deportation orders. The INS also has been criticized for allowing an estimated eight million illegal aliens to remain in the U.S. (See Marjorie Valbrun, "House Panel Votes to Split INS Into Two Separate Agencies, WSJ, April 11, 2002, p. A6)." Hence, a legislative climate was established to reorganize the INS, a truly beleaguered agency. Once again, as was the case in the electoral reform bill discussed above, political bipartisanship was the order of the day.

      Accordingly, the House Judiciary Committee voted 32-2 on April 10 to split the INS into two agencies, one to enforce immigration laws (defending the nation’s borders from illegal immigration and/or suspected terrorists who might enter the country and being sure that visitors do not "overstay" the time specified in their "temporary" visas) and the other to serve foreign nationals on U.S. soil (the issuance of visas and the granting of citizenship status). Similar legislation was to be introduced into the Senate within a week by Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Immigration panel, and by Sam Brownback (R, Kansas). The "new" INS would remain housed in the Justice Department in both the House and Senate legislative versions and run by an associate attorney general who would become the number #3 ranking official in Justice. Conversely, the Bush Administration has been somewhat lukewarm toward the congressional INS reorganization plan. The Administration agrees about the INS restructuring into service and immigration bureaus, but wants the Border Patrol joined with the Customs Service. These organizational details need to be worked out, but it appears almost certain that major structural changes within the INS will eventually happen. Congress is determined that such changes will maximize the difficulties for terrorists to enter the nation while establishing policy procedures that will collectively create a fair system for those who wish to obey the nation’s immigration statutes.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did the House Judiciary Committee recommend changes in the INS?
  2. How and why did September 11 influence congressional resolve to change the INS?
  3. What modifications does the Bush Administration want regarding the INS?

Back to top


The U.S. Senate passes its version of the Election Reform Bill

     The U.S. Senate, remembering the debacle of the 2000 presidential election, passed its electoral reform bill by an overwhelming bipartisan 99-1 vote (the House passed its own version of electoral reform in December of last year–it is different from the Senate version in several important details). The bill was sponsored by Christopher Dodd (D, Conn.) and Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky). The Senate bill contained the following important provisions: (a) 3.5 billion in grant money to the states over a five year period for implementing electoral changes (the House version provides up to 2.65 billion) such as upgrading voting technology, i.e., eliminating the infamous punched ballots of 2000; (b) the creation of a new Federal Election Administration Commission that will be a clearinghouse for election data (the Commission would also set maximum "error rates" for equipment that would tabulate ballots); (c) mandating states to establish computerized registration lists of voters; (d) allowing voters a "second chance" if they detect a mistake (incorrectly marked ballots) before leaving the voting booth; (e) an anti-fraud provision whereby the identity of first-time, mail-in voters must be verified through a photo ID or some other relevant document; (f) provisional voting for citizens who cast ballots by mail if there were no driver’s license or social security number on the ballot (state election officials would determine the authenticity of the ballot at a later date); (g) facilitating the voting process for the disabled (blind citizens will be permitted to cast secret ballots).

     While most pundits considered the bill as one that would strengthen democratic suffrage, there were critics. Civil rights groups argued that the legislation would discriminate against lower-income and minority group voters who may not possess a driver’s license or other types of identification such as a utility bill. In addition, as intimated earlier, there are some key differences between House and Senate versions of the electoral reform bill (i.e., the House version permits the states broader latitude in terms of the method state officials use to upgrade voter technology/hardware; also there was the question of how many federal mandates should be allowed vs. the traditional preference for state and local government control over the electoral process). The precise outcome of the House-Senate conference committee is problematical. However, it was refreshing to see the Senate behaving in a true bipartisan spirit instead of being bogged down in ideological rancor. The symbolic importance of this legislation was also noted by several Senators. As Charles Schumer (D-NY) observed, it was vital that the world’s most ancient democracy not be plagued with the oldest voter technology! Finally, it appeared that if the bill does survive conference committee and is then passed by both houses, President Bush will sign the bill into law.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the Senate version of the electoral reform bill differ from the House version?
  2. What are the key components of the Senate electoral reform bill?
  3. Why might minority group voters object to some provisions of the bill?
  4. How do you explain the overwhelming "99-1" vote in the Senate for the electoral reform bill?

Back to top


THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION "TARGETS" IRAQ

     President George W. Bush’s celebrated "axis of evil" statement in his January State of the Union Address continued to reverberate both internationally and domestically in the month of February. Internationally, the President’s statement was intended to put three nations on notice as either sponsors of terrorism and/or developers/exporters of mass destruction weapons–nuclear, biological, and chemical. Those three nations were North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. In his January speech, President Bush also stated that he would not wait for those three nations to develop an unacceptable threat to the United States, i.e., weapons endangering "our way of life." The global response to the Bush "axis of evil" assertion ranged from grudging understanding (Great Britain) to outright condemnation (Iran). Several European allies, such as Germany (the Germany foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, warned the U.S. that its allies were not "satellites"–a reference to cold war bipolarity) and France, believed that the Bush categorization was simplistic and indicative of the American penchant for foreign policy unilateralism ("going it alone") rather than a reliance on consultation (multilateralism) and careful diplomacy. It was no surprise that North Korea, Iran, and Iraq all rejected Bush’s allegations. Domestically, Congress and the public seemed supportive in general, but there were fears that the President was stretching U.S. economic and military resources thin as it expanded the war against terrorism to an ever-larger number of nations (note U.S. troops being sent to the Philippines and naval military exercises being conducted off the coast of Somalia). Also, Democrats charged that Bush’s statement was alienating moderate elements in the ruling clique of Iran and possibly wrecking the fragile diplomacy that had previously "frozen" North Korea’s nuclear arms program. Conversely, it appeared that domestic support was strongest in the case of Iraq. Americans remembered the 1990-1991 Gulf War when another "Bush" had occupied the Oval Office and confronted Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. As expected, few of America’s allies backed an American attack against Iraq, insisting that there was no definitive evidence linking Iraq to Osama bin Laden and the attacks of September 11 (but it is a fact that an Iraqi intelligence officer met with one of the September 11th hijackers in the Czech Republic months before the attacks upon the World Trade Center and the Pentagon). Europeans and the Russians also insisted that Iraq’s nuclear program could be stopped not by a American preemptive attack upon Iraqi nuclear installations, but rather by adroit negotiations that would open the path for new United Nations’ inspectors being placed on Iraqi soil.

     The Bush Administration responded that no inspection team would ever stop the Iraqi drive for nuclear weapons. Nor will sanctions. The only way for America to feel secure is to topple Saddam’s regime. Otherwise, Iraq will certainly develop nuclear weapons in the near future, not only threatening Israel and Saudi Arabia but also the United States and the West. The Bush Administration has rejected the European/Russian proposition that Saddam would never use nuclear weapons in anger. So, how can Saddam be overthrown? Clearly, the use of massive numbers of U.S. ground troops is not feasible, either politically or militarily. Also, there is no Iraqi "Northern Alliance" to take on the Iraqi army. However, there is the Iraqi National Congress, an organization of anti-Saddam elements, both inside of Iraq (Kurds, Shiites) and outside (exiled Iraqi generals and politicians). The "INC" is ostensibly committed to a democratic, secular Iraq that will allow representation for all elements of Iraqi society. A democratic Iraq could serve as a stabilizing force for the rest of the Middle East. But how can the INC be brought to power? Congress has allocated millions of dollars in support for the INC, but money alone is clearly insufficient to end Saddam’s rule. In short, as reported by Gordon and Sanger (New York Times, "Powell Says U.S. Is Weighing Ways To Topple Hussein," 2/13/02, pp. A1, A14), "there was an emerging consensus within the administration that Mr. Hussein must be overthrown, but there is not agreement on how precisely this should be done (p. A1)." It appears the U.S. will try to combine a blend of diplomatic pressure (giving Iraq an ultimatum to let in United Nations inspectors as one example) with careful military planning (possibly arming INC members, beefing up the U.S. air and ground presence in the region, and cultivating logistical support from allies in the Middle East). But no matter what plan is followed regarding Iraq, success will not come easily. However, the Bush Administration seems determined to accomplish this goal, regardless of the risks involved.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the Bush Administration openly talking about targeting Iraq as the next target in the U.S. global war against terrorism?
  2. In what ways would toppling Iraq’s regime be different from the Afghanistan campaign?
  3. How have other nations, especially U.S. Allies, reacted to Bush’s "axis of evil" allegation?
  4. What is the significance of unilateralism vs. multilateralism in U.S. foreign policy?

Back to top

THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES FINALLY PASSES THE SHAYS-MEEHAN CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM BILL

In the aftermath of the Enron scandal (the now-bankrupt, infamous energy corporation had bestowed huge campaign contributions to both parties and obtained special "access" to the corridors of power in Washington), the House of Representatives finally approved the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill by a 240-189 roll-call vote (the U.S. Senate had passed a comparable bill last year, but the House never followed up due to a procedural deadlock), with 198 Democrats, 41 Republicans, and 1 Independent comprising the victorious coalition. The core of Shays-Meehan was the abolition of "soft money"–unrestricted, unlimited funds donated by unions, wealthy individuals, and corporations to political parties. Those monies are often subsequently funneled to congressional campaigns or "disguised" issue-ads.

However, there is no guarantee that Shays-Meehan will pass the Senate. One cannot even assume presidential signature (President Bush has not publicly announced he would veto the bill; polls also show overwhelming support for tightening campaign-money statutes). Furthermore, critics of campaign finance reform argue that key provisions of Shays-Meehan (and its Senate equivalent, McCain-Feingold) banning soft money to the national political parties and issue-ads (disclosure regulations and TV/radio advertising are forbidden 60 days before a general election, 30 days prior to a primary) violate free speech. However, Shays-Meehan does have a provision allowing for accelerated review by the U.S. District Court in Washington, and then followed by a fairly quick appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (parts of the bill could be declared unconstitutional without jeopardizing the entire legislation). Supporters claim that campaign finance reform will survive Supreme Court scrutiny. In addition, they point out that the legislation allows individuals to double their "hard money" contributions to congressional/presidential candidates from $1000 to $2000 (in a primary or general election), thereby enhancing grass-roots political participation (the annual cap on total hard donations from an individual goes from $25,000 to $47,000) . In the final analysis, proponents of campaign finance reform essentially argue that soft money and unregulated contributions are corrupting the very essence of American politics. Opponents, in addition to the free speech issue, argued that Shays-Meehan would conveniently take place after the November elections. Furthermore, a loophole in the bill would allow union/corporate/individual donations of up to $10,000 to state/local parties for voter education/turnout activities. To opponents, soft money should be banned entirely at all political levels or not at all.

If this legislation does eventually pass both houses of Congress and is signed by President Bush, then what changes might occur in American politics as a result? According to a Wall Street Journal story ("How New Legislation To Curb ‘Soft Money’ Might Redirect Power," 2/15/02, pp. A1, A6), the following could happen: (a) the power of the two major national parties could be eroded; (b) the influence of state parties could rise; (c) TV ad time would be decreased during the election homestretch period; (d) corporations may be forced to contribute to independent political activity rather than "just writing a check for a party–while also making those dollars more likely to be wasted and more difficult for the public and press to track (p. A1)"; (e) wealthy donors will be increasingly hit for "hard money" contributions; but there may be also be a shift to a new political universe of political activists–"younger, more aggressive types who are willing to work their Rolodexes to solicit $2000 donations from others" (p. A6); (f) President Bush’s chances of being reelected will improve (Bush can probably collect more hard money contributions than any Democratic presidential hopeful in 2004), but it is unlikely that the "balance of power" over time between Republicans and Democrats will be seriously affected; (g) PACs will likely fill the void created by the ban on soft money to the national parties. Whatever the precise impact of campaign finance reform, the vital role of money in U.S. politics will by no means disappear and to some, neither will related scandals. As noted in the WSJ article above (p. A6), "Republicans and Democrats alike predicted the emergence in relatively short order of scandals under the new system, some involving campaign money hidden in the shadows of independent political groups, others involving illegal coordination between those groups and national parties bereft of familiar soft-money checks." Inevitably, the process of reform will have to be renewed.

Discussion Questions

  1. What were the key components of the campaign finance reform bill passed by the House?
  2. How did the Enron scandal serve as a catalyst for campaign finance reform?
  3. Will the U.S. Senate also approve the bill passed by the House?
  4. If the Senate also passes the bill, will President Bush sign the bill?

Back to top

PRESIDENT BUSH FORMALLY ANNOUNCES THE U.S. WITHDRAWAL FROM THE 1972 ABM TREATY

The Bush Administration formally announced in mid-December that the U.S. would withdraw from the 1972 ABM (Antiballistic Missile) Treaty within the next six months. President Bush put it this way in a White House statement: "Today, I have given formal notice to Russia . . . that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year old treaty . . . I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks" (see The New York Times, 12/14/01, p. A12). In short, the following reasons were part of the Administration’s rationale for its decision--(a) the Treaty’s restrictions upon developing an anti-missile system placed the national security of the U.S. in jeopardy; (b) nuclear threats had changed dramatically since the end of the cold war; an attack from Russia was now unlikely, but a nuclear attack by a "rogue state" such as Iraq, Iran, or North Korea was far more probable during the next decade or two as the acquisition by those states of nuclear weapons and missile technology seemed inevitable; in addition, a terrorist launch of a nuclear weapon was also a distinct possibility; (c) U.S. testing and development of that system had to go forward regardless of complications with Russia and China; a new arms race would not necessarily develop if both of these nations fully and truly understood the reasons behind the U.S. decision. The Bush Administration believed that President Putin of Russia along with the Chinese leadership had been properly prepared "diplomatically" prior to President Bush’s formal decision.

Critics of the decision saw the reverse side of the decision-making coin. First of all, would a rogue state ever have the audacity to strike U.S. soil with a nuclear weapon, knowing that U.S. retaliation would be massive, i.e., total destruction? Second, why should the U.S. abolish a Treaty that had been the cornerstone of strategic nuclear stability for nearly three decades? Third, the ABM withdrawal could harm relations with Russia and China in other ways, i.e., perhaps reducing their support for the U.S.-sponsored war on global terrorism. Fourth, testing, development, and full deployment of an ABM system were expensive and irrelevant steps. After all, the critics argued, how would an ABM system protect the U.S. against another conventional terrorist attack or even a "suitcase nuke" smuggled into the country and then detonated on U.S. soil? Why not use the billions of dollars for anti-terrorism defenses, instead of expending valuable dollars on an untried missile defense system that had still not proved itself in previous Air Force tests over the Pacific? Even if such a system could be deployed successfully, the Chinese and Russians could quickly add multiple warheads to their missiles, thereby overwhelming a U.S. ABM network that might only be able to intercept 20-30 warheads at one time. Fifth, critics pointed out that the 1972 Treaty did not actually prevent testing of ground-based interceptors. The U.S. should have proceeded more slowly, gradually convincing Russia and China that an abandonment of the Treaty was to their advantage as well. A unilateral withdrawal placed new pressures upon Putin from his own military, possibly making future arms control concessions more difficult (However, Putin went on Russian TV, assuring his people that the strategic balance would not be endangered since the nation would preserve at least 1500 to 2200 nuclear missiles, more than enough to overwhelm any American ABM system). From the Chinese perspective, the fears were that a U.S. ABM system would negate its minimal force of 20 or so ICBMs and its ability to support its claims to Taiwan, a nation that it sees as belonging to the mainland. Thus, the Chinese leadership hinted that it would take steps to modernize its ICBM force in the future; i.e., meaning the production of additional sophisticated and accurate missiles (Senator Joe Biden, Democratic Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, contended that Bush’s decision would force the Chinese to take that very step–see New York Times, 12/14/01, p. A12). Conversely, the Bush Administration tried to reassure China’s leadership, especially President Jiang Zemin, that its missile defense system was not aimed at them, but at other rogue states, such as North Korea or Iraq. In short, the Bush foreign policy team apparently believes that both China and Russia will eventually accept the political and strategic implications of the ABM Treaty abrogation.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did President Bush decide to abandon the ABM Treaty?
  2. What were the reactions of Russia and China to the Bush announcement?
  3. Why were some members of Congress opposed to the ABM Treaty abandonment?
  4. How did the war against terrorism influence the ABM Treaty decision?

Back to top

OSAMA BIN LADEN AND THE VIDEOTAPE

    While American bombing and Northern Alliance/American ground forces ultimately broke the final resistance of Al Qaeda fighters in the rugged Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, the search for master terrorist Osama bin Laden continued unsuccessfully (there was a $25 million dollar reward for evidence of his death or information leading to his capture). Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld openly speculated that bin Laden might have been killed by the heavy bombing of caves in the area or, as a second possibility, escaped to Pakistan. Whatever bin Laden’s final disposition (President Bush reiterated that he wanted him "dead or alive," but preferably dead), the urgency of conclusively determining bin Laden’s fate substantially intensified with the Bush Administration’s release of an incriminating videotape (apparently found in the city of Jalalabad) revealing bin Laden’s complicity in the September 11 attacks upon the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon. The tape showed Osama bin Laden casually talking to supporters about the attacks (the November 9th conversation occurred in a Kandahar "guesthouse," the then southern stronghold of the Taliban), in which the exiled Saudi Arabian boasted and laughed about the success of those strikes to his aides and a visiting Saudi cleric.

    It was sometimes hard to hear bin Laden’s words on the tape. But those audible portions, translated by Arabic language experts in the U.S., were abundantly clear regarding culpability. Three key points emerged from the video. First, bin Laden revealed that he knew well in advance the operational details of the attacks on America (bin Laden mentions Mohammed Atta, the leader of the terrorists) and the roles/identities of the hijackers (interestingly enough, it appears that most of the hijackers were not aware of the full details of their mission until the last possible moment when they boarded the planes; however they apparently knew they were involved in a "martyrdom operation";). Second, the evil, souless, unremorseful personality of bin Laden is evident when he states on the tape that "we calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all . . . due to my experience in this field (bin Laden was a former engineer). I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for (see Atlanta Constitution, 12/14/01, p. A1)." Third, it was obvious that bin Laden saw the terrorist strikes as part of a holy war against America. The strikes were wholly justified and morally proper, for the deaths of innocent Americans ("infidels") and other nationalities in the World Trade Center Towers were vital to bin Laden’s role as the leader of Islam’s "crusade" against U.S. influence both in the Middle East (especially Saudi Arabia) and around the world. Indeed, bin Laden makes the point that the attacks had energized the power of Islam. He notes that . . . "in Holland, at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last 11 years."

    To Americans and other western leaders/publics, the tape was compelling evidence of bin Laden’s complicity. To mainstream Islamic groups, bin Laden’s use of religion to justify mass murder was sacrilegious, to say the least. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based interest group, asserted that the tape demonstrated beyond any doubt that bin Laden was guilty. Furthermore, the group’s statement asserted that "Bin Laden seemed to revel in the death and destruction in Washington and New York . . . he falsely implied that the acts of the hijackers were justified by Islamic beliefs (Atlanta Constitution, 12/14/01, p. A16)." However, despite the hopes of the Bush Administration that the tape would dramatically swing Arab global opinion to the U.S. anti-bin Laden position by proving the latter’s role behind the September 11 attacks, the reality was otherwise. Many Arab intellectuals argued that the tape was a forgery (the Egyptian father of Mohammed Atta dismissed the tape as a fake) or that the U.S. had the technology to alter dialogue, or even that Osama was incapable of launching such attacks in the first place. An ominous note stemming from the tape was the apparent connection between anti-U.S. clerics in Saudi Arabia and support for bin Laden. One cleric on the tape, Sheik Sulayman, tells Osama that a number of conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia supported the September 11 attacks. Furthermore, many in the Islamic world continued to propound the preposterous conspiracy theory that the CIA or the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, was actually behind September 11 (see Wall Street Journal, 12/14/01, p. B1). Despite its failure to achieve a new consensus in the Arab world, the Bush Administration persevered, distributing copies of the tape to key news organizations and agencies throughout the Middle East. Whether the tide of opinion would shift massively remained an open question.

Discussion Questions

  1. What evidence was revealed on the tape that almost certainly proves bin Laden’s complicity in the September 11 attacks that killed over 3000 people?
  2. Why were some individuals in the Middle East dubious about the tape’s authenticity?
  3. What does the tape reveal about bin Laden’s personality and terrorist goals?
  4. Who were some of the other people on the tape and why are they significant?


OSAMA BIN LADEN: THE POTENTIAL OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS; HIS VERBAL ATTACK UPON THE UNITED NATIONS/SECRETARY GENERAL; AND THE LONG-TERM THREAT POSED BY HIM TO SAUDI ARABIA

While American planes continued striking a wide variety of military targets in Afghanistan (Taliban airports, missile sites, jet fighters, terrorist training sites, etc.) and the rebel Northern Alliance seized the capital, Kabul (the Taliban appeared to be collapsing), Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization publicly declared that they possessed weapons of mass destruction. In a videotaped message, Bin Laden also attacked the United Nations and the its Secretary General, Kofi Annan (a "criminal," according to Bin Laden). Finally, the Saudi Royal family apparently is feeling the pressure of pro-bin Laden factions within their nation.

    First, there was the issue of Osama bin Laden and his possession of weapons of mass destruction. President Bush publicly acknowledged that bin Laden and his terrorist network were "seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. After a meeting with French leader Chirac, Bush asserted that bin Laden was evil and that he "wouldn´t put it past him to develop evil weapons (see USA Today, 11/7/01, p. A1)." U.S. intelligence officials confirmed that bin Laden had tried to acquire nuclear capability in the past. Bin Laden himself had asserted in an interview with a Pakistani journalist that he did have a nuclear device. When the journalist asked bin Laden from where he had obtained nuclear weapons, bin Laden replied "Go to the next question" (see 11/11/01, Atlanta Constitution, p. A10). Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld doubted the nuclear claim, but in the same breath he suggested that Al Qaeda had the determination to accomplish such an acquisition. Rumsfeld also mentioned the threat of "radiological weapons," i.e., "mixtures of conventional explosives and nuclear material deigned to spread radiation without a nuclear detonation (See Atlanta Constitution, November 12, p. A7)." It appeared that bin Laden was trying to acquire this "dirty bomb." There is also fear among American officials that internal unrest within Pakistan could lead to a radical group overthrowing the government or gaining enough power to seize that nation´s nuclear arsenal. While Pakistani officials assure the U.S. that their atomic weapons are secure, doubts remain. Finally, there were reports that Al Qaeda had previously contacted Pakistani nuclear scientists in a first step designed to obtain an atomic device.

    Osama bin Laden also raised new security concerns at the United Nations. In a videotaped message broadcast by the Arab station Al Jazeera, bin Laden stated that "the United Nations is nothing but a tool of crime" and that the international institution "was siding with the "crusader" interests of the West against Muslims. Bin Laden mentioned Bosnia, where Muslim men were killed, Muslim women raped, and Muslim children massacred within the alleged "safe havens" of the United Nations. In short, bin Laden´s message constituted a clever ploy to show that the U.S. and its coalition´s attacks in Afghanistan were clearly part of a global conflict against Islam. As the New York Times described it, "Mr. bin Laden continues to cast himself as a populist holy warrior . . . the core of Mr. bin Laden´s evangelism is a clash of religions—not just Muslim against Christian, or Muslim against Jew, but Muslims against everyone else, the ‘infidels´ (see the Times, ll/9/01, pp. A1, B4)." It was also apparent that U.N. workers could become targets of Al Qaeda´s wrath around the world.

    Finally there was the relationship between Saudi Arabia and bin Laden. Bin Laden was originally a Saudi national who was born into one of the wealthiest families in that country. Although he was eventually exiled, there remain strong pro-bin Laden followers within the oil kingdom. If the Pakistani "nuclear-seizure" scenario gives U.S. policy-makers nightmares, then the fall of Saudi Arabia to a pro bin-Laden regime is even more dreadful. The loss of Saudi oil would be a catastrophe for the American economy. While most American experts on Saudi Arabia downplay any "immediate threat" to the House of Saud, the royal family that rules the oil kingdom, there remains lurking in the background memories of the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran via a turbulent Islamic Revolution. Observers have contrasted the royal family´s ostentatious life-style to the symbol of Osama bin Laden living simply in an Afghanistan cave. In short, will the poor of Saudi Arabia and Saudi Islamic militants prefer bin Lader´s alleged "purer Islam" to the religious practices of the ruling hierarchy? Furthermore, the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan is ample propaganda ammunition for the bin Laden operatives. However, the situation may change now that it appears the Northern Alliance is on the verge of total victory in Afghanistan against the Taliban. Will the Alliance seek out bin Laden and deliver him to American justice? This remains an open question.

Discussion Questions

  1. What evidence suggests that Osama bin Laden may or may not have nuclear weapons?

  2. What should the U.S. response be if it is confirmed that bin Laden has mass destruction weapons?

  3. From what sources might bin Laden have obtained nuclear weapons?

  4. What charges did bin Laden level against the United Nations and Kofi Annan?

  5. Why are Saudi rulers fearful of bin Laden´s influence?

Back to top

  REVISITING ELECTION 2000: THE "BUTTERFLY BALLOT" COST AL GORE THE ELECTION BUT THE ISSUE OF "OVERVOTES/UNDERVOTES" REMAINS CONTROVERSIAL; WILL ELECTORAL REFORMS FOLLOW?

    A new study of the controversial Florida vote from Election 2000 by the Palm Beach Post (along with the Associated Press and seven other newspapers) reveals that Vice President Al Gore would not have overcome George W. Bush’s 537 vote lead, (that lead, out of over 6 million cast, gave Bush Florida’s 25 Electoral Votes and the presidency, despite Gore outpolling Bush nationally by 540.000 votes) either through statewide "undervote" analysis (undervotes were ballots where voting machines were unable to determine a presidential selection) or by hand recounts in heavily-Democratic Miami-Dade, Broward, Volusia, and Palm Beach counties. However, an earlier March Post study revealed that the infamous Palm Beach County’s "butterfly ballot" so confused Gore voters that they mistakenly voted for conservative Pat Buchanan instead (or led many others to cast "overvotes," i.e., votes for more than one candidate on the ballot), thereby costing the Vice President more than 6,000 votes. Hence, this poorly-constructed and imprecise ballot prevented Gore from winning the presidency. Palm Beach County was not the only Florida county with confusing ballot design. The study found that 18 other Florida counties had higher error rates because of ballots that were two pages long or which offered to the voter a complicated two-column structure. For example, in Duval County (the ballot dispersed presidential candidates across two pages), nearly 22,000 voters mistakenly chose two presidential candidates. This was the highest number of overvotes in the entire state.

    Gore’s reaction to the November study (NORC–The National Opinion Research Center viewed each tainted ballot) was fairly straightforward. He responded by observing that the election was over ("we are a nation of laws") and that the nation had to stay united behind President Bush in the war against terrorism (the White House’s comment was essentially the same). Still, other significant issues emerged from the study. African-American and senior citizen voters in Florida were the two groups that had the largest numbers of uncounted ballots. Both groups went heavily for Gore in Florida. In a "lenient" recount scenario, black precincts throughout the state might have picked up enough votes to erase the Bush lead. Also, if the Gore legal team had been successful in getting Palm Beach election officials to look at all of the county’s dimpled ballots, then Gore would probably have erased the Bush lead as well. Finally, it appeared true that if Gore had sought a full statewide recount of all untallied votes (both undervotes and overvotes, totalling 175,000 ballots) in Fla., then he probably would have won the state (Gore had publicly called for a full accounting of the vote, but Bush rejected that idea, arguing that hand recounts were inherently biased and inconsistent). However, an earlier May study by The Miami Herald and USA Today had arrived at a slightly different conclusion regarding the combined review of undervotes (62,000) and overvotes (113,000). Depending upon the standard used to evaluate votes, Bush would have emerged victorious under a "strict standard" while Gore would have prevailed under the "most liberal" standard.

    Perhaps the real importance of Election 2000 lies with the issue of ballot/voting technology reforms throughout the nation. Will the states, with federal help, replace defective voting machines and improve the entire voting process in the 2004 presidential election? Surprisingly, only Florida has truly committed itself to such an extensive effort. For example, a new Florida law has outlawed punch card ballots. Other states, such as Georgia and Maryland, have had legislation passed authorizing massive changes in the ballot and its related technologies, but have not yet appropriated funding to pay for those changes. The states are looking for federal assistance. Congress is currently contemplating an election system bill whereby $2.5 to $2.8 billion would be given to the states/localities for electoral reforms. The bill would require centralized, statewide voter databases, uniform standards for counting ballots, and a provision whereby an individual voter whose registration is doubted may still cast his or her ballot, subject to later verification procedures (see The New York Times, November 7, 2001, p. A15). One thing is certain–the nation cannot afford to experience another flawed presidential election. The strength of democracy is founded upon the integrity and legitimacy of the vote.

Discussion Questions

  1. What were the key findings of the Palm Beach Post analysis regarding the 2000 Fla. vote?

  2. What were Al Gore’s and the White House’s response to the newspapers’ study?

  3. What did a previous post March study reveal about the Florida vote?

  4. Why were the votes of the elderly and African-Americans so important in the Florida election? How were those votes affected by the "infamous butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County?

Back to top

  WAS IRAQ INVOLVED IN THE SEPTEMBER 11TH TERRORIST BOMBINGS?

      As American air strikes hit a wide variety of military targets in Afghanistan (Taliban airports, missile sites, jet fighters, terrorist training sites, etc.) and the Bush Administration began preparing for the use of ground troops as a way of flushing out the Bin Laden terrorist network, other anti-terrorist experts (within and outside of official policy circles) pointed out that there was evidence implicating Iraq in the September 11th bombings in New York City and the Pentagon. The dissemination of "anthrax letters" to individuals/media celebrities/politicos in Florida, Nevada, New York, and Washington confirmed to many that Iraq’s experiments with and its stockpiling of biological weapons had supplied terrorists who were sending those letters with the required anthrax spores (Note: The FBI, as of mid-October, had been unable to say with certainty that the anthrax letters were being sent by bin Laden operatives). In addition, numerous newspapers accounts revealed that one of the key September 11th hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had visited an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague months before the attacks (Iraq had even earlier contacts with Osama bin Laden in both Sudan and Afghanistan; the most prominent meeting was in 1998 when an important Iraqi intelligence agent personally met Mr. bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan). Finally, key policy makers, such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, publicly warned that Iraq’s development of mass destruction weapons (chemical, biological, and even nuclear) poses a future threat of extraordinary proportions to the American nation. In short, if America’s global war were to be broadened to other nations that supported terrorists, then Iraq would surely be a future target. Iraq has been on America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since the early 1990s. Indeed, theories still abound that Iraq had been behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. In short, it was time to finish a job that had been left undone by the senior President Bush during the 1991 Gulf War. That wrong-headed decision to end the war prematurely had led to the survival of the Iraqi leader and his state, a state that still threatened Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and American homeland security.

     But those who opposed targeting Iraq raised a number of interesting points. First, there was no hard evidence linking Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network directly to Saddam Hussein, whom bin Laden associates have openly denounced in the past (Hussein has suppressed dissenting Islamic clergy within Iraq). Conversely, both Osama and Saddam have a mutual hatred of America as well as both opposing the Shiite Islamic regime of Iran. Saddam's ruthless pragmatism would allow an alliance to form with Osama. Bin Laden himself has publicly mentioned the plight of the Iraqi people who suffer under U.S. sanctions. But once again, by October 10th, news reports carried stories that intelligence agencies could not find any Iraqi linkage to bin Laden. As New York Times writer Raymond Bonner reported, "Israeli intelligence officials told their American counterparts that they have not found any evidence of an Iraqi role in the attacks . . . (October 11, 2001, p. B7)." The same report revealed that Mr. Bin Laden appears not to need a state sponsor, i.e., he is his own state by using Afghanistan as a sanctuary. Finally, critics of striking Iraq argued that to do so, even if some connection were ultimately uncovered by intelligence agencies, would fracture the Arab coalition against terrorism that President George W. Bush had assembled in the month after the September 11th attacks.

      Nevertheless, it appeared that officials in the Pentagon were still pressing to remove Saddam from power. In an interesting article by Elaine Sciolino and Patrick E. Tyler (NYT, 10/12/01, p. B6), entitled "Some Pentagon Officials and Advisers Seek to Oust Iraq's Leader in War's Next Phase," it was revealed that Paul Wolfowitz was leading a Pentagon study group dedicated to eliminating Saddam's hold over Iraq. According to the plan, American air and ground power would lead to a U.S. armed occupation of southern Iraqi territory. From there, an Iraqi government-in-exile would be placed in a political position whereby a new Iraqi government could eventually be formed. While Colin Powell's State Department considered the Wolfowitz plan dangerous to needed Arab unity, the Wolfowitz plan might become more attractive if and when Saddam's weapons of mass destruction become an imminent reality.

      Discussion Questions

  1. What evidence suggests Iraqi involvement in the September 11th bombings?
  2. What evidence suggest that Iraq was not involved in the bombings?
  3. What U.S. fears emanate from Iraqi progress in developing weapons of mass destruction, including biological, chemical, and nuclear varieties?
  4. What were the key components of the Wolfowitz plan?

Back to top

  U.S.-ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN RELATIONS IN THE AFTERMATTH OF SEPTEMBER 11TH

     In the month following the bombing of September 11th, U.S-Israeli-Palestinian relationships have clearly been altered. The U.S. need to maintain fragile Arab unity in the wake of those terrorist attacks has strained its relationship with Israel and possibly changed its approach to the Palestinians and their leader Yasser Arafat. First, there have been difficulties between the U.S. and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon has been angered over a number of U.S. Mideast policies during the past month. First, Sharon was appalled by the U.S. conveniently "overlooking" terrorist organizations inside of Israel, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Sharon labeled this strategy as "appeasement, " likening the U.S. action to the 1938 British surrender of Czechoslovakia to Hitler's Nazi Germany (Sharon later apologized for the statement, although it rankled U.S. officials who noted that Israel had been a recipient of over $60 billion in U.S. aid over the last 20 years). Second, there was the endorsement of a "Palestinian state" by President Bush, who saw that state as part of his "vision" of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian settlement. To Sharon, such a state was a "reward" for the actions of terrorist criminals who had savaged Israeli security time and time again. Sharon envisions a form of Palestinian control, but not an actual state with military forces and its own air force. To Sharon and his Cabinet, such an eventuality might lead to Israel's destruction. Third, the U.S. took no action in blocking the membership of Syria to the United Nations Security Council (non-permanent, two-year status), despite the fact that Syria is a long-time enemy of Israel and a nation that is on the State Department's list of 7 countries that support terrorism.

     Meanwhile, Arafat has been perhaps more adept at diplomacy than Sharon during the last month. Arafat did not side with the twenty terrorist hijackers who struck the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon. Instead, he condemned those hijackers (unlike the Gulf War, when he supported Saddam Hussein) and even donated blood for American victims. Furthermore, his Palestinian security forces shot and killed two anti-American protesters during a pro-bin Laden demonstration in the Gaza Strip (2000 Palestinians were demonstrating). To American policy makers, this action was a sign that Arafat wished to "shore up his own position and assert his international credibility as the possible leader of a Palestinian state (see the New York Times, Bennet's "Arafat Decides to Take A Gamble on the West," p. B9)." Clearly, the U.S. sees Arafat as the only leader who can speak for moderate Palestinians, possibly curb radical Palestinian terrorists, and serve as an adept bargainer with the Israelis. The latter point is especially important. Bin Laden has frequently cited the Israel-Palestinian dispute as a rationale for his terrorist activities. A settlement of that dispute would harm the bin Laden cause, strengthen Arab moderate nations such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and further U.S. interests in the volatile Middle East. From Israel's perspective, the hope is that Arafat will continue to crack down on Palestinian extremists and stop the plethora of suicide bombings inside of Israel (forcing Israel to strike back, resulting in more Palestinian fatalities). From America's perspective, the vision of Arafat heading a peaceful Palestinian state, with ample security guarantees for Israel, would blunt the appeal of bin Laden and weaken the global terrorist network. Whether such an outcome will ever happen remains an open question.

     Discussion Questions

  1. Why did President Bush endorse the idea of a "Palestinian state"? How did Sharon react?
  2. Why did Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon charge "appeasement" in regard to America's war against terrorism?
  3. Why did Arafat use his security forces against Palestinian rioters?
  4. How has Yassir Arafat's policies been affected by the U.S. war against terrorism?

Back to top

  THE RESULTS OF THE IOWA CAUCUSES AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS

     The results of the 2,100 Iowa caucuses confirmed that there were two presidential frontrunners-Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic Party,and Governor George W. Bush for the Republicans. Gore trounced his only Democratic opponent, former Senator Bill Bradley, by nearly a 2 to 1 margin. Unofficial results showed Gore with roughly 63% of the counted votes to Bradley's 35%. The GOP contest was closer, with Bush at 41%, followed by Steve Forbes at 30% and the surprising former talk show host Alan Keyes at 14%. What did these Iowa totals mean for the New Hampshire primary and perhaps the entire 2000 presidential race?

     It appeared that for Gore, the strong support of trade-union members and their families in Iowa was vital. In addition, Iowa voters who liked President Clinton (as a person) went for Gore as well. Bradley did well with Iowa voters who had a negative view of the President. Gore attracted support across the ideological spectrum, with his stand on preserving Social Security and Medicare resonating well with the Iowa electorate. Conversely, Bradley's stress on a national health care plan was less effective, although independents and wealthier Democrats appeared to support his proposal. Bradley may also have been hurt by his somewhat passive, less-than-stellar performance against the aggressive Gore in the state's televised debates. On the Republican side, Governor Bush gained the strong support of the religious right and a plurality (about 40% went for him) of GOP conservatives. However, Steve Forbes gained the most support from anti-abortion Republicans. But Forbes faced the problem that New Hampshire Republicans are more likely to support abortion rights.

     It was unclear how Iowa would influence the outcome of the Feb. 1 New Hampshire primary. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona (he skipped Iowa) was narrowly leading Bush in the Granite State. The question of "electability" might come into play for Bush if he loses to McCain in New Hampshire. Bradley's chances of winning were also much better than in Iowa, since New Hampshire's nearly 275,000 undeclared (and independent-minded) voters could support either McCain or him instead of Iowa-winners Bush or Gore. Another argument was that Bradley's dismal Iowa showing might convince more of these undeclared voters to back McCain. Gore cannot count on a foundation of organized labor in New Hampshire as he had in Iowa. But the Vice-President needs to knock Bradley out of the race, so that he can conserve his resources, unify the Democratic Party, and begin planning for the general election. (Bradley, perhaps sensing the importance of New Hampshire, launched new, negative attacks upon Gore in the days preceding the primary.) In short, if Gore and Bush lose in New Hampshire, the funding base and motivation of both the Bradley and McCain campaigns will be reinvigorated and subsequent primaries will assume new and even greater importance in the nomination races.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do the Iowa caucuses always receive so much attention from the media?
  2. Can a candidate skip Iowa, as Senator McCain has, and still gain the presidential nomination?

Back to top

 

THE COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES AND THIRD POLITICAL PARTIES

     On January 6th, The Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-governmental entity funded by corporations and foundations, ruled that participation in three nationally-televised debates in the fall of 2000 (October 3, October 11, and October 17) would be limited to those presidential candidates who received an average of 15% or more voter support from five national polls--USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup, ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times,Fox/Opinion Dynamics and NBC/Wall Street Journal (the average poll rating would be calculated at the end of September, before the first debate). In addition, presidential candidates would have to be on the ballot in enough states to achieve an electoral college vote majority of at least 270 votes. It was unlikely that any third party candidate would be able to meet both of these eligibility criteria.

     Immediately, representatives of third political parties charged that the Commission, headed by Paul G. Kirk, Jr. and Frank J Fahrenkopf, Jr. (both former chairmen of the Democratic and Republican national committees) were discriminating against their candidates. Reform Party hopefuls Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump asserted that the decision was a clearly elitist,unfair, undemocratic, and conspiratorial effort by the two major parties to deny the American people a third choice in the presidential election. Furthermore, Trump insisted that the Reform Party was a nationally-recognized political party that was entitled to federally-matching funds given Ross Perot's 8.9% of the popular vote in 1996 (the threshold for funding is 5%). Jesse Ventura, the governor of Minnesota and the Reform Party's highest elected official, caustically noted that he never would have been elected if the Commission's standards had been applied to him in the Minnesota gubernatorial race. Ventura attracted only 10% in the pre-debate polls, but jumped to an eventual 37% approval after he did very well on state TV debates against his mainstream party opponents. Libertarian Party officials argued that the Commission's real responsibility was to make the presidential TV debates as open and inclusive as possible. Conversely, it was no surprise that spokespersons for the two major parties found the Commission's criteria to be eminently fair, reasonable, and frankly in their self-interest. Indeed, in the Republican case, some analysts observed that preventing Buchanan (assuming he won the Reform Party nomination) from participating in the presidential TV debates would keep more GOP conservatives in the party by curbing their defections to the volatile, but ideologically-compatible soul mate. In short, it would appear that third parties faced an uphill political climb in the 2000 presidential election.

Discussion Questions

  1. What specific political repercussions for the 2000 presidential race stem from the Commission's decision on TV debates?
  2. Which possible Reform Party presidential nominee--Buchanan, Trump,or Perot--would be most likely to attain the 15% threshold and why? If none of them is likely to reach it this year, then is there some other national figure that could succeed if drafted by the Reform Party?

Back to top

 

PRESIDENT CLINTON'S PROPOSAL TO "LICENSE" HANDGUNS

     In his last State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress, President Clinton proposed a system of state-based licensing procedures that would accompany the purchase of handguns by citizens. The "license" would contain a photo of the buyer and be based upon both a background check regarding eligibility (possible criminal past and/or mental instability) and the successful completion of a mandated test on gun safety. This proposal has little chance of being implemented into law by the GOP-dominated Congress. Nevertheless, gun control advocates vowed to fight for the ultimate passage of licensing, asserting that such a law would be an appropriate response to curbing gun-related school violence and crime, while also weeding out violent or mentally-ill individuals who went undetected by the background check alone. They pointed out that it took seven years to pass the Brady Bill. Politically, President Clinton wanted to define the issue of gun control for the upcoming presidential race, believing that the GOP's rejection of licensing would provide ample campaign ammunition for the probable Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore.

     The National Rifle Association, long a foe of Clinton's gun control proposals, dismissed licensing as just another attempt by the federal government to intrude upon the rights of gun ownership guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, a national licensing system would be an administrative nightmare (background checks required by the Brady law are often incomplete), a forerunner to a national registry of all guns (currently illegal under federal law) and a clear step toward an eventual ban on gun ownership itself. But proponents countered, arguing that licensing would deter gun traffickers and "straw buyers" (those who resell guns to felons or under-age youths) and even provide the police with the power to confiscate guns from individuals who are convicted of crimes. The police currently do not have this authority. The gun safety course alone would yield clear benefits, since the majority of gun-related deaths in the nation were the result of either accidents or suicides. Finally, advocates saw gun licenses as no more offensive than an individual citizen having a required driver's license. Why and how would licensing 80 million gun owners be any different than mandating licenses for 185 million motorists? NRA leaders countered, arguing that while driving a car is a privilege, gun ownership is an inherent constitutional right. Licensing would do little to curb illegal gun sales or the misusing of firearms, just as car licenses do not inhibit millions of unlicensed individuals from operating autos unlawfully on the roads of America. This debate was likely to be renewed in the presidential campaign, since Gore was an advocate of licensing while his likely GOP opponent, either Governor Bush or Senator McCain, was not.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the pro and con arguments associated with the licensing of handguns?
  2. How will the licensing issue possibly affect the forthcoming presidential campaigns?

Back to top

 

OPEC, RISING GASOLINE/FUEL HEATING PRICES, AND THE ADMINISTRATION'S RESPONSE

     In February, Americans confronted an inexorable rise in the cost of heating oil and gasoline at the pump. The nation-states of OPEC-the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries- had previously instituted production cuts in March of 1999 with their oil ministers expressing lukewarm enthusiasm for increasing the supply of oil exports until this summer. Meanwhile, the price of a barrel of oil surpassed $30, the highest level since the Persian Gulf War of 1991. In December of 1998, the price had been slightly under $11. All of this meant that the price of a gallon of gasoline was approaching a national average of $1.40. The possibility of even higher gas prices (some experts woefully predicted $45 a barrel and a range of $1.75 to $2.00 per gallon by May unless OPEC relented) and heating fuel costs (they have already doubled), especially in the Northeast, prompted a number of lawmakers to pressure President Clinton and specifically Energy Secretary Bill Richardson for immediate relief. One idea, chiefly propounded by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Susan Collins (R-Maine), was to release stored oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), located in huge Louisiana underground salt caverns, in order to alleviate national shortages (the SPR holds 569 million barrels) and demonstrate national resolve in the face of OPEC cuts. But Richardson rejected this idea for now, noting that the SPR was only designed for true national emergencies, not "temporary" market fluctuations. Other critics noted that it would take months for SPR inventory to actually be refined into usable energy products. Furthermore, use of the SPR would probably lead to further OPEC production cuts, thereby negating any positive effects for American consumers. However, President Clinton did state at his February 16th press conference that he would not categorically rule out the use of the SPR, noting that he was troubled by the high prices and the threat they posed to a strong U.S. economy. He later announced that $44 million would be released to help thousands of American families meet the rising costs of heating oil.

     Richardson planned trips to Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Norway (40 percent of U.S. oil imports come from these four nations), hoping to persuade their leaders that pumping more oil would be wise. Otherwise, high oil prices would slow the global economy, thereby eventually reducing demand for crude oil. Whether Richardson would be immediately successful was debatable. Meanwhile, other lawmakers were becoming angry at such OPEC nations as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. They pointedly reminded the two Arab states that the U.S. had preserved their security from Saddam Hussein's attacks or threats since 1991. In conclusion, if more petroleum price hikes occur and the Clinton Administration does little to resolve the energy situation, then political repercussions affecting the 2000 presidential race are also likely to materialize. Whatever the outcome, it appears that America's energy crisis is not necessarily a relic of the distant past.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would you favor tapping the SPR in the face of drastically higher oil and gasoline prices? Why or why not?
  2. If gasoline prices continue to go higher, what specific political impact might this situation have upon the 2000 presidential race?

Back to top

 

THE DAWN OF INTERNET VOTING

     From March 7-10, the first binding Internet election transpired in the Arizona Democratic presidential primary. On-line voting had arrived for thousands of Arizona voters (they were allowed to cast their computer ballots over a four day period; some 25,000 voted online during the first three days alone). A Garden City, New York firm called Election.com argued that it had run the Arizona contest without undue difficulty. Primary e-voters were mailed PIN (personal identification) numbers several weeks prior to the election, answered personal questions to again affirm their identities, and then logged on to the electoral site from homes, workplaces, libraries or even supermarkets where they "marked" a representation of a ballot on their computer screens. (On Saturday, the actual primary day, off-site Internet voting was not allowed, but polling places did have computers for individual voters.) Proponents of Internet voting hailed the experiment, asserting that "online Arizona" was only the beginning. States such as Florida, Washington, California, and New York were all considering following Arizona's online voting precedent. To advocates, Internet voting promised increased turnout among minorities and young people by generating more interest in elections/campaigns. Elections would also cost less and save the average voter valuable time. Instead of standing in long lines at polling precincts, votes could be cast by a citizen in the comfort of his or her own living room.

     But critics saw it otherwise. They feared all kinds of problems ranging from fraud to tied-up phone lines to an infringement of personal security by a vast invasion of hackers. Could those hackers break encryption codes and then discover how individual citizens had voted in a particular election? Critics noted that many Democratic voters in Arizona had lost their PINs, forcing them to call party headquarters for the needed information. Consequently, phone lines were jammed. Furthermore, members of the "Voting Integrity Project," an Arlington, Virginia group, had tried to block online voting through a federal lawsuit, claiming that online voting discriminated against minority voters who lacked Internet access, especially African-Americans and Hispanics. In short, the "digital divide" would create "have" and "have-not" voters. But a federal judge had rejected the request. Still, one poll suggested that many Americans were still leery of Internet voting.

     So what is the future of Internet voting? On balance, it is possible that the practice will grow over time. However, a massive use of the procedure in a future presidential election will require the installation of careful security precautions. Otherwise, charges of extensive fraud could endanger the legitimacy of the process in the eyes of the American electorate.

Discussion Questions

  1. How valid are security concerns regarding Internet voting?
  2. What was the rationale underlying the federal lawsuit against Internet voting?
  3. Do you believe that within ten to twenty years, a majority of the nation's voters will use the Internet in important state and federal elections? Why or why not?

Back to top

 

THE SUPREME COURT, THE FDA, AND THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY

     On March 21, The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, declared that the Food and Drug Administration had not been given congressional authority to regulate tobacco products (Food and Drug Administration v Brown and Williamson). While this conservative majority on the Court was apparently reluctant to expand the powers of a federal administrative agency, the spokesperson for that majority faction, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, did imply that congressional legislation granting the FDA authority over tobacco would be a logical remedy for the acknowledged health hazards posed by smoking. (In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the FDA's basic mandate to "protect the public's health" should have covered both the addictive nature of nicotine and the undisputed harmful effects of cigarettes.) However, congressional leaders showed little enthusiasm for taking on Big Tobacco. One of the strongest critics of the tobacco industry, Senator John McCain, admitted that passing legislation would be an uphill struggle in an election year, despite the fact that annually some 400,000 deaths are attributed to smoking. McCain had been the author of an ill-fated 1998 bill that would have given the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco. Heavy lobbying by Big Tobacco and an unenthusiastic GOP leadership had killed that bipartisan-supported legislation.

     The decision obviated previous 1996 FDA rules that had tried to curb the marketing of cigarettes to young people and teenagers alike (two examples–the prohibition of cigarette sales to individuals under the age of 18 and restricting cigarette ads on billboards located near playgrounds). The FDA had claimed its authority to regulate tobacco from the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, a statute that had forbidden the use of dangerous "drugs" and their "devices." The FDA claimed that nicotine was a harmful "drug" and that cigarettes were "devices" of dissemination. But tobacco industry lawyers argued that the FDA's mandated regulatory mission was to prevent unsafe drugs from ever reaching the marketplace. If tobacco was indeed an unsafe drug, then the FDA should have banned it and cigarettes as well. Yet Congress had previously passed a half-dozen anti-smoking/health laws, all of which assumed that cigarettes would remain available to the consumer. Congress had not given the FDA regulatory authority during any of those six occasions. Finally, the FDA, prior to 1996, had always claimed that anti-tobacco regulation was not part of its administrative mandate. Hence, a majority of the Court concluded that tobacco did not come under FDA jurisdiction.

     The reactions to the ruling were swift and varied. Both presidential candidates–George W. Bush and Al Gore–believed that Congress should act to fill the legal void left by the ruling. The National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington-based interest group, admitted that the ruling was a setback. But group spokespersons urged that Congress now had the moral obligation to act. While the tobacco industry applauded the Court's finding, the industry still faced a series of damaging lawsuits, originating both from the federal and state level. The U.S. Justice Department was still pursuing a cost-recovery suit aimed at recovering billions of dollars (spent on smoking-related illnesses) from the tobacco industry. On the state level, a jury in California found two tobacco companies, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., guilty of misrepresenting the health dangers of tobacco and awarded a terminally-ill lung-cancer plaintiff 1.7 million dollars in damages. In Florida, 300,000 people were involved in a class-action suit against the tobacco companies. If awarded, punitive damages could be so high, perhaps 100 billion, as to force some tobacco companies into bankruptcy. Perhaps it was no surprise that the industry executives suggested they would accept some form of federal regulation (developing and marketing safer cigarettes as one possibility) so long as an outright ban on tobacco was avoided. But the crucial question was whether public and group pressures would eventually compel Congress to act. The answer to that question was directly linked to election results in November.

Discussion Questions

  1. What was the judicial rationale underlying the Supreme Court's ruling?
  2. Will Congress eventually give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco–why or why not?
  3. Why do some tobacco companies accept the idea of possible federal regulation?

Back to top

 

THE "FLAG DESECRATION AMENDMENT" DIES IN THE U.S. SENATE

     On March 29, the United States Senate, by a vote of 63-37, defeated a proposed "Flag Desecration Amendment" (hereafter abbreviated as FA). The final tally was four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to send the Amendment to the states for ratification (three-fourths of the states or 38 in all must ratify a proposed amendment before it can be added to the U.S. Constitution). The House of Representatives had previously approved this Amendment last June, with 305 votes in the affirmative (well beyond the two-thirds requisite number of 287; 124 House members had voted against the FA). The Amendment, intended to ban mutilation, burning, or other disgraceful acts perpetrated upon the flag, read as follows: "The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." It was the fourth time in eleven years that the Senate had rejected the Amendment.

     To advocates of the FA, the defeat was incompatible with both (1) a series of supportive opinion polls (during the past decade, roughly 80 percent of the American people have favored the FA) and (2) the dire need to bypass the 1989 Supreme Court ruling declaring flag-burning "protected speech" under the First Amendment (Texas v. Johnson). Trent Lott, Senate Majority Leader (R-Miss), reiterated that any desecration of the flag was inherently offensive and must be ended forever. In general, other Senate supporters, as typified by FA sponsor and Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), strongly believed that the flag was and is a unique, unifying symbol of America, a representation of the national greatness, and an icon that untold thousands of Americans have defended with their lives. However, prominent opponents of the FA, while sympathizing with these beliefs, still rejected the FA's constitutional validity. For example, Democratic Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia (a renowned expert on the Constitution), argued that passage and ratification of the FA would ultimately debase the Constitution. To Byrd, the Constitution's integrity was more important than the flag, since free speech incorporates the right even to burn or sully the American flag (note that in 1990, the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional, in U.S. v Eichman, a federal law giving Congress the power to ban the destruction of the flag). Byrd's opposition was also based upon two other related points – (a) flag desecration was an infrequent action (the FA, if passed and ratified, would only encourage the proliferation of those acts in the future), and (b) unsavory anti – flag acts could already be handled by existing laws.

     Despite its failure to pass the Senate, the FA's sponsors vowed to introduce the legislation next year. They noted that every state but Vermont had already indicated probable ratification support for the FA. Indeed, it was possible that the merits or demerits of the FA could even be debated during the upcoming 2000 presidential campaign.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you directly witnessed an act of flag-burning or mutilation, how would you react, both emotionally and intellectually, to that action and why?
  2. If the FA does pass both the House and Senate in the future, do you believe that three- fourths of the states will ratify it? Why or why not?

Back to top

 

WHO WILL GORE AND BUSH CHOOSE AS THEIR VICE-PRESIDENTIAL RUNNING-MATES?

     Who will be selected by Gore and Bush as their vice-presidential running-mates? Traditionally, presidential nominees have been guided by the "balancing the ticket" principle, whereby they choose individuals who possess personal and political characteristics that broaden the ticket's national appeal. In addition, the vice-presidential nominee typically comes from an important, closely-contested electoral-vote state. For example, in 1960, U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, a youthful, liberal Irish-Catholic from Massachusetts, picked Senator Lyndon Johnson, a more conservative, older, Protestant Texan who played a key role in helping JFK carry the South (Texas was won by Kennedy-Johnson along with just enough southern states to give the Democratic ticket an extremely narrow electoral victory). Surprisingly, the "balancing rule" was not adhered to by Bill Clinton in 1992. Clinton, a youthful and centrist southerner from Arkansas, chose Al Gore, a fellow southerner from Tennessee who was comparable in terms of both age and political philosophy. Conversely, the elder, deficit-hawk conservative Bob Dole of Kansas chose Jack Kemp, a more liberal, much younger supply-sider Republican from New York for the 1996 campaign. Nevertheless, New York was carried handily by the Clinton-Gore ticket.

     In 2000, the vice-presidential selection for George W. Bush is certainly linked to the abortion issue. If the Texas Governor were to decide upon either Governor Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey (a supporter of abortion rights) or Tom Ridge of Pennslyvania (he has urged the Republican Party to moderate its anti-abortion plank or even remove it from the platform entirely as a way of attracting pro-choice voters), then it is very possible that religious conservatives could abandon the G.O.P. ticket by simply staying home on election day in November. However, Ridge is also a Vietnam veteran and Catholic, two qualities that would appeal to voters. Furthermore, Ridge's Catholicism might erase the lingering stigma over Bush's visit to Bob Jones University (the school has a history of anti-Catholic bias) during the South Carolina primary. Other possible nominees include Governors Gray Davis (California) or Tommy Thompson (Wisconsin), Elizabeth Dole (a long-shot, due to her lackluster primary campaign style), former Joint Chief Chairman Colin Powell (Powell, though, has indicated a preference for a cabinet post), previous drug Czar and Education Secretary William Bennett, former Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, Representatives J.C. Watts (Oklahoma) or John Kasich (Ohio), and U.S. Senators Richard Lugar (Indiana-strong on foreign policy, an area where Bush is relatively weak), Fred Thompson (Tennessee), Chuck Hagel (Nebraska–also a Vietnam War hero), Connie Mack (Fla.), or even John McCain (Arizona–unlikely due to the bitterness of the primary campaign and lingering conflict between the two men over campaign finance reform).

     For Gore, potential nominees include Senators Bob Graham (Fla.–state has 25 electoral votes), Bob Kerrey (Nebraska), Evan Bayh (Indiana), Dianne Feinstein (California), or Joseph Liberman (Conn.). Energy Secretary Bill Richardson (a Hispanic), Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend, Washington Governor Gary Locke (Asian-American) or even primary foe Bill Bradley have also been mentioned. A recent addition to Gore's list is Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, whose own advocacy of campaign finance reform might end questions about Gore's sincerity as a reformer on this issue while simultaneously attracting McCain supporters.

     Note that the above-mentioned vice-presidential hopefuls by no means represent an exhaustive list. The Hotline Internet Journal recently published the names of 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats who could be vice-presidential nominees. Furthermore, unexpected events prior to the summer nominating conventions could radically alter the current list and even create a selection surprise. Dan Quayle (1988), Spiro Agnew (1968), and Geraldine Ferraro (1980) all come to mind as relevant historical examples. One principle remains clear–the vice-presidential selection is very important, for that individual must be prepared to assume the presidency and be equally qualified to lead the nation. Those leadership concerns will surely be uppermost in the minds of both George W. Bush and Al Gore as they try to decide upon their respective vice-presidents during the next few months.

Discussion Questions

  1. What specific concerns guide a presidential nominee's selection of a vice-presidential running-mate?
  2. Why is it sometimes difficult to predict in advance who the vice-presidential nominee will be?
  3. From the names mentioned above, which individuals seem to be the front-runners for both the Republican and Democratic vice-presidential nominations and why?

Back to top

 

SENATOR JOHN McCAIN'S "ENDORSEMENT" OF GOVERNOR GEORGE W. BUSH

     On May 9, Senator John McCain, after a much-heralded (and nearly suspended one, since McCain threatened to pull out ) 90 minute closed door meeting with George W. Bush in the Pittsburgh Westin William Penn Hotel, formally endorsed the Texas Governor as the Republican presidential nominee. McCain stated he would campaign "enthusiastically" for Bush (the latter would restore integrity, honor, and vision to the presidency). However, observers noted that McCain (a) appeared both extraordinarily reserved and even at times flippant during his announcement (when asked if he would consider serving in the Bush Cabinet, McCain stated a preference for "secretary of reform"), (b) stressed that his proposals for campaign finance reform remained more encompassing than Bush's comparable position (McCain favors a complete ban on unlimited, unregulated "soft money" donations to political parties where Bush, while supporting abolition of union and corporate contributions, still opposes any restrictions on individual gifts), (c) rejected any idea of the vice-presidency, (d) and only used the word "endorse" after repeated prompting by reporters. On the other hand, Bush did accomplish some very important political objectives through the meeting despite the Senator's demonstrably tepid endorsement (McCain compared the endorsement to "taking medicine"). First, the Texas Governor praised McCain, asserting that the fierce primary struggle with the Arizona Senator had transformed him into a far better campaigner and presidential opponent in the upcoming fight against Al Gore. Second, Bush believes that McCain's 4.5 million primary supporters, especially independents and swing voters, will switch to him after the Senator's endorsement. It may be difficult for Bush to win in November without this electoral segment. For McCain, the endorsement forever destroyed the "spoiler tag" label within the GOP. It may also have preserved his option to run again for the presidency in 2004, assuming Bush loses to Gore in November. McCain's staff indicated that their man would campaign heavily for Republican state and congressional candidates, but less so for Bush's candidacy.

     It was hinted, through numerous press reports, that McCain may be given a prominent role at the Republican national convention in Philadelphia. In addition, the Senator has initiated a "Straight Talk America" PAC, the purpose of which is to fund the Senator's travels across the nation in order to promote his agenda for reform. His supporters are also creating a new think tank that will give greater substance to the Senator's views. In essence, it appears that McCain will be heading his own political movement. Whether these developments portend renewed difficulty for Bush in projecting an ideal of "one party, one voice" is an open question. Certainly, a perceived failure to truly heal the rift between himself and McCain could detract from the Governor's image as a national leader. For if a fellow Republican cannot be reconciled, then how could a "President Bush" work with partisan congressional divisions? Interestingly enough, Democratic National Committee officials downplayed the Bush-McCain "summit," even distributing compact discs containing McCain's attacks upon Bush during the primary season (sample from the Michigan contest: "Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore"). To his credit, McCain insisted at the Pittsburgh press conference that he held no rancor toward Bush, preferring to look forward rather than backward. The months ahead will clearly test that assertion.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why was it important for George W. Bush to receive an endorsement from John McCain?
  2. What specific roles, if any, do you believe McCain will play in the Bush presidential campaign?
  3. If Bush loses in 2000, how would you assess McCain's presidential chances in 2004?

Back to top

 

THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION "STRIKES BACK" AGAINST AL GORE AND GUN CONTROL ADVOCATES

     At its annual convention in Charlotte, North Carolina (held May 19-21), the National Rifle Association's officers, including actor Charlton Heston who was renamed president of the NRA for the third time, lambasted the Clinton-Gore Administration, the Washington D.C. based Million Mom March, and gun control advocates in general. To both the NRA leadership and rank-and-file membership, the Clinton-Gore Administration's anti-gun policies (a) had whipped-up an anti-NRA hysteria, (b) were aimed at achieving the ultimate goal of gun confiscation nation-wide (Heston specifically charged that this policy would be a priority of a Gore presidency), and (c) had been promoted through such Democratic, liberal mass protests as typified by the Million Mom March (Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, termed the "March" a White House-sponsored and organized campaign rally for Al Gore).

     NRA representatives argued that there are millions of Americans who wish to protect their Second Amendment rights. They further noted that according to public opinion polls, about half of the American population support gun rights and have a favorable impression of the NRA. Indeed, as an organization, the NRA's membership has not only increased to 3.6 million, with some 200,000 Americans joining the group during the past two months, but contributions to the NRA have reached over 10 million dollars during the same period. This is further evidence to the NRA that many Americans oppose the Gore plan to both license and register handguns. Consequently, the NRA is almost certain to endorse officially the Republican presidential nominee, George W. Bush. Interestingly enough, Democrats charged that Bush would be beholden to the NRA. A Bush presidency would, in short, destroy gun control efforts in America.

     NRA members argued at the convention that instead of passing new gun control laws, it would be far better to enforce existing gun control laws (delegates insisted that the Clinton-Gore Administration had an abysmally poor enforcement record). They also stressed that the NRA was not callous to the problem of gun safety. Firearms education is still a moral imperative. For example, the NRA does support a drive to provide trigger locks for every new gun that is sold in America. Finally, the organization demonstrated its own group of mothers, who collectively insisted that careful parental supervision of their children and the need for self-defense were more important than the passing of new, unenforceable gun control legislation in the future. In the final analysis, it was certainly true that the NRA would play an important role in the forthcoming presidential campaign and on November 8, 2000, Election Day.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why has NRA membership increased in the past year despite repeated, well-publicized acts of gun violence in the nation?
  2. Why is the NRA going to endorse Bush, rather than Gore?
  3. According to the NRA, why is registration of handguns seen as eventually leading to the confiscation of guns in America by the federal government?

Back to top

 

A REPORT FROM THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TERRORISM

     The 10-member National Commission on Terrorism (hereafter abbreviated as "NCT"), a blue-ribbon, bipartisan panel appointed by Congress to study the problem of terrorism after the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, recommended in a comprehensive report that the United States implement steps to protect itself against a future chemical, biological, or even nuclear terrorist attack. While several counter-terrorist proposals were applauded, others offended civil libertarians. The NCT's proposals included (1) increasing information-sharing about terrorists, their activities, and domestic fund-raising networks among the CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency (the NSA was singled out as having diminished technological capabilities to tap increasingly sophisticated terrorist communication networks), (2) developing international agreements with other countries to quell the growing threat of cyber-terrorism, (3), advocating that the Department of Defense assume control as the lead agency when and if a calamitous terrorist attack occurred in the nation, and (4) recommending that all foreign students attending American colleges and universities be monitored by the government through the acquistion of fully-automated, national-security related information.

     The latter two ideas provoked major dissent. Critics argued that civilian control of the military is an essential norm of American democracy. Furthermore, the military should be the support structure for local police and civil defense officials, rather than being the organization in charge. Giving the military unwarranted powers, perhaps tantamount to martial law, is simply too dangerous. No matter how serious the crisis, it is hard to contemplate a situation which could not be collectively handled by the FBI, the National Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, members of the NCT countered by noting that the military is the only institution, by organization, discipline, and its command of a vast array of resources, that could maintain societal law and order in a time of true national emergency. It is far more likely that other federal, state, and local agencies would simply be overwhelmed. In addition, the NCT stated that the military should train more intensively for this new role.

     The other idea--close surveillance of foreign students in America--generated even more criticism. There are roughly 500,000 foreign students attending American universities/colleges. Oppressive and illegal oversight would alienate too many of them, frankly infringe upon their individual rights, and harm America's image abroad as a free and open society. Furthermore, there was little evidence to suggest that numerous terrorists would be found within this assemblage. Rather, foreign students were law-abiding, here to study and learn, and economically important, pumping billions of dollars into the American economy. However, the NCT's chair, L. Paul Bremer, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism, noted that "surveillance through systematic information-gathering" was already a common practice at many institutions (international students were being tracked at 21 southeastern universities, including Duke, Auburn, and Alabama), where students were mandated to supply names, addresses, and thei current academic status. Also, students who came from terrorist-sponsoring states–Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea–should be monitored for obvious national security reasons, according to the NCT report. The NCT reiterated that one of the 1992 World Trade Center bombers had originally been admitted to the U.S. on a student visa (the student had withdrawn from school, illegally remaining in the country). But surprisingly, Bremer did admit that "99.99%" of all international students were not terrorists.

     One other observation by the NCT's report dealt with possible U.S. sanctions being placed upon Greece and Pakistan, two states that had abysmal records regarding their prosecution of domestic terrorists who have attacked American interests. However, the Clinton Administration seemed averse to taking any action on sanctions. Nevertheless, the NCT's proposals, no matter how controversial, did sensitize Americans to concerns that will not go away in this new century–the growing probability that a terrorist strike will occur on American soil as well as the need to plan carefully for such a contingency.

Discussion Questions

  1. Which of the NCT's recommendations is the most "politically" feasible?
  2. How would the American people respond to a extensive terrorist attack upon a major United States city?
  3. Why do civil libertarians object to some of the NCT's proposals?

Back to top

 

RALPH NADER AND THE GREEN PARTY – A THREAT TO AL GORE?

     Consumer-advocate Ralph Nader is the Green Party's 2000 presidential nominee. Normally, third party nominees are not significant factors in presidential elections. However, the 66-year old Nader is both a recognized and respected national figure. His pro-environment, anti-corporate party may be making political inroads even at this early stage of the campaign. According to news accounts and national polls, Nader is drawing support from roughly 5 to 6 percent of the electorate. In addition, most of Nader's supporters are disaffected Democrats, especially from organized labor, who normally would vote for Al Gore in November. (Nader appeals to those union workers who feel they have lost or will lose jobs due to NAFTA or the new trade agreement with China). Since Gore and Bush both anticipate a close race, the shift of a few percentage points in such states as California with its 54 electoral votes could conceivably decide the election's outcome (some polls reveal that Nader is currently attracting 10 percent of the California vote). The likely Reform Party's candidate, Pat Buchanan, is backed by 2-3 percent of those voters who normally would favor George W. Bush. In short, Nader hurts Gore a bit more than Buchanan's comparable impact upon Bush (Buchanan also has a much more negative image with voters when compared to Nader). Note that neither Nader nor Buchanan, despite their official protests, can be invited to the presidential debates, since the Commission on Presidential Debates limits participation to candidates with at least 15 percent support in the national polls.

     Even more important is the longevity of the Green Party as an active force in future presidential campaigns. If Ralph Nader does hit the magic 5 percent figure in November, he and his party will be eligible for federal campaign matching funds in 2004. What is the platform of the Greens? This party stands for a safe environment, grass-roots democracy, personal and social responsibility, a fair and competitive marketplace, effective and universal health care, vigorous prosecution of white-collar crime, campaign finance reform, and full protection of gay, lesbian, abortion, and other disparate human rights. It simultaneously opposes national missile defense, futile efforts by the two parties to combat urban poverty, and the tight financial control by corporate America over the political process. Many disaffected voters and citizen-advocacy group seem intrigued by Nader, a relatively shy man who does not come across as a charismatic campaigner. Yet, from all accounts, Nader intends to wage a vigorous campaign (he has already visited every state) by raising $5 million for the campaign and having his name placed on at least forty-five state ballots. Nader argues that Americans want challenges to the tradition of two party domination. Both mainstream parties are not only arrogant and complacent but they merely offer" band-aids" for such diverse problems as health care, child poverty, and job security. He also feels that many non-voters who sat out the 1996 presidential election will flock to his party's banner as a protest vote. Finally, the Green Party seems to be drawing support from an impressive cross-section of Americans, including environmentalists, students, opponents of globalization, nurses, alienated liberal Democrats, and, to reiterate, union workers (Teamsters president, James P. Hoffa, recently went out of his way to praise Nader). This may not be surprising, since in addition to those issues already mentioned, consumer-protection ideas such as opposition to loan discrimination by banks and the high cost of auto insurance are so heavily ingrained in the party's policy base. Finally, numerous celebrity endorsements of Nader have also fueled the party's new political prominence.

     Skeptics doubt that Nader and the Green Party will make much of a difference in November. They point to the perennial internal divisions within the Party (The Green Party in the USA, founded in 1984, is a spin-off from the European Greens, which had its origins in West Germany as a pro-environment, anti-nuclear organization) and its hodge-podge nature of state and local organizations. Second, many feel that Nader's own dour personality works against his waging a skillful, vigorous campaign that will truly move voters. Third, they note that minor-party candidates usually draw considerably less support in November when compared to the "inflated" poll figures of summer. Despite this skepticism, it appears that Nader is far more serious about building the Green Party into a permanent fixture of American politics than he was in 1996. Even if he is only marginally successful in 2000, the overall effect could still affect the success of Al Gore's quest for the presidency.

Discussion Questions

  1. In your opinion, can the Green Party eventually become a true political rival of the Republican and Democratic parties? Why or why not?
  2. Why is attaining the 5 percent figure in November so important for the Green Party?
  3. Why are some labor unions praising Nader while criticizing Gore?

Back to top

 

THE FLORIDA CLASS-ACTION SUIT AGAINST BIG TOBACCO

     The tobacco industry has faced a series of damaging lawsuits, originating from both the federal and state level. On the federal level, the U.S. Justice Department is still pursuing a suit directed at recovering billions from the tobacco companies. In March of this year, a jury in California found two tobacco companies, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco guilty of misrepresenting the health dangers of tobacco, subsequently awarding a terminally-ill lung-cancer plaintiff 1.7 million dollars in damages. But even more significant is a two-year old class action case in Florida, involving the five largest cigarette manufacturers, on behalf of an estimated 300,000 to 700,000 ill smokers in that state. A six member jury has already decided that the tobacco industry was guilty of creating a dangerous and deadly product, and so awarded $12.7 million dollars to three injured, representative smokers. However, that same jury will now deliberate on a much more substantial claim propounded by the plaintiffs, whereby damages could conceivably amount to billions of dollars.

     Indeed, the main lawyer for the plaintiffs, attorney Stanley Rosenblatt of Miami, recommended to the jury a specific range of damages that extended from 123 to 196 billion dollars!. Rosenblatt argued that the tobacco companies past record of duplicity had led to a day of financial reckoning. The tobacco companies had knowingly destroyed the health of millions, and so they should pay for those "medical" crimes. However, lawyers for the tobacco firms vehemently argued that no further damages were warranted. While several tobacco representatives had admitted on the witness stand that tobacco was addictive and smoking is a cause of cancer, they also maintained that they were taking steps to correct past wrongs. Hence, Big Tobacco had financed a national anti-smoking campaign directed at the nation's youth, established an Internet site that warned of the medical risks associated with nicotine, and deleted smoking ads from many publications, including such popular magazines as People and Sports Illustrated. Tobacco attorneys noted that through an earlier agreement, the industry was already paying the states $254 billion dollars over the next 25 years for smoking-related illnesses. In short, "enough was enough." The attorneys added that Rosenblatt's suggested damage totals could conceivably put the five companies out of business. The "Big Five" should not be forced to pay any more than 15 billion, since that figure represented their combined net worth.

     Whatever the amount awarded by the jury, the appeals process will likely consume another two years. It is also probable that any award will be substantially reduced. This happened in a 1999 $4.8 billion settlement, involving product liability (a car fire) against General Motors. A judge later lowered that award to slightly more than 1 billion. Still, whatever the precise outcome of the Florida tobacco case, it was clear that additional suits against the cigarette manufacturers might be forthcoming.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the legal essence of Big Tobacco's defense in the Florida case? Conversely, what is the legal rationale being used by the plaintiffs' lawyers?
  2. In your estimation, how important is this case's outcome for the future of Big Tobacco?

Back to top

 

THE UNITED STATES AND VIETNAM SIGN AN HISTORIC TRADE AGREEMENT

     On July 13, the United States and Vietnam signed an historic trade pact that may well symbolize a new chapter in relationships between the two bitter enemies of the Vietnam War. That conflict, ending in 1975, had resulted in 58,000 dead Americans and over three million Vietnamese casualties. However, this pact builds upon the process of reconciliation that formally began back in 1995, when President Clinton resumed full diplomatic relations with Vietnam (Senator John McCain, a former POW, stood beside the President during the official pact announcement). Essentially, the agreement calls upon Vietnam to reduce substantially its tariffs on American industrial and agricultural products (from an average of nearly 40% to 3%!), provide greater protection for U.S. investors and intellectual property rights as defined by global standards, and allow more freedom for foreign companies in operate in such previously closed areas as banking, insurance, transportation, textiles, and telecommunications (U.S. companies like Nike, Cargill, Caterpillar, the Gap, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Ford, and Chrysler may become more prominent in Vietnam). For Vietnam, the pact may lead to at least a doubling of its exports to the U.S. (total annual trade between the two nations is roughly $900 million), while conceivably energizing an economy that suffers from declining foreign investment, high urban unemployment, and low world commodity prices for its rice and coffee exports. It will also mean that Vietnam could institute economic reforms that will push its socialist-command economy towards a capitalistic, free-market orientation. (It appeared that Vietnam was gambling that it could mimic China's socialist/capitalist hybrid economy, so that real political control by the country's Communist Party would remain unaffected). As part of the agreement, the U.S. will work with Vietnam on its membership application for the WTO (World Trade Organization). The U.S. will also reciprocate by reducing its tariffs on Vietnamese imports.

     This agreement requires congressional approval, although a vote will probably not be forthcoming until after President Clinton leaves office. The Clinton Administration did predict ultimate approval, but some labor unions disagreed. Union representatives noted that the pact did not mention the idea of worker rights. Furthermore, they also insisted that the pact was simply another economic accord that would eventually encourage American firms to move their operations overseas, thus depriving citizens in this country of future employment opportunities. Conversely, international strategists see the pact as improving human rights and the prospects for democracy in Vietnam. New ideas and foreign goods may open Vietnam's market of 77 million to the point where it can then compete against China, Vietnam's traditional rival. Indeed, Vietnam's announcement that it would open its first stock exchange may be a precursor to real internal change. However, skeptics noted that Vietnam's bureaucratic maze and paralyzing regulations will hamper American multinationals in the short-run. For example, the pact delineates a lengthy grace period before American companies can initiate full competition. An American retailer entering the Vietnamese market for the first time will be indefinitely limited to a single retail store. Also, American financial companies can eventually issue credit cards, but not for a period of eight years after the pact becomes law. Finally, there is lingering resentment by veteran's groups and some members of Congress about the new U.S. policy toward Vietnam. These are political factors that will be considered next year when legislative approval of the pact is considered.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the key provisions of the new U.S.-Vietnam trade agreement?
  2. Why do some labor unions object to the pact?
  3. What role did China play in convincing the Vietnamese to open their markets?
  4. Will Congress approve the pact next year-why or why not?

Back to top

 

WHEN WILL AMERICA HAVE ITS FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT?

     Al Gore's historic selection of Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Jewish-American vice-presidential running mate from a major political party, has generated new queries about a woman president. After all, if a long-standing religious barrier has been broken in American presidential politics, then why not finally break the sexual political barrier as well? It has been sixteen years since Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running-mate. Also, 2000 has witnessed (a) the presidential run of Republican Elizabeth Dole and (b) Governor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire making Gore's final list of vice-presidential hopefuls. Senator Dianne Feinstein of (D-California) had been considered a Gore possibility earlier in the year. But ultimately neither George W.Bush nor Al Gore chose a woman for the vice-presidential slot.

     Most observers agree that a woman American president is an inevitability. The only question seems to be "when"? After all, other countries, such as India, Great Britain, Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines, Iceland, and Ireland, among others, have elected female presidents and/or Prime Ministers. By comparison, in the United States where 52 percent of the population is female, women have served capably as U.S. Senators and governors (currently there are nine Senators and three governors). Female campaign managers and press secretaries, powerful First Ladies, Supreme Court Justices (O'Connor and Ginsburg), an Attorney General (Janet Reno) and even Secretary of State (Madeleine Albright) have all acclimated the American public to the acceptability of politically powerful women. Aside from those already mentioned, potential women presidential candidates include Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R, Texas), New Jersey Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman, congresswomen Jennifer Dunn (R-Washington) and Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), and even Hilary Rodham Clinton, especially if she wins her Senate race in New York. Yet, despite a good pool of contenders, there seems to be an underlying bias held by many Americans that a woman chief executive would be unable to make tough decisions, such as in wartime. Of course, women leaders overseas have proved otherwise (note Golda Meir of Israel or Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain). Also, for a variety of reasons, pundits think many women voters might not automatically or overwhelmingly vote for a female presidential candidate, as was the case with the Ferraro candidacy in 1984. One factor here is the sexist stereotype that a woman will be forced to choose between family and the requirements of the presidency, a conflict that would not trouble a male president. Third, observers argue that American society is still run by men (only about 2% of top-level jobs in the U.S. are held by women), and so the traditional obstacles to a woman presidential hopeful will remain in place for some time. One is attracting enough campaign contributions, a problem that bedeviled Elizabeth Dole's candidacy.

     But there are also favorable trends. First, public opinion polls show that a larger proportion of voters than ever before (well over 80 percent) have expressed their willingness to support a qualified woman as president. Second, the increasing alienation of many Americans from traditional male candidates and the electorate's desire for a "new politics" may open the door for a woman. Sociological studies reveal that women are generally perceived as more honest and sincere then men. Third, women running for state legislative races or even Congress have done quite well in recent years. Fourth, women candidates appear extremely knowledgeable about education, social security, and health care, "bread and butter" issues that are salient to millions of voters.

     Probably the first step to placing a woman in the White House, as well as constituting the most logical political scenario, will be a presidential nominee's vice-presidential selection of "another Geraldine Ferraro" in a forthcoming election. If this ticket were to win the election, then the important reality of a woman participating in important national decisions and being only a heartbeat away from the presidency would be ensconced in the mind of the nation. After one or two terms as vice-president, she would then be in a position to launch her own presidential bid. Meanwhile, other qualified women will be encouraged to run for the presidency.

Discussion Questions

  1. What qualities would voters look for when considering a woman for president?
  2. Why has it been so difficult for a woman to make a serious and sustained run for the presidency?
  3. Which contemporary women politicians are considered presidential possibilities?

Back to top

 

BUSH VS. GORE ON THE "HOLLOW MILITARY" ISSUE

     At the Republican Convention in Philadelphia, presidential nominee George W. Bush accused the Clinton-Gore Administration of creating a "hollow" American military. He followed up that theme with a post-convention speech in Milwaukee before 7,000 people at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, reiterating that the next president would "inherit a military in decline." Specifically, Air Force and Army combat units ranked low in combat readiness (there had been too many cutbacks in training exercises), recruitment quotas were not being met, spare parts/equipment were in short supply, and military servicemen were being subjected to poor base housing and health care. Vowing to restore America's military prowess, the Texas Governor proposed a one billion dollar pay increase for service personnel, millions more for base construction, improved public schools that serve children of service people, and better health care. In short, Bush pledged, as President, to initiate an overall revitalization of all four branches of the armed services.

     The Pentagon, Vice-President Gore and other critics of Bush responded. Thus, several high-ranking Army officials disputed the readiness charge. Other defense analysts insisted that overall readiness, while not as high as the days of President Bush, was still comparable to those levels found during the Reagan era. Economists wondered how Governor Bush could afford more spending on the military while simultaneously proposing a $1.3 trillion tax cut. Gore criticized Bush for suggesting that America's defenses were substandard, arguing that U.S. military power was still second to none. Speaking before the same VFW conference, he reiterated that as president, defense of the nation would be a continuing priority of his administration.

     Whether it was coincidence or not, the Clinton Administration subsequently announced a boost for the Defense Department in its 2002 fiscal year budget. Surprisingly, an additional $16 billion dollars would be earmarked for readiness and improving military personnel's quality of life. Cynics speculated that the increase was deliberate, intended to blunt the Bush allegations. However, whether the issue of military preparedness and effectiveness would truly sway the election's outcome was dubious. Traditionally, economic issues are far more important to the electorate, especially when America is at peace overseas and there is no discernible threat to the nation's security. However, a global crisis prior to November could change this traditional political equation.

Discussion Questions

  1. What have been Bush's specific accusations about America's weakened military strength?
  2. How did Gore respond to those accusations?
  3. What was the Pentagon's response to Bush's charges?
  4. Will the status of the U.S. military be an important issue in the presidential campaign–why or why not?

Back to top

 

ELECTION 2000: KEY STATES, POLLS, AND THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

     The 2000 presidential contest remains one of the closest races in recent political history. Most public opinion polls show both Gore and Bush in a statistical dead heat. By mid-September, it appeared that Gore, riding his post-convention "bounce," had blunted Bush's earlier momentum in several key states. However, in the all-important Electoral College, neither candidate is assured of an electoral vote majority of 270, the number necessary to achieve victory. Polls give Gore clear victories in states totaling around 180 electoral votes, while Bush's base hovers around 160 electoral votes. Other states, with a total of over 200 electoral votes, remain uncertain. Specifically, key battleground states include, among others, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Collectively, these states alone total 146 electoral votes. At the moment, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are leaning to Gore. Ohio, Michigan, Florida, and Wisconsin seem to be tilting toward Bush. But the current line-up of these states is certainly subject to change, especially as more voters concentrate on the race. The three televised debates between Gore and Bush in October may also alter the final outcome in these swing states.

     Florida (25 electoral votes) and Pennsylvania (23 electoral votes) are representative of the "battleground concept." In Florida, an increasingly competitive state (Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, is governor), both sides feel that victory there may mean victory nationally. Gore's vice-presidential nominee, Senator Joe Lieberman, has campaigned extensively in Florida, touting the nation's prosperity, health care reform, the protection of social security, and prescription drug payment plans (all of these issues are popular with the many senior citizens in the state). Bush and Cheney have responded to the Gore/Lieberman surge in the state, trying to regain voter momentum. However, Bush's plan for a 1.3 trillion tax cut is not popular with those same senior citizens (a third of the Florida electorate, among likely voters, is over 60 years of age). Still, Bush has labeled Gore's health plan a "government HMO" and generally gone on the attack, claiming that Gore, as a candidate, also lacks overall credibility. In recent days, Bush and Cheney have done well at several Florida fund-raising events, while insisting that they will carry the Sunshine State. A final factor is that many Cuban-American voters in South Florida are still bitter over the Clinton's Administration's handling of the Elian Gonzalez case.

     In Pennsylvania, the period after Labor Day witnessed an extraordinary campaign in the Keystone state. Countless campaign visits and millions of dollars spent on TV ads signify the importance of Pennsylvania to both camps. One poll revealed that Gore had surged ahead in the state, so Bush responded by launching a new campaign blitz to stem the Gore momentum. Some experts thought that Bush's woes in the state could have been prevented if he had chosen Governor Tom Ridge instead of Dick Cheney. The latter has apparently been perceived as a dull campaigner, compared to the more lively Joe Lieberman. On issues, the importance of health care to Pennsylvania's older electorate is seminal, so Pennsylvania's voters have closely scrutinized the candidates' respective stands on prescription drugs. Another issue is abortion (large numbers of Roman Catholic voters in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre oppose Gore's pro-choice position) which works for and against Bush (moderate and upscale women dislike Bush's pro-life position). A final factor is the big Democratic registration edge in the state (a half million more than Republican registered voters) that normally would help Gore. However, many of these Democrats are conservative and typically independent voters, who may not automatically respond to the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party (many oppose gun control as one example). So, the electoral picture in Pennsylvania is complex, as is the case in Florida. Obviously, if either Bush or Gore were to carry both of these states in November, then obtaining the magic "270" would become far more likely.

Discussion Questions

  1. Which states constitute the "electoral battlegrounds" in Election 2000?
  2. How do the states of Florida and Pennsylvania mirror the electoral closeness of the presidential race?
  3. What are the current, estimated electoral college totals for each candidate?

Back to top

 

GEORGE W. BUSH RETOOLS HIS CAMPAIGN

     Six weeks ago, it appeared that Texas Governor George W. Bush's road to the White House was an inevitability. However, things have since gone downhill for the Bush campaign. First, vice president Al Gore's selection of Senator Joe Lieberman as his running-mate symbolized political courage to many voters (the first Jewish-American to be so selected). Lieberman had also been the first Democratic senator to condemn openly Clinton's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal (he also has been viewed in far more favorable terms by voters than Dick Cheney, Bush's vice-presidential selection). Second, Gore's public images of a wooden, robotic-like figure and clone of Bill Clinton were largely dispelled by the vice president's performance at the Democratic National Convention. Third, mistakes were made by Governor Bush, ranging from allowing Gore to seize the issue-agenda from him on social security, education, health care/prescription drugs, environment, abortion, the status of the economy, etc. to a "live" microphone where Bush openly castigated a New York Times reporter on the campaign trial to his refusal to debate Gore along the guidelines/formats originally set by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates in January. Furthermore, the Bush campaign's use of some well-publicized negative ads against Gore turned off even more voters. Prominent Republicans began to question whether Bush could now win the election, as polls revealed Gore's continuing surge within the electorate. Indeed, as the month of September unfolded, Gore was leading in most national polls by five to ten percentage points. State polls revealed comparable leads in key battleground states, especially in the Midwest. Apparently, Gore has gained substantially among women, independent voters, senior citizens and middle-income groups. These gains may have been due to Gore's campaign proposals for child care/college tuition tax credits, universal preschool, raising the minimum wage, long-term care for elderly parents, and a plethora of other promised spending programs. So, in all, changes were clearly needed by the Bush campaign.

     First, Bush finally agreed to the three Commission-sponsored debates in October with Gore, thereby ending voters' perceptions that the Texas Governor was ducking the vice president, an acknowledged skillful debater. Three formats will be used-traditional two-lectern, a talk-show, round-table approach, and finally a town hall meeting, comparable to those used in 1992 and 1996. Reportedly, Bush was happier with the greater flexibility and free-flowing nature promised under all three, especially since a single moderator will be used (Jim Lehrer of PBS). Second, Bush decided to soft-pedal Gore's link to questionable fund-raising in the past while emphasizing his own reiteration of issues, especially by contrasting his stands against those of the vice president. Apparently, the Bush campaign could no longer count on Gore having a "fatal image" problem with the voters, i.e., being tainted by association with Bill Clinton's scandals and those same fund-raising questions. Polls have shown that voters now see Gore as being comparable to Bush on the criteria of trustworthiness and moral character. Consequently, Bush began to stress ideological differences (big government vs. individual freedom) regarding health care (private over public sector remedies), prescription drugs (Gore will force seniors into federally-run HMOs), taxes (Bush favored repeal of the estate or "death tax"), education (vouchers), social security (partial privatization) and budget policy (Gore will bust the budget). Third, Bush's campaign style was changed, from the informal televised interviews on the campaign plane and monster rallies before the party faithful to many more smaller, informal meetings with voters in such places as restaurants and town squares. Fourth, Bush renewed his calls for greater military readiness and the building of a national missile defense system (most voters see him as doing a better job on these issues than Gore).

     Bush will probably push even harder, through TV ads, his innovative plans to initiate a partial privatization of Social Security and to attack Medicare's problems through a market-oriented approach. If the Governor can portray himself as an innovative thinker with policies that will truly help people, he may then renew his original image as a "compassionate conservative" with the voters. The Governor will enlist the aid of Senator John McCain, who still appeals to swing voters, and use Dick Cheney, a former Secretary of Defense, much more in promoting the military readiness/missile defense issues. Finally, Bush will meticulously prepare for the climactic debates with Gore in October. Those crucial undecided voters will certainly be influenced by the ideological and stylistic clashes between the two candidates.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did Bush's presidential campaign encounter problems after the Democratic National Convention?
  2. How did Bush's refusal to debate hurt his credibility with the electorate?
  3. What changes has Bush begun to implement in his campaign?

Back to top

 

THE CHENEY-LIEBERMAN VICE-PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

     The televised Cheney-Lieberman vice-presidential debate on October 5th at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky struck a responsive, appreciative chord from both political pundits and the general public. Compared to the two Bush-Gore presidential debates (on October 3rd and 11th), the VP encounter was civil, far less rancorous, and better substantively. Dick Cheney and Senator Joe Lieberman sat around a table with moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN, and proceeded to answer Shaw's questions in a statesmanlike, prudent manner. Viewed by some 28 million people, the two men engaged in a relatively rare event in American politics, i.e., a thoughtful and informative debate that stressed intellectual discourse over blind, name-calling partisanship and sarcastic character assassination.

     The Republican nominee, former congressman and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, clearly was comfortable tackling foreign policy questions. In response to a Shaw question involving Iraq's Saddam Hussein and that leader's possible future nuclear capability (Cheney had been Secretary of Defense under President Bush during the Gulf War), Cheney candidly acknowledged that under a George W. Bush Administration, it might be necessary "to take out" that nuclear threat through U.S. military action. Observers noted that Cheney's defense/foreign policy expertise contrasted at the time with Governor Bush's acknowledged weakness in the area (however, Bush did appear more knowledgeable about foreign policy during the second presidential debate). Other political analysts felt that many undecided voters could be assured that Bush was surrounding himself with an astute running-mate and advisors in the foreign policy arena. Cheney went on to defend and laud the Bush positions/proposals on Social Security, taxes, and education.

     Senator Lieberman also did well in promoting Vice-President Gore's domestic campaign proposals while displaying a keen sense of humor. His restrained style contrasted sharply with Gore's bombastic and somewhat condescending attitude displayed toward Bush in the first presidential debate. On the issues, Lieberman, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, did an effective job of rebutting Cheney's argument that the military was in a state of decline (Lieberman reiterated that he and Gore would do everything possible in their administration to keep the military strong). Cheney had argued during the debate that the military was "overcommitted and under-resourced." Cheney did rebuke Lieberman's "hypocrisy," albeit in a mild fashion, regarding the Senator's long-time opposition to violence/vulgarity in the entertainment industry but his simultaneous willingness (and Al Gore's) to accept huge campaign donations from show-business contributors.

     Vice-presidential debates usually do not sway many voters regarding their presidential selection. Still, it was refreshing to see two seasoned political pros at work, (Cheney and Lieberman had known each other for some time and had cooperated during such epic events as the Gulf War) whereby they displayed an enlightened political dialogue rather than descending into a depressing pattern of anxiety, anger, and "theater." While post-debate polls suggested that Cheney may have "won" the debate, what was even more significant were surveys revealing the desire of the electorate to see the same tenor of civility practiced by the presidential nominees in their debates. Perhaps this was one reason for the more moderate, conciliatory tone displayed by both Bush and Gore in their second encounter on October 11 at Wake Forest University.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why were many voters and political analysts impressed by the performance of both Cheney and Lieberman?
  2. Why are vice-presidential debates typically incapable of swaying huge numbers of voters?
  3. What positive qualities did Cheney and Lieberman display that appeared lacking in Bush and Gore?

Back to top

 

MIDDLE EAST UPHEAVAL, THE USS COLE BOMBING AND ELECTION 2000

     With only a few weeks left before Election Day (November 7th), foreign policy events intruded into the 2000 presidential campaign. Armed battles broke out in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition, the American destroyer USS Cole was bombed by terrorists in Yemen (the port of Aden). The powerful explosion blew a huge hole in the Cole's hull, killing 17 American sailors (both men and women). As the nation mourned the loss of American lives and public worries about instability in Israel (and the possible impact on oil exports from Arab states) increased, the presidential/vice presidential nominees from both parties reacted. The Bush-Cheney team argued that these international problems confirmed their charges that the Clinton-Gore Administration had systematically weakened the U.S. military while also pursuing policies that had failed to create a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, President Clinton's recent trip to Egypt in order to arrange a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians produced a tentative cease-fire agreement. But the cease-fire did not hold, and the killings/rioting continued unabated in Israel, the West Bank, and throughout the occupied territories. The conflict threatened to engulf the entire Middle East. Was a jihad or "holy war" imminent?

     The Cole bombing gave additional credence to the Bush-Cheney charges. Critics charged that the Administration had permitted the destroyer to refuel in a nation where innumerable anti-Western terrorist groups existed. There was initial evidence that the infamous Osama bin Laden terrorist network was behind the attack on the Cole. The GOP ticket further argued that the reduction in the U.S. Navy's size from over 500 ships to 315 had also meant fewer fueling ships. If the Navy had not been cut during the Clinton-Gore years, then it would have had the necessary tankers to fuel American destroyers at sea, far from a port such as Aden in terrorist-infested Yemen. Bush and Cheney also asserted that the Cole bombing was symptomatic of a fatal flaw in the Clinton-Gore foreign policy approach-too many commitments overseas and too few military resources. The entire U.S. military was suffering under the current administration-from a shortage of ships, troops, and planes to recruitment problems to the paucity of spare parts to the lack of overall funding. Bush promised to rebuild the military by spending far more on personnel and hardware. He also insisted that his Middle Eastern diplomacy would yield far better results. Conversely, the Gore-Lieberman team responded by insisting they would do everything possible to keep America's military the finest in the world. If elected, their administration would continue to be "an honest broker" between Israel and the Palestinians, while working for a lasting peace in the region. Interestingly enough, both Bush and Gore promised, if either were to become president, that they would retaliate against terrorists. Similarly, both men called on PLO Chairman Arafat to convince his people to curb their violent protests.

     It was unclear whether voters would be swayed toward either ticket because of the Middle East situation and/or the Cole tragedy (although surveys suggest that more voters think the Republican Party can handle foreign policy issues better than the Democratic Party). The 2000 campaign has clearly been preoccupied with domestic policy issues-education, health care, social security, tax cuts-rather than international concerns, as exemplified by the three presidential debates. Of course, a new or deeper international crisis could still emerge before November 7. But far more certain was the need to elect a president who will be able to handle U.S. foreign policy concerns in what is becoming a far more dangerous world, a world rife with terrorism, genocidal civil wars, nuclear proliferation, possible disruption of oil supplies, and the continuing need for American power to be projected in areas of recurrent instability. While most citizens will probably vote their "pocketbook," perhaps a good number will consider the very important problem as to which presidential contender can best protect national security and America's role as world leader before they push that voting lever.

Discussion Questions

  1. How will events in the Middle East affect the overall presidential campaign?
  2. Will Bush or Gore be helped more by recent foreign policy troubles? Why?
  3. Is it possible that foreign policy issues will only have minimal impact or possibly no impact at all? Again, explain your reasoning.

Back to top

 

SHOULD THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE BE ABOLISHED?

     The extraordinary aftermath of the 2000 presidential election has led to new calls to abolish the Electoral College. In the November 7th election, Vice President Al Gore secured the most popular votes nationally (albeit by a very small number, slightly over 200,000 votes). But in the Electoral College, it appeared, at least initially, that Texas Governor George W. Bush had secured the requisite number of 270 by barely winning the crucial state of Florida and its 25 electoral votes. After conceding the election to Bush in the early morning hours of November 8th, the narrowing popular vote totals in the Sunshine State forced Gore to withdraw that concession only a few hours later. A state-mandated recount of all 67 counties in Florida narrowed Bush's lead from a 1784 vote statewide lead to 327 votes. However, Florida's 25 Electoral Votes remained up for grabs, amidst further charges of ballot irregularities in Palm Beach County, new hand counts of votes in four Fla. counties at the request of the Democrats (subsequently challenged by a Republican federal court appeal), an estimate of 2000 or so overseas ballots that required tabulation (the receipt-deadline for those ballots was November 17th), a demand by Florida's Secretary of State for all votes be certified by November 14th, and new legal maneuvers/lawsuits by both parties and private individuals. Hence, neither Bush nor Gore could reach the magic number of 270 given the uncertainty in Florida (Bush was stuck at 246, Gore at 262 as of mid-November). Even more ominous was the possibility that recount-mania might spread to those states that Gore had carried by very small margins, as was the case in Iowa and Wisconsin. So, would the nation have a certified presidential winner by the time the Electoral College met in their respective state capitals on December 18th?

     To many political observers, the culprit was the Electoral College. Critics noted that the EC was an outmoded 18th century device that had been originally devised by the Framers to avoid direct popular election. Distrustful of "mobocracy," the Electors were to be distinguished, educated representatives of the states who would choose the president. However, with the passage of time, direct popular participation by a sophisticated, mass electorate is now a given. Why not, critics insisted, allow the president to be directly elected by popular vote majority (or plurality)? Furthermore, the EC was dangerous, in that it was distinctly possible that one candidate could win the popular vote, but still fail in the Electoral College, because he or she could lose by very small popular vote margins in the big electoral vote states, while winning by huge popular vote percentages in many of the other, smaller states. Hence, the EC winner in this scenario might lose legitimacy in the eyes of the American people. Finally, there were always the problems of the "faithless elector" and the election being thrown into Congress. Although rare, electors could change their minds (half of the states did not legally mandate electors to ratify the popular vote in their respective states). In addition, a third party candidate might, in the future, siphon off enough electoral votes (by winning a few states), and the two major party candidates might divide the rest in a very close race. With no candidate receiving 270, the House would have to choose the President (one vote per state delegation, 26 votes being required), and the Senate the Vice-President (each senator having one vote) according to the U.S. Constitution. Direct popular vote of the president, established through a new constitutional amendment, would eliminate all of these problems. Hence, the popular vote winner in 2000, be it Gore or Bush, would have been the president with a 48 or 49% percentage, far greater than the 40% minimum figure usually incorporated in the proposed constitutional amendment.

     Proponents of the EC countered, arguing that the Electoral College had worked quite well throughout the nation's history. The last time a popular vote winner differed from the EC winner was in the election of 1888, 112 years ago (Harrison-Cleveland). Second, going to a direct popular election would encourage the proliferation of third parties that collectively would siphon votes away from the two major parties. Thus, in close elections, it might be difficult for anyone to acquire the minimum 40% popular vote figure. Expensive run-off elections would become far more frequent. Third, a popular vote system would encourage a plethora of regional candidates. Fourth, candidates would rely more on television ads, rather than direct campaigning since a truly national race would have to be run (campaign resources would be stretched to the limit). Finally, the power of small states might be diluted (in the EC, a small state's three or four electoral votes would be very important in a tight race). Hence, some pundits doubted that a constitutional amendment abolishing the EC in favor of direct popular vote could survive both congressional passage and the requisite ratification by three-fourths of the states. Yet, the newly-elected U.S. Senator from New York, Hilary Clinton, did call for such an amendment. So, it was also true that if the crisis surrounding the 2000 presidential election deepened and neither Bush nor Gore were able to assume the presidency next January, then public pressure upon Congress to abandon the EC might become difficult to resist.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the pros and cons regarding proposals to abolish the Electoral College?
  2. How and why have the 2000 presidential election results renewed the debate over the Electoral College?
  3. Why would a constitutional amendment be necessary to abolish the EC? Would such an Amendment likely be passed by Congress and achieve ratification by the states? Why or why not?

Back to top

 

WILL AMERICA'S VOTING SYSTEM BE REFORMED AFTER ELECTION 2000?

     The extraordinary aftermath of the 2000 presidential election has led to new calls to improve the way Americans vote in elections. These improvements relate to instituting a more reliable technology in America's voting precincts, technology that may avoid the debacle over those now infamous punched paper ballots and "dimpled/hanging" chads in the contested state of Florida. So, on December 5, three U.S. Senators, in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation, proposed new election reform legislation. Senator Charles Schumer (D- N.Y.), Max Cleland (D-Ga.) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) all argued that the most technologically-sophisticated nation in the world was still employing outmoded voting machinery susceptible to unacceptable margins of error. Their bill would provide a $250 million matching fund program for states to modernize that machinery. In addition, the Federal Election Commission would formulate a plan (funded by another $10 million) for the states to implement new voting procedures before the 2002 elections. The FEC might consider not only new voter hardware, but also balloting by mail (similar to Oregon) and even changing the hours and places of the voting experience. However, Senator Schumer noted that the tab might run nearly 1 billion dollars to upgrade fully national voter technology before the 2004 presidential election. The government would provide a total of 500 million (the initial 250 million would be a down payment), with the states matching the other 500 million. Only in this way could a voting system of integrity and accuracy be assured across the nation. In addition, another Senate plan sponsored by Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J). proposed a bipartisan commission to study election problems and to advise state/local governments on the means of improving the voting process. The McConnell-Torricelli bill would provide grants totaling $100 million to the states so that new voter hardware could be purchased.

     Currently, the nation uses, in order of preference, a number of voting methods, including punch cards (the most common), optical scan cards (voter darkens in the space next to a candidate's name), old-fashioned lever machines (these machines are no longer manufacturered), electronic touch screens (similar to a ATM machine), and finally paper ballots (marked ballots are dropped into a locked container). Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, punch cards are inexpensive but sometimes a partially punched ballot may not be read by the computer tabulator (a major problem in Florida). Indeed, a federal agency's 1988 report suggested that punch cards no longer be used. Optical scan machines are simple for the voter, but a space may not be properly darkened or marks may run outside the circle, rectangle, arrow that is designated on the ballot. Lever machines (first built in 1892!) are bulky, expensive, and parts to repair them are no longer available. The "ATM" approach is easy to use, but expensive and complicated to repair (like a computer, "crashes" could occur, jeopardizing recounts). Paper ballots are inexpensive, but the job of counting them can be ponderous for both the regular election and possible recounts that follow. Some experts argue for Internet voting, pointing out that citizens could be given a password or some other form of computer identification, then deliver their votes to terminals housed in the local precinct. Voter turnout might increase since citizens could select their candidates in the comfort and convenience of their own homes. The problems here are that (a) not everyone has a computer (poorer Americans would be at a disadvantage) and (b) the ubiquitous presence of "hackers" who might be able to interfere with the votes in some way by penetrating computer security firewalls. Last March, an Arizona primary election tried Internet voting. Turnout was high, but there were also numerous glitches such as screens freezing and logging-on difficulties.

     Clearly, the states need money in order to change their voting methods. So, perhaps the Schumer-Brownback and McConnell-Torricelli bills are steps in the right direction. However, experts think it will be difficult to install the same voter technology in all electoral precincts throughout the nation. For example, ATM systems employed in large cities may simply be too expensive for rural areas. They do encourage a "national ballot format" that would have a standard design so as to minimize voter confusion in the future. Finally, these Senators were not proposing federal controls over elections, since the states are given responsibility in this area. But, conversely, the electoral squabbles over ballots that have scarred the 2000 presidential campaign are not likely to be forgotten. So, the momentum toward voting reforms may not easily be slowed.

Discussion Questions

  1. What new legislation is being proposed in Congress to improve America's voting methods?
  2. What new types of voter technology are available? What are the pros and cons relating to each?
  3. Would Internet voting work-why or why not?

Back to top

 

THE BUSH PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION, CHALLENGES FACING HIS ADMINISTRATION, AND LINGERING ISSUES FROM ELECTION 2000

     The extraordinary U.S. Supreme Court's decision of December 12th, reversing the Florida Supreme Court's decision that had previously ordered new recounts for Vice President Al Gore, meant that Florida's 25 electoral votes were subsequently given to Governor George W. Bush. Hence, the Governor now became "President-Elect" Bush. Despite the lingering bitter allegations by Gore supporters (the Reverend Jesse Jackson asserted that the "Supreme" Court had placed itself above the "Supreme" American voter) that blatant partisanship by the highest court in the land had wrongfully deprived the American people of having all the votes in Florida counted, the Vice President's remaining legal options had truly disappeared. After Gore's concession, a divided nation awaited a Bush transition and presidency.

     The new, 43rd president faced some major problems, both in the immediate and future sense. First, there was the pressing need to accelerate the transition process, whereby Bush could get his Cabinet appointments and important staff positions filled. The five week aftermath of the contested presidential election has seriously cut into transition planning time. While Bush's vice-president elect, Dick Cheney, has been working behind the scenes, the transition is far from being complete. However, some prominent appointments have been all but worked out, including Colin Powell as Secretary of State and Condoleeza Rice as National Security advisor. Political pundits urged Bush to build a "national coalition" by appointing moderate Republicans and even well-known Democrats (Bill Bradley, Chuck Robb as examples) to important posts in his Administration. Coalition-building seemed vital, given the close partisan divisions in both houses of Congress (the U.S. Senate will be evenly divided, i.e., fifty Democrats, fifty Republicans). Second, in order to erase his image as an "illegitimate president" (Gore was the popular vote-winner), Bush may propose a series of bold policy initiatives early in his term, involving those campaign promises affecting social security, tax cuts, national missile defense, etc. In this way, Bush can demonstrate his intention to lead the nation, despite being the popular vote loser, the Supreme Court handing him the victory, and the thousands of "undervotes" (votes that were not "read" by the voting machines) in Florida that still remained uncounted by hand. Further clouding Bush's future was the intention of various news organizations to count those disputed Florida ballots. The Miami Herald announced that it might do this in the very near future. What would happen if this newspaper, or any other national publication, undertook the recounts next year and found that Al Gore really had won Florida? How would that affect the Bush presidency? Conversely, would the American electorate really care? After all, ballots might be degraded from so much handling or different newspapers (ideologically) might uncover conflicting results.

     Finally, there were several lingering questions stemming from the outcome of Election 2000. First was the question of the traditional neutrality of the courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court. Had the Court lost the respect of millions of Americans by inappropriately intruding into presidential politics, as several of the dissenting justices and constitutional experts had argued? Second, would Congress and the states try to reform the methods of recording and tabulating votes in presidential elections? For example, would the state of Florida, along with other states, take action to eliminate punch-card ballots and their recording machines that were highly susceptible to mechanical breakdowns? Third, would there be a serious effort to abolish the Electoral College, an 18th century mechanism that appeared increasingly inappropriate for a 21st century America? Fourth, would the election's partisan bitterness poison the atmosphere in Congress, preventing solutions to the nation's problems during the next four years? The answers to these questions were critical not just for George W. Bush, but for the renewal of American democracy as well.

Discussion Questions

  1. What challenges face President-elect George W. Bush both now and in the future?
  2. Why may many Gore supporters feel that Bush is not a "legitimate president"?
  3. Why is the presidential transition process an important one?
  4. Which of the lingering questions from Election 2000 appear to have a possible answer or solution?

Back to top

 

REVISITING DISPUTED BALLOTS IN FLORIDA AND LOOKING TOWARD 2002, 2004

     In the aftermath of the bitter, disputed 2000 presidential election, Democrats were already looking forward to the 2002 midterm and 2004 presidential elections. While grudgingly accepting the idea of George W. Bush being the 43rd President of the United States, many Democrats felt that the 25 electoral votes in Florida had been "stolen" through a combination of virulent partisanship (from Republican leaders/officials in Florida such as Secretary of State Barbara Harris and Governor Jeb Bush) and the overtly partisan decision by five conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justices that had ultimately stopped the manual recount of disputed ballots and terminated Al Gore's legal fight for the presidency. While a number of newspapers promised to join together and reexamine the thousands of contested ballots in the state to see who really "won" Florida, that effort could obviously not change the election outcome. Republicans argued that the another ballot recounting would only damage the Bush presidency's legitimacy and be subject to the same, biased interpretation of "dimpled," "hanging," or "pregnant" chads that Florida voting officials had confronted during the five weeks after November 8th. Republicans insisted that the reexamination of the so-called "undervotes," where no presidential choice was detected during the original machine counting, would still not reveal any sizable advantage for Al Gore. Indeed, a mid-January report by The Palm Beach Post seemed to confirm that contention. After looking at 10,600 previously uncounted ballots from Miami-Dade County, the newspaper reported that if all the dimpled or hanging chads on contested ballots had been counted as part of the official vote total, George W. Bush would have actually gained six votes! It remained an open question whether another consortium of newspapers examining 60,000 undervotes and 120,000 "overvotes" (a ballot that is disqualified because the ballot shows votes for more than one presidential candidate) in Florida would uncover similar findings.

     But what does the political future hold for both Al Gore and the Democratic Party? In the aftermath of the vice president's gracious concession speech to the nation, Gore supporters pointed to several strengths for their candidate-(a) Gore had won the national popular vote by nearly 540,000 votes; (b) Democrats (especially African-American voters) and many Independents would rally to Gore in 2004, believing that the presidency had been unfairly handed to Bush in 2000; (c) Gore remained a determined political fighter, who had the innate ability to consolidate the "loyal opposition" to many of Bush's misguided policies on anti-missile defense, tax cuts for the wealthy, abortion, future Supreme Court appointments, and "foolish" withdrawals from important overseas peacekeeping missions, as in Bosnia and Kosovo. But the vice-president's detractors argued that (a) Gore had run an abysmal campaign, allowing a relatively inexperienced Texas governor to win despite an era of unrivaled national prosperity; (b) Gore had underutilized the campaign talent of Bill Clinton and mistakenly de-emphasized the administration's eight years of accomplishments; (c) Clinton will actually be the real leader of and chief fund-raiser for the Democratic party during the next four years (Clinton appointed a close friend, Terry McAuliffe,to be the chairman of the party); (d) There are simply better, more attractive Democratic presidential candidates to offer in 2004. Who were these candidates? This group included, among others, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut (Gore's running mate), Senators John Edwards of North Carolina, Evan Bayh of Indiana, John Kerry of Massachusetts, (former senator) Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, Joe Biden of Delaware, and even that new senator from New York, Hillary Clinton! House minority leader Richard A. Gephardt and Senate minority leader Tom Daschle were additional possibilities, with Gov. Gray Davis of California also being mentioned by political pundits.

     As a party, Democrats were banking on the Bush presidency encountering difficulties at home and abroad. Because several prominent economists hinted that the nation might be moving into a recession, Democrats now saw the very real possibility of recapturing Congress. The Senate, divided between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, was clearly up for grabs in the 2002 midterm election. In the House, a net gain of seven seats would give the Democrats a simple majority. The history of midterm elections, where the out-of-power party normally does capture additional seats in Congress, bodes well for the Democrats. If they do regain control of Congress, Democrats will have additional momentum for the presidential race in 2004.

Discussion Questions

  1. What might happen to the Bush Presidency if a coalition of newspapers examined all of the disputed ballots in Florida and found that Gore had actually won the most popular votes? What would happen to the Bush Presidency if the reexamination revealed that Bush remained the winner in Florida?
  2. Who are the likely Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination in 2004?
  3. How would an economic recession affect the Democrats' chances of regaining control of Congress in 2002?

Back to top

 

LINDA CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT-ELECT BUSH'S FIRST CHOICE FOR LABOR SECRETARY, WITHDRAWS HER NAME FROM CONSIDERATION

     Several of President-elect George W. Bush's Cabinet nominees ran into trouble during congressional confirmation hearings. One example was John Ashcroft (former U.S. Senator and Governor of Missouri), the Attorney-General designate, who was criticized by Democrats and other liberal interest groups for his very conservative views on civil rights, abortion, and gun control. But despite Ashcroft's grilling by such Democratic senators as Ted Kennedy of Mass. and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, his confirmation by a majority of the U.S. Senate seemed a certainty. However, that would not be the case involving Bush's first choice for Labor Secretary, Linda Chavez. Chavez's political woes stemmed from her failure to disclose to the Bush transition team (and FBI) that she had furnished housing and financial aid to an illegal immigrant from Guatemala (the story was first broken by ABC news). Specifically, Marta Mercado had lived in Chavez's house from 1991 to 1993 and performed household work for Chavez-doing laundry, looking after Chavez's children, general cleaning, etc.-while receiving cash payments during that time. Chavez still insisted that there had been no genuine employee-employer relationship.

     Chavez further claimed that she was only being compassionate, i.e. trying to help a woman in dire need (Mercado had been living in a shelter for battered women). Chavez had also assisted two Vietnamese refugees and the children of a Puerto Rican woman living in New York. However, while critics applauded Chavez's charitable spirit, they also argued that the new Bush Administration should not have a Secretary of Labor who had violated fundamental wage and immigration statutes within the boundaries of her private residence. After all, the main function of the Labor Department and its Secretary was to delineate both the legal nature of work and how that work should be compensated. Furthermore, Chavez had initially denied knowing that Mercado was an illegal immigrant, but then subsequently admitted that she did know Mercado's true status. Sheltering an illegal alien is a felony under the law. So, Chavez's problems extended beyond her lack of initial candor. She would have certainly faced serious questions from senators regarding her alleged violations of the law. Furthermore, hostile Democrats were likely to compare Chavez's situation to that of Zoe Baird, President Clinton's 1993 nominee for attorney general. Baird had been forced to withdraw her name after it was disclosed that she had hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny, neglecting also to pay her employer's share of Social Security taxes. Chavez argued her situation was different from Baird's, but to no avail. Ironically, in 1993, Chavez had strongly criticized Baird for "Nannygate."

     Unlike Ashcroft, Chavez was not a former U.S. Senator and could not count on that body's goodwill (she had served under Reagan as the staff director of the Civil Rights Commission). In addition, the Chavez nomination had already been under attack from labor unions because of her hostility to the minimum wage law, the Family and Medical Leave Law, and affirmative action. It appears that George W. Bush did not want Chavez to be a "distraction" to his new Administration and to lend further political fuel to Democrats who might oppose his other Cabinet nominees. Thus, Bush's staff told Chavez that the president-elect would not support her through a damaging nomination hearing. Chavez subsequently withdrew her name from consideration, but not before she blamed her plight on Washington's "search and destroy politics" while insisting that she would have made a "great" Secretary of Labor. Bush publicly praised Chavez as a good, compassionate person (despite privately being irritated at her for not confiding to his transition team about Mercado). But he did not dwell on the Chavez matter for long. He promptly found Chavez's replacement in Elaine Chao, a former deputy secretary of transportation during the George Bush Administration and wife of Republican Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell. Chao, an Asian-American, was all but guaranteed a smooth ride through the Senate. She was a former head of the Peace Corps and the United Way who also possessed strong contacts with organized labor. Although she opposes affirmative action, she is a far less polarizing figure than Chavez and mirrors the growing ethnic diversity of American life.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why was Chavez forced to withdraw her name for Secretary of Labor?
  2. How did George W. Bush handle the Chavez problem?
  3. Why did Bush choose Chao to replace Chavez?

Back to top

 

THE LOCKERBIE VERDICT AND THE PROBLEM OF INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

     Earlier this month, a Scottish court, deliberating in the Netherlands, found a Libyan intelligence official (Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi) guilty of placing a suitcase bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people (189 of which were Americans) on December 21, 1988 (the plane had crashed near Lockerbie, Scotland). A second Libyan defendant (Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah) was released due to the lack of compelling evidence against him. For some family members, relatives, and loved ones of the Lockerbie victims, the court's decision provided a semblance of justice, but for others the verdict did not go far enough. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Bush Administration. To the families, the real culprit in the Lockerbie bombing was the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, the man they viewed as giving the order to bomb Flight 103. Thus, their views were that Qaddafi should be tried as a war criminal (they noted that in 1989, a French court had indicted Qaddafi for the bombing of a French airliner that resulted in the deaths of 170 people), that Libya should pay millions of dollars in civil penalties to them, and that the 20 year jail sentence (parole could then be considered) handed down to the Libyan for multiple murders was not nearly enough-the death penalty was the proper punishment. Furthermore, lawyers for the victims' families argued that the Lockerbie bombing was an "act of war" against the United States since it had been orchestrated by the Libyan government. In addition, President Bush responded to the verdict by asserting that United Nations sanctions against Libya should not be reinstated (they had been suspended in 1999), the U.S. sanctions against that "terrorist nation" should not end, and that Libya should both accept responsibility for its actions and officially renounce all forms of terrorism. Those U.S. sanctions, first installed during the Reagan Administration, ban nearly all trade and financial interactions between America and Libya. The sanctions had followed an April 1986 Libyan bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin (two U.S. servicemen were killed) and the subsequent U.S. air attack upon Tripoli. It appears that the Lockerbie bombing was in retaliation for that U.S. air raid (Qaddafi's house was hit and allegedly hundreds of Libyans were killed or wounded, along with his adopted daughter). Qaddafi had finally turned the suspects over to the West in 1999, but not until his country had lost over $30 billion dollars due to those international sanctions.

     The official Libyan reaction to the verdict was predictable-(a) it was a western-controlled "political decision" without true legal merit, (b) it meant that sanctions could not be abolished, (c) if anyone should be compensated, it should be the Libyan people who had suffered through seven years of those sanctions and (d) both of the Libyans on trial were actually innocent (the one conviction was based upon shaky testimony and questionable eye-witnesses, leading al-Megrahi to appeal his case to a five-judge appellate panel at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands). Naturally, western observers rejected all of these claims. They argued that Libya was still a terrorist state, a polity that continued to destabilize Africa via its support for rebel groups, deny its citizens fundamental freedoms (human rights groups had labeled Libya among the worst eleven nations in the world in its suppression of liberty), and support violent groups in the Middle East. Nevertheless, after the verdict, ambassadors from the United States, Great Britain, and Libya met to discuss how Libya could have all sanctions removed, including bans on air travel and some oil equipment.

     A final question dealing with Lockerbie was whether the global problem of state-sponsored terrorism could be resolved in a courtroom. Anti-terrorism experts argued that terrorist acts, a clear national security threat, could only be stopped with military force, especially when the complicity of a state's leaders in promoting those acts could be proved. Although counter-military strikes might not end terrorism, it would send a far better message to those states that sponsored such terrible actions when compared to lengthy court proceedings. One thing is sure-international terrorism is a force to be reckoned with, a phenomenon that American intelligence agencies and key officials of the new Bush Administration will almost certainly have to confront during the next four years.

Discussion Questions

  1. What was the reaction of the victims' families and relatives to the Lockerbie verdict?
  2. Why is the United States reluctant to remove its sanctions toward Libya?
  3. What was the Libyan reaction to the Lockerbie verdict?

Back to top

 

FORMER ATTORNEY-GENERAL JANET RENO ANNOUNCES THAT SHE WILL RUN IN THE 2002 FLORIDA GOVERNOR'S RACE

     Janet Reno, former U.S. Attorney General (AG) during the two terms of the Clinton Administration, has officially announced her intention to run against Florida's Governor Jeb Bush in 2002. Ms. Reno, though a Miami-Dade state attorney for 15 years and then the U.S. AG, has never run for a statewide office in Florida. Reno, assuming she wins the Democratic nomination in the Florida 2002 Democratic primary, will present a variety of political strengths and weaknesses in her presumed contest against Jeb Bush. Reno obviously has major name recognition from her years of service during the Clinton era and her prior judicial experience in Miami. She is a down-to-earth, unpretentious woman who will earn the electoral support of liberal voters, union members, and those Democrats still smarting over the "stolen presidential election" of 2000. She should be able to rely on a sizable partisan turnout on election day (November, 2002), as party regulars see a chance to defeat the brother of an "illegitimate" president. Finally, her stands on such issues as education, the environment, medical care, and social security should appeal to key segments of the Florida electorate.

     Conversely, the Reno candidacy also poses a significant political downside. The sizable Cuban-American community in Florida has not forgiven her for the role she played in the Elian Gonzalez case (she approved the seizure of the 6 year-old boy from his Miami relatives; Elian eventually went back to Communist Cuba to be with his father). However, Reno supporters pointed out that Cuban voters only represented six percent of the Florida electorate. Conservatives will also object to Reno's 1993 decision to attack the Branch Davidians' compound in Waco, Texas, an assault resulting in the deaths of some 80 people. Other voters claim she botched the FBI's botched spy investigation of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee. A third factor relates to the 63 year-old Reno's health. She is suffering from Parkinson's Disease (first diagnosed in 1995). Despite Reno's statement that doctors have cleared her to run an arduous campaign, a few pundits question whether the disease may affect the quality of her race against Bush or even her ability to perform as governor. Finally, there are a few Democrats who fear that Reno's association with Bill Clinton may hurt her with "swing voters" and independents (they may perceive her as too liberal), dooming her to ultimate defeat. Hence, some Democrats are hoping other Florida candidates will offer their candidacy, such as Pete Peterson, the former ambassador to Vietnam, House minority leader Lois J. Frankel, and State Senator Daryl L. Jones. In polls taken after her official announcement, Reno appears to be a shoo-in to win her party's primary. However she trails Jeb Bush (in a trial run poll) by some fifteen percentage points. Furthermore, Reno shows a 37% unfavorable rating in polls compared to only a 32% positive sentiment about her (see USA TODAY, September 4, 2001, p. A1). However, polls are only a "snapshot" in time. Events can possibly change voter perceptions between now and 2002. Whatever the outcome, Florida will once again be in the political limelight next year.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are Janet Reno's respective political strengths and weaknesses as a candidate?
  2. Why will the Reno-Jeb Bush race (assuming Reno gets the nomination) in 2002 likely rate maximum national media attention?
  3. Can Reno win in Florida–why or why not in your opinion?

 

Back to top

 

TERRORISTS STRIKE THE WORLD TRADE CENTER IN NEW YORK CITY AND THE PENTAGON IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

     On September 11, the United States suffered the worst terrorist attack in world history when two hijacked airliners (departing from Boston's Logan Airport) were flown into the twin world trade center towers in New York City (the symbol of U.S. enterprise and economic strength) and one hijacked airplane (departing from Dulles Airport) hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C (the symbol of America's military might). A fourth hijacked plane, ostensibly aimed at the White House, crashed in Pennsylvania (it appeared that heroic passengers may have struggled with the hijackers, forcing the plane to crash). The horror of these attacks, the massive death toll (at least five thousand or even more Americans have been killed), the tragic TV shots of citizens jumping to their death from the burning towers, the efforts of the heroic firemen/policemen/rescue workers (at least 250 were killed when the trade towers collapsed) to recover survivors from the rubble, the disruption of the national transportation system (airplane flights were suspended across the nation), and the fear of future attacks all transfixed the nation and the world.

     Who was behind the attack? How could this happen to America? Almost immediately, the Bush Administration focused on the global terrorist network of Osama bin Laden (OBL) as the "prime suspect." OBL, a former Saudi-born businessman who inherited $300 million from his father's construction company, now heads an Islamic terrorist movement dubbed "The Base" or al-Qaida. OBL has been linked to previous attacks upon Americans, ranging from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (6 died and over 1000 were injured) to the 1998 attacks upon two U.S. embassies in Africa, to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors. OBL is now protected by the hard-line Islamic Taliban government in Afghanistan, a country from where OBL directs terrorist training centers, recruits new followers, and finances plans for additional attacks upon America. The World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks obviously took time to plan (at least a year or more) and coordinate. Bin Laden operatives apparently took flying lessons in Florida and other states so that they could takeover those four U.S. planes. Other bin Laden "cells" in the U.S. apparently provided logistical/financial support for the operation. According to the FBI, there were 19 hijackers on the four planes (five on three planes, four on the other) who participated in the kamikaze attacks. While U.S. intelligence agencies apparently suspected that OBL might attack U.S. soil once again, they did not detect the magnitude and precise nature of these terrorist plans until it was too late. Consequently, calls from Congress and the Bush Administration to expand U.S. intelligence capabilities (especially human intelligence) were frequently expressed in the days that followed the September 11th horrors. In addition, renewed attention was placed on lax airport security procedures that had allowed the terrorists to get aboard those four American airliners (the terrorists used knives to subdue air passengers and crews). Those airport security procedures have been tightened considerably and are likely to remain for the indefinite future.

     President Bush termed the attacks "war" and the "first war of the 21st century." In a TV address and throughout subsequent statements, he promised that the U.S. would use its military power against individual terrorists and any nation that harbored those terrorists. In short, the Bush Administration vowed that the global terrorist network must be eliminated forever. How this was to be done was not altogether clear. But the president told the nation that victory in this war would be achieved, no matter how long and how difficult such a course would be. Bush immediately sought the support of our allies (NATO pledged its cooperation) and began to pressure other nations, such as Pakistan (bordering on Afghanistan), to cooperate against world terrorism. Clearly, the nation had lost its innocence. Vulnerability is the unfortunate reality of a free and open society. But it was also clear that the nation was rallying around the president and steeling itself for the uncertain future against an elusive and cowardly enemy. Across the nation, countless blood drives, prayer vigils, and expressions of determination to see this new war through were all reported by the national media. In the midst of troop movements, the dispatch of aircraft carriers to the Arabian Sea, and the call-up of thousands of reserves, a united America prepared itself for a conflict unparalleled in its entire history.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did terrorists target the World Trade Center and Pentagon?
  2. How have American leaders and the public responded to these attacks?
  3. Who may have been responsible for these attacks?
  4. Could these attacks have been prevented?

 

Back to top