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Stateside With Rosalea: Tempis Fugitives, Etc.

Who would have thunk it? Not only am I old enough to remember the days when steam locomotives roamed the earth, but I've lived long enough to see the demise of the lead balloon. I suppose THAT went down like a presidential pretzel. Suspicious Old Baggage that I am, I confess to having thought a couple of weeks ago that the purple dots the President was sporting on each cheek were alcoderm patches. Either that or some kind of organic electronic radio receivers used to whisper speech notes in his ear via the bony bits of his head.

But maybe I do our pretzellated President a disservice. Since he no doubt didn't get last weekend's graze on his face by getting drop-down drunk, perhaps he collided with the steam locomotive that roams the White House, Karl Rove. Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle reported that Rove - Bush's chief political adviser - told Republicans gathered in Texas that the administration's handling of terrorism could be an important theme in the November midterm elections. This is despite Bush's repeated assertions that the fight against terrorism is not a partisan endeavour and has no place in the political discourse, the paper said. Golly. I'd better rescind that letter I wrote to my old high school suggesting that George W. Bush be given an Honorary School Certificate for so literally exemplifying the school motto: palma non sine pulvere.

Well, the pret-fall incident was Sunday and the news for the rest of the week just got more and more bizarre to the point where I wondered if the earth was traversing the Weird Event horizon. I suppose really that it's the news coverage that's bizarre rather than the news itself. Hey, a woman became a party whip in Washington. Big News. Oh, yawn. I do believe that in New Zealand in 1993 - the centennial of women's suffrage - two party whips were women, not to mention three Ministers of the Crown and one Deputy Leader of the Opposition, formerly Deputy Prime Minister. Mind you, it took 40 years of womens suffrage to get a woman elected to the House of Representatives and then it was only after the death of her husband caused a by-election in Lyttelton.

The US has had women’s suffrage since 1920, and still at the federal level a party whip is the highest ranking any congresswoman has achieved. What are the chances of that? The single most damning thing about US-style democracy is its failure to end up with a government that is truly representative of the people. As one current affairs commentator said this week, we can only hope that buried under the ashes of the World Trade Center are some of America's illusions. He was talking about foreign relations, but it equally applies to the illusion that the US is a model democracy.

Naturally that was big news here in California because the whip in question, Nancy Pelosi, is from this state. Which got me to wondering how different the world would be if the seat of government in the US had not remained over on the East Coast. The centre of the continental United States is actually Nebraska, and it would seem only courteous to move the federal government there so that representatives from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts have to commute the same distance. Washington DC is only where it is because those few eastern states were all there were at the time federal government was created. Time to move on, laddies and a lass or two, and time to get your heads out of New York's fundament.

Mid-week the stunning news was that several members of the Symbionese Liberation Army had been arrested on charges relating to the murder of a woman during a 1975 bank robbery near Sacramento. It's around about here that my Mobius strip theory of time proved its worth. In this case the time period is 27 years, and here these people are standing in the same spot and in the media spotlight as if time had not even elapsed. The sudden arraignments are not so much about the SLA and its doings as they are about John Walker Lindh and his. It's an attempt to pre-empt any sympathy Lindh might get for being a misguided youth.

In 1975 the SLA members were young and full of revolutionary fervour, railing against capitalist bourgeois pigs; in 2002 they look like capitalist bourgeois pigs and they are portrayed as acting like stuck pigs. The SF Chronicle on Saturday had a photo of Sara Jane Olson, now aged 55, grimacing in what the story implied was self-serving sorrow when she was sentenced to 20 years in prison on bombing charges related to a 1975 incident in LA. She was then immediately arraigned on murder charges for the Sacramento heist. Reporting on two other alleged SLA bank robber-murderers also arraigned that day, the Chron reported that one of them asked in court to be known by her maiden name, and then the paper immediately referred to her and her ex-husband as "the Harrises".

What should I care how the Chron reports it? After all, in the corrections column of the same edition the paper reports that a quote it had previously attributed to a named UN official was "from a source who asked to remain anonymous". Just in case you didn't get the name the first time, it reprinted it in the correction. Intelligent life has clearly long abandoned that particular Daily Planet. But I care because the paper is owned by the Hearst Corporation. The most famous thing the SLA ever did was kidnap newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and eventually recruit her. The strongest piece of evidence about who shot the unfortunate woman at the 1975 bank hold-up comes from Patty Hearst.

Even if the Hearst Corporation no longer has anything to do with Patty Hearst the individual, and even if Hearst owned the Examiner and not the Chron at the time of the kidnapping, the Chron should have included in its stories some acknowledgement of the connection. After all, in the same edition, in two stories to do with the demise of New York's 'Talk' magazine, it runs just such an acknowledgement because 'Talk' was shut down by Miramax when continued financial support from Hearst Magazines became doubtful. The paper obviously feels its obligations to the media community keenly and its obligations to its readers rather less so.

But what's this? The week is not yet over and there's a new "woman dobs in colleague" scandal a-breaking, and tv coverage is akin to that for Monica Lewinsky's friend and not-so-confidante (whatever her name was). Yes, it's the great Enron scandal. Already congress is all over it like fire ants over a leaf-cutter colony, with no fewer than 10 congressional committees looking at the event from every conceivable angle. Not to mention the outside investigations. Lawyers rejoice!

Come Saturday evening and suddenly the Bay Area shared the President's fate - something went down the wrong way as they watched a football match. Playing in a snowstorm over on the East Coast, Oakland's Raiders were on their way to victory and a place in the NFL playoffs when what had initially been called as a fumbled ball by the other team - which would have given the Raiders the advantage with only a few minutes to go - was declared otherwise. This was decided after the ref viewed an instant replay. The other team went on to win. They were the New England Patriots. You can bet on those East Coasters to rewrite history as soon as it occurs.

Lea Barker
Sunday, 20 January 2002

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