Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


Stateside with Rosalea: 2004 Presidential Election

Stateside with Rosalea: 2004 Presidential Election

Of toads, taxes, terrorism and teeth

By Rosalea Barker

The single worst thing about the US presidential elections is the presidency itself. To understand what that institution has aspired to over the past 100 years, you only have to look at this weekend's photo ops of the Bushes in St Petersburg - the poster city for imperial power and fiefdoms if ever there was one.

What a contrast to the previous weekend's photo op at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day. Looking for all the world like two toads the princess didn't kiss, Bush and Rumsfeld flanked a handsome chappie in a uniform who towered head and shoulders above them. (To call them "frogs" would be to risk offending Bush's host at the G8 summit, so "toads" it is.)

Then, in a bizarre little piece of choreography, a Marine walked backwards holding an easel with the wreath on it, while President Bush - having only to lift a finger - walked forward, touching the wreath lightly. The wreath wasn't *that* big. You'd think a Texas rancher could have carried it.

Then Bush walked backwards and there was a bit of military sidestepping as Toad, Toad and Prince turned and walked up the steps of the monument. Someone in the audience hadn't even got the final consonant of the word "God" out of his mouth before Bush's arm shot up to wave acknowledgment. The rest of the sentence was "bless you, Mr President" and the man's voice was so loud you'd think he was miked up.

Now, I've never watched a Memorial Day telecast before, and this was just the prelude to the speech half an hour later, which I didn't watch. So for all I know it was entirely normal, but to me it looked like the President and the Secretary of Defense were being publicly humiliated in a variety of subtle ways that exceeded the inherent humility the holders of both those offices should quite rightly display at the tomb of some poor sod who has died carrying out orders for them.

Which brings me back to St Petersburg, where it was the army's support for rioters protesting the scarcity of food in 1917 that forced Nicholas II to abdicate. The scarcity of truth about the whys, whats and wherefores of Operation Iraqi Fiefdom may yet cause the abdication of George II if the military is steadfast enough to take a stand against being used as shamelessly as it was to bolster Bush's chances of re-election and further the imperial ambitions of an elite few. Hell, the Bush administration's new tax cuts deny - DENY, for heaven's sakes - many of the lower ranks the much-touted $1000 per child cash-in-hand rebate.

But I digress. 1917 was a pivotal year in US history, if only because the drive of *both* parties to create a US empire is blatantly obvious from then on. It is also the time of (D) Woodrow Wilson's presidency, and he is credited with changing that institution from the one the framers of the Constitution envisioned - limited in its exercise of popular leadership - to the one we see today which seemingly hypnotises the media with its use of PR.

It's easy to forget, when you come from a country with a Westminster-style parliamentary system, that no-one in the executive branch of the US government is easily accountable to the people. There is no equivalent of "questions of the day" to ministers. No one elected the secretaries who comprise the president's cabinet. Federal government, which derives from the president and the cabinet, was never intended to have as much power as it does. It was not until 1913 that the constitutional amendment proposed in 1909 was ratified to create a federal income tax.

What a brilliant piece of work that was! Federal taxes are probably the single biggest weapon in the arsenal of presidents and would-be presidents. As an instrument of popular appeal, you only have to give them back and you've bought yourself some votes. As a means of keeping state and local jurisdictions in line, you only have to withhold them by abolishinbg federal assistance programmes and watch gleefully as hapless citizens get hammered with new sales taxes and the loss of services they once enjoyed, thus weakening the popularity of state governments.

And as soon as people have cottoned on to that game, you bring a new player onto the field, in the form of a federal department to fight terrorism, and force state and local jurisdictions to pay for its directives. For example, a few days before Memorial weekend, the terror status was raised to orange alert. You couldn't swing a cat on BART that weekend without hitting a nightstick, and at the two-day Carnaval celebration in the Mission District of San Francisco there were almost as many cops as revelers. Statewide, the California Highway Patrol had 80 percent of its officers on the roads.

To some extent, the increased police and CHP presence was a result of normal concerns - gang violence at previous Carnavals and a clamp-down on drink driving - but there's no doubt it was augmented, at overtime rates of pay, because of the orange alert. (As an aside, the alert status went back down to yellow when Bush left on his overseas trip, interpret that as you may!)

There are signs of sanity. The Governor of North Carolina apparently said the equivalent of "To hell with the orange alert, we're already doing as much as we can" and refused to raise it from yellow. The CHP, acting on a call saying there was a bomb on the Bay Bridge, didn't close it down - they just spent several hours searching for the bomb, which slowed traffic but caused the least inconvenience in the circumstances. You have to trust that they know the difference between a call from a disgruntled drunk driver and a terrorist.

So, besides using the war on terrorism to re-elect the incumbent president, the administration is using it to wage a war on the states. It's like all 50 governors are seated in the Willis Street Dental School having their teeth painfully scaled, and no matter how much they floss, they'll never be able to get out of those dentist chairs because plaque (like terrorism) is invisible and Nurse Ridgett knows best.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news