Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2002/ 4 Adar 5762

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What's my name?


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- HENRY WAXMAN isn't the biggest boob in the myriad congressional Enron hearings. Right now-and this is subject to change-that distinction clearly belongs to South Carolina's Sen. Fritz Hollings, yet another second-childhood legislator who'd be better off playing with his great-grandkids than making an idiot of himself in public. This is a real problem for the Democrats, who are inexplicably blowing an opportunity to tar Bush with Enron accusations, whether they're true or not.

On Feb. 4, after Ken Lay stiffed Hollings' commerce committee by reneging on a promise to testify, the octogenarian called for a special counsel to oversee the investigations. Pure partisanship, of course, but after what the Republicans put Bill Clinton through, a reasonable enough motive for payback. But if you're going to engage in risky politics, it's important to have a credible messenger.

Hollings, who accused just about everyone who's ever known Bush of kissing up to Enron, said: "I've never seen a better example of cash-and-carry government than this Bush administration and Enron. Specifically, everyone knows how the Bushes got the cash, whether while he was governor using the planes of the largest contributor; as president in his campaign the largest contributor; to the Republican committee running the convention and the inaugural committee and everything else like that."

Cash and carry? As in the suitcases of small bills that Joe Kennedy used to spread around? Hollings made things worse when he acknowledged his own campaign contribution from Enron, although he didn't specify whether it was in the form of a check or rolled-up quarters. Incredibly, he said: "I sure did, but I got $3500 over 10 years, but our friend Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), she got $99,000. Heck, I'm the chairman of the committee. That wasn't a contribution. That was an insult."

The New York Times came to Hollings' aid on Feb. 9, publishing an obviously ghostwritten op-ed piece by the Senator advocating the appointment of a special counsel. Gone was the cornpone, the lies about Bush officials' (such as Mitch Daniels) ties to Enron and the befuddled rhetoric.

MAHATMA ALTERMAN

Granted, senility isn't confined to senior citizens. In a Feb. 7 column for MSNBC, Bruce Springsteen-biographer Eric Alterman weighs in about the financial boom & bust of the past decade. The populist writes: "Remember how furious conservatives were about the Clinton tax hikes of 1993? It's hard to know just what they were so upset about. The super-rich made out like bandits anyway. Those who cashed out, Enron executive-style, are sitting pretty while the rest of us are stuck with trying to clean up the mess, figuring out where all the riches went."

I'll leave aside Clinton's larcenous tax hike-if it weren't for the extraordinary tech boom and the GOP takeover of Congress in '94, the former president's sole domestic accomplishment, a government surplus, wouldn't have been so robust-and zero in on Alterman's self-serving statement. When he says "the rest of us are stuck trying to clean up the mess," what the heck does that mean? What exact role will the columnist have in this project? Will he sponsor a fund-donating some of his own wealth-to benefit the Enron employees who lost their jobs? Maybe he'll cajole his affluent Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel-if she can tear herself away from begging for dollars from subscribers to subsidize the magazine-to get down in the sewer and help "clean up the mess."

McAuliffe and friends

In the interest of fairness, there's still a shard of honesty in Alterman's brain. Anti-Bush rhetoric aside, the pundit points out that not only Republicans made a lot of money in the 90s, citing DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe's Global Crossing investment of $100,000 that mushroomed to $18 million. The New York Times, in a Feb. 9 front-page article by Simon Romero, didn't feel McAuliffe's windfall merited mention in describing an FBI inquiry into the now-bankrupt company's accounting practices. In fact, aside from Global Crossing founder Gary Winnick, the only person identified as a beneficiary was the current president's father.

Romero says: "Among the shareholders of Global Crossing at one point was former President George Bush, who took an $80,000 speaking fee in stock that at the peak was worth $14 million. It is not known when, or if, he sold his position." It is known the profit that McAuliffe realized: a glaring omission of this magnitude is not unique for the Times-a newspaper that's lobbied more than any other elite media outlet for campaign finance reform-but it does demonstrate its frustration that President "Not One of Us" Bush has yet to be politically damaged by Enron's deserved downfall.

A subsequent Global Crossing article (Feb. 11), written by Romero and Geraldine Fabrikant, also omits McAuliffe from that company's onetime largesse.

But maybe it's just confusion that defines New York's largest daily. Last Sunday, the paper printed two contradictory articles about President Bush's political plans for the upcoming year. Elisabeth Bumiller's piece, headlined "Bush Looks to Help G.O.P. in Election Year," contains this paragraph: "The president has committed to appear at dozens of fund-raisers and other political events for Republican candidates across the country in this midterm election year, and he has told members of Congress that retaining Republican control of the House of Representatives is his first political priority. His second, he has told them, is regaining Republican control of the Senate."

Flip to "The Week in Review" section and Richard L. Berke maintains that Bush is looking ahead to 2004 rather than this November. He writes: "No one should question that the president's priority is assuring his own re-election. That imperative infuses every move of his administration-from the fine print of the budget to his utterances in the State of the Union address. If he can help Republicans in November, all the better."

Berke, like many political reporters at the Times, cites unnamed administration aides to make his case. It's hard to believe that a hostile journalist like Berke would enjoy such intimacy with strategists close to Bush, but as usual, the Times expects its readers to accept every word it prints as gospel. Here's a telling example: "[I]n private conversations, officials at the White House and at the Republican Party often seem more attuned to the politics of 2004 than 2002. Some even suggest that it would be futile to fret about November. They say the best thing they can do for the party is to keep Mr. Bush's popularity above 80 percent. 'Their focus is almost exclusively on Bush,' said one outside adviser to the White House. 'They feel almost powerless in the midterms; it's like, we could win a few, we could lose a few.'"

Obviously, Bush is going to concentrate on the reelection of his brother Jeb in the Florida gubernatorial contest, but if Berke really believes the White House is cavalier about the upcoming congressional elections, he's a worse reporter than I thought. Bush was instrumental in arm-twisting both Rep. John Thune and Norm Coleman to run against Democrats Tim Johnson and Paul Wellstone in South Dakota and Minnesota, respectively. Last week, the President was in New York to rake in contributions for Gov. Pataki's reelection campaign. Bush and Dick Cheney are expected to campaign (and fundraise) in close Senate elections in Iowa, Missouri, Georgia, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Colorado and Louisiana. If that's the politics of pure self-interest, then I suppose Karl Rove is a Democrat in drag.

BEYOND BELIEF

Five months after the Sept. 11 terrorist massacres, I no longer grit my teeth upon reading stories about tourists making pilgrimages to Ground Zero. Like most of my neighbors, I'm now numb to it all: after the immediate turmoil and foul air, the constant bomb scares and blocked-off streets, the uptown friends asking, "How is it down there?" and the hucksters making a dishonest buck from selling FDNY and NYPD t-shirts and caps, there's just no point in getting agitated. Just the other day, I was drinking coffee on the stoop outside Morgan's Market on Reade St. when a family of four, just back from the viewing stand at Ground Zero, stopped by to purchase several cans of Coke. The teenage boy in the group, full of bravado, said, "Da-n, I wish I was here when it happened! That was so cool!"

Back in October I might've had words with this silly kid, but instead, when the father asked for directions to Soho, I simply pointed the way and even recommended a restaurant, although it probably wouldn't meet with their Pizza Hut-standards.

Anyway, after reading in the Daily News about a Pennsylvania travel company touting three-day trips to NYC for some $1900 (including lodging), the centerpiece a visit to you-know-where, I shrugged and hoped that the local merchants would reap some profits from the gawk-parade.

I'm a fan of News columnist Zev Chafets, but his piece last Sunday was fairly strange. He writes about finally visiting the Ground Zero site, at the behest of a friend in from Paris, and being oddly unmoved at the results. Chafets writes: "It seemed so ordinary. There was nothing to give my untrained eye a clue that this was a scene of historic disaster. It looks like a place where a couple of skyscrapers were going up... We were out on the street by then, and we walked to the train slowly, talking about how ordinary Ground Zero looks, how little it had moved us, what a disappointment it had been."

My family hasn't toured the now-sacred site. What's the point? Every single day, looking south, whether on the street or on the roof, we're reminded of the catastrophic events of Sept. 11. Sometimes, I get lost in a reverie, recalling exactly where I was that day, still thankful our boys were already at school, and tick off the rapid succession of events. One tower hit, seeing (through binoculars) people jumping to their deaths, the second tower bursting into flames, both crumbling, the quick evacuation from our apartment, and then days of watching cable tv for hours on end.

And "humanitarians" wonder why so many New Yorkers are repulsed at the notion of Al Qaeda prisoners not receiving the full benefits of the 1950 Geneva Convention rules of war, as if that document has much relevance in the 21st century.


JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith