Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Few Tears for a Rocky Year
A Test for Toy Guns

2002 in Review
Few Tears for a Rocky Year

2002, most observers agree, is a year best seen through the rear-view mirror. Colored by fears of terrorism, corporate scandals, political opportunism, and the prospect of never-ending war, 2002 was a year in which the news just kept getting worse.

Unavoidably, perhaps, it was also a year in which all concerns were subsumed — sometimes properly, but more often in a bullying way — by the White House’s war plans. Indeed, the Bush administration’s subtle-as-a-jackhammer approach to pushing its conservative agenda was one of last year’s defining and disastrous hallmarks, Alternet‘s Don Hazen opines.

“Although we have experienced no acts of domestic terrorism in the 15 months since the Sept. 11 attacks, our country is becoming increasingly unrecognizable — constricted by fear, hysteria, xenophobic intolerance and a whole new set of laws and government intrusions that most of us couldn’t have imagined in the relatively rosy days of pre-9/11.

A majority of Americans disagree with conservative Republicans on most issues. Yet the climate of fear promoted by the Bush Administration is having wide effect. Without a clear alternative message from the Democrats, the GOP won big in the midterm elections. The constant use of scare tactics and the demonizing of Saddam Hussein dominate the public discourse at the expense of many other important issues.”

In fact, Jack Rakove notes in the San Francisco Chronicle, one of the year’s most important stories was the Bush administration’s mastery of the political game following the massacre of Sept. 11.

“The most important lesson of the Bush presidency, so far, is that power is what one does with it. Bush’s suspect victory and its shaky beginnings suggested the administration should shift toward the middle and tread cautiously. But with the trauma of Sept. 11 serving as the decisive fact of our politics, the administration has rarely hesitated to pursue an agenda fashioned within the deep recesses of its own tightly shielded counsel. The pretense that the president would prove a hale fellow eager to conciliate D.C. Democrats in the same way he stroked their Texas counterparts has been exposed as the myth it probably was all along.”

Working for Change‘s Geov Parrish sums up the Bush White House’s modus operandi more bluntly:

“Occasional flurries, like Dick Cheney’s noisy refusal to release information on who wrote his energy policy, made the news. But on endless fronts, this White House and its Congressional allies have reserved for themselves an unthinkable array of powers — everything from keeping details of legislation secret until the last moment to imprisoning Americans without charges or counsel on nothing more than the President’s say.”

Of course, 2002 was also the year of corporate chicanery amid an ongoing economic slump, and Charles Sheehan-Miles, writing in Alternet, has nothing but scorn for an administration preoccupied with tax cuts for the rich and corporate welfare while the economy limps along.

“After eight years of shrinking government, reduced budget deficits, and a record boom economy, the Bush administration ballooned government spending by hundreds of billions of dollars while cutting taxes for corporations and the rich. Who pays for the massive Bush debt? We all will, and our children, and their children.”

Arianna Huffington, too, takes aim at CEOs and their enablers in Washington (among many others), in her list of things about 2002 that she’d like to forget, such as “Dennis Kozlowski’s $6,000 shower curtain” and the fact “that the president’s pick to take over the Treasury is CEO of a company that, despite close to a billion dollars in profits, paid not a penny in federal taxes in three of the last four years.”

Conservatives like The Washington Times‘s Donald Lambro, however, viewed the year in a far rosier light, seeing real progress in the war on terror and playing down the moribund economy and corporate misdeeds.

“Meantime, here at home, we have scrubbed and disinfected the stain of corporate corruption from our economy. Business executives have been arrested, indicted or have pleaded guilty. Others are still being investigated. Wall Street brokers and major accounting firms have cleaned up their operations. Tougher rules are in place at the Securities and Exchange Commission and on Wall Street.”

The past year also saw widespread government- and corporate-sponsored assaults on personal privacy and civil liberties, under the guise of the war on terror, developments that have Wired‘s Lauren Weinstein deeply worried.

“Whether we look at the governmental or commercial side of privacy issues, similar key points emerge. In both cases, we’ve seen an accelerating disruption of the delicate balance needed to protect our rights.

We’re told that personal privacy is obsolete in the brave new world of fighting terrorists. Meanwhile, the behavior of many businesses demonstrates a belief that genuine consumer privacy is utterly incompatible with the goals of stockholder profits and economic growth.”

Nor was 2002 a good year for the environment, and Washington bears much of the blame, Geov Parrish writes.

“The Bush Administration’s abolition-by-decree of numerous major protections could have been the story of the year, and served as the basis for other important stories: global warming (and the increasing isolation of America as Atmospheric Enemy No. 1), the Spanish oil tanker disaster, the impending final plunder of remaining Northwest old growth forests, the Klamath River fish kill, massive (and needless) forest fires, and the potentially enormous disaster if the Gulf War’s Kuwaiti oil fires are replicated in Iraq.”

The past year offered a few environmental bright spots, such as the retreat of the Sahara and Australia’s declaration of a national marine park, but Emma Young writes in New Scientist that 2002 will be remembered more for the numerous disasters — such as the farcical World Summit on Sustainable Development.

“Delegates were charged with hammering out a plan to reduce global poverty while safeguarding the planet — but the the result was met with derision by environment and aid groups. Friends of the Earth called it the ‘worst political sell-out for the decade.'”

Across the board, the year offered up more gloom than good cheer for progressives. As Alternet‘s Hazen put it: “As years go, they don’t get much worse than 2002.”

LAW AND JUSTICE
A Test for Toy Guns

New York City Council members will soon consider a measure to outlaw the sale of toy guns in the city. If adoopted, the ban would be the first in the US, and “could help blaze the trail for the state, as well as cities nationwide,” declares Ashley Chapman of The Christian Science Monitor. The move is an attempt to prevent future mistakes, with police reporting hundreds of shooting incidents involving toy guns each year. Other cities have already enacted bans against the sale of BB guns and paint guns to minors, Chapman writes.

Recognizing the limited scope of the measure, co-sponsor Bill Wren says:

“We recognize that you can’t pull all guns off the streets: If people have a criminal mind, they’ll make a gun out of a stick…But the bill is about how [a toy gun] makes people feel. If I feel threatened, I’m threatened.”

Naturally, manufacturers of toy guns are against the ban, citing the city’s existing restrictions, which require specific markings on toy guns, including orange plugs in gun-barrels.