Just hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, Republican Representative Curt Weldon went on CNN and announced that he didn't want to hear anyone talking about funding for schools or hospitals. From here on it, it was all about spies, bombs and other manly things.
"The first priority of the U.S. government is not education, it is not health care, it is the defense and protection of U.S. citizens," he said, adding, later: "I'm a teacher married to a nurse—none of that matters today."
But now it turns out that those frivolous social services matter a great deal. What is making the U.S. most vulnerable to terrorist networks is not a depleted weapons arsenal but its starved, devalued and crumbling public sector. The new battle fields are not just the Pentagon, but also the post office; not just military intelligence, but also training for doctors and nurses; not a sexy new missile defense shield, but the boring old Food and Drug Administration.
For almost a year, I carried Premier Mike Harris's $200 tax cut in my wallet. Its edges frayed and the ink began to smudge. I looked at it from time to time, then put it away.
Refuse to cash it—what does that prove? The money had already been taken out of public accounting. It's not like my uncashed cheque was going to go to a high school teacher's salary or to a homeless shelter. Many people, confronting this dilemma, gave their tax cuts to charity, trying to plug some of the gaping holes in the social fabric left by Mr. Harris's cuts.
But I decided to be more proactive: I gave the money to the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the most committed Harris haters this province has to offer. So there was a certain poetic justice to yesterday's news: a militant anti-Harris demonstration, organized by OCAP, turned into a street celebration of Mr. Harris's resignation. Victories are rare these days, they must be savoured.
As shocking as this must be to New Yorkers, in Toronto, the city where I live, lampposts and mailboxes are plastered with posters advertising a plan by antipoverty activists to "shut down" the business district on October 16. Some of the posters (those put up before September 11) even have a picture of skyscrapers outlined in red — the perimeters of the designated direct-action zone. Many have argued that O16 should be canceled, as other protests and demonstrations have been, in deference to the mood of mourning — and out of fear of stepped-up police violence.
But the shutdown is going ahead. In the end, the events of September 11 don't change the fact that the nights are getting colder and the recession is looming. They don't change the fact that in a city that used to be described as "safe" and, well, "maybe a little boring," many will die on the streets this winter, as they did last winter, and the one before that, unless more beds are found immediately.
There are many contenders for Biggest Political Opportunist since the September 11 atrocities. Politicians ramming through life-changing laws while telling voters are still mourning, corporations diving for public cash; pundits accusing their opponents of treason.
Yet amidst the chorus of Draconian proposals and McCarthyite threats, one voice of opportunism still stands out. That voice belongs to Robyn A. Mazer. Ms. Mazer is using September 11 to call for an international crackdown on counterfeit t-shirts.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Mazer is a trade lawyer in Washington D.C. Even less surprising, she specializes in trade laws that protect the United States' single largest export: copyright. That's music, movies, logos, seed patents, software and much more. Trade Related Intellectual Property rights (TRIPS) is one of the most controversial side-agreements in the run-up to next month's World Trade Organization meeting in Qatar. It is the battleground for disputes ranging from Brazil's right to disseminate free generic AIDS drugs to China's thriving market in knock-off Britney Spears CDs.
What if our leaders are actually following us, instead of the other way around?
What if they are scouring the overnight polls and reinventing themselves to be the kind of leaders we say we want? What if they wage war not because they have found an effective response to terrorism, but because we have told the pollsters we are growing impatient?
According to a New York Times poll, 58 per cent of Americans support going to war "even if means many thousands of innocent civilians may be killed." Can we really live with that? I'm not talking only about morality but also about strategy: can we sustain the potential fallout from all this "collateral damage?"
Collateral damage is the jargon used to describe the "unintended" consequences of war, the innocent civilians that die when bombs rain down. But there are many more unintended consequences of war, so many, in fact, that the CIA invented a phrase to describe what happens when short-term wartime decisions come back to haunt the people who made them: "blowback."
Now is the time in the game of war when we dehumanize our enemies.
They are utterly incomprehensible, their acts unimaginable, their motivations senseless. They are "madmen" and their states are "rogue." Now is not the time for more understanding—just better intelligence.
These are the rules of the war game.
Feeling people will no doubt object to this characterization: war is not a game. It is real lives ripped in half; it is lost sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers, each with a dignified story. Tuesday's act of terror was reality of the harshest kind, an act that makes all other acts seem suddenly frivolous, game-like.
It's true: war is most emphatically not a game. And perhaps after Tuesday, it will never again be treated as one. Perhaps September 11, 2001 will mark the end of the shameful era of the video game war.
Actually, I don't have time to respond to all the distortions in this week's Economist but I couldn't let this one stand. Here is a letter to the editor I just sent.
To the editors of The Economist
In your happy little leader "Brands are good for you," you quote a passage from my book No Logo referring to ours as "a fascist state where we all salute the logo and have little opportunity for criticism because our newspapers, television stations, Internet servers, streets and retail spaces are all controlled by multinational corporate interests." By taking these words out of context, you have intentionally distorted my meaning to suit your own weak argument.
Part of the tourist ritual of traipsing through Italy in August is marvelling at how the locals have mastered the art of living—and then complaining bitterly about how everything is closed.
"So civilized," you can hear North Americans remarking over four-course lunches. "Now somebody open up that store and sell me some Pradas NOW!" This year, August in Italy was a little different. Many of the southern beach towns where Italians hide from tourists were half-empty, and the cities never paused. When I arrived two weeks ago, journalists, politicians and activists all reported that it was the first summer of their lives when they didn't take a single day off.
How could they? First, there was Genoa, then: After Genoa.
When Rio hosted the first Earth Summit in 1992, there was so much goodwill surrounding the event that it was nicknamed, without irony, the Summit to Save the World. This week in Johannesburg, at the follow-up conference known as Rio + 10, nobody is claiming that the World Summit on Sustainable Development can save the world—the question is whether the summit can even save itself.
"This conference is not like other conferences."
That's what all the speakers at "Re-Imagining Politics and Society" were told before we arrived at New York's Riverside Church. When we addressed the delegates (there were about 1,000, over three days in May), we were to try to solve a very specific problem: the lack of "unity of vision and strategy" guiding the movement against global corporatism.
This was a very serious problem, we were advised. The young activists who went to Seattle to shut down the World Trade Organization and to Washington, DC, to protest the World Bank and the IMF had been getting hammered in the press as tree-wearing, lamb-costumed, drumbeating bubble brains. Our mission, according to the conference organizers at the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning, was to whip that chaos on the streets into some kind of structured, media-friendly shape. This wasn't just another talk shop. We were going to "give birth to a unified movement for holistic social, economic and political change."