(Copyright © 2001 Al Aronowitz)

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Subject: Why "W" doesn't stand for women
Date: Sun, 01 Apr 2001 18:07:12 -0400

Why 'W' Doesn't Stand for Women

By Jennifer Baumgardner


On January 31, less than two weeks after George W. Bush became the forty-third president of the United States of America, the Six Rivers Planned Parenthood in Eureka, California, was fielding calls from worried patients. The clinic is nestled near the Oregon border, just north of a breathtaking Redwood forest, and is the only abortion provider within a hundred miles. Although the Six Rivers area is fairly conservative politically, California itself has a strong majority of pro-choice representatives. My writing partner, Amy Richards, and I were interviewing staff at abortion clinics, gathering data as we traveled around the country on a book tour. We wanted to figure out how to bridge the gap between patients and politicians, with the hope that, armed with knowledge of what Americans really want, we could reinforce the will of the pro-choice-but-passive legislators who are as responsible as the conservatives for encroachments on abortion rights. Clinics, even those that do not provide abortions, are already political spaces, whether clients realize it or not. Thus, another aim we had was to see how the clinic could be used as an organizing space, much like women's bookstores and certain kinds of churches tend to be.

Clinics house many contradictions -- or at least complexities. For example, polls show the majority of Americans to be pro-choice. We might assume, then, that the thirteen thousand clients who pass through the Six Rivers clinic are part of that majority. The truth is that many people who use services such as those offered at Six Rivers (contraception, prenatal care, Pap smears, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases [STDs], as well as abortion) probably don't vote, just as 50 percent of the eligible electorate does not vote. Further, even among those who do make it to the polls, there's no guarantee that they vote for pro-choice candidates or even link the clinic's existence with pro-choice representation and policies.

Our late-January visit coincided with a spate of calls from clients who wanted to know if Six Rivers Planned Parenthood was still open. After all, they had heard on the news that Bush's first act as president was to reinstate the Mexico City Policy or "global gag rule," which Bill Clinton had reversed as his first order of business eight years earlier. "Clients didn't understand what this policy meant for them," the clinic director told us. Nor did they understand what the Bush presidency meant for them: "Many of the callers didn't even know that Bush was pro-life until after he got into office."

The next day, Amy and I visited a high school in Petaluma, California. The kids -- most of whom were working class and middle class -- were very interested in the concept of the male pill, wondering when it would be available (not for a while). They were also extremely concerned that abortion had just been "overturned." We explained that abortion was still legal, although with several pernicious barriers. We then tried to make sense of the global gag rule: "Um, it means that health organizations in poor countries won't get any aid money from us unless they promise not to provide or counsel abortions as a family planning option." The teenagers looked confused. So did we.

Welcome to the world of passive-aggressive, anti-choice activism. Welcome to trickle-down women's rights. Welcome to W.'s America, where no social ill is too sick to be kissed by a platitude from the president and sent on its way. Amy Richards, who is one of the founders of the Third Wave Foundation (a national organization for feminist activists between the ages of sixteen and thirty), sums up W. this way: "Bush has too much faith in individuals over leadership. His campaign mantra was basically 'I trust Americans -- they're tolerant.' But tolerance is exactly the problem. We tolerate the mistreatment of women and gay people in the military, we tolerate not having Head Start, we tolerate unequal pay."

Certainly W.'s opaque-but-friendly approach in the campaign foreshadows what we can expect from the man. Remember the debate in which Al Gore called him on his health care record in Texas that seemed to negate his "leave no child behind" slogan? Faced with his shameful record of leaving thousands of eligible children out of government-subsidized health care, Bush did what he does best: he changed channels, accusing Gore of challenging W.'s good heart. But it's not his heart we have to worry about, it's his politics, politics that so far has W. standing for "white" and "well-heeled," but not, as the GOP contended during the campaign, for women.

What is so anti-woman about Bush and his leadership is hard to specify. W. doesn't dislike women, clearly, but he doesn't see them as full human beings outside of their traditional role. In his world, women are helpmates or mothers or daughters. With that comes a fond disrespect that -- like his global gag rule and its ensuing confusion for women who want clinic services -- is subtly paralyzing. And doggone it if his wife, Laura, isn't openly pro-choice. No matter, no one is worried that she'll be making policy, just as W.'s pro-choice mother (who was once on the board of Planned Parenthood), Barbara, never got in the way of George Sr.'s anti-choice agenda. Presidents' wives do make a difference in how women are treated during an administration. Along with respect, being First Lady comes with assumptions about staying in your place. Hillary Clinton broke that mold, love her or loathe her. In fact, she wasn't really the First Lady in our minds – she was Hillary, which is why she could make the transition to Senator Clinton. Laura Bush's remarks have shied away from this type of ambition. A former teacher obsessed with reading and possessed of a verbally challenged spouse, she will travel across America to promote sound teaching practices. She is already reassuring reporters that she is "not going to run for Senator of New York."

If only. Feminism is, of course, as much in favor of women having traditional professions as it is of their breaking into male-dominated ones. The point of women's liberation is to have the choice to be whoever you are. Still, it must be said that in Washington, D.C., and in the world of politics generally, women are outsiders. President Clinton, rural poor kid and son of a single mom, was also a scrappy outsider (for a straight white guy). Even though he was disappointing to progressives and sexually focused on women in a way that pulled attention from his leadership, Bill Clinton has something many leaders do not. He more than likes women, he empathizes with them. By contrast, W. was raised on the inside, a vantage point that has given him little opportunity to empathize. In fact, W.'s way with women hearkens back to a time before feminism, the days when women weren't at the table. His Eisenhower-era, old-boys-club approach is tempered by his having spent the last thirty years living in an America that has been dealing with women's rights. This mix of traditional privilege and feminist-influenced culture means that he knows enough to have women in his cabinet, but not enough to represent women's interests in his administration.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in his handling of abortion and other issues of sexual choice for women. W. has selected John Ashcroft as attorney general, a man who described abortion as "an atrocity against the future" and who has a twenty-year anti-choice track record, including support for laws to criminalize abortion and to define life as beginning at fertilization (which precludes many forms of birth control). W.'s head of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, announced that he will take the approval of RU-486 under consideration again, despite the fact that this abortifacient has been in use in Europe for nearly a decade without mishap. Prolife organizations are lobbying heavily to ban so-called "partial birth" abortions again. If Congress approves any pro-life attack on women's access to safe and comprehensive reproductive health services, Bush is likely to sign it into law (in sharp contrast, again, to Clinton).

On February 27, 2001, George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote by half a million ballots, addressed Congress. The applause for his simple statements was frequent and deafening. In fact, the enthusiasm was so disproportionate to the content that the applause had to be the sound of hundreds of hefty, white, male Republicans patting themselves on the back. "I thank you for making a new President feel welcome," said Bush to nonstop applause. The broader his platitudes, the more insistent the standing ovation. Then came his plan: "Tax relief," not pay equity or raising the minimum wage, both of which affect women's incomes disproportionately. There was no mention of the fact that women pay fewer taxes -- because they make less money -- and are therefore less likely to benefit from even the $200 per year estimated increased refund. "Education" comes with "triple-funding for reading" and "character education." I think it's fair to say that character education isn't going to include the feminist views on choice, birth control, sexuality education, and the like, nor will it preach male accountability when it comes to STDs or pregnancy.

W's vision for women? Well, the camera winked briefly at Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, but we've already heard that she's about as powerful as a Mac Plus, and that it is Vice President Dick Cheney (who sat behind the president, fittingly, to his right) who calls the shots. W. listed many issues that affect women more than men, but, with the minor exception of the prescription drug benefit and its sibling Medicare (and his sentence about elderly women needing this benefit the most), he never actually mentioned "women." Here's one salient example: W. claims to want an army of mentors for kids with a parent in prison. He doesn't say that the vast majority of parents in prison who actually have custody and care for their children are mothers. The number of women in prison has increased at least threefold in the last half-decade, as a result of stiff mandatory sentences for possession of even small amounts of drugs. These same women, many of whom have children, could be caring for their own families if they weren't locked up so precipitously and if more help were available within the community. Rather than mentors for kids after their parents are incarcerated, how about mothers' helpers for poor women, after-school programs for poor children, and a legitimate welfare-to-work plan? Nah, that would be addressing women's needs. The closest Bush will come to that is to claim support for children who are "innocently" dependent on the system.

After thirty years of feminism, how did we end up with W." "He tried to telegraph his concern for education and suburban values to women," says Nation columnist and feminist Katha Pollitt, who noted that basically it worked with white women during the election -- 49 percent of whom voted for him. "I think the drug benefit is sort of aimed at women, and the supposed concern of women for domestic 'caring and sharing' type issues." Simultaneously, however, "he was telegraphing to the Christian Right how anti-abortion he was while soft-pedaling it to the rest of us," says Pollitt. Which is why callers to Six Rivers Planned Parenthood wondered whether the clinic was still open at the same time that they expressed shock at W.'s pro-life stance.

"There is something about him that is very manly in an exclusive way," says a friend who, despite working for the pharmaceutical industry, finds Bush terrifying. "He is like the glass ceiling." It's an apt metaphor: W.'s America keeps barriers for women invisible but impenetrable. Why doesn't W. stand for women? Because there is nothing in his life that would ask him to stand up for women, including (so far) women themselves. The real reason that W. doesn't stand for women is because, let's face it, he doesn't have to. And women -- we who use clinics, or raise kids without health care, or are in prison, or care about people who are -- are the only ones who can change that sexist reality.

[Jennifer Baumgardner is the co-author, with Amy Richards, of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future and a frequent contributor to the Nation, Ms., and Nerve, among other publications.] 


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Subject: Bush nominates Central American Machiavelli
Date: Wed, 18 Apr 2001 20:46:02 -0400

Bush nominates Central American Machiavelli as UN ambassador

By Pastor Valle-Garay

(Special for Granma International)

April 17, 2001

TORONTO.- Pending U.S. congressional approval, the White House's next ambassador to the UN will be a gray eminence of that country's bloody Central America policy during the '80s.

In his obsession to destroy the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) of El Salvador, President Ronald Reagan named John D. Negroponte as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985.

Negroponte engineered a dark tragedy of extraordinary proportions, which resulted in more than 200,000 deaths and two million civilian refugees, who mostly fled to the United States as a consequence of the armed conflict in the region. In Nicaragua alone, the war wreaked damages worth more than $17 billion USD to the country's infrastructure and economy, according to a ruling in favor of Nicaragua handed down by International Court of Justice at The Hague. Significantly, the White House has never respected that ruling. 

At the end of the decade, the Sandinistas peacefully turned over power, after losing democratic elections in which Washington's favorite candidate, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, was the victor. The FMLN reached a peace agreement with the Salvadoran government and is now the second most important political party in that country. Negroponte, the United States' Machiavellian ambassador to Honduras during the contras' bloody and infamous proxy war led by Ronald Reagan against Nicaragua and against the FMLN insurrection in El Salvador in the '80s, has now been nominated U.S. ambassador to the UN by President George W. Bush.

Negroponte, with 37 years of diplomatic service, was ambassador to Mexico in 1989 and occupied the same position in the Philippines in 1993.

General Colin L. Powell, national security director during the Reagan administration and current secretary of state, named his personal friend Negroponte to the position of assistant director of the National Security Council.


When Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras, he behaved like an arrogant Roman Proconsul for Central America. His principle responsibility was to direct secret operations to arm the contra rebels in the White House's merciless war, with the objective of defeating the Sandinista government and the FMLN and, in the process, take control of Honduras as if he were the de facto president of that Central American country.

Honduras was reduced to the rank of a U.S. military colony, used as a base of operations to launch contra attacks which devastated Nicaragua and El Salvador.

During Negroponte's time as ambassador, U.S. military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $77.4 million USD.

Practically overnight, Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, was transformed into one of the most militarized countries in the hemisphere, without a visible or invisible enemy. Honduras' militarization also brought with it, under Negroponte's auspices, the systematic violation of the human rights of Hondurans suspected by the U.S. puppet government of being Communists or Communist sympathizers.

Negroponte was instrumental in creating Battalion 3-16, trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and better known as the fearful death squad, responsible for the disappearance of no less than 184 political opponents of the Honduran government.


Since the beginning of this year, there has been a series of "coincidences" in the United States which appear to be designed to remove any obstacles to Negroponte's confirmation as UN ambassador.

In January 2001, Juan Angel Hernández Lara, a Honduran suspected of forming part of Battalion 3-16, was deported from Florida. José Barrera, one of the Battalion's interrogators, was expelled from Canada on February 20.

Meanwhile, Honduran General Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, one of the founding members of the Battalion 3-16 paramilitary group who had been named by Honduras as a high-ranking diplomat at the UN in 1996, lost his position in New York one month ago. Discua, whose appointment to the UN was presumably to allow him diplomatic immunity protecting him from possible accusations of crimes and violations against human rights while he was leader of Battalion 3 -16, suddenly went out of favor among his buddies in Washington 

Discua rarely fulfilled the responsibilities of his UN post. He preferred to spend his days in Miami, where he owns a lot of property and where for various years he was the target of constant accusations of human rights violations by Honduran and U.S. organizations. After having ignored the accusations, the protests suddenly took effect: in February, three weeks before Bush nominated Negroponte as ambassador to the UN, Colin Powell's State Department revoked Discua's diplomatic visa, alleging that he had not fulfilled his diplomatic duties at the UN. Discua found himself forced to return to Honduras at the end of the month.

Days after his return to Honduras, Discua told the Honduran newspaper La Prensa that in 1983 the White House had sent him to the United States to organize Battalion 3-16 and to work with the anti-Sandinista contra forces. According to Berta Oliva di Nativi, the director of a group representing the families of the disappeared, Discua is sending "an explicit message to the United States: if it continues to do him damage, he will reveal Washington's role in the creation of Battalion 3-16 and what happened during that period." This could delay the nomination of Negroponte, Discua's chief supervisor at the time of the Death Squadron, and whose activities he himself later denied in official declarations related to congressional investigations. According to Negroponte, the embassy he directed never knew anything about the human rights violations committed by the battalion.

Since his expulsion to Honduras, Discua has been talking openly on Honduran radio and television, implicating the White House in the Death Squadron's operations.


There is no doubt, however, that Negroponte has more lives than a cat. When the Iran-Contra scandal almost brought down Ronald Reagan's government for selling arms to Iran in order to supply funds to the contras - breaking two U.S. congressional bans - Negroponte, who directed those operations along with Colonel Oliver North from the National Security offices located on the ground floor of the White House, emerged unscathed, backed by none other than his boss, General Colin Powell.

Once more, Negroponte has the formidable support of his former buddy, now secretary of state in the Bush administration. According to reliable sources, Powell personally selected Negroponte for the post of UN ambassador. It's a case of one hand washing the other.

The nomination has to be approved by Congress. It's possible that there will be opposition from the Democratic Party, although those opposed to his nomination would probably be incapable of counteracting the power of Powell, the chief hawk on Bush's team. John F. Kerry, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is one of those opposed. Kerry recently stated that there is fresh information suggesting that the U.S. ambassador to Honduras knew more than he informed Congress and the public about human rights violations. Kerry went on to say that in the '80s John Negroponte was at the center of a profound head-on clash concerning the role that the United States should have in Central America and, even more significantly, on the often secret manner in which U.S. foreign policy was conducted. All of that will be reduced to rhetoric and redundancy once Negroponte receives congressional approval.

If his nomination is okayed, the Bush government will be creating an oxymoron in regard to the U.S. mission at the UN: a fanatical anticommunist hawk in a position of exceptional influence, precisely when the cold war has passed into history. In other words, an impenitent dinosaur whom his friends have labeled a loyal American and his critics in Washington call "amoral."

For Cuba, Negroponte's probable approval means that the U.S. stance in relation to the island will continue unchanged. For Nicaragua, where it is thought that Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinista Party, will be the favorite in the end-of-year presidential elections, it would constitute a return to the '80s, a period during which Ortega and Negroponte were bitter enemies. The Bush administration is moving forward by backtracking 20 years. The more life changes, the less things change for Central America and the Caribbean.

Pastor Valle-Garay is a professor at York University, UK.  ##

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