Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Washington Comes to Santa Cruz

Our congressman, Sam Farr, held his annual Town Hall meeting at the Vet's Hall last night before a packed house of his constituents. We're fortunate to have a liberal and progressive (somewhat) Democract representing our interests in Washington, but I was not reassured by what he had to say.

Fiscally and politically, the United States is in deep shit (my word, not his). The Republicans in power, far from being fiscal conservatives, have turned out to be big spenders. At the same time as they were lowering taxes, the debt ceiling was raised to $9 trillion dollars. This was "reckless and immoral," Farr said, adding that "we're in the worst fiscal crisis in U.S. history. " Things are just as bad in the political sphere. In our electoral system, winner takes all, which means the end (winning elections) justifies any means. Because of Bush's narrow electoral margin and Republican control of the House and Senate, the Democratic party is effectively shut out of power. If we don't regain control of Congress in elections this fall, it's all over, folks (my pessimism, not Farr's).

The one sign of hope Farr mentioned was Lieberman's recent defeat in Connecticut. There the people made their discontent heard and defeated a pro-war Democrat.

On Iraq and Lebanon, Rep. Farr's positions are a mixed bag. He has been a consistent critic of the fiasco in Iraq and at the meeting signed the Congressional pledge offered by the Declaration of Peace to support legislation to withdraw troops and close bases. But when questioned about various bills and resolutions to achieve these aims, he seemed confused about details. As a minority party, he said, the Democrats have little chance of passing any of this legislation. The only solution is to win control back in November.

Farr is a consistent supporter of Israel and signed, along with most of the House, H. Res. 921 which puts most of the blame for the recent troubles on "terrorists," Hamas and Hezbollah. In his favor, the resolution was offered before Israel's disproportionate destruction of Lebanon and the slaughter of innocent civilians. And he said to one questioner at the meeting that debate on the issue might have been much more intense if the resolution had come at the end of Israel's shock and awe bombing campaign instead of at the beginning. But he made little attempt to explain his blanket support of Israel other than to point to an extension of remarks which simply repeats his criticism of Hamas and Hezbollah without any criticism of Israel's heavy handed methods which are supported and financed by the United States. He seems unable to connect rising terrorism in the Middle East with our policies there, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel.

One man stepped up to the microphone and said he hoped Farr would help put "some spine" into the Democrats. Farr protested that the news media, which has been concentrated into the hands of a few, was not covering what Democrats were saying, making it seem that nothing was said and Democrats were spineless. This, he said, was not the case. But the internet now makes possible a wide variety of news sources and blogs, and it is not at all apparent to me that any particular Democrats are challenging the status quo. After all, the Democrats under Clinton pushed corporation-sponsored globalization policies that have hurt poor people everywhere, and their support of Israel was just as myopic and short-sighted as Bush's.

I think Farr is correct that our winner-takes-all system makes it difficult if not impossible to protect minority (even 49%) interests. De Tocqueville warned long ago of the "tyranny of the majority," and that indeed is the case today. It remains to be seen if democracy, as a system of government in which each citizen has a stake, can survive in the United States. I am not very hopeful.

This morning in a discussion on NPR a constitutional lawyer voiced his fear that the groundwork is being laid for a dictatorship in this country, justified by an unending war on terror. All it will take is another attack of the caliber of 9-11 and the freedoms we have taken for granted for generations will be gone. King George is polishing his crown.

I was surprised that the local Israel lobby, which staged a demonstration at the Town Clock several weeks ago in support of the slaughter in Lebanon (they claimed they had a permit and would not allow dissenting voices on their corner), was not in evidence at Farr's Town Hall last night. Perhaps they know that he is safely in their pocket.

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