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Lone voices speaking rare common sense


The five people I quote below I’ve known from 10 to 30 years. They speak a common language, one not fully understood today in the United States. The language of common sense.

Robert Steele comments on President George W. Bush. Steele, former counterintelligence case officer, operates Open Source Solutions, a think tank and consultancy. We first met in the early 1990s when I was researching a magazine article on corporate espionage. (His next book is The New Craft of Intelligence: a Citizens Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Germs, Toxic Waste, Crime and Ignorance.)

“As I see it, you have a young, well-intentioned president who cares deeply about the future of America. But he is very uninformed in two significant areas. One is the reality of the global perception of America as a corporate, consumerist threat to the Arabs, to the Chinese, to the Indians, to the Muslims and to the Russians.

“He is also completely uninformed, and possibly being actively deceived as to the incapacities and irrelevance of our existing national intelligence, counterintelligence and conventional military capabilities.

“He’s wasted $800 million in taxpayers’ money carpet bombing a country already in the Stone Age. Creating millions of refugees, and adding luster to bin Laden’s reputation for facing off against America. President Bush is running on a faith-based simulation of what the world is like. He does not have a clear understanding and he’s not going to get it from the corporate suits around him. They have no idea what in the world is going on.”

Melissa Jones looks at some fellow Americans. Jones (no relation), is a regular contributor to NCR.

“The middle-class suburbanite is already tired of thinking/talking/fighting fear. The stomach-twisting shock and anxiety of those first few weeks has faded. A big part of their ability to cope wants them to forget about it, stick their heads back in the sand, and go back to life as normal. All the analysts/thinkers say, ‘Things will never be the same.’ But the suburbanite says, ‘Screw them, yes it will. I’ll make sure it is.’

“They don’t want to think about terrorism any more than they want to think about their chances of the minivan being crushed by an 18-wheeler. There’s a limit to how many things the mind will hold and worry about at once. Fear of terrorism is falling into second and third place.”

The following observations are from a Washington inside pal who understandably prefers anonymity.

On economics and politics: “The store is being given away in the name of national security. The [proposed] alternative minimum tax is a form of gouging the public. There’s no reason for it, no stimulus effect on the economy.

“Blowback? The media has decided it is treason to talk about the fact that we created the Taliban, these terrorists, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The argument? That if you talk about what the United States created, you’re justifying bin Laden. Not at all.

“Bush has set a very high bar. Get bin Laden. End terrorism in our time. But there’s a total failure of imagination -- due to ideology. When you totally reject multilateral solutions, and multilateral judicial institutions that we, the United States, don’t control, you’re caught on your own hook. How long can this nebulous non-war last? They’re already beginning to cover up things.

James Srodes has thoughts on civil liberties and the economic picture. Srodes and I co-authored the 1995 economic issues paperback: Campaign 1996: the Race for the White House. (His next book, March 2002, is Franklin: Our Most Essential Founding Father.)

“Some very frightening choices are going to have to be made by the American people. What are you willing to give up to regain a certain feeling of safety. Do you really care if we profile people by their ethnic origins? As long as you are not one of those being profiled? Do you want your local police to have covert action capabilities? Do you want your covert services to have police powers? That debate hasn’t begun.

“There are serious economic challenges -- the United States is a foot behind Japan in seizing up its economic system. Interests rates in Japan and the United States are, de facto, negative. No one’s borrowing. There’s negative growth, and we’re losing ground. At a certain point a political wave will subsume everyone, as the country says, ‘Fix it and don’t bother me with the details.’ ”

Joe Feuerherd looks at poverty, politics and the national mood. He is a former NCR Washington bureau chief.

“Come Jan. 1, the first people will be officially kicked off welfare. The counties are broke, the states are broke. The boom has ended. The economy is in the tank. The fail-safe service jobs are gone. Genuine problems, totally off the radar.

“Sept. 10 the talk was health care issues. There’s still 40 million Americans that don’t have health insurance. There’s no longer enough oxygen to air these things. The Microsoft settlement. We don’t know what to think about it. But nobody cares now. Do whatever you need to do.

“President George W. Bush locks up the presidential papers supposed to be released after 12 years. Keeps dad’s papers closed, so the public can’t find out uncomfortable things with the Bush the First team’s name on them. Stuff that looked bad then and would look awful now.

“The mood in Washington? A little nervousness on the Metro [subway]. Wondering about whether there’s going to be Sarin gas today. People planning, but not talking about, having escape routes if something happens.”

There’s more. But the deadline approaches and space is at a premium. As is, in much of the national conversation, common sense.

Arthur Jones, a Washington correspondent for 20 years, is now NCR’s editor at large.

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2001