Several weeks ago, I had a lengthy conversation with Bill Fletcher, Jr., who serves as assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO. A well-respected African-American activist in the labor movement, Fletcher has long been an insightful observer of both national and international politics. That’s why I was struck when he suggested that most black activists who favor independent politics would nevertheless probably end up supporting Al Gore for the presidency over Green Party nominee Ralph Nader.

Although Nader has generated name recognition for his longtime work as a consumer rights advocate and, more recently, for his anti-corporate political activism, most black and Latino voters have little knowledge of where he stands on racial issues, like affirmative action. Moreover, Fletcher observed, there were several very real obstacles or factors that would influence how many African Americans would perceive their interests within the electoral arena.

As a career carnivore, I was up at my freezer locker in my local town taking an inventory of what I could use for the barbecue or spit or pit (I was planning for all three options) for July Fourth. Hauling out the goat frozen whole late last year, I started chatting with Bob, the proprietor of this small, wholesale meat establishment, about the sausage-maker in San Leandro, Calif., who'd just killed three government food inspectors, two of them federal employees from the USDA, and one from California's Department of Food and Agriculture.

On June 21, Stuart Alexander, proprietor of the Santos Linguisa Factory, murdered these unfortunate regulators while failing to dispatch a fourth, whom he'd vainly pursued down the road waving his pistol. He's now awaiting trial. I remarked to Bob that Mr. Alexander seemed to have had a rough passage with the food inspectors. At the time of the killings, he was operating his factory without a license, and outside of it was a defiant sign put up by Alexander complaining that he had been unreasonably hassled by the health police.

George Orwell's birthday passed without notice recently. Born on June 25, 1903, the great English writer has been dead for half a century, but Orwellian language lives on.

These days we have plenty of good reasons to echo poet W.H. Auden: "Oh, how I wish that Orwell were still alive, so that I could read his comments on contemporary events!"

Today, in the United States, media coverage of political discourse attests to Orwell's observation that language "becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

News media frequently make things worse. Instead of scrutinizing the blather, reporters are inclined to solemnly relay it -- while adding some of their own.

The standard jargon of U.S. politics is the type of facile rhetoric that appalled Orwell. This lexicon derives its power from unexamined repetition.

To carry on Orwell's efforts, we should question the media buzzwords that swarm all around us. For instance:

Here's a number that offers telling reasons for voting for Ralph Nader in the fall. Nine Democrats. Not even double digits. Last week, the U.S. Senate finally voted $934 million to wage war in Colombia. The House voted earlier this year to provide $1.7 billion in anti-narcotics aid for Colombia over a two-year period. The Senate bill only covers the first year.

So where does the "nine Democrats" number figure in this picture? The sum total of puissant legislators who voted for Sen. Paul Wellstone's amendment, which would have taken $225 million from the $934 million and spent it instead on domestic drug treatment programs, consisted of nine Democrats and two Republicans. Here they are: Boxer, D-Calif. (co-sponsor); Grams, R-Minn.; Murray, D-Wash.; Byrd, D-W.Va.; Harkin, D-Iowa; Specter, R-Pa.; Dorgan, D-N.D.; Leahy, D-Vt.; Wellstone, D-Minn.; Feingold, D-Wis.; Mikulski, D-Md.

AUSTIN , Texas -- Some who read Sunday's New York Times magazine on "The Education of a Holy Warrior'' -- about a Muslim religious seminary in Pakistan that is deeply influenced by the Taliban of Afghanistan -- found it profoundly disturbing. As well they might. The Taliban itself is one of the most disturbing phenomenon in the world today.

The horrors perpetrated against women there continue. The latest reports from human rights organizations concern a wave a suicides by women deeply depressed over their virtual enslavement.

The article by Jeffrey Goldberg, however, focused more on the ideology of jihad, which means either holy war or struggle, depending on who is doing the defining. Goldberg spent quite a bit of time with the students at the Haqqania madrasa in northwest Pakistan, helpfully armed with a considerable knowledge of the Koran himself. Osama bin Laden, the suspected terrorist, is a great hero to these students, and most of them said they would like to see bin Laden armed with atomic weapons.

AUSTIN, Texas -- So you're going along thinking it's the year 2000, Information Age, digital revolution, high-tech economy, all that jazz, and then you look at the headlines.

American General, one of the biggest insurance companies in the country, right up until this April was charging black customers up to 33 percent more than white customers for policies designed to cover burial costs. Huh?!

Coca-Cola -- not exactly a hick, backwater organization -- has just settled a race-discrimination suit filed by current and former employees. The terms of the settlement are confidential, but it was enough to knock 38 cents off Coke's stock price.

Nextel Communications Inc., a wireless communications company, just got hit with a suit by 300 current and former employees complaining about racial and sexual discrimination.

Thirty-nine current and former agents of State Farm are asking Congress to investigate "deceptive, predatory and illegal conduct" by the country's largest insurance company. State Farm says the allegations are "unfounded." The agents are complaining about red-lining and overcharging.

It's media spin in overdrive: Major security breaches have jeopardized the vital work going on at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where scientists toil to protect America.

But after many years of monitoring key weapons policies, Jacqueline Cabasso dismisses the uproar as "a sideshow." Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, is a perceptive expert on nuclear arms issues. Her views don't come near the conventional media wisdom.

"The real scandal," she told me, "is that while the media focuses attention on a couple of lost and found hard drives, the U.S. weapons labs -- Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia -- are spending billions of taxpayer dollars busily developing new and improved nuclear weapons, almost completely shielded from public scrutiny or even awareness. Moreover, the U.S. is continuing to brandish these weapons on a daily basis."

We're just about 31 years away from the great Stonewall riot, which set the tone for years of defiant gay insurgency. Stonewall was about defiance against the forces of repression, the forces of the state. So, where's this spirit of defiance today?

Here's a clue. In early June, we were able to read in our national newspapers that about 60 gay employees of the CIA were joined by a busload of Intelligence workers from the National Security Agency for a event designed to evince gay pride. Present were top officials, including George J. Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence. Addressing the gay spooks was Rep. Barney Frank, the noted gay rep from Massachusetts.

The Supremes are probably right about prayer at football games in the Santa Fe School District case, but you must admit that there's a slight cultural gap here. The court's decision noted that the Fifth Circuit had ruled that students could offer prayers at graduation, but not in the far less solemn and extraordinary setting of a football game. That's all they know about Friday nights.

I've heard a good many proselytizing public prayers offered in this state, as opposed to the "To Whom it may concern: Let no one get injured in tonight's game, Amen" variety, but I doubt you could prove that this increases intolerance. On the other hand, in May, three Santa Fe High students were arrested on accusations that they threatened to hang a 13-year-old Jewish boy, an eighth-grader at the middle school. If true, we would have to say that the three have failed to grasp some of the central tenets of the Christian faith, let alone the principles on which the country is founded.

HOUSTON -- My favorite thing at the Texas Republican Convention was the advertising in the back of the hall that constituted an almost perfect record of the major scandals, conflicts of interest and bad public policy that have occurred during the W. Bush gubernatorial administration. There they all were, proudly displaying their gratitude to Bush and the party. It was a near-perfect metaphor for American politics today.

Chemical had several of the small billboards for each part of the hall. Dow and the rest of the chemical industry were given one-third of the seats on the Texas equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency when Bush got into office.

He appointed a lobbyist for the Texas Chemical Council to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. This citizen had spent 30 years working for Monsanto. He used his position as one of the top environmental officials of Texas to go to Washington to testify that ozone is benign and to oppose strengthening federal air quality standards. Being in Houston during the lovely summer ozone season reminds us all how grateful we must be for this kind of zealous watchdoggery of our air quality.


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