Lötterdämmerung

Think of it: If God had made Strom Thurmond just six weeks older,
the
Senate would still be under Democratic control.

It's enough to shake one's faith -- and mine was none too strong to
begin
with. But then it became apparent that the Almighty was, as usual,
one
step ahead. He had devised a divinely devious plan.

First He induced Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to blackmail President George W. Bush. Lott
evidently
did this by threatening to resign his Senate seat if forced to abdicate
the
leadership. Because Mississippi has a Democratic governor, this would
have
put the Senate back at 50-to-50 and the Democrats within one defection
of
control. The device worked, of course. Bush rebuked Lott but
stopped
short of pushing him overboard.

But that merely moved the drama on to the next scene. There are
Republican
senators, such as Lincoln Chafee, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Susan
Collins and Richard Lugar, who have a certain honor to defend. Let them be
reminded. Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948, not merely to
defend
segregation but to actually oppose a federal anti-lynching law. The
palm
card passed out for Thurmond in Mississippi put it this way:

REMEMBER: A vote for Truman electors is a direct order to
our
Congressmen and Senators from Mississippi to vote for passage of
Truman's
so-called civil rights law in the next Congress. This means the
vicious
FEPC -- anti poll tax -- anti-lynching and anti-segregation proposals
will
become the law of the land and our way of life in the South will be
changed
forever.

Can these men and women really allow Lott to stay in his post?
Can they
possibly afford not to stand up and be counted against him? Will the
same
blackmail work on them? We shall see.

Meanwhile, Bush may be losing on another front. It appears that
Venezuela's
President Hugo Chavez is holding out in a tense struggle over the
fate and future of democracy in that country. Chavez is bitterly opposed by
Venezuela's upper crust, just as he is strongly supported by the
poor. But
as I write, the oil lockout has been at least partly broken; tankers
have
filled and sailed for the United States. The military has remained
loyal,
shops are open, subways are running and (mostly) peaceful crowds
have
gathered around the pro-coup commercial television stations. Perhaps
most
importantly, a sniper (like the provocateur most likely responsible for
three
killings at an anti-government rally last week) has not yet found
President
Chavez's range.

Clearly the United States is involved. A Uruguayan politician blew the whistle
on a
request for help from the administration in support of a coup. In a
desperate move, Bush issued a public statement on Dec. 13 calling
for
early elections. But why? Unlike Bush himself, Chavez was elected.
There
is no reason for him to step down other than the intransigent
opposition
of the Venezuelan upper classes. The "rebellion of the spoiled
brats,"
they are calling it. Canada quickly distanced itself from Bush's
statement.

The American press has been even more than usually disgraceful on
this
matter, aligning itself uncritically with official disinformation.
If you
want to read the real news, check out the indispensable Narco News Network. The game is not yet over, but so far it
hasn't gone exactly to plan.

Meanwhile, speaking of free, fair and democratic elections, it was a
pleasure to visit Brazil in late November. There was a palpable
pride in
the election of Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, an authentic trade
unionist
(can you imagine?) whose bumper stickers everywhere read, "Por um
Brasil
decente."

Lula recently visited Washington, where, it appears he placed a
simple
bargain in front of Bush, that great free trader: Give us
free
trade, said Lula, and we will pay our debts. It is too bad, of
course,
that Brazil's orange juice, currently excluded by a steep tariff,
would
flood Florida more effectively than an Antarctic meltdown. Lula made
no
threats. But if Bush wants to defend the Jebberglades more than he
wants
free trade, why then should Lula put himself out over the big banks,
insurance companies, pension funds and others? Choices, choices,
George.
Government is hell.

And finally, in Iraq news, there is no sign yet of the slightest
weapon of
mass destruction. The inspections go forward, undercutting -- even if
in the
final analysis they may not be able to stop -- the rush to war.

Perhaps the Almighty has not yet wholly abandoned stray cats, small
children and the United States of America. Happy New Year.

James K. Galbraith teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

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