Brown Speaks on Sept.11 Politics
by Jessy Bradish

Last Monday ,U.S. Congress-man Sherrod Brown, spoke at Oberlin in the first of a series of talks entitled After September 11th. The Congressman, who represents Lorain County’s district, spoke in Lewis Center to students, faculty, and community members about the direction of politics and government before and after Sept 11.
Although the talk was at noon on a weekday, the lecture hall was filled to maximum capacity, with people crowding in the doorway and the aisles.
College President Nancy Dye introduced the well-known democrat, who has become an influential and vocal presence in Congress. “This is a particularly critical time at colleges and universities to be keeping free, safe, open spaces... I thank Congressman Brown for being willing to protect issues of academic freedom and issues of civil liberties in the U.S. as a whole,” she said.
Many students took time out of finals preparation to catch up on the continually spiraling global politics. “There are both international and domestic issues that have fallen under the radar screen of the media and the public [after Sept. 11],” senior and program organizer Katherine Blauvelt said.
Termed “freedom lover” by a member of the audience, Brown was one of a small minority of congressmen to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act, a legislative measure giving federal officials a large degree of surveillance authority including the ability to wiretapp homes without judicial consent. The act also permits virtually unchecked judicial authority over suspect non-citizens through the creation of a military tribunal. While Section 412 of the act requires “mandatory detention of suspected terrorists; habeas corpus; judicial review,” it does not specify how to identify a terrorist, leaving open the possibility of racial discrimination.
Brown discussed the tendency of political profiteering during times of war. He cited various agendas of certain politicians and interest groups, including the reintroduction of a national missile defense program, domestic oil drilling and the business tax rebates that Congress is currently voting on. According to Brown, war motivations have propped up these current legislative sentiments. Included in his discussion was the Fast Track Bill, a controversial measure that passed today in the House of Representatives by one vote (215 to 214).
Fast Track will increase Bush’s negotiating power, an added executive autonomy that, with the Fair Trade Authority talks approaching, worries many political observers.
“Let’s see if missile defense comes back,” politics and East Asian Studies professor Mark Blecher said, in reference to the bill.
With this new authority, Bush will be able to send Congress unamendable bills for passage. “Congress then votes [the bills] up or down, with no amendments to workers rights or environmental safeguards,” Brown said.
Bush legitimized the measure with a plea for a strong national voice. “In order for me to be effective on trade, I need trade promotion authority. I need the ability to speak with a single voice for our country,” the President said.

Brown also discussed current threats posed to civil liberties. “The most egregious example of what we’ve seen in political profiteering or political opportunism are issues of civil liberties... Attorney General Ashcroft generally holds political views towards infringing on civil liberties anyway. He doesn’t believe in big government in terms of helping the poor, but he does... in terms of infringing on civil liberties,” Brown said.
“The public pretty overwhelmingly supports the military tribunal, mostly because they don’t think much about it ... If the Bill of Rights was put to a [public] vote, it just might not pass.”

There are 20 million non-citizens in the United States, most of whom have jobs or are students. The military tribunal is given “vague, unspecific, undefined power,” Brown said, to investigate and treat these people. “Most of the non-citizens] are in the workplace, most of them are relatively low paid, most of them are paying taxes, Medicare, and Social Security... and most of them have no reason to be under suspicion.”
Higher minimum wage, better worker safety, better food inspection and human rights are areas in which Brown said the government should focus attention. His fight for these issues, instead of more hawkish measures, has not, however, received support in Washington.
“[Secretary of State Powell and Vice President Cheney insinuated] that those of us that oppose Trade Promotion Authority are a bit indifferent towards terrorism, and might be a little bit less patriotic,” Brown, said.
“I think Sherrod Brown is just as patriotic as some war-hawk, because he’s talking about American values like fairness, free speech, equality and opportunity — things that are worth fighting for and preserving,” Blauvelt said.

Brown also addressed the subject of fair trade, mentioning the minimum wage of U.S. companies in countries such as Malaysia, Taiwan and Mexico. “I visited the home of two General Electric workers in Mexico. No running water, no electricity, a dirt floor, and when it rained the floor turned to mud. They were working for General Electric for 90 cents an hour, three miles from the U.S. border. Behind their home was a ditch, and there were children playing in this ditch, which was filled with a mixture of industrial and human waste,” he said.
Brown also stated that the most likely place to contract an infection in the northern hemisphere is right along the Mexico/U.S. border.
He mentioned workers in Nicaragua who were getting paid 23 cents for every pair of $30 jeans they produced. Their union asked for a 13 cent raise, and the company tried to fire the union. “This is how fair trade is practiced all over the world,” he said. The media and Sept. 11 also surfaced in Brown’s talk. “Just the way the media and the radio, even in the introduction to the news, [said things like] ‘The War Against America’, and ‘America Strikes Back’ was pretty remarkable,” he said. “You look back at the Gulf War ... and then, too, it was troubling to me... how people rally around nations at war time.”

Congressman Brown will return to Oberlin in February. “The hope for talks is to use [them] as a springboard for next semester and to continue to engage issues that aren’t being addressed in the media,” Blauvelt said.
Coalition, the talks were sponsored by the President’s office, OC ACLU, OC Democrats, OPIRG, Oberlin Rhythms of Resistance, Multicultural Resource Center and the Office of International Student Affairs.

When Congressman Brown returns to campus, he will know if Oberlin is to remain in his district after Ohio has been redistricted. The state is losing one Democratic seat. If so, he is considering running for governor.

December 6
February 2002

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