Speaks on Sept.11 Politics
by Jessy Bradish
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 Countys 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
Fast Track will increase Bushs negotiating power, an added
executive autonomy that, with the Fair Trade Authority talks approaching,
worries many political observers.
Lets 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,
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 weve 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 doesnt 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 dont 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,
I think Sherrod Brown is just as patriotic as some war-hawk,
because hes 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 Browns 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.
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 arent being addressed in the media,
Coalition, the talks were sponsored by the Presidents 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