Witch-hunts and War Jitters

Dominic Hilton
6 March 2003

Naming names

After two weeks in the wilderness, the Diary returns with a whimper (well, several, actually).

The first comes from certain quarters of American conservatism, who, just like they did with Slick Willy, have had enough of their liberal showboatin’ Prez.

Not Dubya, understand, but Martin Sheen – star, appropriately, of Apocalypse Now! and currently enjoying a stint as President Josiah Bartlet in TV hit The West Wing.

According to the BBC, “Sheen has received hate mail from the American public over his firm anti-war stance … [and] has faced calls for him to be axed from the show”.

The story was Hollywood-politico enough to adorn the front page of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, giving them an excellent excuse to publish a virtually life-size portrait of political campaigner Sheen. (For the record – and shamelessly to link this item back to its bizarre beginning – Clinton’s rousing speech to the British Labour Party conference in September 2002 prompted (as this month's Atlantic Monthly reminds us) a gushing editorial in the Guardian: “If one were reviewing it, five stars would not be enough … What a speech. What a pro. And what a loss to the leadership of America and the world.” You gotta love the balanced and unpartisan British press).

Anyway, biased as it may be, the Guardian is not alone in wishing that the fictional President Bartlet would swap places with the real world President Bush. In fact, before all this fuss started, openDemocracy had published Paul Hirst’s must-read What Would Jed Bartlet Do?, which ponders how the on-screen Sheen might deal with Saddam.

The real-life Sheen is a veteran liberal campaigner. He has just led a “virtual march” on Washington, opposing a war on Iraq, involving a mass-email/fax/phone of the Washington hawks (none of whom answered back). He claims to have received an “avalanche of hate mail and been accosted on the street, accused of being a traitor for such activities.” There are also rumours of NBC discomfort at one of their top stars from their top (political) show behaving so politically (The Washington Post called the network ‘nervous’. And the St. Louis Post asked the essential question: ‘Would NBC impeach Bartlet?’).

Back to McCarthyism? Well, some would like to think so. The Screen Actor’s Guild (the picketing union of movie stars) is talking blacklist. “Some have recently suggested that well-known individuals who express ‘unacceptable’ views should be punished by losing their right to work,” said a spokesman.

Hollywood is having another identity crisis. “Having come to grips with our past,” the Guild said, “having repudiated the insult of loyalty oaths and examined its own failings, our industry, perhaps more than any other, understands the necessity of guarding and cherishing those rights for which Americans have fought and died.”

For those of you who don’t tune in, Josiah Bartlet is a decidedly liberal president – in the words of Paul Hirst “the ideal president that the US has never had since Franklin D. Roosevelt”. He is a sort of mix-match of Clinton and Teddy Kennedy, although, thus far, without the woman factor. In a country living under the Bush administration, the top-rated (intelligent) West Wing political drama has always seemed a strange phenomenon.

Is the bipartisan love-in between Hollywood scriptwriter and Joe Q. Citizen about to shatter? According to a poll published by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, two-thirds of Americans want celebrities to shut-up about politics and get on with being celebrities.

(Also see Citizens Against Celebrity Pundits)

Hollywood Against War: George Clooney, Barbara Streisand, Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Tim Robbins, Jane Fonda, Marisa Tomei, Robert Altman, Terry Gilliam, Spike Lee, Sean Penn, Gillian Anderson, Laurence Fishburn, Kim Basinger, Matt Damon.

Hollywood For War (supportive of Bush policy): Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise.

Shielding their blushes

Meanwhile, how are things going for those so against war in Iraq they took their protests to Baghdad?

Not too well, seems to be the answer.

A lot of fuss was made last month about the so-called ‘human shields’, the peace protestors who travelled in a double-decker bus to the streets of Iraq, willing to sacrifice their lives for the Saddam regime.

Now, hidden away on page 13 of the London Times, the Diary reads that some of the British shields have returned to the old country, tails between their legs, and principles abandoned in Saddam’s socialist paradise.

“Up to twelve” of them, according to the Times (which could of course mean one) decided to head home, their brief stay in Baghdad not as pleasant as they had hoped.

“Many of those returning have either run out of money or are concerned for their safety,” the report said (no joke).

“I must stress that the people on the bus were always intent on going back [before bombing started],” said uncompromising idealist Christiaan Briggs, “a co-ordinator for the action group”.

“The group encountered many problems during the trip, including punctures and running out of petrol,” the Times added.

The revised aim for those who haven’t chickened out, explained Briggs, may now be to “act as witnesses rather than human shields”.

What does this mean? the Diary wonders. Watching CNN from a sofa in Bury St. Edmonds?

City life

Tired of living in fear of terror? Sick of crumbling public services, rising crime, and polluted metropolitan hell-holes?

No? Well scroll down to the next item then.

But for those of you still here, a solution presents itself: move to Zurich.

That’s right, according to the annual survey of 215 cities by Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Zurich is the best place in the world to live (although Luxembourg is the safest).

With 106.5 points on the quality of life chart, Zurich scraped home in first place past Geneva, Vancouver and Vienna, all on 106 points. Auckland, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Berne all scored well. Tokyo was ranked at 26, and New York a low 44.

Officially, the world’s worst place to live is Brazzaville (somehow scoring lower than London), and Baghdad is the world’s third worst city (just ask those ‘human shields’).

In western Europe, Milan, Athens and Rome were judged the least safe cities, and in the US, Washington got the wooden spoon.

(Tell the Diary where your city should rank: Dominic.Hilton@openDemocracy.net)

False economy

Meanwhile, despite their bilateral opposition to US foreign policy, France and Germany are showing notably different patterns of economic behaviour.

Of course, like all economic trends, analysis is pure speculation. So speculate the Diary will.

It appears that (in tabloid-speak) the regular French citizen Marianne, despite an effusive display of loyalty to the Nobel Mahatma Chirac, is suffering from war jitters, whereas the average German Helmut is free of butterflies and gaining in confidence.

This in-depth analysis is based on retail sales in ‘Old Europe’. The German Statistics Office (the source of much bad news recently) has rejoiced at the sight of a 3.9% leap in retail sales since last year (that’s 4.2% in real terms – which, for the economically illiterate, doesn’t mean that the other figure was fake).

Across the border, in the Fifth Republic, anxiety reigns. The French Statistical Office reports that consumer confidence has dropped to its lowest level in six years.

Seems the subtle differences between the no-go positions of Chirac and Schröder have a big effect.

And there is no keener German mall-rat than the thief who tried to break into a shopping centre in the town of Remscheid this week.

Unfortunately, his efforts to crawl into the retail heaven through a ventilation pipe fell short when he got stuck.

He was pulled out the next morning, when staff heard his cries for help, or for some breakfast.

(Source: BBC)

Quotes of the week

“Rejecting the choices of the party’s organization committee should not be taken as a standard for democracy. We must increase our control over these mistaken ideas so that elections are not misused.”
Wen Shizhen, party chief of the Chinese province of Liaoning, as quoted in an article by John Pomfret in the Washington Post

“A latter-day Pravda.”
The judgment of France’s Le Monde newspaper by Philippe Cohen and Pierre Péan, authors of La face cachée du Monde (The Hidden Side of Le Monde)

“I personally believe that Stalin’s death was not fortuitous. There are just too many arrows pointing in the other direction.”
Jonathan Brent, Yale university scholar of Soviet history, and co-author (with Russian historian Vladimir Naumov) of Stalin’s Last Crime, a new book which suggests that Stalin was poisoned with warfarin. The Soviet dictator died fifty years ago this Wednesday.

“The folks that are being used as shields and the regime need to know that that is a war crime.”
General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the situation in Iraq.

“Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson.”
Part of the resignation letter of US career diplomat John Brady Kiesling who resigned his post at the US embassy in Athens this week.

“Once they start reprocessing, it’s a bomb a month from now until summer.”
A “senior official” in the Bush administration on North Korea, quoted in the New York Times.

“The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq’s new government.”
US President George W. Bush

“If we were going to pursue regime change all over the world, there’s so many countries that would be included, so many dictators we would like to have out of the country. Where would we begin? Where would we stop?”
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

“At a critical and stressful time for our nation, she and her team sharpened our policy advocacy and took our values and our ideas to mass audiences and countries which hadn’t heard from us in a concerted way for many years.”
US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Charlotte Beers, the advertising guru employed by the Bush administration to sell America’s image abroad, who resigned this week.

“I still believe in these values. But I don’t call them American ideals anymore.”
Said Naggar, the Arab founder of the New Civic Forum “to promote the ideas and ideals of the United States of America”. Quoted in an article by Anthony Shahid in the Washington Post.

Contact the Diary Editor: Dominic.Hilton@openDemocracy.net

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