Questions for reflection on 2002

Posted: Dec 31, 2002 12:00 AM
I'm not reading about Time magazine's "persons" of the year. Nothing against chosen "persons" Cynthia Cooper, Sherron Watkins or Coleen Rowley -- "women who took huge risks to blow the whistle on what went wrong at Worldcom, Enron, and the FBI." And nothing against their having been styled for the cover into promotional poses easily taken for characters on "The Practice." The fact is, at this fraught and final hiccup of the year, retrospection is hard enough without trying to force the past 12 months through the narrow-gauge grinder by which Time has improbably designated 2002 "The year of the whistleblower." That's not to say I wouldn't want to have seen the selection process through which these gals were chosen. (And where Ms. Rowley's male counterpart, FBI agent Kenneth Williams, was eliminated, probably for excessive y chromosomes.) After all, it's not every day you get to see grown editors render news judgments by crossing their eyes, holding their breath and balancing on one leg. Which has to be what it took for Time's honchos to convince themselves that 2002 -- the year of the run-up to probable war, and a historic Republican electoral triumph -- was not the year of George W. Bush and his consolidation of political power. It's not worth wasting too many question marks over Time's choice: The journalistic cocktail of implicit feminism and explicit corporate greed, with an FBI agent for political cover, was obviously intoxicating. More pressing questions linger at year's end, ones without easy answers -- or answers at all. Worse still are the questions that aren't even being asked. What follows, in no particular order, are a few of my own. 1) Why is there still no Manhattan Project-style effort underway to develop non-oil-based fuel sources? Personally, I have no problem with more, better, cleaner drilling for domestic oil, but that's not only a non-starter, it remains a stopgap strategy. We need something else -- and not just windmills off Cape Cod, or solar panels amid the redwoods. What's required is a big fat brain trust. Successful or not, the project's a winner: Either it stanches the flow of money and power from the Western world to OPEC, reducing threats of global blackmail, or it at least shakes cartel confidence. 2) When was the concept of a Palestinian state transformed from the sparking third rail of American politics into a seemingly non-negotiable plank of every political party? Could it have been when the Palestinian Authority dismantled the terrorist infrastructure? (Didn't happen.) Ended its official incitement to violence? (Didn't happen.) Elected new leaders not compromised by terror? (Didn't happen.) Built a democracy based on tolerance and liberty? (Hah.) All of the above are conditions set down by President Bush 26 weeks ago to warrant American support for a Palestinian state (see Zionist Organization of America's weekly rundown of Palestinian Arab noncompliance at Why, despite the appalling breach, do we continue to talk of statehood in terms of ever-more detailed "roadmaps" and timetables? 3) Why isn't the potentially revolutionary (counter-revolutionary?) student movement in Iran getting the attention it deserves? National-security expert and author Michael Ledeen calls the growing Iranian student movement "the biggest story in the world." In their demands for a secular, democratic government, the students could very well be the key to change in the Middle East. Shockingly, their nonviolent efforts to break the Islamo-fascist mullahocracy, which now include pro-Western statements against "the promoters of anti-Semitism and terrorism" -- are relegated to the odd article or wire-service brief. Meanwhile, U.S. government broadcasts into Iran have been "upgraded" from once-substantive news programming to a vacuous pop music format. Go figure. 4) Is there any link between the administration's letdown of a decision to allow North Korean Scud missiles into the Persian Gulf region via Somalia, and a seemingly emboldened North Korea's hysterical nuclear threats? 5) And when will the mainstream media decide to report on Democratic Sen. Patty Murray's mind-boggling remarks on Osama bin Laden's supposed nation-building efforts in the Middle East? (Taliban Online picked up the story originally reported in the Vancouver, Wash., Columbian newspaper, but that doesn't count.) 6) Finally, what of Jane Fonda and Sean Penn? As the celebri-mats hit the latest political hot spots, trailing strings of reporters, we need to decide which one better represents America. Is it 42-year-old Mr. Penn? In declaring Saddam Hussein in compliance of whatever, he warned: "It's very possible that we are facing the first century that will complete itself without mankind -- and that's not the future I want for my children." Or is it Ms. Fonda? While touring Israel this week with playwright Eve "Vagina Monologues" Ensler, the 64-year-old actress-activist Fonda mentioned several earlier trips to the Holy Land, adding, "But I never thought I'd come here as a soldier in the Vagina Army." The choice is clear: Some questions are best left unanswered.