Glad-handing is not enough

Grinning and glad-handing every prime minister who crossed his path, President George W. Bush crisscrossed Europe last week, seeking to repair U.S.-European relations wrecked by his pre-emptive war on Iraq.

The president was greeted politely but he came away mostly empty-handed. Bush urged NATO forces to help train Iraqi security forces. France agreed to provide exactly one officer based in Brussels, not Iraq. Germany agreed to send a team to the United Arab Emirates to train Iraqi officers. Belgium offered to send 10 instructors to the UAE to teach Iraqis how to drive military vehicles.

Bush wanted to let bygones be bygones, citing the recent Iraqi elections as proof that his war policy is working. But the steady rise in the level of violence in Iraq suggests that the glow of that election is fading fast.

Bush claimed that his differences with Europe are over, in the past, and a new era of cooperation is dawning. But that ignores a tilt in the balance of forces against the U.S. that has been gathering now for over a decade. Despite military supremacy, the U.S. is losing ground to the European Union in economic and political clout, symbolized by the sharp decline in the value of the dollar against the euro.

Meanwhile, pre-emptive war in pursuit of a “new American century” has made Bush the object of growing worldwide revulsion. The overwhelming peace sentiment throughout the continent is driving Europe and its elected leaders to spurn Bush’s appeals to bail him out of his Iraq quagmire.

During the Cold War, European countries were forced into the role of junior partner of U.S. imperialism. That era is long gone.

Europeans demonstrated in Brussels with signs that proclaimed, “Bush: Number One Terrorist” and “Yankee Go Home.” Over 12,000 demonstrators — twice the number originally expected — marched against Bush’s war and occupation of Iraq in the German city of Mainz on Feb. 23, and thousands more rallied in Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Berlin and Kassel under the banner, “You’re not welcome, Mr. Bush.”

The task for us here at home is to force Bush to end the war and bring the troops home.

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The Simpsons animate debate

One would hardly believe that last weekend’s most potent televised political discourse was carried out by animated characters. The much-hyped episode of “The Simpsons” — in which the fictional town of Springfield legalizes gay marriage in hopes of bringing in tourist money while also striking “a blow for civil rights” — is a clear sign that gay marriage, and the debate around it, has become part of mainstream American life.

Airing on Fox, a network known for both trashy programming and right-wing politics, the episode was prefaced with a warning that the subject matter might warrant parental discretion. However, what was more warranted, and what seems to be the end result, is a new opening for discussion on the topic of same-sex marriage.

“The Simpsons” episode came less than a month after President Bush’s new education secretary, Margaret Spellings, challenged PBS over an episode of the animated children’s show “Postcards from Buster” featuring a lesbian couple in Vermont. Though that show’s topic was actually farm life and maple sugaring, PBS pulled it, with only a few local affiliates choosing to air it sometime later in the spring.

The broadcast of this “Simpsons” episode was a positive step in portraying diversity. It was not an unabashed celebration of gay marriage, as some critics have indicated. Rather, it showed the many sides of the debate. In the show, the church refused to perform the same-sex marriages, some citizens protested, and the “coming out” of a family member was tackled within the Simpson family itself. The show even took humorous aim at claims that same-sex marriage is a slippery slope to allowing people to marry things, with the sea captain lining up to marry his ship’s figurehead “before she changes her mind.”

Overall, though, the episode brought to primetime television, in a humane and humorous way, the discussion and debate that continues across the country. The People’s Weekly World has been unambiguous in its support for the right of persons of the same sex to marry. State and federal laws should be amended to allow such unions.