Friday :: Nov 18, 2005

Our Country Isn't Free - Or Safe


by pessimist

The forward march of liberty has been halted - even reversed
Britain, America and France have all reduced civil liberties since the twin towers fell. But has this made us any safer?

The erosion of liberty.

Four words sum up four years.

Since the attacks of September 11 2001, we have seen an erosion of liberty in most established democracies. If he's still alive, Osama bin Laden must be laughing into his beard. For this is exactly what al-Qaida-type terrorists want: that democracies should overreact, reveal their "true" oppressive face, and therefore win more recruits to the suicide bombers' cause.

We should not play his game. In the always difficult trade-off between liberty and security, we are erring too much on the side of security. Worse still: we are becoming less safe as a result.
Ever since, we have been going either sideways or backwards, as we struggle to respond to a real threat. We got off on the wrong foot on the very first day. As America's former anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke records, when George Bush was reminded of the constraints of international law on the evening of September 11 2001, the president of the United States yelled: "I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass."
Kicking ass, as it turns out, meant not just the invasion of Iraq but also Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and, it now emerges, probably other secret prison facilities where people were held, and tortured, in a lawless limbo.
Delivering the Isaiah Berlin lecture in Oxford the other day, the American philosopher Allen Wood observed that "the death sentence is no use against suicide bombers". This was not just a somewhat black philosophical joke; it also contains a deeper truth.

As Sir Ian Blair, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has just reminded us, the larger challenge for policing, but also for post-9/11 western policy altogether, is to help to create conditions in which people don't become suicide bombers in the first place.

It wasn't any of the CIA's covert assassinations or dirty tricks that won the cold war. It was the magnetic example of free, prosperous and law-abiding societies. That was worth a thousand nuclear bombs or stealth bombers. No weapon known to man is more powerful than liberty in law.

Muslim fundamentalists are not the only threat to liberty facing America. We also face a serious threat from within our own borders. From fellow Americans.

Creating a Right-Wing Nation, State by State
A couple of staffers for People for the American Way went undercover to a conference of the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. Here's what they discovered.

We've heard much talk of the states serving as "progressive laboratories" in recent years. But conservatives have been working to shape state laws for the past 30 years. The center of gravity for that effort is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation's largest network of state legislators.

Founded in 1973, ALEC was the brainchild of paleocon Paul Weyrich, a leading "Movement conservative" and the head of the Free Congress Foundation (in 1973 Weyrich also co-founded the Heritage Foundation). It is the connective tissue that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money.

ALEC is a public-policy mill that churns out "model legislation" for the states that are unfailingly pro-business. The organization fights against civil rights laws, as well as consumer, labor and environmental initiatives.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, corporations "funnel cash through ALEC to curry favor with state lawmakers through junkets and other largesse in the hopes of enacting special interest legislation -- all the while keeping safely outside the public eye."

Corporations that support ALEC "pay to play." In addition to dues of up to $50,000 dollars per year, they also pay as much as $5,000 dollars to sit on the "task force" committees that draft ALEC's legislative templates. You pay, and you get to write state laws to your exquisite advantage. Dupont, Dow and Edison electric are among the other firms that have paid millions to write ALEC's model legislation.

ALEC's record of achievement makes it one of the most successful parts of the conservative movement, but many progressives aren't aware of it. They should be; ALEC claims as members 34 state Speakers of The House, 25 Senate Presidents, 31 Senate Leaders and 33 House Leaders.

Given that ALEC claims to have successfully passed 200 bills into law in 2003, keeping tabs on the organization is a good way to get a handle on where the right will train its sights next.

Two staffers for People For the American Way (PFAW) went to ALEC's August meeting to get that scoop. George W. Bush was the keynote speaker, discussing how successful his tax cuts have been (if you care to, you can read his speech here). Grover Norquist, Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich rounded out the right's star power. (According to one of PFAW's observers, Norquist told a room full of legislators that "those on the left aren't stupid, they're evil.")

For the most part, there were few surprises at ALEC's August summit in Plano, Texas. The usual suspects pushed policies we have come to expect from the conservative movement. These, according to a profile by PFAW, include "rolling back civil rights, challenging government restrictions on corporate pollution," as well as "limiting government regulations of commerce [and] privatizing public services."

Activism clearly frightens the big-business right. Aside from the over-the-top hostility towards environmental activists, there was much talk of campaigns such as the current effort - of which AlterNet has played a part -- to raise awareness of Wal-Mart's labor and environmental practices, and the harm the firm inflicts on Main Street America.

A panel on socially responsible investing likened the practice to a new form of Marxism. According to PFAW's observers, the moderator argued that "progressives control campuses, control foundations, control the media -- corporations are the last bastion of conservatism and if they take them over, it's game over."

And this would be a bad thing why?

Seems to me that not only is conservatism an excuse to practice selfishness, it is also an environment that fosters abuse of the weak by the strong. Unless we plan on returning to the jungles from which we emerged, is this really something we as sentient humans want to promote?

I say no.

I for one am very tired of neanderthal neocon 'thinking' ruling my land and causing upheaval of the world's safety and security just so that a select few can enjoy the dubious benefits of living like a Caesar, vicariously practicing armed robbery through agencies intended to protect the entire nation.

I'm not the only one who is fed up with this situation. My companion in outrage is admittedly not a progressive. He is in fact a True Conservative who believes that everything worth preserving in America is at risk of being destroyed by Bu$hCo and their greedy lust for control of the world through the military takeover of its energy resources.

In the spirit of the Minutemen, my ally issues a call to arms:


It's time Americans take back their country
by Gerald Plessner
Published in the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and Whittier Daily News - November 16, 2005

Gerald Plessner is a Southern California businessman who writes regularly on issues of politics and culture. He would be pleased to hear from you and may be contacted at gerald@geraldplessner.com.

When an American president is seen in the world as weakened, then other countries both friend and foe, naturally react to that weakness. They do so either by moving in their own best interest without regard to our leadership or by increasing their hostile acts towards us and our friends. George W. Bush is that weakened president and we have only to thank those who bought his election, those who have hijacked America's foreign and domestic policy and those who have lied to us and taken us into this predicament.
America is in a very dangerous time. Because of the weakness of our president we are more vulnerable --- truly vulnerable --- than we were even in the days after September 11, 2001. By deserting the search for Osama Bin Laden and leaving the war in Afghanistan unfinished to pursue their pre-meditated attack on Saddam Hussein, they have made us more vulnerable than we have been since the worst days of the Cold War.
It's all because of George Bush's policies and the people around him, so don't think for a minute that people like myself are unpatriotic because we criticize an absurd, incompetent, mendacious cabal for what they have done to America.
Many people think that those who criticize him hate George Bush. Don't believe that for a minute. I truly feel for him in this predicament. You and I might throw in the towel under the pressure he feels but he's in a no-resignation situation. He knew from the beginning that it was a bigger job then he could handle and that he was the wrong person for the job. You could see it in his eyes and his hesitancies if you really looked. But that doesn't mean that we must not act in the best interest of our country and the world.

We are patriotic just like you. In truth, most of us have served our country in the military more than anyone in our nation's current political leadership and right-wing media elite. We have just seen through these political opportunists and corporate agents interested only in their own benefit. We understood their venality and their false patriotism from the very beginning.

We have tried to tell you but you wouldn't listen.
It is difficult to admit when you have been used. But those who have fallen for the myth of this president as a great leader have been manipulated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager, Karl Rove, Sean Hannity, most of the Republican leadership and all of FOX News.
Most of those people and others like them have been keeping you mad for the last six years, but now it's time to get mad about the real problems. Things like what the neo-imperialist idiots have done to our active duty military, our National Guard and Reserves. What they have done borders on treason.

People like Dick Cheney and his cohort Grover Norquist have given powerful jobs to inexperienced, unqualified and embarrassingly dumb campaign errand boys and girls. Cheney's and Norquist's intention has been to destroy our domestic government programs, diminishing our ability to serve the people, and in the case of FEMA, keeping us safe. But most Americans now realize the incompetence and self-serving interests of the Cheney clique around the president. Scooter Libby and Karl Rove are, regretfully, the tip of the iceberg.

It's time to stop fooling ourselves and start planning for the future. We must return to a world in which the United States regains its leadership role, its citizens regain their confidence in their government, and all of us start again to find better lives for ourselves, our children and those among us who are less fortunate.

Now I know that what I am going to suggest will be difficult. But it has to be done. It's time for all of us --- Republican, Democrat and Independent --- to pull together and take our country back from the people who think they have bought it.

The big question is, "Who are you going to vote for in the next election?" If you have been led to believe all the lies about George W. Bush, you have to get mad for all the right reasons. You have to stop listening to all his adoring sycophants. You have to stop falling for phrases like "blame game". You must start now to break the hold that all those jingoistic buffoons have on your beliefs, your emotions and your patriotism.

You have to start thinking about who you will support next.

If you don't you could find yourself living in a land that resembles this one - created as it now is by Bu$hCo:


The ouster of democracy
In Haiti, Washington confirmed a foreign policy that is driven by self-interest and delivered through force

"All books about all revolutions begin with a chapter that describes the decay of tottering authority or the misery and sufferings of people," wrote Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski in his book, Shah of Shahs, about the Iranian revolution. "They should begin with a psychological chapter, one that shows how a harassed man breaks his terror and stops being afraid. This unusual process demands illuminating."

In revolutions the people take centre stage and the leaders follow - the popular will outpaces and overpowers the established institutions and moulds something essentially new from the old. But over the past week the Haitian people have been not actors but spectators in their own destiny, watching one band of armed thugs, who supported a leader with diminishing democratic legitimacy, replaced by another band of armed thugs, who support a movement with none at all, with the help of foreign governments.

The death squad leaders, army officials and US marines are back. There are no longer any democratic violations to criticise because there is no longer any democracy. What happened was not a revolution but a coup. And no simple domestic overthrow either. This was the kind of regime change that the French and the US could sign up to.

The Haitian people are pretty much where they have been for the past 200 years - in a desperately impoverished country where political violence is sustained, if not encouraged, by foreign intervention and crushes any hope of reconciliation, democracy and economic prosperity.

Whoever the US came into protect, it was not the Haitian people. Even as they were advising people to stay out of the country because it was not safe they were sending Haitian boat people, fleeing the crisis, back home.

US secretary of state, Colin Powell told the Senate foreign relations committee: "The policy of the administration is not regime change [this will come as news to the Iraqis], President Aristide is the elected president of Haiti."

The principal message to the Haitian people from Aristide's ouster is that force works. If you do not like the elected leader of the country, start a rebellion and refuse to negotiate. If it is strong enough, and its politics amenable enough, the Americans will come and finish the job for you. With 33 coups in 200 years, this was a message the Haitian people did not need.

Two key lessons emerge from this, which go beyond Haiti. The first is that military force is not just the most important element in US foreign policy, it is the beginning and the end of that policy. The second is that the US supports democracy when democracy supports the US.

For the past 10 years, since the US restored Aristide to power, it could have trained the Haitian police and judiciary, invested in projects that shore up civil society and help create a democratic culture, increased aid and encouraged fair trade - all of which would have given Haiti a fighting chance of building a sustainable democracy.

Instead, it imposed conditions by the IMF and the World Bank, followed it up with an embargo on the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and when none of that worked, sent in the marines against a nation with no army.

When it is inconvenient, as in Aristide's case, Washington will turn its back on it in a heartbeat. Faced with a clear choice of either sending the marines in to protect an elected president, however flawed, or an armed insurrection, they chose the insurrection because they didn't like the president.

"We can't be called upon, expected or required to intervene every time there is violence against a failed leader," said the State Department spokesperson, Richard Boucher, last week. "We can't spend our time running around the world and the hemisphere saving people who botched their chance at leadership."

However, the US can be called upon not to intervene to promote violence against elected leaders. This latest intervention did not prevent a bloodbath - more people were killed on the day Aristide left than on any other - and crushed what was left of democracy.

Instead of breaking the spiral of violence, it has given it a new lease of life. Given that kind of legacy, the US should indeed stop "running around the world" to "save people". The Bush administration is doing a good job of botching leadership at home. There is no need to export it.

As Arnold would have said, Haiti is 'old news'. But the lesson wasn't learned, and there is a contemporary example of US international activities which prove this:


U.S. May Scratch Salvadoran Protections
Nov 17, 6:18 PM ET

Immigration rights attorneys and activists said Thursday the so-called Orantes injunction that gave Salvadoran immigrants special rights nearly two decades ago still was needed. The protections were mandated by a federal judge as a result of a class-action suit by Salvadoran immigrants who fled their country's bloody civil war and claimed the U.S. government tried to coerce them into going back. The 1988 injunction required immigration authorities to advise Salvadorans of their right to a hearing before an immigration judge and of their right to apply for political asylum, among other things.

We wouldn't want it to become known that we are a nation of laws which respects freedom and liberty, now would we? That could prove bad for business, and we all know that the business of business is self-gratification at the expense of everyone else!

What else is the entire world for but to feed the greed of the believers of the Creed?


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