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The America I Live In: Notes for the Campaign
March 3, 2004
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

This is the America I live in.

A normal, average citizen, I unlock the front door and enter my home. I don't know if anyone has entered surreptitiously - perhaps a sneak-and-peek job by Ashcroft's black-bag boys.

I boot up my computer to go online. I don't know if my email is being monitored, if my keystrokes are being recorded.

I call my attorney, about a family matter. I don't know if communication with my lawyer, previously regarded as "confidential," is being listened to. (This, and the other examples above, and many below, flow from the Bush-Ashcroft "USA Patriot Act.")

I visit my physician, and learn later that my employer found out about a chronic condition I had and laid me off, to keep his insurance costs down. The doctor-patient confidentiality I thought existed is now breachable by government agencies in cahoots with insurance companies.

This is the America I live in.

I learn about U.S. citizens who have been thrown into military custody, with no access to the judicial system, kept uncharged for however long Ashcroft and Bush decide to hold them as somehow connected to "terrorists."

I know of American citizens, active in opposition to the war in Iraq, who have been kept off commercial airlines.

Hundreds of citizens of other countries are rounded up as suspected terrorists and sent to a prison camp run by our government; they can rot there for years with no charges and with no regularized access to the judicial process. To avoid having to conform to international codes of conduct, the detainees are not designated by the Administration as prisoners-of-war.

I hear Ashcroft telling Congress that those who raise questions about the government's harsh police tactics are giving "aid and comfort" to terrorists.

This is the America I live in.

In the daily newspaper, and online, I keep running into stories about plans for future U.S. wars against other nations - Syria, Iran and Cuba are most often mentioned - after the November election, should Bush win. Moves already have started to revive the military draft.

I read about GOP groups sending out doctored photos of John Kerry, and passing on false rumors, based apparently on nothing but partisan malice, about his private life.

The Bush Administration publicly revealed the name of a covert CIA agent, apparently in retaliation for her husband telling the truth about forged documents that were used to justify a WMD lie. Her life is put at risk, her career is in tatters, her contacts abroad are in danger. Revealing her name is a felony, but the Chief Executive does nothing.

This is the America I live in.

I will be voting in my state's primary balloting and then, of course, in November's general election. There are not adequate safeguards against tampering with touch-screen computer-voting machines (it's been demonstrated that they can be hacked into easily and the tallies manipulated, with nobody ever knowing), and there is no paper trail being used to verify the votes on most of those machines. The proprietary software inside those computer-voting machines are controlled mainly by three companies, one of which is partially owned by a Republican senator and the others by avowed Republican supporters.

Traditionally, when America (or any other country) suffers a major civil trauma, investigations are initiated almost immediately to find out what happened and why, witnesses are placed under oath, and those responsible are fired, or resign, or are indicted for their malfeasance. More than 3000 persons died in the September 11 tragedies, but the Bush Administration did everything possible to forestall an independent investigation about pre-9/11 knowledge, nobody has been placed under oath, and the Administration is continuing to stonewall and cover-up today. Whatever it is they are trying to hide must be very very embarrassing - or criminal.

All sorts of outrageous lies and distortions were utilized by the Administration to get Congress and the American people to approve Bush&Co.'s war in Iraq - the plans for which were approved by mid-2002. All those untruths, exaggerations and manipulations are evident for all to see these days - which explains why, in current polls, the first adjective that comes to the minds of many citizens when pollsters ask what they think of Bush is "liar."

This is the America I live in.

The Bush Administration promised it would be dedicated stewards for our air and water, but, as with virtually every other environmental decision, has given in to whatever rollbacks in environmental protection are desired by the polluting industries. More arsenic in the water, more industrial sludge in the rivers, more pollutants in the air, whatever. And when scientists raise questions about the Administration's environmental or global-warming policies, they are treated as the enemy - unless the scientific judgment conforms to the Administration's political agenda.

Bush claims to care deeply for our soldiers and veterans, but he sends our young men and women to Iraq with the wrong post-war battle plan - turning them into sitting ducks in a shooting gallery - and without the proper body armor and armored vehicles that would save their lives in the guerrilla battle being waged. And he has provided no troops to guard Saddam's huge ammo dumps around the country; these are the same dumps that are scavenged nightly for armaments to make bombs that blow up our troops. U.S. soldiers, poorly paid in any case, were expected to pay for their meals while in hospital, and veterans benefits are cut back home.

The commander-in-chief apparently did not complete his military service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, and appears to have gone AWOL for at least a half-year, maybe more. At first, he claimed there are no records, trust him, he fufilled his responsibility, the proof being that he received an honorable discharge. When the public didn't buy that, he dumped hundreds of pages of records, which showed nothing conclusive. (His records and arrest sheet reportedly were "cleansed" of anything embarrassing before he ran for public office.) He's had years to remember and contact members of his Alabama Guard unit, to verify his claim that he showed up, but he has no names to suggest, and nobody believable has come forward. But Bush is quite happy to play dress-up soldier, and to send young men and women to fight and die and kill in Iraq and elsewhere.

The Bush Administration doesn't include the costs of war in Iraq in the defense budget; instead, it comes to Congress for "emergency" appropriations - $50 billion here, $87 billion there - to pay for that war-of-choice, and then browbeats legislators into passing those requests in the guise of "supporting the troops." (Only a share of those funds "support the troops"; the fat slice goes to "reconstruction," meaning, in practice, to huge conglomerates like Bechtel and Halliburton.) Those who don't vote for those bills know they will be smeared with the "unpatriotic" brush.

All those billions for the Iraq adventure are draining and bankrupting the national treasury, building up half a trillion dollar deficit this year (and, it is estimated, many trillions more in next seven years) that will have to be paid for somehow - but not by the wealthiest in our society, who are receiving huge tax cuts. No, that bill is being paid for by the poor and middle-class, whose public services are being cut left and right, and whose children and grandchildren will have to pay through the nose just to maintain the interest payments on that humongous debt.

This is the America I live in.

A good share of the elderly, and soon-to-be-elderly, in this country often have to face the excrutiating choice of paying the rent or buying their required medicines. The Bush Administration, knowing something had to be done before the election, concocted a half-baked Medicare drug-scheme that would permit the insurance and pharmaceutical companies to make out like bandits at the expense of true reform and aid. (Seniors no longer will be permitted to purchase those drugs legally in foreign countries, at a discount; the Medicare administration could get the drugs at a much cheaper rate if it negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies to do so, but that is now outlawed.)

Middle-class workers have paid into the Social Security system for decades, expecting to receive their Social Security checks as promised to help them through their retirement years. Now, as the Baby Boomers are about to reach retirement age, there is serious talk of cutting back on those promised payments in order to help cover the gap in income caused by the Bush Administration's wars and tax-cuts for the wealthy.

To distract us from examining Bush&Co.'s appalling record of mistakes, mismanagement, imcompetence, and the ramifications of its reckless foreign adventurism and greed-oriented domestic policy, it has become so desperate that it's chosen homosexuals as its designated scapegoat for all that ails us in this nation. If Bush&Co. have their way, gays will be written into an amended Constitution as second-class citizens, something that hasn't occurred since slavery days.

This is the America I live in.

There Is Another Country I Live In

In this country, citizens cherish the Constitutional protections afforded everyone, even those we may abhor. Our country does not attack other nations as a choice of geopolitical strategy, but only as a last resort in self-defense. The government really feels for its citizens and their daily dilemmas in getting through life, including the need for them to have safe, well-paying employment and decent health-care. The administration does not turn over pollution-control to the polluters, does not privatize away its public services, does not favor the wealthy corporate class in its tax policies. The government does not attempt to alter the Constitution to permit bias to be written into law. The leaders do not use divisiveness to push us apart but rally us to be helpful and tolerant and inclusive. The government does not attempt to keep its citizens in a constant state of fright. Teachers are permitted to teach and inspire, instead of mostly programming students for fact-based test-taking. Our foreign policy is developed in concert with our allies rather than as a sole, swaggering superpower bully enforcing its way around the globe.

That is the America I used to live in. That is the America I still want to live in. That is the America it is still possible to live in, 9/11 or not, a new pre-election terror attack or not.

The American people finally are starting to focus on the lies, duplicity, greed, arrogance, incompetence and general mean-spiritedness of Bush and his cohorts. They are not doing so just because of an upcoming election, but because those policies are doing great damage to each of us each day - to the economy, to our jobs and job-security, to our health care, to our air we breathe and water we drink, to our crumbling infrastructure, to our declining and disappearing public services, to our inadequate school systems, to our sense of ourselves as a moral, forward-looking nation.

Beware of Cornered Beasts

Bush's "re-elect" numbers are plummeting, his performance ratings are falling, his popularity is sinking. The arrogant hubris that got him to the top, and that so flummoxed his opposition for so long, is coming home to roost. He and his cronies have been found out, and they'll be bounced out - and few will mourn their going from power, not even many true conservatives, horrified at how their party has been hijacked by greedy, power-hungry neo-cons, who have turned the Administration into a take-the-money-and-run system and into a huge, Big Brotherish police-state enterprise.

But cornered snakes are the most dangerous. One can only guess at the dirty tricks and surprises that Karl Rove and his operatives have in store for the Democratic nominee, and for us as a people. But those sleazy tactics may not work as well this time. At last, Bush and his neo-con friends are wounded, and may, through the determined and persistent opposition of an aroused public, be brought down.

But these guys are not going to go easily. They fought like tigers to get installed in power, and they will fight with every weapon, legit or criminal, in their arsenal. That is why it is incumbent on each of us - liberal, conservative, moderate, independent, libertarian - to gear up, now, to help defeat the Bush&Co. crowd in November. (This assumes that in the wake of a new terrorist attack, any Bush attempt to impose martial law on the country - "postponing" the election until the "war on terror" is concluded - will be successfully resisted.)

Holding One's Nose

That means, if necessary, our willingness to vote for the Democratic candidate, even if we don't agree with certain aspects of his program. That means sending money to, and volunteering time for, whomever the Dem candidate turns out to be. That means registering as many new voters as possible in the next few months. That means pressuring the election officials in our various states and counties to disallow touch-screen computer voting until or if the software problems can be made transparent and are fixed - and until alternative machines can be purchased that provide a paper trail for verification. That means talking to friends and neighbors and colleagues about the dire situation in which we find ourselves under Bush - and, if he were to win, the even more egregious things that will transpire after the election - and the absolute need to change course.

Our country finds itself in one of those periods when the shadow forces have emerged to take us back to darker, more authoritarian and rigid times. But shafts of light are beginning to pour through more and more cracks in the Bush&Co. edifice. The force of light is coalescing across the country, and, if we do our job correctly, will aid in swinging history's pendulum away from the shadow world into a new dawn of hope and progress.

Always, our eyes have to remain on the prize: to break the back and momentum of the Bush&Co. juggernaut. Once they are out of the White House, we can work to undo all the damage they have done (and are doing right now) and set about to push for true reforms and progressive programs. We will re-light the lamps of righteousness, and illuminate the path to a better country for all.

What you are willing to do will depend on which vision of America you favor. Which America do you want to live in?

Let's get to work.


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government & international relations at various colleges, served as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers

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