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Post-Inaugural Crimes and the Progressive Posse

January 25, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

OK, so there were no electoral "anomalies" in Ohio that the public would accept as smoking-guns, no last-minute miracle that was going to block the coronation.

The reality we progressives have to face is that Bush & Co., with a compliant mainstream media in their pocket, are moving their political juggernaut full-steam ahead, not disguising in the least their reckless, rapacious agenda.

Here's a list of nine things we know about our current situation, post-Inauguration. How we progressives, liberals and moderates deal with these stomach-churning political realities will determine our future, and likely the future of our country and the globe.

1. THE NEO-CON AGENDA IS REACTIVATED

Bush's Inaugural Address, Cheney's interview with Don Imus on the same day, and the testimony of Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales at their earlier Senate confirmation hearings give clear insight into what the next four years are going to look like. To put it succinctly, not only should America expect more of the same unfolding catastrophe, but probably it'll be even worse.

In foreign affairs, Bush & Co. remain enthralled with the arrogant neo-con theories that call for America aggressively to change the world in its image, first by bullying and bribing, but, if that doesn't work, by bomb and bullet and torture. (Now that the CIA is being frozen out of the loop, Rumsfeld, who approved various torture policies, is running "black ops" from out of the Pentagon, including assassination squads - supposedly to be inserted only in foreign countries.)

Cheney rattled the sabers at the Bush Administration's next target, warning the Iranian mullahs that unless they changed course, the U.S. might not be able to prevent Israel from attacking Iran to knock out its fledgling nuclear program - and suggested that, if Israel didn't attack first and Iran continued to try to develop nuclear weapons, the U.S. might be forced to do something itself along those lines. Actually, according to the dynamite reporting of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, the U.S. already has covert teams inside Iran, choosing the targets.

Rice and Gonzales refused to disavow or criticize either the original legal memoranda okaying torture of prisoners in U.S. care, or those legal opinions providing the president with dictatorial powers. The latter memos asserted that a president acting as "commander-in-chief" during "wartime" is above the law and can rule as he sees fit, overriding Congress and the courts. (In the meantime, the U.S. continues to send its most difficult terrorist suspects to supportive countries abroad - Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Sweden, etc. - that don't have such strict anti-torture statutes.)

Bush tells us that he wants to eliminate "tyranny" of others abroad, but he allows himself the option of exercising it at home, wants to expand "freedom" abroad but constricts it at home. (Already, under the Patriot Act, he imprisoned U.S. citizens for years, with no access to attorneys, no charges; the government can "sneak & peek" into your house, or your computer, without your knowledge; can listen to your private conversations with your lawyer, etc.) No wonder so many of our former allies, and others, around the globe view the Bush Administration as the ultimate political hypocrites concerning "liberty" and "freedom" - to be feared for sure, but not respected.

2. THE RHETORIC OF "FREEDOM" & "LIBERTY"

Constantly using the focus-group tested memes of "liberty" and "freedom," Bush's Inaugural Address promised the removal of "tyrannies" and replacing them with governments of "freedom." Those terms, of course, are amorphous and elastic enough to include or exclude anyone, as you choose. Bush & Co. will do business and support authoritarian leaders like Putin in Russia, Musharraf in Pakistan (both countries possess nuclear weapons), Mubarak in Egypt, and the Communists in China, but will go after the Iranian mullahs, North Korea's Kim Il-Jung, and even try once again to overthrow the popularly-elected President, Hugo Chavez, in Venezuala, whose country - surprise! - is one of the leading oil-producers.

The lesson is that one should pay no attention to the high-sounding, idealistic phrases of political rhetoric in Bush's Inaugural Address. (Believe it or not, Bush appears actually to have read a book, Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy, and lifted whole concepts from it and inserted them into his address.) Judge the walk, not the talk; just observe the imperial ambition underlying the rhetoric, and focus on the actions of the Bush Administration that run counter to what was said.

In sum, Bush & Co. feel they can rule unimpeded because the U.S. is engaged in a state of permanent war (the "war" against an enemy that cannot be defeated, terrorism being a tactic easily carried out forever by groups of shady characters all around the globe), which state of "war," they assert, provides the political/legal cover for all their greedy, power-hungry moves, foreign and domestic.

And, they keep claiming that Bush's certification as the winner of the 2004 election means he has a "mandate" to do whatever he wants to do, and that this "mandate" indicates Americans voted to support his Iraq war policy. All this in the face of recent national polls showing the great majority of the American people are opposed, and that Bush's favorability numbers are below 50%, which almost never happens to a second-term president.

3. IRAQ & CHAOS-THEORY "VICTORY"

In the denial-of-reality world that characterizes this Administration, there was no need to mention Iraq in the Inaugural Address because Bush & Co. are moving on to the next phase of the crusade. No need to remind folks that the current war is a disaster, and that so many Americans were conned into approving it. So, like magic, the word "Iraq" suddenly disappears from the administration's vocabulary, at least for the moment.

It may sound crazy, but in important ways, the neo-cons look upon Iraq as a success, and a model for future actions in that region. Let us, in the following attempt, try to understand it from their point of view:

Sure (the neo-cons say), there is chaos and uncertainty and violence in Iraq . Which is why we can lean on and convince so many Iraqis - especially those that will assume power after their parliamentary election - to keep our troops there. "Until the situation stabilizes," our 14 major military bases in that country can be used for our own purposes, the billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts we signed with U.S. companies remain in force 'until the situation stabilizes.' Which will be the 12th of Never.

The liberals just don't understand. They tell us that our aggressive policies will upset the delicately-balanced apple cart in the rest of the Middle East, and they believe that is a terrible thing. But we and our friends stand to benefit when we upset apple carts. Chaos, as long as it doesn't get completely out of hand, is what we thrive on.* We're the only Superpower left standing, which means we are the only ones who can clean up the mess we've fostered. It's a win-win equation.

The only thing we need to be careful of is how all this plays out with Americans at home. Theoretically, they could force the Congress to gum up what we're accomplishing abroad. So we have a lot of public-relations work to do to convince them to go along - which we can do by ratcheting up the fear quotient in terms of the "war on terror" - you know, "fight them over there, so we won't have to fight them here," that kind of stuff. It can be done, as our 2004 election victory attests.

*Check out this quote from key neo-con theoretician Michael Ledeen, of the American Enterprise Institute:

"Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence - our existence, not our politics - threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission."

What can we do about this kind of thinking? Progressives should join forces with those on the Right who likewise see disaster looming ahead in Iraq unless the troops are taken out of there at the earliest possible opportunity, like the day after that country's parliamentary elections in a week or so.

4. STASIS IN PALESTINE/ISRAEL CONFLICT

Bush & Co. seem to realize that the germinating seed of worldwide Islamic terrorism is the long-festering Palestine/Israel conflict. If the U.S. could arrange an acceptable peace settlement between the warring peoples, Islamist terrorism would be without a major organizing tool.

But Bush & Co. never have seemed willing to take the next step and make such a peace settlement happen. Their unwavering support for the hard-right Likud party, as expressed for years by Ariel Sharon, means one of the combatants, Israel, more or less has a green light from America to do whatever it wishes to do with regards to the Palestinians.

Everyone knows what a fair peace settlement will look like - a viable, contiguous state for the Palestinians; a guarantee of Israel's security and right to exist; Israeli withdrawal from virtually all the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank; Jerusalem as an international city - but since the U.S. hardly ever presses Israel to make the required concessions, nothing substantative ever happens.

It's not clear that Bush & Co. will change their attitude now. Besides, keeping the Middle East pot on the boil, without a permanent solution, makes American power and influence all the more important in that region of the world.

I would love to be wrong about this - that Bush seriously is going to engage on this issue - but I'll believe it when I see it.

5. SLICING AWAY AT "LIBERTY"

Control abroad for Bush & Co. goes hand in hand with control at home. The militarization of the Inauguration in Washington, D.C. - having thousands of uniformed soldiers protecting The Leader, which role traditionally falls to the police and Secret Service - is a prelude. Even more worrisome is the illegal inclusion of Army Commandos in the mix. Add into this mix the government-ordered, Orwellian-titled "Free Speech Zones," at the Inauguration and elsewhere across the country, where protesters often are herded and contained behind fences or barbed wire.

In addition, Ashcroft complained that the Justice Department didn't have enough police powers under the Patriot Act, and needed more. The Administration originally drafted Patriot Act 2, but since it was getting so much flack about the extremist parts of Patriot Act 1 - from conservative Republicans as well as from liberal Democrats - it decided on a stealth approach instead. Patriot Act 2 was broken into smaller bits and, one by one, they've been attached to bills that will have little trouble being approved, trying to sneak them through while few are noticing.

In short, as part of Bush & Co.'s permanent state of war, our liberties are being sliced away, bit by bit, all in the name of "national security" and "anti-terrorism." Watch what you say and what you read and what you report and what causes you support.

Of course, if you place tongue firmly in cheek, it all makes a certain logical sense; Bush keeps telling us that Al Qaida hates us for our freedoms; getting rid of our freedoms would give the terrorists less to hate us for. (Don't get me wrong; there are Bad Guys out there, and we need to protect ourselves, but there's no need to destroy the Constitution in order to save it.)

6. THE BUNKER MENTALITY

Because of Bush & Co.'s fantasy way of thinking, its inner-core members cannot and do not trust those not fully on board. Colin Powell tells Bush the truth, that the Iraq War is going badly, and he's out; Army General Shinseki, who said publicly prior to the full Occupation that the U.S. would need several hundred thousand troops in Iraq, is "retired"; CIA analysts who are not 100% Bush loyalists are purged. The inner circle of those who can be trusted to toe the line grows smaller and tighter. Cheney leads the way, and key Cabinet positions are filled with co-conspirator toadies (Rice, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Hadley), who will protect The Leader at all costs. See "Bush Heads for the Bunker."

This would all be cause for mild alarm, and lots of late-night TV humor, except that Bush policies are resulting in tens of thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians being killed and wounded; our treasury is being depleted and burdened with trillions in debt (even in "wartime," no sacrifice is asked of those who can afford to pay more; instead, the tiniest sliver of the truly wealthy get enormous tax breaks); our infrastructure and social services are hurting badly for funds and attention; our air and water protections are compromised, and huge sections of our natural environnment effectively are being turned over to the polluters.

7. BUSH'S DESTRUCTIVE "REFORMS"

Domestically, Bush wants to concentrate on a few key issues - Social Security "reform," and tort "reform" - and get them passed quickly, before a large opposition has the chance to form. In both cases, the goal is to emasculate and ultimately destroy initiatives that give citizens more power to improve the quality of their lives.

Similar to way in which Bush & Co. cooked the facts and conned the Congress and American people into supporting the invasion of Iraq, the battle to "reform" (read: decimate) Social Security is hyping the "need for immediate action" to solve a supposed "crisis," by taking money out of this highly successful, popular program in order to permit younger workers to buy into the stock market. There is a need for some fixes to Social Security, for sure, but there is plenty of time to think through and come up with those bi-partisan fixes in the decades before any anticipated genuine "crisis."

On tort "reform": The public long has had the right to sue corporations, HMOs, malpracticing physicians, etc., that have done them wrong, and benefit from jury awards of punitive damages for pain and suffering. The Bush plan would put a low cap on such awards; this would aid those being sued - who, surprise! - tend to be conservative Republicans - and might well reduce the number of such civil lawsuits. A side benefit of such low caps on monetary awards would be to discourage trial lawyers (who tend to support the Democratic party) from taking those cases.

8. URGENT: BACK TO PAPER BALLOTS

It's clear that the Bush Administration and the GOP in general - with the exception of a goodly number of traditional Republican conservatives and moderates - have no desire to repair our broken electoral system. They have benefitted from the slipshod way elections are held in the various states and counties, which, stated baldly, is an open invitation to fraud and corruption. So why would they want to go along with serious electoral reform?

That conclusion is unsurprising. What is unexpected is that the Democrats, the party one would think would be in the forefront of electoral reform, is, as usual, asleep at the wheel. Whether they wake up quickly, to demand major change before the 2006 midterm election, also will tell us whether they're serious about being a combative Opposition.

What kind of reform am I talking about? At the very least:

a. Make it illegal for partisan officials to be in charge of partisan elections. The examples of Florida's Katherine Harris in 2000, and Ohio's Kenneth Blackwell in 2004 - both were chairs of their respective state's Bush/Cheney Campaign while they served as Secretary of State in charge of elections - provide the best case for reform. The election for the office of Secretary of State in the various states should be non-partisan; those actively engaged in campaign work should be barred from holding that position.

b. Use the voting system utilized by a good share of advanced countries (Canada, many in Europe and elsewhere) that makes fraud virtually impossible: paper ballots, hand-counted, with outside monitors and observers from each political party carefully checking the tallying of the votes. True, it takes a bit longer to get the final results, but everyone knows the vote is accurate and, equally as important, verifiable.

There is no integrity to our current voting system. The same few corporations that provide the voting machines, in this case Republican-supporting companies, also provide the secret software; the companies' technicians often show up to "adjust" the machines and to provide last-minute "patches" to the vote-counting software; for the most part, no verifiable paper receipt is provided, even though these companies also manufacture ATM machines that automatically provide receipts. In addition, it has been demonstated how super-easy it is for any knowledgable hacker to gain access to the vote-counting computers, alter the software, and exit without even leaving a trace of the tampering.

In short, our system is badly broken, easily compromised, and probably has been manipulated in at least two of the three previous national elections. The only cure is to shut it down, and go back to paper ballots at least until the bugs and tampering possibilities are seriously dealt with and repaired. Unless we make our elections honest - with automatic prison terms for electoral felonies - none of our other initiatives will pay off fully.

9. DEMOCRAT RENAISSANCE OR WIMP-OUT?

The Democrats have been exhibiting nascent signs of growing a spine - a few of their more courageous members have taken on Rice, Gonzales, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush. But, as a party in general, they're still enablers of the worst aspects of Bush Administration policy; they jabbed and parried and even landed a haymaker or two on Rice and Gonzales, for example, but then backed off. They vote to ratify nominees for office such as those named above when, in truth, those Administration leaders should be in the federal docks for various felony offenses, and at Nuremberg or Brussels to answer for their war crimes.

I don't think I'm alone among progressives who are willing to grant the incoming Democratic leadership a bit of time to prove themselves as capable of mounting a true Opposition to Bush & Co. policies. A key test will come with whom they select as their National Party Chairman, and whether they stick together to oppose Gonzales and Rice when the Senate votes on their nominations in a week or so.

When the far-right decades ago decided they were marginalized within their own Republican party home and had no chance to ever gain control of the levers of power in this country, they spent years, lots of energy and much money to slowly and then quickly take over their party. Progressives are in a similar position today.

We progressives are providing the energy, campaign troops and much money to the Democrats, but we are, and have been, set off to the side when it comes to exercising control of the party's direction. It seems clear that we have to be ready for the fight of our lives to retake the Democratic party and remold it into a genuine Opposition, with bold and creative ideas that will lure more voters to the cause - especially those who've opted out of the process because they're fed up with wimpy responses to Bush outrages.

I think it's worth the fight. And that the time is right for such a fight. And that it's possible we could win, and could use the massive outpouring of energy, especially by younger activists, in building over time the necessary political infrastructure (media, think tanks, etc.) to change our society for the better. George Soros and friends seem committed to spending millions in this effort, which is a good sign, since they got burned badly in the 2004 campaign.

What have we got to lose? If we do nothing, we're aquiescing to Bush & Co. atrocities, and will have blood (and the screams of those tortured) on our hands as more thousands die in the Administration's imperial adventuring abroad. If we lose the Dem fight, we always have the option to consider joining others who are disenchanted with the status quo to found a new, dynamic third party - one not crafted for total ideological purity but one that has a real shot of winning and affecting national policy.

It's time to saddle up and join the progressive posse for peace and justice.

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

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