Politics: May 2003 Archives

At the time I posted the May 26 item about the separation wall being built by the Israelis I was unable to locate good images. I have those now.

See these three images of the wall in the area around the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya, and for seven more, and a better sense of the size of this monster, scroll to the bottom of this page of photographs from a protest camp at the wall.

[thanks to Anees]

Joan Chittister, OSB, writes in the National Catholic Reporter, "Is There Anything Left That Matters?"

Her honest dismay means that she expects the question will be answered.

This is what I don't understand: All of a sudden nothing seems to matter.

First, they said they wanted Bin Laden "dead or alive." But they didn't get him. So now they tell us that it doesn't matter. Our mission is greater than one man.

Then they said they wanted Saddam Hussein, "dead or alive." He's apparently alive but we haven't got him yet, either. However, President Bush told reporters recently, "It doesn't matter. Our mission is greater than one man."

Finally, they told us that we were invading Iraq to destroy their weapons of mass destruction. Now they say those weapons probably don't exist. Maybe never existed. Apparently that doesn't matter either.

Except that it does matter.

I know we're not supposed to say that. I know it's called "unpatriotic."

But it's also called honesty. And dishonesty matters.

And here's the part that relates to scripture, but it doesn't have to be considered more than a literary device to work its power:
We like to take comfort in the notion that people make a distinction between our government and ourselves. We like to say that the people of the world love Americans, they simply mistrust our government. But excoriating a distant and anonymous "government" for wreaking rubble on a nation in pretense of good requires very little of either character or intelligence.

What may count most, however, is that we may well be the ones Proverbs warns when it reminds us: "Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks the truth." The point is clear: If the people speak and the king doesn't listen, there is something wrong with the king. If the king acts precipitously and the people say nothing, something is wrong with the people.

It may be time for us to realize that in a country that prides itself on being democratic, we are our government. And the rest of the world is figuring that out very quickly.

From where I stand, that matters.

One of today's top stories on Reuters shows us that all is going according to plan (see the post below):

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday denied suppressing a report that projects the U.S. government faces a long-term budget deficit of more than $44 trillion.

White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels said the allegation was "probably the most absurd thing that I can imagine."

However, he said the looming costs of Social Security and Medicare, which make up most of the forecast gap between government income and spending, were an important issue. [my italics]

"This is a very legitimate point," he said.

The news wire article is largely about the administration's deliberate deceit of Congress and the nation, but when we read Daniels' statement we end up tripping over the larger agenda - the destruction of all social programs other than those which subsidize the super rich.

While the sober American Enterprise Institute study (commissioned by Bush's then-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill) which is the subject of the story describes a budget imbalance of $44.2 trillion, which according to Reuters is "astronomical even by the standards of U.S. federal government accounting," the article ends with this shocking reference to its numerical scale:

For this fiscal year, the government's cash shortfall is widely expected to be more than $300 billion while accumulated debt from previous budget deficits stands at around $6.4 trillion.
Remember, there was a big Congressional celebration[see photo] in the White House yesterday when the tax cut was signed. We know we can't expect social responsibility from Republicans or now even from Democrats, but fiscal responsibility was the only thing of which Republicans could legitimately boast for most of the party's history. That of course was before the club became just a hangout for greedy thugs.

Their cover is finally blown. It's now in the NYTimes - an explanation for the idiocy of the Bush administration's economic policy, one which is dominated by an $800-billion-plus tax cut delivered to the super-rich in the midst of soaring budgets. The truth should already have been obvious, but the political opposition and the (American) media hasn't put it forward.

The secret? The cost of the tax bill is so large that the nation won't be able to fulfill its obligations to essential, popular programs which have been with us for up to seventy years, and that is precisely the idea behind the policy.

The Financial Times [which Paul Krugman's Times piece describes accurately as "traditionally the voice of solid British business opinion"] suggests that "more extreme Republicans" actually want a fiscal train wreck: "Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door."

Good for The Financial Times. It seems that stating the obvious has now, finally, become respectable.

It's no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration's policies might actually be driven by those ideologues — that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut — was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.

Yet by pushing through another huge tax cut in the face of record deficits, the administration clearly demonstrates either that it is completely feckless, or that it actually wants a fiscal crisis. (Or maybe both.)

Krugman cautions Americans not to continue to underestimate the fiscal and political dangers.
But the people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need. The Financial Times, it seems, now understands what's going on, but when will the public wake up?
Bush himself may indeed be "feckless," as I've always argued, but I believe there are interests in the White House which know exactly what they are doing.

The Israeli government has a "road map" of its own.

After 11 months of work, Israel is close to completing a first phase of a barrier to wall off most of the West Bank. Israel's government says the barrier - which includes fences, walls, barbed wire, patrol roads and a deep ditch - is meant to stop Palestinian militants from attacking Israel.

But the fence does not follow the "Green Line," the internationally recognized frontier between Israel and the West Bank lands it occupied in the 1967 war. Rather, the barrier slices through Palestinian villages and farms, cutting off about 10 percent of the West Bank. A World Bank report this month said a finished barrier could leave 95,000 Palestinians trapped in walled enclaves.

While Israeli officials defend the route of the fence, saying it is defined solely by security needs, they also acknowledge that it sometimes veers off the Green Line to incorporate Jewish settlements on what is generally considered Palestinian land.

The United States is pushing a "road map" to peace that envisions settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians. The Israeli cabinet approved the plan, with reservations, yesterday, and the Palestinians have already backed it.

But the far more effective and concrete step toward resolving the conflict - on Israeli terms - is the fence, many Palestinians, Israelis and scholars say. Palestinians say it is a step toward seizing more West Bank land and thus preventing a viable Palestinian state. The fence will separate Palestinian border communities from their lands, work and relatives, residents say, and thus tend to drive them farther east into the West Bank.

Of course these horrible fences, walls, barbed wire, patrol roads and deep ditches, have already been seen for months in news photos widely-distributed around the world. The images are rarely seen in the U.S., but the constructions are represented in today's Newsday [print edition only] sketches, and it all looks exactly like a concentration camp perimeter. Yes, Sharon has reservations.

Oh, and the ghetto, er, camp, er, reservation or dog-run is to be only .07392 of the territory belonging to the Palestinians in 1947. See Jonathan Cook's, "A Cage For Palestinians."

Israel is also preparing a second, similarly tortuous wall near the eastern border of the West Bank, which it shares with Jordan, that will steal even more land from the Palestinians and offers no obvious security benefits.
.
After the wall is finished, at a cost of more than $2 billion, the Palestinians will live in two minuscule states behind concrete and electrified fencing, restricted to their main population centers. Thousands of rural Palestinians will live outside the West Bank cage in military controlled zones, denied rights as citizens of either Palestine or Israel. The rest will live inside the prison. Palestine will finally be born from 42 percent of 80 percent of 22 percent of the historic Palestinian homeland.

Update, May 31: I've now located some decent photo images of the wall where it is nearly complete. See this post.

I've found the phrase which describes my present political posture. "Accidental anarchist." It's an interesting development for a democrat.

In "The Big Chill," a piece which appears only in the print edition of the current The Nation, Alisa Solomon examines the erosion of our right of dissent. In the article Gerald Horne, a professor at the University of North Carolina, tries to explain the demoralization of American youth in this environment where any opposition seems downright futile. He says we have been all been left accidental anarchists, with "no electoral vehicle through which to express dissent." This is the consequence of the reconfiguration of our judiciary by decades of Reagan-Bush, the failure of the opposition party to rise to the occasion and [my addition] the disaster of a compliant mainstream press.

Solomon comes close to despair herself. While recalling the chants heard in the February and March demonstrations, "This is what democracy looks like," she warns:

But that can't be all that democracy looks like. It takes powerful civic institutions to provide checks and balances, meaningful enfranchisement and vigorous open debate to make democracy function.

. . . .

Historically, civil libeties have sprung back to full force when hot or cold wars have ended, thanks in large part to the perseverance, or the resuscitation, of the press, the courts and the opposition party. But in an open-ended "war on terrorism," the day when danger passes may never come. Even if it does, the democratic muscle of the courts, the press and the opposition party - already failing so miserably to flex themselves - may be too atrophied to do the heavy lifting needed to restore our fundamental rights and freedoms.

So, is anarchy to be our last refuge now that the U.S. has discarded democracy?

It's a war on colored folk.

A 57-year-old Harlem woman preparing to leave for her longtime city government job died of a heart attack yesterday morning after police officers broke down her door and threw a concussion grenade into her apartment [at 6 am], the police commissioner said. They were acting on what appeared to be bad information about guns and drugs in the apartment.
Commissioner Ray Kelly apologized to the woman's family, and the NYTimes article says, "Neighbors and several elected officials questioned the department's tactics."

But this obscene tragedy is not about police tactics, and it's not about strategy. It's about the so-called "war" itself. It's about an ill-conceived moral crusade which became a racist boondoggle. There is no war on drugs. There is only repression of the powerless.

Had Alberta Spruill the sense to be white and to live in a more prosperous neighborhood, she'd be alive today, regardless of whether her neighbors bought or sold drugs not manufactured by our major corporations. People on my own block operate in markets both legal and illegal, but the constabulary doesn't throw grenades at them.

Some worry about the nation's movement toward a police state, while overlooking the police city we already have.

Emmaia Gelman, like many of us, has had first hand experience with New York City police assaults on dissent, but she's doing something about it.

Last week I went to jail. Just for a day - it was a little message from the New York Police Department: Dissenter, beware. I had been demonstrating at the Bureau of Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement (formerly known as the INS) alongside activists from immigrant and minority groups.

We were protesting the government's new special registration requirement for Muslim immigrants, a big-brother mechanism not seen since the government decided that Japanese-Americans were "dangerous persons" in 1942. Under this new policy, some registrants who've checked into the bureau have been unable to check out - they've been caught up in what is called "administrative detention," where they have no date for release or trial.

So last Monday, 42 of us sat down to block the doors through which so many have disappeared. Civil disobedience: a small, time-honored gesture of objection. We sat on the ground with arms linked. Police threw us onto our stomachs, planted boots in our backs and wrenched our limbs in directions they're not supposed to go. Our wrists were cinched with plastic cuffs until our arms were blue.

At the precinct we gave fingerprints and identification to our arresting officers, and were marched out singly for intelligence-gathering interviews. Cops had written up summonses for about a third of us when the process suddenly ground to a halt. No more tickets were issued, so we spent the next 31 hours in jail, waiting to be arraigned on minor charges, such as disorderly conduct, which rarely send people to prison even if convicted. Could that be legal?

No. Last year the city paid me and 13 other New Yorkers $469,000 in damages for a similar violation of our rights.

Yet the city seems to accept these and other court damages, for which over $5 million is budgeted this year alone, as just the cost of doing the business of a police city-state.
These are the practices of a police force actively chilling dissent, deliberately raising the cost of protest from hours to days.

Activists had hoped that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would not perpetuate the expensive failed policies of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, especially if the city faces such an enormous budget crunch. Giuliani's trademark dissent-squelching practices are under scrutiny in federal court - again. The NYPD is litigating another set of "punishment of dissent" lawsuits, this time facing off against me and nearly 400 other protesters illegally detained between 1999 and 2001. Once again we find ourselves in court to make the cops respect civil rights.

There's no sign that the NYPD plans to pull back from the national trend of assaults on dissent. Worse, it seems to be gambling that the current lawsuit will yield a new legal precedent allowing the NYPD simply to preempt the First Amendment. The city already faces a raft of new lawsuits arising from anti-war demonstrations and protests against the targeting of Muslims, Arabs and immigrants. The NYPD is already charged with false arrest of protesters and bystanders, excessive detention, violence against demonstrators and curtailing protest rights. The Bush administration isn't finished making war on selected enemies for political ends, or forking out billions in war contracts to its corporate friends. And the Republican Convention is just around the corner.

So there's a lot of dissent yet to be repressed. And the price of protest keeps rising. How long before we just can't afford to speak out?

If the city goes to trial and successfully spins protesters as a "threat to homeland security," it can get 400 litigants off its back and at the same time muzzle the right to speak out. Unchastened by the millions of dollars paid so far to protesters abused on Giuliani's watch (more than $1 million for the Matthew Shepard and Diallo protests alone), the Bloomberg administration seems willing to do the same. The city's lawsuit payout budget has been increasing annually. For 2003, they've budgeted $5.2 million. Of course, not all of it is for paying off protesters, but certainly a more constitutional policy regarding the right to free speech would save the city money. Then maybe it could be funding libraries and schools instead of jails.

Reagan came from Hollywood (in fact, he never left it), Bush Senior picked a Hollywood face for a vice-president, Clinton had beds filled with Hollywood chums, but Junior Bush has converted the White House into a movie trailer production company.

See the front page article in the NYTimes today, "Keepers of Bush Image Lift Stagecraft to New Heights," and don't miss the handy slideshow.

George W. Bush's "Top Gun" landing on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln will be remembered as one of the most audacious moments of presidential theater in American history. But it was only the latest example of how the Bush administration, going far beyond the foundations in stagecraft set by the Reagan White House, is using the powers of television and technology to promote a presidency like never before.
Or, for a serious look at the consequences of theatrical artifice in government, read Krugman's column, "Paths Of Glory."
The central dogma of American politics right now is that George W. Bush, whatever his other failings, has been an effective leader in the fight against terrorism. But the more you know about the state of the world, the less you believe that dogma. The Iraq war, in particular, did nothing to make America safer — in fact, it did the terrorists a favor.

. . . .

The administration's antiterror campaign makes me think of the way television studios really look. The fancy set usually sits in the middle of a shabby room, full of cardboard and duct tape. Networks take great care with what viewers see on their TV screens; they spend as little as possible on anything off camera.

If anyone asks for proof of the administration's cynicism and incompetence, look into the story of the looting of Iraqi nuclear waste dumps we didn't bother to secure. Bloggy describes the facts and the links.

See Bloggy again for the story behind the story of "saving Private Lynch," the most outrageous White House stunt to date.

Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable meaning is nothing but an instrument for the attainment of the government's ambitious and mercenary aims, and a renunciation of human dignity, common sense, and conscience by the governed, and a slavish submission to those who hold power. That is what is really preached wherever patriotism is championed. Patriotism is slavery.

- Leo Tolstoi, Christianity and Patriotism (1894)

[thanks to David Budbill]

A sober reading of the contemporary American political scene, from Sheldon Wolin in The Nation this week.

The increasing power of the state and the declining power of institutions intended to control it has been in the making for some time. The party system is a notorious example. The Republicans have emerged as a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority. As Republicans have become more ideologically intolerant, the Democrats have shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-minded constituencies to embrace centrism and footnote the end of ideology. In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party the Democrats have smoothed the road to power of a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home. Bear in mind that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.

Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media's reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic.


Fascism

From Britannica Concise:

Fascism: Philosophy of government that stresses the primacy and glory of the state, unquestioning obedience to its leader, subordination of the individual will to the state's authority, and harsh suppression of dissent. Martial virtues are celebrated, while liberal democratic values are denigrated. 20th-cent. fascism arose partly out of fear of the rising power of the lower classes and differed from contemporary communism (as practiced under J. Stalin) by its protection of the corporate and landowning powers and preservation of a class system.

Today [actually it was yesterday] our intrepid columnist asks the question: Why is the BBC generally regarded here, in Britain and around the world as a critical and impartial source of news, while the American media is considered a flag-waving cheering section for a regime?

A funny thing happened during the Iraq war: many Americans turned to the BBC for their TV news. They were looking for an alternative point of view — something they couldn't find on domestic networks, which, in the words of the BBC's director general, "wrapped themselves in the American flag and substituted patriotism for impartiality."

Leave aside the rights and wrongs of the war itself, and consider the paradox. The BBC is owned by the British government, and one might have expected it to support that government's policies. In fact, however, it tried hard — too hard, its critics say — to stay impartial. America's TV networks are privately owned, yet they behaved like state-run media.

After discussing the paradox, Paul Krugman concludes his column with a warning.
We don't have censorship in this country; it's still possible to find different points of view. But we do have a system in which the major media companies have strong incentives to present the news in a way that pleases the party in power, and no incentive not to.

For those who wish to contact Reza, this is the best email address for the purpose: rbaluchi@yahoo.com

And no, I don't think he's running with a cellular modem, but I'm pretty sure he'll get your message eventually.

Now that we've started three wars, destroyed any hope for our own security or that of any part of the planet, can we please listen to a question first asked September 11, 2001? And that is, "how did this happen?"

The White House has never been interested in the question, and to this day it has done all that it could to silence any person or institution which was.

In fact, NEWSWEEK has learned, President Bush’s chief lawyer has privately signaled that the White House may seek to invoke executive privilege over key documents relating to the attacks in order to keep them out of the hands of investigators for the National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States—the independent panel created by Congress to probe all aspects of 9-11.
What may be a coverup with enormous political and national security consequences might finally be about to unravel.
Sen. Bob Graham on Sunday accused the Bush administration of engaging in a "coverup" of intelligence failures before and after the Sept. 11 attacks to shield it from embarrassment, and said the war with Iraq has allowed Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to become a greater threat to Americans than ever before.

[Cursor, in its "Media Patrol" column today, assembled the two links included in this post.]

Reza Baluchi has now left Los Angeles, and this time he's travelling on foot on his long journey to New York City.

So this morning, Mr. Baluchi began the fulfillment of that jailhouse promise. Wearing new shorts, new running shoes and a bad haircut, he said he carried no hard feelings, no chips on his shoulder, only a knapsack filled with a tent and reflective vest, nylon leggings, a sleeping bag, food, water and an A.T.M. card.

"I go by I self," he said in self-taught English. "New York. Everybody wait me there. Soon. Soon. I come. Peace. No war. American people very good."

New York City has spent $1 billion on antiterrorism efforts since the Sept. 11 attacks. But the city says it has yet to receive a dollar of antiterrorism money from the federal government. Washington has provided millions to help clean up the damage. But an estimated $44 million in antiterrorism money now in the pipeline has apparently not reached New York, the city that bore the brunt of the most disastrous terrorism strike in American history.
So begins an editorial in the NYTimes today. The remainder of the argument is basically an indictment of the cynical political calculations which continue to determine the disbursal of antiterrorism funds.
It is a flawed formula, which seems to focus less on places directly threatened by terrorism than on areas that are of importance in next year's election. City officials figure that compared with New York City's $44 million, North Carolina will get $51 million, Ohio $64 million and Florida over $86 million. On a per capita basis, the latest allocation gives New York State residents about $3 per person, while Iowa gets $6 and Wyoming $22. Certainly these states need resources to combat terrorism, but it is hard to argue that they stand as high as New York, Washington or Los Angeles on Al Qaeda's potential hit list.
See an earlier post for more on the heavy defense responsibilities of the federal government as spelled out in the Constitution.

The Iranian cyclist arrested and held by our immigration authorities for about four months this winter is now in California and about to begin his last sprint to New York City, completing an odyssey of six years.

The short message below, which probably went to an enormous number of friends and supporters, doesn't indicate whether he will be running on foot, as he had earlier indicated he would, or on the two wheels which have carried him around the world.

Hello everyone,

Everything is fine with me. I left Phoenix on Sunday,
April 27th and rode to Los Angeles and I am staying
with a new friend, Dave Hyslop in Marina del Rey,
California.

On May 11th (Mother's Day) I will start the final leg
of my journey and travel to Ground Zero in New York
City.

Your suport has meant so much to me - thank you!

Sincerely,

Reza Baluchi

The entire text of a letter in this week's The Nation:

Skokie, Ill.

With the shooting over and the oilwells rescued from a despotic regime, it's time to consider what posterity will think. An illegitimate President wages an illegal war, hijacks the Bill of Rights and raids the Treasury on behalf of those who already have too much - and a strange silence emanates from the organs of democracy. No debate in Congress, not even token opposition from the "opposition party" and shamefully little real reporting from our "embedded" echo-chamber media. As the Administration executes its program of aggression abroad and repression at home, sheepish acquiescence is the order of the day. What label will historians give this not-so-brave world of ours? May I suggest The Gelded Age?

Hugh Iglarsh

I care less about posterity's opinion than our own, and I'm bothered by the chauvinist tint in what the writer proposes as a description of our age [The magazine's editors themselves headlined the letter, OR, 'THE GUILTY AGE ?'], but Mr. Iglarsh does have the story right.

The Bush administration and leading Senate Republicans were defeated (this time) in a rather sneaky attempt to introduce the C.I.A. and the Pentagon into domestic surveilance.

The proposal, which was beaten back, would have given the C.I.A. and the military the authority to issue administrative subpoenas — known as "national security letters" — requiring Internet providers, credit card companies, libraries and a range of other organizations to produce materials like phone records, bank transactions and e-mail logs. That authority now rests largely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the subpoenas do not require court approval.

The surprise proposal was tucked into a broader intelligence authorization bill now pending before Congress.

. . . .

[Democrats and civil liberties advocates] said that while the F.B.I. was subject to guidelines controlling what agents are allowed to do in the course of an investigation, the C.I.A. and the military appeared to have much freer reign. The F.B.I. also faces additional scrutiny if it tries to use such records in court, but officials said the proposal could give the C.I.A. and the military the power to gather such material without ever being subject to judicial oversight.

The proposed measure went well beyond the notorious provisions of the so-called "Patriot Act II" being considered by the Justice Department.

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