The Velvet Banana, Part
One: The Coup d'etat of 2000
November 21, 2001
by Jack Rabbit
This is America, not a banana republic.
In banana republics, dictators often come to power through a coup d'etat in which the previous government is deposed. This usually involves the army sending tanks into the streets of the capital and aiming their barrels either at the presidential palace or the legislative house and declaring the strongman of the junta to be the new president. Afterwards, the new president calls elections in which he is a candidate; assuming that there is a strong opposition candidate who has not been assassinated or fled into exile, this election is quite likely to be rigged. Thus does the president stay in power.
Once in a great while, there is a coup - not necessarily in a banana republic - that is executed successfully without violence or threat or violence, for example the fall of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia in 1989. This phenomenon is called a velvet coup.
The US presidential election of 2000 came down to one state: Florida. On election night, the networks on the basis of exit polling first called the state a narrow win for Gore, then called it for Bush, then said it was too close to call. The election was not settled for 36 days and was settled for Bush in a manner that has left a bad taste in the mouths of many who voted for Gore.
Some would say that this election has not yet been settled.
When the US Supreme Court halted the recount process on December 12 in a ruling that gave the White House to Bush, a consortium of news organizations hired the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) to conduct a thorough recount of all disputed ballots in the state of Florida to determine under several different scenarios and criteria of counting the ballot who would have won had such a recount taken place. Last week, the results were released and the winner is: well, in some scenarios Bush won and in others Gore won.
About two weeks before the release of the NORC recount, New York-based investigative journalist Greg Palast, who did extensive research into the Florida election, predicted that the recount would "seem conflicting and useless." It appears that Mr. Palast is right.
However, there is more wrong with the election of 2000 conducted in Florida than the NORC recount could reveal. NORC shows that Gore would have won a statewide recount by a only few dozen votes out of six million cast, but that Bush would have won by two to five hundred votes had the four-county recount sought by Gore proceeded. However, even if NORC had showed that Bush would have held on to his tainted three-digit victory in all scenarios, the truth remains that the election was stolen. Had the election been free and fair, Al Gore would today be the President of the United States and his margin of victory would most likely have been sufficient to preclude the need for a recount.
The election drama in Florida can be divided into pre-election and post-election parts. Both parts of the drama show that the Republicans planned and executed a banana republic-style election theft with such agility that one would think that Florida has been a third-world dictatorship under their rule for decades. The post-election drama is the one that gets the most attention, but the nefarious pre-election activities of the Florida election officials are what made all the difference.
Nevertheless, it is helpful to give a broad overview of the facts of the post-election fiasco in which Gore nearly upset the Republicans' plans in spite of all their craft and care.
Those dedicated to the principles of democratic government are rightly offended by the Republicans' post-election strategy. With the final tally within the statistical margin of error, Gore asked for a recount. However, Florida election laws being what they were last year (they have been revised this year), Gore chose to ask for a recount in just four counties, all of which had documented problems on election day and all of which have a history of voting more heavily Democratic than the state as a whole.
The Republicans screamed foul and said it was unfair that Gore should be able to pick and choose what counties should be recounted. Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the chief elections officer for the state of Florida, imposed a strict November 14 deadline to the counties to complete the votes. She claimed the law gave her no choice, but the law in fact gave her discretion that she chose not to exercise. That she chose not to exercise discretion and give the counties a more reasonable amount of time to complete a recount - and of course we have her solemn word for this - had nothing to do with the fact she is a Republican or the fact that she was the state co-chair of the Bush campaign. After all, she is just a professional doing the job that she was elected to do and this is America, not a banana republic.
The Gore campaign went to court and got the deadline extended to November 26. The GOP mobilized its troops by getting their spinmasters to denounce the recount as "inventing votes" and actually accused the Gore campaign of attempting to steal the election. The Republican argument was truly Orwellian: counting votes is stealing an election.
Meanwhile, the office of the registrar of voters in Miami-Dade County had some visitors on November 22 while counting disputed ballots. This was a group of clean-cut white men wearing white shirts and neckties demanding to be let in to the area where the votes were being counted. One official was kicked and beaten in the elevator by the mob after he placed his sample ballot in his pocket. That this was part of the procedure and that the official was called a thief and beaten showed that the mob either did not understand the procedures of the recount or did not care. The registrar determined that the vote recount could not go forward under such conditions and canceled the recount. It is also known that a Republican member of Congress, John Sweeney of New York, was outside the registrar's office at the time and gave orders over a cellular phone to someone inside to "shut it down."
On November 27, the Washington Post reported some interesting facts about the mob ("Fla Recounts Prompts an Outpouring of GOP Activism", p. A9). Many were from out-of-state and told reporters that the Republican National Committee had paid for their travel, room and board. Furthermore, the Post identified two members of the Miami mob as Congressional staffers: Tom Pyle, an aide to House Republican whip Tom DeLay; and Doug Heye, a spokesman for California GOP Congressman Richard Pombo. Could it be that there was mob violence organized to interfere with and intimidate election officials doing their duty? This is America, not a banana republic.
The deadline came without the four counties able to complete their recounts. They turned their partial results in to Secretary of State Harris, who then certified these incomplete results as complete and accurate. Al Gore had no choice but to go to court to force a recount.
The court battle was on. The Republicans asserted that the election was over the minute Katherine Harris certified results she knew to be incomplete and inaccurate to be complete and accurate and awarded Florida's twenty-five electoral votes to Bush. Gore offered to have the entire state recounted, but the Republicans continued to claim that the election was over.
For the next several days and weeks, the Bush and Gore campaigns fought not for the hearts and minds of voters, but judges. The operative date looming was December 17, when the Florida state legislature would meet in special session to officially name the electors. The Bush camp felt that if they could delay matters until then, the state legislature, dominated by GOP majorities, would simply award the electors to Bush regardless of whether they knew the results of the election or, if they did know, without regard to what it was.
When the Florida State Supreme Court ordered the recount to proceed, Bush spokesman James Baker angrily denounced the order and suggested that the legislature should simply step in and give the electors to Bush. If that didn't work, the Republicans had one more trick up their sleeves: if the voters of Florida were to award a set of electors to Gore and the legislature a set to Bush, then, under the complicated provisions of the Twelfth Amendment, the House of Representatives in Washington would resolve the dispute.
Under the Constitutional rules and given the make up of the House, Republicans would be able to award the Florida vote to Bush. House Republican Whip Tom DeLay chortled at the possibility. In none of this did any Republican express any concern about the completeness or accuracy of the incomplete and inaccurate count that Ms. Harris had certified as complete and accurate.
All this was brought to a halt on December 12, when the United States Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision supported by an intellectually dishonest opinion written per curium, stopped the recount process. Bush was certified the winner of the Florida election by 537 votes. The velvet coup was complete and successful.
However, this coup did not start on election night, but long before. It was a calculated crime, not a mere crime of opportunity. Greg Palast, who, as mentioned earlier, has done a great deal of work researching the Florida election, has paid special attention to the pre-election part of the drama. His work on the election may be found on his website.
Palast tells how Ms. Harris and Florida's Republican Governor, Jeb Bush, brother of the candidate, sought to purge the rolls of potential Democrats voters. Although Florida is one of several states that prohibit convicted felons from voting; however, Florida's state courts have ruled that those convicted of felonies in other states and served their sentences cannot be prevented from voting in Florida.
Nevertheless, Palast shows, Ms. Harris and Governor Bush ordered state and county agencies to deny registration to such voters. Next, Ms. Harris hired Database Technologies, a firm with ties to the Republican Party, to find such voters already registered and purge them. However, it didn't stop there. DBT also provided a list of names to Harris of voters who may have been convicted of felonies in other states.
Although DBT claimed to have cautioned Harris about the potential accuracy of the list, Harris sent the list on to the counties to purge their rolls. One county registrar threw out the list when she found her own name on it. Other counties used the list to purge voters. We now know that many people on the list were never convicted of felonies in any state.
Palast estimates that in this way the state of Florida illegally purged tens of thousands of voters. Since the list at least partly ties to arrest records to the voter rolls, one might well guess that a high percentage of the names on the list were of Afro-American voters. As anyone who knows anything at all about voting profiles knows, nine black voters out of ten vote Democratic.
Thus, the list was a deliberate attempt to purge potential Democratic votes from the rolls. How many votes would Al Gore have netted from these wrongly purged voters? Probably a lot more than 537. Purging voter rolls? This is America, not a banana republic. Or maybe it has become a banana republic after all. The election was stolen.
What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
First of all, we see that the post-election Republican strategy was based on the Byzantine Constitutional process for electing the President. That can be remedied very easily. Write your Congressman and tell him or her that you want a Constitutional amendment submitted to the states calling for the direct election of the President and Vice President by popular vote. There will be no more electoral college, no state legislatures having any role in selecting the President and the House of Representatives is no longer part of the process, either. Just the people.
Second, this Constitutional Amendment should also guarantee all American citizens the right to vote. The Supreme Court decision Bush v. Gore painfully reminded us that this is not a right. Furthermore, if it were, Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush would not have had any reason to attempt to purge the voter rolls. Those people would simply have had the right to vote.
As long as the beneficiary of the rigged election is in the White House, it is unlikely that Katherine Harris or Jeb Bush will face whatever criminal proceedings, if any, that could be brought against them. However, Katherine Harris has announced her intention to run for Congress in a safe Republican district in Florida next year.
Article I, section 5 of the Constitution gives members of Congress the right
to judge the qualifications of its members. Congressional Democrats might want
to put Ms. Harris on notice that they might take up the issue of whether or
not a former state chief elections officer who abused her power in order to
purge the rolls of legal voters and thereby rig a Presidential election is qualified
to sit in the House.
The Velvet Banana, Part
Two: The Era of Good Stealings
November 23, 2001
by Jack Rabbit
Every since the first man stepped out of a cave and declared himself leader, there has been corruption. Apart from government being something necessary for national defense and the construction of public projects like roads and canals, it is also a great business opportunity. Government must consume goods and services, like everyone else. In order to purchase the necessary goods and service to maintain the army and build the roads, government needs money and therefore collects taxes. Government also has police power to enforce contracts.
One may argue all day long about the virtues of having "a government of laws, not men," but the fact of the matter is we must still depend on men to make, enforce and interpret those laws, and sometimes they do that in ways consistent with personal rather than public interest.
That happens, it always has happened, it always will happen. We run into problems when those who are expected to enforce the law think of themselves as a law unto themselves, able to do whatever they want for themselves and their allies.
A banana republic - a third world nations governed by petty military strongmen and juntas whose power derives from tanks and rigged elections - is often referred to as a kleptocracy, meaning government by thieves. The banana republic dictator uses his police power to seize somebody else's wealth - imprisons the property holder on trumped up charges, for example - and then either keeps it for himself or gives it as a gift to a political ally. Often, this redistribution of wealth from a legitimate property owner to a political ally is called crony capitalism.
In countries where government has to keep masses of people satisfied - not just the military and wealthy - government designs economic policy to keep people working in the long run. The idea is that employed, prosperous people vote for the party in power. Government has the power to redistribute wealth up or down through tax policy.
Liberals and progressives favor tax policy where government taxes wealth progressively - the more one has, the higher percentage is paid - and redistributes towards the poor and middle class. The idea is to generate economic activity by giving cash to people who will spend it, creating demand for goods and services and thus create jobs (and votes for the party in power).
Conservatives favor a tax policy where the tax burden falls on the middle class; the poor by definition have no money with which to pay taxes and the wealthy should have the money to stimulate investment in new business growth and thus create jobs (and votes for the party in power). This last theory is the one favored by the Bush administration. It was the centerpiece of his election campaign last year.
However, the Bush administration came to power by stealing the election. Bush owes the voters nothing. Indeed, the voters rejected Bush's tax proposals. A combined 51 percent of the voters cast ballots for either Al Gore or Ralph Nader, the two candidates who most explicitly condemned Bush's tax package. On the other hand, Bush rejected federal matching campaign funds in order to raise unlimited amounts of money from wealthy donors, particularly from oil companies, power generating companies and the new, global manufacturers whose interest is trade liberalization. He may owe the voters nothing, but he owes his rich friends quite a bit. They expect a return on their investment.
And they are getting it.
The goal of the Bush team was to pass the tax package, no matter what it meant. During the election campaign, the Bush team argued that times were good and the federal government could therefore afford to give back some of the budget surplus. After the election, with the American economy losing steam and slipping slowly into recession, the same people argued the tax package was needed as an economic stimulus. Although tax laws are usually complicated, it shouldn't take a Harvard economist to tell that a tax plan spread out over ten years is not a stimulus, which is a short-term matter.
The Bush tax plan passed Congress. The total tax package cut taxes by $1.35 trillion. According to the Citizens for Tax Justice, the benefits of the tax package broke down as a $600 saving on average to those at the median income level and a $53,000 on average saving to those at the top of the income scale. The Republican argument that the rich will save more because they pay more has some merit on the surface, but this kind of discrepancy should ring alarm bells.
Following the September 11 attacks, Bush again used the occasion to ask for a new economic stimulus. It started with an airline bailout that did nothing for laid off airline employees. An interesting story in the Village Voice tells of an airline stewardess who got $744 in severance pay after losing her $22,000-a-year job, while her airline's CEO, largely credited with running the company into the ground, also lost his $900,000-a-year job and was given a $3.2 million severance package. That tells us how the airlines are distributing their bailout bonanza.
The House passed the main part of the new economic stimulus package last month, but as yet the Senate has taken no action. A feature of this bill is the repeal of the alternative minimum tax, a tax imposed on the wealthy so that they will not gain by placing all of their income in tax shelters. Not only does the new economic stimulus abolish the tax, but does so retroactively to 1986. The largest corporations will get a fat check from the government to the tune of $25 billion. According the Citizens for Tax Justice, over 40 percent of the proposed tax savings in this new stimulus package will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.
The budget surplus that was to be used for paying down the debt is now gone. Republicans assert that it's the people's money and that they trust the people to do the right thing with it. However, when the people voted for Gore or Nader rather than Bush, they were telling the politicians what they wanted done with it. That has been ignored. Besides, the people aren't getting a lot of this money. Most of it is going to the wealthiest 1% and to large corporations.
This is a velvet form of crony capitalism. Bush has his accomplices in Congress to pass tax laws, so it isn't stealing. As for what the rich save on their tax bills, some of it will be invested, some of it will be used to buy new toys and some of it will go to Republican campaign coffers.
Bush has benefited his corporate friends in other ways. Last winter, power generating companies - many located in Texas and all of which contributed to Bush's election campaign - took advantage of California's ill-conceived deregulation of gas and power. California ratepayers may have been overcharged as much as $9 billion. Although Bush's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission appointees ruled that the market was dysfunctional, but they balked at granting California and other western states regulatory relief for weeks while rates remained high. One of the energy companies which made out best in this fiasco is the Enron Corporation, whose CEO, Kenneth Lay, is a personal friend of Mr. Bush and one of his most generous campaign contributors. Enron's star has since fallen; so has its stock price. It is now under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Even Bush's foreign policy is designed to favor wealthy corporations over any other consideration. One of Bush's first and greatest outrages after assuming office was the abrogation of the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming. Perhaps no multinational corporation will benefit more from this than Exxon-Mobil, the world's largest private corporation and another major source ($1.2 million) of Bush campaign money. The official position of Exxon-Mobil is that it is not proven that burning of fossil fuels causing global warming. In rejecting the Kyoto, Bush adopted a similar argument.
This argument is phony. While not everything is known about global warming, it is known that the burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor. The Exxon/Bush position is the very same kind of obfuscation in which the tobacco industry engaged for decades in denying the linkage between cigarette smoking and heart and lung disease. This may not be theft, but it isn't honest, either. The reader is referred to an April 17 article in the London Guardian, "How the high priests of capitalism run roughshod over fears of planet."
What can be done to remedy this situation? The problem is that what belongs to the people has been taken from the people without the consent of the people. Indeed, since Bush received than Gore and Nader (or Gore alone, for that matter), it has been taken from the people in spite of their express disapproval.
First of all, the Senate should reject any economic stimulus package even resembling the one passed by the House last month. No package at all would be better than that bill. In fact, Congress should begin to consider repealing part of the tax cuts passed earlier this year. No bill that does not directly benefit working people should be considered.
Let's get the power suppliers off our backs. In California, we know what untrustworthy business partners they make. They were able to do to California and the west what they did because there is no effective market. Since there is no effective market, there is no to hold to any platitudes about the virtues of private enterprise. Support public power. Ratepayers should own the power that comes to their homes and offices.
Finally, boycott Exxon. This is being done in Britain, why not elsewhere? We
could perhaps put a little goal on such a boycott, such as a boycott with the
end of getting Exxon to stop obfuscating about global warming, admit that obfuscating
is what it has been and support Kyoto Protocol.
The Velvet Banana, Part
Three: An Attack on Freedom
November 24, 2001
by Jack Rabbit
Mr. Bush's first statement concerning the September 11 attacks called the events "an attack on freedom." When a man no brighter than Bush uses a word imbued so many different meanings as "freedom," the tendency is to dismiss it as rhetorical. What, if anything, does freedom mean to him. Lately, we may have come to wonder whether the word means anything in particular to him. In recent days and weeks, many of the acts of the administration could be characterized by the same term: an attack on freedom.
Since a banana republic dictator would probably be defeated if he allowed free and fair elections, he cannot allow them. Rigging the election isn't always enough. Repressing the opposition is also in order. In a banana republic, there are no guarantees of civil liberties.
If one were to have been asked on September 10 to give one word to describe the Bush administration, a good answer would have been: crooked. Bush has stolen an election, used the power of his office to turn over a vast budget surplus to his wealthy and powerful supporters, turned a blind eye while some of these same friends of his fleeced California with outrageous acts of market manipulation, has allowed and encouraged his subordinates to conduct policy meetings in secret with only industry leaders who stand to benefit attending, allowed his communications staff to spread lies and slander about those who served in the previous administration and abrogated several international agreements without regard to public opinion at home or abroad.
On September 10, the only thing that distinguished Mr. Bush from a banana republic tyrant was his inability to repress the opposition.
Many said the world changed on September 11. In many ways, they are wrong. The theft of the election is still theft, the looting of the budget surplus is still looting and a spoiled frat boy did not become a wartime leader with a Churchill-like stature. But he came closer to possessing an ability to repress the opposition and discard the Bill of Rights.
However, America cherishes its tradition of individual liberty; therefore, this descent into banana republic-style tyranny must be handled with a velvet glove, not an iron fist.
To date, there have been two areas that have been of concern to civil libertarians: freedom of the press and criminal justice. Let us examine this attack on freedom.
The area of press censorship should be of particular concern to Americans. It should be of greater concern that this aspect of Bush's present assault on the Bill of Rights has been handled with particularly smooth velvet. It's easy when multinational corporations own both the media and the administration. The TV network news outlets on October 8 ran a videotaped message by Osama bin Laden. This would seem proper; when Osama speaks, it's news. However, Mr. Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, called five network executives in a conference call on October 10 and requested that they not broadcast Osama messages. The executive represented ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and NBC. After 20 minutes, they agreed to Dr. Rice's request. To quote from the story in the BBC Online: "[The executives] denied that they had come under pressure from Ms Rice or that the White House intervention amounted to censorship."
The reasons given for this request was that the messages might contain incitements to do harm against Americans or coded messages. We don't need Dr. Rice to tell us about the incitement to do harm to Americans. Osama bin Laden issued a fatwah in 1997 urging all Muslims to kill Americans and their allies - civilian and military - wherever they can be found. It's hardly a secret that Osama urges the killing of Americans. An English translation of the fatwah can be found here. There's nothing coded in that message. It's quite blunt.
As for the other point, it is so ridiculous that one should be surprised that a woman of Dr. Rice's intellect would insult herself by repeating it. Those who handle sensitive intelligence, as is Dr. Rice or any past White House National Security Advisor, are trained to say nothing about sensitive intelligence. Therefore, if she had any reason to think that bin Laden is passing coded messages and she said something about it, she would be guilty of a security violation. Any of her subordinates could be fired for that. The more likely possibility is that she made this up.
The networks may refrain from calling it censorship if they like. A White House advisor requested that they not broadcast news and they consented. They have voluntarily submitted to a self-censorship. It's a velvet censorship, but censorship nevertheless.
During this time the administration was attempting to export its brand of press censorship. On October 4, Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the Emir of Qatar to "rein in" al-Jazeera, the editorially independent television news station that broadcasts from Qatar. Although al-Jazeera has granted interviews to administration figures, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Dr. Rice, Powell expressed his displeasure at al-Jazeera giving airtime to anti-American points of view. The Emir refused. However, the US might have had the last word on al-Jazeera's habit of providing balanced journalism by dropping a 500-pound bomb on the station's bureau in Kabul. The Pentagon, of course, denies al-Jazeera was a target. If it were a target, then that would be a rather brutal attack on the freedom of the press.
The threat to individual rights the criminal justice system began almost immediately. In this case, the difference between the velvet glove and the iron fist is simply that the administration is denying rights to non-citizens, not citizens. At least for the time being.
Since the September 11 attacks, the federal government has taken into custody about 1200 foreign nationals, mostly of Middle Eastern of South Asian origin. It's hard to say exactly how many, since the Justice Department is no longer saying. We don't know exactly who they are or with what they are charged or to be charged. On October 29, the Center for National Securities Studies requested information about the detainees from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, Attorney General John Ashcroft has instructed agencies to be less co-operative with freedom of information requests, assuring them that he will support denials. The Justice Department formally reject the Center of National Securities Studies request November 13.
In banana republics, there is a word for those who detained by the government in this way: desaparecidos, those who have disappeared. Our desaparecidos are lucky; at least, we assume that they are alive. The Justice Department has also determined that it has the right to listen in on conversations between the detainees and their attorneys, a violation of the Sixth Amendment.
The most ominous development to date has been an executive order signed by Mr. Bush on November 13 providing for the trial of anyone suspected of terrorist activity before a military tribunal. This document specifies that the defendant shall have no right of appeal before any other court of international tribunal.
However, the record of the proceedings shall be submitted to Mr. Bush for review and final decision. This is the same George W. Bush who, as Governor of Texas, oversaw 150 executions; this is the same George W. Bush who said that it is wrong to execute the mentally retarded and then had to do so equivocal acrobatics when it was pointed out that six of his capital punishment victims had IQ's under 70; this is the same George W. Bush who allowed the execution of Gary Graham, stating that just because Graham's attorney slept during key prosecution testimony was no reason to say Graham was denied a fair trial.
A press release from Amnesty International says the organization is "deeply troubled" over the institution of these tribunals. Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union, is "deeply disturbed." Ms. Murphy further states that the Administration has failed to show that the constitutional jury trial system does not allow for the prosecution of those accused of terrorist activities and that the decision is "further evidence that the Administration is totally unwilling to abide by the checks and balances that are so central to our democracy."
Not all of the criticism is coming from the left. "We are letting George W. Bush get away with the replacement of the American rule of law with military kangaroo courts," said New York Times columnist and former Nixon White House speechwriter William Safire.
Of course, this is directed at non-citizens, so the rest of us should have nothing to worry about, right? Even if that were only true, it would still be unacceptable. Unfortunately, the administration may have more in mind. Folk singer Ronnie Gilbert, formerly of the Weavers, the same group that also featured Pete Seeger, wrote in the November issue of The Progessive that for the second time in her life, a group to which she belongs is under investigation. The first time it was the Weavers during the McCarthy era; now it is a group called Women in Black, a peace organization that protests violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The group was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
Also in The Progressive, former nun and anti-war activist from the Vietnam War Elizabeth McAlister reports that her husband, former priest Philip Berrigan, was placed in solitary confinement and denied visitation privileges recently for no apparent reason. Berrigan is serving a short sentence in a federal prison in Elkton, Ohio for hammering on a military aircraft. Senator Barbara Mulkuski investigated the situation on behalf of Ms. McAlister and got several different answers from different bureaucrats.
Finally, on November 1, Green Party activist Nancy Oden was at the airport in Bangor, Maine for a flight to a Green Party conference in Chicago. She was picked to have her bags searched; this was apparently in the computer as she checked in. She was told the selection was not random. This led to an encounter with a rude national guardsman who seemed to know exactly who she was, although how he knew is not clear. When the encounter was over, Ms. Oden was denied her seat on her flight on the grounds that see was uncooperative.
These stories suggest a disturbing pattern. We can hope there's nothing to them, but nothing is beyond this administration. Perhaps this is the real beginning of an attack on freedom.
Congressional oversight of the administration's recent activities is in order. In fact, it is desperately needed. Senator Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee has expressed concern about the administration's "unilateral" approach Congressman Conyers of Michigan has called for hearings on a number of concerns raised by the administration's moves. While Congress may be seen as attempting to hamper the administration during a national emergency, we should not forget that this is not a legitimate administration. Mr. Bush is not owed more deference than past occupants of the White House; indeed, given the manner in which he seized power, he is owed less. It was a grave mistake for Congress to have granted extraordinary powers to an unelected president, even in this emergency. Bush may be the commander-in-chief by default, but that does mean that this one should not be kept on a short leash.
As for Mr. Ashcroft, if the Attorney General cannot find a way to fight a war on terrorism and respect the rights of all Americans, then he should resign.
Somewhere down the road, civil disobedience may be in order over this issue.
The administration has attacked freedom, and we must defend it.
The Velvet Banana, Part
Four: The Velvet Dictator
November 26, 2001
by Jack Rabbit
Those who have read The Republic know that it foreshadows Jung's Psychological Types more than The Federalist Papers. It is principally not a work about politics but psychology. Plato considers the state to be an extension of the individual; therefore, just as one can classify a state as aristocratic or democratic according to its characteristics, so the same classifications can be assigned to individual men.
For Plato, the ideal man is a philosopher; a philosopher is not merely an intellectual, but a man who is imbued throughout his being with self-discipline and courage. Think of Shakespeare's far-sighted young men, the ones left standing at the end of the great tragedies. A common theme in Shakespeare is the growth of unpromising youth into this philosopher king, such as how Prince Hal, the boy who keeps company with Falstaff, grows into Henry V.
Plato did not trust democracy as we do. However, his fears about it are not something to dismiss easily. For Plato, democracy - both in states and in individuals - is something that descends directly into tyranny. The element which he distrusts is freedom, which for Plato connotes a certain lack of self-discipline, a hedonism. A tyrant will stop a nothing to satisfy his passions. There is no bond he will not betray, no custom he will not violate (The Republic, 565e).
In Shakespeare, this is Falstaff. The jolly man sits at the table in the tavern, eating Manningtree ox and pudding, drinking cup after cup of sack and all while dodging payment of the bill. This is Falstaff as those uninitiated to Shakespeare think of him - Santa Claus with a drinking problem. But if Falstaff is in need of money, he will carry out a robbery on the highway. If given money for the purpose of recruiting troops for the king's army during a rebellion, he spends it on drink. He uses his friendship with young Prince Hal in hopes of gaining an office by which he can loot the royal treasury once Hal ascends to the throne. He leaves the tavern hostess, whom he has not paid, to fend for herself in debtors' prison. He leaves his lover, a prostitute who carries his child, to fend for herself as she is led off to court to face morals charges. In the end, Prince Hal becomes King Henry when he banishes Falstaff from his court.
Now, imagine Prince Hal continuing to be a follower of Falstaff rather than rejecting the old man. After all, Hal is born to wealth and power, therefore he is entitled to wealth and power and to use it as he sees fit. Nobody will tell him what to do. He would be like a spoiled child in a man's body.
This is George W. Bush, the spoiled frat boy who did not grow up.
Perhaps nowhere is Bush's tyranny more evident than in his handling (or mishandling) of foreign policy. The term isolationist has often been used, but this would imply that Bush, like Warren G. Harding, wishes to withdraw America from the world and let foreign nations solve their own problems and go to war among themselves. There is something isolationist in Bush's expressed contempt for "nation building." Even now, in the wake of his attacks on Afghanistan, he seems content to leave the rebuilding of the country to the United Nations. But Bush's foreign policy is really too engaged to be called isolationist. He is an exponent of trade liberalization, something that itself requires engagement with other nations.
However, Bush would loathe dealing with another nation as an equal. Like any tyrant, he believes that his interests are superior to all others. Thus, Bush engages with other nations, but as a unilateralist. He does not negotiate or listen to the concerns of others, he tells them what he is going to do and expects them to fall in line. This is the kind of unilateralist structure that may befit the CEO of a modern multinational corporation or a eighteenth-century French king - to name a couple of offices made-to-order for tyrants - but it bodes ill for a modern national leader, especially the leader of an industrial democracy. Bush's unilateralism is the expression of the inner tyrant in him that, like a spoiled child, wants his way.
He does not need to listen to the concerns of others about global warming. Bush's way is to forget about global warming and let fossil fuel industries pollute unabated so that they will have more money to give to his election campaign. The planet is his toy and he can break it if he wants.
If Bush wants to build a new missile defense system, but existing international treaties prohibit that, he may go through the motions of negotiating but in the end, if the ABM treaty stands, he'll simply tear it up, throw it to the ground and stomp on it. None of Putin's concerns matter. Putin is Bush's new best friend, as long as he does what Bush wants. After that, bets are off.
Would George W. Bush betray a friend? Ask General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's dictator, who stuck his neck out for Bush over the Afghanistan action; when it just became convenient to allow the Northern Alliance to ride into Kabul, Bush was either unable or unwilling to stop it. This increases the possibility that Musharraf will face serious domestic strife in Pakistan's north, dominated by Pashtuns, the same ethnic group that dominates Afghanistan's south. Musharraf could lose his country in a coup lead by the same kind of Islamic fascists as the Taliban and al-Qaida. Some friend he is, George W. Bush.
Of course, following international law and going through the United Nations before attacking Afghanistan is simply out of the question. Bush doesn't have to do that. They might tell him he has to play fair, by the rules. Everybody else may have to follow those rules, but not Bush. Don't talk to him about an International Criminal Court. He's not going to play if you're going to have one of those. Besides, this spoiled brat has bigger and better toys than anyone else. This tyrant has the military might of the world's last surviving superpower to help him get his way.
It is not just in international affairs that Bush has acted tyrannically. Plato's description of a tyrant had to do with the ways a tyrant would betray any sacred trust. We were being a hint of that this time last year, when Bush betrayed the trust Americans have in their system of elections and seized power.
Although it is not a popular position to take in America at present, the only way to rein in Bush's rampant tyrannical approach to foreign policy is to support an International Criminal Court. There is a move in Congress, led by like-minded unilateralists, to only deal with the Court if American leaders and military personnel are exempt. Furthermore, some of the more extreme in this group, such as Tom DeLay and Jesse Helms, would even authorize military action to "rescue" any American being held under the jurisdiction of such a Court. What kind of arrogance is this? These people either believe that Americans are so enlightened that they just don't commit war crimes - the evidence of the Indian Wars and Vietnam to the contrary - or that Americans are above the law.
If there is to be an International Criminal Court, as there should be, then Americans are subject to its jurisdiction as Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Yes, that includes spoiled frat boys.
This series now concludes.
We have seen Bush has betrayed the trust of his country's traditions. He has subverted its tradition of free elections in order to take power. Had the election been a free and fair election, he would have lost. The election was stolen. There are not two ways of looking at it. Officials in the state of Florida conspired to illegally disenfranchise voters from groups within the population with Democratic voting profiles. It was an election theft right out of a banana republic. From whom did the Florida Republicans learn these techniques? Ferdinand Marcos? Manuel Noriega? Alberto Fujimori? They did the job.
We have seen how Bush, with callous disregard for the will of the people, looted the federal budget surplus and gave the lion's share of it to his wealthy friends, the ones who contributed to his campaign. He has allowed other friends to use market manipulation to overcharge utility ratepayers in California and other western states. He would allow other industrial friends, who contribute to his campaign, to continue to pollute the air unabated by any international action to deal with such problems, and has made every effort to subvert implementation of any such action under the Kyoto Protocol. In foreign affairs, he has acted unilaterally and without regard for international law.
We have seen how Bush now shows disregard for the very principals that he claims to defend - the American Bill of Rights. He has actively conspired with other members of his administration to institute a system of secret detention, to effectively deny defendants the right to an attorney and of defendants to a fair and impartial trial by jury. He has sought to intimidate and censor the press.
This is tyranny. Mr. Bush feels, as a man of wealth and power, he is entitled to do what he would with that wealth and power. He has become a law unto himself. He rules without the consent of the governed. He is not the President; he is a dictator.
Much of his power has come with the consent of other institutions of government. For many of his crimes he can claim Congress as an accomplice. The Supreme Court gave him the White House, cementing a coup d'etat that cast aside the will of the voters. Congress grants his request to loot the treasury on behalf of his friends. And it is Congress, frightened as we all were in the wake of attacks directed against our country by a madman, that granted him extraordinary powers to make war and an excuse to abridge liberties.
Were this man President, he would be deemed unworthy. We will take back that he stole from us. We will not give this tyrant our freedom. It is a dictatorship gained by means that wear a velvet glove, but a dictatorship nevertheless. A dictatorship does not befit the American people.
We must let our dictator know that we defy him and his corrupt and decadent friends. We support our right to speak out. We support our right to read balanced and complete news analysis - and the right of fine journalists to produce it. We support the right of the accused - no matter how heinous the crime - to a fair trial. We support the right of every citizen to vote with the expectation that the vote will be counted.
Americans, do not surrender your freedom. Reclaim it from the dictator. Take back Constitutional government.
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