Democracy in Crisis
"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpation's, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . ."
US Declaration of Independence--1776
As July 4, 2002, approaches, Americans can no longer afford to practice armchair democracy and checkbook citizenship. If the public does not rise out of its feeble and hypnotic state, it puts the lives of its children and grandchildren at the disposal of utilitarian political, corporate and military leaders who view flesh and blood as human capital, easily usable and disposable in the march for the accumulation of wealth, power and resources. In June 2002, the United States of America resembles the Animal Farm eerily portrayed by George Orwell in 1946--a "farm" run by Mr. Pilkington and the "Pigs."
From November 2000 to June 2002 those who record history's events will note that the Bush Regime rushed the United States to the heretofore unseen Stygian depths of greed and corruption, ushered in Gestapo-like treatment and profiling of US resident aliens and US citizens, pillaged the environment, education and infrastructure budgets, closed "Peacekeeping Operations" in the Pentagon, adopted an aggressive nuclear weapons testing and first-use doctrine, swept aside the checks and balances of the US Constitution--most notably judicial branch rulings critical of its detainment of anti-US rebels, and used specious terror warnings to defuse controversy over its draconian policies.
In a scene out of the classic thriller Seven Days in May, Bush asked the broadcast networks for, and received airtime on the evening of June 6, 2002, to announce sweeping changes to the nation's intelligence and law enforcement bureaucracy, creating a cabinet-level homeland security department. So, on the 58th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France to liberate Europe from the yoke of fascism, we have a president chiseling into the marbled government infrastructure in Washington the words "homeland security." The term "homeland" was used and promoted by the very nation D-Day was meant to eliminate from the planet. "Homeland" was also a favorite term of South Africa's brutal apartheid regime. That government confined its majority African population to sham countries it described as "homelands."
This action and others call for counteraction by the public and select leaders who should recall the fate of many who signed on to the US Declaration of Independence.
According to bethlehempaonline.com, five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. Twenty-five were lawyers or jurists. 11 were merchants. nine were farmers or large plantation owners. One was a teacher, one a musician, and one a printer. "These were men of means and education, yet they signed the Declaration of Independence, knowing full well that the penalty could be death if they were captured." And they were mostly 20- to 40-year-old men. Are there any leaders like these in 2002 who can grapple with the insidious leadership of the country and the sickness that pervades American society?
Abuses, Usurpations and Negligence
Live from Moscow on June 10, 2002, with the Kremlin in Moscow as a backdrop, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the military's ownership of an American citizen--and Chicago street gang member--Jose Padilla, seized on May 8, 2002 by the US Justice Department for allegedly talking about a "dirty bomb"--a claim which European military officials find specious and timed to counter the Bush Regime's 911 negligence. On June 12, from Qatar, Donald Rumsfeld made the stunning announcement that " We're not interested in trying him at the moment....We're not interested in punishing him at the moment. We're interested in finding out what in the world he knows." With those statements, made on the soil of non-democratic regimes, American's were put on notice that the Bill of Rights have been suspended and superceded by military law. With this abominable decapitation of US justice, and the nightmare that is the PATRIOT Act, Americans have seen perhaps the most brazen usurpation of their rights and liberties in their history.
And the list is almost endless.
Agence France Presse: " . . . The three-prong National Security Entry/Exit Registration System is in response from the US Justice Department to a mandate issued by Congress to track "virtually all" of the 35 million foreign visitors who land in the United States annually . . . Such visitors will be fingerprinted and photographed at the border, be required to register "periodically" if they stay in the United States for 30 days or longer . . . Unfortunately, policies that single out particular religious and ethnic groups create a false sense of security and end up further damaging America's image and reputation around the world"
The Hartford Courant: "Three separate courts have told the US Justice Department that its secrecy policy regarding the arrest of 1,200 Muslim immigrants after Sept. 11 is illegal. Yet the department, in particular its Immigration and Naturalization Service, has failed to heed the message . . ."
The Miami Herald: Luciano Martins, Brazil's ambassador to Cuba, wrote about what he called ''Bush's imperial unilateralism,'' which he said has unleashed ''intolerable and politically indefensible'' US reactions to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, such as the invasion of Afghanistan. ''The [US] irrationality and arrogance may not be just personal attributes of temporary rulers, but may also turn into a collective attitude. As it happened in Nazi Germany and now seems to be happening in Israel,'' Martins wrote. ''The current silence of the Democratic Party and most American intellectuals . . . seems to suggest that Bush somehow expresses a collective sentiment.''
The CIA Factbook: " . . . [US] development of a 'two-tier labor market' in which those at the bottom lack the education and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and, more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits. Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20 percent of households . . . Long-term problems [for the USA] include inadequate investment in economic infrastructure, rapidly rising medical costs of an aging population, sizable trade deficits, and stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups . . ."
The National Center for Children in Poverty: "37 percent of American children (27 million children) live in low-income families (40 percent of US children under age six--9 million children), in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line ($27,722 for a family of three). Many of the concerns of 'near poor' low-income families overlap with those of the poor, such as the need for well-paying jobs and access to affordable quality childcare and health care. 16 percent of children (over 11 million children) live in poverty (17 percent of children under age six--4 million children), in families with incomes below the federal poverty line ($13,861 for a family of three in 2000). About the name number of children lived in poverty in 1980."
The United States' child poverty rate is substantially higher--often two-to-three times higher--than that of most other major Western industrialized nations. The child poverty rate is highest for African-American (30 percent) and Latino (28 percent) children. The child poverty rate for white children is 9 percent. The poverty rate for children under age six follows a similar pattern: 33 percent for African-American children under age six, 29 percent for Latino young children, and 10 percent for white young children. 6 percent of America's children (5 million) live in extreme poverty (8 percent under age six--2 million children), in families with incomes below half the poverty line. (In 2000, the extreme poverty line was $6,930 for a family of three.) . . .
Council for a Livable World: "The Administration is requesting a military budget of $396.1 billion in fiscal 2003, a 1-year increase of $45.3. This will be the largest increase in military budget authority since fiscal 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War. The increase alone is larger that the military budget of all other countries beside Japan, whose budget is $45.6 billion. In fiscal 2007, the National Defense budget is slated to increase to $469.6 billion. While the budget is being touted for fighting terrorism, the bulk of the funding goes for buying weapons and a force structure designed during the Cold War, not for 'transformation' systems such as precision-guided bombs and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)."
Business Week: "PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that 11,000 companies will file for Chapter 11 protection in 2002, up from a record 10,442 in 2001."
Workingforamerica.com: "Since January 1, 2002, there have been 555,783 layoffs with Hewlett Packard announcing up to 15,000. US unemployment was 6 percent in April 2002 . . . The states face budget shortfalls totaling $27 billion . . . June 2002."
American Society for Civil Engineers: "D+ for US infrastructure . . . $1.3 trillion needed to fix roads, sewage systems, drinking water, schools, roads, bridges. . . ."
The United Nations: " . . . global warming of between 1 and 3.5 degrees C over the coming century. This may not sound like cause for concern, but the global average temperature has changed by no more than one degree C up or down for the past ten thousand years. Industrialized countries, with roughly 20 per cent of the global population, account for 60 per cent of annual emissions of carbon dioxide, and the biggest emitter, the United States, alone accounts for over 20 per cent. Of cumulative CO2 emissions from 1950 to 1992--these gases stay in the atmosphere for years--industrialized countries account for 74 per cent and the US for 28 per cent. Emissions by developing countries, although growing rapidly, are not expected to equal those of industrialized countries until 2035.
Sentencingproject.org: "Roughly 2 million inmates crowd US prisons and jails. The US incarcerates 690 out of every 100,000 Americans. This makes the USA the world leader in incarceration ahead of Russia which jails 676 per 100,000. These figures exclude the millions on probation, house arrest, illegally detained under the guise of the War on Terrorism and War on Drugs, and the disproportionate number of African Americans, Latino Americans and Central Asian/Middle Eastern Americans imprisoned."
Islam-usa.com: (Shahid Athar, Associate Professor--Indiana University): "Yes we are number one. We are number one not only as a superpower and being the wealthiest and strongest nation, but the highest in crime as well. For 100,000 people, the US has a homicide rate of 9.4 while that of the U.K. is 2, and Japan 1.2 for comparison. Though we are number one among those who believe in the commandment 'thou shalt not steal,' we have also the highest number of robberies. For 100,000 population, the figure for the US is 45; U.K. 9; Japan 1. We are also number one in the number of drug offenders. For 100,000 population, the US has 346 drug offenders as compared to the U.K. of 56, and Japan of 1. More American women are raped than any other country in the world. For 100,000 women, the rape incidents are 114 in the US, 9 in the U.K., and 7 in Japan. 4 million women are physically abused every year by their husbands or boyfriends and forced to seek emergency treatment. Domestic violence leads to the death of 2000 women every year. 25 percent of all attempted suicide by women is by those who were battered."
What Can be Done?
The US Constitution makes no reference to the "two party system." The current anticompetitive duopoly has failed to represent, protect and safeguard the American people from corporate and personal greed, and from foreign enemies domestic and foreign. A viable fourth party--the Greens having established themselves as the third--must be founded. Pillars of such a party could be progressives such as John McCain, John Conyers, Russ Feingold, Cynthia McKinney, Barbara Lee, Paul Wellstone, Bernie Sanders, John Corzine, Dennis Kucinich, Jim Jeffords and like-minded individuals within the established order. Millions of Americans would devote time, energy and votes to a party that included these luminaries.
The Electoral College should be eliminated, as its presence is as sinister as the interests and money that has corrupted the US political process. As pointed out in the San Francisco Chronicle, " . . . to persuade southern colonies to join the new union, they [the founding fathers] had to recognize the South's right to perpetuate a slave system that treated human beings as chattel. After months of dickering, they found a way around this political impasse. Their decision to base congressional representation on each state's population worked just fine for the more populous North, but not for the slave states, where only a small number of free whites lived. So they devised an ingenious solution, appropriately called the Great Compromise. All free men--plus three-fifths of all slaves--would count toward the apportionment of representatives. What this meant is that a handful of free slaveholding southern white men would now be well represented in Congress because they could count three-fifths of their slaves as part of their state's population. That solved one problem. But the founding fathers faced yet another political dilemma. If the colonists decided to elect their president by direct vote, the South would have been vastly outnumbered by the more populous northern colonies. As they drafted the constitution, James Madison of Virginia worried that a popular vote would undermine the political power of the southern colonies."
Indeed the reliance on such an antediluvian system that also involves walking to a voting booth is entirely dysfunctional in a time of commonplace Internet-based banking and stock trading, telework, teleconferencing, automated battlespace management. Moreover, it puts voters at risk. Why chance walking a city street or assembling under the watchful eyes of hidden cameras or spiteful officials? Why risk votes not being counted in the electoral process? Why must the individual put herself in danger when the elected and unelected CYA themselves at the first sign of danger? Are they worth more than the individuals that make up the public? An automated registering and voting process adopting Internet-based financial transactions must be implemented. If the US is to retain its damaged electoral system, then United Nation's appointed observers must be enlisted to monitor US polling places.
And as the US Capitol, White House and Federal Buildings become off-limits to the public--and their occupants safely secure and governing from remote and alternative locations--its seems pointless other than for quaintness to assemble the governing organizations in one central point in Washington, DC. The US Capitol is now symbol, not substance, and, as such, national governance could be conducted through regional gatherings where those elected and appointed would be forced to face constituents 24 x 7.
The US Constitution must be amended to include national referenda and confidence measures that collar and leash those in power to the public. To begin this and other changes to the US system of government, a national petition-for-change drive must be undertaken via the Internet in conjunction with a nonviolent change-movement involving nationwide demonstrations. These efforts can be organized through IndyMedia and the hundreds of nonprofits that include Americans from every walk of life.
Instead of targeting nations for preemptive nuclear and conventional attack, US governing leaders should call a worldwide summit at a neutral location to address global inequities that lead to despair, hatred and hunger. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford would do the nation a great service by immediately calling for such a meeting. Invitees must include those nations who have most suffered most from ill conceived US and Western European policies. Critics of such calls are fond of dismissing diplomacy, but aggressively remind of the noble US effort to rebuild Europe after WWII. They would do well to support such a cause that includes the "non-white" resource-rich playgrounds of empires new and old. Brutish capitalism must give way to reasoned generosity, along with enlightened US reentrance into the global community to be evidenced by adoption of protocols and treaties gutted by the current regime and left to languish by the Clinton administration. For starters, the US must sign-on to the International Criminal Court, Convention on the Banning of Landmines, Conventions on Children in War, and the Kyoto Protocols.
Additionally, the dividing line that once stood between US civilian and military elements must be reestablished and widened. The "revolving door" that places retired military officers in charge of US diplomacy and national "blue ribbon panels," places them on the boards of major corporations who seek defense contracts--and allows them to spin media coverage of events and advocate military/industrial policies--should be shut down. And many of these retired military officers are advocates of using federal troops to police the United States, ostensibly for homeland defense. But there are some enlightened dissenters among them.
Dr. William Burcham, a former US Navy officer--and a member of a group that opposes the establishment of the US Army's Northern "Homeland" Command--indicates that it is time to counteract the efforts of the Bush regime. "Since 911 there has been a steady pressure exerted by some in the current administration to infringe upon the civil liberties of US citizens in attempts to make their own functions easier to accomplish. Now is not the time to stand by and allow further erosion of the US Constitution for the benefit of these few. Anxious times make for poor policy decisions. US constitutional tradition and years of political wisdom, combined with national experience, clearly indicate the people do not support the use of federal troops for law enforcement purposes."
Orwell sounded such a warning 56 years ago through his characters in Animal Farm: " . . . Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything--in spite of . . . the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticizing, no matter what happened--they might have uttered some word of protest . . ."
But they didn't.
John Stanton is a Virginia-based writer on national security affairs and Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist who writes and comments frequently on civil liberties and human rights issues.