Saturday, December 18, 2004

Column 16: Neo-Corporatism

In Sinclair Lewis's novel "It Can't Happen Here," a conservative politician is helped to the presidency by a radio host. The politician runs his campaign on family values, the flag, and patriotism. He and the talk show host portray advocates of traditional American democracy - those concerned with individual rights and freedoms - as anti-American. That was 69 years ago.

Lawrence Britt, a political scientist, writing in 2003, identifies a set of agendas common to both right-wing political and fundamentalist religious movements. These include:

1. Powerful and continuing use of patriotic/religious rhetoric.
2. Sacrifice of human rights to “emergency,” political, security, or to maintain the faith.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
4. Military needs given priority over civilian.
5. Sexism
6. Mass media indirectly controlled and censored by government regulation or media spokespeople who are sympathetic and/or intimidated.
7. Obsession with national security
8. Religion and government are intertwined – use of the majority religion as a tool to manipulate public opinion; use of religious rhetoric by public officials.
9. Corporate power is protected
10. Labor power is suppressed
11. Disdain for intellect and the arts
12. Obsession with crime and punishment
13. Cronyism and corruption – government without dissent
14. Fraudulent elections

In 2000, a group of Neo-Conservatives including Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and others published a document called The Project for the New American Century, This group saw the fall of Communism as an opportunity for America to become the sole dominant power in the world, and noted that these plans would take a long time, unless there were a catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor that would let the leaders turn America into a military country.

This Neocon agenda, arose concurrently with the rise of the religious right, particularly in the wake of President Clinton’s moral failures, and the ascendancy of large corporate interests which found a congenial home in the Bush/Cheney administration. September 11th provided just the catalyst they said was needed for their rise to power.

This analysis draws in part on the thinking of Davidson Loehr, a Unitarian minister in Austin, Texas. Loehr, in a recent sermon, labels this agenda fascism, and indeed Professor Britt, in the article cited above, calls the fourteen points the characteristics of fascism. I don’t use that term – since World War II, it is impossible to use the term fascism without evoking Hitler and the Nazis, and I think that comparison to the current regime in the United States is inaccurate, and a specious oversimplification. Still, I think that the danger in what, in the 1930’s in the US was called “corporatism” is real and current.

Historically corporatist agendas, whether on the right or the left (Soviet Russia was corporate Communism and if you substitute the State for private business, it fit the fourteen criteria perfectly) has beaten liberalism and progressivism too often for those of us to the left of center to be complacent about it. This, more than any other factor was, I believe, the determinant of the recent election. Liberals and Progressives must wake up to this fact, and see that the emphasis on individual rights to the exclusion of responsibilities to the larger society is no longer a viable philosophy, if it ever was. We need to recognize the validity of people’s religious and moral values, and to include a moral platform that will appeal to the hearts and minds of voters. Also, we need to be more aggressive and factual about exposing the damage that a Corporatist agenda does to the average working person and their family. The Corporatists have learned how to sell the canard that “what’s good for corporations is good for the USA,” and we must both have a vision that is broad enough to defeat that, and a campaign that points up that the values of Corporatism are diametrically opposed to those of the average American. Or we can be steadfast about how much better we are than they are, and how tragic it is that people don’t see that, in which case we are in danger of being right – dead right.

Column 15: Medal of Freedom

It is polite to give any new administration, even a second term, time to get its act together, and to refrain from too much criticism during that time. Usually the new administration uses this period to heal the wounds of the campaign.

It seems “them days is gone forever.” Since the election the Administration and its allies have shown themselves to be sore winners, to the point of their local representative’s calling it a“gloat-fest,” and the actions of the administration, even before the second term officially begins, have made it clear that they don’t care about criticism. The President is purging his Cabinet of any possibility of alternative views, appointing new Cabinet members from his political intimates. He appointed Bernard Kerik to Homeland Security, making it clear that he admires Mr. Kerik, and who wants to probe too deeply into the President’s choice? In short order we find out that the nominee has mob ties, illicit affairs, nanny problems, law suits, you name it. Oops.

And consider the rhinoceros in the Oval Office – the thing no one can miss, but no one is allowed to talk about. Is there anyone who does not recognize that the war in Iraq has been a mess from the beginning? Even the President can’t miss this one, but he is leading the way in a campaign of denial unparalleled since Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” Rumsfeld gets immunity while everyone else in the Cabinet is being voted off the island, then the President awards the Medal of Freedom to Franks, Bremer, and Tenet.

According to the Medal’s website, "this great honor is reserved for individuals the President deems to have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." The award is "given only after careful thought, always sparingly so as not to debase its currency." (emphasis added)

The 9-11 Commission blamed the CIA and Tenet for intelligence failures that prevented us from stopping the attacks. Before the invasion, it was Tenet who described the existence of WMD as a "slam dunk." Paul Bremer led the postwar effort in Iraq - we know how well that is going - and General Franks violated the first rule of military leadership by taking Iraq with no plan for what to do once he took it.

So with regard to “debasing its currency,” we have these three well-meaning but arguably incompetent men joining the likes of Justice Thurgood Marshall, Admiral Zumwalt, Rosa Parks and Bob Dole as Medal Recipients, when what we should be getting is an honest assessment of their records.

As for Rumsfeld, everyone from John McCain to Norman Schwarzkopf is outraged at his prosecution of the war, his relationship with the Military, his callous disregard for the troops’ welfare, and his general arrogance. He continuously avoids responsibility, such as blaming the lack of armor for troop vehicles on the Army, as if the Defense Department has nothing to do with it. Senator McCain – POW, decorated war hero, Bush supporter - has said publicly that he has no confidence in Rumsfeld. But to axe Rumsfeld would be to admit that mistakes have been made, and this President, when asked in a Town Hall debate to name three mistakes he’d made in his first term, could not admit to one.

Jefferson is reputed to have said that people get the government they deserve. Given that just under half of the country did not vote for this President, we must ask ourselves, what did we do to deserve this? I believe that we have stood on principle, on what we considered morally higher ground, while the Right took command of the dialogue. We have four years to put the situation to rights. It has also been said that “the truth shall make you free,” so we will need to keep telling the truth, pointing to the facts, and not allow our voice to be stilled.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Column 14: A Famous Victory

A Famous Victory
by Ed Gurowitz

Methinks Jim Clark doth protest too much. Since the election, the President’s supporters have been telling everyone who will listen that it “was a famous victory, much like the Battle celebrated in Southey’s poem:

"And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win."
"But what good came of it at last?"
Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why, that I cannot tell," said he,
"But 'twas a famous victory."

While Jim has the good grace to label it a “gloat fest,” his poking fun at the Democrats looking at how to present their issues in a way that will appeal to the public is a bit odd, coming from the party that coined ”Healthy Forests,” “Clean Air,” and “Partial Birth Abortion,” among others.

As the President purges his Cabinet of anyone who might disagree with him, he has asked Donald Rumsfeld to stay on, despite the fact that on December 3rd on Fox News (not exactly a bastion of liberalism) the Secretary admitted that he failed to predict the strength of the insurgency in Iraq, calling that failure and the failure to find WMD’s the “major mistakes” of the war. Then, in an astonishing about-face, the Secretary denied that more troops should have been sent to Iraq, again blaming “battlefield commanders” for asking for the number of troops that were sent. Way to support the troops, Don, and way to once again ignore that General Shinseki did say that more troops were needed and was fired for his trouble.

Oddly, the interview in question came a day after the Pentagon announced it was raising force levels in Iraq to the highest level since the invasion, ostensibly to increase security for the putative January elections – we’ll see if they come out on January 31.

We have here an Administration that would have us believe that that support, which is in most cases highly issue-specific, is support across the board. It is an Administration that lives by propaganda and the “big lie” tactic, whereby a distortion of the truth is repeated over and over on the assumption that people will come to believe it is the truth. Before the invasion we were told that the Iraqi people would welcome us as liberators – what we have now is a civil war aimed at defeating us and our internal allies. We were told that Saddam was connected to Al Qaeda. When overwhelming evidence is presented that there was no such connection, we are, in effect, asked whether we will believe the government like loyal Americans, or believe the evidence. We were told there were WMD’s, and now even Rumsfeld admits that there weren’t, and on and on.

So what are we to do? One of the most important things, I think, is to keep insisting on the truth in the face of the big lies. Condaleeza Rice is not the best choice for Secretary of State, she is someone who will agree with the President. Appointing African-Americans and Latinos to the cabinet does not show how unprejudiced this Administration is, it is window dressing. Donald Rumsfeld is not a good Secretary of Defense, he is an egotist who wants to remake the US military along principles that military experts find dubious, to say the least. Gay marriage will not damage heterosexual marriage, certainly not as much as a 50% divorce rate and 5-day celebrity marriages do. This is not a Christian (or Jewish or Moslem or Buddhist) country – it is a country founded on a clear separation between religion and secular life. And most importantly, criticizing the Administration and its policies is no way unpatriotic - America originated in dissent and debate and will thrive as long as these thrive.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Column 13: Whistleblowers

When Whistles Blow
by Ed Gurowitz

Even before the official start of the Administration’s second term, there are signs pointing to the possibility of hostility toward legitimate dissent in the coming four years. This goes beyond the ongoing campaign by the Right to paint those who disagree with them on the war, abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research as unpatriotic, anti-God, and worse, and it goes beyond the Religious Right calling in chits for its supposed role in re-electing the President. CBS and NBC have refused to run an ad by the United Church of Christ affirming its policy of welcoming all including gays, and government employees who would act to protect the public are being systematically suppressed.

Earle Dixon, a Carson City resident, was the Project Manager for hazardous waste management and compliance at the Anaconda Mine in Yerington. Anaconda is an abandoned copper mine covering some 3,600 acres, where acid run-off and waste rock containing uranium and other toxic metals have been disposed of in unlined ponds. The mine has had numerous owners, and half of its land is on public property managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Dixon worked for the BLM coordinating with a number of agencies. He was fired by BLM Nevada director Bob Abbey on October 5th, after less than a year on the job. According to Dixon’s complaint in a Federal whistleblower suit against the BLM, he had presented Abbey with mounting evidence of contamination and worker exposure.

If Dixon’s case were singular, we might ignore it; unfortunately it is far from unique. Organizations such as the Project on Government Oversight have documented case after case of whistleblowers being threatened and suppressed by the agencies they work for, and the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act has been so weakened by what the Administration would characterize in other contexts as “activist judges,” that it is almost more dangerous than if there were no such law - it provides an appearance of protection where there is none, effectively luring whistleblowers out into the open where they can be picked off. There are bills under consideration in Congress to fix the Act, but the White House is actively attempting to stall this legislation to let it die, Federal courts have found major loopholes in the present Act’s protection and have set a standard of “irrefutable proof” that is impossible for whistleblowers to meet.

This ruthless suppression of those who would attempt to protect the public is not limited to the environment. It was a whistleblower, Coleen Rowley (Time Magazine’s 2002 co-Person of the Year), who exposed the FBI’s failure to heed clear evidence of terrorist plots before 9/11, yet this administration has systematically attacked whistleblowers, including in the FBI. Robert Wright, an FBI Special Agent, reported weakness in his antiterrorism unit, and was met with investigations aimed at silencing or discrediting him. Richard Levernier reported serious security problems at nuclear weapons sites and was stripped of his security clearance, effectively ending his employment. And these are just two examples among many.

It takes enormous courage for anyone to step forward and make incompetence and malfeasance public, particularly in government agencies. Doing so is unlikely to be met with approval and they can expect to be attacked and vilified by those at whom their finger is pointed. Yet few would deny that the Coleen Rowley and others have done an enormous public service with little or no expectation of personal reward. As Ms Rowley and others told Congress recently, “It is unrealistic to expect that government workers will defend the public if they can’t defend themselves.”

As the President populates his new Cabinet with yes-people and the extreme right moves to suppress any public discussion of issues it finds disagreeable, it is more important than ever that the protective devices that have been built into our system over the years be themselves protected and strengthened. Remember, to paraphrase the great Conservative Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. If you are interested in learning more about this, I recommend the website of Public Employees for Environmental Responsible (PEER),