Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 06, 2006 6:24 pm 
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The Bushies stomp on US rights

An anointed but aimless child of privilege, the ex-governor of a southern state, a frat-boy born-again Christian and evangelical recovering alcohol and cocaine abuser, George W. Bush understandably floundered in his early days as a "selected" rather than elected President. But then the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington came along. Thenceforth the excuse was 9/11, but the aim -- hewed to under the strong arms of Bush handlers Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove, was securing US domination of a global empire as outlined by the power-heavy neo-conservative Project for a New American Century think tank whose ideologues moved into the White House, the Pentagon, and the Defense Department when Bush became President. And Bush had his work cut out for him.

It's clear now how it all plays out. "The War on Terror" in the Bush neo-cons' view gave them an excuse to change all the rules, unilaterally and by fiat. If we're at war against an invisible, omnipresent enemy that will stop at nothing, may never be defeated, and therefore must always be fought -- then any means are justified. But it was just an excuse, because if the Bush administration heads a global empire, there really are no rules, other than the ones the government makes.

The Republican Congress meekly towed the line, rubberstamping invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq, cranking out a "Patriot Act" abridging constitutional rights in the interest of "security," and pursuing its own very corruptible paths, as evidenced by the recent Jack Abramoff scandal, the most concrete illustration yet that money rules in the legislative branch -- if with lower figures than in the executive where CEOs and oil barons run things and Enron's boss is a best buddy. Shouldn't we have grown cynical by now ourselves? How can we be otherwise?

Presidents have often done this sort of thing, but never quite so openly.

What's new in the past few months is the dramatic exposure that Bush's war is directed at the rights of US citizens. It's increasingly a matter of public record that Bush & Co. believe they can do just about anything they want not only abroad but also at home. When James Risen and Erich Lichtblau of the NYTimes and others revealed in December 2005 the NSA's illegal spying operations directed against thousands of US citizens and authorized by the White House, there were no denials from on high. This has been done clandestinely in the past by the US government. The new thing is to insist that it's legal.

Well, is it?

This comes after previous claims that the government knew nothing about coming terrorist attacks, that Iraq was involved in them, that Saddam's nuclear weaponry was an extreme danger to domestic safety -- and so many other lies blithely told. It is emerging, if it hasn't already, that the administration of George W. Bush is the most cynical in US history. Does anyone remember Watergate? Do enough people see a connection? Things were different then, though. That was a paranoid administration, eager to win by any means necessary; but they had no vague, universal enemy to point to (other then the democrats). And Nixon was trying to hide what he had done and what he was doing. Bush isn't. He just won't talk about it.

There is still an air of scandal about the recent revelations, but the response of citizens has understandably been lukewarm. That is not unusual either. After all, McCarthyism took at least half a decade to burn itself out and the paranoia lasted much longer. Average citizens can be heard today declaring that if their security is at stake, they'd be glad to give up some of their freedoms. They don't remember back to Vietnam, let alone to McCarthy. The country has shifted to the right, and the media has gone along.

Even these new revelations come in toned-down form. As a Counterpunch article by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair points out, Seymour Hersh put the words "illegal" and "directly violating its charter" right at the top in his NYTimes lead 31 years ago about the CIA's domestic spying against the anti-Vietnam war movement -- the illegal activity that FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Bush has bypassed) was enacted to prevent from recurring. In their piece about the new domestic spying, however, Risen and Lichtblau just say "secretly" and "without warrants" and only suggest very timidly that "some officials …have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches . . ." Buried eight paragraphs further down in the Times piece is the astonishing information that the paper held back this story for a year at administration request. Wow! How's that for journalistic integrity?

We haven't learned much other detail about what has been going on. What we know is that the Times let it go for a year without saying anything, and the administration says it's okay that a whole klatch of intelligence agencies have been watching what must be thousands of US citizens.

Google wouldn't tell the government what we're Googling. But it's willing to severely limit what the Chinese and other nations can search. Is anyone willing to take a real stand? True, raised $750,000 online for an anti-war campaign in a few days last week, but perhaps that's because its safely bland stands just float in cyberspace.

James Riven doesn't emerge from all this smelling like a rose. He shares responsibility for disseminating the government-sponsored smear of innocent Asian-born US scientist Wen Ho Lee that led to Lee's imprisonment for a year. His recent revelations come conveniently timed to promote the release of his new book, State of War. But that doesn't diminish the illegality of the administration's mass surveillances. Possible grounds for Bush's impeachment can be perused by any Web surfer; the main ones on a leading site being: "lying about the rationale for the Iraq war," "illegal wiretapping of American citizens," "energy industry involvement," and "election fraud."

"Illegal wiretapping" is the most serious charge, especially coming as it does when Bush's job approval rating (40-43%) is lower than anybody's in memory but Nixon's, for this point in a presidency. But it has to be an issue in Congress for conservatives as well as moderates. The hearings of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees on these matters will show whether or not that is truly the case.

We are a long way from the days when articles of impeachment were drawn up against President Nixon. Bush's ratings mirror Nixon's but Nixon's administration was crumbling and he didn't have a body of ideologues around him of the smugness and audacity of Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld. Nor was America leaning to the right in 1973 and 1974 the way it is in 2006. Smugness, audacity, and cynicism are ever increasingly the hallmarks of the current administration. And they have worked. One can't imagine Bush pleading that he's not a crook. He makes the rules. He's a wartime president. He serves God. We'd better like it. So far, that still hasn't changed.

© Chris Knipp 2006

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