Nov. 2, 2001
Benjamin Franklin once observed that “They that can give up essential liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety or liberty.” Outdated sentiment for asimpler era? Or wise counsel in a time of crisis when “pile-on patriotism” is all the rage.
Listening to the Republicans these days (the only voice in town since the Democrats voluntarily disbanded shortly after Sept. 11) it seems that if we don’t toss out the Bill of Rights, rubber stamp right-wing judges, drill the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, cut taxes for the wealthy, and rev up a $200 billion weapon system, we might as well join Osama bin Ladin in one of those caves.
What passes for politics in this country over the past month brings to mind an infamous dictum from an earlier war: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Consider the collateral damage to date.
* Anti-terror legislation, or the “Patriot Act” (old Ben would have appreciated the irony of that moniker) will put the CIA and the National Security Agency back into the business of domestic spying; allow covert searches with only minimal judicial oversight; and expand the definition of “terrorism” so broadly that it could easily include legal political protests. “This bill goes light years beyond what is necessary to combat terrorism,” Laura Ashley, director of the ACLU’s Washington office told the Nation magazine.
The FBI has already unleashed its “Carnivore” software on the Internet, which means it, and 39 other federal agencies, will know where you web surf, what you buy there, and what’s in your email. None of this, mind you, would have had the slightest deterrence on the Sept. 11 events, as Attorney General John Ashcroft admitted to the House Judiciary Committee.
*Republicans are charging Democrats with a lack of patriotism for not immediately confirming White House judicial nominees. Orrin Hatch, ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Republican, said, “Anyone who is interested in helping the president in the war on terrorism should support the president’s judicial nominees.” Given that the Senate has already decided to junk the Bill of Rights, what the hell, why not get rid of “advise and consent” as well?
*Interior Secretary Gale Norton says that Afghan war requires drilling in Alaska. “We have always said that national security is part of the reason we need to get the energy program in place” she told the Washington Times. What Norton is not taking questions on these days is how her office cooked figures collected by the US Fish and Wildlife Services indicating that the drilling would have a major impact on caribou. The study showed a 19 percent drop off in caribou births in developed areas of the wildlife area, so the Secretary and her advisors replaced it with one sponsored by British Petroleum. Well, “cooked” is a kind of benign term for what Norton did: she lied.
*House Republicans wrapped themselves in the flag and rammed through a $100 billion “economic stimulus package” of tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. When the Democrats suggested that maybe the “stimulus” should be aimed at the hundreds of thousands of laid off workers, Texas Republican Dick Armey said that such aid would be “contrary to the American spirit.” Armey had no such problem in dishing out tax cuts of $1.4 billion to IBM, $800 million to General Motors, and $670 million to General Electric. Funny the way that “spirit” stuff works.
*For the past month Boeing and Lockheed Martin have trotted out mom and apple pie in their competition to build the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), dropping $100,000 on full page ads in the Washington Post and New York Times. Last week Lockheed Martin won the dash for the trough, landing the biggest weapon system in history. Do we need the JSF? Nope. U.S. F-14s, F-15s, F-16, and F-18s are still the big dogs on the block, with no competition in sight. But patriotism demands sacrifice. And not to worry yourself about Boeing. It gets to build the $100 billion Raptor fighter. No losers in this game.
The arms corporations are not alone in jumping on the patriotism pile. General Motors launched its “Keep America Rolling” ads in the wake of Sept. 11, with a voice-over intoning “The American dream. We refuse to let anyone take it away. Believe in the dream. Believe in each other.” And right alongside the auto giant are Bloomingdales, Anheuser-Busch, and a New York Stock Exchange ad featuring “My Country,’Tis of Thee.”
Congress may be reluctant to help out laid off workers, but it doesn’t have a problem bailing out the airline industry to the tune of $15 billion, and it’s already preparing legislation to underwrite the insurance industry by covering 80 percent of the first $20 billion in losses and 90 percent of anything above $20 billion.
And standing in the wings are the media, claiming that its losses should be covered by removing regulations that block mergers. Given that the number of corporations controlling the media has shrunk from 50 in 1984 to less than 10 today, it is not real clear what “regulations” the industry has in mind. But again, if the Bill of Rights, advise and consent, and plain common sense is out of style, why not? How about simplifying matters and just hand over everything to Time Warner-AOL?
What we have had in this country since Sept. 11 is a one party state, and it’s a party that doesn’t have the slightest compunction about using patriotism to carry out an agenda that the majority of people in this country would reject if they had a chance.