Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sputnk Speaks (today's assignment)

Weep for Democracy with a grain of hope edition

THE NEW FASCISM by William Rivers Pitt

Tuesday 17 January 2006

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The
occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the
occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We
must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

- Abraham Lincoln

Say "fascism" to anyone you meet, and you will conjure images of
coal-scuttle helmets, of Nazi boot-heels clicking in terrible unison
down Berlin streets during dark days that only a few remaining among the
living remember. Each day, members of the generation that heard those
heels for themselves go into the ground, taking with them whispered
words of warning. I saw it for myself, they whisper before they pass.
See this tattooed number? See this scar? It happened. It was real.

Say "fascism" to anyone you meet, and you will be greeted with the
boilerplate response of the blithely overconfident: such a thing cannot
happen here. This is the United States of America, land of the free and
home of the brave. Ours is a nation of laws, of checks and balances, of
righteousness and decency. Our laws and traditions stand as a bulwark
against the rise of totalitarian madness. It cannot happen here. Thus we
are indoctrinated into the school of our own assumed greatness.

"We must disenthrall ourselves," said Abraham Lincoln, and so we
must, because it can happen here. It is already happening. All the
parroted recitations of grade school civics cannot erase the fact that a
new order is rising. Call it "secret fascism" or "smiley-faced fascism."
Call it a quiet dictatorship. Call it what you like, but it is here with
us in America today, and it is growing.

To be sure, there are no coal-scuttle helmets lined in ranks down
our broad avenues, no Tonton Macoute savaging dissidents, no Khmer Rouge
slaughtering intellectuals and herding citizens from cities to die by
the millions on roads littered with skulls. The core strength of our new
fascism is that it speaks softly. It does not present itself in such an
obvious way that those who subsist on the dogmas of our greatness can
point and say there, there it is, I see it.

This new fascism is not fed only by lies, though to be sure the lies
are there in preposterous abundance. This new fascism is fed by myths,
our myths, the myths by which we rock ourselves to sleep. This new
fascism is in truth an elemental fascism, reborn today by a confluence
of events; the diligent work of the few, in combination with the
passivity of the many, have brought forth this new order.

The writer Umberto Eco, in a 1995 essay titled "Ur-Fascism,"
delineated several core elements that have existed in one form or
another in every fascist state in history: "Parliamentary democracy is
by definition rotten, because it does not represent the voice of the
people, which is that of the sublime leader. Doctrine outstrips reason,
and science is always suspect. The national identity is provided by the
nation's enemies. Argument is tantamount to treason. Perpetually at war,
the state must govern with the instruments of fear. Citizens do not act;
they play the supporting role of 'the people' in the grand opera that is
the state."

Take these one at a time.

"Parliamentary democracy is by definition rotten, because it does
not represent the voice of the people, which is that of the sublime leader."

George W. Bush has all but gelded Congress in recent months,
attaching so-called "signing statements" to a variety of laws, which
state that the president may act beyond the laws whenever he so chooses.
The United States, fashioned as a republic, has as its voice the
congressional body. This is all but finished. To cement his victory over
the parliamentary system, Bush has put forth one Samuel Alito for the
Supreme Court, a man who believes in the ultimate power of the one
leader over the many. The gelded congress does not appear able to keep
this man from the high court, thus rendering the balancing branches of
government into a satellite system of the Executive.

"Doctrine outstrips reason, and science is always suspect."

The supremacy of religious fundamentalism within and without
government carries this banner before all others. What is reason in the
face of the zealot's faith? Science has become a watered-down vessel for
Intelligent Design, and the incontrovertible truths of empirical data
are slapped aside. Spencer Tracy, in the film "Inherit the Wind,"
bellows the warning here: "Fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and
needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums
beating we'll be marching backward, backward, through the glorious ages
of that sixteenth century, when bigots burned the man who dared to bring
enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind."

"The national identity is provided by the nation's enemies."

This has been with us for generations now. Our nation defined
ourselves through a comparison to the Nazis, to the Imperial Japanese,
and then through decades of comparison to Communism. Terrorism has
supplanted all of these, hammered into place on a Tuesday in September
by the actions of madmen. We are not them, all is justified in the
struggle against them, and so we are defined.

"Argument is tantamount to treason."

All one need do to see this in action is spend some hours with the
Fox News channel. Freedom fries. Why do you hate America? You are with
us or you are with the terrorists. Watch what you say.

"Perpetually at war, the state must govern with the instruments of
fear."

The manipulation of this population by fear has been ham-fisted, to
be sure, but has also been cruelly effective. We do not want the
evidence to be a mushroom cloud. Weapons of mass destruction and al
Qaeda in Iraq. Nuclear designs in Iran. Plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Orange alert. Argument becomes tantamount to treason simply because
everyone has been made to feel fear at all times. A frightened populace
is easily governed, and governs itself; this lesson was well-learned in
the duck-and-cover days of the Cold War. Those lessons have been
masterfully applied once again. Today, the citizenry polices itself, and
the herd moves as one body. Even the surveillance of innocent citizens
by the state is brushed off as a necessary evil. Remember: you are being
watched.

"Citizens do not act; they play the supporting role of 'the people'
in the grand opera that is the state."

Once, we lived by the glorious simplicity of the vote. Casting a
ballot was the single

most patriotic duty a citizen could perform, an affirmation of all we
held dear and true. Today, we live in the nation of the vanishing voter.
Power has been so far removed from the people by those with money and
influence that most see voting as a waste of time. Add to this the
growing control of the implements of voting and vote-counting by
partisan corporations, and the rule of We the People is left in ashes.

We must disenthrall ourselves from the idea that our institutions,
our traditions, the barriers that protect us from absolute and
authoritarian powers, cannot be broken down. They are being dismantled a
brick at a time. The separation of powers has already been annihilated.
It is a whispered fascism, not yet marching down your street or pounding
upon your door in the dead of night. But it is here, and it is laying
deep roots. We must listen beyond the whispered fascism of today to the
shouted fascism of tomorrow. We must look beyond the lies and the myths,
beyond the dogmas by which we sleep.
.............................................

William Rivers Pitt is author of two New York Times and International
Bestseller list books:

Enlightenment vs. The Dark Ages or Progressive vs. Republican

It doesn't get covered by the corporate media (imagine that), but
mainstream polls consistently find that big majorities of Americans are
not meek centrists, but overt, tub-thumping, FDR progressives who are
seeking far more populist gumption and governmental action than any
Democratic congressional leader or presidential contender has dared to
imagine. In recent polls by the Pew Research Group, the Opinion Research
Corporation, the Wall Street Journal, and CBS News, the American
majority has made clear how it feels. Look at how the majority feels
about some of the issues that you'd think would be gospel to a real
Democratic party:

1. 65% say the government should guarantee health insurance for
everyone--even if it means raising taxes.

2. 86% favor raising the minimum wage (including 79% of selfdescribed
"social conservatives").

3. 60% favor repealing either all of Bush's tax cuts or at least those
cuts that went to the rich.

4. 66% would reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending but by
reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.

5. 77% believe the country should do "whatever it takes" to protect the
environment.

6. 87% think big oil corporations are gouging consumers, and 80%
(including 76% of Republicans) would support a windfall profits tax on
the oil giants if the revenues went for more research on alternative fuels.

7. 69% agree that corporate offshoring of jobs is bad for the U.S.
economy (78% of "disaffected" voters think this), and only 22% believe
offshoring is good because "it keeps costs down."

8. 69% believe America is on the wrong track, with only 26% saying it's
headed in the right direction.

Americans might not call themselves progressive--but there they are. On
the populist, pocketbook issues that are rooted in our nation's core
values of fairness

and justice, there's a progressive super-majority. It flourishes in red
states as well as blue, cutting through the establishment's false
dichotomy of liberal/ conservative.

Jim Hightower

Who's Counting Bush's Mistakes?

By Stephen Pizzo <http://www.alternet.org/authors/5086/>, News for Real
<http://newsforreal.com/>. Posted February 19, 2006
<http://www.alternet.org/ts/archives/?date%5BF%5D=02&date%5BY%5D=2006&date%5Bd%5D=19&act=Go/>.

Given how ambitious and wide-ranging the incompetence of this
administration has been, it's high time we started keeping track of its
many failures.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, "The louder he spoke of his honor, the
faster we counted our spoons." And no administration in U.S. history has
spoken louder, or as often, of its honor.

So let us count our spoons.

Emergency Management: They completely failed to manage the first
large-scale emergency since 9/11. Despite all their big talk and
hundreds of billions of dollars spent on homeland security over the past
four years, this administration proved itself stunningly incompetent
when faced with an actual emergency. (Katrina Relief Funds Squandered)
<http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20060214/1061115.asp>

Fiscal Management: America is broke. No wait, we're worse than broke. In
less than five years these borrow and spend-thrifts have nearly doubled
our national debt, to a stunning $8.2 trillion. These are not your
father's Republicans who treated public dollars as though they were an
endangered species. These Republicans waste money in ways and in
quantities that make those old tax and spend liberals of yore look like
tight-fisted Scots.

This administration is so incompetent that you can just throw a dart at
the front page of your morning paper and whatever story of importance it
hits will prove my point.

Katrina relief: Eleven thousand spanking new mobile homes sinking into
the Arkansas mud. Seems no one in the administration knew there were
federal and state laws prohibiting trailers in flood zones
<http://www.todaysthv.com/news/news.aspx?storyid=23941>. Oops. That
little mistake cost you $850 million -- and counting.

Medicare Drug Program: This $50 billion white elephant debuted by
trampling many of those it was supposed to save. The mess forced states
to step in
<http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/ts_more.php?id=69337_0_10_0_M> and try
to save its own citizens from being killed by the administration's
poorly planned and executed attempt to privatize huge hunks of the
federal health safety net.

Afghanistan: Good managers know that in order to pocket the gains of a
project, you have to finish it. This administration started out fine in
Afghanistan. They had the Taliban and al Queda on the run and Osama bin
Laden trapped in a box canyon. Then they were distracted by a nearby
shiney object -- Iraq. We are now $75 billion out of pocket in
Afghanistan and its sitting president still rules only within the
confines of the nation's capital. Tribal warlords, the growing remnants
of the Taliban and al Qaeda call the shots in the rest of the county.

Iraq: This ill-begotten war was supposed to only cost us $65 billion. It
has now cost us over $300 billion
<http://opencrs.cdt.org/rpts/RL33110_20051003.pdf> and continues to suck
$6 billion a month out of our children's futures. Meanwhile the three
warring tribes Bush "liberated" are using our money and soldiers' lives
to partition the country. The Shiites and Kurds are carving out the
prime cuts while treating the once-dominant Sunnis the same way the
Israelis treat the Palestinians, forcing them onto Iraq's version of
Death Valley. Meanwhile Iran is increasingly calling the shots in the
Shiite region as mullahs loyal to Iran take charge. (More)
<http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/02/16/africa/web.0216sadr.php>

Iran: The administration not only jinxed its Afghanistan operations by
attacking Iraq, but also provided Iran both the rationale for and time
to move toward nuclear weapons. The Bush administration's neocons'
threats to attack Syria next only provided more support for religious
conservatives within Iran who argued U.S. intentions in the Middle East
were clear, and that only the deterrent that comes with nuclear weapons
could protect them.

North Korea: Ditto. Also add to all the above the example North Korea
set for Iran. Clearly once a country possesses nukes, the U.S. drops the
veiled threats and wants to talk.

Social Programs: It's easier to get affordable -- even free --
American-style medical care, paid for with American dollars, if you are
injured in Iraq, Afghanistan or are victims of a Pakistani earthquake,
than if you live and pay taxes in the good old U.S.A. Nearly 50 million
Americans can't afford medical insurance. Nevertheless the
administration has proposed a budget that will cut $40 billion from
domestic social programs, including health care for the working poor.
The administration is quick to say that those services will be replaced
by its "faith-based" programs. Not so fast...

"Despite the Bush administration's rhetorical support for religious
charities, the amount of direct federal grants to faith-based
organizations declined from 2002 to 2004, according to a major new study
released yesterday....The study released yesterday "is confirmation of
the suspicion I've had all along, that what the faith-based initiative
is really all about is de-funding social programs and dumping
responsibility for the poor on the charitable sector," said Kay Guinane,
director of the nonprofit advocacy program at OMB Watch.." (More)
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/14/AR2006021401903.html>

The Military: Overused and over-deployed.

Former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright warned in a 15-page report that the Army and Marine
Corps cannot sustain the current operational tempo without "doing real
damage to their forces." ... Speaking at a news conference to release
the study, Albright said she is "very troubled" the military will not be
able to meet demands abroad. Perry warned that the strain, "if not
relieved, can have highly corrosive and long-term effects on the
military. (More)
<http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=33240&dcn=todaysnews>

With military budgets gutted by the spiraling costs of operations in
Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration has requested funding for fewer
National Guard troops in fiscal 2007 -- 17,000 fewer. Which boggles the
sane mind since, if it weren't for reserve/National Guard, the
administration would not have had enough troops to rotate forces in and
out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 40 percent of the troops sent to
those two countries were from the reserve and National Guard.

The Environment: Here's a little pop quiz: What happens if all the coral
in the world's oceans dies? Answer: Coral is the first rung on the
food-chain ladder; so when it goes, everything else in the ocean dies.
And if the oceans die, we die.

The coral in the world's oceans are dying (called "bleaching")
<http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/PSB/EPS/CB_indices/coral_bleaching_indices.html>
at an alarming and accelerating rate. Global warming is the culprit.
Nevertheless, this administration continues as the world's leading
global warming denier. Why? Because they seem to feel it's more cost
effective to be dead than to force reductions in greenhouse gas
emissions. How stupid is that? And time is running out.

Trade: We are approaching a $1 trillion annual trade deficit
<http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1411846.cms>, most of
it with Asia, $220 billion with just China -- just last year.

Energy: Record high energy prices. Record energy company profits. Dick
Cheney's energy task force meetings remain secret. Need I say more?

Consumers: Americans finally did it last year -- they achieved a
negative savings rate. (Folks in China save 10 percent, for contrast.)
If the government can spend more than it makes and just say "charge it"
when it runs out, so can we. The average American now owes $9,000 to
credit card companies. Imagine that.

Human Rights: America now runs secret prisons and a secret judicial
system that would give Kafka fits. And the U.S. has joined the list of
nations that tortures prisioners of war. (Shut up George! We have pictures!)

I could go on for another 1,000 words listing the stunning incompetence
of the Bush administration and its GOP sycophants in Congress. But
what's the use? No seems to give a fig. The sun continues to shine in
this fool's paradise. House starts were up in January. The stock market
is finally back over 11,000.

But don't bother George W. Bush with any of this. While seldom right, he
is never in doubt. Doubt is Bush's enemy. Worry? How can he worry when
he has no doubts?

Me? Well, I worry about all the above, all the time. But in particular,
I worry about coral.

Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous books, including "Inside Job:
The Looting of America's Savings and Loans," which was nominated for a
Pulitzer.

Slicing Away Liberty: 1933 Germany, 2006 America
February 21, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers <http://www.crisispapers.org>

I must confess that I'm utterly baffled by the lack of sustained,
organized outrage and opposition from Democratic officials and ordinary
citizens at the Bush Administration's never-ending scandals,
corruptions, war-initiations, and the amassing of more and more
police-state power into their hands.

And so, facing little effective opposition, the Bush juggernaut
continues on its rampage. How to explain this? Certainly, one could
point to a deficient mass-media, to the soporific drug of TV, to having
to work so hard that for many there's no time for activism, to education
aimed at taking tests and not how to think, to the residual fear-fallout
from 9/11, to a penchant for fantasy over reality, to the timid and
unimaginative Democratic leadership, to scandal-fatigue, etc. But I
would suggest that even more disturbing answers can be found by
examining recent history.

Just so nobody misunderstands what follows: I am not saying that George
W. Bush is Adolf Hitler, or that the rest of his Administration crew are
Nazis. What I am saying is that since history often is opaque (making it
difficult to figure out the contemporary parallels), when the past does
offer a clear lesson for those of us living today, we should pay special
attention.

What happened in Germany in the 1920s and '30s can teach us much about
how a nation in a few years can lose its freedom in incremental slices
as a result of a drumbeat of never-ceasing propaganda, strong-arm
tactics, government snooping and harassment, manufactured fear of "the
other," and wars begun abroad with the accompanying
rally-'round-the-flag patriotism.

In America of the 1980s and '90s, it was extremists on the far-right
fringes who believed the country was moving toward "black helicopter"
authoritarian rule in Washington, and often blamed big-government
liberal Democrats. Now, as a result of just four-plus years of the Bush
Administration (supposedly anti-big government, conservative
Republicans), huge segments of American society, including those in the
mainstream middle, wonder what has happened to our democratic republic,
our civil liberties, our time-honored system of government.

THE ENABLING MANTRA OF 9/11

The Busheviks defend the Administration's harsh, sweeping actions as
necessary in a "time of war." The U.S. was attacked by forces
representing fanatical Islam, this reasoning goes, and the old rules and
systems simply don't apply anymore - they are old-fashioned, "quaint."
Instead, we are expected to inculcate the "everything-changed-on-9/11"
mantra, the effect of which is to excuse and justify all. Defense of the
fatherland comes first and foremost, trumping all other considerations,
including the Constitution, checks-and-balances in the three branches of
government, separation of powers, the Geneva Conventions, international
law, etc. etc. (The Busheviks refuse to believe that one can be muscular
in going after terrorists and do so within the law and with proper
respect for the Bill of Rights and Constitutional protections of due
process.)

Not only do the Busheviks pay no attention to recent history, but they
seem to have forgotten how our very nation came into existence and why:
our Founding Fathers rebelled against a despotic British monarch, one
who ran roughshod over their rights and privacy and religious beliefs.
Learning that hard lesson, they established a system of government that
scattered power so that no person or party or religion could easily
reinstate authoritarian rule. Politicians and citizens would have to
compromise and cooperate in order to get anything done. It's a slow,
cumbersome system (democracy, said Churchill, is the worst form of
government ever invented, except for all the others), but the system
they devised served this nation well for more than two centuries, making
American government a model for much of the rest of the world.

More here

http://www.democraticunderground.com/crisis/06/049_bw.html

Perception is Reality

February 21, 2005
By Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers <http://www.crisispapers.org>

"Today the many disparate crises of the past have combined into one
general systemic crisis, placing the basic structure of the Republic at
mortal risk. At the forefront of concern must be the question: will the
Constitution of the United States survive? Is the American state now in
the midst of a transmutation in which the 217-year-old provisions for a
balance of powers and popular freedoms are being overridden and
canceled? Or will defenders of the Constitution step forward, as has
happened in constitutional crises of the past, to save the system and
restore its integrity?" - Jonathan Schell

Yogi Berra said it best: "It is difficult to make predictions,
especially about the future."

Predictions in politics rest upon two presuppositions: (a) that present
trends will continue into the future, and (b) that there will be no
totally unexpected "surprises."

Both assumptions are rarely true and are refuted both by common sense
and by the lessons of history.

Case in point: last week's "Texas shootout." Until last week, the White
House routine was in motion and functioning smoothly: Bush was the
public face of the Administration, and Cheney the hand in the
sock-puppet, self-selected in 2000 to give stability, maturity and
"gravitas" to the Bush regime. Last week Cheney was exposed to the
public at large as the reckless, self-absorbed, super-annuated
adolescent that his perceptive critics knew him to be. Today the
right-wing propaganda mills are up to full speed, telling us "move
along, folks, nothing to see here." But try as they might, the public
perception of Dick Cheney will not revert to status-quo-ante. The
"present trend" of the Bush/Cheney team has been turned in an altered
direction.

But Dick Cheney's bad aim was a minor disruption, of interest to us only
because of its immediacy. Other "surprises" are well known to all of us.

* In the fall of 1958, Fidel Castro seemed to be insignificant
irritant to the regime of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. On New Years
Day in 1959, Batista fled Cuba, and two days later Castro and his
"brigands," marched into Havana.
* In the summer of 1963, John Kennedy's election to a second term
appeared to be a near-certainty.
* So too, his brother Robert's nomination at the Chicago Democratic
convention in August, 1968.
* On election day in 1964, Lyndon Johnson seemed assured of a second
term four years hence. And on election day, 1972, there was no
reason whatever to doubt that Richard Nixon would serve out a full
term.
* In the early eighties, Reagan's UN Ambassador, Jeanne Kirkpatrick,
warned us all that where communism had established its rule, it
had never retreated one square inch. And Mikhail Gorbachev, the
Right told us, was just another Communist apparatchik, like all
the others - "Khruschev with a tailored suit and a thin wife," as
George Will put it.
* In 1990 Nelson Mandela was a prisoner of the South African
apartheid regime. In 1994 he was elected President of the Republic
of South Africa.

Political upheavals are like earthquakes. Beneath a placid landscape,
stresses quietly build up until the fault ruptures, suddenly and without
warning, forever transforming the landscape.

So, is an upheaval looming ahead for the United States? Not necessarily.
For history also teaches us that democracies can descend slowly, by
small increments, into despotism. As William O. Douglas put it: "As
nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both
instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly
unchanged."

Continued here

http://www.democraticunderground.com/crisis/06/049_ep.html

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