Stick to our democratic principles–—worldwide

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I’m flying a flag these days. The Stars and
Stripes, Old Glory, America’s flag, OUR
flag! I’ve strapped it to my .97 made-in the-
USA Ford Escort, and I’m zipping
around town as proudly as anyone else in
the red, white and blue Bubbaland of
South Austin, like some modern-day Patrick
Henry on wheels. As with so many others, I’m
flying our flag out of an assertive, perhaps defiant
pride. for I am proud, damned proud, to be
an American citizen, and, in this time of true woe
and deep national trauma, I’ll be damned to hell
before I meekly sit by and allow this symbol of
our nation’s founding ideals..liberty and justice
for all..to be captured and defiled by reactionary
autocrats, theocrats, xenophobic haters,
warmongers, America-firsters, corporatists,
militarists, fearmongers, political
weasels, and other rank
opportunists.

"Two wrongs don't make a right, but three left turns do." --Jim Hightower


Our flag is no piece of sheeting
for authoritarians to hide
behind as they rend our
hard-won liberties in
the name of “protecting” us
from a dangerous world. We
Americans are not that frightened.
Nor is our flag some
bloody rag to be waved by
politicians hoping to whip us
into such a lust for vengeance
that they can turn our people’s republic
into a garrisoned
state, armed to the teeth and mired in a
quasi-religious war that George W. defines as .this
crusade. to .rid the world of the evildoers.. We
Americans are not that blind.
Our flag is the banner of freedom seekers, risk
takers, democracy builders, rebels, pioneers, mavericks,
barn raisers, and hellraisers, a liberty-loving
people who are naturally suspicious of authority and
able to detect that the real threat to our land of the
free comes not from afar, but from
within.
Our flag is made of strong
democratic cloth, artfully
designed and painstakingly
stitched together over
225 years, liberty by
individual liberty,
people’s movement
by people’s movement.
Our flag embodies
a democratic
continuum
that connects
us today to
the pamphleteers
and
Sons
of Liberty, the Declaration of
Independence and the Bill of
Rights, the abolitionists and the
suffragists, Sojourner Truth and
Frederick Douglass, the populists
and Wobblies, Mother Jones and
Joe Hill, Martin Luther King Jr.
and Cesar Chavez.

“The first job of a citizen is to
keep your mouth open,” wrote
German Nobel Prize winner
Gunther Grass. The Powers That
Be are not interested in having a
national conversation, but I
believe we must push for one
from the grassroots up. Open
your mouth..Hey, I’m an
American, red-blooded and true,
and here’s what that means to
me; what do you think?.
Americans desperately need to
talk, about what our society is,
where we.re headed, what kind of
future we.re creating for the next
generation. Our fellow citizens
are eager to engage. Early one
morning, as I sat in an Austin
coffee shop writing two days after
the terrorist assault, a fellow in a
suit and tie stepped over to me. I
didn’t know him, but he said that
he occasionally read my weekly
columns and felt the need to
acknowledge something: .I mostly
don’t agree with you,. he blurted,
.but I guess today, we.re all
Americans..
Indeed. Let’s talk.
What astonishes me is not that
the Powers That Be would want
to stifle any talk that doesn’t
assert lock-step .patriotism,. but
that so many weak-kneed progressive
leaders have counseled
hiding our light under a bushel
and withdrawing from the noble
field of protest.
For example, an internal memo
to Sierra Club leaders mewed,
.We strongly need to avoid any
perceptions that we are being
disrespectful to President Bush..
Hello? Protest is not disrespectful.
It is the essence of American
democracy, of America itself, and
it is especially essential when a
muddleheaded guy like George
W. sits in the President’s chair,
totally dependent on the military
establishment and corporate
elite, thrusting our sons and
daughters (theirs won’t have to
go) into an unlimited and secretive
world war against terrorists
supposedly entrenched in 60
nations, while simultaneously
rushing to Congress with a package
of 51 .emergency. antiterrorism
bills to put some convenient
crimps and cuts in America’s Bill
of Rights.
If we don’t protest now, when
will it matter? Yet the Sierra
Club’s memo-writer urges that we
shut our mouths for fear of being
deemed unpopular: .Now is the
time for rallying together as a
nation,. he whimpered. Excuse
me, but rally together for what,
exactly?

How to destroy democracy

Terrorists have no ability to
destroy our democracy, but we
do, simply by surrendering it, by
keeping our mouths shut while it
is dismantled by the authorities.
.America is being tested,. bellowed
the political and media
establishments after September
11. True, but the test is not
merely of whether the military
has the brute force to smite our
enemies, though this will certainly
continue to be mightily tested in
the far-flung, open-ended offensive
drawn up by the Bushites.
The real test is going to be of our
democratic resolve. Will we citizens
settle for life in a guarded
and gated corporate empire?
.Everything has changed,. we.re
told. No, it hasn’t.
This pitiful wail by politicians
and pundits went up as quickly
as the Trade Center towers fell,
and now it’s the prevailing excuse
used by those who tell us that to
defend freedom we must surrender
freedoms, to stop terrorist
assaults on our democracy we
must militarize our society.
Republicans are the harshest of
the newly assertive autocrats in
Washington, but Democrats, too,
were quick to accept the post-
September 11 conventional wisdom
that liberties now must be
set aside: .We need to find a new
balance between freedom and
security,. asserted House
Democratic leader Dick Gephardt
just days after the attack, adding
ominously: .We are in a new
world..
No, we.re not. We.re in the
exact same world. It has just
come a lot closer to us, that’s all,
introducing itself to us in a terrible
and personal way that we.ve
basically been uninformed about
until now. Yet we are not some
backward, powerless people who
must flee to our caves.
The adjustment we most need
to make is not in our freedoms,
but in our understanding of who
else is in this big world with us
and what it will take for all of us
to get along. At a minimum, getting
along will require that our
nation’s political and economic
policies begin to reflect our people
.s democratic values, economic
fairness, social justice, equal
opportunity for all.
Far from building on these
strengths, however, the Powers
That Be are appealing solely to
our nativism and pessimism,
demanding that we withdraw into
Fortress America and meekly
allow them to deal secretively,
paternalistically, and cataclysmically
with an uppity world.
But it’s our world, too, that
they plan to up-end. The same
old pols like Dick Cheney, Trent
Lott, and Denny Hastert, who
built their political careers on the
hackneyed line that the ten scariest
words in the English language
are .I’m from the government
and I’m here to help you..are
now squinting into the TV cameras
and, with tight-lipped greasy
smiles, saying, .We.re here to
protect you..
A mess of the .protection. they
have in mind is collected into a
hellish hand basket that they.ve
labeled the .Provide Appropriate
Tools Required to Intercept and
Obstruct Terrorism Act.. Yes,
believe it or not, they.ve cynically
constructed an acronym that
spells: PATRIOT.
Clever, what? T.J., Jimmy
Madison, Old Ben, Tom Paine, the
original George W., and all the
other founding patriots would gag
on this piece of privacy-invading,
liberty-denying nastiness. It
brings back racial profiling with a
vengeance; it makes wiretapping
and Internet surveillance a free for-
all; it authorizes the indefinite
detention of anyone .suspected.
of any terrorist connection, without
the nicety of charging them
with anything, and denies them
any appeal; it requires your bank
to spy on you and to report to
federal agents any .unusual
transaction. (such as depositing
or withdrawing as little as
$5,000); it leaves it to the FBI,
CIA, and other bastions of authoritarianism
to define terrorist activity
(protest at a WTO meeting?) .
. . and so much more.
If only that were the end of it.
They also propose to .unleash.
the CIA. (When, exactly, was it
leashed, and to what?) They want
our super-snoop agency to be
officially authorized to assassinate
people, just like the terrorists do.
They want it to return to what
George Bush the Elder calls the
.dirty business. of espionage,
which is to say hiring .unsavory
people. as CIA agents to do what
needs to be done (Daddy Bush
would know about unsavory, for
he was V.P. when our CIA
financed Osama bin Laden).
Now along comes Bush the
Younger with a dream-come-true
for those who yearn for more
police power in our lives. It’s
called the Office of Homeland
Security, and he’s given it powers
to match the National Security
Agency and a vague mandate
that he glibly defines as .to make
sure that anybody who wants to
harm America will have a hard
time doing so..
The OHS was created by executive
fiat to be a White House
agency. It will have no congressional
oversight of its activities or
budget. In addition, Bush has
unilaterally decided to establish a
.Homeland Defense Command.
within the Pentagon, empowering
the military to gain a foothold
over civilian authority and to act
against U.S. citizens at home.
If this in not enough democracy-
quashing firepower, Congress
is also contemplating approval of
a longtime civil-liberties no-no:
the national ID card. Welcome to
your .new world.. It’s really no
big deal, says Republican subcommittee
chairman George
Gekas, who notes that something
already exists that you might not
know about: the National
Standard for the Driver’s
License/Identification Card.
It’s being done not because it
makes sense, but simply because
there is an urgency to .do something,
. or at least appear to do
something, and the easiest thing
to do in a national crisis is always
to reach for the hammer and
cuffs to shut down everything
from people’s movements to their
mouths. Well, after all, say the
politicians and media with near
unanimity, we.re at war.
No, we.re not. Yes, our forces
are in .hot pursuit. of the maniacal
fiends who, in a grotesque
perversion of Islam (practicing a
violent, puritanical, fringe version
called Wahhabism), have exploded
our buildings, our people, and
our comforting sense of isolation
from an unsettled world’s religious
wars. And yes, George W.
has declared us to be .at war.
with these murderous zealots.
Good for him, except, of
course, that a president has no
authority to declare war. This is
more than a Constitutional nicety;
it is basic to the rule of law,
which in turn is an absolutely
essential underpinning of democracy
.in fact, the founders took
on King George III in the
Revolutionary War so we’d be
governed by law, not kings.
Attorney General John Ashcroft,
never one to contend for a civil liberties
award, has been especially
pushy in his assertion of
martial-law-style executive power,
stamping his tiny feet and
demanding at one point that
Congress pass his police-powers
package .by next week..
Likewise, the media, Congress,
and the White House have clamored
to censor those who have
dared to dissent or diverge from
the orthodox line. For example,
when comedian Bill Maher
expressed some unapproved
thoughts on television, President
Bush’s mouthpiece Ari Fleischer
said: .Americans . . . need to
watch what they say, watch what
they do..
Any time the authorities lock
arms and assert that .everything
has changed,. grab your copy of
the Bill of Rights and rush to the
barricades.

So what can we do?

What should we ask our government
to do?
On the military front, the United
States has no choice but to go
after the bastards. Terrorism ain’t
beanbags. The ruthless mass murderers
smacked our nation and all
of civilization right in the face, and
turning the other cheek only
means we’ll get smacked again.
There’s no subtlety to their
agenda. However, there must
subtlety be to ours. The trick in
smacking back is in knowing who
.they. are, where they are, and
particularly in smacking them
without slaughtering the innocents
they hide among. This
requires a scalpel, not a sledgehammer,
and it requires a long,
patient siege (years) that is
dependent more on creative
diplomacy and old-fashioned
gumshoe espionage than on high-
tech, made-for-CNN missile
shots. Bringing them to justice in
a court of law would be ideal, and
we should seek their capture, but
these are suicidal, doctrinaire
diehards, so blood will flow.
With blood and billions of our
dollars involved, we have a right
to demand a new honesty from
Washington. For starters, they
should start telling us the truth
about the elites of Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, and the United Arab
Emirates, who are the primary
source of brains, money, and
recruits for this Wahhabi jihad.
Leaders of these nations, however,
are the oil buddies, business
partners, and longtime Middle
Eastern enforcers of America’s
corporate empire, so Bush,
Cheney & Co. won’t cop to the
fact that the murderous theocratic
movement now tormenting us
is based in the very nest where
their corporate chums have found
such comfort and profit. Will Bush
go there to “smoke ’em out of
their holes”?
How about a little honesty, too,
on money laundering? Bush has
pointed furiously at foreign
banks, but how about the multibillion-
dollar networks of secret
accounts in the .private banking.
departments of such U.S. giants
as Citigroup (a major Bush campaign
contributor)?
It’s on the home front, however,
where we citizens must be most
forceful in holding Washington
accountable. The looters are
loose. Not common looters rampaging
through the streets, but
corporate looters rampaging
through the Congress.
They are grabbing for bills and
billions that have zero to do with
combating terrorism or rebuilding
our economy, the Star Wars missile-
defense shield, for example,
was zapped through a week after
the attack, even though a box cutter
defense shield would be
much more useful. Then came
.fast track. authority to ram more
global trade deals down the
throats of the world’s people.
pushed by lobbyists and Bush’s
odious trade chief in the name of
patriotism!
The looters also want huge
bailouts, massive corporate tax
cuts, oil drilling in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge, slashing capital
gains taxes (80% of this
break goes to the wealthiest 2%
of Americans), and a host of
other thefts.
Instead of aiding the looters,
Washington should launch a
major reinvestment in grassroots
America. First, stop the firing.
Why should airlines get $15 billion
from taxpayers while axing
100,000 employees? The same
with hotel chains, car-rental corporations,
and other industries
that now demand bailouts. Yes,
these corporations are hard-hit,
but so is America. To stimulate
the economy, put these bailout
funds into the hands of working
families all across America.
Second, strengthen our national
security by making major, long overdue
public investments in our
infrastructure, schoolhouses,
hospitals, roads and bridges,
parks, etc. Add to this a new
nationwide project to reconnect
our population corridors with
high-speed passenger trains. This
makes so much sense that even
the tightly bowtied, right-wing,
anti-government scribe George
Will has embraced it. Then it’s
way past time we expanded
renewable energy sources to
wean us off oil, which weds the
Bush-Cheney crowd to the Saudi
royal family and their ilk.
Third, to deal with the recession:
Instead of cutting income
taxes, cut payroll taxes; raise the
minimum wage; extend health
care, unemployment benefits,
and day care. All of this spreads
money, like fertilizer, to the
grassroots economy, rather than
piling it up inside global banks.
Finally, we must demand openness
and full public discussion on
everything from war and peace to
restrictions on our liberties.
Since September 11, I find a
deep hunger among most
Americans for serious discussion
(including hearing dissent). This
gives me great hope in such a
horrible time. Contrary to the
media’s portrayal of Bellicose
America, the people I.ve encountered
in meetings, in cafes and
bars, and elsewhere (including
the majority of people writing letters-
to-the-editor in papers from
coast to coast) are expressing
anger, grief, and shock, but they
oppose the hush-hush and rushrush
we.re getting, and they want
us to talk and think as a democratic
community.
The better part of patriotism is
for us to raise hard questions, put
out inconvenient information,
assert our values, and appeal to
what Lincoln called .the better
angels of our nature..

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