Monday, April 23, 2007

A Review of Chris Hedges' American Fascists

A Review of Chris Hedges' Christian Fascism - by Stephen Lendman

Chris Hedges is a journalist who for two decades was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times spending much of his time reporting from conflict zones in El Salvador, the Middle East and from Serbia covering the Balkan wars of the 1990s that divided and destroyed a country under the guise of humanitarian intervention providing cover for naked imperialism. There it allowed NATO (meaning the US) to expand into Central and Eastern Europe to keep predatory capitalism on the march for markets, resources and cheap labor everywhere using wars to get them and eliminate "uncooperative" heads of state like Slobodan Milosevic who was kidnapped, Mafia/Mossad-style, by the ICTY kangaroo court in the Hague, hung out to dry when he got there, and in the end effectively or, in fact, murdered to shut him up and prevent ugly truths coming out about what the conflict was really about and who the real criminals were.

The wars and subsequent show-trials had nothing to do with myths about it fed us by Western media. Those wanting the truth can find it in excellent books like Diana Johnstone's Fools' Crusade; the extensive research and writings of Edward Herman, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, law professor Michael Mandel; and the newest book out on the subject titled Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice by British journalist John Laughland. Edward Herman wrote a superb review of the book in the April, 2007 issue of Z Magazine now available in which he pointedly says "the rules of the (illegally constituted) ICTY (established by the US and UK) stood Nuremberg on its head" and Laughland states "instead of applying existing international law, the ICTY has effectively overturned it" to hide NATO's crimes and allow more of the same playing out now in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

The Christian Right supports these type crimes and motives for them readers will understand from Hedges' new book. He's also written many articles and is the author of four books including his bestselling War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning drawing on his experiences in the conflicts he covered describing how people and nations behave in wartime. The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. His newest book is American Fascists - The Christian Right and the War on America published in 2007 and subject of this review. It's an incisive examination of the huge threat extremist Christian fascists pose to a shaky free society most people in the US take for granted but no longer will after reading this important book.

Hedges was educated at Colgate University and received a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. For a time he was a seminarian and is now a senior fellow at the Nation Institute as well as a writer and lecturer at Princeton University where he teaches in the Program for American Studies. He was also an early vocal critic of the Bush administration's plan to attack, invade and occupy Iraq characterizing war as "the most potent narcotic invented by humankind" while professing not to be a pacifist.

This review will cover the essence and flavor of American Fascists beginning with some background on the Christian right, its influence, and danger it poses that Hedges covers in detail. He said he wrote the book out of anger and fear of the fundamentalist Christian Right seeking to establish theocratic dominion over society in America in the name of God and is using the Republican party as their vehicle to do it. He compares the movement's messianic mission to Italian and German fascism of the last century cloaking itself in Christianity and patriotism as their way to gain political power under theocracy's literal meaning from the Greek words "Theos" meaning "God" and "cratein/crasy" meaning to rule.

They're not kidding and neither is the risk they'll gain control of government with some observers in Washington believing they already have it including journalist/commentator Bill Moyers saying "for the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington." Some call them "The Christian Mafia" noting they're well-funded by and allied with wealthy, powerful hard right businessmen like beer magnate Joseph Coors and Amway founder Richard DeVos, Sr. Hedges calls them American Fascists, and his powerful book leaves no doubt how great a threat they are to our cherished liberties in a free society now in great jeopardy. Below is an explanation of the Christian Right and fundamentalist movement overall before getting into the book.

The Christian Right and Its Fundamentalist Movement

The Christian or Religious Right is broadly defined to include adherents of the radical or hard right embracing their kind of extremist political, economic, social and religious ideology falsely called conservative which is a relative term referring philosophically to favoring traditional values including libertarian ones centered on the right of everyone to be master of his or her own fate.

Earlier, sociologist scholar Sara Diamond wrote extensively on the rise of right wing groups in the country providing readers with a wealth of information based on her firsthand research. In her seminal 1995 book, Roads to Dominion, she traced the various movements over the past 50 years identifying four types she discovered:

1. The anti-communist conservative movement that in the 1970s included moral traditionalism of the emerging Christian Right.

2. The racist Right including the KKK and other segregationist groups and later the paramilitary white supremacist movement.

3. The Christian Right with its evangelical roots, and

4. Neoconservatives with roots in the Cold War and Democrat party later finding a new home in the Republican party under Ronald Reagan.

Diamond explained these movements involved scores of organizations, not monolithic in beliefs, who nonetheless share a common set of policy preferences that unite them listing three core areas - the economy, the "nation-state in global context (military and diplomatic)," and moral norms relating to race and gender. The movements are also unified in their advocacy of free-market capitalism, anticommunism (now anything left of center), US worldwide military hegemony, traditional morality, superiority of native-born white male Christian Americans, and the traditional nuclear family. In addition, Diamond lists what she calls the "three pillars of the US Right" calling them "tendencies, not absolutes" - libertarianism, anticommunist militarism (now all liberal/progressive/leftist non-extremist Christian ideology), and traditionalism.

In her book, Diamond included a detailed history of the Christian Right explaining how it came to be the largest, most influential movement on the far right dominating policy-making in Republican-led governments and especially the one not yet in power under George W. Bush. She explained it all in over 300 fact-crammed pages and another 100 pages of notes and references. It's important background information summarized here briefly to set the stage for Hedges important account of what the Christian Right is up to today, why it matters, and why this dominant movement threatens freedom and democracy in America and the values most here hold dear, including most of the 70 million evangelicals, a minority of whom are radical ideologues selling their dogma of hate and domination to convert the others and destroy non-believers.

Our Secular State Founding Principles

Christians founded America believing church and state should be separated, and Jefferson called for "a wall of separation" between them in 1802 after freedom of religion became part of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Today that bedrock founding principle is jeopardized by the extremist Christian Right. If they get their way, they'll tear down that wall with considerable public support from the 40% in the country polls say take the Bible literally, and nearly one-third believe in the "rapture" as Hedges explains in his book. The notion comes from conservative Protestant eschatology denoting the final happening when "good Christians" on earth are saved and "raptured" to heaven to be with Jesus in eternal immortality while non-believers are doomed to a more hellish, less "rapturous" fate Hedges characterizes as suffering "unspeakable torments below."

These believers and all others are entitled to their views, but the Constitution forbids them forcing them on others. Earlier Supreme Courts agreed in decisions requiring a "wall of separation" between church and state prohibiting the adoption of any state religion and requiring government to avoid undue involvement in religion, its trappings or expressions.

That status was put in jeopardy following the introduction in Congress of the "Constitution Restoration Act of 2004." It was then reintroduced in near-identical form in 2005, never passed, and now awaits its fate in the Democrat-led 110th Congress or a future one that may or may not let it die. If it's ever adopted in its present form, it will turn the country into a de facto theocracy despite its supporters' denial. Don't believe them as getting this passed is key to the Christian Right's mission to turn America into a fascist theocracy where constitutional law is abolished in favor of extremist Christian dogma Dominionists like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and others in the movement want to be the supreme law of the land.

In their world, under their law, practitioners of other faiths will be lawbreakers including about 75 million non-Christians and many others of the faith not willing to go along with their interpretation of it. The "Constitution Restoration Act of 2005" will also deny the Supreme Court's right to challenge anyone in or affiliated with federal, state or local government acknowledging the Christian "God (in their canon) as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government." Henceforth, any judge at any level interpreting the new law differently would be subject to impeachment and prosecution in the United (extremist Christian) States of (fascist) America ruled by people like Pat Robertson and others like him.

American Fascists Masquerading as True Christians - Defiling the Teachings of Christ, His Twelve Apostles and Others of the Faith

Hedges begins his book with a powerful quote from Blaise Pascal that "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Until the modern era, the best examples in Christendom were the first Crusades when Popes like Urban II sanctioned holy wars between 1095 - 1291 to wrest Jerusalem and the "Holy Land" from "heretic" Muslims and later ones in the 16th century against infidels - in the name of God.

Today in America, Dominionists are the new "crusaders" Hedges equates with 20th century fascists because of their fanaticism. They cloak their ideology in Christianity and patriotism as their way to gain political power they claim is sanctioned by the Almighty to give the movement moral legitimacy. But beneath the surface, their doctrine is dark and foreboding posing real dangers to a free society not to be taken lightly. It comes from their view of Genesis 1:26-31 they interpret to mean God gave man "dominion....over all the Earth," and that Jesus commanded his followers to impose godly rule over everyone denouncing people of other faiths and non-believers. The modern blueprint for this ideology comes from the writings of RJ Rushdoony's 1973 book, The Institutes of Biblical Law, calling for a Christian government. It advocates torture and death for gays, non-Christians resisting conversion, anyone committing blasphemy, and women guilty of "unchastity before marriage."

Ideology of Radical Christian Right Fascists

Christian Right extremists advocate a frightening ideology detailed below. It includes:

-- Racial hatred.

-- White Christian supremacy.

-- Blind adoration and obedience of the movement's leadership while discouraging free and independent thought.

-- Male gender dominance portraying Jesus as a real man dominating through force like a powerful warrior ignoring fundamental Christian "thou shall not kill" doctrine. It's an ideology of hyermasculinity centered in a male-dominated authoritarian church and in the home where men are encouraged to dominate their wives, and women and children are taught to submit.

Well-known Christian Right leader James Dobson built his career on these ideas and now has a huge media empire dispensing advice as a Christian therapist over his Focus on the Family program. He's heard on more than 3000 radio stations and 80 TV stations reaching 200 million people in 116 countries from his 81 acre campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado employing 1300 people. He's fiercely anti-choice and anti-gay and has backed political candidates advocating abortionists be executed. He also calls stem cell research "state-funded cannibalism" and urges Christian parents take their children out of public schools and put them in Christian ones teaching his ideology.

Dobson preaches male dominance calling non-submission a violation of God's law. He also thinks murder is wrong but not when committed against infidel Iraqis or Islamic terrorists saying all non-believers, heretics and sinners will be consumed in an End Times Tribulation of terrible calamities and torment lasting seven years with non-redeemers condemned to eternal punishment. True believers adhering to holy scriptures, however, will be saved and "raptured" to eternal life and bliss in heaven. But getting there means going along with what he, End Times guru Timothy LaHaye, and other dominant Christian Right figures like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell preach including that they have a divine right to rule and must be obeyed.

Hedges notes that televangelists like Robertson, Benny Hill, Paul and Jan Crouch and others "rule their fiefdoms as despotic potentates" some adherents might think isn't God's way of doing things. They travel with burly bodyguards in kingly luxury on private jets; have amassed huge personal fortunes, much of it gotten from listener subjects; and show up everywhere in limousines with all the pomposity of heads of state and billionaire CEOs but in their case playing God as false prophets "clutching the cross and the Bible (offering seductively), like Mephistopheles, to lead us to a mythical paradise and impossible, unachievable happiness and security" provided we surrender our will to theirs and our money too, which is one way they get rich.

They preach a false gospel of prosperity and well-being preying on the gullible to believe faith alone cures illness, overcomes emotional distress, and assures financial and physical security so there's no need for traditional secular institutions, social service organizations and government regulatory agencies to exist. The movement preaches those not trusting them lack faith, that God alone is enough, and that fate is determined by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in a world in which individuals surrender their will to a higher authority dictated by the leadership. Hedges sums it up saying tyranny follows when "fealty to an ideology becomes a litmus test for individual worth" and a world of "miracles and magic" is the only "place to turn for help" ruled by Christian Right extremists "grow(ing) rich off (the vulnerable) who suffer" becoming passive in the process.

-- Hatred of gays, the "gay agenda," and everyone in the LBGT movement with Christian Right adherents believing "same-sex attraction" can be cured like a virus their ideological medicine can fix. They define the problem as "male gender deficit" for which "reparative therapy" is the antidote gotten from a close connection with a strong heterosexual man "comfortable in his male role." With nonsensical ideological fervor, they believe bonding with a straight man makes homosexuality disappear while at the same time denouncing gays as depraved perverts and criminals threatening all Christians.

-- Disdain for non-believers and rational intellectual inquiry.

-- Condemnation of self-criticism and debate as apostasy.

-- Frequent use of the death penalty including for abortionists, gays, Muslim "terrorists" and other "heretics."

-- Adoration of militarism, war and apocalyptic violence. Adherence to these notions is so extreme that in the run-up to the Iraq conflict, many Christian Right leaders and End Times believers preached opposing war was anti-American and contrary to God's plan and what's written in the Bible as they interpret it. Their many supporters in Congress include Minority Leader John Boehner, who supports endless wars. He recently said "The spread of radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to our nation (and) the free world....They are (everywhere and) growing right here in America....dedicated to killing Americans (and) our allies, and ending freedom and wanting to impose some radical Islamic law on the entire world." With leaders like Boehner in Congress and the administration, it's easy to see the influence of radical Christian fundamentalist poison infecting the body politic and threatening everyone with it.

-- Illegalization of abortion even in the case of rape and incest.

-- Ending public education with Bush administration help budgeting billions of dollars for extremist Christian faith-based organizations. They renounce proved science like evolution allowing only creationism repackaged as "intelligent design" to be taught as well as other extremist Christian values sold through the "big lie" to trick those in the movement to believe mysticism and magic are facts. Hedges calls the process a "war on truth" where the culture war front lines are in classrooms, and the battle is one traditional educators are losing. Core values of a free and open society are being destroyed and replaced through a process of thought control based on pseudoscience assaulting the real thing on everything challenging extremist Christian ideology from creation to HIV/AIDS to pregnancy prevention to global warming to war and peace.

It's also happening inside government alarming the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) advocacy organization to write in its March, 2004 Scientific Integrity in Policymaking report: "There is significant evidence that the scope and scale of the (scientifically unethical) manipulation, suppression, misrepresentation of science by the (Christian Right dominated) Bush administration are unprecendented."

-- A primary Christian mission to proselytize non-believers to the faith by recruiting "soldiers in the army of Jesus Christ" quoting Dr. D. James Kennedy of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Coral Ridge, Florida near Fort Lauderdale, just north of Miami. His voice is dominant in the Christian Right and carried over the huge multimedia empire he built with his weekly broadcasts heard and seen on more than 600 TV stations, four cable networks and the Armed Forces Network reaching millions of people.

He also has a six day a week radio show on 744 stations reaching millions more preaching his radical ideology that "the Christian view of morality (according to the Christian Right) is the (only) one that should prevail in America" while denouncing liberal churches and other religions as godless. He holds workshops teaching how to sell his brand of religiosity using the same kinds of brainwashing/marketing techniques political and other extremist movements know work. They promise believers eternal life while those not saved are damned to eternal punishment.

-- Rejection of secular humanist notions of reason, ethics, social equity and justice believing a better world is possible through good will in a free and open society. Also claims secular humanist organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood and others want to destroy a Christian America. They further include the major TV networks (for airing sex and violence); major newspapers and magazines; US State Department; foundations like Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie; the UN; the Democrat party left/liberals; Harvard, Yale and 2000 other universities; and all others not buying their gospel of extremist white Christian dominionism and hate.

-- Seizing on the common denominator of pain, disillusion, dislocation, suffering and despair felt by millions caused by a culture of "soulless landscapes filled with strip malls and highways" to build a mass movement of servile, unthinking followers. They've replaced the real world of science, law and rationality with unquestioning belief in the word of the leadership and a glorious other utopian unreal world of prophets, mystical signs and magical mumbo jumbo that's real to them and in which they're "protected, loved, guided and blessed." It promises what followers don't have - a stable home and family, loving community, fixed moral standards, financial and personal success, and abolition of doubt and uncertainty based on religious vision and moral clarity. It also frighteningly promises a final apocalyptic battle of their "good" against all else they call "evil" exterminating the forces believers blame on their despair after which they will emerge victorious and saved.

-- A Christian totalitarian ethic based on a gospel of "free -market" capitalism, militarism and intolerance of democratic freedom of thought and action.

-- A fanatical devotion to and support for the state of Israel as Jerusalem, and specifically the Temple Mount Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, is where Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians believe the second coming of the Messiah will be and thus is the holiest site in the world for Christians and Jews as well who want it for a third and final Temple. Enter Rev. John Hagee of the 18,000-strong Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, global TV ministry, and his Christians United for Israel (CUFI) radical organization founded in early 2006. He's perhaps the most extremist, bellicose and influential Christian Zionist in America today preaching Muslims are Islamic fascists waging war against Western civilization. His antidote is a gospel of preemptive war against Islam in self-defense including one against Iran now if he had his way. The danger is warmongering hate-preachers like Hagee and others reach large audiences convincing millions of adherents they're right.

The Dark Side of Radical Christian Morality

Hedges notes the movement's appeal is from the leadership's promise of a moral Christian nation promising renewal. But the message hides a darker side with Dominionists awaiting a fiscal, social and/or political crisis great enough to end democratic constitutional government replacing it with their vision of a Christian fascist theocratic America. In the meantime, they spent a generation working for this and now have great influence at state, local and federal levels of government.

Hedges notes the movement already controls the Republican party. In addition, Christian fundamentalists hold a majority of seats in 18 of 50 states plus large minorities in the others. Also, (as of the book's publication) 45 senators and 186 House members got 80 - 100% approval ratings from the three most influential Christian Right advocacy groups: The Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum and Family Resource Council. This represents a dominant mass movement succeeding because mainstream Christians and the major media aren't confronting it, and their passivity threatens the constitutional rights of a democratic state on life support sinking fast with help from the Christian Right on the ascendancy.

They're influence is spread by Christian broadcasters commanding large audiences estimated to be 141 million in the US through radio and TV. They preach the Christian Right gospel flaunting their wealth, power and celebrity status to show it works for believers of the faith. They believe in unrestrained free-market capitalism, divinely sanctioned to freely create a global marketplace of (non-Christian, non-believing) serfs, denied all rights, forbidden to organize, and left to the mercy of a repressive state and corporate predators out for profit and to be allowed to dictate wages and control the right to work.

Compassion for the less fortunate is left to individual acts of charity and the churches with government out of it entirely and only dedicated to social control and aggressive militarism dictated by a warrior God (meaning Jesus) giving Christian America the right to rule the world and assure corporate giants can suck all the profit and life out of it. Hedges explains the Christian Right sells an ideology believing it's a "Christian duty to embrace the exploitation of others, to build a Christian America where freedom means the freedom of the powerful to dominate the weak....to bring about (their notion of ) a Christian utopia (that when no legal or social protections remain) it will be too late to resist (and the movement's leadership will be in control of everything)." Their plan is to "convince the masses to agitate for their own incarceration" shocking as that notion sounds, but it's working.

The movement is on a "crusade" against constitutional government working for now within the political system it wants to destroy and remake in its own image. Awaiting the time they'll take over, they're creating a parallel system within the existing one in which only "Bible-believing" judges, Christian teachers, and pseudo-reporters on Christian broadcasts are tolerated. And only white Christian men championing their extremist doctrine will be allowed to rule. Students are taught this ideology in Christian schools Hedges says are the fastest growing segment of the private school system. Textbooks used call Islam, Buddhism and African religions "false," Hinduism "pagan," and even Catholicism "distorted."

It's also heard on the campaign trail from candidates like "stalwart on the Christian Right" 2006 Ohio gubernatorial losing candidate Kenneth Blackwell who as secretary of state and co-chair of Ohio's Committee to Reelect George Bush in 2004 "arranged" for enough votes in the state to go to the sitting president to swing Ohio and the election for him. In his own losing effort in 2006, he appeared at Christian Right rallies laying out a blueprint for an authoritarian state where all dissent is heresy yet campaigned carefully not to offend those outside the movement by avoiding religious terminology.

Christian Right Fascism in Real Time in "Bush's Shadow Army" - Blackwater USA

Journalist and author Jeremy Scahill characterizes Blackwater USA as "the world's most powerful mercenary army" in his new book about them. Like Hedges' book, it's frightening reading needing exposure. It describes a "shadowy mercenary company....largely off the congressional radar....having remarkable power and protection within the US war apparatus" with no accountability or oversight on the ground in Iraq, (working for the State Department, not the Pentagon, with a $300 million no-bid contract), Afghanistan, on US streets and in neighborhoods like New Orleans, and coming soon to a city and neighborhood near you courtesy of the Gestapo-like Department of Homeland Security. With backing from the Bush administration, it operates outside the law and Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and is immune from civil lawsuits like the military. Scahill calls Blackwater the "Bush Administration's Praetorian Guard (along with the CIA long-serving in that capacity and that uses Blackwater in its illegal covert operations abroad and at home)."

Blackwater was founded in 1996 by former Navy SEAL and now super-rich Erik Prince who's closely tied to the Christian Right he funds and supports. It came into its own post 9/11 becoming a dominant player in the Bush administration's "Global War on Terror" (GLOB) now rebranded "The Long War." Today, Blackwater employs 2300 personnel in nine countries with 20,000 or more private mercenary contractors ready to go wherever needed and are part of the 100,000 contractors in Iraq, 48,000 of whom are paramilitary mercenaries. It also has a fleet of 20 aircraft (believed to have been used covertly as part of the Bush administration's "extraordinary renditions" of targeted individuals), including helicopter gunships, a private intelligence division, and operates at home on its 7000 acre Moyock headquarters Scahill calls "the world's largest private military base."

It's not enough for Blackwater in the burgeoning world of privatized secret mercenary paramilitary armies coming soon to a neighborhood near you, so the company is preparing by seeking an environmentally sensitive protected agricultural preserve southeast of San Diego, CA for it current expansion plans. It's an 824 acre site in Potrero, CA surrounded by the Cleveland Forest Blackwater wants for a military training base with 15 firing ranges for automatic and non-automatic weapons and various types of commando-type training facilities residents don't want near their community for obvious reasons concerning safety. People everywhere should object, for what may endanger one isolated community now or a larger one in New Orleans already may threaten us all in a paramilitarized America we're heading for locked down by Blackwater-type storm troops enforcing Christian Right fascist dogma.

In the meantime, Blackwater is cashing in big as a war profiteer getting huge no-bid Bush administration contracts Congress belatedly is showing interest in wanting to oversee to eliminate abuses. Whether it will happen, however, is problematical as current laws on the books aren't enforced making it likely new ones won't be either on all matters relating to foreign wars, so-called "terrorism," or anything claimed for national security. As long as the nation is in wars both parties support and the Christian Right is dominant, companies like Blackwater will thrive. With them, wars are easier to get into and harder to end meaning the culture of militarism will grow abroad and at home that's part of the Christian Right's agenda to impose its extremist theocratic rule on the country where, if it happens, democratic freedom, as we know it, is incompatible. Under it, Blackwater's private army will be on our city streets as thuggish paramilitary enforcers licensed to terrorize and kill with impunity bringing to America what they're well paid to do abroad.

"Eternal" Fascist Chickens Coming Home to Roost

A generation ago, the notion of a "global Christian empire" was barely credible, but Hedges' ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, 80-year old Dr. James Luther Adams, warned back then we'd all one day be fighting "Christian fascists." It was when Pat Robertson and other radical televangelists began preaching a new political religion aimed at creating a dominant Christian world according to their extremist views. Adams was in Germany in 1935 and 1936 and saw with horror what happened there firsthand. Hedges says he "was not a man to use the word 'fascist' lightly." He understood before most others the similarities of that time in Germany to what was developing here around 1980. He saw "how the mask of religion hides irreligion (and) our world is full to bursting with (various) faiths, each contending for allegiance." It was a virtual "battle of faiths, a battle of the gods who claim human allegiance."

Adams knew deep-seated resentments and bigotry exist in all democratic societies like Weimar Germany and saw it emerging in 1980s America promoting the destruction of democracy. He feared late in his life a movement here was on the march, more cleverly packaged and sophisticated than in the past and this time with no serious opposition. He saw hatreds being stoked, progressive forces weakening, and the despair of tens of millions of Americans losing good manufacturing and other well-paying jobs being easy prey for smooth-talking fanatics like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell promising miracles and visions of apocalyptic glory.

Adams said then to watch the Christian Right's treatment of gays knowing the Nazis used their "values" to repress opponents and just days after coming to power in 1933 Hitler banned all gay and lesbian organizations as his first target with many others to follow. Pastor Martin Niemoller warned us in different versions of his famous quotation listing Jews, communists and trade unionists targeted but omitting the one Hitler chose first. He didn't speak out because he wasn't one of them, and when they came for him there was no one left. It was too late.

Adams explained gays in a Christian Right dominated American would be the first "social deviants" singled out for condemnation, disempowerment and elimination as in Nazi Germany. Other targeted groups would follow, and we would be next. He then warned as does Hedges that forces against American democracy are "waiting for a moment to strike, a national crisis that will allow them to shred the Constitution in the name of national security." The Christian Right awaits that time "with gleeful anticipation" wanting adherents to be ready.

Hedges warns we also must be ready quoting Alvin Toffler saying "if you don't have a strategy you end up being part of someone else's strategy." It means challenging the Christian Right's gospel of hate, "exclusion, cruelty and intolerance in the name of God" with a doctrine of life, hope and respect for the worth and dignity of everyone, and their right to practice their beliefs openly in a free society. That's the American dream shared by free people everywhere. At the book's end, Hedges says preserving it means giving up "passivity, challeng(ing) aggressively this movement's deluded appropriation of Christianity (and fighting back) to defend tolerance." Wishing won't make it so. Defending democracy means working at it every day. Today we face an imminent threat to our freedom against which "tolerance coupled with passivity is a (deadly) vice" that will destroy us unless we're on guard to be sure it doesn't.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen each Saturday to the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro Effect.com noon US central time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New US Postal Rates Undermine Small Publications

New US Postal Rates Undermine Small Publications - by Stephen Lendman

The US Constitution's First Amendment guarantees the right of free expression including a press free to do it in. Jefferson, Madison and Congress wanted information easily and cheaply disseminated to the public and structured a comprehensive postal system designed to do it reaching into cities and villages alike including in new developing parts of the country in the West. The mass media of that time consisted largely of pamphlets like those Tom Paine wrote and colonial era newspapers beginning with the first ever published called the Boston News-Letter debuting in April, 1704 and later Ben Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette first published in 1728 that gained the largest circulation of that time and was considered the best newspaper in the colonies.

Later ones survived and flourished because Congress wanted them to. It chose to underwrite their proliferation by not taxing them and through a system of low affordable postal rates and free exchange of newspapers among themselves. Congress then gave all newspapers equal privilege to encourage their growth and help prevent government from manipulating news and public opinion the way it's done now through the dominant media in all forms.

In his 2004 book, The Creation of the Media, Princeton sociologist Paul Starr explained how politics in early America assured the nation's postal system would make it possible for the press to grow and thrive. He wrote: "In the 18th century, the idea was that the press could be people's guardian. (It) could help check abuses of power." Unanticipated at the time was how media would develop becoming so concentrated and dominant it would end up "pos(ing) new problems for democracy." It's even worse when the media decides it's in its own interest to partner with government instead of being its watchdog.

Such is the state of things today, and it's led to first time ever changes in postal policy directly subverting USPS' own 215 year history. That's according to the urgent message just sent his Free Press supporters (including this writer) by the organization's founder, author, media critic, activist, and noted professor of media studies at the University of Illinois' main campus in Champaign-Urbana, Robert McChesney.

He noted how rarely he sends out messages to "everyone in (his) address book (but did it this time on a matter he finds) "of staggering importance and urgency (because) There is a major crisis in our media taking place right now; it's getting almost no attention and unless we act very soon the consequences for our society could well be disastrous. And it will only take place because it is being done without any public awareness or participation (going against) the very foundations of freedom of the press (in all) American history."

McChesney goes on saying (unless stopped) the US postal system is implementing "a radical reformulation of its rates for magazines" to place a much larger cost burden on smaller periodicals than on the largest ones standing to benefit from the policy change. Up to now, postal policy "converted the (First Amendment's) Free Press clause....from an abstract principle into a living breathing reality for Americans," and it's been that way "throughout our history."

All that's about to be scrapped with new rates scheduled to take effect July 15 under which small publications will pay postal rates as much as 20% higher than the largest ones in a willful plan to undermine them, weaken media competition further, and as McChesney explains: "make it almost impossible to launch a new magazine (or other publication) unless it is spawned by a huge conglomerate" wanting to get huger. This new postal policy, crafted "in the dark of night," will adversely affect every small political journal in the nation including those providing the only print source of real news, information and analysis of vital world and national issues many readers rely on but may lose.

That's the whole idea with the nominally independent US Postal Service (USPS) in bed with big media to stack the deck in its favor and in the process subvert the sacred First Amendment moving flank speed toward the dustbin of history unless derailed. That's no understatement with this policy less than 90 days from taking effect along with the still unresolved battle in Congress over Net Neutrality allowing readers access to this article they may not have in the future if telecom and cable giants gain control of the internet so it's no longer free and open.

McChesney notes the new postal rates "were developed with no public involvement or congressional oversight (in a scheme) drafted by (media giant) Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the nation." McChesney believes responsible postal bureaucrats failed to consider how adverse their action is to a free and open press. This writer's view is darker, however, believing it's another example of dirty political machinations with corporate America telling government and bureaucrats to jump and their responding how high.

McChesney continues saying how hard it is to exaggerate the "corruption and sleaziness of this" whole business with a big media lawyer he quotes admitting: "It takes a publishing company several hundred thousand dollars to even participate in these rate cases. Some large corporations spend millions to influence these rates."

He continues saying the "genius of the postal rate structure over the past 215 years was that it did not favor a particular viewpoint (and) it simply made it easier for smaller magazines to be launched and to survive." It's a democracy issue, it affects all small and mid-sized ones, on the left and right, in all fields or subjects like "politics, music, sports or gardening."

The whole dirty business went on with so little publicity and only big media involved. It's only come to light a few weeks ago, and it's now late in the game to try stopping it. But that's just what must be done and here's how:

Go to www.stoppostalratehikes.com. Sign the letter to the Postal Board protesting the new rate system and "demanding a congressional hearing" with no radical changes until one is gotten.

Help spread the word on this to friends and family and get them to act as well - NOW.

Important: THE DEADLINE FOR COMMENTS IS MONDAY, APRIL 23. Action is needed promptly.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro Effect.com each Saturday at noon US central time.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ecuador Votes For Revolutionary Change

Ecuador Votes For Revolutionary Change - by Stephen Lendman

Ecuadorean President Raphael Correa took office January 15 promising his people progressive, revolutionary social and economic change unlike anything this country of mostly impoverished people ever had before under its right wing only governments beholden solely to capital interests. Correa promised a "citizens' revolution" beginning by drafting a new Constitution in a Constituent Assembly for which a national referendum was held April 15 allowing Ecuadoreans the right to decide on it, not politicians.

Yesterday the people spoke loudly and clearly in favor of proceeding. The referendum was passed overwhelmingly by 78.1% in favor against a mere 11.5% opposed (with remaining ballots left blank or were void) according to a Cedatos-Gallup exit poll conducted among 40,000 voters with a margin of error around 2% that will be very close to the final official vote count due out in a week according to Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Council (TSE).

The referendum was monitored by representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) who judged it fair and open, but that judgment won't likely silence Correa's critics crying foul, calling the whole process unconstitutional, and saying adopting the "Venezuelan model" will scare off foreign investors - all false and misleading as eight years under Hugo Chavez proves. Venezuela is thriving economically under his progressive leadership, and Correa now hopes his agenda for progressive social and economic change will achieve the same results for Ecuador and its people. He now has a chance to do it.

Correa is following the same pattern Hugo Chavez chose in 1999 following his first election as Venezuela's president in December, 1998. Chavez held a national referendum that passed overwhelmingly followed three months later by elections to the National Constituent Assembly. It then drafted the country's new Constitucion de la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela giving all Venezuelans a cornucopia of progressive social policies written into law. It appears Ecuador will go the same route with a new Constitution to be drafted later this year that again will be put to a popular referendum to let the people decide on it, not the politicians.

Sunday, President Correa voiced what most Ecuadoreans feel saying "It's a day of national celebration, a victory for the people, for democracy" as he voted at a polling station in northern Quito, the capital. Correa promised progressive change for his people desperate for it, and as the country's eighth president (three of them publicly toppled) in the last turbulent decade, he's committed to deliver it saying earlier he'd resign from office if the April 15 referendum failed to pass. He had little reason to worry.

Hugo Chavez congratulated Correa and his people in his weekly Sunday radio and television program "Alo (Hello) Presidente" saying "Correa will go forward with the support of the great majority. We wish the best for the Ecuadorean people and President Correa, who has heeded with courage and valor the call of 21st century socialism." The sentiment in Washington is likely to be quite different with public comments ahead barely concealing official contempt for any regional efforts toward real progressive democratic change. But what else would we expect from an administration run by a criminal element with no respect for the law or democratic will of people anywhere. Stay tuned for more developments as they unfold.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro Effect.com each Saturday at noon US central time.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wall Street Journal and New York Times Attack Journalism

Wall Street Journal and New York Times Attack Journalism - by Stephen Lendman

This article addresses two of the writer's favorite corporate media targets - the Wall Street Journal's far-right editorial page and New York Times on every page. Both broadsheets were recently in attack mode taking on two Latin American leaders deserving praise but never getting any other than occasional backhanded kinds from papers devoted to one dual core mission - supporting the power elite and their own bottoms lines. First, the Journal.

Readers need a strong stomach and nerves of steel venturing onto the Wall Street Journal's editorial page any time, but especially on days when self-styled "Latin American expert" Mary Anastasia O'Grady's columns appear. This writer has tangled with her a time or two before. In a response last fall, it was suggested she one day risks a serious back problem, the result of her permanent position of genuflection to the far-right extremists she pledges allegiance to. Based on her latest offering, nothing has changed, but readers be warned. Those accepting how she views Latin America won't ever know the way it really is.

Her latest April 9 column titled "Sharp Left Turn in Ecuador" makes the case. It demands another go at her at least to set the record straight she never does except for those preferring her kind of vitriol and fiction to fact. First off, a reminder of O'Grady's background to understand where she's coming from. She earlier worked as an options strategist for Advest, Inc., Thompson McKinnon Securities, and Merrill Lynch & Co. She was also employed once at the far-right Heritage Foundation think tank that never met a regressive corporate-friendly policy or US war of aggression it didn't support or a populist progressive independent head of state it didn't denounce as a threat to national security or worse.

O'Grady was also awarded the private media Inter-American Press Association's (IAPA - for private media corporations) Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary in 1997 and received an honorable mention in IAPA's opinion award category for 1999. In addition, she won first prize in the 2005 Annual Bastiat Prize for Journalism. The prize was established and run by the International Policy Network (IPN - a UK based NGO) to "encourage and reward writers whose published works promote the institutions of a free society" according to how its patron saint, 19th century French-born Frederic Bastiat, saw things. He had a deep distrust of government in any form and thought regulation and control were inefficient, economically destructive and morally wrong, or as IPN puts it: It supports "limited government, rule of law brokered by an independent judiciary, protection of private property, free markets, free speech, and sound science."

It sounds like apple pie and motherhood, but IPN doesn't explain those things are in the eye of the beholder, and high-sounding language can easily brush over policies of another kind. One nation's free markets doesn't mean they're fair and private property rights have no right infringing on the public commons. They're for everyone equally, not just the elitist ones IPN refers to reflecting its membership encouraging what it calls "better public understanding of the role of the institutions of the free society in social and economic development."

O'Grady launches her attack with what she calls "the constitutional crisis that Ecuador finds itself in today (facing a) modern day plunder frenzy (pitting) President Raphael Correa, an outspoken admirer of Venezuelan Hugo Chavez, against members of Congress who wish to preserve the country's institutional balance of power. At stake is the future of democracy, with 13 million Ecuadoreans facing the prospect of life under a soft dictatorship allied with the Venezuelan strongman."

It's enough to take your breath away, and a little translation is in order to set the record straight O'Grady never does. Remember where she's coming from, who she writes for, and above all whom she represents - the nation's power elite, not the people of Ecuador who elected Correa last November in a run-off presidential election. He decisively bested bible-toting, billionaire oligarch and banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa 58% to 42% in a race pitting progressive populism against more of the same meaning status quo in a country long ruled for the interests of capital with no regard for the public welfare.

Correa took office January 15 making impressive promises he's so far trying to keep. That arouses O'Grady's ire so she oxymoronically refers to "non-democratic Ecuador" while admitting, at the same time, Correa "was elected fair and square." The people of Ecuador, 70% of whom live in poverty, were crying for change as do most others in Latin America where free elections are as rare as an early Chicago spring, and "demonstration" fake ones are nearly all they get. They're stage-managed to look democratic but usually turn out leaving power in the hands of the powerful, never the people they rule with disdain and indifference. Today they're run the same way in the US in the age of George Bush gifted his office twice through "electoral engineering," winning it neither time fair and square like Correa did in spite of great efforts to prevent it.

Early on, Correa campaigned like George Bush never did promising real change including using the country's oil revenue (Ecuador is the hemisphere's fifth largest producer) for critically needed social services Ecuadoreans never got before from right wing governments unwilling to provide them. He promised a "citizens' revolution" beginning by drafting a new Constitution in a Constituent Assembly with a national referendum on it scheduled for Sunday, April 15 following the same pattern his ally Hugo Chavez chose in 1999 following his first election as Venezuela's president in December, 1998. With popular support for it overwhelming (85% according to government polls, likely very accurate), it's virtually certain to pass, again arousing O'Grady's ire calling this democratic process a "power grab" intended to "rewrite the highest law of the land, crush the opposition and make himself (Correa) ruler for life (sparking a) constitutional crisis." For the kleptocracy maybe, not for the long-exploited people.

O'Grady is right about one thing. Only the country's unicameral legislature can call for a national constitutional referendum, but that's precisely what it did by a vote of 54 - 1 with two abstentions after most opposition Christian Democratic Union (UDC) deputies walked out facing overwhelming popular sentiment for it and their likely defeat.

Here's O'Grady's account of things, all false and pure nonsense: "Mr. Correa (got) the electoral court (Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Council - TSE) to 'expel' 57 of his opponents (only 43 walked out) from the 100-seat unicameral legislature (they left on their own) and enlist(ed) the police to enforce the expulsions (false - there were none). He then called in his 'militias' (and) in recent days the streets of Quito (the capital) have been flush with violent activists (mass public supporters) sending a message in favor of the Correa plebiscite....Mr. Correa (with) an approval rating of about 60% (around 70%, in fact) seems to believe he has carte blanche to make the law wherever he decides it is." Ecuadoreans will decide it, not Raphael Correa as O'Grady knows but won't say. Her job is delivering red meat for the faithful and pure baloney to her readers for the powerful interests she serves deferentially.

She goes on pathetically calling the people of Ecuador a "mobocracy" in a country led by a "caudillo"
(strongman). Disingenuously she says Sunday's referendum is "outside the law" referring to the democratic voice of the people as "lawful plunder." She then improperly quotes her apparent patron saint Frederic Bastiat at the end saying: "Woe to the nation....when the mass victims (the exploited masses) of lawful plunder....in turn seize the power to make laws." In fact, they seized nothing. They're democratically voting for it to get what negates O'Grady's final comment that "The losers, of course, will be the majority of Ecuadoreans." The people feel otherwise.

Here's why. Ecuadoreans look north and elected Raphael Correa to do for them what Hugo Chavez continues doing for the Venezuelan people. Venezuelans showed their admiration by reelecting Chavez in December by a nearly two to one margin over his only serious Washington-backed and financially supported opponent. Correa promised and appears set on delivering the same kind of social democratic agenda Venezuelans now have and embrace. At its core is a true democratic process and kinds of progressive social programs Chavez gave his people. To move forward, he first needs popular approval to rewrite the country's Constitution he surely will get this Sunday.

With it, Ecuador should have a new Constitution later this year which will likely again be put to a popular referendum to let the people decide on it, not the politicians. If it's anything like the 1999 Constitucion de la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela, it will be a cornucopia of progressive social policies written into law that may include state-delivered health care, education and other benefits for all Ecuadoreans Correa promised to serve. Correa already said he wants freedom from debt slavery under IMF/World Bank Washington Consensus neoliberal rules by renegotiating the country's debt to eliminate the odious part of it, the result of previous governments' corrupt dealings at the expense of the people.

Correa is also negotiating bilateral and other economic deals with Hugo Chavez and other Latin leaders based on Venezuela's Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas or ALBA model. It's the mirror-opposite of FTAA/NAFTA-type one-way pacts sucking wealth from developing states to benefit Global North ones, mostly the US. ALBA is based on sound principles of complementarity, solidarity and cooperation aimed at comprehensive integration among Latin American nations to build their social states in contrast to US-type deals wanting to destroy them for profit. Correa also promised 100,000 low-cost homes, a raise in the minimum wage, and doubling the small "poverty bonus" 1.2 million poor Ecuadoreans get each month. Still more is likely to follow if Correa is true to his word and has constitutional authority to act.

He won't need it to follow through on his promise to close the major US military base at Manta when the ten year lease authorizing it expires in 2009. O'Grady didn't mention it, but it's got the Pentagon concerned as it's the largest US base on South America's Pacific coast, expensive to build, and one they want to hold onto but likely won't.

Pentagon issues aside, all else terrifies people like Mary O'Grady who feel benefits for ordinary people mean less of them for the rich and powerful ones she represents who give her Wall Street Journal editorial space for it weekly. She knows the side her bread is buttered on, and for her lying is just business as usual and part of the job serving the powerful.

The New York Times Weighs in on Venezuela's Oil Policy

Not about to let the Wall Street Journal one-up it, the New York Times assaulted Hugo Chavez in its April 10 Simon Romero/Clifford Krauss article titled "High Stakes: Chavez Plays the Oil Card." First a brief explanation of the facts, and then the way the Times skews them.

Hugo Chavez made it clear to foreign investors the old way of doing business in Venezuela is over based on corporate exploitation of the country's resources at the expense of the Venezuelan people. The new rules are fair ones, the same kinds foreign oil and other investors agree to in deals with Global North countries but don't have to in relations with developing ones. Henceforth, if Big Oil and other corporate giants want to do business in Venezuela, they'll have to deal with Hugo Chavez the same way they do with Tony Blair, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin - fairly.

On the matter of oil, Chavez wants a bigger share of joint-venture profits Venezuela is entitled to from its own resources and majority state control over Orinoco River basin lucrative oil projects believed to hold the world's largest undeveloped oil reserves. It's where Big US and other oil companies now operate including Chevron, BP Amoco, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil. In February, Chavez announced state oil company PDVSA will become the majority shareholder on May 1 in four basin projects with minimum 60% ownership with foreign joint-venture partners. Earlier, he raised taxes on foreign oil companies and other outside investors requiring them henceforth to pay a more equitable amount of their lucrative profit back to the people of Venezuela.

So far, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips are holding out for a better deal they won't get while Chevron is more willing to go along understanding less of a huge profit is better than none at all. In the end, the holdouts may come around to that view as well. All this has the Times very upset, so it's on the attack as de facto cheerleader for Big Oil.

Mentioning the looming May 1 deadline, it attacks Hugo Chavez with charged language like negotiating with "revolutionary flourish" and his "ambitious" plan (no different from Global North ones) to "wrest control of several major oil projects from American and European companies (with a) showdown (ahead) over access to some of the most coveted energy resources outside the Middle East." If instead of dealing with Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, negotiations were between Big Oil and Canada, Norway, the UK, or even Russia, despite current strained relations between Putin and Bush, it's unimaginable this article would have been written.

In it, the Times refers to empty Chavez threats to cut off oil exports to the US because he wants to diversify into more markets by selling more to countries like China and India. It also sees a problem where none exists if Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA sells its US refineries quoting oil analyst Pietro Pitts saying "Chavez is playing a game of chicken with the largest oil companies in the world....And for the moment he is winning." The article seems to imply Chavez wants to dismantle the refineries preventing their use to supply US markets while ignoring it hardly matters who owns them as long as they operate which they will under any owner as long as they're profitable.

The article continues with scare-talk saying Chavez's "confrontation could easily end up with everyone losing" meaning if Big Oil leaves and Venezuela and other oil producers come in along with PDVSA, "Venezuela risks undermining the engine behind Mr. Chavez's socialist-inspired revolution by hampering its ability to transform the nation's newly valuable heavy oil into riches for years to come."

Nonsense. If Big Oil leaves, which is very doubtful, it will be the loser and Venezuelan oil production will continue under new joint-venture partnerships. Because the country's potential is so huge, it's highly likely Big Oil's current posture is just its way to hold out as long as possible for the best deal its members can get and in the end take what Hugo Chavez gives the ones agreeing to it. It's too sweet a deal to walk away from, and most likely won't despite their wailing and moaning with help from the New York Times acting as their mouthpiece. And if any do, they'll be willing takers ready to sign deals to pick up where those exiting left off.

Nonetheless, it gets still more heated quoting oil analyst Michael Economides saying "We are on a collision course with Chavez over oil" in an article he wrote comparing "Mr. Chavez's populist appeal in Latin America with the pan-Arabism of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya two decades ago" when he was persona non grata in the West, and Ronald Reagan bombed him in 1986 killing his adopted daughter. He continues saying "Chavez poses a much bigger threat to America's energy security than Saddam Hussein ever did" - language so hostile it's practically a declaration of war and 100% nonsense.

But there's more. The Times accuses Chavez of allowing "politics and ideology" to drive the confrontation and seek "to limit American influence around the world, starting in Venezuela's oil fields." Unmentioned is that the "oil fields" belong to Venezuela, not the US, and the Times writers need to brush up on recent Middle East events where American influence is already on life support because of Bush administration blundering. It's made this country persona non grata in a part of the world most crucial by far to US energy security having 60% or more of the world's proved reserves, and with all Muslim nations combined the total is between two-thirds to three-quarters of it.

The Times also dismisses out of hand Chavez's right to view the US as a threat simply because Washington tried and failed deposing him three times, not once as NYT claims. Instead it stresses the US remains Venezuela's largest customer (supplying 10 - 12% of this country's energy needs and isn't likely to cut off). So the scare tactics continue saying if Big Oil pulls out, with it goes vitally needed expertise. Again, nonsense, but it sounds good coming from two reporters who don't know what they're talking about, nor do they understand Big Oil is likely to stay, not leave, whatever deal its members are offered. And, again, if one member does leave, Exxon Mobil being the most likely possibility, another oil giant will come in to replace it to reap the big profits every oil producer should be grateful to get and most are.

Some Conclusions Left Out of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times Articles

The Wall Street Journal and New York Times attacked two Latin American leaders unwilling to surrender their nations' sovereignty to ours with Hugo Chavez being boldly vocal about it. Since elected in 1998, Chavez charted his own independent course building a new mass social and political revolutionary movement based on participatory democratic social equity and justice. It began as his Bolivarian Revolution inspired by the vision of 18th century liberator Simon Bolivar to end what Bolivar called an imperial curse "to plague Latin America with misery in the name of liberty." In eight years in office, Chavez went a long way toward achieving it but knows there's much more needed to move things to the next level toward a "new socialism of the 21st century" based on humanistic democratic principles of solidarity and respect for political, economic, social and cultural human and civil rights built from the bottom up.

It's working socially, politically and economically as well with poverty levels falling from a high in 2003 of 62% following the crippling 2002-03 "management lockout/oil strike" and destabilizing effects of the 2002 two-day aborted coup to levels near one-third today because of Venezuela's booming economy. It's grown at least 10% three straight years, including 10 of the last 11 quarters lifting personal incomes, sparking overall consumer demand, and raising corporate profits to high levels that were so impressive for financial firms last year the Financial Times wrote bankers were having a "party" in Venezuela because "rather than 'nationalise' banks, the 'revolutionary' distribution of oil money has spawned wealthy individuals who are increasingly making Caracas a magnet for Swiss and other international bankers."

With comments like that, you'd think the Wall Street Journal and New York Times would take note and praise Chavez instead of condemning him. They don't because Washington diktats demand otherwise. They also ignore Venezuela's impressive drop in unemployment from a high of 20% in early 2003 to 8.4% in December, 2006 and likely to keep falling as Venezuela's economy continues strong.

And one other piece of good economic news just came out showing Venezuela's March inflation rate was a negative - 0.7%, the lowest in 19 years, thanks to government anti-inflation policies like reducing the value-added tax (VAT) from 14% to 11%. Other constructive efforts included government actions to curb speculation in scarce private sector goods and the sale of government savings bonds. In February, the Chavez government, along with Argentina, launched a second round of Bonds of the South amounting to $1.5 billion. Then in March, PDVSA sold $5.5 billion worth of bonds that along with the government sale removed cash from the economy serving to reduce inflationary pressures.

These positive developments are happening in a socially democratic state where constitutional law and government policies require redistributing much of the nation's wealth back to the people, and it's lifting all boats. The result is mirror opposite of what happened throughout Latin America when regional GDP from 1980 - 2000 grew 9% under Washington Consensus neoliberal rules and 4% from 2000 - 2005, compared to 82% growth from 1960 -1980 before they were imposed. They're not allowed in Venezuela under Chavez, and the results speak for themselves.

Raphael Correa understands them as a former finance minister and trained economist with a doctorate in economics earned in 2001 at the University of Illinois. He's also a social democrat wanting to do for Ecuadoreans what Hugo Chavez did for Venezuelans and is off to a good start to the chagrin of the Wall Street Journal and Washington. It's editorial writer fears he may succeed making her and her paper look more foolish than they already do. What counts are Ecuadoreans' feelings, and they'll have a chance Sunday to express them in the nation's first national referendum on whether to draft a new Constitution sure to pass.

The same is true for the New York Times, savaging Hugo Chavez, disingenuously calling him "divisive" and a "ruinous demogogue," and they were just getting warmed up. The Times championed the aborted 2 day coup toppling him briefly calling it a "resignation" and saying Venezuela was "no longer threatened by a would-be dictator." Instead of calling the coup what it was, the Times lied saying Chavez "stepped down (and was replaced by a) respected business leader" (Pedro Carmona) never mentioning he was hand-picked by Washington to do its bidding. He lasted two days, suspended democratically elected members of the National Assembly, and temporarily wrecked the Bolivarian Revolution quickly reconstituted when Chavez returned to office as Carmona fled finding refuge in neighboring Colombia. The Times is never deterred so its latest assault on Chavez's oil policy shows the same mean spirit as all other broadsides it unleashed on the Venezuelan leader from the start.

It's not working as the spirit of social democracy proves it can trump Washington Consensus alternatives of economic ruin and vast human misery from it. Venezuelans know it, and hopefully Ecuadoreans soon will as well. But we'll never hear about it on the pages of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times continuing their drumbeat support for failed policies heading one day for the dustbin of history with room there to spare for these papers sure eventually to follow.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen each Saturday to the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro Effect.com at noon US central time.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Long Ordeal of Sami Al-Arian - Civil and Human Rights Advocate and Political Prisoner

The Long Ordeal of Sami Al-Arian - Civil and Human Rights Advocate and Political Prisoner - by Stephen Lendman

Sami Al-Arian is one of many dozens, likely hundreds, of political prisoners in the US today but is noteworthy because of his high-profile status and as an especially egregious example of persecution and injustice in post-9/11 America with its climate of state-induced fear and resulting repression with special targeting of Latino immigrants and all Muslims characterized as "Islamofascists" because of their faith and ethnicity. One of them is Dr. Sami Al-Arian - Palestinian refugee, scholar, academic, community leader, civic activist and advocate for freedom and justice for his people imprisoned since February, 2003 on trumped up charges explained below even after a jury exonerated him on eight of the false 17 charges against him, all the ones relating to violence and terrorism, and remained deadlocked 10 - 2 in favor of acquittal on the other nine. More on this below.

Al-Arian is a Kuwaiti-born son of Palestinian refugees forced to flee Palestine during the 1948-49 Nakba catastrophe when the new state of Israel's "War of Independence" ethnically cleansed and willfully slaughtered 800,000 Palestinians, desecrated their sacred holy sites, and seized their lands. The final master Plan D (Dalet) was for a war without mercy against defenseless people in which unspeakable atrocities were committed while destroying 531 Palestinian villages, 11 urban neighborhoods in cities like Tel-Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, thousands of homes and vast amounts of crops. Al-Arian's parents were lucky to escape the carnage and destruction alive.

Al-Arian came to the US in 1975, was denied citizenship, and taught computer science as a distinguished professor at the University of South Florida (USF) from 1986 until the worst of his ordeal began in February, 2003. It was because of his public, passionate and effective advocacy for human and civil rights and the liberation of his people long oppressed for six decades.

Al-Arian is a man of great distinction. He's a devout Palestinian Muslim, imam of the Islamic Community of Tampa, and a respected and admired man of principle who helped empower the Muslim community through his dedicated hard work and personal relationships with other civic, political and religious leaders in Florida and across the country in spite of having to do it in a post-9/11 environment when all Muslims became suspect and were viewed as possible "terrorists."

Post-9/11, USF president Judy Genshaft consorted with Florida Governor Jeb Bush suspending Al-Arian on September 28 with pay on phony grounds of campus safety. She then tried firing him falsely claiming he supported terrorists and damaged the university's reputation even though he was a respected award-winning tenured professor guilty of no crime but his faith, ethnicity and courageous activism encouraging other Muslim Americans to act likewise. Earlier in August, 1996, USF placed Al-Arian on paid leave pending the outcome of a FBI investigation into whether organizations he was involved with fronted for terrorist groups allowing him to resume teaching two years later when it uncovered nothing.

Days before his arrest, indictment and imprisonment in February, 2003, sensing what was to come after months of rumors, Al-Arian wrote: "I am crucified today because of who I am: a stateless Palestinian, an Arab, a Muslim and an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights, but more a persistent defender for civil and constitutional rights on the home front." This was from a man Newsweek magazine called the premier civil rights activist in America for his efforts to repeal the use of secret evidence that became HR 2121 that only got as far in the 109th Congress as a favorable vote in the House Judiciary Committee, and it's now up to the 110th Congress to take further action.

Earlier, Al-Arian cofounded the Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace, a local organization opposing unconstitutional use of secret evidence and other civil rights violations as well as slanderous media attacks against Muslims and Arabs. He also cofounded the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, the nation's leading organization challenging the use of secret evidence serving as its first president in 2000. Because of his efforts, Al-Arian advised members of Congress and was invited to briefing meetings at the White House personally meeting Presidents Clinton and Bush.

Genshaft initially failed to remove him but acted summarily on February 26, 2003, a week after Al-Arian was arrested and indicted on charges from which no conviction later resulted. Genshaft then announced he was fired because his (entirely legal) non-academic activities and indictment conflicted with university interests meaning Genshaft sacrificed her integrity to serve the interests of the Bush administration's imperialist Global War on Terrorism directed against all Muslims unfairly targeted.

The Free Sami Al-Arian.com web site details the timeline ordeal he went through early on.

-- He endured 11 years of FBI investigations, half a million phone wiretaps, searches and other harassment costing many tens of millions of dollars for his political activism and support of civil rights. During his trial, the government alleged he was connected to Islamic groups designated "terrorist" organizations meaning they supported freedom and justice for Palestinians and others and that Al-Arian advocated effectively for them.

-- Investigations culminated on February 20, 2003. His family watched in horror as FBI agents and Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers stormed his home at 5:00 AM guns drawn menacingly. They arrested him and three others separately on charges of supporting terrorism, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, giving material support to an outlawed group, extortion, perjury and other offenses later proved spurious in court. He was detained at a local jail where he went on a hunger strike to protest his politically-motivated incarceration.

The charges against Al-Arian falsely alleged he supported organizations claimed to be fronts for Palestinian Islamic Jihad on a US "terrorist" watch list. They were also made against two other organizations he cofounded - the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP) involved in raising awareness of the plight of Palestinians and World Islamic Studies Enterprise think tank (WISE) affiliated with USF, a research and academic enterprise promoting dialogue between Muslims and the West. Also cited was the Islamic Academy of Florida Al-Arian also founded that's one of the nation's top full-time Islamic schools with over 300 students from preschool through high school. These organizations have nothing to do with violence or terrorism. In fact, two years earlier, federal immigration Judge Kevin R. McHugh ruled "there is no evidence before the Court that demonstrates (WISE and ICP were) front(s) for the (Islamic Jihad). To the contrary, there is evidence in the record to support the conclusion that WISE was a reputable and scholarly research center and the ICP was highly regarded."

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is as well which Al-Arian helped establish in 1981 and now is the largest grass roots Muslim organization in America contributing "to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large....representing Islam, supporting Muslim communities, developing educational, social and outreach programs and fostering good relations with other religious communities, and civic and service organizations."

-- USF President Judy Genshaft ignored Al-Arian's impeccable credentials and remarkable record of community service and achievements disgracefully firing him on February 27, 2003 acting as a stooge for the Bush administration.

-- At his bail hearing on March 20 lasting four days, the government provided no evidence, no witnesses, and failed to show Al-Arian and his co-defendants were flight risks or threats to national security. Still, he and defendant Sameeh Hammoudeh were denied bail. The others got it.

-- On March 27, Al-Arian and Hammoudeh were incarcerated in the maximum-security federal penitentiary in Coleman, Florida. They were placed in solitary confinement under atrocious conditions in what's called the "Special Housing Unit" or "Shoe Unit" for the most dangerous convicted prisoners and held there and at other federal prisons for two and a half years until his first trial. Al-Arian was denied basic privileges convicted murderers have, wasn't allowed contact with or family visits, didn't receive adequate materials to work on his case, got limited access to counsel, and was subjected overall to harsh punitive treatment including strip searches and other indignities.

-- Al-Arian was unable to raise needed funds for his defense, received court-appointed attorneys, later was allowed to fire them for lack of progress and acted as his own attorney with help from the National Liberty (civil rights) fund (NLF) taking up his case and organizing events across the country in his behalf.

-- Al-Arian remained in prison until his trial in Tampa Federal District Court in June, 2005. Before it began, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) condemned the University of South Florida for violating his rights to due process and academic freedom. In addition, Amnesty International wrote the Federal Bureau of Prisons condemning the conditions under which Al-Arian was held saying his pre-trial detention "appeared to be gratuitously punitive (and) the restrictions imposed on (him) appeared to go beyond what were necessary on security grounds and were inconsistent with international standards for humane treatment."

Amnesty spoke out in this case while in others of equal importance it fails to or doesn't go far enough when it does, especially when they involve US government-committed abuses. Al-Arian's case is one of the latter as nothing about his treatment shows "appearance." It was and continues to be an egregious example of willful, vindictive injustice against a courageous, distinguished man who, like all other state repression victims, is no match for the power federal prosecutors can marshall against him with intent to destroy him and make him suffer maximally throughout his ordeal.

In Al-Arian's case, it began with 11 years of investigations and harassment with trumped up charges leading to his incarceration and trial. While in prison, he endured a 23 hour lockdown in a rat and roach-infested cell; was denied religious services; got no watch or clock; and was held in a windowless cell in which artificial light never went off. He was also shackled hands behind his back and feet whenever outside his cell. When conferring with his lawyers, he was forced to make a long walk to reach them uncomfortably balancing his law files on his back because prison officials refused to help. During this time, Al-Arian also underwent a hunger strike for 140 days losing 45 pounds and endangering his life as he's diabetic.

-- After three months of self-representation, Al-Arian hired respected Washington, DC attorney William Moffitt and local attorney Linda Moreno to represent him. Later it was learned federal authorities destroyed key evidence along with deliberately committing other injustices against him and stalling tactics delaying his trial nearly two and a half years following his arrest. All the while, he remained incarcerated under harsh conditions.

Al-Arian's Prison Odyssey Nightmare - February 20, 2003 to the Present

Dr. Al-Arian has been imprisoned since his arrest February 20, 2003 and initially placed in temporary confinement at Orient Road jail in Tampa, Florida. From there till today, his imprisonment odyssey was as follows:

-- March 27, 2003: Maximum Security US Penitentiary, Coleman, Florida.

-- February 9, 2005: Orient Road Jail, Tampa, Florida.

-- May 4, 2005: Federal Correctional Institution, Tallahassee, Florida.

-- June 8, 2006: Maximum Security US Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia

-- June 22, 2006: Medium Security Federal Correctional Complex, Coleman, Florida

-- September 20, 2006: Maximum Security US Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia.

-- September 21, 2006: Federal Transfer Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

-- September 25, 2006: Northern Neck Regional Jail, Warsaw, Virginia.

-- January 3, 2007: Maximum Security US Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia.

-- January 17, 2007: Federal Correctional Institution, Petersburg, Virginia.

-- January 18, 2007: Alexandria Regional Jail, Alexandria, Virginia.

-- January 19, 2007: Northern Neck Regional Jail, Warsaw, Virginia.

-- February 14, 2007: Federal medical prison, Butner, North Carolina.

Al-Arian's Travesty of a Trial

The trial began in June, 2005, following 11 years of government hounding and three years preparing for it. It went on for six months costing prosecutors an estimated $50 million all in vain in the end, but then again maybe not as explained below. The prosecution called over 70 witnesses including 21 from Israel. It used portions of hundreds of phone calls selected from over a half million recorded from over a decade of harassing surveillance as well as claimed evidence from intercepted faxes, emails and what was seized from hours of intrusively searching the Al-Arian home. It also used phony evidence from Al-Arian's activist speeches; lectures; conferences, events and rallies he attended; articles he wrote; books he owned; magazines he edited; and other publications he read and more amounting to nothing other than his constitutional rights to speak freely, assemble in public and read whatever he chose in a country where those rights should mean something - but don't for Muslims and others targeted in the age of George Bush.

The defense responded to the witch-hunt prosecution calling no witnesses and presenting no evidence resting its case solely on Al-Arian's First Amendment rights. US District Judge James Moody denied Al-Arian's right to defend his activities based on Israel's theft and repressive occupation of Palestinian lands that led to his entirely legal activism against it.

Despite throwing the book and piles of taxpayer cash at him, the jury exonerated Al-Arian on December 6, 2005 after 13 days of deliberation as explained above. But this didn't end things as it never does when government prosecutors are out to frame and get someone targeted like Sami Al-Arian. Realizing his ordeal would continue unless he could reach accommodation with the government, he agreed to a plea agreement on March 2, 2006 to bring his case to a close not realizing it would not as hostile government prosecutors never let up on their targets till they convict, bankrupt, break or kill them, even though things don't always go as planned.

The Plea Agreement

Nonetheless, the written plea agreement stipulated the following:

-- That Al-Arian engaged in no violent acts and had no knowledge of any in the US or Middle East.

-- That he would not be required to "cooperate" further by providing information to prosecutors.

-- And that he would be released for time served and voluntarily agreed to be deported.

In the meantime, the agreement was delivered to Judge Moody on April 17, 2006, and sentencing was scheduled for May 1, 2006 with Al-Arian forced to remain in custody pending his sentence and deportation even though as a Palestinian he's a man without a country unless one accepts him.

Under agreed terms, prosecutors abandoned their charges, and Al-Arian pled guilty to one watered-down count of providing services to people associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Statement of Facts in the agreement include:

-- Hiring an attorney for his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar (an adjunct professor at USF at the time) during his deportation hearings in the late 1990s. FBI agents arrested Al-Najjar May 19, 1997 using secret phony evidence to imprison him (largely on a minor immigration charge), hold him without charge for three and one half years before a federal judge ordered his release. He was then arrested again November 24, 2001 and finally deported August 21, 2002 ending a long court battle in another case of an innocent man denied his constitutional rights because of his Muslim faith and ethnicity.

-- Filling out immigration forms for a resident Palestinian scholar from Britain.

-- And, not disclosing details of associations to a local reporter.

In return, the prosecution agreed to dismiss the remaining jury-deadlocked charges and not charge Al-Arian with other crimes. It also asked for no fine and recommended "the defendant receive sentence at the low end of the applicable guideline." It further acknowledged Al-Arian committed no violence, and there were no victims. For his part, Al-Arian was forced to agree to an expedited deportation which he decided was worth it for his freedom and to be reunited with his family and bring his ordeal to an end.

It didn't happen even under a plea agreement Al-Arian was led to believe would involve a sentence of no more than time served. Judge Moody had other ideas sentencing Al-Arian to the maximum 57 months in prison, giving him credit for time served but leaving a balance of 11 months to be followed by deportation scheduled for April, 2007 now extended to October, 2008 from his new contempt charges explained below as his ordeal continues without end.

Last October, assistant prosecutor Gordon Kromberg, subpoenaed Al-Arian to testify before a grand jury investigating an Islamic think tank violating his plea agreement stipulating it was "to conclude, once and for all, all business between the government and Dr. Al-Arian." His defense attorneys filed a motion supporting his right not to testify explaining he never would have agreed if he remained subject to be called in further government investigations. Doing so might entrap him in possible or interpreted perjury leaving him vulnerable to endless government opportunities to harass and reincarcerate him.

Judge Moody ruled against Al-Arian, and on November 16, he was brought before the grand jury and held in civil contempt for refusing to testify. A month later, the grand jury expired, and a new one convened with Al-Arian again subpoenaed to testify. Again he refused, was held in contempt which increases his sentence 18 more months without mitigation, in what's clearly the government's attempt to renege on its deal to keep Al-Arian locked up forever even though he committed no crimes and was exonerated by a jury in his trumped up trial.

Al-Arian is appealing his contempt sentencing and government violation of his plea agreement and is now represented by William Mitchell College of Law professor and past President of the National Lawyers Guild (1993 - 1997) Peter Erlinder as his lead attorney. In the meantime, he's still in prison while his ordeal continues. Erlinder's task is daunting against a government determined to resist and prosecutors ready to file new charges to keep Al-Arian imprisoned as long as the Justice Department wants him there.

With Al-Arian now being held on contempt charges, his original criminal sentence is not running concurrently. In addition, with two contempt charges, his initial 18 month add-on sentence could be extended to 36 months under "civil contempt" and much longer if the prosecution charges him with "criminal contempt." It means despite the government's plea agreement to release him based on time served, George Bush's Justice Department, under rogue Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who flaunts the law, lied and Al-Arian can be held imprisoned for years without end as an innocent man guilty of no crime.

That's even clearer after a three-judge panel of the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously and "contemptuously" affirmed his civil contempt ruling March 23 saying his plea agreement "contains no language which would bar the government from compelling appellant's testimony before a grand jury" even though it clearly does in plain English stated above. So much for justice from right wing courts in the age of George Bush where there's none for administration targets like Al-Arian.

In the meantime, Al-Arian protested the only way he can, and news of it is prominently reported in the alternative media like this article, a growing number of others and in on-air interviews with his wife, family and others. He again went on a water-only hunger strike January 22 leaving him very weak, unable to walk or stand on his own, and needing to be confined to a wheelchair. It lasted two months but was ended at the urging of his family after losing 55 pounds or one-fourth of his body weight. His wife, Nahla, reports he's now slowly regaining his strength. In Al-Arian's case, continuing a fast is life-threatening because he's diabetic and should be ingesting regular sustenance to avoid serious health problems.

It took its toll earlier causing Al-Arian to collapse after which he was moved to a federal prison medical facility in Butner, North Carolina where he's too weak to walk and is now subjected to the shoddy kind of medical care everyone imprisoned gets. It's poor, indifferent and sure to be even worse for anyone in prison for political reasons any time but especially in the age of George Bush where justice is an illusion, and Sami Al-Arian's fate is at stake. His ordeal continues without end, but alternative media writers and commentators won't be silent about it or about others like him enduring the same ordeal of injustice for noble principles and a just cause people of conscience everywhere support and admire. Today, what happened to Sami Al-Arian can happen to anyone. Under George Bush rule, we're all Sami Al-Arians.

Secret US Prison Program for Muslims and Middle Eastern Prisoners

On February 16, 2007, lawyer and legal analyst, academic, author and journalist Jennifer Van Bergen disclosed the US has a secret new illegal prison program targeting Muslims in an online article in The Raw Story. It's designated for claimed "high-security risk" Muslim and Middle Eastern (Arab) prisoners to severely limit or cut them off entirely from contact and communication with the outside world violating federal law prohibiting such action according to Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright. He told Van Bergen "segregating prisoners based on their race, national origin or language directly contradicts the recent US Supreme Court ruling in Johnson v. California which held that the racial segregation of prisoners was illegal." Van Bergen also reported "Religious discrimination is (also) prohibited by Prison Bureau regulations." They stipulate "staff shall not discriminate against inmates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or political belief (including) administrative decisions (involving) access to work, housing and programs."

The rule of law means nothing to the Bush administration that flaunts it including in its new covert program illegally instituted in December, 2006. It's called the special "Communications Management Unit" (CMU), and is presently (as far as known) only at the Terre Haute, Indiana Federal Correctional Institution but may also be intended for other federal prisons as well in an age of mass incarcerations in a nation with the largest prison population in the world growing by over 1000 new prisoners daily.

Van Bergen asserts the CMU program violates the Federal Administrative Procedures Act explicitly requiring all prison regulations comply with this law. As of mid-February, it housed 16 prisoners but was expected to be rapidly expanded to 60 - 70 and might end up with many more ahead in Terre Haute and elsewhere.

One of the Terre Haute prisoners is Dr. Rafil Dhafir, a Muslim American of Iraqi descent and practicing oncologist until his license was suspended. He was convicted in a politically motivated Department of Justice (DOJ) "kangaroo court" trial of violating the Iraqi Sanctions Regulations (IEEPA) using his own funds and what he could raise through his Help the Needy charity to bring desperately needed essential to life humanitarian aid to Iraqi people unable to get it because of the US/UN-imposed punitive sanctions from 1990 - 2003. For his "Crime of Compassion" (see dhafirtrial.net, Katherine Hughes), he was convicted of violating the sanctions and a total of 59 of 60 trumped up charges including tax fraud, money laundering, and mail and wire fraud resulting in a 22 year prison sentence he's currently serving in Terre Haute far from his family in Syracuse, New York. He wasn't charged with or convicted of "terrorism" or any act of violence, is not a "high-security risk" and yet is being treated like one because he's a Muslim. He's also, like Sami Al-Arian, a "trophy" in the Bush administration's phony "war on terrorism" against Muslims demeaned and persecuted everywhere because of their faith and ethnicity.

People of conscience aren't being quiet, and a small group of them in Dhafir's home city Syracuse, New York protested former US Attorney General John Ashcroft's presence on campus and speech at Syracuse University March 27. Ashcroft led the administration's 2001 campaign for the passage of the repressive USA Patriot Act (written and on his desk before 9/11) used to convict and imprison men like Dhafir and Al-Arian unjustly. He was likely personally involved in orchestrating the government's efforts to railroad two esteemed Muslim community members chosen for high-profile prosecutions, convictions, imprisonments and extra-harsh treatment under maximum security conditions and restrictions used only for the most dangerous criminals allowed more privileges behind bars than these pillars of their communities denied justice.

Muslim Witch-Hunt Harassment and Persecution In An Age of "Terrorism" and Endless Imperial Wars

In the wake of 9/11, all Muslims have been in the Bush administration crosshairs targeted with abusive harassment and persecution including mass roundups, detentions, prosecutions and deportations in an age of state-induced phony terror to scare the public enough to allow the government to get away with anything. It took full advantage and continues doing it today with a greatly enhanced Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS/ICE) campaign going after vulnerable undocumented Latino workers along with targeted Muslims and others designated threats to national security in an age when anyone is suspect if federal agencies say so. Who'll object if it's in the interest of "national security."

It began shortly after the 9/11 attacks with the Bush administration declaring a permanent state of preventive war against claimed threats to national security, especially targeting Muslims abroad and at home. It resulted in two wars of illegal aggression without end and mass witch-hunt roundups at home in which constitutional and international laws are flaunted along with fundamental principles of human rights and civil liberties. In an atmosphere of state-induced fear trumpeted by the dominant media, the FBI swung into action in mass sweeps and detentions affecting many thousands of mainly Muslim immigrants, citizens and visitors picking the wrong time to be here.

Even before 9/11, the Clinton administration and Republican-controlled Congress legalized these activities in the 1996 Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penality Act (AEDPA). They're harsh repressive laws denying targets their rights of due process and judicial fairness. Today they allow DHS/ICE agents the right to conduct wiretaps and searches (the Bush administration does without required warrants), conduct proceedings in secret courts with permanently sealed rulings, detain immigrants and other targets called "terrorists," deny them bail, deport them without discretionary relief, restrict their access to counsel, deny their right to appeal, and throw the book at them even for minor offenses.

The consequences for those targeted are devastating. It affected 5000 Muslims in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 with only three of them being charged with an offense and not a single "terrorist" nabbed to show for it even the 9/11 (whitewash) Commission admitted. Yet, those swept up then and now are generally detained on non-criminal administrative charges, often without their families' knowledge. They're kept in degrading and inhumane conditions - locked in cells 23 hours a day where lights never go off, kept in hand and leg shackles whenever outside them, harassed and abused without redress, and denied telephone calls and family visitations.

Many are dragged from their homes in the middle of the night or before dawn in paramilitary-style raids while others get picked up in the wrong place at the wrong time or for willingly coming forward as aliens when asked to and being punished for it. In the case of Rafil Dhafir, his door was broken down about 6:00 AM February 26, 2003 when 85 law enforcement agents showed up to arrest him including 15 from the FBI, five of whom held guns menacingly to his wife Priscilla's head traumatizing her from the experience as it would anyone. This is how things are done in a police state where victims have no choice but take the punishment or get shot or pummelled "resisting."

Innocent people like these undergo unspeakable humiliations and treatment even though most committed no crimes and the few who have only get charged with minor offenses with exceptions like Sami Al-Arian and Rafil Dhafir getting the book thrown at them because of their high-profile status even though they're innocent of any crimes. Virtually no one's been found guilty of terrorist-related offenses or violence, yet those rounded up are forced to undergo degrading indignities like strip searches, and are beaten and sexually abused for their race, faith, country of origin and immigration status because they're Muslims or impoverished Latinos here for jobs in an age when the rule of law is null and void and human rights and civil liberties are just artifacts from another era.

Early on, the Justice Department boasted it successfully deported hundreds of targeted individuals connected to 9/11 investigations. Estimates since from human rights groups, Muslim community leaders and organizations, peace groups and lawyers show the numbers skyrocketed amounting to many thousands more plus tens of thousands of others fleeing the country in fear after having been surveilled, interrogated and detained or arrested in a systemic reign of state terror pattern of abuse leaving scars that won't ever heal. Those here only as visitors won't ever return or have faith in this country again. All affected are devastated by the experience. It harms individuals, communities and families, tearing them apart and leaving them to wonder how they'll recoup after being through so much. This is the state of America today with horrific cases like Sami Al-Arian's and Rafil Dhafir's highlighting it.

Early on, those targeted were caught up in the post-9/11 FBI witch-hunt mass sweep called PENTTBOM involving 4000 agents and 3000 support staff investigating 96,000 tips from the public in the first week alone after the attacks. By January, 2002, the ACLU claimed the FBI received half a million citizen calls with tips and leads resulting in investigations affecting 100,000 Muslims and brown-skinned people if only 20% of them were followed-up on.

Add to these what's gone on till today. Then highlight Muslims (like Al-Arian and Dhafir) targeted for supporting Islamic charities and organizations banned for their phony claimed links to "terrorist" groups, others for their activism, anyone with a police record even for minor indiscretions, and overall all Muslims under suspicion, potentially being watched and always fearing a pre-dawn knock on their door or the thud or crash of it being broken in and facing menacing FBI agents with guns drawn.

It never ends with the Washington Post reporting March 25 "thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world arrive (daily) in a computer-filled office in McLean (Virginia), where analysts feed them into the nation's central list of terrorists and terrorism suspects." It's called the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) storing data about individuals the intelligence community thinks might harm the country. It's massive in size, includes foreigners and US citizens, ballooning from under 100,000 files in 2003 to about 435,000 now and growing daily in volume enough to overwhelm people assigned to manage it. Once put on the list, it's forever and can lead to thousands of horror stories of mixed-up names and unconfirmed information. It's part of what's going on today as part of a nightmarish Kafkaesque matrix of control in the age of George Bush where everyone is suspect, and no one is safe from a pre-dawn visit from law enforcers from which there's no return, guilty or innocent, if they want it that way.

Also instituted after September 11, 2002 was a program called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) affecting 24 Muslim or Arab countries plus North Korea. It's administered by DHS/ICE today to keep track of over 35 million people entering and leaving the country annually for any reason but only targeting Muslims for registration with further interrogation, photographing, fingerprinting, and denial of Sixth Amendment right to counsel and Fourth Amendment right to privacy for those singled out. The program is sweeping and expensive while being near worthless as a security measure, but its cost to Muslim communities in loss of dignity, unspeakable abuse, and overall punitive repression has been huge and devastating.

Drs. Sami Al-Arian and Rafil Dhafir are stark examples of its most egregiously harmed victims with no redress for them so far as their painful ordeals continue without end. This country prides itself on being a nation of laws respecting and protecting the rights of everyone. Untrue now or ever before and wiped from the books without pretense in the age of George Bush. What's happening to targeted Muslims and Latino immigrants today may be aimed at us ahead in an effort to silence all dissent and go after perceived enemies of the state including US citizens no longer safe at a time we're all "enemy combatants" if the Chief Executive says so.

Witness the case of Jose Padilla, a US citizen seized at Chicago's O'Hare Airport May 8, 2002 on a material witness warrant connected to the 9/11 attacks. He had no weapons on his possession at the time but was later charged, without evidence, with being part of a terrorist plot to detonate "dirty bombs" inside the country and declared by the president an "enemy combatant." He was then held in military confinement from May, 2002 till January, 2006 till the Department of Justice (DOJ) took over custody while his lawyers argued his case in New York district and appellate courts winning rulings in his favor to no avail.

The Bush administration challenged them getting the Supreme Court to agree in Rumsfeld v. Padilla 5 - 4 in June, 2004 dismissing the case as improperly filed and ruling for the administration subsequently in a follow-up decision on the Padilla case effectively giving the president the right to seize anyone, accuse them without evidence, and keep them interned anywhere, as long as he wishes, under any conditions on his say alone. And if district and appellate courts overrule the president, they don't count even when US citizens are arrested and held interminably with no evidence in degrading and inhuman conditions like those discussed above.

In the Padilla case, his attorneys argued they included abuses like Al-Arian and Dhafir endure including five years of solitary confinement as well as sensory deprivation, other periods of extreme noise, no right of counsel for two years, beatings, injections with mind-altering drugs, and denial of medical treatment all of which destroyed a human being making him unfit for trial and further punishing incarceration.

But that's not how US District Judge Marcia Cooke, and likely most others on the federal bench today, saw things. After nearly five punishing years of incarceration based on nothing more than charges filed with no corroborating evidence, she ruled on March 23, Padilla is competent to stand trial even though he's been turned to mush and likely is innocent of all charges. Jose Padilla along with Sami Al-Arian and Rafil Dhafir are today's examples of what Pastor Martin Niemoller warned about in Nazi Germany when the state targeted enemies removing them while no one protested.

Today in America, our turn may be next sooner than we think, and when it comes there may be no one left to help unless people of conscience act en masse in outrage and protest. In the age of George Bush, no one is safe, and a nation once proud is slipping much closer to passing from democracy to tyranny the way Chalmers Johnson explained it happened in the rise and fall of earlier empires.

Citing ancient Rome, he wrote in his new book, Nemesis - The Last Days of the American Republic, we "are approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and are about to plunge over it" with other notable figures believing we already have failing to heed Jefferson's words that "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent" or Edmund Burke who said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Hopefully there's still time to act. Are we paying attention? Do we understand today we're all Sami Al-Arians, Rafil Dhafirs and Jose Padillas.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen each week to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on The Micro Effect.com Saturdays at noon US central time.