On Native Ground
CONSERVATIVES U.S.ING WAR TO ADVANCE POLITICAL AGE=
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- While Americans are still freaked out and distracted = in the two months since the Sept. 11 attacks, there is one group of people = who seems to regard the events of that day as a good thing -- conservatives= . Hyperbole? Read the following words from House Majority Whip Tom DeLa= y, R-Texas, regarding the attacks. He said them to Pat Robertson on his "70= 0 Club" tv program in early October. "It's really unfortunate that it's h= appened," DeLay said. "But, at the same time, the opportunity that this has=
presented to us isunbelievable."
While DeLay was talking mainly about the need for, as he put it,"our cul= ture to come back and be centered on God and renewed," he was really talkin= g about the Republicans finally getting a chance to advance its hard right = agenda while everyone is preoccupied with the "War on Terrorism."
The wee= ks since Sept. 11 have been a bonanza for the right. The hyper-patriotism a= round the country has rendered honest dissent about the conduct of U.S. for= eign policy as treasonous. Police powers have been expanded to a degree pre= viously unimaginable and the most noxious elements of Bush's domestic polic= ies are being rammed through Congress with little opposition.
The Wall Street Journal tipped the GOP's hand the week after the = attacks on its editorial page, when it urged President Bush and Republicans= in Congress to take advantage of "a unique political moment when Americans= of all stars and stripes are uniting behind their president" and push for = more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, oil drilling in the Arctic = National Wildlife Refuge, revving up Star Wars, passage of the Free Trade A= greement of the Americas and getting as many conservative judges on the fed= eral bench as possible.
As for the legitimate post-Sept. 11 concerns such as improvingairport se= curity, beefing up our public health system and taking care ofthe workers w= ho have lost their jobs in the ever-expanding recession, theGOP has done al= most nothing.
One can argue that past conservative policies that have gutted thepublic= sector over the past two decades are playing into the hands ofterrorists. = Basic public infrastructure in the U.S. has gone to hell over the years bec= ause in the conservative world, government should not have a role in the pu= blic sphere.
That's why half the states in the U.S. don't have federally-trained biot= errorism experts, why there aren't enough anthrax vaccines to inoculate the= entire U.S. military, let alone all of the civilian population, why the fe= deral Environmental Protection Agency is years behind schedule in developin= g a plan for protecting water supplies from bioterrorism, and why the Food = and Drug Administration is equally unprepared for protecting the nation's f= ood supply from contamination by bioterrorists.
The federal government spent less than $50 million last year on improvin= g the nation's local and state public health infrastructure, a laughably sm= all amount compared to the more than $300 billion that was spent on the mil= itary.
A little more money invested in public health might have closed so= me of the rips in the social fabric that terrorists have been able to explo= it with the ongoing anthrax scare. But shoring up our public infrastructure= would take away from the real priority of President Bush and the GOP -- sh= oveling as much money as possible into the hands of the wealthy and corpora= tions.
The $100 billion "economic stimulus" that the House GOP is pushingis a p= rime example of this. Only $2.3 billion is earmarked for helping thefolks w= ho lost their jobs as the American economy slides into recession.But $54 b= illion is going for huge tax cuts for the richest 30 percent; halfof that t= o the richest 2 percent. These are the people that already gotmost of Presi= dent Bush's big tax cut from earlier this year.
Repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) will cost us $25 million nex= t year, which -- according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Servi= ce -- benefits companies such as IBM (about $1.4 billion), General Motors= ($833 million), General Electric ($671 million), Chevron Texaco ($572 mill= ion) and Enron ($254 million). These and other companies would not only no = longer pay any federal taxes, they would also receive a rebate for all the = AMT money they paid over the past 15 years -- the numbers quoted above are = what those five companies alone would get back in rebates.
As repulsive as this rank effort at wartime profiteering is, the horribl= y misnamed "U.S.A Patriot" Act (the acronym stands for Uniting and Strengthen= ing America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstru= ct Terrorism) is worse. It basically turns the Constitution into toilet pap= er. The law is so broad and so vague, it could used against anyone that the= government would like to silence.
For example, to be considered a "terrorist," under this law, you only ha= ve to do three things -- break a state or federal law, commit an act "dange= rous to human life" in the process of breaking that law and the act must "a= ppear to be intended to intimidate or coerce" a civilian population and/or = the government. Under this interpretation, a sit-in at a federal building o= r at the front gate of a military base could easy be trumped up into an act= of "domestic terrorism."
The U.S.A Patriot Act expands the ability of federal agencies to conduct s= urveillance and wiretapping operations, including the reading of emails, st= ored messages and files and tracking Internet browsing habits. The feds can= perform secret searches of suspects' homes without warrants and people can= be detained indefinitely without being charged with any crime if they're "= suspected" of having an association with "terrorists."
There's little in this law that will prevent future terrorist acts. But= it does give the government almost unlimited power to spy on its citizens = and silence any person who disagrees with what his nation's leaders are doi= ng in his name. Squelching dissent is something that the right-wingers love= almost as much as cutting taxes for the rich or cutting public spending.
These last few weeks have been disheartening. The opportunism of the har= d right to use the anger and the grief over the dead in New York, Pennsylva= nia and the Pentagon as a smoke screen to reward its friends and punish its= enemies should disgust every American, regardless of political affiliation= . In a time of crisis, Americans deserve better from their leaders than t= his.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 = years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).