Monday, September 30, 2002

When Dubya visited Neville Island in Pennsylvania at labor day, Bill Neel showed up with a sign that said "The Bushes must love the poor --- they made so many of us." He was arrested for carrying that sign outside of a "designated free-speech area". It wasn't as if the rest of the island was a "no-speech area" --- signs were allowed right along the motorcade, so long as they were pro-Bush and looked pretty for the cameras.

As anti-Dubya protestors go, Mr. Neel's complaints were minor. Nobody pepper-sprayed his baby. And the protesters who were herded into the "designated free-speech area" weren't then arrested anyway. But the Orwellian twisting of the language here is a new one on me --- designating one corner of the island as a "free speech area" to avoid the right name for what they were doing, which was enforcing a "censored-speech area" covering the rest of the island.

Which makes it sound as if Dubya is hiding from unpleasant speech, and perhaps unpleasant facts. Is that unfair? Let's look at what he's been up to.

As I noted last week, he's been stacking policy review boards with people chosen less for their credibility and competence than their political reliability. Using the terrorist threat as an excuse, he's trying to strip employees of vast stretches of the government of civil service protections which were originally designed to prevent partisan abuse.

He's trying to push the country into a war with Iraq, using the terrorist threat as an excuse, even though, as NSC veteran Daniel Benjamin explains in today's Times, Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda are not allies, but in fact enemies. (And blogsphere "grand strategists" like den Beste buy the lie --- he says that an attack on Iraq would somehow hurt the Islamists when in fact, as I've noted elsewhere, it would be doing them a favor --- they would have successfully gotten their two enemies, "the near enemy" and "the far enemy" as Benjamin explains, to take a chunk out of each other).

And to make sure the blinders stay on, Dubya's crowd has made sweeping claims of executive privilege --- for instance, they're still stonewalling on the records of Dick Cheney's energy task force, even though it's now beyond plain that the energy industry, with which the administration admits deep ties, is hugely corrupt. And let's not forget their "interpretation" of the Presidential Records Act --- mandating release of records after a certain time --- which effectively negates it. Daddy's records are coming due just about now.

His attorney general is insisting on the right to hold people, including American citizens, without charge for arbitrary times, suspending common law rights that go back to the Magna Carta. He's tried to set up an informants program to get citizens to snoop on each other --- and even to enlist delivery and postmen as government eyes. Den Beste would have you believe that absolutism concerning the Bill of Rights is behind Dubya's resistance to the International Criminal Court, echoing the administration's public line, but considering their attitude towards Habeas Corpus, that's a stretch; word from negotiations is that in this sphere, too, they're guarding the American politburo --- that they're really protecting Henry Kissinger, not GI Joe.

And that's the context of the restrictions on speech which I started with --- yes, you can still protest, so long as you stay to a designated area where your protest will not be heard or appear on camera, and as long as you're willing to subject yourself to arrest when the police gets a little jumpy. The scent of boiled frog is in the air.

When I was learning about the evils of communism in school, I didn't hear so much about the massacres, or even the gulag. It was instead the conditions of daily life that got to you --- people subject to search and arrest without any review, the informants, the restrictions on mass media, the inefficient, government-connected industries despoiling the environment (with a few apparatchiks at the top skimming off cash for a sumptuous lifestyle), the government agencies stocked only by the politically reliable, and the goons in the politburo able to impose whatever half-baked policy they liked, justify it with whatever lies they liked, enforced by a government apparatus stocked high with only those chosen to be politically reliable, and never be subject to any meaningful review. I'm starting to get the feeling that someone got the same lessons I did --- and thought to themselves, "Wow, what a neat idea!"

Last paragraph edited almost immediately after posting... and even after that, I managed to forget the link at the top. sigh...


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