Friday, August 20, 2004

Defend your Constitutional Rights

Molly Ivins didn’t make it last night. Rather disappointing after waiting several months, but at least I didn’t have to take her books down to get them signed. But Greg Keeler was there and Matthew Rothschild, the editor of Progressive Magazine founded over 90 years ago by Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette, took Molly’s place. He was an excellent fill in. The evening was sponsored by the Montana Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the outfit most of us will call upon if we get unfairly treated by government bureaucracy. And before you say you never will, remember that you probably don’t have the clout (or the money) to carry your case all the way through the courts. Even the American Nazi Party called on the ACLU to defend its right to peaceable assembly years ago, something I supported but I’m still not sure I was comfortable with. (Incidentally, I went through Skokie, Ill., about 5 p.m. the day that rally took place and it was the quietest town on a weekday that I’ve ever seen.)

Back to last night. Keeler, the musician from Bozeman, opened the program with songs that brought applause from the audience that maybe half filled the Alberta Bair Theatre and then some. Some of his titles indicate the temper of his songs: “Watch out for Beatnicks, Communists and Aliens”, based on the 1950s with updates to today and comments about visitors from space; “Watch out for Mr. Temper”, and Chicken Hawk with its unforgettable chorus, “you walk the walk and talk the talk, but you never fought a war” that targeted today’s leaders.

Then came Rothschild. He might not have been quite as funny as Molly would have been, but we laughed during his introduction as he made various comments, including one in which Molly has said, that when Baby Bush (my words) was in Amish country and said “he believed God was speaking through him” that she didn’t believe that God had that bad of a grasp on word construction, phrasing and punctuation (this is a paraphrase).

Rothschild talked a bit about Bush’s Iraq war and noted that the President has said God is on our side in Iraq. Since, Rothschild said, Osama Bin Laden also believes that God is on his side, it’s a tug of war and “It’s not the type of game the President of the United States should be playing.”

Then he got down to the meat of his talk about civil liberties. He said that as far as our Constitutional rights are concerned “this is the most dangerous crowd that’s been in the White House since Nixon prowled the halls.” And he added, “Cheney had his conscience surgically removed 30 years ago.”

He talked of the use of fear to answer all criticism and noted that Rumsfeld and others had been on Iraq’s case for years. And he noted that Ashcroft’s patriot act is already causing problems in the U.S., citing invasions by subpoena of students in Missouri, speakers in St. Louis, and demands for lists of participants in antiwar discussions at Drake University and (believe it or not) the University of Texas. (The Gazoo here had an article this morning where Ashcroft denies that this was interfering with rights, saying they had tips that the people involved were suspected of being or of knowing people who might cause violent demonstrations at the Democratic Convention. And I've got a bridge I'll sell you.) And Rothschild noted that if Patriot Act II is passed, natural-born American citizens can have their citizenship revoked if they are suspected of terrorism.

The Patriot Act is just one stick, Rothschild said. The other is by edict where the President has signed rules that allow for “order and safety at public demonstrations” which involve protesters at Bush and Cheney rallies being put behind bars for refusing to go to free speech zones designated for those who oppose the present policies. One person told the police who wanted him to move, “I thought America was a Free Speech zone” and wound up paying a fine for disorderly conduct. Like ancient kings, the President doesn’t want to be reminded that not everyone is on his side. (Seems to me we went there, did that and bought the T-shirt in the 60s.) There is a rule that if there is a war on terror, Rothschild said, then a protest against that war is an act of terror under the new rules.

He noted that some cities, counties and states have formed the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and order their police forces not to enforce the Patriot Act, including seven in Montana. (Billings is not one of them.) He also said that the federal government under the new terrorist act laws can come into your home, ransack it, go on your computer and find out what you have there and your e.mails and leave without telling you they were even there. (Is everyone out there happy with that?)

Rothschild said that there is in our country “a real hostility to our core constitutional freedoms.” And, he noted, “there is a real fear that Bush will steal the election.” He pointed to several references within the last few months about the possibility of martial law being imposed if there is another terrorist attack. He cited comments by retired general Tommy Franks, an aide to Condi Rice, and several others.

Someone pointed out afterwards that there had been a mention on NPR yesterday of WMDs in Iran, sort of like we heard about over Iraq. And at the reception, Rothschild also noted that he had omitted, not by design, any of the talk in D.C. about the possibility of canceling or delaying this fall’s election. Although it has dropped off recently, it was a very real discussion just a few months ago.

He concluded his formal talk: “We need to protect our civil liberties.”

And I’ll have to admit it was great being in the company of fellow liberals. They are by far nicer people that the conservatives I know personally and face to face.

P.S. It may be remedied Saturday or Sunday, but I thought it was interesting that The Gazoo didn’t carry a story about Rothschild’s talk in this morning’s paper. Sent an e.mail to editor Steve Prozinski, but haven’t heard back yet. As an update, the Gazette hasn't carried anything about it. That paper is getting worse and worse. It sells news space apparently to businesses and to people grieving for lost loved ones (the obit page) and doesn't give a damn what it covers.


Blogger David Summerlin said...

I was finishing Ivins' "Bushwhacked" last night lamenting that I had been too busy to buy tickets to go. Sounds like a fun evening, but since she didn't show I don't regret not attending so much.

5:56 PM  
Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...

Woo! Chuck is back!

9:51 PM  
Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...

I wish I could have been there, Chuck. It sounds like the kind of event that should be happening everywhere around our country.

I am having trouble getting my mind about what it is that the conservatives want these days. We used to talk about conservatives wanting back "the good old days," but what good old days are we talking about now? It would seem to me that the models they are looking at resemble McKinley or perhaps even Stalin. The rewriting of history to candy-coat their party heroes (i.e. Nixon who saved us from the Vietnam war) smacks of Maoist or DPRK leadership cult propaganda or perhaps the Khmer Rouge "Year Zero" take on history.

When you refer to the Patriot Act II, are you speaking generically or is there currently such a bill afloat in Washington?

Regardless, we're in for some bad mojo in the months ahead. If they win the election, then we're going to see some real reactionary policies come down. GW's handlers will milk him dry to forward their agenda.

If they lose the election, then I expect there will be a winter blizzard of Executive Orders, Presidential Pardons and sweetheart contracts. Imagine what these people could accomplish if they didn't have to pretend to be nice? Will they leave Washington as scorched earth? What sort of political landmines will they leave behind? How long until they begin the wholesale assassination of Kerry & Edwards' characters? Who will they take down with them?

Chuck - you've been observing the landscape for far longer than I have... How does our current band of thieves compare with the previous ones? Do they come out on top? Are they more frightening than Nixon? From my vantage point (and remember, I was just a lad when Tricky Dick was doing his thing), I perceive Nixon & Co. as being personally evil, brutish thugs acting in concert with one another within a small group. Our gang today represents evil on a far greater scale, I think. Not only do they have one hundred million confused and easily impressionable people behind them, they have an infrastructure in place that they have learned to operate like a finely tuned machine.

On the other hand, I have to imagine that the American people aren't as polarized over this war as they were about Vietnam. I can't tell if that is good or bad. Certainly I would encourage opposition to this war and I would like to see a hell of a lot more of it. At the same time, I think it is good that hawks and doves aren't getting into fistfights in the street.

So what is it going to take to get our country back on track? The obvious thing is to break the backbone of the conservative insurgency, which is never going to happen, so for the sake of this discussion I will omit that from the argument altogether.

First we need to demonstrate that the climate of fear in our country is counterproductive. Given how much the American people love the siege mentality, this is a tall order. I suspect that TIME is the only medicine to solve this ailment. 9/11 seems like yesterday to so many - "never forget." OK - I'm never going to forget 9/11, but I'm also never going to forget 9/10 and before, either. When X years pass without another 9/11 happening, maybe we'll relax a bit and start letting people take their shopping bags into movie theaters and board planes without having to remove their shoes.

One thing that we have completely ignored is a heavy national debate over "What on earth did we as a country do to cause 19 men to kill themselves and 3000 innocent people in anger?" This is the most serious question of all and the answer is far more complex than "They Hate Freedom." Can we face the music? "Hey, Arab World, we've really fucked up in terms of how we've interacted with you over the past 100 years. What can we do to win you guys back over to our side?" I can promise you that the truest answer to that question points to the exact opposite of New Imperialism in the Middle East.

And where do our buddies the Israelis fit into this equation? Israel has used the American black check against "terrorists" as cover to help them step up their war on the Palestinians. I have heard GW & Co., talk about leaning on Israel off and on over the past 3 years but I haven't seen much change. Palestinians are still strapping explosives to themselves and blowing up inside Israel and the Israelis are still bulldozing homes and firing rockets into apartment buildings (from American-made assault helicopters).

Take three dates:


How does our place in the world look today as compared with the other days? I have to believe that we have made the world an even more dangerous place.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Chuck Rightmire said...

Avenger: First, I have to agree with Rothschild. There have been two times in our election process when I have actually thought that if the election went against the incumbent president we could have a coup. The first was Richard Nixon against the guy from south dakota whose name has fled my coop until 2:30 this morning. The other is this fall. I fear an attack, possibly by those who don't want to give up power, that is blamed on the terrorists and the proclamation of martial law. I keep telling myself that I'm being ridiculous, it would never happen but it still hangs over my shoulder like a spectre of doom.

I'm not sure we can get our country back from the traitors. They have minimalized us and set us up as traitors and more. People say it can't happen here, but I hear more and more people who believe that empire is the answer. And when the empire dissolves on our ancestors, as they always do, what comes next?

12:10 AM  
Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...

I fear that it could happen here as well.

I thought that it might happen in '92, and was obviously quite mistaken. Daddy Bush and Co. were pikers back then. They are 10X more evil, focused and strong today.

When did the HISTORICAL FACT that "empires crumble" become an exclusively liberal (read: effeminate and wimpy) reality? Conservatives might lack compassion or humanity, but the ones in charge aren't stupid. Have they rewritten history to show that the downfall of every previous empire was due to the Achille's Heal of liberalism? Do they think that they can buck the historical trend of failure of empire this time around by squelching the left?

I thought that over the past 60 years, Western Civilization had collectively learned that empire wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. I thought that as Americans we could take a small amount of pride in that our own forays into Empire weren't as shameless and blatant as those of the Europeans. (This isn't to say that we didn't have our own empire, just that ours was somewhat more subtle politically).

On that note, have you seen the GW Bush television ad yet that sings the praise of the Bush Administration and the Olympics and welcomes "two new Democracies" to this year's games: Afghanistan and Iraq ?

Who do they think they are fooling? Not the athletes from those countries - the Iraqis have already responded bitterly.

Perhaps they are fooling the same people who bought "the end of major conflicts" and "mission accomplished" in Iraq last year or Bush's pathologically spun declaration that we had turned over Iraq to the Iraqis "ahead of schedule!"

What do we do when the country that used to be the beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world starts curtailing civil rights and begins to contemplate some sort of martial law? When freedom and democracy meet jackboots and stormtroopers it is like matter and antimatter coming together.

Who then will the world turn to as the new beacon of a totally free society? Do they allow immigration?

8:33 AM  
Blogger Chuck Rightmire said...

We've been there before with Nixon. I don't see Papa Bush as a real threat that way because he'd served this country in war and had at least some idea about what he was fighting for. Baby Bush doesn't have that going for him as well as a number of very hawkish advisors who have jumped on 9/11 with a vengeance. I had no problems with people going after Afghanistan and Al Qaeda; they had opened themselves up to retaliation. But the rest of this, along with an ideology that I'm right and everybody else is wrong, seem dangerous to me. Sometimes one guy is right and the other is wrong. But, except in science, it happens seldom and never in religious systems, which is what he's hiding behind.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Eric Coobs said...

Be careful guys - your pure hatred of President Bush is showing again.... Why not change the name of this Blog from 'Just Thoughts' to a new, more descriptive one, such as 'Just Liberal Democratic Thoughts'

10:59 AM  
Blogger Eric Coobs said...

Oops - In making my name-change suggestion, I forgot to follow up your post -

"The fact that the Democrats think a perfect Commander-in-Chief would be a man who would throw his ribbons away in public, talk about his own un-charged misconduct in Vietnam, and invent missions into Cambodia to embellish his service says a lot about the Democrats"

11:10 AM  
Blogger Chuck Rightmire said...

Eric: It's fine, however, for the Republicans to think that a man who dodged the war by hiding in the national guard and then serving part of that time working on a political campaign and who then got us into an irrational war makes a good President? I thought about it, but people who don't understand what a liberal is would have had bad dreams.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Chuck Rightmire said...

And, for your information, I don't hate President Bush. I just think he's a small man in a big job with other men pulling his strings, with little idea what he's doing, and that the policies he's following are against the Constitution in more ways than one. And frankly, I can see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears and don't need to have anyone else tell me what's going on in this country. I think for myself.

8:34 PM  

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