Saturday, October 8, 2016

Battling Bernie Has Never Been Easy

Thirty years ago Sanders also challenged a woman  
"Win Some, Lose Some," Chapter 20 
The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution 
By Greg Guma

Madeleine Kunin was offended. She was being judged unfairly, she told the reporter from the Village Voice. Along with dozens of other writers, James Ridgeway was looking for insights into the race between Bernie Sanders, the Vermont "neosocialist," and Kunin, the "neoliberal."

The governor protested this classification. "You can't have the strategies that were true in the 60s or even 70s: simply spending money," she explained. "You've got to be accountable for every cent. You have to leverage the private sector and get them involved... I consider myself to be in the mold of governors like Dukakis, Cuomo, and to some extent Robb who is more conservative."

It was vintage Kunin -- cautious and firmly in the middle of the road. For years already she had lived with the nickname Straddlin' Madeleine and had learned to make the best of it. Elected a state representative, she proved herself as a strong chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee and defeated Peter Smith, Vermont's preppy Republican version of Robert Redford, to become lieutenant governor. After four years in Governor Richard Snelling's shadow, she challenged him in 1982 in her first gubernatorial run and lost. 

But Kunin didn't straddle when it came to setting goals or building a personal organization. In the 1984 election, with Snelling temporarily retired, she squeaked into office over Attorney General John Easton, becoming Vermont's first female chief executive, and began to set her own agenda.

In many ways, Kunin was an archetypal moderate: she favored social programs but fiscal conservatism. To progressives, her support of feminist and labor issues seemed weak and equivocal, yet she used her first term to bring women into state government and to prove, just as Sanders had done in Burlington, that being different -- in her case, female -- didn't mean she was incompetent. When it came to keeping the state in sound financial shape or protecting water quality, she could be as strong as Sanders and Snelling.

But Kunin was no world-shaker. She shied away from raising the minimum wage or demanding that corporations give notice before closing down plants. She wanted nuclear plants to be safe, but she didn't think they should be shut down "overnight." In the estimation of Sanders and his Rainbow backers, Kunin was just another "lesser evil"; supporting her would not be worth losing the chance to expand the Progressive base. If a Sanders run meant that Smith would be elected, so be it -- he would be only marginally different from her.

"If you ask her where she stands," said Sanders of Kunin, "she'd say, in the middle of the Democratic party. She's never said she'd do anything. The confusion lies in the fact that many people are excited because she's the first woman governor. But after that there ain't much."

Kunin was not much kinder to her socialist opponent. "I think he has messianic tendencies," she told Ridgeway. "That's not uncommon in politicians. But it does mean he dismisses everyone else's alternative solutions... His approach is always to tear down. But I think you can make progress and change for the better by working within the structure... A lot of what he says is rhetoric and undoable... He has to create a distinction between us, and to do that he has to push me more to the right, where I really don't think I am. I don't think it's fair. He's not running against evil, you know."

The third player, Smith, had some kind words for Kunin. "She's a good person," he said, "she's got some commitment." But he also felt that she was a case of "vision without substance." In Sanders, Smith saw passion, confusion, and noise. "If Bernie were as gutsy and honest as he says he is, he'd run as a Socialist," charged the Republican. "He is a socialist! That's why he went to Nicaragua.That's why he goes to Berkeley."

But if Sanders was a noisy neosocialist and Kunin was an empty vessel, what did that make Smith? He had begun his career as an educational reformer, launching Community College of Vermont. But his liberal leanings didn't prevent him from joining the Republicans; he supported first Bush, then Reagan, in 1980. He was intelligent and a creative thinker, and yet willing to play the compliant foot-soldier in Reagan's conservative revolution.

Kunin didn't view either of her opponents as devils, but she was concerned about how to survive the campaign, particularly the series of public debates that would give Sanders his best opportunity to win more votes. On the podium, she realized, nobody in Vermont did it better than the mayor.

Her press secretary, Bob Sherman, contacted me early in the summer. He knew I wasn't in Sanders' camp this time, and he wondered whether I would be available to help Kunin prepare for her debate ordeal with a rehearsal. The idea was to stage a mock debate between the governor and stand-ins for her two challengers. Would I be able to "play" Bernie? The offer was irresistible.

We met in a Montpelier "safe house," accompanied by key staff members. Democratic legislator Peter Youngbaer had prepared himself to be Smith; I had reviewed recent Sanders speeches and tried to unravel the magic of his style. With a video camera recording our face-off, we tackled environmental, tax, and development issues. Kunin's problem, I discovered, was her preoccupation with details. She often answered questions by trying to explain the thinking that led to her policy choice rather than by simply taking a strong stand. Bernie's strength, in contrast, was his ability to turn any question to his own advantage -- even if that meant ignoring it -- in order to get his point across.

In the end I summed up with some classic Sanderisms. "In my view, the Reagan administration has been a disaster for Americans," I barked. "We are planning to spend a trillion dollars on Star Wars and hundreds of millions to overthrow the government of Nicaragua while, in Vermont, we don't have enough money to adequately fund education or social services. That has to change.

"The other candidates think we can just say a lot of nice things and tinker here and there to make everything okay. I don't. I believe we need fundamental change, and that the governor of Vermont should be leading the fight. We can be the conscience of the nation. We don't have to settle for Reagan's insanity or the indecision of the Democrats."

Afterward, when Kunin saw her image on the screen, she was a bit shaken. "Sanders" and "Smith" had won some points, while she had been tedious and indecisive. Yet she balked at the suggestion that she challenge Sanders if he went on the attack, arguing, "He's not the enemy."

To support Kunin over Sanders was, of course, progressive heresy. Even  those who felt he was authoritarian could see no reason to support his Democratic opponent. As labor organizer Ellen David-Friedman put it, "Challenging the system is considered a better goal than maintaining the status quo." 

Queen Madeleine, Preppie Peter, and Lord Bernie -- the nicknames created by columnist Peter Freyne were apt descriptions of Vermont's new political royalty. Each was an established star with a proven popular base. But Sanders' early boast that he was "running to win" was soon revised by his campaign organizers. A July poll put the Lord of Burlington at a mere 11 percent statewide, while the Queen, also a Burlingtonian, had 53, well outdistancing Preppie.

By October, the Sanders campaign, if not the candidate himself, had lowered its sights to seeking a respectable 20 percent. Within his organization, feelings were frayed and hopes disappointed. Writing in the Guardian, a radical newsweekly, Kevin Kelley explained that even David-Friedman, who had managed the campaign for several months, felt it hadn't become a grassroots movement. "Bernie had trouble," she said, "recruiting activists and contributors who had been involved in his previous campaigns. Some of them felt it was the wrong race to be running, and others thought it was more important that he stay in Burlington to consolidate the gains we had made there."

She also noted that "middle-class progressives" weren't enthusiastic since Sanders wasn't organizing but simply running. "Bernie acts in a way that's similar to [Jesse] Jackson in terms of focusing more on a candidacy and less on an organization," she felt. She was still committed to his campaign, but she acknowledged his limitations. In a public letter to the left two weeks before the election, she praised Sanders' leadership but scored his resistance to accountability or organization.

Murray Bookchin, a libertarian socialist thinker and leader of the emerging Green movement, was more blunt. "Bernie's running a one-man show," he said. "The only justification for a socialist campaign at this point is to try to educate people, and Sanders isn't doing that at all. Instead, he's running on the preposterous notion that he can get elected as governor this year."

In truth, however, Sanders was running on issues as well: reducing reliance on the property tax, a more progressive income and corporate tax system, lowering utility bills, raising the minimum wage, and phasing out Vermont Yankee, among others. It was basically the same thrust he had always pushed -- redistribution of income and wealth. But neither his reform program nor his powerful speaking style were enough to overcome the barriers in his way. His opponents could still outspend him, and his own ranks were split.

Working with Patrick Leahy, who was fighting Snelling to keep his US Senate seat, Kunin staged an impressive get-out-the-vote effort. It was the most sophisticated voter-identification program in state history. With unemployment at a record low and no state deficit, she had economics on her side. On Election Day, Kunin failed to win 50 percent of the vote, but she left both her opponents well behind and was dutifully confirmed by the legislature.

Sanders came away with 15 percent -- far less than he had been hoping for, but nevertheless remarkable. Running as an Independent, he had established a solid base, and his percentage was far too big to be simply a protest vote. But it wasn't just the total that was significant, noted Chris Graff, Vermont's Associated Press bureau chief. "It is the fact that it came from the conservative hilltowns, the Republican strongholds, the farm communities." Sanders had, in fact, won his highest percentage in the conservative Northeast Kingdom. Once again he had touched a chord and transcended traditional lines.

(Originally published in 1989)

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Presidency Problem: High Crimes

If staging coups, waging secret wars, suspending civil liberties, or torturing people were merely aberrations pursued by a handful of zealots, Congress could simply punish the offenders and get back to "business as usual." But the obvious, and yet unspoken, truth is that destabilizing other governments, unnecessary (and sometimes covert) wars, and abuses of power – at home and abroad – are standard tactics of the modern presidency

After first denying such "initiatives," the Reagan and Bush II administrations turned ultimately to a more credible (though not more creditable) response: they had decided that the presidency isn’t bound by the normal rule of law, especially congressionally-imposed limits, when pursuing its "higher" goals. The defense was both the "necessity" of combating evil (aka communism and more recently terrorism) by any means, and the inviolability of presidential authority in most matters of foreign policy and anything defined as a question of "national security." 

Yet, the real culprits weren’t Reagan or Bush, although they clearly encouraged a "survival of the fittest" approach to governance. Even in the wake of scandals, no one charged that the president personally ordered torture or collaboration with arms dealers and drug merchants. On the other hand, neither did anyone deny that this has happened regularly in the past. At the root, the problem isn’t a particular group of conspirators but rather an executive structure that supports and condones wanton disregard for the sovereignty of nations and rights of individuals. 

The continuing transfer of power to the executive branch is a largely untold story of the last half century, abetted by the cult of commander-in-chief authority, a global network of military outposts, a vast intelligence apparatus, the withholding of information on spurious grounds, and a permanent state of emergency. The process continues in the Obama administration. As John Podesta, Obama's transition chief, explained shortly after the 2008 election, "There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that.” This time around, conservatives are worried and most liberals cheer him on.

Presidential sovereignty stems from the widely accepted notion that only a single executive can manage US foreign affairs. At the urging of various private interests, this has led to hundreds of US interventions around the world, often with Congress partially, wholly or willingly kept in the dark. The pattern, which began with President James Polk's 1846 calculated provocation of war with Mexico, ultimately went public in the 1980s with the exposure of a worldwide crusade to arm, train and direct various Contra forces. It wasn't "approved" public policy, yet it nevertheless served as the centerpiece of presidential foreign policy during the Reagan years.

Such activities are difficult to manage and control, however, since they require the mobilization of elite, often underground networks and a conscious effort to mislead other parts of the government (not to mention allies and the general public). In the case of the Contra wars, the connection between arms shipments, drug smuggling and assassinations was an organic development, but one the administration could not fully "manage."

Once the "enterprise" was outted, the old alliances no longer held firm but the "initiatives" couldn’t be aborted by presidential decree. And, in truth, there was really no sincere attempt to change course. The Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations continued to promise military aid or backing in exchange for concessions, promote coups in countries whose policies threatened US interests, arm mercenaries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, manipulate elections in "fragile democracies,” distribute disinformation, and harass the opponents of US policies.

In Costa Rica, journalists Tony Avrigan and Martha Honey uncovered the private network behind much of the Reagan-era mayhem long before the Tower Commission and Iran-Contra Committee launched their investigations. Working with the Christic Institute, they eventually filed a lawsuit charging 29 US citizens with conspiracy. The specific instance spurring the suit was the 1984 bombing of a press conference held by Contra leader Eden Pastora. The "Secret Team" making that attempted assassination possible, and ultimately causing the deaths of eight people, had roots that stretched back over 25 years. Featuring Contragate figures such as Richard Secord, Thomas Clines, Theodore Shackley and an assortment of Cuban exiles and ex-military men, the “team" had handled numerous sensitive, often illegal operations at the behest of the US government. In fact, it had been an instrument of US policy from the early days of Castro (when some members helped plot the leader's death), in Laos and Vietnam, in the overthrow of Salvadore Allende in Chile, in propping up the Shah of Iran, and throughout Central America.

Various researchers and investigations ultimately established the following executive branch participation in the “alleged” Contra conspiracy: Vice President George Bush and his national security advisers had close ties with a secret air-re-supply operation in El Salvador. The State Department, in particular Elliott Abrams, was involved in coordinating Contra activities, bringing together State, the National Security Council, and the CIA. But this was only part of a massive inter-agency program masterminded by CIA Director William Casey. The Defense Department planned airdrops over Nicaragua and provided troops to build the Contra infrastructure. A private aid network, including John Singlaub's World Anti-Communist League, various non-profit fronts, mercenary groups and CAUSA, the political wing of the Moonies, provided cover for an operation that led back to the Oval office.

The Secret Team, eventually headed by Richard Secord, used money from Iran arms sales and other sources to acquire weapons and channel them to Central America, South Africa, and Angola. The Team and the aid network worked with both the Ilopango Airlift in El Salvador and the South Front, coordinated from John Hull's Costa Rican ranch. Drugs and guns moved back and forth. One beneficiary of these efforts was the Nicaraguan Democratic Force led by Adolfo Calero and former Somocistas. Over 80 people, in and out of government, actively worked in this network, with additional financial support from Saudi Arabia and Brunei. The President was aware of and approved most phases of this covert foreign policy.

Still, this was only one episode in a much longer and more convoluted tale. An earlier "Contra" war had been mounted against Cuba under the direction of Richard Nixon, then vice president, beginning in the late 50s. With the cooperation of Mafia don Santo Trafficante, a private "sub-operation" had been developed to assassinate Cuban leaders. Members of the "shooter team" included Rafael "Chi Chi" Quintero, who later coordinated arms shipments to the Contras with Secord; Felix Rodriguez, a CIA operative who headed the Ilopango operation during the 80s and met several times with Bush; and several of the future Watergate burglars. The Cuban operation was supervised by Secord associates Shackley and Clines.

The Team's activities stretched around the world. In Australia, they used opium money and weapons profits to help destabilize the Labour government in 1975. In Nicaragua, they assisted Somoza after Carter and Congress had banned further aid; after the dictator's fall, they armed and advised ex-National Guardsmen until the CIA assumed control of the Contra war. When Congress cut off aid in 1984, Oliver North, who had worked under Singlaub in Laos, reached out to the Team to illegally recommence funding and re-supply the Contras. During the 1980s operations in Central America, they established major supply bases in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. In the meantime, CIA Director Casey developed other Contra operations in Africa. In return for South African assistance in ferrying arms to Central America, for example, he arranged with Saudi Arabian King Fahd to provide aid to the South African-backed UNITA rebels fighting the Angolan government.

After the White House connections to the Secret Team were exposed, three material witnesses died mysteriously. Others were threatened, and groups involved in bringing the administration and its partners to justice were burglarized and harassed. Christic Institute attorney Dan Sheehan charged that ultra-right elements threatened key witnesses and that, in its embassies in Central America, the US had "a series of fascist and hitlerite cells" controlled by the CIA.

Not all of this emanated directly from the President's office, National Security Council, or even the Company. But the presidential system makes such policies commonplace and, unless exposed in an unfavorable way, acceptable US "policy initiatives." Reagan's assertion that the Boland Amendment didn't apply to him or his staff was merely another attempt to assert unilateral executive power, which in turn could be delegated to associates in and out of government. By extension, attempts to "protect the initiative" became part of the authority flowing from the sovereign. The Bush administration clearly took a page from this text in designing its defense of torture and other abuses.

When Barack Obama became president, many of his supporters assumed that he would reverse the unilateral and authoritarian policies of his predecessor. Yet his CIA chief Leon Panetta soon made it clear that extraordinary rendition wouldn’t end, his Attorney General used “state secrets” as the rationale to block a trial, and Obama personally refused to release photos of enhanced interrogation. He also said that detainees could still be tried in “military tribunals” and that past official crimes would not be prosecuted. It was audacious, but not an auspicious beginning.

The Bush regime left Obama with broad latitude for executive intervention, both domestically and in countries with which the US isn’t at war. Using that power, Team Obama’s new overseas strategy became rollback, which, according to researcher James Petras, means reversing any gains made by opposition governments and movements during the Bush years. Rollback, explains Petras, involves a combination of open military intervention, seductive diplomatic rhetoric, and deniable covert operations. The most transparent manifestation was the buildup of military forces in Afghanistan, defined by Obama as a “necessary” war. The most covert, on the other hand, could be the ouster of Honduran President Zelaya.

There was no admission of US involvement in the Honduran coup. But US policy clearly shifted after Zelaya decided to improve relations with Venezuela in hopes of securing petro-subsidies and aid. Then he joined ALBA, a regional organization sponsored by Venezuelan President Chavez to promote trade and investment among its member countries, rather than a US-promoted regional free trade pact.

The Honduran military, whose officer corps has been US-trained and cultivated over several decades, seized Zelaya and “exiled” him to Costa Rica; the local oligarchy meanwhile appointed one of their own as interim President. Latin American governments condemned the coup and called for Zelaya’s reinstatement. But Obama and Secretary of State Clinton opted to condemn only unspecified “violence” and called for “negotiations” between the coup-plotters and exiled President.

Even after the UN General Assembly demanded Zelaya’s reinstatement, Obama refused to call it a coup. After all, that classification would have led to a suspension of $80 million in annual US military and economic aid. Every country in the OAS – except the US – withdrew its Ambassador. Instead, the US embassy began to negotiate with the Junta. Whether Zelaya returned to office or not, the coup served as a lesson to any other country that considered joining Venezuelan-led economic programs. The blunt message, Petras concludes, is that any such moves would result in presidentially-approved sabotage and retaliation. Don’t expect hearings,  or public oversight of any kind.

Two centuries after the US constitutional system was created, it has unraveled under the explosive force of the imperial presidency. The framers, though they could not predict the global dominance of the US, were certainly aware of the dangers of a drift toward monarchy. Unfortunately, their handiwork no longer meets the test. Even though the president needs congressional approval for expenditures and declarations of war, almost anything is permissible if the appropriate "national security" rationale can be manufactured.

Impeachment won’t counter the long-term drift toward executive sovereignty, since a president can only be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors" while most of the covert or “illegal” actions condoned or promoted by presidents are tried-and-true policies that Congress dare not condemn, criminal as they may be. According to historian Barbara Tuchman, the office itself "has become too complex and its reach too extended to be trusted to the fallible judgment of one individual." Thus, she and others have suggested restructuring ideas; for example, a directorate or a Council of State to which the executive would be accountable. Ironically, such ideas were discussed and rejected at the Constitutional Convention.

Basic changes are obviously needed. Presidents will continue to seek expanded power until clear limits are imposed and public pressure reverses the trend. In the end, the US may need another Constitutional Convention. As during the original, a stated, narrow purpose may be eclipsed by some “revolutionary” move to revamp the entire document. There is clearly a risk that something worse might be imposed, along with draconian restrictions on basic rights and freedoms. But more positive outcomes are also possible, and, given the way things are going, the risk may turn out to be preferable to the inexorable drift toward presidential tyranny.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Surrendering Freedom

Casualties of 9/11: Part Four
By Greg Guma

As the US entered World War I in 1917, Hiram Johnson, a US senator from California, issued a warning that went to the heart of the country’s predicament. "The first casualty when war comes is truth," he explained. Although he didn't mention it, the second casualty is just as obvious: freedom. After 9/11, both were offered up eagerly as the national media stoked primal fears, setting the stage for the most dangerous rollback in basic rights since the 1950s.

Consider what followed in the first few months of this "new kind of war": massive secret detentions, curbs on privacy and dissent, media outlets self-censoring their coverage. More than 1100 people were held without criminal charges, often on the basis of weak evidence. Under the hastily-passed USA Patriot Act, investigators were empowered to monitor talks between detainees -- whose names and alleged crimes were classified -- and their lawyers. Wire-tapping, e-mail surveillance, and secret searches all became easier. Solitary confinement and restrictions on visitors could now be imposed for a year, rather than the previous 120 days.

In Arkansas, an Uzbekistani woman was jailed for 40 days for being in a car with someone whose name was similar to someone on the FBI watch list. A young Egyptian who supposedly had a radio transmitter in his hotel room across from the World Trade Center was held for weeks. He turned out to be innocent, but before his release, he was "persuaded" to confess. Had he been tortured? It was a non-issue, news-wise. Meanwhile, the FBI publicly considered using a "truth serum" to crack recalcitrant suspects, and threatened to deport detained foreigners to countries that used torture.

Tom Ridge, the new Homeland Security Director, talked tough, calling all this "a permanent condition to which Americans must adjust." Equally disquieting, many of the ideas came from ultraconservative groups like the Federalist Society, which seized the chance to turn old wish lists into policy. Basically, the limits placed on the FBI and CIA 25 years earlier were being reversed. Beyond that, the wall between the two agencies was being broken down. Henceforth, the CIA would have an official role in deciding who was targeted inside the US and what information was collected. Other law enforcement agencies were obliged to give the Agency access to their information. Basically, the Bureau and the Agency could now work together on operations, including some against domestic political groups and individuals.

What groups? Officially, they were supposed to have connections to terrorists of foreign intelligence agencies. But Attorney General John Ashcroft clarified that. In December 2001, he explained: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists. They give ammunition to America's enemies." It was clearly a warning: this new security regime could easily be turned against almost any critic of the government.

Despite the signs, debate over how much freedom to sacrifice was little more than a sidebar to the war in Afghanistan, one small part of round the clock disaster coverage. TV shows telegraphed the main message: The War Room, America at War, Region in Conflict. Polls meanwhile reinforced the argument that most people accepted the situation, and trusted government to handle things. There was also the usual excuse: we'd better be safe -- that is, just accept the creeping implementation of police state tactics -- than sorry.

Many of these developments were mentioned by the press corps. But at the same time, they were explained away as part of a minimal and absolutely necessary response to the new terrorist threat. More to the point, major news outlets openly debated whether the public was being told too much.

Taking the cue, CNN Chair Walter Isaacson ordered his staff to "balance images of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists," saying it "seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan." In a memo, he admonished reporters covering civilian deaths not to "forget it is that country's leaders who are responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in," suggesting that journalists lay responsibility at the Taliban's door, not the US military's.

As Fairness and Accuracy in Media put it, if anything was perverse, "it's that one of the world's most powerful news outlets has instructed its journalists not to report Afghan civilian casualties without attempting to justify those deaths." CNN had essentially mandated that pro-US propaganda be included in the news, while rationalizing its decision to ignore excesses. The story was the same at Fox News, where news anchor Brit Hume wondered why journalists bothered covering civilian deaths. "The question I have," he said, "is civilian casualties are historically, by definition, a part of war, really. Should they be as big news as they've been?"

NPR's Mara Liasson and US News & World Report's Michael Barone went further, arguing that civilian deaths weren't news at all. What was? Apparently, rampant speculation on every imaginable catastrophe, keeping viewers in a permanent state of anxiety -- and hopefully, glued to the tube for the next live disaster.

An epidemic of self-censorship and convenient reality distortion spread across the country. In Panama City, Florida, a News Herald memo warned editors: "DO NOT USE photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties from the US war on Afghanistan. Our sister paper in Fort Walton Beach has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening e-mails and the like. DO NOT USE wire stories which lead with civilian casualties from the US war on Afghanistan. They should be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT. The only exception is if the US hits an orphanage, school or similar facility and kills scores or hundreds of children."

The fact that truth had taken a back seat was not even disguised. As Hume told the New York Times, "Look, neutrality as a general principle is an appropriate concept for journalists who are covering institutions of some comparable quality." But, he added, "This is a conflict between the United States and murdering barbarians."

Hollywood also jumped on the bandwagon. Stars and heads of production companies conferred with government officials on how best to spread the official line. At the Institute for Creative Studies at the University of Southern California, Hollywood talent consulted with military brass to speculate about future attack scenarios.

At the same time, "inappropriate" comments brought a reprimand or worse. When Bill Maher, then host of TV's Politically Incorrect, said the World Trade Center terrorists might be more brave than the US military, several affiliates dropped the show and ABC boss Michael Eisner threatened to fire him. Eight months later, his show was abruptly canceled. As Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer warned, in times like these, "people have to watch what they say and watch what they do."

A new McCarthyism – call it fascism-lite – was on the rise. Following several incidents in which academics were reprimanded for expressing allegedly unpatriotic views, the American Association of University Professors pleaded for an end to an atmosphere where thinking out loud was considered subversive. But who was even listening? Well, clearly the government, which invoked the "national emergency" to violate even one of the most basic legal rights – attorney-client confidentiality. "If we can't speak with a client confidentially," warned Irwin Schwartz, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, "we might not speak with him at all."

The new anti-terrorism law gave the government sweeping new powers to conduct searches and tap phones with only a suspicion of crime, rather than the old standard, probable cause. Government agents could now seize medical and student records, or track credit-card purchases and large cash transactions. Military tribunals could be used to try and sentence suspects without a jury or public access to the process. Any US attorney could get the FBI to launch its Carnivore Internet surveillance system to monitor a suspect's Internet surfing. "It's a very serious shift in policy and in American culture," noted Ken Gude, an analyst with the Center for National Security Studies. "We're getting to the point where it's guilt by association."                 

"If we give up our freedom, the terrorists have already won." That became the cliché of the moment. But the reality was much more unsettling: People were surrendering much of their freedom without seriously taking note -- and, as usual, the early winners were the US national security elite and their media enablers.

This is the conclusion of an essay adapted from Greg Guma’s 2003 book, Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization and What We Can Do.