Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Woman of the year: Nancy Pelosi is the first woman Speaker of the House, thanks to last week's Democratic victories. But what can she really do about President Bush's unpopular agenda?
Blue In the Face
Think the Democrats' victory is a revolution for American government? Think again.
By Ted Rall
'MY FELLOW Americans," assured incoming president Gerald Ford hours after the Watergate scandals forced Richard Nixon to resign, "our long national nightmare is over."
I'm tempted, in the aftermath of the widest and most stunning electoral repudiation of Republicanism since Watergate, to mark the Democratic recapture of governorships, the House of Representatives, and probably the Senate, as the beginning of the end of Bush's fascism lite, and thus a long overdue vindication of what I've been saying about him since his December 2000 coup d'état.
Back in 2001 and 2002, state-controlled media called me radical. Now, with most Americans seeing things my way, I'm mainstream. Yet I'm more scared now.
"Iraq," I wrote a week before the 2003 invasion, "will probably be Bush's Waterloo." And so it has been: Exit polls found voters more motivated by opposition to the war than any other issue. "There was general revulsion in the country, particularly among Democrats and independents, against the conduct of the war in Iraq," said pollster John Zogby. "This was, at the grassroots, a referendum against the war and the president. For Republicans, there was significant disappointment about opportunities lost through enormous budget deficits, threats to civil liberties, a failed social agenda, and the war." Although Democrats failed to nationalize the election, Iraq succeeded: a pitiful 7 percent of respondents to the latest Gallup survey still want to "stay the course."
A White House controlled by an unpopular, highly partisan lame duck, a rival party majority without enough votes in Congress to override his veto, and the early start of a highly anticipated 2008 presidential campaign add up to one likely result: gridlock. Bush's legislative and military agendas are dead. But our long national nightmare has just begun.
A New Security State
We'll be cleaning up Bush's mess long after his scheduled abdication on January 20, 2009. But the trillions of dollars in national debt he has run up and his two losing wars will drain our economy for decades to come. We've provoked a new generation of terrorists. Yet even more damaging and nearly impossible to unravel will be the threats to Americans posed by the neofascist national security apparatus the Bushists will leave behind—unless they use it to remain in power.
Shortly after 9/11, Bush began the first of a long series of power grabs that have transformed him from the leader of a country beholden to its people to an authoritarian despot. He signed a secret executive order granting himself the right to declare anyone in the world, including a U.S. citizen, an "enemy combatant"—without proof—and order him assassinated. Violating federal law and privacy rights, Bush authorized the NSA to listen to our phone calls and read our email. FBI, CIA and HomeSec goons "disappeared" thousands of people into a horrible new matrix of concentration camps and secret prisons.
On October 17, 2006, Bush signed the Military Commissions Act. The new law, scarcely mentioned in the media, is breathtaking for the breadth of its attack on basic rights. Under the MCA, either the president or the secretary of defense may declare you an "enemy combatant"—as usual, without proof. Under that designation you may be jailed, without the right to an attorney, for the rest of your life. You can even be tortured. Your U.S. citizenship can't protect you. And it's all "legal."
In January 2006, HomeSec awarded a $385 million contract to Kellogg, Brown and Root, the subsidiary of Halliburton Co., to build "temporary detention and processing capabilities"—internment camps—"in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."
The question, asks Progressive magazine editor Ruth Conniff, "is what is the government planning to do with mass roundups of people?" After all, Bush and other Republican leaders have spent five years calling Democrats and others who disagree with them traitors and terrorists. Following so much hateful rhetoric, you can't blame liberals for wondering whether they too are about to be declared "enemy combatants."
They're not paranoid; they're just paying attention.
Don't Forget Martial Law!
About a week ago, some left-wing bloggers began circulating rumors that Bush had secretly signed something called the "John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007" that "allows the president to declare a 'public emergency' and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to 'suppress public disorder.'"
I couldn't find the text of the law at the time, formerly H.R. 5122, or a reliable media account, so I decided not to report on it.
I can now confirm the bloggers' account. Bush signed the JWDAA hours after the MCA, in a furtive closed-door White House ceremony. There is, buried deep down in Title V, Subtitle B, Part II, Section 525(a) of the JWDAA, a coup. The Bush Administration has quietly stolen the National Guard away from the states.
Here's the relevant section of Public Law 109-364: "The [military] Secretary [of the Army, Navy or Air Force] concerned may order a member of a reserve component under the Secretary's jurisdiction to active duty. ... The training or duty ordered to be performed ... may include ... support of operations or missions undertaken by the member's unit at the request of the President or Secretary of Defense."
The National Guard, used to maintain order during natural disasters and civil disturbances and the sole vehicle available under U.S. law to enforce a declaration of martial law, has previously been controlled by state governors. They have now been stripped of that control. Thanks to the JWDAA, Bush or the Secretary of Defense can now deploy National Guardsmen in American cities without obtaining permission from state governors. Section 526 of the Warner Act goes further still. It states that the "Governor of a State ... with the consent of the [military] Secretary concerned, may order a member of the National Guard to perform Active Guard and Reserve duty ..." The key word is "may." A governor can no longer deploy the Guard in his or her state without first getting permission from the Secretary of Defense.
Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sounded the alarm during senatorial debate, but U.S. state-controlled media ignored him. The Warner Act, he said, "includes language that subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law. ... We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the states, when we make it easier for the president to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty."
Only one governor, Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, made a fuss over the Warner Act. A spokesman for the National Governors Association requested a wimpy "clarification" concerning what circumstances might prompt Bush to impose martial law. As far as I can determine, this column marks the first time the JWDAA has been mentioned in the mainstream media.
Now the men who engineered America's post-9/11 police state have watched the public reject their policies. The incoming Democratic majority Congress will be able to hold hearings and launch investigations that could lead to their indictments and removal from office. John Dingell, the liberal incoming chairman of the Commerce Committee, did nothing to dissuade GOP fears of "a blizzard of subpoenas": "As the Lord High Executioner said in 'The Mikado,'" Dingell recently joked, "'I have a little list.'"
As ugly secrets surface, Bushists will turn desperate. Democracy has failed their grand schemes; token resignations like Rumsfeld's come too little, too late. Only tyranny can save their skins. Will the beleaguered neocons led by Cheney and Bush, cornered like rats, unleash their brand-new police state on their political opponents? Or will they tough it out and suck up the fines and prison sentences to come? The next year or two could go either way.
Ted Rall's most recent book is "Wake Up, You're Liberal! How We Can Take America Back from the Right" (Soft Skull Press).
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