Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Trump Card and the Wild Card

(This is a slightly edited version of the speech I gave at the LA Town Hall Meeting on July 12, 2007.)

If you have a loved one on the verge of dying because they're unable to breathe, you won’t save their life by giving them more blankets and bandaging a wound that is bleeding slightly. You have to deal with the central problem or your loved one is going to die. You have to focus all of your energy and attention on what is going to save their life.

America as people have known it and to some extent as people have wanted to believe it as (because America has never been the America that so many Americans think it is), is going to die. Both the reality and the ideal, if you will, of America are going to die. We are going through a metamorphosis. Bush and Cheney and the movement that they lead are the cutting edge of this transformational process that began over thirty years ago.

What the Bush agenda represents is a rupture by our government from the historic social compact with the American people that included the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech, assembly, protections of your person, your property and your privacy from the intrusions and predations of government, innocence until proven guilty in a court of law, the right to see the evidence offered against you, the right to your day in court, the right to challenge your detention (habeas corpus), due process, the Geneva Conventions, international law, and so on. While the US has never been above torture and creating a pretext for invading other countries, they have never before attempted and succeeded, no government in modern times has even attempted, to make legal: torture, invasions of other countries that don’t pose a threat to you and haven’t attacked you, and indefinite detentions.

The new America, my friends, is Abu Ghraib. Abu Ghraib isn’t the work of some bad apples. It’s the inevitable and deliberate outcome of the policies of not just the Bush White House but that of Congress as a whole that permitted and, in fact, legalized Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the numerous black sites where prisoners have been shipped to for torture and death. Barbara Olshansky, the brave attorney representing GITMO detainees, has seen the entire hard drive of Sgt. Grainer of pictures from Abu Ghraib. She told me recently that as terrible as the pictures are from Abu Ghraib that have been publicly released, the ones that remain hidden from the public are far, far worse.

Congress made Abu Ghraib the new America when it passed the horrific Military Commissions Act and when the Democrats who could have stopped this bill by filibustering it refused to do so. The Democrats, you see, have accepted the basic premises of the so-called “war on terror” that anything and everything is acceptable and necessary in this GWOT.

In 1945, Nazi Leader Herman Goering said the following while on trial at Nuremburg for crimes against humanity. I use it as the leading quote in my book: “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders . . . tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”

The Bush regime is using the Nazis’ playbook and has played the “terrorism card” to great effect. They used it and are using it to justify their illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq and they are using it again in preparing for a military attack on Iran by falsely claiming that Iran is behind attacks on Americans in Iraq.

The leading Democratic candidates for president have all accepted this lie of Bush and Cheney’s. Obama, Edwards and Clinton have all publicly declared that a military attack on Iran, including the possible use of nukes, is acceptable and may be necessary. Meanwhile, “impeachment is off the table.” I’d like to know what the hell this table is that the Democratic leadership keeps referring to that allows nukes to sit on it but won’t allow impeachment! The same people who say that impeachment would be a distraction, a waste of time, and unwarranted, think dropping nukes on a country that’s not attacked us, and is not threatening us, is OK!! What kind of country is it that allows such mafia - no, that’s too good - fascist logic to pass for legitimate discourse?!

I was a speaker at a forum in Austin a few days ago and some of the audience got a little upset that some of the speakers on the platform were “bashing the Democratic Party.” I’m sorry if I upset anyone here, but anyone who advocates, defends and fails to stop crimes against humanity, which the attack and ongoing occupation of Iraq is, and an attack on Iran would be, deserves bashing!

Bush and Cheney's Trump Card

This terror card that Bush and Cheney have been playing, if it isn’t taken head on and exposed as an utter fraud, will destroy us. I don’t say this as mere rhetorical flourish. Unless and until we dismantle this lie, and the only way we can do this is through driving them from office, we are all in mortal danger.

Let me play out a scenario for you in which Bush and Cheney in one day could and would escape from their current troubles and fulfill their grandest wish. This scenario, unfortunately, isn’t unlikely. It’s likely. In constructing this scenario I’m going to cite as sources this country’s three leading counter-terrorism experts – Richard Clarke, Michael Scheuer and Clark Kent Ervin. Clarke, as you know, served as counter-terrorism czar under Clinton and Bush. Scheuer is a former senior CIA analyst who was in charge of tracking down and getting Osama bin Laden. Clark Kent Ervin is former Inspector General of DHS. All three of these people have warned that the Bush White House is losing their war on terror and all three left their jobs in frustration and went public because of this. Indeed, when you look at what they detail in their books, it’s clear that the White House is doing nearly everything one would do if your objective was to exacerbate the dangers of terrorism and expose America to another 9/11.

Ervin points out that the easiest way to smuggle a nuclear device into the US is through our seaports as only 6% of all shipments are inspected and customs is apparently not even using the one device, an RIID, that you need to detect radioactive isotopes. ABC News on the first and second anniversaries of 9/11 conducted an experiment to see if they could smuggle radioactive materials into the US from another country. They “succeeded” both times without US Customs detecting the radioactive items. Scheuer told 60 Minutes in 2004 that OBL got religious permission in 2003 to use nukes on the US, that OBL is biding his time, and that the chances of another 9/11-like attack are a virtual certainty.

Clarke, Ervin and Scheuer all point out that the war on Iraq is inflaming the Islamic world against the US and that it is what we’re doing and not who we are that is the problem. Now, consider what I’ve just said with the fact that Congress passed in September and Bush signed in a private ceremony in October 2006 the Warner Act. In May 2007, in a companion piece to the Warner Act, Bush issued a Presidential Directive (a form of executive order) entitled NSPD-51. I’ve spoken of these two items elsewhere, but in essence they are all the laws/rules that Bush needs to declare martial law and suspend the Constitution entirely. Under them he can, on his own say so, declare a “public emergency,” take over control of the National Guard and use them to conduct mass roundups, arrests and detentions, muzzle the press, and if another 9/11 occurs close enough to the 2008 election, suspend elections. OBL is likely to do this because he benefits from Bush and Cheney and their policies. When some concerned people have asked members of Congress about the Warner Act, NSPD-51 and the prospects of a suspended election, the answer they’ve been given is that Congress wouldn’t let this happen and the elections would never be cancelled.

Is this the same Congress that passed the Warner Act in the first place, hasn’t even raised the issue of repealing the Warner Act since the Democrats took back the majority, and the same Congress that has said not a word about NSPD-51? Is this the same media that hasn’t told people about the Warner Act? Is this the same Congress and the same media that have repeatedly knuckled under and accepted the basic premises of the GWOT of Bush and Cheney, the same Congress that was elected to end the war on Iraq but because they’re afraid of being labeled soft on terror and not “supporting the troops,” just gave Bush more money than he asked for to continue the war and attached no strings to that money?

Another 9/11 would overnight nullify Bush and Cheney’s huge unpopularity. The Democratic Party would rush to prove itself even more determined to fight terrorism than the GOP. If Bush and Cheney, in other words, fail once again to prevent a 9/11, they would get their fondest wish: unfettered, dictatorial powers.

We must confront the harsh realities of the situation we face and not act as if we’re operating under some other more conditions in kinder and gentler times. The only way forward, the only way that offers us a chance at success, is to rely on the one force that does not have a stake in the current policies and that is a force powerful enough to take on the radical right. I’m speaking here of the American people. The American people must wake from their twilight sleep, smell the sulphur, and declare themselves against tyranny, torture and war crimes. A majority of Americans are for impeachment but this majority has been invisible and this majority sentiment must become visible.

The Declare It Now campaign

Let me explain how I came up with the strategy that I named Declare It Now and that World Can’t Wait has adopted and that we would like all of the movement organizations to adopt. In order to do what must be done, Americans in their millions must enter into direct political engagement to drive the Bush regime from office, repudiate everything they stand for, and transform the whole political atmosphere. The numbers we have now are far too small. The radical right that has been riding high for so long now must be taken head on and this fight that we’ve been in must become two-sided. The only way to do that is if the American people are mobilized in large and determined numbers. You remember the analogy of the loved one who can’t breathe? The political leadership in this country and the mass media are holding a pillow over the mouth of America and trying to suffocate us. We have to rise up and throw them off.

DIN is designed to put us on a whole different level in this fight. We cannot continue to just do more of what we’ve been doing and get where we need to be in time. Even if we were able to get a million people to march in DC tomorrow in a traditional rally - this would be wonderful, but what would the mass media say about our demonstration? They’d say we’d mobilized a few hundred thousand and continue to dismiss impeachment as foolhardy and inappropriate.

We have to find a way to by-pass the jaundiced coverage mass media has given the impeachment movement, appeal to the people directly and produce a huge cultural shift. We need to move the social techtonic plates. A huge strategic factor in our favor is that we do have a majority of people who want to see Bush and Cheney impeached. But this invisible opinion has been suppressed. It must become visible and a material force.

The Wild Card: the People

If even 2% of the 58% + of the people who want to see Bush and Cheney gone already were to wear orange ribbons, t-shirts, bandanas, and so on, then we would have millions showing off their true colors. Then it wouldn’t matter whether the media cover us because we would be visible everywhere to at least tens of millions of others. This would hearten the millions who have wanted something to happen, have wanted to do something, but have felt disempowered by the unanimous opposition to impeachment by the political leadership class and the mass media. It would create new and dramatically different conditions if orange became what the peace symbol became in the 1960s – a dividing line.

Let me end by suggesting a modified version of the Milgram Experiment. I cite Milgram’s Experiment in the Preface to my book and refer to the situation we face in America today as the Milgram Experiment writ large. In the original Milgram Experiment, a man in a gray coat and clipboard stands next to the person who is administering the electrical shocks to the person in the other room. Milgram discovered, to his dismay, that it was all too easy to get people to obey authority and deliver what they thought might be life-threatening electrical shocks.

What if someone wearing an orange coat was to burst into the room where the man in the white coat and the experimental subject are and told the subject: “Stop! You’re killing the other person in the room! You don’t have to do it! Rebel! Walk Out!” The Declare It Now campaign is our modification of the Milgram Experiment.

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