Thursday, January 25, 2007

Venezuela's RCTV Acts of Sedition

Venezuela's RCTV Acts of Sedition - by Stephen Lendman

On December 28, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias delivered his annual "greeting speech" to the National Armed Forces (FAN) and announced the operating license of TV station Radio Caracas Television (known as RCTV) broadcasting on VHF Channel 2 won't be renewed when it expires on May 27, 2007. The station played a leading role, along with the other four major commercial private television channels in the country controlling 90% of the TV market, in instigating and supporting the 2002 aborted two-day coup against President Chavez. Later in the year they acted together again in similar fashion as an active participant in the economically destructive 2002-03 main trade union confederation (CTV) - chamber of commerce (Fedecameras) lockout and industry-wide oil strike that included sabotage against the state oil company PDVSA costing it overall an estimated $14 billion in lost revenue and damage.

A collaborative alliance of the five media "majors" that include Globovision, Televen, CMT and Venevision (owned by billionaire strident anti-Chavista Gustavo Cisneros who's called the Rupert Murdoch of Latin America because of his vast media holdings) along with RCTV began their anti-Chavez campaign soon after Hugo Chavez assumed office in 1999. In addition, 9 of the 10 major national dailies were part of the joint corporate effort to harm Chavez's popular support and undermine his legitimacy even before he had a chance to implement his socially democratic agenda now flourishing under his Bolivarian Revolution. It included the country's new Constitution and all vital social missions it gave birth to and now deliver essential services to the people who never had them before including free health and dental care and education to the highest level - for everyone mandated by law.

The corporate media alliance, that included RCTV, had prior knowledge of the April, 2002 coup plot that was apparent from the front page of national daily El Nacional in a special day of the coup April 11 edition of the paper printed before it began and headlined: The Final Battle Will Be in Miraflores (the presidential palace). The same day, another daily, The Daily Journal (an English language paper), headlined on its front page (also printed in advance of the coup's initiation): State of Agony Stunts Government.

In the days leading up to April 11, 2002, Venevision, Globovision, Televen and RCTV suspended regular programming replacing it with anti-Chavez speeches and virulent propaganda featuring strong rhetoric and calling on the Venezuelan people to take to the streets on that day they knew in advance had been scheduled for the coup. They blared it was "For freedom and democracy. Venezuela will not surrender. No one will defeat us." This went on continuously in tone and content practically announcing a call to arms insurrection on the scheduled coup date asking people to participate supporting the overthrow of their democratically elected president and government.

On April 10, one day before the coup, General Nestor Gonzales got air time on the major corporate broadcast media announcing the high military command demanded Hugo Chavez step down from office or be forcibly removed. The day following the coup, the dominant commercial media revealed their involvement in it, and on one April 12 Venevision morning program military and civilian coup leaders appeared on-air to thank the corporate media channels for their important role, including the images they aired while it was in progress, stating how important their participation was to the success of the plot. It failed two days later largely because of mass public opposition to it with huge crowds on the streets supporting their president in far greater numbers than those favoring the coup-plotters.

It was also later revealed the two-day only installed Venezuelan president Pedro Carmona had used the facilities of Gustavo Cisneros' Venevision as a "bunker" or staging area base of operations and was seen leaving its building heading for the Miraflores to take office as president of Venezuela on April 11 in flagrant violation of the law.

The dominant private corporate media clearly and unequivocally were part of the coup plot. They colluded to promote it in advance and then incited the public with anti-Chavez propaganda encouraging it while suppressing all news and information supporting Hugo Chavez that might have helped prevent it. It's likely RCTV alone is being singled out at this time because it's VHF license expiration is imminent in a few months. But it's also known a managing producer of the station's El Observer news program testified to the Venezuelan National Assembly that he and others at the station got orders on the day of the coup from RCTV's owner that on April 11 and the following day: "No information on Chavez, his followers, his ministers, and all others" was to be allowed on-air on the station. Instead the corporate media falsely reported Hugo Chavez had resigned when, in fact, he'd been forcibly removed and was being held against his will. They all knew it because they were told in advance and were part of the scheme.

On April 13, when hundreds of thousands of Chavez supporters took to the streets, the corporate media TV stations ignored them and instead broadcast old movies and cartoons like nothing of importance was happening. Even when the coup was aborted and pro-Chavez cabinet members returned to the presidential palace, it got no coverage on corporate-run TV or in the dominant print media. In addition, state television was taken off the air suppressing any truth coming out that lasted until Chavez supporters took over the station and began broadcasting real information to the public for the first time after the coup and until things returned to normal following it.

Even after Hugo Chavez was freed and returned to the Miraflores, the only station broadcasting it was the state-owned channel. The dominant private media instead maintained strict censorship in a further collaborative act of defiance. They refused to admit or inform the public that Hugo Chavez was returned to office because the people of Venezuela demanded it and succeeded in spite of all obstacles impeding them. It was an impressive moment in Venezuela's history that will long be remembered and is an important lesson to free people everywhere that mass people power fighting for their rights and freedom can prevail even against great odds.

It's also a testimony to Hugo Chavez and how the country has prospered under him benefitting everyone, including those behind the plot to oust him who might consider the 2006 preliminary year end economic growth numbers showing the Venezuelan economy grew at least 10% for the third straight year, including in 10 of the last 11 quarters. These impressive results were aided by record oil income. With it, government spending and subsidies increased sparking a jump in overall consumer demand. It boosted income for the country's most in need but also made the rich even richer. Instead of trying to oust Hugo Chavez, the anti-Chavistas might want to reconsider and thank him instead, but that wasn't their intent in 2002, and it isn't now either.

Venezuelan Corporate Media Defiant and Undeterred Even After the Coup Plot Failed

The dominant Venezuelan corporate media remained defiant even in defeat and showed it only months later that year in December, 2002 when a second de facto planned coup plot against Hugo Chavez began. This time it took the form of the opposition declaring a "general strike" that was reported that way by the corporate media even though, in fact, it was a management-imposed lockout workers had no part in or wanted. News reports falsely portrayed it as an oil industry workers' strike supported by laborers and management. It was not as it was planned and implemented by high level managers and executives in the oil industry who sabotaged equipment, changed access codes, and locked workers out of computer information systems halting production. The action devastated the Venezuelan economy. It threw many thousands out of work, affected other businesses, caused many to go bankrupt, and effectively destabilized the country for over two months.

During this period, the corporate media took full advantage launching an information war against the Chavez government. Again the four main TV stations suspended all regular programming replacing it with pro-opposition propaganda round the clock non-stop for the 64 day strike period denouncing Chavez and only stopping when the strike ended.

Hugo Chavez's Justification to Act Against RCTV

After Hugo Chavez announced RCTV's VHF license wouldn't be renewed, 1BC president (and owner of RCTV) Marcel Granier responded: "We all know what this is all about. They are trying to abolish freedom of speech and force the media to obey Government rules." He also falsely tried claiming his license ran until 2012 because it was renewed for 10 years in 2001. William Lara, head of Venezuela's Ministry of Information and Communications, explained the license, in fact, was gotten in May, 1987 and had only been resubmitted in 2001 because of the passage of a new communications law that year. Lara also said in a subsequent press conference Chavez's move against RCTV should come as no surprise and added this move is not a "revocation or expropriation" of the privately-owned RCTV but just the "termination" of its license.

Lara said Chavez intends to "rescue" the channel for the Venezuelan people. RCTV will still be able to operate on public airwaves via cable and satellite, and Channel 2's concession will either be given to an RCTV worker cooperative, a public-private consortium, or to the state for use as an entertainment channel with state Channel 8 (VTV) becoming a 24 hour news channel and both channels henceforth airing a better mix of socially responsible programming.

The result will be greater democratization of the public airwaves with less control of them in the hands of media oligarchs and more of it given to the people of Venezuela. This is how a functioning democracy is supposed to work. It can't if public airwaves are controlled by corporate media giants operating in their own self-interest while ignoring issues vital to the public welfare the way oligarchs do it in Venezuela.

Chavez wants to promote more openness and diversity, an initiative that should be championed, not denouced. The issue is not a denial of free speech. It promotes it and advocates social responsibility and adherence to the law. RCTV was in flagrant violation on both counts, and with its VHF license shortly up for renewal will now be held to account for violating the public trust as it should be. It has only itself to blame for the impending action against it that's fully justified and long overdue.

Lara and his government also defended the license termination action against the baseless Organization of American States (OAS) January 5 accusation issued by its Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza that "The closing of a mass communications outlet....has no precedent in the recent decades of democracy." By making it, Insulza shows he's complicit with Venezuelan media oligarchs and the Bush administration acting in their behalf supporting RCTV's right to violate Venezuelan law and get away with it.

That was the message from the Venezuelan foreign ministry in its statement issued in response saying Insulza was "improperly meddling in a matter that is the strict competency of Venezuelan authorities and denied its decision had any appearance of censorship (and that Insulza) should retract a series of comments that go against the truth." The foreign ministry directly accused Insulza of being influenced by Venezuelans and foreigners wishing to discredit Hugo Chavez and that his statement showed an "unfortunate ignorance of reality" in Venezuela. Hugo Chavez was even more direct in comments he made at the swearing-in of his new cabinet on January 8 saying Insulza is an "idiot" (pendejo) and called for his resignation. He added a Secretary-General "who reaches this level must, out of dignity, leave his office unless someone wants to once again convert the OAS into what Fidel Castro once called....the ministry of the colonies (with its HQ in Washington.)"

Several NGOs of note also voiced baseless and disingenuous criticism claiming Chavez violated standards of free speech and freedom of the press. They know better and acted shamelessly doing it. They include Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and Peruvian-based Press and Society Institute monitoring Andean region free press attacks and funded by the US National Endowment of Democracy (NED) that only supports media allied with its neoliberal right wing agenda.

These organizations ignored the facts and dangers of a private media monopoly controlling the public airwaves. Instead they chose to ally themselves with corporate interests with comments like calling Chavez's freedom of the press record a "serious (abuse of power and) attack on editorial pluralism (and he should) reconsider (his) stance and guarantee an independent system of concessions and renewal of licenses." Based on the facts, these kinds of comments are unwarranted and indefensible.

RCTV began broadcasting in 1953, airs Venezuela's most hard right yellow journalism and consistently shows a lack of ethics, integrity or professional standards in how it operates as required by law. It's current license was granted for a 20 year period expiring on May 27, 2007. At that time, the government may choose to renew it or not, and Hugo Chavez announced the latter choice was made, and it won't be reversed. Minister Lara added pointed comments about the state of the corporate media in Venezuela along with the Chavez government's commitment to the right of free expression. He said: "Journalism in this country is plagued with lies. They lie when they talk about revocation and expropriation....The country with the highest standards of freedom of speech in our continent - with all due respect for the rest of Latin America - is Venezuela. The degree of freedom of speech is so high that lies are spread throughout the country and no penalty is imposed."

The minister is right as was evidenced in the 2006 presidential campaign when the corporate media reported one-sided pro-opposition support for Manuel Rosales along with strident anti-Chavez propaganda throughout the pre-electoral period. Hugo Chavez tolerated it all and threatened no retaliation or intent to revoke or act against any media outlet unfairly hostile to him. This is not the behavior of a tyrant. It's the way a democrat acts, but even democrats like Chavez can and should demand the media and all others obey the law. His decision affecting RCTV shows he's doing it and nothing else. He's in full compliance with Venezuelan law as explained below.

Venezuela's Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television (LSR)

Most countries (including the US) have laws and/or regulations setting standards of acceptable practice for the media especially the radio and television broadcast parts of it reaching large audiences including children exposed to them and who don't read print publications. Venezuela has such a law called the Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television (LSR). Enforcement of it is handled by the National Telecommunications Commission, an independent regulatory body with authority to issue broadcasting licenses. The law's intent is to define and "establish the social responsibility of radio and television service providers, related parties, national independent producers, and users in the process of broadcasting and reception of messages, promoting a democratic equilibrium between their duties, rights, and interests, with the goal of seeking social justice and contributing to citizenship formation, democracy, peace, human rights, education, culture, public health, and the social and economic development of the Nation, in conformity with constitutional norms and principles, legislation for the holistic protection of boys, girls, and adolescents, education, social security, free competition, and the Organic Telecommunications Law."

Quite a mouthful, but indeed a worthy list of guidelines and principles the electronic media are mandated to follow and be held accountable for if they don't.

The LSR guarantees:

-- Freedom of expression without censorship.

-- Judicial mechanisms for families and the whole population to develop socially responsibly as an audience.

-- The exercise and respect for human rights.

-- An emphasis on social and cultural information and material for children and adolescents to aid their development and social conscience.

-- To encourage domestic independent productions.

-- To achieve a balance between the duties, rights, and interests of the people and the radio and television providers and related parties.

-- To disseminate Venezuelan cultural values.

-- To meet the needs of the hearing-impaired.

-- To promote active citizen participation in affairs of the country.

Failure to conform to these standards and principles may result in fines, the denial of broadcast spaces, suspension or revocation of broadcast licenses or refusal to renew the right to continue broadcasting. Any of these punitive measures may be imposed by the institutions having authority to enforce the law including the Directorate's Counsel on Social Communication and the National Commission on Telecommunications. They can act against broadcasters violating these required standards and practices if they do any of the following:

-- Transmit messages that illegally promote, apologize for, or incite disobedience to the law (that certainly include any television programming intended to enlist public support to overthrow the democratically elected president or others in the government).

-- Transmit messages that impede the actions of citizen security organisms and the judicial branch necessary to guarantee everyone the right to life, health and personal integrity.

-- Transmit propaganda or advertisements violating what's deemed lawful under the LSR (that would also include any television programming intending to incite violence, public disorder or the unseating of government officials).

-- Are non-compliant with the obligation to offer free spaces to the State including to the Executive Branch's Information and Communication Ministry.

Committing any of the above violations may result in a suspension of license for up to 72 hours when messages transmitted are intended to: incite war, adversely affect public order and crime, or are against the national security. A license may be revoked for up to five years when a penalty for any of the above violations is repeated following suspension and within five years of the first penalty.

Venezuela's five dominant corporate television broadcasters are repeat offenders having violated LSR provisions by their on-air programming with intent to incite violence and public support to destabilize and overthrow the Chavez government. Because RCTV's operating license expires in May, 2007, the Venezuelan government is entitled and even obligated to refuse renewal for the channel's repeated violations of the law as a way to protect public safety and the welfare of all Venezuelan people. Information and Communication Minister William Lara denounced those in the media and the country distorting the facts leading to the government's decision. He explained RCTV's practices in recent years have promoted intolerance, disobedience, and disrespect for the law. In a word, this broadcaster openly defies the law, its actions are flagrant and deplorable, and it must not be allowed to continue in the interest of the country nor should any other broadcaster acting irresponsibly.

How the Venezuelan Corporate Media Would Fare Under US Law

Fortunately for their owners and managers, the dominant Venezuelan broadcast and print corporate-controlled media don't operate under US laws. If they did, they'd be in very serious trouble with the likely suspension of their operating licenses the least of their woes.

If any part of the US media - corporate run, controlled or otherwise - reported the kind of strident anti-government propaganda intended to incite public hostility, violence and rebellion the way the Venezuelan dominant media do, they'd be subject to indictment on charges of sedition and possibly treason against the state - offenses far more serious than just the right to remain operating. During the 2002 April aborted coup and later anti-Chavez insurrection in the form of a general strike and management-imposed oil industry lockout, the Venezuelan corporate media acted in league with the oligarch opposition coup-plotters trying to overthrow democratically elected Hugo Chavez and his government.

In the US, this would be a violation of several laws at least including seditious conspiracy under Section 2384 of the US Code, Title 18 which states: "If two or more persons in any State or Territory (of the US)....conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the (elected) Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

They might also be charged with treason under Article 3, Section 3 of the US Constitution that defines this crime that's a far more serious offense and may be subject to capital punishment for those found guilty. Its definition under Section 3 states: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." It would then remain for the courts to decide whether any individuals by their actions of trying to subvert and overthrow a duly constituted government would be guilty of this crime or any sub-category under it explained below.

That might, in fact, happen, especially in the current US climate where the law is what the chief executive says it is, and the courts are stacked with supportive judges willing to go along. Consider what crimes are related to treason in the US and how easily Venezuelan corporate media actions to subvert Hugo Chavez might fall under them. They include the following:

-- Insurrection or rebellion involving armed groups creating a reasonable expectation that force or violence may be used against the sitting government.

-- Mutiny or unlawfully taking over command of the US government, or any part of it, or any part of the military.

-- Sabotage to include damaging or tampering with any national defense material or national defense utilities that in Venezuela could include state oil company facilities vital to the operation and viability of the country and welfare of the people.

-- Sedition, already covered above, that includes any communication (like inflammatory TV or newspaper headlines and stories) intended to stir up treason or rebellion against the government.

-- Subversion that's defined as free speech gone much too far that includes transmitting blatantly false information aiding the enemy or opposition.

-- Syndicalism that is the act of organizing a political party or group advocating the violent overthrow of the government.

-- Terrorism defined as the systematic use of violence or threats of violence to intimidate or coerce the government or whole societies by targeting innocent noncombatants.

A strong case can be made that RCTV and the rest of the dominant broadcast and print corporate media in Venezuela are guilty of most or all these related acts of treason under US law. If so and if their owners and managers committed any of these offenses in the US, they could be charged at least with sedition and possibly treason, brought to trial and if found guilty be in very serious trouble.

It can reasonably be argued that attempting to forcibly overthrow a democratically elected government is treason under Article 3, Section 3 of the US Constitution and is no different than an act of war to accomplish the same thing. If a judge and jury agreed and it held up on appeal, the person or persons found guilty would likely either face the death penalty or life in prison without parole for what the US considers the most egregious of all crimes against the state and thus imposes its harshest penalties.

The oligarchs running the Venezuelan corporate media might contemplate that fate and be grateful they operate in democratic Venezuela and not in the truly harsh environment of the United States. Of course, they won't, their anti-Chavez campaign will go on unabated, and it will be supported by their counterparts in the US and Bush administration labeling Hugo Chavez a ruthless tyrant trying to destroy free speech and democracy and calling for his head.

It doesn't matter to those in the US power structure and their Venezuelan counterparts that they're the guilty ones and their charges against Hugo Chavez are disingenuous and baseless. Chavez is a true democrat with every right to expect all Venezuelans behave responsibly in conformity with the law.

Things aren't that way in the US where respect for the law and rights of ordinary people went out the window with the election of George Bush and his thuggish neocon administration. They condemn Hugo Chavez because he respects law and order and courageously supports the rights of all Venezuelans under it. In contrast, George Bush acts as a tyrant, claims the law is what he says it is, and defiles the US Constitution audaciously saying "It's just a goddamned piece of paper." He also flaunts international norms and standards and respect for human beings and their dignity he doesn't care about. Some difference, and readers can choose which leader they prefer. They can also choose the kinds of media they prefer getting their news and information from. Those opting for this web site have chosen well.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Democrat Agenda Omissions

Democrat Agenda Omissions - by Stephen Lendman

With all the customary pomp and pageantry accompanying the occasion, the 110th nominally (first time in 12 years) Democrat-led Congress convened on Capitol Hill on January 4. It was done much the same as in earlier years except for the first time ever a woman took the gavel after being elected Speaker of the House in a final vote known weeks in advance killing any suspense about its outcome.

New House Speaker California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi called it "an historic moment for the Congress" which it was but only with respect to the gender of the Speaker, not for what significant policies can be expected over the next two years as this writer explained in an earlier article on November 13 titled New Faces, Same Agenda. The article suggested the political firmament shook briefly on November 7 leading some in the country to hope a new day on Capitol Hill had arrived with the Democrats now in charge ready to bring with them some long-delayed substantive change voters demanded in the November 7 mid-term elections.

It didn't take long, for those paying attention, to realize how foolish that thinking was as the presumed new Democrat leadership at the time (now confirmed) made it clear in its barely disguised rhetoric it will be business as usual and one more betrayal of the public trust that sent a strong message of disgust in the mid-term elections demanding change it won't get.

Expecting none is even more certain based on the background of the new Speaker, a 20 year congressional veteran, who's more privileged than populist, and is one of the wealthiest members in the Congress indicating she'll do nothing to alter the nation's course put in place by the Bush administration benefitting members of her class and herself including those ensconced in corporate boardrooms (where the real power of the country lies). They've been greatly enriched in the past six years and the previous 20 before them under Republican and DLC Democrat leadership still in charge and very much aligned in planning the continuation of the same agenda ahead.

Expecting change will be even harder in the Senate that's split 51 - 49 with newly elected former Vermont congressman Bernie Sanders an independent socialist aligned with the Democrats but former Democrat and now independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman nominally counted as a Democrat (keeping his seniority in the party and in charge of the Homeland Security panel) but one who votes consistently with the hard right wing of the Republican party, especially for our wars of aggression and Israel's. It makes the new Senate effectively 50 - 50 with Dick Cheney as vice-president able to cast the only vote that counts if he gets to use it. In addition, George Bush unfortunately is still president and able to veto any unwanted legislation and prevail as the Congress is far from veto-proof.

What might matter for Democrats is they control committee chairmanships in both the House and Senate. Those positions have power, and chairmen of them can use it to advantage if they wish. Beyond the rhetoric now being heard and likely to continue, those expecting little use of that authority against the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress won't be disappointed. For the country's majority, however, it's another story, but most people will be slow catching on if even able at all to do it. It's the reason politicos literally get away with murder.

The United States of Power and Privilege

Politics 101 again teaches that nothing in Washington can be taken on its face, that campaign promises are empty and disingenuous, and the criminal class in the Capitol is bipartisan in what noted author and social critic Gore Vidal calls our one party state - the property party with two wings in a plutocracy. It also proves former iconic investigative journalist IF Stone's wisdom that "All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed."

Political deception is institutionalized in Washington. It's in the DNA of most arriving there or succumb to its contagion once elected, and very few officials in Washington stay true to their principles if they had any. Doing it might exclude them from rising to leadership positions because getting them depends on playing by the same kind of "good old boys" rules as all the others in power.

Whatever it is, there may be something about the nation's capital that brings this on - that makes even good people do bad things when they get there. Sooner or later most decide to go along to get along, and then succumb to the inevitable deadly syndrome of power corrupting and absolute power doing it absolutely. It especially affects those with seniority who've risen to high positions in their parties with all the special privileges afforded them in that capacity.

Those paying attention to the rhetoric on January 4 got a bad taste of what it's like and what's to come. It came from House Speaker Pelosi and her 26 year congressional veteran and establishmentarian war hawk Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and in the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent the same message promising, as he and Pelosi did on November 8, to work with the president in a spirit of bipartisanship. It meant they were unconditionally surrendering to the established power structure agreeing not be "obstructionist" even though Republicans and the Bush administration never made a pretense of governing that way when they're in charge. Bottom line - the public got scammed again just like they always are under either party.

As part of the deception, Democrats added some boilerplate pro forma comments promising a "new direction....for all the people, not just the privileged few (and) restoring economic security to a very vulnerable middle class." If only they meant it which they don't. Don't be fooled again as the clear direction ahead was signaled (for those noticing) in the supposedly "liberal" New York Times on January 5 by columnist Carl Hulse saying: "They (the Democrats) can spend their energy trying to reverse what they see as the flaws of the Bush administration and a dozen years (of a) conservative....dominated Congress. Or they can accept the rightward tilt of that period (the NYT through Hulse supports) and grudgingly concede that big tax cuts (not mentioned for the rich), deregulation (no mention of its harm), restrictions on abortion (ignoring the country's majority saying they're pro-choice), and other Republican-inspired changes now a permanent part of the legislative framework" the NYT clearly signals it approves of but fails to mention them.

They include the oppressive Patriot Acts I and II, the Military Commissions Act, the revised Insurrection Act of 1807, the Read ID Act, secret illegal surveillance of everyone (even by the Pentagon) including a recent presidential signing statement to postal legislation allowing mail to be opened without a warrant, many tens of billions funded off-the-books for two illegal wars of aggression and many billions more for thuggish "homeland security" enforcement. All these congressionally-approved actions violate our constitutional rights now effectively annulled. So do the privatization of the hopelessly corrupted electoral process and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution that allowed most all the above abuses to follow it. These and other legislative acts signify a nation sinking fast into despotism. The "liberal" NYT supports it in its role as a quasi-official instrument of state-approved information and propaganda.

The Times columnist, expressing his paper's view, wants the above agenda continued opposing the majority voting for change who'll learn soon again none is forthcoming. What is ahead is little more than some tinkering around the edges in the form of inadequate feel-good legislative efforts in what's characterized as the "first hundred (meaningless) hours" leaving out the remaining 726 or so days in the 110th congressional term that count the most.

Congressional Proposals in the "First 100 Hours" That Will Extend Well Beyond Them For the Senate to Act and Final Reconciliation to Be Completed On Whatever Bills Emerge

It sounds like a title from a Hollywood "bad dream" factory," but this was the docket in the "First 100 Hours" of posturing hyperbole with lots more ahead from where this came from promising great pain and suffering in the next two years again failing to deliver on promises made just like it's always been.

-- some far too inadequate House "ethics reform" tightening of lobbying standards; requiring members to disclose and justify (but not loose) special-interest and home-district so-called "earmark" pork barrel appropriations (aka thefts of taxpayers money); certifying spouses don't benefit from "earmark" appropriations; banning members from accepting gifts from lobbyists including fancy meals, free travel paid for by outside groups including corporations, or use of campaign funds to pay for them except for two big loopholes still allowing one-day trips (anywhere) for meetings, panels or to speak and exempting charter plane services from the rule changes that easily can be ordered by a lobbyist as an allowable bribe for congressional services wanted in return.

There's not a hint in this legislation about the biggest ethical abuse of all - the outrageous corporate and other special interests violations of the public trust in the way campaigns are now financed. They include monstrous loopholes in the law to do it without limit in various soft and hard money ways. It means those running for office have to sell their souls and honor to become a serious candidate for political office unless they have vast independent resources and will part with enough of them. The result is the public gets "the best democracy money can buy" meaning none at all.

An example of it has already begun. With the rhetoric still echoing in the House chamber about so-called ethics reform, the victorious Democrats held a top-dollar fund-raiser collecting admission fees of $1000 a head from attendees quick to line up to take advantage of Democrat influence-peddling for big bucks the Pelosi-led ones see no conflict of interest collecting. In 1995, the Republicans did the same thing, we know the result, and now Democrats in power are acting the same corrupted way at night while disingenuously preaching reform during the day. So the message to voters is free meals from lobbyists are out, but big cash contributions are OK, and with enough of them coming it won't be hard buying lots of fancy meals and trips and most anything else.

-- new proposed rules for pay-as-you-go budgeting requiring new tax cuts (not touching those in place) or entitlement spending be offset with corresponding spending cuts. It means those cuts are coming from essential social services, so this hardly represents reform. Nor is it a step forward from the ugly past generation of congressionally legislated cuts in vitally needed programs those most in need don't get like many millions of poor single mothers taken off the welfare rolls by the cruel 1996 Clinton administration Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act euphemistically called "welfare reform."

-- raising the federally-mandated minimum wage (last increased in 1996 and 97 in two steps to $5.15 an hour) by $2.15 to a pathetic $7.25 an hour as the Office of Management and Budget defined the inflation-adjusted poverty threshold for a family of four in 2004 to be $19,307 and at year end 2006 is a likely estimated $20,500. The higher minimum wage, if enacted, will provide an income of about $15,000 for someone employed the full year meaning it's a sub-poverty wage.

In passing this inadequate minimum wage increase, the new House Speaker showed another hint of her anti-populist dark side and betrayal of the public trust five days into the new congressional term. The new law as initially passed exempted American Samoa while applying to all 50 states and other US territories. The reason - to benefit the Starkist subsidiary of Del Monte Corporation headquartered in Pelosi's home district that employs 75% of the Somoan workforce that was to continue receiving a $3.62 minimum wage or half the amount applicable to all other areas subject to US law if the bill clears the Senate and George Bush signs it. Now the power of public Republican rebuke made Pelosi reconsider. She quickly backtracked saying the initial bill will be altered so American Somoan workers will be guaranteed the same minimum wage as all others the legislation covers.

-- Feel-good legislation removing constraints on federally-funded embryonic stem cell research sure to be sustainably vetoed by George Bush who'll never allow it.

-- More feel-good legislation requiring the federal government to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare again with no chance of final passage as a presidential veto is certain unless a change in the final legislation accomplishes the same thing by keeping drug prices high. The House passed the new law on January 12 without a veto-proof margin, and its fate in the Senate is uncertain before anything ever gets to the White House.

-- Legislation to codify recommendations of the fraudulent and corrupted 9/11 (whitewash) commission that should instead be enacted to denounce and scrap its report demanding a new independent commission be formed to learn and disclose all the facts so far suppressed with Democrat complicity in the Congress. More on this below.

-- New measures to reduce interest rates on student loans, create federal incentives to develop renewable energy sources and reduce subsidies for Big Oil - more feel-good efforts with few positive results expected beneath the disingenuous headlined achievements.

All of the above is from the House only with the Senate under its much different procedural rules taking them up next in debate under a system where a filibuster can kill a bill and a de facto 50 - 50 body can do it even easier, plus the reconciling procedure between different House and Senate bills to reach compromise on a final one. As the legislative process drags on in the new year and the warm glow of a new "people's" Congress slowly fades with few substantive results, cold reality will set in that the 110th body isn't much different than the ones preceding it.

Expect that pattern to emerge even though a bipartisan Senate bill was introduced by Democrat Senator Max Baucus and Republican Charles Grassley to repeal the increasingly repressive alternative minimum tax (AMT)originally intended to assure only the wealthy didn't escape their tax obligation through loopholes. Now the AMT is a monster mainly afflicting middle-income earners it was never intended for and who shouldn't be burdened with it. Repealing it, however, won't be easy because this unfair tax produces so much growing revenue. It's hard to see its revocation enacted without some serious vital offsets eliminated to pay for it that would result in more harm done than good if it happens. It's also directly contrary to Speaker Pelosi's pay-as-you-go budgeting scheme that requires tax cuts to be offset by spending cuts or other compensating revenue adjustments. It will take a whopper of either one to pay for this, and thus it won't happen without sweeping tax reform along with it that's impossible in this Congress unwilling to change the sweet tax laws now in place benefitting the rich including themselves.

So much for reform and change in an age of permanent discretionary wars for conquest and plunder with giant corporations running everything for their benefit and Congress in their pockets giving them everything they want from ours.

What the Democrat-Led Congress Isn't Addressing or Is Doing Inadequately

When all is said and done and the legislative dust clears in the months ahead, whatever parts of the above agenda are enacted in whatever final form, it's sure they'll fall far short of rhetoric trumpeting them. They'll be seen for what they are - a lot of posturing, unmet promises to voters and a little tinkering around the edges with the most crucial of all things people want left unaddressed or taken up inadequately starting with issue number one in the minds of a large and growing majority of the public:

Ending the War in Iraq and Bringing Home the Troops

A majority of the public demands it, protests continue over it, some in the Congress pay it lip service, and nothing happens in the only venues that count - on the floors of both Houses of Congress with the Democrat leadership serving the will of the electorate and introducing and passing legislation to end the illegal wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan and all funding for them. Cutting off their funding means cutting off their oxygen effectively ending them no matter what the president, Pentagon or war-profiteers may want.

But it won't happen according to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin who speaks from both sides of his mouth saying the US "commitment (in Iraq) is not open-ended....I believe the (American) people want us to find a way out (but not) precipitously (so we can) leave Iraq better than we found it (letting Iraqis) take responsibility for their own future (indicating with no firm commitment) we are going to begin (reducing or redeploying) our forces four to six months from now without setting an end point (is the position) the American people will support."

At the same time, Levin and other key Democrats say they'll continue funding wars and will accept Bush's January 10 proposed 20,000+ temporary troop "surge" in Iraq (despite some contrary posturing for the public)now called a strategy to "change America's course" since the earlier one for "Victory in Iraq" flopped. They'll do it even though three-fourths of the US public opposes it and the White House gives no indication it intends a force reduction any time soon.

That was the message from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden as well who believes top Bush administration officials think the Iraq war is lost and are just postponing its inglorious end. Biden opposes a troop "surge" and will hold weeks of committee hearings on the war. Still he concludes "There is nothing a United States Senate (or senator in any capacity) can do to stop a president from conducting his war."

Untrue as Biden, Levin, Pelosi and all others in the Democrat leadership know as just explained above. Congress has appropriation authority, and voting to end the funding will cut off George Bush's power to do anything the Congress forbids. It will render him impotent if the Congress acts responsibly which this Democrat-led one signals unequivocally it will not.

It's also up to the Congress, not the president, that has sole authority under Section 4(a)(3) of the War Powers Resolution stating "In the absence of a declaration of war (none declared for Iraq), (whenever US) Forces are introduced....in numbers which substantially enlarge (US) Forces....for combat....in a foreign country (only the Congress has the power to authorize it)." As international law expert Professor Francis Boyle explains, failure by the Bush administration to get such authorization is an "impeachable offense under the terms of the United States Constitution for violating the Constitution's War Powers Clause and Congress's own War Powers Resolution."

Despite the law and potential consequences of violating it, the Bush administration isn't easily deterred or intimidated. So don't expect change ahead in its permanent war agenda or any Democrat-led effort to force it whatever their post-election bluster that's only intended as a head fake diversion with no muscle backing it up. George Bush intends to do as he pleases, law or no law, so wars of aggression won't end because the new Congress backs and will fund them "supporting the troops" and the president - even one with an approval rating down to 26% in one or more independent opinion polls that's a single point above Richard Nixon's low point in August, 1974 right before he departed in disgrace to avoid impeachment.

It gets even worse, as it always does, as not a word is heard from Democrats that the Bush administration through lies and deceit committed what the Nuremberg Tribunal called the "supreme international crime" of illegal aggression against a country posing no threat to us or its neighbors. The new Congress also said nothing about what former UN head of Iraqi humanitarian relief called an act of genocide against the Iraqi people when he resigned from his post in anger and disgust in 1998.

The Congress ignored the Lancet report in October, 2006 (other than shamelessly mocking it) that an estimated 655,000 Iraqis were killed by violence stemming from the US invasion, occupation and continuing aggression against the people. It said nothing about the outrageous economic sanctions imposed for a dozen years prior to March, 2003 that killed as many as 1.5 million innocent Iraqis including at least 500,000 children former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright thought was a price worth paying when asked about it on the CBS 60 Minutes program in May, 1996, and since then the number of total deaths has skyrocketed.

It said nothing about US policy under three presidents maliciously and willfully destroying a once prosperous, modern nation leaving in its wake a surreal lawless armed camp wasteland with few or no essential services like electricity, clean water, medical care, fuel or most everything else needed for sustenance and survival denied them by their oppressive occupier there only to seize and control the country's vast oil reserves to have "veto power" over other nations wanting access to them. It said nothing about the Bush administration building 6 to 12 major permanent bases in the country including at least four to six super-sized ones with every convenience of a modern US city that are there because there's no force withdrawal intended as long as there's enough oil in the country and region to warrant their staying.

It said nothing about construction continuing on what will be the world's largest embassy in Baghdad critics call "Fortress Baghdad in the so-called Green Zone. It sits on 104 acres making it six times larger than the UN compound in New York. It's a self-contained city within a city for more than 1000 people already there, insulated from the Baghdad community behind 15 foot thick walls for security. It has its own water, sewers, electricity, apartment buildings, a Marine barracks, swimming pool, shops and all other modern conveniences of home at a budgeted cost of $592 million meaning likely double that amount or more once completed. It's another clear sign the US occupying force isn't planning an early exit.

The Democrat rhetoric says a lot about the 110th Congress speaking like all others before it with forked tongue - pretending in rhetoric to serve the public interest while acting against it. That's the reality the US public must understand, address, and demand this time not to tolerate in mass protest demonstrations across the country, in the nation's capital and in the halls and offices of their representatives in Congress elected to serve us, and it's high time they did or step aside and let others do it for them.

Other Foreign Wars Unaddressed

With an unwinnable war in Iraq only an end to US occupation will resolve, you'd think the leadership in both parties would raise and debate the other unwinnable one now raging out-of-control in Afghanistan, mostly below the radar. Instead the other US war of aggression against the Afghan people goes on with almost no discussion of it publicly or any hint the Democrat leadership will end that conflict along with the one in Iraq. It's also never mentioned that like Iraq, this is another resource war for control of the great energy reserves in Central Asia in the landlocked Caspian Basin.

Like the war in Iraq, the Afghan effort also failed, the war is lost, and the Taliban are slowly regaining control because of an oppressive occupation and return of the hated "warlords" after the 2001 intensive joint US-British aerial assault displaced them. The "shock and awe" attack then was against a vulnerable country unable to mount any kind of defense. The Taliban easily succumbed to the onslaught after five weeks when they fled Kabul allowing US-backed Northern Alliance "warlord" forces to enter the city the next day. Once back in charge there and around the country, they engaged in the same kind of murder, rape and mayhem that gave rise to the Taliban originally who finally routed them from most of the country.

The US-led war of aggression created a state of unaddressed desperation for the great majority of Afghans creating high unemployment, extreme poverty, one of the lowest levels of life expectancy in the world, the highest infant mortality rate in the world, one-fifth of all children dying before age five, little access to electricity, clean drinking water and sanitation, little available medical care or most other essentials of life, and an overall surreal situation throughout the country where in parts of Kabul an opulent elite have grown rich from rampant corruption and drug trafficking while most others struggle to survive and many don't.

US leaders in Washington simply don't care any more than than they do about conditions in Iraq for the people there forced to endure our brutality that won't ever end until the occupation does in both countries. The new Democrat-led Congress understands the situation and the Bush administration's intent to turn both nations into subservient US neocolonial states. Doing it will make their people serfs used for imperial gain, but only at a great cost to taxpayers at home. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates it will exceed $2 trillion of wasted expenditure for its failure to achieve anything except enhancing the bottom lines of corporate war-profiteering participants in this grand theft of the US treasury. Stiglitz is horrified that under the Bush administration, the defense and energy industries have been in charge, and the results have been "disastrous."

Besides the enormous political damage at home and around the world, Washington's budgetary recklessness has done serious economic damage to the country. It's likely to have long-term negative effects that may, in Stigliz's judgment, result in a global economic depression within two years without major changes made in how the US economy is managed going forward. It all begins with ending US wars of aggression draining the treasury and amassing a huge debt financing them as well as harming the country and welfare of the public not even aware it's been cheated. Where are the Democrats busy addressing free lunches from lobbyists while ignoring the welfare of the nation and its growing millions of poor. Many can't afford any lunch, often going hungry and are forced to endure a state of misery from extreme and growing poverty as resources are diverted from addressing vital people needs to use waging foreign wars of aggression for wealth and power.

Where are these leaders as well on the other long-festering Middle East conflict that must be addressed and resolved equitably for solutions to all others in the region to be possible. It's the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict allowed to continue because of US committed one-sided support for the Jewish state no matter which party is in power. There's bipartisan unity to supply it with all the modern weapons of war and billions in annual funding and loan guarantees with more available as needed causing an intolerable state of repression against a vulnerable and defenseless people getting no outside support in their battle for life, liberty, justice and the right to live freely in their own land just as Jews can in Israel on land taken from them in large and incremental pieces over many decades.

Not a word from the Democrat-led Congress on this issue, on the daily killing and destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), or on the brutal war of aggression against the Lebanese people last summer approved, sanctioned and funded by both parties in the Congress and administration supporting it for imperial gain that turned out again to be all for naught.

Unfortunately it didn't deter Democrats or Republicans from working post-war with their Lebanese neoliberal prime minister ally, Fouad Siniora. They helped arrange a so-called reconstruction aid conference to convene in Paris January 25 after the Lebanese government, absent its Hezbollah opposition, rammed through its idea of reform by agreeing to IMF and World Bank diktats that include the usual kinds of structural adjustment privatizations. They always come at the expense of ordinary people who lose critically needed social services. In the case of Lebanon, it's coming when people most need them. They'll now have to get by with less when their ability to pay for essentials and everything else has been curtailed.

Where are the Democrat leaders busy celebrating, ending free gift lunches and posturing with pompous rhetoric while another "Rome" burns in the US-supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to route forces loyal to the United Islamic Courts (UIC) the people support because they defeated the hated warlords most Somalis want to be free of. The support now includes US air attacks conducting targeted assassination attempts that will continue with the carrier Eisenhower off the Somali coast. The attacks have already killed many innocent civilians, as they always do, with many more likely collateral damage casualties ahead as the Bush administration apparently wants to give Somalis a taste of the same kind of nation-building it brought to Iraq and Afghanistan Democrats are very comfortable going along with.

So don't expect this issue to be on their agenda either. Once again it's because central to it is oil, and four US Big Oil giants, including Amoco and Chevron, have exclusive concessions rights to develop what energy experts believe are lucrative amounts of oil and gas in the country. They won't likely get them unless a friendly regime is in power, so the despotic Ethiopian Meles Zenawi regime was enlisted and funded to fight a US proxy war with plenty of US firepower backing him up as needed.

It includes a US-British combined task force patrolling Somalia waters with heavy firepower from the Arleigh Burk-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, the carrier Eisenhower, and US air power. It also includes US military and CIA forces imbedded with Ethiopian troops meaning this country is now actively at war in three countries (plus others directly or indirectly below the radar) with possible further aggressive action planned against Iran, Syria and Venezuela, especially after Hugo Chavez announced he'll nationalize (but not expropriate) two large US-owned companies. They are the telecom giant Compania Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela (CANTV) owned by Verizon Communications and Electricdad de Caracas that's part of AES Corporation. Both companies will be bought out by the state at fair market value.

Chavez also said he'll ask for a constitutional amendment to end the nation's Central Bank autonomy and indicated again he wants majority state control over the nation's natural gas reserves and lucrative oil projects in the Orinoco River basin where US Big Oil companies now operate including Chevron, BP Amoco, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil that aren't pleased with the news. As a result, talks over a proposed new relationship have been stalemated for months. Finally, the Venezuelan government announced on January 15 it broke them off giving the oil giants the option of staying on as minority partners or sell out to a competitor that will.

The Somali conflict is another Washington-backed war for oil and regional dominance of the Horn of Africa. The situation is very unstable, and the likelihood is it will settle down to one more unwinnable imperial war of aggression and attrition against another determined guerrilla resistance with the US getting more deeply embroiled with its proxy Ethiopian ally plus whatever other regional countries (like Uganda) it can convince to send in thuggish "paramilitary force" help euphemistically called "peacekeepers" that may not be up to the task of wanting part in a long-term regional conflict.

Add to that, growing signs of a looming humanitarian disaster across the African Horn UNICEF estimates may place 8 million people at risk of starvation. You'd never know it, or what's at stake overall, listening to reports in the dominant US media portraying the fiction of fighting al-Qaeda terrorism while suppressing the truth that it's one more war for oil along with the other resource war in Dhafur explained below. As long as the public is kept in the dark, it gets the Democrats off the hook having to do anything to stop either of them or their funding at more taxpayer expense.

From Afghanistan to Iraq to Somalia and Dhafur, an area in western Sudan the size of France. Sudan overall is a country the size of western Europe where again the issue is mainly oil and gas and a Sudanese government unwilling to surrender its sovereignty to Washington that never takes no for an answer and intends pursuing further imperial aims there only portending even greater harm to the people and the entire nation of Sudan if it goes ahead.

The Dhafur conflict involves intertribal fighting over increasingly scarce water and grazing rights in an area hard hit by draught and famine. It's falsely portrayed in the US corporate media as atrocities committed by Arab Jan jawid militias supported by the Khartoum government against black African people. The truth is all parties involved are indigenous Arabic-speaking black Sunni Muslims. Solving the conflict won't be easy, but US involvement in it only guarantees greater strife that again may come in the form of so-called UN or African paramilitaries masquerading as "peacekeepers." Washington wants them in the region as a proxy force for imperial control, not to maintain peace.

More ominous still is what may be ahead following George Bush's announced plans in late December to establish a new military command for Africa called the US Africa Command, or AFRICOM. It will be headquartered in the African Horn region at the large US base in Djibouti at the narrow Bab el Mandeb Strait at the entrance of the Red Sea close to the Arabian oil fields where the world's busiest shipping lanes are located.

It's likely to assure the Bush administration under congressional Democrat leadership will get further embroiled in more unwinnable conflicts that along with those ongoing will cause unimaginable economic and political damage abroad and at home. Unless they're all resolved, the nation will sink further into the kind of hellish situation and decline Democrats were elected to extract us from. Are they paying attention and will they act responsibly? So far the answers are unequivocally no. Does the public understand what's at stake? Again, the answer sadly is no, and it's why US aggression and its crimes of war and against humanity continue affecting huge numbers of people around the world and a growing majority at home stripped of essential social services for lack of resources to pay for them and denied their civil rights under de facto military rule.

Unaddressed Domestic Issues

After the war in Iraq, voters sent a message of disgust about the cesspool of public corruption in Washington and a general feeling of unease about and mistrust for the political class they voted out wanting change. They want an end to the Bush administration's business as usual policies but aren't likely to get much more than the kind of minor tinkering already explained amounting to virtually none at all. Voters have plenty to think about including demanding Congress restore our constitutional rights the Bush administration destroyed with Democrat complicity during the past six years.

It was done incrementally with a series of repressive acts destroying civil liberties, human rights and the fundamental freedoms guaranteed all Americans by the Constitution and Bill of Rights - now in suspension and effectively null and void unless a Democrat Congress acts responsibly to restore them along with their honor and integrity lost but regainable in part if meaningful action is undertaken straight away. What's needed is a blizzard of Bush-reversing legislation undoing damage to the republic done over the past six years. The body politic is on life support only determined Democrat leadership can counteract to move the nation in a direction voters demanded but so far see no indication of getting.

The early signs are already bad right out of the gate beginning with the "first 100 hours." On January 9 in the first on the legislative docket schedule the House passed new anti-terrorism legislation based on 9/11 Commission recommendations it should have denounced and rejected. Instead it enacted a far-reaching impossible to implement law to inspect all cargo at a cost of unknown billions if put in force that will also be another repressive step toward a full-blown police state because it targets people as well by expanding no-fly and terror watch lists and other harsh measures. The bill amounts to even more government surveillance in an age where everyone is suspicious and fair game for whatever state-controlling mechanisms are cooked up to harass us. The 9/11 Commission recommended a menu of these kinds of authoritarian measures, and HR 1 includes many of them.

Congressional critics opposing the proposed new law for once got it right calling it political posturing providing no added security but a larger federal deficit for no good reason. It's just one more sign the Democrat leadership will disappoint the electorate the way their rejected Republican counterparts did. Hopefully the Senate will reject this outrageous bill that should arrive in their chamber stillborn, but don't bet on it.

Revoke or Drastically Amend the Repressive Patriot I and II Acts

Patriot Acts I and II were enacted under the false pretense of fighting an ill-defined "terrorism" people believe exists because of Bush administration deceptive scare tactics about threats to national security and the public welfare that warrant them. They do not, and the reason they were enacted had nothing to do with the nation's security or public safety.

Both these measures were assaults on fundamental civil liberties in a free society and are affronts to constitutional law in a state calling itself a democracy. They broaden the notion of "domestic terrorism" to mean almost anything the government says it is or who it says is part of it. They violate our rights of privacy and constitutional protection against illegal searches and seizures in unprecedented ways by expanding law enforcement and intelligence gathering by virtually any means including surveilling everyone (and their phone calls and emails) plus opening and reading anyone's mail for any reason that requires a warrant by law now effectively voided by presidential decree. They authorize secret arrests and detentions, create new death penalty provisions and empower the state to strip citizenship from those belonging to disfavored political, labor or other groups that may only have been formed to work for the lawful rights of everyone but now are falsely accused of supporting "domestic terrorism."

These are the acts of a national security fascist police state passed in Congress to control a population that might become restive, disapproving and no longer willing to accept government policies it believes harm public welfare and intend doing something about it. When a rogue state squanders the national wealth on imperial wars, ignores essential people needs doing it, the result will be eventual public opposition these acts were put in place to combat. They're the same kinds of repressive acts all police states use that abandon the rule of law imposing instead a total crackdown on anyone seen as a potential threat to their agenda. The time has come to demand these violations of constitutional law will no longer be tolerated. They must be reversed leaving in place only those provisions in them that comply with all rights guaranteed everyone under the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Military Commissions Act and Revision of the 1807 Insurrection Act

On October 17, 2006 George Bush took another step toward ending constitutional rule by signing into law two more repressive acts making that day one that will live in even greater infamy than the earlier one on December 7 we're never allowed to forget. He signed into law the Military Commissions Act, known as the "torture authorization act," that does far more damage than that. With little public awareness of what happened in a White House signing ceremony, this act alone ends constitutional and Bill of Rights protections allowing the chief executive the extraordinary right to designate anyone an enemy of the state on his say alone based on no evidence beyond his word that's now the law of the land. It means anyone can be charged with "terrorism" for what Orwell called a "thoughtcrime" making us all "enemy combatants, unsafe from the reach of "Big Brother" residing in the White House with the power of life and death over everyone everywhere in the world.

This new law allows the chief executive the right to order anyone arrested, interrogated, tortured and incarcerated in a secret prison anywhere in the world, subject to the justice of a harsh military tribunal with no competent counsel or right of appeal. It goes even further annulling the habeas rights of "everyone" including innocent US citizens falsely accused of terrorism, charged under this law and prosecuted under its provisions as harshly as a verifiable bomb-thrower caught in the act.

October 17 was doubly heinous as George Bush also quietly and privately signed into law a revision to the 1807 Insurrection Act. It was hidden in Sections 1076 and 333 of the John Warner Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. Two hundred years of tradition along with the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibit using federal and National Guard troops for law enforcement inside the country except as allowed by the Constitution or authorized by Congress in times of a national emergency like an insurrection. Under the new law, the chief executive can claim a public emergency, effectively declare martial law and send federal and National Guard troops to the nation's streets to suppress whatever he calls public disorder that may include peaceful demonstrations against wars of aggression and rightful demands for restoration of our constitutional rights now abandoned.

The new law authorizes a direct role for the Pentagon including use and transfer of state-of-the-art crowd control weapons and technology to state and local responders. It's intended to militarize them and blur the distinction between those from the Pentagon and local law enforcement agencies - very ominous and clear police state tactical readiness only needing a trigger, sure to come, to make them operational.

Criminalizing Speech Further Through Potential New "Hate Crime" Legislation

George Bush already has authority to block free speech that will be even more endangered if the new Congress introduces and passes a new Orwellian federal "hate crimes" bill which seems likely. Democrats are closely allied to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith that tried unsuccessfully for the past eight years to get this type legislation through the Republican-controlled Congress. The bill it wants, and Democrats already indicate they'll support, is called The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (aka The Thought Crime Act), and its purported intent is to criminalize preaching hate against gays, minorities and other often demonized groups but could also be used to make dissent a crime or outlaw any kind of free speech the government wishes to stanch making it punishable by heavy fines, imprisonment or both.

If introduced, as is likely, this legislation will pass because no Democrat in Congress ever voted against a hate crime bill, even one as outrageous as this one likely will be that will outlaw free expression making it a crime to say unwanted things labelled as "hate," including through the internet, giving the government great latitude in who it can charge with a crime and for what offense.

Democrats in Congress supported the repressive acts discussed above and now may add to them with the passage of even more harmful legislation. They aren't likely to cop a plea of mea culpa, act quickly to reverse the ones already on the books, or be deterred from making things even worse with their own agenda of new oppressive laws. It's for the public en masse to act in our collective self-interest and defense, to stand in defiance of these revocations of our constitutional rights demanding those lost be restored, no further compounding harm be done, and not letting lawmakers off the hook with inaction or using their legislative authority to make matters even worse as now seems likely.

With all their power and privilege, those in Congress know their limits. They're most vulnerable when they ignore the will of the electorate who in enough numbers can throw them out just like the "bums" before them in another Capitol cleansing that can and should continue each mid-term period until we finally get it right. It's no simple task, and the congressional makeup over the last generation alone proves it. But unless people act in our own self-interest, real change for the better won't ever happen. It must come from below, from the bottom up. It never, never comes from the top down.

The Repressive Real ID Act

This act passed in 2005 is another Orwellian affront to our civil liberties requiring all states by 2008 to meet federally enacted ID standards. The law makes it mandatory for every US citizen and legal resident to have a national identity card (usually a driver's license) that will contain on it a person's vital and personal information. Once implemented, no one will be able to open a bank account, cash a check, board an airplane, be able to vote or conduct other essential business without one. This bill was passed to repressively crackdown on undocumented immigrants (meaning those of color or Muslims) and legitimate refuges fleeing persecution and seeking their right to asylum. But it effectively targets everyone as another means of social control.

In the future, that kind of control may be tightened by requiring radio frequency identification technology (RFID) computer chips be embedded in these cards to track everyone's movements, activities and transactions. If it happens, it will be the ultimate dream of a government wanting police state powers able to monitor all our moves only leaving out knowing or controlling our thoughts research geniuses in labs somewhere surely are now working on. Should people in a free society have to tolerate this kind of affront to our freedom with our elected officials in both parties being the problem, not the solution.

The Mother of the Above-Listed Repressive Acts

State-sponsored repression against the US public began with the passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) joint House-Senate resolution on September 18, 2001 authorizing "the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States (exercising our) rights to self-defense to protect United States citizens at home and abroad (and giving) the President....authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States...."

This single act alone is responsible for George Bush claiming justification in the name of national security to seize de facto dictatorial power, ignore constitutional law, and get passed all the repressive legislation discussed above and more and be able to get away with it. Any hope for a chance to restore the rule of law and a republic on life support must begin with revoking this unseemly AUMF resolution, but so far amidst all the Democrat bluster not a hint is heard they have any plans to do it or even bring it up for debate.

The Theft of A Free and Fair Electoral Process by Privatizing It

No right in a free society is more precious than the one guaranteeing free, fair and open elections monitored and run by independent observers unbeholden to any political constituency. It shouldn't surprise anyone that elections in this country were never that way, and all of them to some degree were tainted with fraud and abuse that never should have been tolerated but were by a public largely unaware they were cheated. One of many earlier corrupted ones happened before the emergence of Republican dominance after 1980. It was the 1976 election won by Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford that was dubious at best and possibly just another stolen one. It matched an obscure Georgia governor as the choice of Rockefeller Trilateralists and Wall Street winning out over Gerald Ford backed by opposing Republicans in a close race that could have gone the other way and maybe did.

Electoral fraud is worse today because technology has taken over allowing it to happen with electronic ease. Following the 2000 presidential election (Al Gore won but didn't contest), the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in 2002 that was the first ever comprehensive law in the nation's history on electoral administration supposed to be a major advance that, in fact, took a giant step backwards. It ushered in the age of voting by electronic machines owned, operated, programmed, controlled and corrupted by giant corporations that now count over 80% of all votes cast in US elections.

Most of these machines have no verifiable paper receipts, are easily manipulated guaranteeing fraud in a secretive, unreliable electoral process privatized in the hands of corporate interests with everything to gain if candidates they support win. So it's no secret that's what happened in 2000 (even before these machines took over) and since in 02, 04 and 2006 and will be in perpetuity as long as private interests control the most precious of all rights in a democracy now lost. This is the "ultimate crime" against people in a free society, and it demands we compel our "elected leaders" strike down the HAVA Act, put elections back in the hands of the people at the state, local and federal levels, outlaw use of these machines, and require all elections be administered by paper ballots hand-counted by civil servants monitored by independent observers and party faithful if they wish. What are we waiting for?

Impeaching George Bush, Richard Cheney and Other High Administration Officials for Crimes and Malfeasance in Office, Violating the Rule of Law and Betraying the Public Trust - For Starters

No two "elected" leaders come to mind more deserving punishment by impeachment than George Bush and Richard Cheney both of whom in six disgraceful years in office are guilty of enough crimes, malfeasance, violations of law, derelictions of duty and betrayal of the public trust to keep the House of Representatives busy a long time doing their constitutional job as required under Article II, Section 4 that states: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

This president, vice president and other high-ranking officials can rightfully be charged and convicted for multiple offenses on all counts, but the House leadership straight away after November 7 said impeachment is off the table, so it's up to the public to demand it and not back down till it happens and justice is finally served as it should be.

States have the power to impeach their officials, but at the federal level the House has sole power to impeach the President, Vice President and all other US civil officers. If one is so charged, the Senate then has the power to try the accused and if convicted remove that official from office in a process that's automatic if it happens.

The case for impeaching George Bush, Richard Cheney and other high-ranking administration officials has been made persuasively by various writers and legal experts including Michael Ratner and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega, former district attorney and congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and professor of law and international law expert Francis Boyle on multiple counts of lying to the Congress on the reasons to wage war against Iraq, threatening new wars without cause, violating laws against torture, warrantless surveillance, subverting the Constitution's separation of powers, and more.

Boyle wrote a Draft Impeachment Resolution Against President George W. Bush for high crimes and misdemeanors in January, 2003, two months before the Iraq war began making it even more relevant today. Back then he accused the president and other administration officials of lying about Iraq's so-called WMDs and manipulating intelligence. The facts now prove he was right. Four months after the war began, he wrote that the US is "the oldest republic in the world (and we the people) must fight to keep it that way. And for the good of humanity, we must terminate America's Imperial Presidency (and its scorn for the rule of law) and subject it to the Rule of Law."

Before the November mid-term elections new House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers stated George Bush committed "impeachable offenses" because he and other administration officials "countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq" and elsewhere including Guantanamo. On March 13, 2003, almost on the eve of war, Conyers convened an emergency meeting of over 40 of his top advisors (mostly lawyers) to draft emergency bills of impeachment against Bush and other top administration officials to prevent the impending war that looked inevitable without such action.

Boyle and Ramsey Clark were among the participants, they made the case for impeachment impressively, but no bill emerged at the time because of timidity and misjudgment on the part of others attending who were members of the Democrat party and worried about such action hurting their chances with voters in the next mid-term election. John Conyers acted as moderator in 2003 without stating his position then although, as quoted above, he later stated his feelings quite clearly more than once.

Besides his comment quoted above, Conyers laid out the grounds for impeachment last December in a detailed 350 page report titled "The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street (smoking gun) Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Cover-Ups in the Iraq War and later updated it to include "illegal domestic surveillance." He also wrote a May, 2005 Washington Post op-ed piece saying a new (110th) Congress needs to get answers about whether the "intelligence was mistaken or manipulated in the run-up to the Iraq war (and if) high-ranking (administration) officials approved the use of torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment inflicted upon detainees." He added if evidence was found, these would be potentially impeachable offenses, that constitutional law is sacred, and if George Bush violated it he must be held accountable like anyone else.

There's enough evidence in the once secret and now revealed Downing Street (Memo) Minutes alone to make the impeachment case. This document refers to the secret 2002 Washington meeting of high level US and British officials when the intelligence claiming justification for the planned 2003 Iraq war was cooked to fit the policy already decided on by the Bush administration and is so-stated. It discussed how the Bush administration "wanted to remove Saddam, through military action (and) had no patience with the UN route. (So to justify doing it) the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Richard Dearlove, head of British intelligence M16, attended the July British PM's cabinet meeting from which these minutes were written and then leaked to the London Sunday Times on May 1, 2005. He knew they were accurate as he attended the secret meetings in Washington when the plan was discussed. He told those at the July cabinet meeting that "military action was now seen as inevitable (and) George Bush had decided "to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (and) intelligence facts were being fixed around the policy."

Now John Conyers, a 42 year respected congressional veteran, chairs the powerful House Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction over any bill of impeachment and in that capacity can do no better than waffle on his earlier commitment saying: "To be sure, I have substantial concerns about the way this administration has abused its authority, but impeachment would not be good for the American people." Conyers clearly got his marching orders from the top of the Democrat leadership reigning him in and now making him cower instead of demanding accountability and justice for administration officials guilty of lies and deceit leading to their crimes of war, against humanity and multiple violations of the rule of law and public trust. Will the public allow this betrayal to stand? It won't if enough of them stand against it and not back down until justice is finally served.

Other Action Needed by This Congress Unaddressed

The list of unaddressed issues is almost endless after more than three decades of a democracy in decline and the welfare of most Americans in it because Democrat and Republican-led governments alike dedicated themselves to the interests of wealth and power that always come at the expense of ordinary working people making up the vast majority in the country. Below are just some of the ones desperately needing attention but won't get it without an awakened electorate demanding it.

-- Addressing the most pressing social needs far more important than a pathetic increase in the federal minimum wage. They include a national health care crisis with 47 million uninsured and over 80 million with no insurance some period of every year plus many millions more underinsured; the unprecedented and growing wealth disparity between rich and poor; the growing level of millions impoverished, hungry or homeless; the planned destruction of public education; and these issues are just for starters.

-- Reforming the nation's shameless gulag prison system with the highest number of people incarcerated in the world and subjected to some of the same kinds of violent abuse as prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

-- Saving internet neutrality from the clutches of giant telecom and cable companies who want to own and control the last remaining free and open mass media space where everyone still has the right to speak openly. Allowing them to seize it for profit and control means articles like this may be banned and unavailable in the future.

But new developments give hope for a positive resolution of this crucial issue. One victory already won is media giant AT & T agreeing to observe Network Neutrality principles for at least 24 months in a deal with the FCC allowing their $85 billion merger with Bell South to proceed. It's just a stopgap solution, and now it's up to the Congress to follow the FCC's lead and make Net Neutrality permanent under the law.

Hopefully it's in the cards as this issue is already on the table with legislation being drafted to prevent high-speed internet companies from charging content providers extra for priority access. Also, net neutrality legislation was introduced in the Senate on January 9 by Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Olympia Snowe and Democrat Edward Markey said he'll introduce similiar legislation soon in the House and will hold hearings on this issue in the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet that he chairs. Nonetheless, the road ahead to final resolution promises to be long and impediment-filled as powerful divergent interests on either side of this issue will make for a lively confrontation before a conclusive result is reached.

-- Supporting the rights of ordinary working Americans, the unions representing them and the right of all working people to be able to bargain collectively on equal terms with management.

The great majority in the country have now endured over three decades of ruling governments in Washington failing to address their needs and rights, but it only got worse in the neoliberal new world order in the 1980s and 1990s that reached an unprecedented level of extremism under George Bush's imperial presidency. In an age of neocon rule, it's reckless in its aims, out-of-control in policy, one-sided in support of capital, scornful of the rule of law, and indifferent to the rights and needs of ordinary people everywhere.

It a system of savage capitalism at its worst, bordering on the tipping edge of fascism. It's based on corporatism, patriotism and nationalism backed by iron-fisted militarism and "homeland security" enforcers. It's waging a permanent war on humanity, intolerant of dissent and opposition in an age where the law is what the chief executive says it is and checks and balances no longer exist because the Congress and courts surrendered them in the name of national security.

This is a state of desperation the public only began sensing from visible parts of it like the daily account of war in Iraq without end or resolution that's only possible when US occupying forces leave. They went to the polls on November 7 and demanded this and an end to embedded corruption and abuse of power in Washington. They got their new Congress, most want the president impeached and removed from office, and they're facing disappointment on both counts unless they become aroused, realize again they've been had and act in the spirit of news anchor Howard Beale from the 1976 Hollywood film Network who got fed up one day and yelled "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." We've never been more in need of an army of fed up "Howards" giving vent, fighting back for their rights, and demanding their representatives in Congress pay attention and act responsibly, or step aside for others who will.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Holiday Hypocrisy

Holiday Hypocrisy - by Stephen Lendman

Borrowing the line from Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore: "Things are seldom as they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream." It's as true here in the US today as it was in 19th century England, and its message explains how to understand and view our affairs of state and why the title of this essay was chosen - to reflect on our national federal holidays that, in fact, represent something much different than the stated reasons we commemorate them for. Eleven such holidays are reviewed below moving chronologically through the year post-New Year's Day discussed briefly at the end because it's part of the Christmas holiday season celebration.

Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister, political activist, renowned orator, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the most noted leader of the American civil rights movement until his assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968, two months before Robert Kennedy met the same fate in a Los Angeles hotel a day after he won the Democrat primary in his campaign for the office of president that year. In mid-January, King's January 15 birthday is commemorated as a federal holiday as it has been since it was for the first time on January 20, 1986 after Ronald Reagan reluctantly signed the legislation authorizing it in November, 1983. He did it in spite of his personal opposition, only capitulating after the bill authorizing it was passed in both Houses of Congress with veto-proof margins.

After King's death in 1968, Representative John Conyers introduced a bill in the House to make his birthday a national holiday. It was a long struggle from then till it was finally achieved because of racist opposition in the Congress against honoring a black man led by former Senator Jesse Helms who accused Dr. King of having communist ties as well as making other outlandish slurs against his good name and accusing him of opposing the Vietnam war which he certainly did with passion and eloquence that may have led to his death.

Helms was a hard-liner throughout his public life (like too many others in the Congress then and now), and his career was characterized by mean-spiritedness and a lifelong opposition to democracy, diversity and affirmative action as well as his racist support for segregation and efforts to deny black people their constitutionally mandated rights. Some may also remember his 1990 reelection campaign waged against Harvey Gantt, the first black mayor of Charlotte, NC, in which Helms disgracefully used a racist ad to counter his opponent's lead in the polls. It was called "Hands" and showed a pair of white hands crumpling a job-rejection letter with a narration explaining he was best qualified and needed the job a racial quota gave to a less deserving black man. It worked, overcoming Gantt's lead and helped reelect Helms undeservedly.

Martin Luther King Day is the only national holiday commemorating an African American, but it took over 15 long years of campaigning to get it authorized and over two more before it was first observed. It took even longer for Dr. King's day to be finally recognized in all 50 states for the first time on January 17, 2000. It likely only happened at all because the Congress finally was moved to act after receiving a petition with six million signatures that was the largest number ever collected supporting a national issue. Sadly, it happened because an assassin's bullet took his life much too soon.

To this day, the question remains: who killed Martin Luther King, but it's not hard to imagine why. James Earl Ray was accused of being the lone assassin, at first pleaded guilty in 1969 after being arrested earlier and held in jail for eight months. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison, never got a trial, and retracted his guilty plea three days after making it claiming his lawyer deceived him - to no avail. The case was closed and his fate was sealed even though later evidence uncovered casts great doubt on his guilt. He nonetheless spent the rest of his life in prison dying on April 23, 1998 at age 70. Today his name is hardly ever mentioned in the dominant media nor is any attempt made to clear it, which is no surprise.

But if Ray didn't do it, who then had a motive and might have. Every year commemorating his birth, we note and honor Dr. King's memorable "I have a Dream" speech while ignoring the most important of his dreams including the speeches he made supporting them. King was the foremost of our nation's civil rights advocates, but he also wanted to end the country's long history of exploitative materialism and culture of militarism supporting it. He wanted everyone's civil rights respected and honored but also was dedicated to pursuing social justice, promoting non-violence, and was unreservedly against war, becoming increasingly vocal in his opposition to the one raging in Vietnam using powerful language like calling the US government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."

King had already won great victories in his civil rights battles with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 that for the first time gave African Americans the rights guaranteed them under the Constitution that Jim Crow laws in the South denied them for decades. It was his public stand on the other great issues driving him that caused those in power concern. No King commemorative today ever mentions his memorable "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered to clergy and the public on April 4, 1967, one year to the day before he was assassinated in Memphis. It was an heroic and spellbinding moment with Dr. King at his eloquent best calling for an end to the war and violence. It also may have been a defining moment in his life that had a single year left in it.

King knew he lived on the edge because of his beliefs and his ability to reach and profoundly influence a vast audience in the country and throughout the world. He rightfully believed his life was in danger and it might just be a matter of time before it was taken. We don't know for sure who, in fact, killed him if it wasn't James Earl Ray which seems very unlikely based on the best evidence now known. We do know who had motive, cause and easy opportunity to do it most any time or place. We also know if the US government was behind it, what part of it likely got the assignment.

It may have been the FBI with its long record of abuse against targeted enemies of the state that includes extensive documentation of its Cointelpro operations from the 1950s till the early 1970s but likely never stopped and has to be more active than ever now in the age of George Bush and its culture of illegal surveillance, witch-hunting, and imperial justice. In earlier years, the FBI targeted organizations and individuals on the left as well as those considered radical including non-violent ones like The Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, and Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. King himself because of Director J. Edgar Hoover's obsession with the civil rights leader and his near-fanatical efforts to defame and defile him.

The CIA has an even more disturbing record of lawlessness as part of its overall mandate to collect and analyze intelligence about foreign governments, corporations, organizations and individuals as well as conduct whatever covert, "black bag," or extrajudicial state-sponsored assassinations assigned it that in half a century ran into the hundreds.

Since it was created in 1947, the CIA's record has been documented in detail including in the works of author, researcher and former State Department employee William Blum in his books Rogue State and Killing Hope detailing the shameful record of US foreign policy and the CIA's role in it since WW II. It includes carrying out state-sponsored assassinations including those against foreign leaders unwilling to surrender their nation's sovereignty to ours based on imperial management with no outliers allowed - reason enough to remove them with CIA operatives often assigned the task but taking care to do it with enough discretion to make it look like the long arm of Washington was uninvolved.

Through the years the methods used have included a "rogue element's bullet, a hard to detect poison or an "unfortunate" plane crash that was the method of choice to murder Panamian president Omar Torrijos in 1981 and Ecuadorian president Jaimi Roldos in a helicopter crash the same year. Sometimes other "plane accidents" are like the one CIA-trained Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) personnel, led by Ugandan-born and US-trained Paul Kagame (at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas' Command and General Staff College), arranged with surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the aircraft carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994 that led to the ethnic slaughter that year. It elevated "our guy" Major-General Kagame to power and later to be president of Rwanda where he let US forces operate freely in the country using it as a base to pursue the greater prize Washington sought in the resource-rich Congo (DRC)even though it took hundreds of thousands of innocent lives to do it and millions in Congo where war for its spoils still continues but gets little attention.

Probably the best known and most infamous state-sponsored assassination was the CIA-orchestrated coup and murder of Chilean president Salvador Allende on another September 11 in 1973. It ended the most vibrant democracy in the Americas replacing it with the brutal 17 year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who unfortunately died on December 10 without ever having to answer for his crimes against humanity. So far neither have those in authority at CIA or higher-ups in the Nixon administration like Henry Kissinger. He played a key role in the coup plot, ironically the same year he won a Nobel Peace Prize, as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State and now must check with the State Department for legal advice before traveling abroad for assurance he won't be served with a warrant for his arrest and detention.

That kind of record through the years shows CIA and its operatives may have been behind the murder of Martin Luther King to remove a powerful voice whose influential opposition to war and support for non-violence and social justice conflicted with this government's agenda of imperial conquest for power and profit.

If one or more FBI, CIA or other US government assassins murdered Martin Luther King, the federal holiday commemorating his birth mocks him and stands as a shameless deceptive act dishonoring all he stood and worked for in his short 39 year life. It also makes his day of observance an act of collective guilt by the nation responsible for ending a noble life that might have accomplished far more if he'd had a chance to continue pursuing the goals he hoped to achieve but never got the chance. Maybe that was the whole idea and the reason he wasn't allowed to go on with his work.

Presidents' Day

Presidents' Day is observed on the third Monday of February, was formerly celebrated as Washington's Birthday, and now states have the option to use either designation or some other one if they choose as Alabama does commemorating Washington and Jefferson Day. They can also pick another day as Georgia does observing Washington's birthday the day after Christmas.

The period around this time is often used as an occasion for schools to teach students the history of US presidents, especially Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and some of our other noted ones. If only that occasion were used to teach real history (like found in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States) instead of the fiction leading young minds to believe these historic leaders were larger than life heros, noble in purpose and service to the nation in its highest office, and now deserving to be revered and remembered with a few further immortalized in granite sculpture carving at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial on stolen Lakota Sioux land in South Dakota's Black Hills.

No past president gets more reverential treatment than our first, the general who led the Continental Army against the British in the nation's war of liberation from the Crown. He became our first president by coronation because he ran unopposed twice, and he's now known as the "Father of the Country" because he was its leader in war and then "selected" as its first head of state. Students are never taught that Washington expressed great aspirations referring to the new nation as a "rising empire" even at its birth and backed his sentiments with deeds to help make it one. He did it during the Revolutionary War by his savage acts against native Indians, all of whom he considered subhumans (or American Untermenschen). He compared them to wolves and "beasts of prey" and called for their total destruction much like the way George Bush today calls for defeating "terrorists" less well-defined than the ones Washington's had in mind and went about destroying ruthlessly.

He dispatched General John Sulivan and 5,000 troops to attack the noncombatant Onondaga people in 1779 with orders to destroy all their villages, homes, fields, food supplies, cattle herds and orchards in a scorched earth campaign to annihilate them. He wanted to kill as many as possible and did. He also wanted their land (like Bush today wants Iraq's oil) and took it by force, including from the Onieda people who aided Washington when he most needed help at Valley Forge. The truth about the nation's "Father," kept out of young minds in school, was our first president and all others after him pursued a policy of genocide against the nation's original inhabitants who lived mainly in peace for thousands of years on the lands we came uninvited to and took from them.

It began in 1492 when Columbus and those with him first arrived in what's now Haiti exterminating virtually the entire estimated eight million native Arawak, or Taino, people. The genocidal slaughter of all North, South and Central American Indian peoples followed reducing their population by about 100 million or as much as 98% of their original numbers. This is our shameful legacy of a new nation conceived as a great democratic experiment never tried before in the West outside of ancient Athens for a few decades but only for a privileged minority in it then and now.

It was never intended to be one for the nation's indigenous peoples. Their presence impeded what came to be known by the 1840s as the our "Manifest Destiny," or virtual divine right, to expand west and south seizing all the land from coast to coast south of Canada from the people living on it who were exterminated as well as Texas and the northern half of Mexico we wanted including the prized possession of California.

Also excluded from our grand vision were the many millions of black African captives sold into slavery and sent to their harsh fate in the new world "democracy" where those surviving the oppressive Middle Passage voyage, at the cost of 50 million lives lost some believe, were held in brutal bondage as human property to serve against their will or be sold like commodities to another master.

This is the true legacy of Presidents' Day. It commemorates the nation's leaders who led the nation making it grow by a state policy of genocide and imperial expansion for wealth and power at the expense of those in the way of the privileged class whose only concern for ordinary people was and still is the use they could get from them. Try finding that history in a secondary or college text (unless Howard Zinn or a few others wrote it) or mentioned in the corporate-controlled media the next time this day of dishonor is observed.

Easter

Easter is a day of great religious significance, but only for Christians who worship Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ. It's not observed by many around the country or world of other religious faiths or none at all. Still, in the US, Christian observances take on special meaning in a nation first settled and founded by those of Christian faith even though most came for secular reasons, not to escape religious persecution. The Founders believed church and state should be separated, and Jefferson first spoke of "a wall of separation" between the two in 1802 after freedom of religion was mandated in the First Amendment to the Constitution that came into force in 1791.

Still, throughout our history, many believed the nation was a Christian one and tried to tear down the separation wall the Founders erected. That view became especially prominent since the ascendancy of neoconservative influence, beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, as these hard-liners want the country governed by Christian principles, including Judaic ones as well, but give short shrift to others and demonizing them the way Islam is now condemned as something synonymous with "terrorism" and "Islamofascism."

In the US today, all Christian holidays of importance get prominent mention and due reverence paid them, especially Christmas and Easter, the two holiest days in the Christian calendar. Prominent Jews, too, aren't ignored, many have near-equal status with Christians, and most non-Jews in the country know about special Jewish holy days like the Yom Kippur Day of Atonement and Rosh Hashanah New Year even if they're not sure why they're commemorated.

But try finding any mention of a Muslim holy day other than a general recognition of Ramadan (established in the year 638) without explanation of what the month-long observance in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar signifies. This period is considered the most important and blessed month of the Islamic year, and it's believed there are about as many Muslims in the US as Jews as well as about 1.8 billion of them worldwide (compared to an estimated 13.3 million Jews overall in 2002), a number surely large enough to warrant its adherents respect but instead only finds them wrongly condemned as a collective Antichrist and threat to national security.

Easter is commemorated between late March and late April (and early April to early May in Eastern Christianity little known about in the US) and is also known as Resurrection Day. It's the most important religious feast of the Christian liturgical year and thus gets due prominence in prayer and public displays of religious observance. But Americanized flair goes much further taking full advantage of a chance to commercialize almost anything. So around this period there are Easter Sunday parades and other non-religious promotional activities and expressions that always manage to be emphasized - even on the day celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which observers believe occurred on the third day following his death by crucifixion between 27 and 33 AD. The Roman Catholic Church gives this period special recognition with an eight day feast called the Octave of Easter. It's also the time of year when the Jewish seven day period of Passover is commemorated, marking the Exodus of the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt, that also now gets more prominent mention in the country as part of the effort to market anything, even important religious days and periods of observance, but only ones celebrated by Christians and Jews.

In a nation obsessed with and addicted to a culture of consumerism, even marketing the Almighty is fair game. Easter then, like other holidays and special days in the calendar, is just another day to be exploited for profit along with it being observed for the event and significance it commemorates. It's a subject left for the end of this essay when its most frenzied expression arrives between Thanksgiving and the New Year celebration. It's the time of year when corporate America's only interest in the spirit of the season is how to make a buck out of it - as many as possible because that's the make-or-break time of year they rely on and must do well in to have the year overall be successful for owners and/or shareholders. So with Thanksgiving dinner still being digested, they practically scream "let the holiday shopping begin," and let it continue right into the new year almost unabated.

It happens on Easter as well, whether it's new outfits for the season, a day or two on the town, vacation travel or any other way the business community can exploit an occasion to get the public to part with its resources spent on everything imaginable people never knew they needed or wanted until the power of round the clock advertising convinced them their lives would be unfulfilled without them. Discussion of this subject will be picked up later in this essay to show it's quite acceptable to exploit a religious holy day for profit even if it corrupts the reason it's commemorated that should be an occasion for solemnity and not for the consumerism that defiles it. But corporate bottom lines aren't enhanced by religious reverence or observance - at least not until the big business finds ways to sell its wares in places and at times of worship and can get away with it. It's hard to imagine they're not trying to figure out how to do it.

Memorial and Veterans Days

Because both days are related, they're discussed under a single heading. The first, Memorial Day, is commemorated on the last Monday in May and was first observed in 1866 and called Decoration Day beginning in 1868. Usage of Memorial Day wasn't common until after WW II and wasn't the holiday's official name until federal law called it that in 1967. The day is an occasion to honor the nation's men and women who died in military service to the country. More on that in a moment.

Veterans Day was formerly known as Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day in Europe, that originally commemorated the end of WW I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918 when the guns went silent, or were supposed to. It was first observed in the US in 1919 and made a legal holiday here in 1938. In June, 1954, Congress enacted legislation changing the holiday's name to Veterans Day.

Both holidays would never be needed in a nation dedicated to peace, but one committed to perpetual war for an unattainable peace dishonors its youth in life and disingenuously honors those who died in imperial wars for conquest and plunder. Nations waging wars only guarantee more of them in an endless cycle of violence, militarism, brutality and shameless inhumanity to those made to suffer and die in combat theaters - so the privileged who get to stay home can profit from them.

People don't want wars but can always be made to support and fight in them using the proven method of choice that always works - fear based on shameless lies and deception by governments with hidden motives unrevealed because who would go along with them if they did. Only by deceitfully scaring people enough to believe the nation's security is threatened will they support foreign wars and fight in them thinking they have no other choice. When traumatized enough, those wanting peace can be convinced to go along with the most outlandish schemes planned that if ever explained would be condemned and never supported.

If people only knew the wisdom of iconic investigative journalist IF Stone, they'd know in times of war, or events leading to it, truth is the first casualty. He told young journalists that "All governments are run by liars and nothing they say (about anything) should be believed, and on another occasion shortened it saying, "All governments lie."

Serial lying is the defining characteristic of the Bush administration, but all others earlier were duplicitous as well including the one led by the Republican former president just passed whose short two and a half year tenure only gave him less time to commit fewer crimes of war and against humanity. He managed to do his best with the time he had, yet we honor him instead of exposing his shameless acts deserving condemnation.

It's almost like it's preordained and in the country's DNA that this nation is warrior state sending its expendable youth to fight and die in foreign wars but not for national security, honor or the rights of free people anywhere. It's always for wealth and power that conquest and plunder afford the privileged who get to stay home safe and in comfort letting others do their dying and then shamelessly hold a day of remembrance honoring them for their sacrifice. This is the long tradition of this nation that since inception in 1776 has been at war with one or more adversaries every year without exception from that time to the present.

These two federal holidays warrant special condemnation. They represent a galling legacy of endless wars and false patriotic glorification of them including the so-called "good" one about which there was nothing good at all. Choosing days to honor the dead who sacrificed everything is a sacrilege and failure to note they died in vain on the alter of power and privilege for the few. Their deaths assure an unending cycle of violence and killing with legions of nameless, faceless grave sites ahead known only to those experiencing unconscionable loss.

These commemorative days stand above the others as symbols of this nation's depravity and ultimate crime against humanity and wasted lives it's taken. They ignore what Lincoln hoped for at Gettysburg in November, 1863 when he said "we here resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." He knew the horror of war and understood for that to be they must end. He also feared they would not and had to reflect that future wars would take their leaders to new battlefields in an endless cycle of death and destruction wars always guarantee.

Future commemorations of past wars should chart a new course - a vow pledging they'll end, and this nation resolves never again. Remembrance should then be an act of contrition and path to redemption, honoring the living, and taking a sacred oath of non-violence promising to stand by it for all time. It should be a solemn dedication to equity and social justice for all in a state of peace renouncing wars and the shameless holidays in their honor. One day they'll be no more wars because no one will go fight in them. When it comes, days of memorial and honoring veterans will end replaced by a Peace Day honoring the living and sacredness of life so those past dead finally won't have died in vain. Pray it comes soon.

Independence Day

Along with Christmas, no federal holiday is more celebrated than the day of the nation's independence from the British Crown declared on July 4, 1776. Coming in the summer with good weather across the country, it's a day of parades, outings, and baseball at all levels that many years ago nearly always meant so-called major league double-headers that was a big occasion for young boys growing up in "big league" cities whose dads took them out for an endless day at the ballpark. It's also a day of commemorative and exulting fireworks and other expressions celebrating the nation's history, liberation and traditions - not the truths about them but the acceptable illusions taught in school and extolled by the dominant media and their disingenuous allies in academia and the clergy who go along propagating the nation's myths.

Young minds are never taught the nation's real history, just what's falsely glorified with all ugly parts about important events and leaders responsible for them suppressed to assure a new generation of "good citizens" is properly trained, just like the ones preceding it, assuring those in it will be loyal to the state because they believe the mythology about the country schools at all levels teach is the greatest on earth.

We should commemorate the glorious achievement of our Founders and their Revolution that liberated the nation from a repressive British monarchy and aristocracy replacing it with an experimental system of government never tried before in the West outside its imperfect form in Athens in ancient Greece for a few decades. After the war of liberation, the Founders met in 1787, in the same Philadelphia State House where the Declaration of Independence was signed 11 years earlier, to frame our historic Constitution and later our Bill of Rights ratified in 1791.

It was historic and glorious, but much was left undone and to be desired. Only white male property owners got the most fundamental of all rights in a democracy until 1850 - the right to vote that should have been federally mandated for all male and female adults in the country but wasn't. In addition, slavery was a national shame until the 13th Amendment freed black people, who were just property until 1865. But they still never got real liberties until the civil rights legislation of the 1960s completed what the Constitution and its Amendments left undone. Even so, from then to the present, African Americans and others of color have always had far fewer rights and privileges than the nation's whites, and shamefully our society is as segregated today as it was in the 1960s before the landmark civil rights laws were passed guaranteeing this would never happen again. It did, and it's hardly a reason for people affected and all others of conscience to celebrate on July 4 or any day.

The nation's native Indians have even less to celebrate, the small number of them remaining of the 100 million or so throughout the Americas slaughtered without mercy from the very earliest days before the nation was liberated from the British Crown. Native Americans lived on these lands for thousands of years in relative peace. It wasn't until white settlers and "Western civilization" arrived that everything changed for the worst.

When the first European settlers came in the late 15th century, they were accepted and at times aided by the nation's first peoples who preferred peace to conflict. But native graciousness wasn't returned in kind, and it led to the great push West and South and near total extermination of the many great Indian nations given no rights or quarter in our grand new democratic experiment for the privileged few. It was only in 1924 that indigenous peoples got any rights with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act when there were hardly any left to enjoy what little they got grudgingly. Getting no rights at all were the many millions never born because their ancestors were slaughtered in cold blood leaving no new generations to follow.

Even today, in the 21st century, over 80 years since Indian people got citizenship including the right to vote, no peoples overall in the "land of the free" have fewer rights as citizens or live in more desperate poverty and despair unaddressed and virtually ignored than the original inhabitants of this vast continent for whom justice long delayed is justice never gotten. No day is ever held honoring these courageous people acknowledging their sacrifice for what the privileged few now enjoy.

Why would any of them, even as citizens, have reason to commemorate the date of the nation's "liberation" that for them only meant the continuance of their destruction and denial of their proud cultures. Today the traditions of our original inhabitants are unknown by the greater public, they're untaught in schools, and they're ignored by the dominant media that only disgracefully mock and demonize Indian people in films and society as drunks, beasts, primitives and savages, noble or otherwise. What native American could respect a government speaking only with forked tongue and acting like real savages making and breaking treaties, taking their lands, destroying their welfare and finally their lives. The kind of "liberation" this nation brought to the people of Iraq for the past 16 years, we gave our original inhabitants for 500 years "liberating" them, like Iraqis today, from their liberty and lives.

Others in the nation also have little to celebrate on this or any other day. Today it's truer than ever in an age of extreme greed, unprecedented wealth disparity, galling corruption and virtual abandonment of the rule of law by an administration and Congress uncaring about the rights of ordinary people anywhere. Through lies, deceit and contempt for humanity, they created a state of permanent war and disregard for the needs and human and civil rights of the majority. They also ignored and exacerbated conditions for the growing millions of poor, persecuted and deprived, who have no reason for joy on our day of "liberation" that gave them no rights or "free" society fruits few of them ever enjoy. Today, tens of millions of poor people, especially those of color, are practically condemned as criminals for their disadvantaged state, through no fault of their own, in a corrupted racist society worshiping wealth, privilege and all the interests of capital at the expense of those having none.

Newly arrived immigrants also have little to celebrate, especially the unwanted and exploited ones of color from the South forced to come here because their nation's leaders and ours destroyed their lives at home by the oppressive NAFTA trade pact enacted to enrich corporate giants at the expense of ordinary working people, mostly living south of the border in Mexico.

Muslims from everywhere, including citizens already here, have little to celebrate as well, in a nation defiling Islam in the age of George Bush equating them all with "terrorists" threatening the nation's security. Thousands threatening no one have been illegally hounded in witch-hunt roundups since 9/11, held in secret detention, unjustly deported, and given no rights including due process to clear their names. Their "crime" is their faith and color in a nation constitutionally mandating all its people can worship freely now no longer valid and abandoned along with all demonized, unwanted, poor and deprived peoples condemned for who they are because they're not white and privileged - the only race and class in the country exempt from the harshness directed against all others. Shame on the nation on its day of "liberation" and all others that strayed from its founding principles never granted to all and still only offered a chosen few.

Labor Day

Labor Day is commemorated on the first Monday in September each year since the first one was celebrated in New York in 1882. Around the world outside the US, socialist and labor movements are observed on May 1 to recognize the social and economic achievements of labor movements and working class people in them. This day gets limited attention in the US, but where it's observed here it's commonly to commemorate the Haymarket Riot of May 4, 1886 in Chicago that followed the May 1 general strike in the city for an eight hour day leading to the violence that broke out on the 4th.

Labor Day became a national federal holiday when Congress passed legislation for it in June, 1894, a time when working people had few rights. It took many painful years of struggle and strife before they got any of the ones finally achieved grudgingly from management only wanting to exploit them for profit. Only by organizing, taking to the streets, going on strike, holding boycotts, battling police and National Guard forces supporting management against working people, paying with their blood and lives did they finally gain an eight hour day, a living wage, on-the-job benefits and the pinnacle of labor triumph in the 1930s with the passage of the Wagner Act establishing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) guaranteeing labor had the right to bargain collectively on equal terms with management for the first time ever.

All of it was won from the bottom up. Management gave nothing until forced to and neither did the federal government always siding with business interests unless and until enough people power forces Washington to yield legislatively or face possible serious work stoppages or even a national insurrection - all this in a democracy claiming to represent all people, the great majority of whom happen to be ordinary working ones.

Since a worried Congress passed the landmark 1935 Wagner Act and Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law in dire economic times when those in power feared the worst, the state of organized labor rights has declined, especially post-WW II. They then went steeply in reverse during the Reagan years when the administration openly showed disdain for working people in its one-side support for management. It continued unabated, under Republican and DLC Democrat administrations, and today stands at a multi-generational low ebb. Since coming into office in 2001, the Neanderthal George Bush neocon administration intensified its assault on the social contract government once had with its people and has been openly contemptuous of ordinary workers with little interest in their rights and welfare.

Since the years of labor's ascendency, corporate America in league with government shamelessly denigrated unions and the rights of working people to organize in them. In 1958, one-third of the work force was unionized, but now the figure is barely above 12%, and it's below 8% among non-governmental employees or the lowest it's been in seven decades. Worse, most jobs are low-pay service sector ones because the nation's manufacturing base and many higher-paying jobs in finance and technology have been offshored to developing nations where workers can be hired for a fraction of the salaries paid here or as virtual serfs at below poverty wages to fill legions of factory jobs in countries where fair practice worker standards don't exist.

Nonetheless, on the first Monday each September this nation remembers its working people with a federally-mandated holiday in their "honor." Some honor when it's disingenuously given at the same time worker rights are ignored, forgotten, and uncared about by a government beholden to capital and defiling ordinary wage earners deceived on this day with meaningless bread and circus droppings leaving out what working people need most: good jobs at good pay, essential benefits with them, and a government that really cares by doing what counts most - fighting for their rights every day. On Labor Day and all others, that kind of reverence is off the table making a mockery of the day named for the people it claims to honor, respect and serve but never does.

Columbus Day

No federally mandated holiday raises public ire more than the one commemorating Columbus, mentioned above briefly. It honors a genocidist whose arrival on what's now Haiti began the systematic mass slaughter of 100 million native human beings so this man and those coming later could go home bringing "as much gold as (those sponsoring them) need....and as many slaves as they ask." The lure and lust for it got him 17 ships on his second voyage and 1200 men aboard them. They were expected to bring back the riches they found including the human ones headed for bondage. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, took their native Indians as captives, found no gold, but took hundreds of human beings instead back to Spain with the half or so of them surviving the journey put on the block for sale like sheep or goats but treated much worse.

The Arawak people deserved better. They were friendly and receptive to the new arrivals, greeting them with gifts, food and water making them feel welcome. They were much like Indians on the mainland - friendly and hospitable enough to make it easy for those arriving to subjugate and kill them because they came to conquer, enslave and steal the riches of the new land. Peaceful Arawak people subjected to this predation got their first taste of "Western civilization" with swords and daggers that later were guns, cannons, and assorted other super weapons of war matched against their simple and crude weapons by comparison for hunting, not warfare. It wasn't hard guessing who'd prevail.

It all got worse after the beginning and lasted 500 years with the deadly cost to native Americans already explained. Still we celebrate the serial killer who began it all, call him heroic, and honor his name and legacy on the second Monday each October as we've done since the first celebration was held in San Francisco in 1869. Today parades and other celebratory events are held in his honor that include speeches by politicians who desecrate the grave sites of the millions sent to them beginning with this man who slaughtered the first ones as a predatory participant in what was the start of the greatest genocide ever.

Instead of commemorating October 12 as the day this man arrived in the new world (now the second Monday in October), Americans should condemn it as a day that will live in infamy as it is by the few native survivors whose ancestors perished by his hand and the many who followed for conquest and plunder.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US on the fourth Thursday of November giving thanks to the Almighty for the year's blessings and bounty. But most people wouldn't imagine its intent by the way they spend the day replete with self-indulgent overeating of traditional foods for the full four day weekend period when there are family gatherings, parades and, most important for ravenous merchants, the official start of the Christmas holiday shopping season beginning the day after the Thanksgiving and continuing till Christmas eve as long as stores remain open that are about as long as people want them to.

This holiday, like all the others, is also replete with mythology taught young minds in school about the Pilgrims inviting native Indians to share their bounty in a show of brotherhood and friendship with an array of foods the early settlers never heard of that were indigenous to the Americas and introduced to them by local native people. The Pilgrims had nothing to do with this tradition that began with Eastern Indians observing fall harvest celebrations for centuries before the first settlers arrived - never called Thanksgiving even after they did.

While George Washington had days for national thanksgiving, modern celebrations of the holiday only date from the Civil War in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln wanted a way to boost morale and patriotic fervor of the Union Army at a time it needed it. He tried doing it by proclaiming Thanksgiving a national holiday for the first time. It had nothing to do with the Pilgrims nor were they ever mentioned until 1890, and the term Pilgrim was never even used until the 1870s. So much for tradition.

The Thanksgiving holiday is also a way to promote American ethnocentrism and cultural superiority over all others by claiming the Almighty views our society as special the way ideological Zionists feel Jews are "the chosen people." It's a short step from these views to judging all others everywhere as inferior, especially ones ranked low in the racial, religious, ethnic or cultural pecking order - like blacks, Latinos (especially from countries like Mexico), and today's number one demon target - all Muslim "radicals and extremists" meaning all of them are by implication and are "Islamofascist" terrorists as well.

Worse, they and others are what "we" say they are in a time of "universal deceit" when "telling the truth is a revolutionary act," as Orwell told us. He also said in our kind of society "war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength." The public believing it is a testimony to the power of the dominant media Orwell understood in his day over half a century ago before the age of television. If he were living today he'd be aghast at what now goes on where the dominant corporate-controlled media and PR allies act as national thought-control police programming the public mind into compliance with whatever the country's power structure wants us to believe - to its advantage and against ours.

Giving thanks on a special day of Thanksgiving also serves another purpose. It has special religious overtones that in the US are Christian ones as this country always was a Christian nation with over three-fourths of the people in it identifying themselves of that faith. It's been that way even with the traditional separation of church and state, but today the thinking and influence of fundamentalist Christianity in American Protestantism poses a special threat to those outside it. This extremist movement became dominant in the 1980s under Republican rule and reemerged even more virulently with the election of George Bush. What's disturbing and dangerous is that hard-right ideologues like Pat Robertson, who thinks it's all right to assassinate foreign heads of state he dislikes like Hugo Chavez, are close to the seat of power where their views hold great sway.

The US was founded as a secular state, and the Constitution's First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as requiring a "wall of separation" between church and state prohibiting the government from adopting any religion or denomination as official and requiring the government to avoid undue involvement in religion, its trappings or expressions.

That status is now in jeopardy following the introduction of the "Constitution Restoration Act of 2004" in the Congress and reintroduced in near-identical form in 2005. If reintroduced again and adopted in the 110th Congress, it would turn the US into a de facto theocracy even though its supporters deny that's its intent. Don't believe them.

Support for the bill is led by Dominionists like Pat Robertson and at least those remaining of the 28 House and Senate sponsors like him in the last Congress, who support tearing down the sacred wall between between church and state so the US can be governed by Christian dogma as they interpret it. It would make lawbreakers of those of other faiths, or none at all, disobeying whatever parts of Christian canon the bill designated the law of the land - a very scary prospect for about 75 million non-Christians in the country and many others of Christian faith who won't go along.

If adopted, this bill will remove the Supreme Court's
authority to challenge the right of anyone in or affiliated with federal, state or local government to acknowledge "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government" - the Christian God, that is. Any judge at any level interpreting the Constitution otherwise would henceforth be subject to impeachment and prosecution in the new United States of America ruled by the Pat Robertson types of influence in it. Anyone jittery? It would also likely elevate the Thanksgiving holiday to one of obligatory Christian observance, even for non-Christians, advancing its current optional religious overtones to mandatory status.

Already the way Thanksgiving is celebrated today in the US is a sham. While barely thanking the Almighty for the year's blessings and bounty, if it's done at all, no heed is paid to the many millions of poor, deprived and oppressed peoples around the country and world whose desperate state is the result of our government's actions. It also ignores the systematic dismantling of constitutional rights at home along with the denial of essential social services to growing millions who otherwise aren't able to get them. And it fails to acknowledge our own dereliction in failing to take personal action opposing these abuses against humanity and the rule of law because we're too distracted or involved in other things - like over-indulging on a day to remember our blessings.

Those giving thanks on this day should reflect on their obligation to oppose these crimes of state and the harm they inflict on others and our own well-being. They need to demand real change by holding elected officials accountable and removing those failing to act responsibly. They also need to learn their history discovering how it began - that the nation they call America once was the land of its original inhabitants for many thousands of years who lived on it mostly in peace until we, as uninvited settlers, arrived, took it from them and slaughtered nearly all of them in the process for the past 500 years. It's not just thanks we should give on this day. It's forgiveness for this enormous crime our forebears committed most people don't even know about shamefully.

Journalism Professor Robert Jensen has it right in his article called No Thanks to Thanksgiving. In it he suggests we would go a long way toward progressing morally if we replaced our "white supremicist" annual Thanksgiving Day tradition of overindulgence with a "National Day of Atonement" accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting for the "original sin" of our forefathers even if our own came much later or from a different part of the world. Establishing that as a sacred tradition would be an important step toward a day when we might really have something to "give thanks" for every day in a land with leaders resolved never to repeat the crimes of the past and just as committed to public service instead of only to an elite part of it.

Christmas

Christmas is observed worldwide by Christians and many others on December 25 by tradition (other than the Eastern Orthodox Church doing it on January 7) to honor the birth of Jesus Christ even though it's widely acknowledged not to be his birthday. Along with its religious significance, it's also a time for other celebratory events like winter festivals, Kwanzaa from December 26 - January 1 for Africans Americans reconnecting to their African cultural and historical heritage, and for Jews the Hanukkah Festival of Lights commemorating their struggle for survival and for Jewish children to serve as their Christmas with gifts from parents just like their Christian friends get.

The Christmas season is also a time for what can only be characterized as the national obsession of shopping and consuming that traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving, runs through Christmas eve and then picks up again and continues into January largely resulting from a compulsion to buy and holiday gift cards, year-end bonuses and other resources gotten or borrowed to do it with - for all the things not received as gifts and anything else Madison Avenue creative minds can convince people to want then or any other time of year.

If one dominant trait characterizes American culture above all others, it's a variant of the consumerism of the kind economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen called "conspicuous" in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. Back then Veblen wrote about the habits of the "nouveau riche" of that era that had accumulated great wealth and spent lavishly to display it "conspicuously" rather than to satisfy needs. If he were living today writing on consumerism, he'd have to write an entirely different book in a society hugely different from the one he knew. His title might be something like The Theory of the Spending Class or A Society Obsessed with Spending or Consumerism encompassing everyone able to spend any amount above the bare subsistence level or what's done for basic needs everyone has.

The term "consumption" originated hundreds of years ago referring to the infectious disease now called tuberculosis or TB. But its original meaning bears significance in today's consumerist society even though the kind of consumption meaning to spend that everyone does for essentials is worlds apart from gluttonous consumerism covered in this section that refers to discretionary shopping and spending for things people don't need but buy anyway with all the negative effects on those doing it beyond their means or even within them as well as the overall harm to a society addicted to excess consumption.

"Consumption," the disease, or untreated TB, was called that because it "consumed" people from within causing them to slowly and painfully waste away and perish. The analogy today is the great mass of consumers spending beyond their means and relying heavily on high interest-bearing credit cards charging up to 20% or more. It's placed millions precariously in debt over their heads and growing numbers becoming unable to service it because of unexpected financial exigencies like from uninsured medical expenses. It's resulted in a near-plague of personal bankruptcies that in 2005 affected over 2 million people, 30% above 2004, and may rise still higher in 2006 and succeeding years unless people curb their spending habits. Even those surviving that fate face an endless burden of high debt service handled by monthly credit card and/or bank or other lending agency payments that enrich them at the expense of borrowers never able to get out from under an obligation grown oppressive.

This would never happen in a society free from an addiction to spend excessively that in the US is extreme enough to be called a national pathological dysfunction and diagnosed as an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It's a psychological or psychiatric anxiety one characterized by obsessive or repetitive thoughts and related compulsions or tasks and the rituals employed to relieve the obsession. In the US, it's an obsession to shop and buy, and the compulsion is to go out, spend and do it. When done excessively the way it is here, it fits the clinical definition of a pathological social disorder that turns out to be deadly for many who get themselves in debt bondage increasingly resulting in bankruptcy.

In the West, but especially in the US, many tens of millions of otherwise normal people are "obsessed" with the need/desire to shop and accumulate all the things they never knew they wanted or needed until the Madison Avenue mind manipulating masters convinced them their lives couldn't be fulfilled without them. Economist Paul Baran once described their influence as being able to make us "want what we don't need (all unessential consumer goods and services) and not....what we do (like good health care, education, clean air and water, safe food, and good government providing essential services)."

For those afflicted with the national neurosis of consumerism, relief is only possible through ritual shopping and spending, even if it means doing it with borrowed funds at high interest rate carrying charges and the risk of future insolvency. Clinicians would characterize this behavior any time of year as abnormal and harmful, but during the Christmas shopping season it becomes a socially pathological orgy rising to the level of an out-of-control spending frenzy.

It's also an effective societal control technique as consumers out shopping or distracted by the vast array of other bread and circus attractions around them (the commercialized sights and sounds of the season to create a buying mood), are focused away from affairs of state and all the harm those in power do through them. While people are glued to their TV sets or out at malls shopping for the latest fashions, toys or trinkets, most don't pay enough attention to their government waging wars of aggression, destroying civil liberties and the rule of law, cutting social services, harming the environment, and failing in its social obligation responsibilities to society because they conflict with the elitist agenda of power and privilege it wants the public knowing nothing about.

They also fail to understand their over-indulgent consumerism feeds the corporate beast allowing it to grow, prosper and become even more predatory in a society based on savage capitalism, out-of-control greed, corruption at the highest levels in business and government using our misappropriated and stolen tax dollars, and iron-fisted militarism and homeland security enforcers supporting an imperial juggernaut on the march to make the world safe for big capital that needs armies of over-indulgent consumers to help it get bigger. The more we shop, the further it marches in search of new markets, resources and cheap labor replacing the more expensive kind at home that may have its future consumption impaired if if doesn't cut back on the excess amount of it now.

Adam Smith, the ideological Godfather of capitalism, understood the dangers of concentrated wealth and power and wrote about it in his seminal work The Wealth of Nations. He explained an "invisible hand" of unseen forces worked best in a free (meaning fair) market with many small businesses competing locally against each other. He railed against the concentrated mercantilism of his time like the British East India Company of his native UK, where he was Scottish born, even though it prospered quite well on ordinary consumption when there was no such thing as the kind of consumerism endemic in the US today.

If Smith were still living, he'd be appalled by today's kind of monopolistic capitalism that was unimaginable in his day, but he understood its danger in writing about what he called the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind....All for ourselves and nothing for other people." Smith's work was important in its day, but in modern Western society he'd likely have discovered there is no "invisible hand" making markets efficient.

Today markets need countervailing government intervention (called regulation) to make them work best for everyone, not just the ones controlling them for their own self-interest that's the way they work today with corporate giants allowed freewheeling unrestrained freedom letting them quash defenseless weak competitors that can only survive and prosper if regulations call for a level playing field where no one gets unfair competitive advantage over anyone else. That doesn't exist today as giant transnationals make their own rules, and they're all stacked in their own favor.

Further, under today's neoliberal market rules, the compulsion to consume exacerbates the problem. It lets monopoly capitalism function like a giant vacuum cleaner growing ever larger by sucking into corporate coffers and growing bottom lines all the resources from addicted consumers including all they can borrow in an endless cycle of binge shopping and spending in a culture gone mad with the need to accumulate and overindulge especially during the Christmas holiday season.

Whatever Christmas once was, it no longer is, and it corrupts society and the spirit of the man whose day of birth it honors and the message of love and faith he gave his followers. It came in his teachings, deeds and sermons like his famous Sermon on the Mount when he said to "turn the other cheek" and preached the central tenets of the Ten Commandments that include loving thy neighbor, not killing and doing unto others as you'd want them doing to you. The consumerist US society is one of receiving, not giving; of accepting predatory capitalism or at least not opposing its harm; of ignoring essential people needs and rights; of swearing fealty to shopping and spending while turning away from or not caring about our fellow men, women and children throughout the year, especially at this holy time for Christians whose thoughts should be on those most in need and what can be done to help them.

It's a sad testimony to our society and how most in it are easily manipulated to support what benefits those with wealth and power at the expense of the greater good of all others. Christmas in America is now the defiled spirit of out-of-control excess unmindful of the unmet needs of most others close by and around the world our culture of savage capitalism exploits for profit. For them, Christmas is only "Bah Humbug," and Santa only Scrooge - all take and no give.

New Year's Day

The first day of the new year comes one week after Christmas and is just a continuation of the long holiday season beginning after Thanksgiving, reaching a climax around Christmas, ebbing slightly for a day or so and building again to a final celebratory welcoming of the new year with another overindulgent bout of eating, drinking, partying, and using whatever funds remain for more discretionary spending in January and thereafter in succeeding months gorging on nonessentials.

The new year is also a traditional time for resolutions including some with merit like losing weight, resolving to stop smoking and getting fit. Most are quickly forgotten, and the most important ones are never made: to work for peace on earth, good will toward others, loving they neighbor, and respecting the rights of all people everywhere, treating them as we'd want them to treat us in a society of caring and sharing with equity and equal justice for all. Wouldn't that be a wonderful solemn resolution for the new year along with a sacred commitment to keep it throughout the year and every one thereafter once the holiday season ended. Long ago in simpler times before the old world was called the new one and was named America, it was that way. It can be again if enough of us want it to be.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.