Jim Hightower

Speak Up

We once had a strong president who told us, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Now we have a frightening president who tells us we must live in fear, that fear is our future, that fear is patriotic, that fear is America. He even color-codes it so we’ll know whether it’s a red-hot, super-scaredy day, or just a run-of-the-mill, orange-tinted day.

In case that’s too subtle, Bush’s Department of Homeland Security has developed a television commercial bringing fear down to a gut-wrenching level. The ad shows faces of worried children asking their mommies such questions as, “What if something happens, will you come get me?” A narrator warns that every family should be prepared for a terrorist attack. Finally the screen goes dark, and the punch line appears: “Everyone should have a plan.”

Welcome to Bush’s scary world.

The nonstop fear campaign is imposing the anti-America on our land of the free-an unrecognizable America of supreme executive authority, constant surveillance, secret government, suppression of dissent, and permanent war. As Bush himself put it in 2004, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

He’s not the quickest bunny in the litter, but it’s not a laughing matter. Top Bush-Cheney autocrats are doing more to trample America’s democratic values than our enemies possibly can. It’s up to us to reassert and protect those values. More of us must speak out for them-more loudly, more frequently, more insistently. Remember: The opposite of courage is not cowardice. It’s conformity.

STEP UP

In another of his ever-changing rationales for his Iraq war, George W has bizarrely proclaimed that this conflagration is like the Vietnam War-a comparison he had spent the previous four years heatedly rejecting.

On at least one point, his Vietnam comparison is apt: Next year, the Iraq war will pass the $600 billion mark in U.S. spending, making it nearly as costly as the long Vietnam debacle. Bush has now requested an additional $173 billion for Iraq war funding in 2008, making it the most expensive year yet for his disastrous misadventure.

The question now is, where the hell is Congress? I know that the new Democratic leadership has only slim majorities and that the Bushites use filibusters, veto threats, and demagogic lies to thwart Democratic efforts to initiate a withdrawal from Iraq. But it’s time to toughen up. Asserting congressional authority to check and balance a runaway, lawless executive is not a mere political option, it’s a constitutional obligation.

The founders deliberately gave real muscle to Congress to use in situations like this, and previous lawmakers were not too timid to use it. From the exposés of the Fulbright hearings in the 1960s to the withholding of war funds in 1973 to stop Nixon from extending the Vietnam War into Laos and Cambodia, earlier Congresses have had the guts to show that they really are a co-equal branch of government.

It’s time for Congress to pull the purse strings on Bush’s war. It has the power to stop the needless killing and maiming of thousands more Americans and Iraqi civilians. Failure to use that power is not just political cowardice-it’s immoral.

ACT UP

During the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, 1,100 people were arrested in one day during anti-war demonstrations. Most media pundits joined authorities in praising the police for stopping these “dangerous troublemakers.” But the city now faces 605 lawsuits from people contending they were merely exercising their right to free speech and assembly-making no trouble at all.

Based on witnesses and numerous videos taken of the demonstrations and arrests, protesters are winning their cases. It turns out that police were making mass arrests of innocent people-then making up arrest reports charging them with crimes they did not commit.

For instance, two guys and a young woman were videoed trying to string a banner onto a New York Public Library. “You can’t hang signs [there],” an officer told them, and they immediately took it down. “You can hold it, but you can’t hang it,” the officer said. So they did. Two seconds later, other police moved in and arrested them.

Police charged the three with “obstructing the entire intersection so no cars or pedestrians could pass through.” The woman was also charged with refusing to obey a police order and leading a parade through the intersection without a permit-even though the video clearly showed she had never left the library steps.

It’s not the demonstrators who are out of control, it’s the authorities. And they’re not merely cracking down on a few people-they’re trampling the constitutional rights of all of us.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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