A lawyer friend of mine in Indiana, David Stutsman, phoned me last spring at 3:30 in the morning. He hadn’t been able to sleep thinking about the theft of the presidential election, the theft of the country. During our talk in that dead of night he asked a question that I only heard echoing around in my mind later on: “What are we in?” What are we in? Since last December, and now since September 11th, we are in history. But what is this? What are we in?
After the secret four-month constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, a matron of the city asked Benjamin Franklin what they had produced.
“A Republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin said.
Well, we haven’t kept it–we’ve lost it.
George W. Bush, his lawyers led by the crafty James Baker III, Bush’s operatives in Florida led by his brother Jeb the Governor and Secretary of State Kathryn Harris, and five members of the Supreme Court usurped from the people the right to choose the President of the United States. When Bush was sworn in as President by Chief Justice Rehnquist the government itself was seized in a judicial and presidential coup d’etat.
Our elections are bought, and we know that. Our government is bought, and we know that. Congress and the Presidency had already been delegitimized across the past 20 years, for most of us, by the triumph over the common good of uncontrolled campaign finance corruption and bribery.
Since January 20th the beneficiaries of the court’s scandalous seizure of the Presidency have organized this illegal government, unilaterally abandoned international arms control, gutted the government’s revenues, prepared to gut Social Security, and launched a deceitful crusade for military control of the world with weapons circling in space under the cover of “missile defense.”
The truth is so astounding we go on as if it were not true. But as an historian of the French Revolution, George Lefebvre, has written, “We cannot run history over like an experiment in a laboratory.” The truth is the truth.
On the morning of September 11th, mass murderers turned our loaded airliners into weapons of mass destruction and slaughtered more than 6,000 people from over 50 countries. On the ensuing Friday, Bush, in his role as President, declared that “we’re at war,” although Congress, the only constitutional source for such a declaration, has not declared war. The government admits that we have no proof (as of the date of this writing) that there was any nation behind the attacks to declare war against, yet again, on September 25th, Bush said, “We’re at war.”
Please consult whatever dictionary you may have nearby. War is armed conflict between states or nations or their leaders or between parties within a nation. When individuals in a private terrorist organization attack buildings with airliners and thereby murder thousands of civilians en masse, that is not war, that is a crime against humanity.
Although the media have not stressed the fact, the use-of-force law that Congress passed was not a declaration of war and specifically limits the authorization granted the President to the terms of the War Powers Act, which keeps the President accountable to Congress for emergency use of military force.
Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda should be branded as pariahs the world over and brought to justice. The legal basis for doing this, with or without the permission of the Taliban, is the right to self-defense enshrined in the U.N. charter. Assuming that our appeals to the Taliban to hand over bin Laden and his terrorists continue to be rejected and if militarily and logistically it makes good sense, a multilateral force including our special forces should penetrate or parachute into Afghan territory and assault to capture bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network wherever they can be found.
But the mass murder of 6,000 innocents in the United States does not give us a warrant to mass murder 6,000 or any other number of innocents in Afghanistan. At least a million of those 25 million people are at risk of starvation, their average annual income is $800 a person, and they live on the average only to the age of 41. Neither can we just declare and wage war against Iraq, or Sudan, as pundits like William Safire and writers in The Wall Street Journal are openly advocating. The darkest thing ethically, and the worst for American standing in the world, would be tit-for-tat bombing of cities in Afghanistan, killing innocent civilians as ours have been killed, or declaring war on some other Islamic dictatorship under the ruthless and apocalyptic theory of preventive war.
The answer to mass murder is not mass murder, it is going forward to form an international democratic government that can ensure international justice that can be enforced by multilateral armed force if necessary.
We should demand that the United States Senate, acting on its own initiative, quickly ratify the International Court of Justice, which will have jurisdiction over crimes against humanity.
All sorts of concessions about the composition and jurisdiction of this court were made in order to pacify the Helmses and Gramms of the U.S. Senate. About 60 nations have already ratified the treaty to establish it, but the Bush administration is opposed to ratification. This is the very court before whom the international community should indict and try bin Laden and everybody guilty in Al’ Qaeda who can be found. It would be perfectly in order, if we had such a court, to contemplate the capture of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and a trial for crimes against humanity committed when he used poison gas to slaughter his fellow citizens.
If an American President, or an American military unit, commits crimes against humanity, they should also go before the court. Isolationism and unilateralist nationalism have held sway too long in the most powerful country in the world; it is way past time for us to accept our standing in the family of nations as an equal.
Not only should the International Criminal Court be ratified, it should be given jurisdiction over all truly international crime, including that committed by transnational corporations.
What are we in? We have an illegal President, presiding over an illegal administration, declaring an unconstitutional war, and orchestrating, under the cover of missile defenses, American development of weapons circling in space which would give the United States control of every nation on earth.
What has been true since the corporate takeover of the Democratic Party in the first half of the seventies is no truer now, but now it’s out here in the open for all of us to see. The issue before us is who governs, who decides, who controls–the people or the gigantic corporations and their political puppets.
Felix Rohatyn, the famous investment banker in New York City, said to Charlie Rose, on PBS, last Dec. 21 (I wrote it down at the time): “The government should be the minority stockholder, and the private sector ought to be the dominating factor.” There is the truth of the intention, coming from Wall Street. There is the issue: the people, or the corporations. There is the issue: democracy.
One answer for democracy has been struck upon by the Maverick Alliance for Democracy in San Antonio. For the past three years they have been sponsoring multi-organizational gatherings of many progressive, populist, and community organizations under the name Independent Allies. They meet every two weeks at Estela’s on the West Side. During a part of the program called “Noticias,” a representative from each participating organization tells what it’s up to. “Independent Allies” is not an organization, but a communications protocol and center, and some of us are interested in extending the idea across the state and into the country. [Meetings will be held in San Antonio November 17-18. You could learn more about that by phoning Bob Brischetto at 830-612-3643; his email is email@example.com.] It is time for us to form now, among all our organizations, the Equal Independent Allies, one national people’s movement, independent of any political party, to demand and fight, for example, for:
Public funding of our elections.Single-payer national health insurance.The restoration of the corporate tax system, the progressivity of the income tax, and the replacement of the Social Security payroll tax with the income tax.Limits on the size of corporations, the cancellation of their alleged “personhood” and their alleged constitutional rights.Limits on personal wealth and a guaranteed annual income.Free education as high as any student can make the grades.First-home building subsidies and the opening of some public lands as trust lands for homesteading.Equal rights and equal pay for women. living wage for every working person.The legalization of undocumented immigrants who have been here a few years and work and/or have families here.Repeal of the Taft-Hartley law and criminal prosecution of corporations that bedevil union organizers.Clean energy–wind, and solar–and the phasing down and as soon as possible of oil, coal, and nuclear power.International trade for people and the environment everywhere.A sharing of the wealth of the rich nations, including ours, with the two billion people who have no schools and no toilets.And world citizenship, an international democracy, and a constitution worthy of the human race.I don’t think we have much time here in our beloved country. Although for some years I have been skeptical about electoral politics as a way of fixing a country where bribery has been legalized, I have become convinced, in the history we are in, that if, in what time we have, we are to form a new government for our country to replace the one that we have lost, we must use electoral politics as nonviolent revolt. My idea is to try to find people somewhat like Huey Long, without his corruption or crypto-fascism, willing to defy the leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties in Washington, to be candidates for governor or U.S. Senator as Greens, as independents, as rebellious Democrats, or even as rebellious Republicans, in as many states as we can get going for 2002, so that by the time we get to 2005, we will not be staring again at either George W. Bush or Albert Gore.
Ronnie Dugger was founding editor of the Observer in 1954 and later its owner and publisher until 1994.