The Imminent Death of American Democracy...
Starting in Missouri

by Harvey Wasserman

Two hundred years of American democracy could definitively end November 5, starting in Missouri.

No matter what happens in the overall election, the race for the US Senate seat from Missouri will determine who controls the Congress on November 6. Should incumbent Democrat Jean Carnahan lose, the Republicans will immediately take control of the US Senate. They could then use a lame duck session to destroy the last vestiges of the American system of checks and balances. They are confident this will happen, and are spending millions to make sure it does.

The upper chamber is now divided between 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one brave independent. Elected as a Republican, Vermont's Jim Jeffords chose independence in the face of the Bush blitzkreig. His profile in courage is stamped on the last check and balance in American government.

With a ruthless hard-right cabal in charge of the Executive Branch, the Republicans have moved to complete their definitive conquest of the judiciary and the media.

The US court system is now thoroughly dominated by conservative Republicans. Their Supreme Court installed Bush in the White House after the disputed 2000 election, which Bush lost by more than 500,000 votes nationwide. Another horde of prospective right wing judges is now poised to finish transforming the judiciary from the civil liberties safety net it was just a few decades ago to a hollow rubber stamp for executive privilege.

The national media is a mirror image. Dominated by six major corporations, the major print, television and radio outlets convey a ceaseless barrage of right-wing bloviators. What minor balance remains comes through the internet and a few isolated talk radio shows.

There have been times in US history, particularly during the Civil War and World Wars I & II, when executive power has been close to absolute. In each case the public understood the problem to be temporary. And so it was.

But today's GOP has declared as permanent its "anti-terrorist" assault on individual freedoms. The USA PATRIOT Act has extinguished the Bill of Rights that gave American democracy its birth. The Administration holds sacred only the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right of the sniper now terrorizing the nation's capital to bear arms.

Bush's commitment to other traditional American liberties is expressed by mass "anti-terror" imprisonments in Cuba and elsewhere without identifying the victims, charging them or allowing them legal counsel.

The Administration's relentless attack on traditional American freedoms has been somewhat slowed by the Democrats' razor-thin Senate majority. They've controlled the committees, the majority leadership and thus the Senate's basic agenda.

But that could end on election day. If Carnahan loses to Republican former Rep. James M. Talent, Talent will immediately take her seat. On November 6, the Senate would be comprised of 50 Republicans and 49 Democrats, plus Jeffords. The tie-breaking vote would be owned Vice President Dick Cheney. Republican activists can barely contain themselves.

Ironically, the seat was contested in 2000 by John Ashcroft, the current hard-right Attorney-General. Ashcroft lost to Mel Carhanan, the Democratic ex-governor who died in a plane crash shortly before the election. Jean Carnahan was then appointed to fill the seat on an interim basis.

Should she lose November 5, the Republicans will immediately call a lame duck session. The push for right-wing judiciary appointments would proceed. So would new tax cuts for the very rich and severe restrictions on liability lawsuits by victims of corporate negligence. Also on the docket might be an energy bill including major subsidies for nuclear power and fossil fuels, drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and other anti-planetary assaults.

The lame duck agenda would technically be subject to filibuster. In today's Senate, it takes 60 votes to get cloture and pass any legislation. But the Republicans could use their regained committee control to force stalled right-wing appointments onto the floor of the Senate. Filibustering could block their final approval in the lame duck session. But holding them back in the future would not be easy. And with control of the both houses of Congress, even for a relatively brief lame duck session, the Republicans will hold absolute power over the American government.

Already, the Republican rout of the feeble Daschle-Gephardt leadership is virtually complete. The Democrats' unwillingness to support Sen. Robert Byrd's filibuster against Bush's Iraqi war powers sealed that victory, as did the Dems' failure to investigate Bush-Cheney stock abuses at Harken and Halliburton.

Bush's ruthless mastery of the Iraqi war card shut the collapse of the American economy out of the 2002 election debate, protecting the GOP from the usual mid-term gains of the opposition party. This year, the anemic Democrats will be lucky to hold their own.

Whether Bush actually attacks Iraq remains to be seen. At very least, he's helped re-ignite a global anti-war movement.

But the Democrats have already handed him a blank check to make war on whoever he wants to abroad, and against the Constitution at home.

If Jean Carnahan loses in Missouri November 5, the last vestige of American democracy will be gone.

Harvey Wasserman is author of THE LAST ENERGY WAR: THE BATTLE OVER UTILITY DEREGULATION (Seven Stories Press).


I'm an American Tired of American Lies
Woody Harrelson,
The Guardian, October 17, 2002


The man who drives me to and from work is named Woody too. A relief to me, as
it minimizes the chance of my forgetting his name. I call him Woodman and he
calls me Wood. He has become my best friend here, even though he's upset that
I have quit drinking beer. He's smart, funny, and there's nothing he hasn't
seen in 33 years behind the wheel of his black cab. He drove me for a while
before I felt confident he liked me; he doesn't like people easily,
especially if they have a rap for busting up black cabs.

Woodman and I agree about a lot of things, but one thing we can never agree
about is Iraq. He thinks the only language Saddam understands is brute force.
I don't believe we should be bombing cities in our quest for one man. We've
killed a million Iraqis since the start of the Gulf war - mostly by blocking
humanitarian aid. Let's stop now. Thankfully, most of the Brits I talk to
about the war are closer to me than to Woodman. Only your prime minister
doesn't seem to have noticed.

I have been here three months doing a play in the West End. I am having the
time of my life. I love England, the people, the parks, the theatre. The play
is great and the audiences have been a dream. Probably I should just relax,
be happy and talk about the weather, but this war is under my skin - it
affects my sleep.

I remember playing basketball with an Iraqi in the late 80s while Iran and
Iraq were at war. I didn't know at the time that the US and Britain were
supplying weapons to both sides. I asked why they were always at war with
each other and he said something that stayed with me: "If it were up to the
people, there would be peace. It's the governments that create war." And now
my government is creating its second war in less than a year. No; war
requires two combatants, so I should say "its second bombing campaign".

I went to the White House when Harvey Weinstein was showing Clinton the movie
Welcome to Sarajevo, which I was in. I got a few moments alone with Clinton.
Saddam throwing out the weapons inspectors was all over the news and I asked
what he was going to do. His answer was very revealing. He said: "Everybody
is telling me to bomb him. All the military are saying, 'You gotta bomb him.'
But if even one innocent person died, I couldn't bear it." And I looked in
his eyes and I believed him. Little did I know he was blocking humanitarian
aid at the time, allowing the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

I am a father, and no amount of propaganda can convince me that half a
million dead children is acceptable "collateral damage". The fact is that
Saddam Hussein was our boy. The CIA helped him to power, as they did the Shah
of Iran and Noriega and Marcos and the Taliban and countless other brutal
tyrants. The fact is that George Bush Sr. continued to supply nerve gas and
technology to Saddam even after he used it on Iran and then the Kurds in
Iraq. While the Amnesty International report listing countless Saddam
atrocities, including gassing and torturing Kurds, was sitting on his desk,
Bush Sr. pushed through a $2 billion "agricultural" loan and Thatcher gave
hundreds of millions in export credit to Saddam. The elder Bush then had the
audacity to quote the Amnesty reports to garner support for his oil war.

A decade later, Shrub follows the same line: "We have no quarrel with the
Iraqi people." I'm sure half a million Iraqi parents are scratching their
heads over that. I'm an American tired of lies. And with our government, it's
mostly lies.

The history taught in our schools is scandalous. We grew up believing that
Columbus actually discovered America. We still celebrate Columbus Day.
Columbus was after one thing only - gold. As the natives were showering him
with gifts and kindness, he wrote in his diary, "They do not bear arms ...
They have no iron ... With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them
do whatever we want." Columbus is the perfect symbol of US foreign policy to
this day.

This is a racist and imperialist war. The warmongers who stole the White
House (you call them "hawks", but I would never disparage such a fine bird)
have hijacked a nation's grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any
non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist.

To the men in Washington, the world is just a giant Monopoly board. Oddly
enough, Americans generally know how the government works. The politicians do
everything they can for the people - the people who put them in power. The
giant industries that are polluting our planet as well as violating human
rights worldwide are the ones nearest and dearest to the hearts of American

But in wartime people lose their senses. There are flags and yellow ribbons
and posters and every media outlet is beating the war drum and even sensible
people can hear nothing else. In the US, God forbid you should suggest the
war is unjust or that dropping cluster bombs from 30,000 ft. on a city is a
cowardly act. When TV satirist Bill Maher made some dissenting remarks about
the bombing of Afghanistan, Disney pulled the plug on him. In a country that
lauds its freedom of speech, a word of dissent can cost you your job.

I read in a paper here about a woman who held out the part of her taxes that
would go to the war effort. Something like 17%. I like that idea, though in
the US it would have to be more like 50%. If you consider money as a form of
energy, then we see half our taxes and half the US government's energy
focused on war and weapons of mass destruction. Over the past 30 years, this
amounts to more than ten trillion dollars. Imagine that money going to
preserving rainforest or contributing to a sustainable economy (as opposed to
the dinosaur tit we are currently in the process of sucking dry).

I give in to Woodman, and we stop for a few beers. He asks me what I'd do in
Bush's shoes. Easy: I'd honor Kyoto. Join the world court. I'd stop
subsidizing earth rapers like Monsanto, Dupont and Exxon. I'd shut down the
nuclear power plants. So I already have $200 billionn saved from corporate
welfare. I'd save another $100 billion by stopping the war on non-corporate
drugs. And I'd cut the defence budget in half so they'd have to get by on a
measly $200 billion a year. I've already saved half a trillion bucks by
saying no to polluters and warmongers.

Then I'd give $300 billion back to the taxpayers. I'd take the rest and pay
the people teaching our children what they deserve. I'd put $100 billion into
alternative fuels and renewable energy. I'd revive the Chemurgy movement,
which made the farmer the root of the economy, and make paper and fuel from
wheat straw, rice straw and hemp. Not only would I attend, I'd sponsor the
next Earth Summit. And, of course, I'd give myself a fat raise.

Woodman drops me at home and I ask if he likes my ideas. He offers a
reluctant "yes". As he pulls away he yells out, "But I'd never vote for a man
who can't handle a few pints at the end of the day!"

-- Woody Harrelson appears in "On an Average Day" at the Comedy Theatre,
Panton Street, London SW1 until November 3. Box office: 020-7369 1731.

Actor Sean Penn Lashes Bush over Iraq War Drums

October 18, 2002 12:05 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Actor Sean Penn on Friday weighed in on the
international debate over a possible war with Iraq, paying for a $56,000
advertisement in the Washington Post accusing President Bush of stifling
debate and threatening civil liberties.

In an open letter to Bush taking up most of a page in the main section of
the daily newspaper, the Oscar-nominated star of "I Am Sam" and "Dead Man
Walking," urged the president to stop a cycle where "bombing is answered by
bombing, mutilation by mutilation, killing by killing."

"I beg you, help save America before yours is a legacy of shame and
horror," Penn wrote, echoing voices of caution from around the world that
have called for a measured response to allegations Iraq is developing
weapons of mass destruction.

The letter was signed "Sincerely, Sean Penn, San Francisco, California." A
spokesman for the Washington Post confirmed that it was placed by the
Hollywood celebrity who has starred in more than 40 movies.

Quoting Bush's declaration that the world was either "with us or against
us" in the war on terrorism launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,
Penn, 42, said Bush was marginalizing critics, manipulating the media and
promoting fear.

Those actions and "your administration's deconstruction of civil liberties
all contradict the very core of the patriotism you claim," wrote Penn, who
is married to actress Robin Wright Penn, and was formerly married to pop
star Madonna.

"Sacrificing American soldiers or innocent civilians in an unprecedented
preemptive attack on a separate sovereign nation may well prove itself a
most temporary medicine," he said.
"If the truth is anti-American, then blame the truth, don't blame me."
Malcolm X, Feb. 11, 1965~