Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Culture Of Fear

It's Saturday, which means I made a visit to Watching America. This week there was a wide range of subject matter: Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the US Supreme Court, President Obama's upcoming visit to the Middle East and his planned speech from Egypt, his stance that Israel must stop the proliferation of settlements in the West Bank, the role of the US if the global economy is to recover: all timely, all thoughtful.

However, the article that struck me most, an op-ed piece from Colombia's El Espectador, zeroed in on an issue that has yet to be adequately addressed by the current administration, the 111th Congress, and the American press, that of "the culture of fear" that this nation has operated under for nearly eight years. The author used the recent "dueling speeches" of President Obama and former Vice President Cheney to present the issue.

This duel between entering and exiting governments highlights the existence of two different perspectives on the way the United States should respond to threats to its national security. Cheney, through a recounting of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, again vindicated adopted policies and alluded to the grave threat still hanging over Americans. In addition to denouncing the “phony moralizing” of those who have criticized the “enhanced” interrogation tactics that were used, he pointed out that in the fight against terrorism, “There is no middle road.”

Obama criticized the idea, implied in Cheney’s speech, that “anything goes,” and related the use of that idea to justify practices like torture and the abuse of executive power. Instead, he argued that U.S. values, such as adherence to the rule of law, defense of civil liberties and the system of checks and balances, as well as accountability, constitute the best attributes of U.S. national security, and he criticized his predecessor for having abandoned them. Likewise, he condemned the fanning of fear and the manipulation of anxiety over terrorism in order to veto serious debate on issues like Guantanamo.

This last problem is not a minor one. The “war on terror” fostered a culture of fear that legitimized the adoption of methods that violated fundamental rights, spread intolerance and facilitated the mobilization of the public in favor of strategies that, in other circumstances, would have given rise to greater oversight. All this, according to President Obama, has made the U.S. less secure and has diminished its ability to combat genuine existing threats, among them, Al Qaeda.
[Emphasis added]

The author of this piece, Arlene B. Tickner, has analyzed the situation perfectly. As a result of the Bush administration campaign following the 9/11 attack, Americans willingly gave up liberties guaranteed under the Constitution. We allowed the federal government to illegally monitor our telephone calls and emails. We sat quietly by as the Great Writ of habeas corpus was trashed. By our silence, we condoned torture and kidnapping. We even have voluntarily subjected ourselves to intrusive video cameras at sporting events and theme parks, and we meekly took off our shoes at airport check points. We have tolerated the development of "lists" put together by the FBI which determine whether we can fly, enter, or leave the country, lists which are often comprised of those few individuals who have pushed back against such violations by marching for peace or constructing giant puppets.

Ms. Tickner concludes her piece by implying that she sees some change under the new administration:

...Slowly, Americans seem to be getting out from under the reign of fear that held them prisoner for eight years.

She may be right, but the pace is so glacial that I haven't seen it yet. President Obama is entertaining the thought of continuing "preventive" detentions of those some allege would do us harm. He has decided that military commissions, once a few cosmetic changes are introduced, are ok after all, his campaign promises to the contrary be damned.

Congress is fighting the closure of Guantanamo Bay, ostensibly because the president hasn't provided a detailed plan on what to do with those still being held there, but really because those still there are described as utterly dangerous and scary. There is no movement afoot, at least that I am aware of, to do away with the Patriot Acts, I and II, which are violative of everything that the 1st and 4th Amendment stand for. Nor is there any thought that maybe Congress went too far in the last revisiting of the FISA legislation.

And the press, well, it is still a stenographer for the powers that be, elected or not. When the Pentagon released its most recent report that those released from Gitmo have rejoined the Great Terrorist War Against America, the fact that the report claimed that 1 in 7 of those miscreants are back on the battle lines garnered all the headlines, while the questionable accounting techniques used by the Pentagon to reach those figures got only a few column inches in one major newspaper (see my post from yesterday). Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz, Rush Limbaugh, and Newt Gingrich (who?) are regulars on all the news channels and are quoted extensively and, by implication, approvingly, by the news wires and pundits.

I don't see the change that Barach Obama promised or that Arlene Tickner sees. In fact, I am seeing only more of the same, just given a little extra brushing and styling.

In other words, I am not optimistic. And I'm not quite sure at this point what to do about it.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

No president since Washington has voluntarily relinquished powers they appropriated for a particular crisis or emergency.

Nobody.

"thePrez" isn't gonna be the first.

The Press will always henceforth be a stenographic service for the elites and the unofficial but indisputable echoes of their corporate masters.

This has occurred because of the unrestrained consolidation brought on by mergers and acquisitions. It is not an accident that in the aftermath of these bidness dealings, newspapers and newsrooms shrunk.

"Bidness" and the press have alwaqys had an equivocal relationship. Car dealers hate it when the local paper prints stories about crash-worthiness, and the local restzaurants hate it when papers run lists of dives the health department closes...But the antipathy gets MUCH GREATER when it's the safety standards of a whole industry, or food contamination by huge producers.

Oh, and you're right: We're STILL fucked...that hasn't changed...

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