The covert and overt interventionist actions of the U.S. to overthrow democratically elected governments, to crush national liberation struggles, and to prop-up brutal despotic regimes across the world exposes the complete bankruptcy of the U.S. claim that it is an ardent champion of “freedom” and “democracy”. The U.S. exploits in this regard have been well documented by veteran journalist William Blum in his books titled Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Common Courage Press, Monroe, USA, 2003 & 2005). Allusions to “freedom” and “democracy” provide a convenient cover for vested interests in the U.S. to corner USA’s national wealth and for advancing the imperialistic goals of the same sections abroad!
Since WW-II alone, the U.S. has time and again covertly or militarily intervened and unlawfully overthrown democratically elected governments in Iran (1953); Guatemala (1954, 1963 and 1968); Congo (1960); Dominican Republic (1965); Indonesia (1965); Ghana (1966); Chile (1973); Granada (1983); and in Haiti (2004). The U.S. (with or without its British/Zionist ally) has also time and again attempted to crush national liberation struggles and progressive movements in Greece (1947-49), Palestine (1948-2009), Philippines (1948-54), Malaysia (1948-55), Puerto Rico (1950), Korea (1950-53), Kenya (1952-59), Egypt (1956 and 1967), Lebanon (1958, 1982 and 2006), Vietnam (1960-75), Cuba (1961), Cambodia (1969-75), Laos (1971-73), Angola (1976-92), Afghanistan (1978-1990), Nicaragua (1981-90), Venezuela (2004), and in several other countries at various times.
Furthermore, the US has consistently backed and aided the world’s most brutal dictatorships: Gen. Trujillo in the Dominican Republic (1930-61), Salazar in Portugal (1932-68), the monarchy in Saudi Arabia (1932-2009), Gen. Franco in Spain (1936-75), the Samozas in Nicaragua (1937-79), the racists in South Africa (1948-1990), the Zionists in Israel (1948-2009), the junta in South Korea (1948-87), Gen. Batista in Cuba (1952-1959), the Shah in Iran (1953-79), Gen. Rojas Pinilla in Colombia (1954-58), Gen. Stroessner in Paraguay (1954-1989), the junta in South Vietnam (1954-75), the Duvaliers in Haiti (1957-86), Gen. Suharto in Indonesia (1965-1998), Marcos in the Philippines (1966-86), the junta in Greece (1967-1973), Gen. Pinochet in Chile (1973-1990), and several other despotic regimes.
The defeat suffered by the U.S. military in Vietnam in 1975 and the collapse of Portuguese imperialism the same year, drove the U.S. to complete desperation; they could not conceive of anything else but of adopting terror as a strategy to contain national liberation movements. This strategy for furthering U.S. imperialist interests, which did not entail loss of American lives, has been well described by Prof. Mahmood Mamdani of Columbia University, New York, in his book titled Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror (Pantheon, New York, 2004). Summarising the points he has made in his book, Prof. Mamdani in an interview to New York based e-journal AsiaSource on 05 May 2004 stated as follows:
Terror emerges as a strategy of the US after defeat in Vietnam, when it is on the verge of losing the Cold War. The strategy comes to a head with the Reagan administration, which throws overboard the language of “peaceful coexistence”, now demanding an agenda to “rollback” the Soviet Union…. Ronald Reagan ideologized proxy war in a religious idiom. Reagan ideologized the Cold War as a war against “evil”, against the “Evil Empire.”…. you cannot convert evil, you have to eliminate evil. In that titanic battle, any alliance is justified…. It was under the American protective umbrella that apartheid South Africa created Africa’s first genuine terrorist movement: Renamo in Mozambique, which was genuinely terrorist in the sense that it was not interested in fighting the military, its focus was on targeting civilians as a way of demonstrating that an independent African government was incapable of protecting its citizens.
The U.S. adopted the same strategy in Nicaragua and Afghanistan. According to Prof. Mamdani:
Whereas the US was an understudy in Mozambique, its embrace of terror became direct and brazen after the Sandinista Revolution of 1979. In Nicaragua, the US created a terrorist movement called Contras, more or less as apartheid South Africa had created Renamo in Mozambique, also from scratch. The lessons it learnt from southern Africa and Central America were put into practice in Afghanistan in the concluding phase of the Cold War.
There was also a direct link between undeclared/proxy wars and the drug trade. As Prof. Mamdani puts it:
The reason was simple: if you don’t declare war, you don’t have access to public funds to wage it. The search for funds to wage an undeclared war time and again led the CIA into an embrace of the underworld, particularly the drug lords. The Afghan war exemplified the extreme development of two tendencies: one, the ideologization of war in a religious idiom, and two, its privatization.
As a result, as Prof. Mamdani points out:
The war in Afghanistan was justified as a global jihad. To wage it, the CIA recruited volunteers globally; Muslims everywhere, in the US, in Britain, all over the world, were invited to participate in this global war. The CIA was busy creating cells everywhere, the nuclei of the same cells they are busy trying to smash today as a network of terror…. The Islamist network was both global and private. What we are reaping today is the whirlwind.1
Under the guise of spreading “freedom” and “democracy,” the U.S. establishment consciously chose to arm and fund in Afghanistan the most anti-democratic, anti-women, and ultra-conservative elements of society, who were projected as “jihadies” fighting for a just cause, in order to contain what the U.S. called “Soviet expansionism.” With the demise of the Soviet Union, which committed hara-kiri, the U.S. establishment has found a readymade “enemy” in the “jihadies” who have now chosen to bite the hand that fed them. Thus, the very forces, which are instrumental in aiding and abetting terrorism the world over, are today purportedly waging war against those very same terrorist networks. It is so obvious that without an omnipresent and everlasting “enemy”, the U.S. leadership will be hard put to divert attention away from the social crises at home and to justify the existence of a huge military establishment with its worldwide network of military bases and a questionable military alliance in the form of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Curiously enough, while seemingly waging the never-ending war against terror abroad, there has been a concurrent curtailment of “freedom” and “democratic rights” at home.
Onslaught on Civil Rights
When universal suffrage was beginning to become a reality and the moment it appeared that all hindrances to the exercise of democratic rights by all U.S. citizens were being practically removed, the 9/11 attack and its aftermath provided the requisite justification for enacting the USA PATRIOT Act. The “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001” is anything but a “patriotic” initiative as it was being made out. Incidentally, the PATRIOT Act was already in the pipeline before 9/11, which raises questions regarding the real motives behind its enactment!
The adverse impact of the PATRIOT Act across the U.S. has been well documented and analysed by Dr. Walter M. Brasch, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, Pennsylvania, in his book titled America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation Of Constitutional And Civil Rights. In the preface to the book, Dr. Brasch points out that:
In the Bush–Cheney era, dissent is not tolerated; jingoism is encouraged…. In Columbia, South Carolina, a fifty-four-year-old man was arrested for carrying a sign, “No More War for Oil”…. On Independence Day, 2004, at an official presidential appearance, two people were arrested when they refused to turn their T-shirts inside out so an anti-Bush message didn’t appear. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, a woman was ordered to remove a small metal peace button from her lapel. In Hamilton, New Jersey, where Laura Bush was rallying the faithful to support the war in Iraq, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq was escorted out because she wore a T-shirt that declared, “President Bush You Killed My Son,” and had the audacity to ask what the Republicans believed was a hostile question. Outside the auditorium, while talking with a reporter, she was ordered to leave, didn’t do so, and then was handcuffed and arrested on defiant trespass charges. In Medford, Oregon, three peaceful women were thrown out of a campaign rally, and then threatened with arrests. Their offense? They wore T-shirts that said, “Protect Our Civil Liberties.” Their cases are just a few of thousands throughout the country.
Furthermore, according to Dr. Brasch:
Throughout the country, libraries have put up signs warning that the FBI, under authority of the PATRIOT Act, may seize library records to determine reading habits of patrons. The congressional authority extends to bookstores, physicians’ offices, grocery stores, Internet service providers, and virtually any business or organization that has personal data of customers.
Essentially, what this meant was that:
Enforcement of the PATRIOT Act butts against the protections of six amendments to the Constitution: the First (freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances), Fourth (freedom from unreasonable searches), Fifth (right against self-incrimination and due process), Sixth (due process, the right to counsel, a speedy trial, and the right to a fair and public trial by an impartial jury), Eighth (reasonable bail and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment), and Fourteenth (equal protection guarantee for both citizens and non-citizens).2
Later, in an interview to Monthly Review on 22 July 2005, Dr. Brasch stated that:
…this administration has repeatedly used 9/11 to justify even greater restrictions upon Constitutional rights, while making it appear it is doing its best to protect Americans from terrorists…. Under the way the current administration can enforce the PATRIOT Act, Americans are all considered guilty until proven innocent.
According to Dr. Brasch, among dozens of national organizations that uncover abuses and fight for the preservation of U.S. constitutional and civil rights are the following: American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; American Civil Liberties Union; American Library Association; Bill of Rights Defense Committee; Center for Constitutional Rights; Center for Democracy and Technology; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Electronic Privacy Information Center; Free Congress Foundation; Free Expression Policy Project; National Coalition to Repeal the Patriot Act; Open the Government, and People for the American Way; all of which have challenged how the PATRIOT Act is being enforced.
Immediately after the enactment of the PATRIOT Act, President Bush, on 13 November 2001, issued what is known as Military Order No.1. In response to this Order, Michael Ratner, a human rights attorney and the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in an article titled “November 13, 2001: Coup D’etat in America” stated that:
…it is a day, as they say, that should live in infamy. On that date in 2001, two months after 9/11, President Bush issued Military Order Number 1. … the President claimed the authority to capture, kidnap or otherwise arrest any non-citizen (it was later extended to citizens) anywhere in the world including the United States whom the President believed was involved in international terrorism and hold them forever without any charges, proceedings or trial…. This order embodies within it the violations of fundamental rights we are facing today: indefinite detention without trial, Guantanamo, secret sites, special trials and disappearances…. Let’s also repeat: this was a military order in a society and country that was still or purported to be under civilian rule. This order more then any other single document embodies our lost liberties.3
Gregory T. Nojeim, a Senior Counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology (Washington D.C.) brought these disturbing developments to the notice of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution on 01 October 2008. In a deposition titled “Restoring the Rule of Law”, he expressed his concern that:
Privacy, one of our most fundamental rights, recently has been dramatically eroded as a result not only of policy failures stemming from the response to September 11, but also because our privacy laws and policies have not kept pace with advances in technology…. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, laws and policies have been adopted that unnecessarily weaken privacy rights and other constitutional liberties. The government has adopted data mining techniques, expanded electronic surveillance, and launched new identification programs without adequate safeguards for the rights of Americans.
Towards a Police State
Already several concerned individuals have been expressing the fear that attempts were being made to slowly turn the U.S. into a police state. Certain foreign observers too have commented on the unexpected turn of events. One of the first foreigners to make an adverse comment about the disturbing development that was taking place in the U.S. was a German diplomat, Jürgen Chrobog, who was the German Ambassador to the U.S. from 1995 to 2001 and later State Secretary in the Federal Foreign Office. According to a news report titled “Envoy dubs US a police state,” which was published in The Times (London) on 06 May 2003, Mr. Chrobog “was reported to have told Foreign Ministry colleagues that America was turning into a ‘police state.’”
Among the first in the U.S. to raise the question “Is America Becoming a Police State?” was Ron Paul a conservative Congressman from Texas, who later became the fourth placed candidate in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries. In his column “Texas Straight Talk” on 20 December 2004, Mr. Paul pointed out that:
The question is no longer rhetorical. We are not yet living in a total police state, but it is fast approaching…. The atmosphere since 2001 has permitted Congress to create whole new departments and agencies that purport to make us safer – always at the expense of our liberty…. Unfortunately, the new intelligence bill passed by Congress two weeks ago moves us closer to an encroaching police state…. Those who believe a police state can’t happen here are poor students of history.
An overview of the major legislations that have been enacted post 9/11 and which impinge on the democratic rights of U.S. citizens was brought out in 2007 in an article by Stephen Lendman titled “Police State America.” According to Lendman, a research associate at the Centre for Research on Globalization (Montreal):
’Police state America’ has been in the works a long time, and it now may be near the boiling point…. The nation is at war and laws are in place that end constitutional protections, militarize the country, repress dissent, and our government is empowered to crush freedom and defend privilege from beneficial social change it won’t tolerate. It’s the price of imperial arrogance we the people are paying, and that won’t end until the spirit of resistance gets aroused enough to stop it in our own self-defense.
While few articles of this kind ever get published in the mainstream print media or are referred to in the audio-visual media, a whole lot of such articles are circulating over the Internet. Numerous books have also been written regarding the unprecedented growth of authoritarianism under the Bush Administration. These include the following:
C. William Michaels, No Greater Threat: America After September 11 and the Rise of a National Security State (Algora, New York, 2005), which has been reviewed as follows: “In this very important study, C. W. Michaels gives us a unique guide and commentary, based on meticulous research, to the ominous growth of the national security state. His analysis of the USA PATRIOT Act is immensely useful and a wake up call for all Americans concerned with defending our civil liberties.” –Howard Zinn, author, A People’s History of the United States.
Joe Conason, It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush (Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2007), which has been reviewed as follows: according to Conason: “…fascism can indeed take root and blossom in the U.S. if Americans aren’t more vigilant about freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Although we are not facing full-blown fascism, Conason sees a “gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule” for the first time since the Nixon administration. He explores how and why… an increasingly secretive Bush administration usurp the power of the legislature and disregard provisions of the Constitution by stoking fear of terrorism.” —BOOKLIST, the review journal of the American Library Association.
Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, USA, 2007), which has been reviewed as follows: “You will be shocked and disturbed by this book. Most Americans reject outright any comparison of post 9/11 America with the fascism and totalitarianism of Nazi Germany or Pinochet’s Chile. Sadly, the parallels and similarities, what Wolf calls the ‘echoes’ between those societies and America today, are all too compelling.” –Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York.
Naomi Wolf is a noted feminist writer and lately a supporter of President Barak Obama. In an article titled “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps,” which was published in the Guardian (London) on 24 April 2007, Naomi Wolf wrote:
It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable – as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise. Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.
These ominous changes have taken place in the U.S., especially in the last eight years. At the beginning of this essay, a reference was made to the unsavoury incident that Bela Malik et al. had to endure. However, it is now evident that the manner in which pressure was brought to bear on Bela Malik and her friends on 02 March 2006 in New Delhi in order to prevent them from expressing their anger at the ongoing war in Iraq during the visit of Laura Bush to a South Delhi Orphanage was nothing unique. Ever since 9/11, Bela Malik’s counterparts in the U.S. have had to endure far worse abuses due to the enactment of a series of legislations, which intrude into privacy in an unprecedented manner and thereby considerably interfere with exercise of constitutional rights. In the light of the realities of the situation as explained above, tall claims of the U.S. being the “world’s oldest democracy” and about its purported commitment to promotion of “freedom” and “human rights” are not only rather farfetched but also are an indication of the extent to which the Bush Administration had indulged in doublespeak. However, the myths created by the establishment tended to get credence because the mainstream print and audio-visual media, which are controlled by a few media conglomerates, widely propagate such myths as truths.
Media and Democracy
Largely due to the self-cultivated image, there is a popular misconception that news and views purveyed by the mass media is based on independent, objective and enlightened reportage. As one journalist recalls:
For more than a century, objectivity has been the dominant professional norm of the news media. It has at its heart the noble aim of presenting indisputable facts upon which everyone in society can agree, and build upon towards the goal of a better society… The uncorrupted ideal of objectivity, in the sense of reporters driving to dig out verified facts and present them fully and fairly, is indispensable in journalism…. During the 20th century, the ideal of objectivity in news coverage went from strength to strength… We think of objectivity as meaning neutral. But also balanced. Impartial. Non-partisan. Neutral. Accurate. Verified. Fair. Factual. Unemotional. Detached. Scientific. Reasoned. Unbiased.4
With such an exalted image of the media, at least at subconscious level, many people often form their opinions based on reports that appear in the print and audio-visual media. However, in reality, many a time the mainstream media tends to peddle partial truths, or even outright falsehood, as the whole truth – especially such news and views that are politically and socially sensitive. This is primarily because, as the saying goes, ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’! The fact is that a handful of media conglomerates control much of the global mass media; the exercise of monopoly control in the U.S. is even greater. The media oligarchs, who in turn hold definite political and social biases, invariably decide the content and form of the news and views that are broadcast. Propagation of politically and socially biased news and views, thus, have adverse impact on the collective consciousness.
Strong reaction against this negative trend arose in the 1970s. As Ulla Carlsson, Director, NORDICOM (The Nordic Information Centre for Media and Communication Research, Göteborg University, Sweden) has pointed out:
Global flows of news and information were the subject of intense debate in international fora in the 1970s. News gathering and reporting has been controversial, both within nations and between nations…. The United Nations, and UNESCO in particular, were the prime arenas where these issues were thrashed out…. The issue of a new international information order is bound up with ideas about the role of communication in the development of societies, on the one hand, and the relations between developed and developing countries, on the other.5
Therefore, acceding to the demand of the non-aligned countries for a new international information order, UNESCO appointed a commission known as The International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems in 1977 to study all manner of problems of communication in the world. Sean MacBride, former Minister for External Affairs of Ireland and the then Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, officiated as Chair of the 16-member Commission. The Commission’s final report titled “Many Voices, One World. Communication and Society, Today and Tomorrow. Towards a New, More Just and More Efficient World Information and Communication Order,” was submitted to UNESCO in 1980. The Report is popularly known as the MacBride Report.
According to Dr. Carlsson:
The Commission report stresses that it is not only about developing countries, but about the whole of humanity, because unless the necessary changes are made in all parts of the world, it will not be possible to attain freedom, reciprocity or independence in the exchange of information worldwide. The Commission confirmed the persistence of imbalances in news and information flows between countries and marked inequalities in the distribution of communication resources…. For the first time ever, a UNESCO document plainly stated that a few transnational companies controlled the international information system and that their control posed a threat to the cultural integrity and national independence of many countries.
Dr. Carlsson further added that:
The commercialization of information is harshly criticized, as is the expansion of advertising markets. The Commission stressed the importance of the social function of information. An important theme in the report throughout is, for that matter, an emphasis on the societal roles of information and the need for democratization of communication flows…. These demands [for the 4 Ds – Development, Democratization, Decolonization and Demonopolization] call for measures not only in the developing countries but, perhaps even more so, in the developed countries…. A lot of emphasis is put on the right to communicate, defined as ‘the right to be informed, the right to inform, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public communication’ at all levels – ‘international, national, local and individual’…. There was also a hint of the idea that the causes of underdevelopment might be found in the developed and the developing countries alike.5
The governments of USA and UK were furious with the MacBride Report. This was because the attack on media monopoly was construed as a direct attack on the interests of the wealthy classes.
One of the first to expose the extent of corporate control over the mass media in the U.S. was Ben Haig Bagdikian, who taught journalism and subsequently served as Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. His book titled The Media Monopoly (Beacon Press, Boston, 1983) warned about the adverse effects of corporate ownership in the media. The work has been updated six times (through 2000) before being rewritten and renamed The New Media Monopoly in 2004. During this period, according to the publishers, “the number of corporations controlling most of America’s daily newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, book publishers, and movie companies has dwindled from fifty to ten to five.”
In Ben Bagdikian’s analysis:
It is a handful of large media conglomerates that create the daily and nightly news world for a majority of Americans…. Our picture of reality does not burst upon us in one splendid revelation. It accumulates day by day and year by year in mostly unspectacular fragments from the world scene, produced mainly by the mass media. Our view of the real world is dynamic, cumulative, and self-correcting as long as there is a pattern of even-handedness in deciding which fragments are important. But when one important category of the fragments is filtered out, or included only vaguely, our view of the social-political world is deficient.
Another important publication on the subject was by Edward S. Herman (Professor Emeritus of Finance, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania) & Noam Chomsky (Professor, Department of Linguistics & Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) titled Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon Books, New York, 1988). This seminal work is an attempt to show that:
contrary to the usual image of the news media as cantankerous, obstinate, and ubiquitous in their search for truth and defense of justice, in their actual practice they defend the economic, social, and political agendas of the privileged groups that dominate domestic society, the state, and the global order…. What emerges from this work is a powerful assessment of how propagandistic the U.S. mass media are, how they systematically fail to live up to their self-image as providers of the kind of information that people need to make sense of the world, and how we can understand their function in a radically new way.
Prof. Noam Chomsky followed it up with a work titled Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda (Seven Stories Press, New York, 1997 & 2003). In this book, Prof. Chomsky
…reveals how falsification of history, suppression of information, and the promotion of vapid, empty concepts have become standard operating procedure for the leaders of the United States–both Democrats and Republicans–in their efforts to prevent citizens from raising awkward questions about U.S. policy.
Robert W. McChesney (Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois) is also a major contributor to the debate with his work titled Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy (Seven Stories Press, New York, 1997). As Prof. McChesney points out:
… private control over media and communication is not a neutral or necessarily a benevolent proposition. The commercial basis of U.S. media has negative implications for the exercise of political democracy: it encourages a weak political culture that makes depoliticization, apathy and selfishness rational choices for the citizenry, and it permits the business and commercial interests that actually rule U.S. society to have inordinate influence over media content…. The right-wing assault on journalism and public broadcasting is not an isolated or exceptional phenomenon. It is part and parcel of a wholesale attack on all those institutions that possess some autonomy from the market and the rule of capital.
Thus, according to Prof. McChesney:
… so long as the media are in corporate hands, the task of social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible, across the board. The biggest problem facing all who challenge the prerogatives of corporate rule is that the overwhelming majority of Americans are never exposed to anything remotely close to a reasoned, coherent, consistent, democratic socialist, pro-labor, or even old-fashioned New Deal Democratic perspective. This is why, in the end, media reform is inexorably intertwined with broader social and political reform. They rise or fall together.
The present challenges facing the media were discussed at the third National Media Reform Conference in Minneapolis during 06-08 June 2008, “an event that brought together thousands of people dedicated to making America’s media system more democratic, diverse and accountable”. One of the keynote addresses were delivered by veteran journalist, Bill Moyers, a former White House Press Secretary in the Johnson Administration from 1965-67, a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award in 2006, and currently the host of a weekly public affairs series entitled Bill Moyers Journal on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). In a scathing attack on corporate media he noted that:
…our dominant media are ultimately accountable only to corporate boards whose mission is not “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for the whole body of our republic, but the aggrandizement of corporate executives and shareholders…
Referring to the war in Iraq he said:
…this Administration – with the complicity of the dominant media – conducted a political propaganda campaign, using erroneous and misleading intelligence to deceive Americans into supporting an unprovoked attack on another country… Sadly, the Fourth Estate became the Fifth Column of democracy, colluding with the powers-that-be in a “culture of deception”… that subverts the thing most necessary to freedom – the truth.
Moyers was equally appalled by the continued existence of poverty in the midst of plenty in the U.S. Expressing his concern in this regard, he said:
Extremes of wealth and poverty cannot be reconciled with a truly just society. Capitalism will breed great inequality that is destructive unless tempered by an intuition for equality which is the heart of democracy. When the state becomes the guardian of power and privilege to the neglect of justice for the people who have neither power nor privilege, you can no longer claim to have a representative government.
In Moyers view, many such critical issues escape the attention of the larger public because of media consolidation. According to him:
As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, and broadcast outlets, news organizations are folded into entertainment divisions. The “news hole” in the print media shrinks to make room for ads, celebrities, nonsense, and propaganda, and the news we need to know slips from sight.
In short, the powerful role being played by the media in shaping public opinion cannot be overstated; the more and more it goes under monopoly control, the public is likely to have less and less access to the truth!
The analysis of the claim that the U.S. is the “world’s oldest democracy” has necessitated examination of various historical aspects from the formation of USA to the role of slavery, to the fate of American Indians, to the abolition movement, to the expansion of franchise, to the disenfranchising laws, to the civil rights movement, and to the voting rights act. It also necessitated analyses of the nature of the U.S. Constitution, the iniquitous development, the role of U.S. imperialism, the onslaught on civil rights, the threat of emergence of a police state, and the nature & role of the media in the U.S. All the evidences from the analyses negate the dubious claims of the U.S. establishment regarding its commitment to “freedom” and “democracy.”
As far as the current state of electoral laws and processes are concerned, the inferences drawn by Alexander Keysser from his analysis of the history of voting rights in the U.S. are especially noteworthy. According to him:
At the opening of the twenty-first century (and the new millennium), nearly all adult citizens of the United States are legally entitled to vote…. That it took so long for universal suffrage to be achieved reflects elements of our history that fit uneasily into the official portrait of the United States as the standard bearer of democracy and representative institutions. One such element…is that the right to vote has never been formally enshrined in our nation’s constitutional order.6
The range of choices offered to the public has been kept narrow, in part through the increasing institutionalization of the two-party system: rules governing ballot access limit the ability of dissident parties to mount national campaigns…. As a result, the voices of the more privileged are heard more loudly in the halls of governance, and the ideal of democracy – that all voices be heard equally – is consistently undermined.7
In addition, the role of money in elections is enormous. Campaigns, waged largely on television, have become extraordinarily expensive, and candidates who cannot raise larger war chests are doomed to failure…. Indeed, if current trends continue, the actual casting of ballots may be in danger of becoming a pro forma ritual designed to ratify the selection of candidates who have already won the fund raising contests…. No political system can claim to be democratic without universal suffrage, but a broad franchise alone cannot guarantee to each citizen an equal voice in politics and governance. The arrangements and institutions that surround the conduct of election… all can promote or vitiate the equality of political rights…. The current debate over campaign financing and the use of soft money can be viewed as the latest battle in the two-centuries war over the democratization of politics in the United States; at the movement, antidemocratic forces are winning that battle, and in so doing, are undercutting the achievements of universal suffrage.8
Keyssar’s warning eight years ago, that “antidemocratic forces are … undercutting the achievements of universal suffrage,” appears to be almost prophetic! Ever since the ascendancy of George W. Bush as the U.S. President in January 2001, through the highly disputed and controversial presidential election of 2000,9 there has been systematic erosion of civil rights in the U.S. The concerted attempt to curtail civil rights of U.S. citizens is an indication of the panic reaction from the side of the U.S. establishment, which is scared of the broadening of franchise and of the likely increased participation of the citizens at large in the decision-making processes. The spectre of “terrorism” is a convenient excuse to clampdown on all anti-establishment protests and to ensure that the restrictions neatly remain in place throughout the never-ending war against “terror”! At the same time, the U.S. establishment is compelled to repeatedly proclaim its adherence to laudatory precepts of “freedom” and “democracy” in order to conceal not only its authoritarian pursuits but also the fact about the widening economic disparities between the elite and the mass of U.S. citizens. There was also a forlorn hope that the self-proclamation of being the “world’s oldest democracy” would somehow cover-up the sins the U.S. committed in the past and is committing in the present both at home and abroad.
The real nature of democracy in the U.S. cannot be understood without reference to the observations made by those like:
(a) Prof. Charles Beard regarding the elitist nature of the U.S. Constitution;
(b) Prof. Alexander Keyssar regarding the history of the right to vote;
(c) Prof. Henry Call, Prof. Gar Alperovitz, and the Working Group on Extreme Inequality regarding the iniquitous economic system;
(d) Journalist William Blum and Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, who have documented the misdeeds of U.S. imperialism and debunked the U.S. claim of spreading “freedom” and “democracy” abroad;
(e) Dr.Gordon Lafer regarding absence of democratic rights for nearly 88 per cent of the 138 million workforce at their work place;
(f) Prof. Walter M. Brasch and attorneys Michael Ratner & Gregory T. Nojeim, who have raised concerns about erosion of civil rights;
(g) Congressman Ron Paul, researcher Stephen Lendman, Prof. Elaine Cassel, attorney C. William Michaels, journalist Joe Conason, and writer Naomi Wolf, who had raised alarm about the dangerous drift towards a police state; and
(h) Journalist Ben Bagdikian, Prof. Edward S. Herman, Prof. Noam Chomsky, Prof. Robert W. McChesney, and journalist Bill Moyers, who have exposed the disastrous effects of media monopoly that has resulted in the discarding of objectivity, accuracy and fairness in the dissemination of information.
It is a disturbing sign that despite the Bush Administration’s frightening legacy, nearly 60 million voters, or over 45 per cent of those who cast their ballot in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, voted for the Republican Party! While the bulk of the 69 million voters, or nearly 53 per cent, who voted for Barak Obama may have cast their ballots with the ardent hope that President Bush’s authoritarian legacy would be dismantled, it is not very clear whether the Democratic Party is predisposed towards fulfilling that earnest expectation. It also remains to be seen whether Barak Obama, in his new role as President of the U.S., has the will to uphold the cause of civil rights (to which he was purportedly committed) and world peace or he would succumb to pressure and end up remaining a prisoner of his circumstances.
Hopefully, the various democratic institutions that were arduously built with determination to seek justice for all – during the long period of the abolitionist movement, the suffragette movement, the working-class movement and the civil rights movement – should be able to withstand the onslaught and succeed in dismantling the authoritarian and iniquitous structures erected before and during the hideous Bush era. Democratic right is not merely a right to vote once every few years. Fair access to nation’s material wealth; right to education, information, communication and association (including at the work place); and non-discrimination of any kind – by way of creed, language, colour, caste, region, ethnicity or gender – are all integral for nurturing a democratic society and in giving meaning to the notion of freedom.
- Also see: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade by Alfred W. McCoy, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, (Lawrence Hill Books, New York, 2003); & Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America by Peter Dale Scott, Professor of English, University of California, & Jonathan Marshall, Economics Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991). [↩]
- Walter M. Brasch, America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation Of Constitutional And Civil Rights (Peter Lang Publishing, New York, 2005). [↩]
- 13 November 2007 [CCR is the lead attorneys for those imprisoned without rights at Guantánamo for the last seven years.] [↩]
- Doug McGill, “The Fading Mystique of An Objective Press,” The McGill Report, 24 October 2004. [↩]
- Ulla Carlsson, “The Rise and Fall of NWICO [New World Information and Communication Order] – and Then?” EURICOM Colloquium, Venice, 5-7 May 2003. [↩] [↩]
- Alexander Keysser, The Right to Vote – The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, Basic Books, New York, 2000, p. 316-317. [↩]
- Keyssar, p. 320-322. [↩]
- Keyssar, p. 322-323. [↩]
- The 2004 presidential election too was disputed; in fact, there have been outright accusations of electoral fraud both during the 2000 as well as the 2004 elections. Mark Crispin Miller (Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University), in his books titled Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election (Basic Books, New York, 2005) and Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 (Ig Publishing, Brooklyn, 2008), has analysed the issue in detail. Despite attempts by sections of the judiciary, the Democratic Party and as well as the mainstream print and audio-visual media to underplay the magnitude and ramifications of the electoral fraud committed by the Republican Party, concerned citizens have tried to expose the fraud through other available means. [The need for reforms in electoral laws and electoral processes are concerns, which are still hotly debated in the U.S. One such issue is the disenfranchisement of detainees awaiting trial and ex-felons. This problem has both racial and class dimensions as well since those in the said categories are disproportionately non-whites and from the working class and the poor. The magnitude of the problem is huge considering that there are over 2 million ex-felons and nearly 1.5 felons on probation, apart from another 2 million, who are currently in prisons and jails.] [↩]