“Medaling” with Free Speech at the Olympics

President Bush sounded just like a liberal.

Yes, you read that right. Bush. Liberal. Same sentence.

At the new U.S. embassy in Beijing on the opening day of the Olympics, he said, “All people should have the freedom to say what they think.” Without even blinking, he also told the world, while directing his comments at the Chinese, “We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful.”

The day before, in Tibet, he boldly said, “America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists.” He said he was speaking out “for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights, not to antagonize China’s leaders but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”

There was only one problem with the President’s comments. His actions the past seven years have proven he doesn’t believe what his speech writers have told him to say.

In Charleston, W. Va., at a Bush speech on July 4, 2004, non-violent protestors were handcuffed and arrested.

In Pittsburgh, a retired steelworker was arrested for carrying a sign. In Michigan, it was a student. In Hamilton, N.J., it was the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who asked the wrong question of Laura Bush.

Almost 2,000 peaceful protestors at the 2004 Republican convention in New York City were arrested and subjected to what can only be called “primitive” prison conditions for several days — until the courts threw out almost all of the arrest warrants.

As Texas governor, Bush had ordered peaceful protesters away from the governor’s mansion. As president, he directed there be zones as much as a half-mile from any Presidential cavalcade or speech for anyone protesting his policies. For those who refuse to enter into these remote and generally obscure “free-speech zones, police arrest them for trespassing or disorderly conduct, and then detain them until the President or Vice-President is out of the area and the media leave.

When challenged, law enforcement officials claim the separation is for security reasons. Persons carrying pro-administration signs are allowed to be in the line of sight to the President and Vice-President. Anyone wishing to harm the President needs only to carry a sign praising the President or not to carry one at all. By creating a protest zone hundreds of yards away, the Bush-Cheney Administration’s actions are designed not so much to protect the President as to give the political illusion of the President’s “popularity.” The media, especially the television media, focus upon the President and crowds that are carefully selected and deftly manipulated to show enthusiastic support of Bush and his policies. Because they believe the “story” is with the President, they usually ignore dissenters, especially if they’re away from the President. It gives a false picture, yet is politically clever.

Under the PATRIOT Act, Americans’ rights of privacy, including their reading habits, could be scrutinized by the FBI. Protestors — even peaceful ones — can be charged with terrorism. Dissenters are often denied the right to fly on commercial airlines. In Bush’s target have been Greenpeace and the Quakers. Like China’s leaders, America’s leaders say these restrictive measures only exist to protect the nation.

Americans are right to condemn China for its totalitarian suppression of dissent, the manipulation of free expression, and for building three “Protest Pens” in Beijing to keep protestors away from an international sporting event. Americans should also have condemned the “protest pens” at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. More important, Americans should have spent the past seven years condemning the Bush-Cheney Administration for systematic violations of six Constitutional amendments, including the First Amendment guarantees of free expression.

Walter Brasch, during a 40-year work career in mass communications, has been a member of several unions, in both the private and public sectors. He is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, and his latest Fracking Pennsylvania. He can be contacted at: walterbrasch@gmail.com. Read other articles by Walter, or visit Walter's website.

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  1. Donald Hawkins said on August 12th, 2008 at 2:02pm #

    DR. JAMES HANSEN: Yeah. And that’s another strange thing, because they don’t even admit that it’s going to the White House. You know, it goes to NASA headquarters, and then it sort of disappears for a couple weeks. And where is it? Well, it’s very often at the White House, and I mentioned that. And now, they tried not to make that known, you know? And that’s, again, something that’s very inappropriate, in my opinion. And again, it’s happened in both administrations.

    DR. JAMES HANSEN: Well, the point is that scientists should be able to give the results of their science. And this—both in the case of testimony to Congress and in science that is presented to the public through the media, it makes no sense that it should be censored by the White House before the scientist is able to speak. I mean, what is the rationale by which the White House can review and change testimony to Congress before it’s given? I mean, that’s—there’s no rationale. And our democracy assumes that the public and Congress is well informed.

    The story that I was told when I was asked, why do I have to have my testimony reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget in the White House before it’s given to Congress, and they said, “Well, your testimony needs to be consistent with the President’s budget.” I mean, it doesn’t make sense.

    it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense

  2. john andrews said on August 12th, 2008 at 10:49pm #

    But notice he said it with a smile on his face, showing that not even he missed the irony.