The Hightower Lowdown
John Ashcroft goes on an imperious jihad; King George throws away our Constitution; and corporate greedheads profit from censorship.
Like someone dressed up in a Superman suit, John Ashcroft wears a great big "C" on his chest ... for "Conservative."
But neither Superman nor true conservatives would go around intruding into the private lives of desperately ill people, bullying doctors, and asserting federal authority to overturn laws duly enacted by the people in various states. Yet there's Big John, stomping around like some Big Government Goon in California, Oregon, and Who-Knows-Where next.
His first attack was on the people of California, who had passed an initiative in 1996 to allow doctors, under carefully controlled situations, to prescribe medical dosages of marijuana to their horribly sick patients, mostly terminally ill cancer and AIDS patients. The marijuana helps relieve the chronic nausea and pain suffered by these people, but Big John was having none of that compassionate stuff -- he's an anti-marijuana absolutist. To enforce his ideology, he unleashed federal agents to raid state-approved medical marijuana facilities in Sacramento and L.A., seizing computers, patient's records, and the supply of plants needed to treat sick people.
A month later, John was on his ideological high horse again, charging into Oregon to overthrow that state's right-to-die law that had been passed by popular referendum. It allows patients with less than six months to live to get a lethal prescription to end their own lives painlessly and with dignity, if they're judged capable of making this choice.
No way, bellowed John, saying that his extremist, pro-life ideology overrides even death-bed suffering, personal choice, and the voice of the people. He issued an edict, declaring that he would strip the license to prescribe drugs from any doctor who provides the dosage authorized by Oregon's state law.
Shouldn't the Feds be chasing terrorists, not doctors and sick people? Ashcroft is no conservative, he's a crackpot -- a tinhorn autocrat who has mistaken totalitarianism for conservatism.
The Imperious President
It's in question whether George W. Bush is even the duly elected president of our country, yet he's now taken to strutting around Washington as King George, regally rewriting our Constitution as though its protections are mere technicalities that can be set aside whenever his Highness finds them inconvenient.
His executive order of November 13 is his latest assault on our constitutional liberties. With a flick of his royal wrist, the imperious George asserts in this order that the guarantees of due process and public trial by an impartial jury shall not apply to those accused of terrorism. Instead, he relegates these people to the dictates of a new system of military tribunals that he's setting up -- tribunals that can operate in secret, allow hearsay as "evidence," don't require proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, don't let the accused choose their own lawyers, can convict without a unanimous verdict, and don't allow appeals. They are, in a word, un-American.
The Bushites say, well, Osama bin Laden doesn't deserve constitutional protections. But Bush's star chambers are not reserved for bin Laden and his murderous thugs alone, but for all non-citizens -- 20 million of them living in the U.S. Nor are the tribunals limited to those accused of participating in terrorism, for Bush's order would round up those who might have had the most casual contact not only with an actual terrorist, but also with anyone the authorities suspect of having -- get this -- "adverse effects" on the U.S. economy or foreign policy.
Take no comfort in the claim that this is OK because it's "only foreigners" who are being deprived of these rights. A president who can get away with taking away their rights can easily flick his wrist again and include you, me, or anyone else he thinks is having "adverse effects" on his policies.
It's good to know that in the fight to extend freedom around the world, we can count on Corporate America to be right there ... hustling to make a buck by helping autocrats suppress freedom in their countries.
The latest case in point involves our high tech computer industry, which is enthusiastically helping the royal dictators of Saudi Arabia block the Saudi people's access to all Web sites that the rulers deem to be "inappropriate" -- a designation that includes any site expressing political opposition to the ruling family. The New York Times reports that, to enforce this censorship, a royal decree was issued three years ago to funnel all of the country's Internet traffic through a single control center. This center then blacklists the sites that the royals oppose, with about 7,000 sites being added to the blacklist every month.
To handle the tech side of this censorship, such U.S. software corporations as Secure Computing, Websense, N2H2, and Symantec have been courting the repressive Saudi government, trying to win the multimillion-dollar contract for blocking the Saudi people's access to the Internet. The companies are even donating engineers and discounting their prices to appease the dictatorial monarchy.
Yet, these moneygrubbers claim that they're not involved in censorship, but merely providing politically neutral tools. As a top executive of Secure Computing explained to the Times: "Once we sell them the product, we can't enforce how they use it."
Who does he think he's fooling? As a professor who monitors such blacklisting noted: "Between anti-censorship and the desire to make money ... money will win out."
Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.
The Hightower Lowdown