By David Werner

The heavy-handed abuse of power by the US is hardly new. The US foreign policy has for some time been driven by the desire for empire, oil and the maximization of profits for multinational corporations. Toward these ends it has not hesitated to initiate illegal wars, assassinate whomever it chooses to, use terror in a carefully studied and systematized manner, deliberately insert misinformation into the press, torture its foreign prisoners (or turn them over to others for the purpose of torture) and undermine the rule of law in international affairs.

However appalling the actions of the US abroad have been, domestically the machinery of a free society has been, at least in some part, preserved. But with the passing of the Military Commissions Act on 9/28/06 the Congress of the United States put their final stamp of approval on the fascist * state that President Bush has been diligently laboring to create for some years now.

  • Our government now has unlimited powers to spy on any and all of us.

  • It can detain any of us at any time for anyreason it sees fit without justifying its acts to anyone.

  • It can place us in a secret prison.

  • In that prison it can torture us, brainwash us, subject us to the most humiliating and degrading circumstances, and kill us.

The Military Commissions Act has made the institutionalized violation of basic human rights within this country more overt and autocratic than ever before. This situation is made more ominous by the fact that Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, is currently constructing a huge facility at some secret place within the US—a facility that will have the capacity to hold tens of thousands “enemy combatants.” It must be kept in mind that an “enemy combatant” is anyone that the president or any of his appointees label as one for what ever reason they deem fit.

* The 1983 American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism as “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”

This escalating abuse of power and suppression of constitutional rights by the Bush Administration has also opened a window of opportunity for massive awareness raising and change. The blatant disrespect of the current government for the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Convention, together with the trampling of democratic principles (even to the extent of tampering with the electoral process) are now so flagrant that they provide us the very weapons we need to awaken, inform, and mobilize the public. Ironically, therefore, the task of creating a fairer, more sustainable social order is not only more urgent, but potentially easier.

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.” —Benito Mussolini

I remember visiting South Africa in 1988, during the last years before the end of apartheid. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse. The police state was becoming more and more repressive, and the violations of basic rights were more brutal and ubiquitous. I had been invited to South Africa by NAMDA (the National Alternative Medical and Dental Association) which had split off from MASA (the Medical Association of South Africa) after MASA defended the doctors who had tortured to death the antiapartheid activist Steve Biko. In those days the social progressives whom I met in NAMDA and the ANC were deeply discouraged. The harder they fought for their rights, the worse the repression.

Many felt their long struggle for a social justice and equal opportunity was hopeless. But at a national meeting of NAMDA in Cape Town, an ANC leader who had just been released after years in prison told the discouraged audience not to give up. He pointed out that the increasingly brutal repression by the state was a sign it was losing control. The cruel inequities had deepened the gap between the privileged and the oppressed to such an extreme that it took increasingly belligerent measures to maintain social control. And the harsh policing of the underclass was now becoming counterproductive, causing more and more people to rise up and resist. “So don’t lose heart,” said the speaker. He predicted that the extreme injustice of the system had set the stage for its own collapse. And of course he proved to be right. Six years later the apartheid government was ousted and replaced by the far more democratic, people-centered government of Nelson Mandela.

The situation in the USA today is in many ways quite different from South Africa during apartheid. But there are similarities. Institutionalized disinformation plays a huge role in the process of social control. Today most Americans have little understanding of what the real issues are that jeopardize their well-being and the future of their children.

As wealth concentrates in fewer hands, as social unrest, crime, and violence increase, as the prison population continues to grow, and as climate change and environmental deterioration increasingly compromise the well being of the majority, the stage is being set for the sweeping socio-political changes that are needed to set the United States—and consequently, perhaps, the world as a whole—on a more genuinely democratic and sustainable course. The big question is, how bad do things have to get before they get better?—that is to say, before enough people wake up and elect leaders who strive for the common good?

I suspect the situation in the US and globally will get pretty bad before the big awakening takes place. As I see it, the greatest dangers are environmental demise and the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the near future ecological imbalance and global warming may reach a tipping point beyond which there is no stopping it, and the planet is likely to enter into another Age of Mass Extinction. Similarly, we could trigger such a Mass Extinction through the use of nuclear weaponry.

It is urgent that all of us who are concerned for the future well-being of humanity and the planet do whatever can be done to speed the process of awakening, in order to build a truly democratic and sustainable social order.

Each of us can contribute to this awakening process. In large part it comes down to a process of information sharing and grass roots “progressive education.” Each of us who shares these crucial concerns can do something. We can talk to friends and neighbors; we can write eye-opening articles for the local paper, etc.

But such a piecemeal approach, while important, won’t change the ailing system. To have potentially larger impact, it is important that we join or help support those groups and movements that are striving to rein in the

powers that are undermining democratic process and endangering our future. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has undertaken a major initiative to oppose the Military Commissions Act, and to educate the public as to how the current government is riding roughshod over the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and our basic freedoms. Likewise the Union of Concerned Scientists is waging a major campaign against the unscrupulous way the current Administration is ignoring or denying scientific studies that confirm the perils of global warming. There are a great many other groups, movements, and coalitions of social activists and concerned persons who are working to raise public awareness about the growing abuse of power, and how it is violating our rights and endangering well-being.

In sum, we are currently at a low point in the United States in terms of social justice, equity and human rights. But this very injustice, and the hardship it causes, can be a trigger for awareness raising, solidarity, and organized action for change. For those of us who want to see the United States become truly democratic, and to become a leader in building a global community where all people’s basic needs are met and rights are respected, the time is ripe to take courageous action, individually and collectively.

Crisis can be the doorway to change.