Viewpoint: War masks crackdown on dissident views

Public attention has mainly been focused on the Lebanon-Israel conflict in recent days, a fact that has conveniently and effectively removed developments in the Jack Abramoff scandal from the corporate news front pages.

There were some rather strange goings-on in Georgia that appear to be part of an underlying pattern aimed at further suppressing dissent and criticism of the George W. Bush administration.

Former Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed, a major operative in Bush’s 2004 campaign, was soundly defeated in a primary battle for lieutenant governor of the Peach Tree State. Republican state Sen. Casey Cagle “whupped” Reed by a margin of 12 percent.

The White House crowd was startled that Reed, with his money-raising ability and his notoriety, could be so soundly defeated. It is believed that exposure of his financial links to Abramoff is mainly what defeated him.

Syndicated columnist Marianne Means observed: “The Washington lobbying scandal—the climate of corruption, the Democrats call it—had ensnared another pious GOP moralist. Reed’s public persona nickname was ‘reverend,’ but his private Christian insider nickname was ‘Ralph Greed.’”

Reed became GOP state chairman in Georgia after leaving the Christian Coalition. Means said the Coalition was one of the most powerful political groups in the country, with 1.9 million members, 1,500 chapters and a budget of $20 million. The Republican Party seemed all-powerful in that state, but that was before his ties to Abramoff became public knowledge.

Reed had moralized against casino gambling in Georgia. Then, voters learned he had worked closely with Abramoff to block certain Indian gambling interests in favor of others. It came out the money he got from Abramoff had come from Indian casino operations that Abramoff represented.

According to Means, Reed accepted $5.3 million from Abramoff for his lobbying efforts on behalf of two Indian tribes. Abramoff since has pleaded guilty to three felony counts and is reportedly working with federal prosecutors looking for more people involved in the scandal.

At the other end of the scale, Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney failed to garner 50 percent of the votes in the recent primary and has been forced into an Aug. 8 runoff against her opponent, Hank Johnson, an Atlanta-area commissioner.

On her Web site on primary day, McKinney’s team reported: “One persistent problem with the Diebold electronic voting machines is their tendency to cast votes against the intentions of the voter. The voting day in Cynthia McKinney’s primary began with voters complaining that their votes for McKinney weren’t being cast for her, but instead for her opponent. Interesting, no complaints have been lodged that this is happening in reverse—that is, that the computers are registering McKinney votes intended for any one of her opponents.

“Team McKinney lawyers have affidavits from voters with complaints that they intended to vote for McKinney but that the machine switched their vote to one of her opponents. Other complaints involve staff insufficiently trained on the Diebold electronic pollbooks, thereby delaying voting, thus causing some people to have to leave for work. Voting times have been extended in some precincts due to official election staff admitting that they did not know how to work the machines.”

Reed’s defeat was simply the unmasking of a corrupt “reverend” in the Bible Belt, something that doesn’t fly there anytime. The pounding McKinney took and is taking, including another influx of out-of-state GOP dollars to her opponent, is focused on one thing—McKinney’s outspoken dissent of many policies of the Bush administration.

Suppressing dissent is what much of this is about. As the mid-term elections draw nearer, the Bush administration is stepping up efforts to silence opposing views.

The San Francisco Chronicle, in a column labeled “SF Gate,” detailed several instances of Bush/Karl Rove tactics to keep other views from being heard. One was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where two school teachers showed up at a campaign rally headlined by President Bush.

The Chronicle reported one teacher had a Kerry-Edwards button pinned to her shirt, and her fellow teacher carried a sign saying “No More War.” As a result, the paper said, the two women wound up handcuffed and forced to endure a strip search at the county jail.

The Chronicle quoted one of the teachers, Christine Nelson: “Because I had a dissenting opinion, they did what they needed to do to get me out of the way. I tell my students all the time about how people came to this country for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, that those rights and others are sacred. And all along I’ve been thinking to myself, ‘not at least during this administration.’”

Authorities said the two teachers were arrested because they would not obey reasonable security restrictions. But this kind of thing is quite familiar to those who are paying attention.

In the run-up to the 2004 elections, many, many people across the country were ejected from or arrested at Bush rallies for various reasons: heckling the president, holding signs or wearing clothing expressing opposition to the Iraq war and Bush’s policies.

Much the same things have taken place at official, taxpayer-financed presidential visits both before and after the election. Some individuals were escorted from the event by security personnel, and others were arrested and charged with misdemeanors that later were dropped by local authorities.

July 4, 2004, Jeff Rank and his wife, Nicole, attended a presidential appearance at the state capital in Charleston. They had free tickets to hear the president speak, according to the Chronicle article, but were arrested because they were wearing anti-Bush T-shirts.

The paper quoted Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU in West Virginia: “It’s nothing more than an attempt by the president and his staff to suppress free speech.”

But dissenters are beginning to strike back. The Ranks filed a lawsuit after they were ejected from the rally and charged with trespassing. It is a trend that is spreading across the nation.

The two teachers in Cedar Rapids are suing three Secret Service agents, according to the article, accusing them of violating their rights to free speech, assembly and equal protection. The Secret Service is making no comment, but Justice Department lawyers are trying to defend their actions. The White House also is silent.

Bush is not the first president to try to silence dissenters. Clinton did it, and so did George H. Bush. Cary Covington, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, told the Chronicle: “In my mind, it all started with Nixon. He was the first presidential candidate to really make an effort to control his image and disrupt public interruption at events.”

This president, however, has gone beyond his predecessors. He is taking measures reminiscent of those employed by fascist governments in Germany of the 1930s and in Franco’s Spain.

Americans must join together and fight back against this attempt to impose totalitarian mind control. Free speech is the right of every American.

From the July 26-Aug. 1, 2006, issue

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