The New Normalcy Established During the Bush Regime

By Kenneth J. Theisen

Will this election result in significant change? Don't count on it!

Obama has won the election and tens of millions of people in the U.S. now expect significant change in the political trajectory initiated by George W. Bush. But the reality is that they will be deeply disappointed if they expect Obama and the Democrats to deliver on the promise of change.

After stealing the presidential election, Bush took office in January 2001. Very few people expected his tenure in office to result in the massive changes that have occurred

since then. But in his seven plus years, Bush has presided over the institutionalization of many fascistic policies which have become the "accepted norm." His regime has gutted major sections of the Constitution and set back the so-called "rule of law" to before the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 by King John of England.



In this creation of new norms he has been abetted by Congress (including the Democrats there), the judiciary, and by much of the mainstream media. Using the excuse that the government needed a new approach to fight the "war on terrorism" after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush regime has gotten Congress to enact new laws to "protect" us. His regime also used presidential signing statements, presidential directives, executive orders, federal regulations, court rulings, bogus legal theories about the unitary executive and commander-in-chief powers, new interpretations of current laws, executive privilege, and other tactics to expand presidential powers. Today we have an executive branch which has more powers than any previous administration. It has powers that would make past and current dictators jealous.



Perpetual war will continue under Obama



The U.S. is now engaged in two open wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; a "secret" war along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border; and military raids into Syria. This nation now expends more than $600 billion per year for its war department - more than the rest of the world combined. On top of that amount, tens of billions more are appropriated for war in "emergency" bills. U.S. troops are stationed in over 100 countries and at over 750 bases or military sites. The threat of war with Iran is also very real at this juncture in history. These wars have resulted in at least a million deaths of the residents of the countries invaded. The U.S. also provides military aid and advisors to various countries, such as Columbia and the Philippines, so that these countries can suppress their own people under the guise of fighting the "war on terror."



Obama has openly argued for escalating the war in Afghanistan for more than a year. He wants to increase the number of troops and military resources in this so-called "good" war. He has called for expanding the war against Pakistan under the guise of capturing and killing terrorists. He made no objection to the recent "raid" into Syria or previous raids there. His "withdrawal plan" in Iraq would allow for the continuation of the war there indefinitely and would allow tens of thousands of U.S. troops and contractors to remain there. Obama has refused to remove war as an option in U.S. dealings with Iran and as far back as 2004 was willing to fire missiles at Iran. The Democrat controlled congress has continued to fund all these wars and military activities. Remember in 2006, millions thought electing a Democrat-led congress would change things. In this election many have also been fooled.



Massive spying and torture



If you were one of the millions that protested these wars, you may have been subjected to government surveillance. The Pentagon created the Counter-Intelligence Field Activity Unit (CIFA) to keep track of possible "terrorist activity." CIFA created a database called TALON as a clearinghouse for raw unverified leads related to "possible acts of terrorism." When TALON was allegedly dismantled in 2007 it had data on at least 180 anti-war groups and events. In December 2005, NBC news reported the existence of a Pentagon document which indexed files on anti-war protests from the Pentagon database. The index alone was 400 pages, so imagine how much data this contained.



Today the U.S. holds more than 50,000 prisoners in the "war on terror," in hellholes ranging from Guantanamo in Cuba to Iraq and Afghanistan. In these prisons the people held there are often subject to torture as a result of memos issued by the Department of Justice and then discussed and approved in the White House by the President and his fellow war criminals. People are kidnapped by U.S. government agencies and then sent to other countries for torture in the still mainly secret rendition program. At least a hundred prisoners in U.S. custody have died as a result of their torture. Obama may close down "Gitmo" because of the damage it has done to the U.S. "reputation," but he has made no mention of closing down the other U.S. run prisons where death and torture continue.



Americans and people throughout the world are now subject to massive spy programs run by the NSA, the CIA, FBI and other "intelligence" agencies. These include data mining of personal and financial records; the surveillance of emails, phone calls, and other communications, sneak and peek burglaries into offices and homes; the issuance of National Security Letters to employers, bankers, and others to obtain information on people without any judicial oversight; and even the monitoring of the books we read at the public library. In June of this year Obama voted to allow the massive NSA spy program to continue and to give immunity to telecommunications companies for their complicity in this spying against us. Can we expect him to reverse all these spy programs once he has the powers of the presidency in his hands?



Laws passed or amended since 9/11, such as the PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act (MCA), and the Protect America Act of 2007 (PAA), the International Economic Emergency Powers Act (IEEPA), the Foreign Intelligence and Security Act (FISA) have resulted in major alterations of our civil liberties. The protections of the 4th amendment guarantee to be free from illegal search and seizures have been vitiated by the PAA and FISA which have allowed almost unchecked spying by the government. The rights to trial by jury, to an attorney, to have a speedy and public trial, to be able to cross-examine witnesses, to examine the evidence against you, to remain silent, to know the charges against you, to have your case reviewed by a court, the right to receive and review exculpatory evidence, to speak freely and unobserved with your attorney, to be free from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, etc, have been stripped from those accused of being "unlawful enemy combatants." In effect, the President can so designate you and you lose these rights.



Other laws that were in effect before 9/11 have been reinterpreted by the government to expand its power. For instance the federal Material Witness Law passed in 1984 has been regularly abused. Originally this law was passed to allow the government to hold witnesses to crimes to ensure their testimony if they were unwilling to cooperate. But the Bush regime has used it to hold those "suspected" of crimes indefinitely without forcing the government to actually charge them with crimes. At least 70 people have been held under this law. The most famous was Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. It was alleged by then Attorney General Ashcroft that Padilla was part of a plot to use dirty nukes in the U.S. He was held incommunicado for years before he was finally charged with crimes that had nothing to do with the alleged plot.



Abuse of immigrants and militarization of the borders



Immigration laws have also been abused by the government. After 9/11 at least 2,700 immigrants were locked up because they were under "suspicions or terrorism." Since the government had no real evidence of terrorism against them, they instead were held on violations of immigration laws including such major acts as failing to report a change of address to U.S. immigration bureaucrats. In the end, none of these 2,700 was convicted of terrorist crimes, but many were tortured and many deported. What was particularly a glaring abuse of rights, after federal judges ordered many of these people released the Justice Department failed to follow the order.



Mass immigration raids have now become routine. Raids at factories and workplaces have rounded up thousands of immigrants. The government has also used anti-immigrant programs such as "return to sender" to intimidate and round-up immigrants. This program is allegedly targeting "felons dangerous to the community." But when the ICE agents go looking for the "suspects" they just happen to sweep up many more immigrants other than the alleged "targets."



The Bush regime has begun a program of deputizing local police to enforce immigration laws. The Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department was pressured into writing a memo justifying this despite the existence of previous memos stating that such an action was illegal in the "absence of congressional approval."



The government is also using a new tool in the arrests of immigrants. In the past, most immigrants if captured by ICE would be deported. But now the government is charging many of the immigrants with document fraud when they have false social security cards or other false documentation. So instead of immediate deportation, immigrants are first going to federal prison and then being deported.



Your government is also killing immigrants. Barriers such as fences and walls have been erected. The government has also increased the numbers of border control agents and begun using military resources to patrol the border. During Bush's tenure, thousands have died because these measures have forced immigrants to cross the border by using trails through deserts, mountains, or other treacherous terrain. Many fail to survive the trek.



Ignoring congressional intent and oversight



The Bush administration has routinely ignored congress. This has taken many forms. Bush has used presidential signing statements more than all the previous presidents together. Signing statements are sometimes attached to legislation the president signs. Bush has attached these and stated what his interpretation of the law is, even when it is obvious his interpretation virtually ignores or contradicts the law he is signing. He has often stated he does not feel he is bound by the legislation because he views his power as commander-in-chief or as the unitary executive as paramount to the law.



The Bush regime has also refused to honor congressional subpoenas to turn over documents or to allow those in the executive branch to testify before congress. In refusing to do so, his administration usually sites either "executive privilege" or "national security" to avoid congressional oversight. Congress has done little to challenge this other than making virtually unenforceable threats. Congress has held some officials in contempt of congress or even sued the administration in civil court. But the reality is that time will run out before any officials are convicted of contempt. And if someone from the Bush regime was convicted we would quickly see Bush grant them a pardon.



Another way that the Bush regime has evaded congressional oversight is just to destroy any possible evidence. The CIA destroyed the videotapes of torture. And when congress asked for White House emails in different investigations, the administration had to admit that millions of emails were deleted and could not be given to the investigators as a result. The destruction of the emails was a clear violation of the Presidential Records Act which mandates that such records be kept. The White House also evaded this law by doing much of its email business on email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee which also destroyed the emails.



You may be on a list in the "war on terror"



The Bush administration has created many lists with the names of tens of millions of people as a direct result of the so-called "war on terror." These lists include a "no-fly list" and a "selectee list" which contain names of people who are not allowed to fly on a plane or that should be subject to extra scrutiny before they fly. These two lists contain one million names according to the ACLU. Of course these are only lists of "supposed terrorist suspects." But until July 2008 the list contained the name of Nelson Mandela. Those stopped at airports because of the list have included Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman and civil rights leader, John Lewis. My favorite "terrorist" who was stopped at the airport was David Nelson from the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. (Since Ozzie never seemed to work, it was obvious he must have been a terrorist and he must have raised David to follow in his footsteps.)



One of the biggest lists is that containing the names of tens of millions of people who have crossed the U.S. border. Those who have crossed any of the U.S. borders are now regularly subject to terrorist profiling. They are assigned a terrorist risk profile. Do you know what your terrorist risk assessment is? Your government knows.



Since the recent financial crisis we have heard that one of the reasons for the crisis is the lack of government oversight. But the government has been exercising oversight in the financial sector when it comes to the "war on terror." It has lists of suspected terrorist financers. These have included many charities, especially those funding charitable activities in the Middle East or in Islamic countries. Under Executive Order 13224 the Treasury Department was given the power to shut down businesses and charities "suspected" of terrorist ties. Many such charities in the U.S. were put out of business, without proof of such ties.



The government also has routinely created lists of those who financial records may be of interest to it. It spied on financial transactions both in the NSA spy program and through the issuance of National Security Letters which force financial institutions to turn over records to the FBI. But one of the least reported spy programs was done through SWIFT. SWIFT is the banking consortium located in Brussels, Belgium which routes most of the world's financial business. Each day it handles six trillion dollars of transactions between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges, and other financial institutions. The information obtained for these transactions includes addresses, phone numbers, the names of the receivers and senders, purpose of the transactions, passport information and much more. After 9/11 SWIFT began to share all this information with the U.S. government. When this was exposed in 2006 the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the media for exposing the program. The SWIFT exchange of information with your government continues.



God will be helping you after the government goes broke



The Bush administration made a big deal over the last several years of creating government and religious partnerships in what it called "faith-based initiatives." In theory this was supposed to support religious institutions in helping Americans. What it often meant in practice was the institutionalization of Christian fascism and attacks on women's rights, such as the right to decide whether she should or should not have a child. Instead of sex education or information on birth control, it resulted in so-called abstinence programs and virginity pledges funded by your government. It allowed religious institutions to discriminate in their hiring practices against people who were not of the "right" faith, even when the program was paid for by the government. It encouraged government funded religious programs to substitute their work for government programs for the poor.



Now as the government will be cutting back on social programs due to the financial crisis, we hear from Obama that he will expand these faith-based initiatives. So as the government erases its already inadequate safety net we will be expected to fund the religious right to do what the government will not do. Some on the extreme right have called for starving government so that it could no longer provide social services. With the help of the Bush regime they have gone a long way in accomplishing their goal. Now with faith-based initiatives they can pretend they still care for the poor, while at the same time indoctrinating the public with their religious views.



The way forward will not be led by your government



I have just mentioned a few of the activities of your government that have now become the new norm. There are many others. By all indications, it seems certain that an Obama administration will continue them. Maybe his administration will make minor adjustments or even halt a program or two that is not working in the interests of those who rule.


If you are content to have your government engage in continuous wars for empire, subject its prisoners in these wars to torture, and to strip them of all human and legal rights then you do not have to do anything. But if you oppose massive spying, the creation of lists of people to oppress and suppress, the attacks on immigrants, women and youth by religious fascists and all the other depredations that have been institutionalized, then you must join millions of others in your opposition. It will take millions of people to mobilize against what your government has done and will continue to do unless we stop it. We can not change the fascist trajectory of the Bush regime by elections. It did not stop with the election of 2006 and will not be halted by the 2008 elections. Only masses in the streets demanding the halt to all the crimes committed in our name will make the difference. What are you waiting for?