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COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

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TWO BY WORDSMITH MOLLY IVANS  

Subject: Ivins: The Patriotism Police
Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2001 17:19:21 -0800 (PST)
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We're grown-ups, you know Molly Ivins

by Molly Ivins

< http://web.star-telegram.com/content/fortworth/2001/11/12/columnist/1956627915.htm'template=arti cleTemplateID.htm >

AUSTIN - Say, here's an item: A group of right-wing journalists famed for their impartiality has set themselves up as the Patriotism Police. No less distinguished a crowd than Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and the folks at the New York Post editorial page and the Fox News Channel---quite a bunch of Pulitzer winners there---is now passing judgment on whether media outlets that do actual reporting are sufficiently one-sided for their taste.

With the insouciance toward fact for which he is so noted, Limbaugh erroneously reported that Peter Jennings had been highly critical of President Bush for disappearing on Sept. 11. The Dittoheads flooded ABC with complaints. (Limbaugh later corrected the error.) The bone of contention since has been over the reporting of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Been there, done that. Yes, bombing causes the deaths of innocent civilians, a fact not mitigated by referring to them as collateral damage, nor by repeated references to "pinpoint bombing"---an absurd combination of words.

By the Pentagon's own analysis, even our smart bombs often miss. Among our more memorable recent errors were hitting the Red Cross complex in Kabul (twice), the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, and the time we shot down an Iranian airliner, apparently under the impression that it was something else.

After both the Persian Gulf and the Yugoslav campaigns, analyses by the Pentagon and by independent agencies showed that bombing was significantly less accurate and less effective than we had been told. Most of us are grown-ups and do not need to be protected from this unpleasant truth by those who think it may weaken our moral fiber.

A bombing campaign in Afghanistan brings special perils, beyond what the Pentagon refers to as holding civilian casualties to "an acceptable minimum." In the first place, there's not much there to hit, and in the second place, we are up against the dismal fact that the bombing campaign could well cause the starvation of literally millions of Afghans who never did anything to us.

And if mass starvation does occur, we will lose this war against terrorism whether or not we find bin Laden, since such a tragedy would instantly create more terrorists as well as wreck the coalition. And that is why some of us think it is even more important to figure out how to get food into Afghanistan before winter hits than it is to find bin Laden. Our resolve to nail him will outlast the winter---the Afghan people may not.

The Patriotism Police are pleased that CNN is now balancing reports of civilian casualties with reminders of Sept. 11, as though the one cancels out the other. But there is a moral problem with this equivalence. The Rev. Sterling Lands of Austin put it this way: "If a man comes into my house and hurts my wife and children, he better give his heart to God, 'cause the rest of him belongs to me. But if a man comes into my house, hurts my wife and children and leaves, and then I go to his house and hurt his wife and children, that is not justice." And in this case, it's not even vengeance, because letting Afghans starve is the equivalent of going into the wrong house.

It seems to me that one obligation of citizenship is to be as well-informed as one has time to become. The more one reads about Afghanistan, the more apparent it becomes that we cannot afford to underestimate the complexity of this task. For example, the Northern Alliance folks are not the good guys; they're just a different set of bad guys. And at least two of our allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, have done more to nourish the Taliban than has bin Laden.

The crowning irony is that we helped arm the Afghans ourselves. Reducing all this to cowboy-movie black hats and white hats is a serious public disservice. The New York Times quotes Brit Hume, the Fox News anchor, as saying, "This is a conflict between the United States and murdering barbarians." Would that it were that simple.

This is a war against terrorism, a phenomenon with complex roots, including resentment over our foreign policy---some of it well-founded. There is nothing unpatriotic about facing facts. I'm so patriotic that I think Americans are smart enough and resolute enough to deal with all the complexities of a situation that is rife with them. We don't need patriotic pap---we do need all the solid information we can get. Honor to those who risk their lives getting it for us.

If it turns out that a military invasion of Afghanistan is inadvisable for either political or strategic reasons, we need to figure out other ways to go after the terrorists. "Whatever works" should be the deciding factor.  ##

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Subject: Mr Ashcroft: Less free doesn't mean safer
Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2001 17:42:59 -0800 (PST)
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Mr. Ashcroft, Let's Not Repeat Past Mistakes

By Molly Ivins

Boston Globe

November 21, 2001

WHOA! The problem is the premise. We are having one of those circular arguments about how many civil liberties we can trade away in order to make ourselves safe from terrorism, without even looking at the assumption---can we can make ourselves safer by making ourselves less free? There is no inverse relationship between freedom and security. Less of one does not lead to more of the other. People with no rights are not safe from terrorist attack.

Exactly what do we want to strike out of the US Constitution that we think would prevent terrorist attacks? Let's see, if civil liberties had been suspended before Sept. 11, would law enforcement have noticed Mohamed Atta? Would the FBI have opened an investigation of Zacarias Massoui, as Minneapolis agents wanted to do?

The CIA had several of the Sept. 11 actors on their lists of suspected terrorists. Exactly what civil liberty prevented them from doing anything about it?

In the case of a suspected terrorist, the government already had the right to search, wiretap, intercept, detain, examine computer and financial records, and do anything else it needed to do. There's a special court they go to for subpoenas and warrants. As it happens, they didn't do it. Changing the law retroactively is not going to change that. Certainly, we had a visa system that had more holes than Swiss cheese. What does that have to do with civil liberties? When we don't give an agency enough money to do its job, it doesn't get done.

As you may have heard, Immigration and Naturalization has been a bit overwhelmed in recent years. In fairness to law enforcement, it's hard to imagine how anyone could have seen this one coming. It's always easy to point the finger after the fact. It was just a damnable act. Absolutely nothing in the Constitution would have prevented us from stopping Sept. 11, so why would we want to change it? I also think we're arguing from the wrong historical analogies. Yes, during past wars civil liberties have been abrogated and the courts have even upheld this. We regret it later, but we don't seem to learn from that. But the Bush administration's rhetoric aside, we are not at war. War is when the armed forces of one country attack the armed forces of another. What we're looking at is more akin to the 19th century problem with anarchists, the terrorists of their day. And we made some memorable errors by giving in to hysteria over anarchists.

In the infamous 1886 Haymarket Square affair in Chicago, after a bomb killed seven policemen, eight labor leaders were rounded up and "tried," even though there was no evidence against them---four hanged, one suicide, three sentenced. Historians agree they were all innocent. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed in 1927, were finally exonerated by the state of Massachusetts in 1977. That outbreak of hysteria over "foreign anarchists" led to, among other abuses, a wave of arrests for DWI: "Driving While Italian." And no one was ever made safer from an anarchist bomb by the execution of innocent people. We all know other groups, from the Irish to the blacks to the Chinese, have been targeted for legal abuse over the years---all betrayals of our laws, values, and the sacrifices of generations. Let's not do it again. The counter-case was neatly put by David Blunkett, the British home secretary: "We can live in a world with airy-fairy civil liberties and believe the best in everybody---and they will destroy us." Unless, of course, we destroy ourselves first.

"Fascism" is not a word I throw around lightly, but what do you think happened in Germany in the 1930s? The US Constitution was written by men who had just been through a long, incredibly nasty war. They did not consider the Bill of Rights a frivolous luxury, to be in force only in times of peace and prosperity, put aside when the going gets tough. The Founders knew from tough going. They weren't airy-fairy guys. We put away Tim McVeigh and the terrorists who did the 1993 World Trade Center bombing without damaging the Constitution. If the laws break into some apartment full of Al Qaeda literature and plans of airports, absolutely nothing prevents them from hauling in the suspects and having a nice, cozy, cop-like chat with them. Because there's evidence. That's what they call "due process."

When there is no evidence, no grounds for suspicion, we do not hold citizens indefinitely and without legal representation. Foreign citizens have only limited rights in this country, depending on their means of entry---different for refugees, permanent residents, etc. So what's the problem?

Attorney General John Ashcroft has been so busy busting dying marijuana smokers in California and doctors in Oregon who carry out their terminal patients' wishes to die in peace, he obviously has no time to consider the Constitution. But he did swear to uphold it.  ##

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