US Democracy, Legal System Are Experiencing an Assault from Fascist Elements
Many of the most retrograde actions are being justified by the “war on terrorism,” or economic necessity. The fact that terrorism is defined by the very people who invoke it to justify removing liberties, is a signal that tyranny is afoot in the land.
The USA Patriot Act was passed in the post 9/11 haze, and Congress is only lately beginning to recognize the monster they may have created. Inasmuch as the administration will try to prolong this misnamed “war” on terrorism indefinitely, the restoration of rights and legal protections removed or suspended by this Act is not likely anytime soon.
It appears that more and more criminal cases will be removed from the domestic courts and taken to military tribunals—it really only depends on how broad one’s definition of “terrorism” is. The trend, of even more concern, is to avoid the courts altogether. From refusing the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, to arguing against civil law suits brought against foreign governments under the Alien Torts Claim Act, (for allegedly interfering with the conduct of foreign policy), it seems to be popular to demonize courts, trials, and lawyers.
Human rights as an ethic is being asked to take a back seat to the fight against terrorism. Lawyers for the government are saying such things as, “Courts are good at right and wrong, but not costs and benefits.” Another recent quote in a popular business publication was: “The current litigation-based system of compensation is inequitable, unpredictable, costly to the US taxpayer, and damaging to national security goals of this country.” It makes one feel like a real heel to be thinking of looking to the courts for justice; maybe it’s just better to duke it out on the street.
The selection of judges of questionable legal competence, but with ideological and political baggage of known biases, is another effort aimed at turning justice on its head. The judicial nominations by George Bush so far have been hard-right conservatives with a decided proclivity to rule for property rights over human rights.
If Bush remains in office for another six years, and succeeds with most of his appointees, we are headed back to the turn of the 20th century, when the robber barons ruled and before the guarantees implicit in the Bill of Rights and the 14th amendment were given life in progressive court rulings of the 20th century.
The present administration would trap us in the “tragedy of the commons.” They will gut government programs, dismantle regulations, and privatize any government function that can be done for a profit by private industry. They will follow “survival of the fittest” market-oriented doctrines that will favor money and power.
This unbridled, uncontrolled competition will consume the resources of the world, and we will all be the poorer for it, with only the few elite corporations protected by the taxpayer as corporate welfare is doled out to “team members” (read campaign mega-donors ).
Globalization has given the multi-national corporations financial power unmatched by any single national government. So far, the corporations do not have their own armies (at least not yet) but they will ally with those governments who can give them security as they roam the world in search of cheap labor and scarce natural resources. Our foreign policy will be indistinguishable from corporate policy, and will be able to justify any sort of crime (even genocide ) in the name of national security, which has become synonymous with economic security.
This is one of the reasons that oil companies like Chevron and Shell can have private security forces shoot protestors and no one is ever brought to trial. This is also why an American private contractor was targeted in the recent bombings in Saudi Arabia. Several employees of a Virginia firm that trains the Saudi National Guard were killed in that bombing. The new national security doctrine announced by President Bush will have us fight preemptive wars—and we have identified 64 nations with governments we don’t like and could get preemptive with.
By undermining courts, our government is declaring war on the concept that justice can be mutually agreed upon in argument, and that mutually beneficial behaviors can be coerced through the regulation of the commons.
To illustrate the degree of cynicism in the government’s use of the legal system, Americans are now allowed to bring suits only against the following countries: Cuba, Iran, Iraq (but not since we are running things), Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
On the private side, Hank Greenberg, the family scion in charge of the world’s largest insurance company, AIG, is leading the charge for so-called “tort reform.” Ignoring the obvious conflict of interest, Mr. Greenberg has long been opposed to any laws or regulations that would hamper “management flexibility,” as he put it in a recent speech at the 33rd annual seminar of the International Insurance Society. He expressed the opinion that Sarbanes-Oxley went “too far” in regulating corporate governance, and will have a negative effect on the economy and on business. He said that the independent directors, as required by the new regulations, have not proven to be any more effective than inside board members when it comes to the bottom line.
This is true bottom-line thinking and ignores all the other stakeholders in this gigantic enterprise. But, on the subject of tort reform (code words for “diminished rights to seek damages from corporate defenders”), he is legendary. In his own version of a coalition of the willing, he has teamed with the US Chamber of Commerce to rank the 50 states according to their legal systems and their judiciary, as to which are not favorable enough toward business. In effect, those states that might show a small bias towards consumers will be black-listed and will find fewer insurers willing to invest there. They will also work to vote judges who are “pro-trial lawyers” out of office.
The assault on the legal system, and by extension the concept of justice for those human citizens who don’t get to dodge taxes in Bermuda, is all pervasive, albeit cloaked in the mantle of free enterprise and the old adage, “What’s good for business is good for America.”
This might explain the $15 billion bailout for the airline industry after 9/11 without any proof that it was needed, and taking from the victims the right to sue. Subsequent evidence has exposed the poor security record of the airlines leading up to, and arguably contributing to, the failure to prevent the hijackings. The Pennsylvania mine disaster last year was no act of God either. Will the victims be able to sue?
The Age of McKinley is back, where are the bull moosers?
J. Russell Tyldesley writes from Catonsville, Md. 8/13/03
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This story was published on August 15, 2003.