A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR:
If History Is Prelude...
I remember seeing the movie “Z” in the early ’70s. It dramatized how the Greek Colonels dismantled their country’s democracy. I left the theater in a state of “shock and awe,” sensing that this could happen in America. After all, I was a history major and knew something of the ebb and flow of democratic traditions in a changing world where progress is not constant. More immediately frightening at that time was the realization that Richard Nixon was the President of the United States.
Apparently little known, though reported in Newsweek, Nixon actually had the Rand Corporation do a study to see what would happen if the 1972 elections were suspended. How soon would it be, I wondered, before Big Brother’s authoritarian world, prophesied by George Orwell, would come to pass?
“Z” inspired me to write a poem:
And so, thirty-one years ago, I founded the Baltimore Chronicle, and in 1989, with a group of concerned citizens, the nonprofit Baltimore News Network, which has since been publishing our companion paper, The Sentinel.
The Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel’s central mission has been to inform our readers of these threats to our liberty, as well as threats to our physical and emotional well-being.
But after three decades of editing and publishing, the time has come for some rest, and so this issue may be the last print edition of The Sentinel (see Chronicle, page 1). True to our mission, most of BNN’s financial supporters (and readers as well) have also fought so that we will not become trapped behind Orwellian dibasian walls.
Our organization will continue, as will the newspaper’s online edition (http://baltimorechronicle.com), which has developed a far larger—and farther-reaching—readership than the print edition. If sufficient funds are raised, we expect BNN to continue the print publication at a later time, hiring a staff of “younger” people. Additionally, BNN will be implementing other programs that will provide the public with an alternative, progressive voice.
So, in the matter of liberty and democracy, where does this nation stand today? In the May 19, 2003 issue of The Nation, one of America’s oldest magazines, Sheldon Wolin explained why an authoritarian government is developing in the United States :
“The increasing power of the state and the declining power of institutions intended to control it has been in the making for some time. The party system is a notorious example. The Republicans have emerged as a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority.
“As Republicans have become more ideologically intolerant, the Democrats have shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-mined constituencies to embrace centrism and footnote the end of ideology. In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party, the Democrats have smoothed the road to power to a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home. Bear in mind that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.”
We may read into Wolin’s analysis that where Nixon failed to install Big Brother and to further diminish our democracy, Bush may succeed. If indeed this turns out to be the case, isn’t it ironic that this government, with its willing hand-maiden corporations and its willing public, will have wasted trillions of dollars to “win” the Cold War, only to become like the adversary it fought: a totalitarian state.
We have failed to heed warnings. President Eisenhower, for example, warned us about the military-industrial complex. I had a college professor who warned of the dangers that would come from a marriage between science and government. Equally dangerous, I would add, is the marriage between government and business and corporations.
(Karen Charman, writing in the June 9, 2003, issue of In These Times, provides and intimate look at how this “marriage” works: “The Data Quality Act requires federal agencies to ensure the information they disseminate is accurate, and to enable interested parties—that is, industry—to challenge the information if they disagree. According to one high-ranking government official, who requested anonymity, the law—which was slipped into a 2001 appropriation bill without hearings—‘could be used to undermine any legitimate scientific effort’ that threatens corporate interests.”
In encapsulated form, here are some other examples of the relationship between business and government: U.S. Treasury ‘bailouts’ of companies; transferring the cost of pollution from the corporations to the taxpayers; allowing a few companies to control the TV and radio airwaves; lax enforcement, prosecution and sentencing of businesses and business people who violate health and safety laws in the workplace and the environment; meaningless fines and penalties for our financial institutions that manipulate and steal; and the government’s refusal to enforce antitrust laws.)
All three of these institutional marriages are eroding our democracy. They are also eroding—for most of us—our once-high standard of living. Further, if citizens continue to be ignorant of these relationships, or if those who know about them remain submissive and unquestioning, then this nation’s militarism and uber-capitalism will continue in their destructive ways. Our political, civil, and economic liberties will continue to be curtailed, and Big Brother-like quasi-totalitarianism will have its day.
News items during the month of May could be harbingers of things to come: In Hillsborough, Oregon, the public school system was forced to close one month early because it ran out of money. In Texas, the state legislature is cutting funds to buy school textbooks, also due to lack of money. Governor Ehrlich began his honeymoon with Maryland by proposing multi-million-dollar budget cuts for our public colleges next year. Here in Baltimore there is talk of substantially reducing or eliminating social studies in our public schools due to budgetary concerns.
How can we expect citizens to vote thoughtfully and be involved in government if they don’t even know what government does and how it affects them? How can we expect our citizens to to know when a war is justified (like Bush’s war on Iraq), or even to locate the countries we bomb or attack on a map? And, without a sense of history, how can people put the major events and issues of the day into perspective? How can we expect people to connect the economic dots that affect their own well-being?
There is money for textbooks and for social studies curricula. There is money for Baltimore, for Texas, and for every other state in the union. It’s just that the funds haven’t been allocated for that purpose. If our federal government cancelled just one fleet of B-2 bombers, the money freed up could be used to pay for our children’s textbooks—and for their children’s textbooks and for their children’s children’s textbooks. And there would still be money left over to hire all the social studies teachers we would need for the next hundred years!
But the costs of US militarism and corporatism transcend dollars. Our democracy is being used as collateral for Bush and Ashcroft’s USA Patriot Act. We are also paying a heavy price, in lives and in our national integrity, for the Bush administration’s foreign policy, which it prosecutes by attacking and threatening other nations while ignoring international laws and breaking signed treaties, all with the acquiescence of most of Congress and much of the public. Refusing to hold polluting corporations accountable takes a heavy toll on the environment we bequeath to future generations.
And the list goes on. If people remain silent about these and other ongoing threats, there may be no democracy left to save.
Looking for Hope
Can my dire predictions be turned around? Writing in the May 26, 2003 issue of In These Times, Susan J. Douglas offers a hopeful blueprint:
“Any successful opposition has to offer an equally broad, compelling counter-image of the future nation. And it must expose the one the Republicans are selling as fraudulent and dangerous. Many people are waiting to be enlisted in a different project, one that makes them feel noble about protecting the environment, about really, once and for all, transforming public education, about providing health care for everyone, and yes, about putting forward a humane foreign policy.
“In a classic case of history coming back to bite you in the ass, the transfer of responsibilities from the federal government to the states, championed so incessantly by Republicans, has proven to be a disaster. Schools are closing early, poor kids are being denied medical treatment, libraries are shutting down, firefighters are getting laid off, police are selling ad space on their cop cars to make ends meet. The meltdown of state budgets, now that Iraq is receding, is becoming major news. The ‘new federalism’ is a failure. Every Democrat should say so.
“Opposition leaders need to utterly ridicule Bush’s claim to be ‘compassionate.’ They need to paint a picture of America as a community very different from the let-them-eat-cake vision Team Bush is hawking.
“What passes for our national ‘common sense’ is not fixed, not even now; it is fashioned day in and day out. The successful opposition leader will need to fashion another common sense, one that combines self-interest with the desire to be noble. It is a common sense that is already out there, waiting, rustling in the bushes. We need only beckon it forward.”
Most of us who read and support BNN and The Chronicle and Sentinel desire wisdom that lives beyond our graves. I believe, if given the information and opportunity, most people are good, caring, and intelligent by nature, and that they too would rather not be silent. Give the people the tools!
Larry Krause is the publisher and founder of The Baltimore Chronicle and editor of The Sentinel.
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This story was published on June 4, 2003.