McCain's Urge to Surge


Asheville Citizen-Times August 21, 2008

Politicians and policy wonks love trial balloons. They can see how a new idea flies before staking reputations on it. Remember when Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz floated the possibility of legalizing torture two weeks before Thanksgiving in 2001? People dismissed it as a temporary manifestation of post-9/11 trauma. Nobody’s laughing now.

Here’s a recent trial balloon from John McCain. While speaking to the Urban League he was asked about crime control policy. McCain likened his strategy for policing high crime areas to the surge in Iraq. “You go into neighborhoods, you clamp down, provide a secure environment for the people that live there and you make sure that the known criminals are kept under control and you provide them with a stable environment and then they cooperate with law enforcement.”

Great. I wonder if occupation forces in Detroit will be as effective in managing the news as their military counterparts. Will the cops follow the military example and pay friendlies not to shoot them?

McCain’s statement was surprising, but only because of his audience. We’ve been heading toward intrusive militarized policing for decades. The LA police and J. Edgar Hoover once had to violate civil liberties on the sly. Now Congress and the judiciary may even approve.

Ten years ago, who’d have thought we’d legalize warrantless wiretapping?

Carry out indefinite detention in no-man’s land prisons?

Allow customs officers to snoop at will through our electronic devices or harrass travelers with persistently and grossly erroneous terror watch lists?  

Spend tax dollars to hire a paramilitary organization, Blackwater, to protect federal assets, not people, in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?

Restrict free speech at political conventions to wire pens?

Times change. This year, CNN seriously speculated that police in Denver and St. Paul might use ray guns on convention protesters. Undoubtedly to the disappointment of media marketers, Denver has since revealed that it will make do with pepper balls. St. Paul opted for 234 new Tasers—money that otherwise might have gone to summer youth crime-prevention programs.

There’s a bigger picture here though, one laid out in global detail by journalist Naomi Klein. Capitalism in the era of multinational corporations has changed, Klein argues. It is now in the process of attempting to gain political control of nations. Money can still buy politicians. But that kind of change is slow. People resist sacrificing freedom, living standards and government services in return for higher corporate profits.

Come a disaster, however, and a window for massive change appears. If an otherwise unpopular plan is ready to go when an economy collapses, a friendly dictator comes to power or another form of crisis strikes, bitter pills can sometimes be forced down a country’s throat while it is still in shock.

The USA PATRIOT Act is a classic domestic example. The makeover of New Orleans is another. For years, the oil companies have tried and failed to sell the idea of drilling environmentally sensitive areas. Today, they’re riding the gas crunch. Both Obama and McCain have caved. Nobody mentions that our exports of finished petroleum products jumped 31% this past year.

Overseas, the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization coerced several bankrupt nations into imposing draconian “free market” principles. The rise of socialist governments in South America is a direct result of popular opposition to corporatist policies.

If corporations are to run the world, Klein says, governments can’t be allowed to interfere with business. Regulation has to go. Public services must be minimized or privatized. And, because ordinary people don’t sit still for skyrocketing prices, higher poverty rates, and decreased government services, broad police powers become essential. According to John McCain's trial balloon these include the possibility of de facto martial law.

When a major presidential candidate suggests bringing the surge back home, he deserves to be heard and taken seriously.
—Michael Hopping
copyright © 2008 all rights reserved



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