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So long, civil liberties.

President Clinton is trying to fuel his reelection campaign by setting fire to the Bill of Rights. In the last few months, the President has proposed legislation that would crack down on criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists by curtailing the civil liberties of all Americans.

Ironically, the Republican-controlled House saved us from some of the most egregious portions of Clinton's terrorism bill. The House cut provisions that would expand the wire-tapping powers of the federal government, revive guilt by association, allow for the summary deportation of suspected terrorists, and target groups in the United States suspected of raising money for terrorist activity abroad.

Now Clinton is complaining that the House "took the teeth" out of the bill. But while the President does his best to make the Congressional Republicans look like card-carrying members of the ACLU, the law Congress did pass is bad enough.

Among other things, it seriously limits the ability of prisoners on death row to appeal their cases, and creates several new categories of federal offenses punishable by death.

Clinton has advertised his avid support for the death penalty since his first Presidential campaign, when he attended the execution of Rickey Ray Rector, a mentally handicapped African-American prisoner in Arkansas. And he demonstrated his disdain for civil liberties long before the Oklahoma City bombing when he introduced his first crime bill. But the President is reaching new lows with the repressive measures he's proposing as he builds up to his next campaign. The worst example is his sudden boosterism for the war on drugs.

"Nothing better illustrates the heroic audacity of the President's attempt to run against his own first term" than the resurrection of the drug war, Paul Gigot wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

With the appointment of drug czar Barry McCaffrey, a four-star general and the first military officer ever to head the White House drug office, Clinton announced a sudden change in approach.

At the beginning of his term, Clinton gutted the White House drug-policy office, drastically reducing the number of staff positions in that office from 146 to twenty-five. Now, after appointing McCaffrey, the President has asked Congress to increase the number of drug-policy staff positions to 150.

Following his about-face on the drug policy office, the President announced he would pump $250 million over the next year into the tried-and-failed war on drugs. McCaffrey, who headed the U.S. Southern Command in Panama, assured reporters he would put the money to good use, collaborating with Pentagon military planners to devise a domestic anti-drug strategy. It's an ominous beginning.

Clinton also says that he wants to get federal agents more involved in tracking down teenage gang members who peddle drugs. "From now on the rule for residents [of housing projects] who commit crimes and peddle drugs should be: One strike and you're out," he announced.

Local housing authorities will begin holding eviction hearings for people who are accused of illegal activity, or whose guests or kids are accused of illegal activity. "Living in public housing is a privilege, not a right," Henry Cisneros declared.

As the prisons fill with nonviolent drug offenders, the President is introducing policies that will make the problem even worse. (See "The Return of Reefer Madness" by Mike Males and Faye Docuyanan, Page 26.)

"Two years after California's tough `three strikes and you're out' law went into effect, twice as many defendants have been imprisoned under the law for marijuana possession as for murder, rape, and kidnapping combined," The New York Times reports. A common quip in California is that half the state's population will soon be behind bars, and the other half will be employed as guards.

Clearly, the enormous growth in the prison population has done nothing to reduce drug abuse or crime, or the conditions that create these social ills. Instead, he crackdown breeds rampant distrust of the police, specially in black communities, where abuse and the overzealous pursuit of drug offenders are perceived as part of a concerted attack on African-American youth.

"An African-American male between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five has an 80 percent chance of encountering the criminal-justice system," Salim Muwakkil points out in a recent column for In These Times. "More black youths than ever are being exposed to jail culture."

Never mind the facts. Clinton is on a roll with his punitive policies, and he is showing an alarming lack of concern for civil rights.

Recently, the President threatened to remove a federal judge - one of his own appointees, no less - for having the gall to dismiss evidence in a drug case because it was turned up during an illegal search. In typical fashion, the President then backed down from his threat.

But the point was not lost. Clinton is struggling to demonstrate that he's as tough as any Republican. To prove it, the White House issued a challenge to Republican legislators to compare the records of Clinton's judicial appointees with those of Republican presidents. Clinton's judges have taken fewer "pro-defendant" stances than the Republican appointees, the White House boasts.

Clinton's tough-guy posturing raises the question: Who will defend our civil liberties? And his rush to sacrifice both his principles and our legal rights raises another question: Why vote for him?

American Piety

A few months ago in these pages, Barbara Kingsolver said: "Even though we're a secular state, we're deeply religious about the religion of America." This fundamentalism was recently on display in the NBA, which suspended Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets without pay. Abdul-Rauf, the NBA charged, must stand during the national anthem, or he could not play basketball.

Abdul-Rauf had staged a season-long protest against the anthem because he sees the religious fervor that underlies American patriotism as conflicting with his religion, Islam. The American flag, says Abdul-Rauf, is a "symbol of tyranny."

"This country has a long history of that," added Abdul-Rauf. "I don't think you can argue the facts. You can't be for God and for oppression."

Some of Abdul-Rauf's fellow citizens in Denver speedily communicated their adoration of the flag mixed with a nice smattering of hate.

On March 21 two Denver disc jockeys and a third man broke into the Colorado Islamic Center, blasting "The Star-Spangled Banner" on a trumpet. They did not remove their shoes. One of the participants wore a mock turban and a Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf T-shirt. When mosque members confronted them, one of the men attempted to force headphones onto a worshiper's head for a live interview.

Music and shoes are forbidden in Muslim mosques. The desecration clearly targeted Abdul-Rauf, who attends the Colorado Islamic Center. but was out of town during the break-in.

Such "pranks" send a powerful message. So do the 200 hate crimes against Muslims that followed the Oklahoma City bombing.

Alex English of the players' association made the obvious point: that the American flag should mean the freedom to dissent. "We support Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and we support the American flag, which symbolizes Mahmoud's right to precisely the action he is taking," English said.

Too often, American piety does exactly the opposite: It immobilizes dissent and bashes difference.

Don't Bless the Child

On March 20, the House voted to crack down on the children of immigrants who are here illegally. The Republicans want to rewrite everything, from scriptures to the Constitution, so that the sins of the parents fall on their offspring.

In a remarkable move, the House voted 269 to 151 to deny benefits even to children who are born in the United States if their parents are undocumented immigrants.

That's odd, since the last time we checked the fine print in the Constitution, it said anyone born here was a citizen.

The gist of the bill was to allow states to bar children of undocumented immigrants from getting a public education. The Supreme Court ruled fourteen years ago that these children were entitled to public education. But Newt Gingrich disagrees.

"Come to America for opportunity. Do not come to live off law-abiding taxpayers," he said with customary charity.

The bill aims to reduce even legal immigration by 30 percent over the next five years, and it would increase the number of Border Patrol officers. In fact, it would turn employers and schoolteachers into Border Patrol officers.

Employers would be responsible for verifying the work papers of their employees, and schoolteachers and principals would be responsible for verifying the citizenship papers of their students.

There's a cheap and sleazy effort under way to pin our economic woes on immigrants. They're not causing our decline. It's the corporations exporting our jobs and slashing our wages that are at fault.

But immigrants make an easy target. So, evidently, do their kids.

Labor Might

For a while there in March, we had a glimpse of yesterday, and perhaps a glimpse of tomorrow. We saw the power of organized labor.

Three thousand UAW members at two brake factories in Dayton, Ohio, demonstrated that labor still has the clout to bring industry to a standstill. Unfortunately, the UAW itself seemed uneasy about its own might.

During the strike, it even allowed its own members to cross the picket line, as long as they were working on non-GM parts in the Dayton factories. That's hardly the way to build solidarity.

The UAW then decided to end the strike prematurely, and on GM's terms.

After seventeen days out on strike, the UAW conceded the main issue: allowing GM to buy brake parts from non-union shops, as long as the company agrees to increase employment at Dayton. Thus GM buys off a small part of the labor movement at the expense of the rest.

This may not be the end of the story, though, since there's discontent at other UAW locals, and the UAW is gearing up for national bargaining this summer. But for the unions to prevail, they need to take their own power seriously, along with their obligation to workers around the country who may not be union members yet.

Unfortunately, even the new and improved leadership of the AFL-CIO may not be up to that task. It seems much more interested in reelecting Bill Clinton and the Democrats than in anything else. It recent announced that it was pouring $35 million into the November election races.

And what has Clinton done to deserve this? He rammed NAFTA and GATT down labor's throat, and now he tries to toss it a lozenge, blathering about the need for corporations to be good citizens - after they make all the profits they can.

Clinton's Labor Secretary Robert Reich wouldn't even appear on one of the Sunday morning shows during the GM strike, according to The Washington Post, because the White House feared it "might look like Reich was taking sides against GM," even though he had urged the strikers to settle.

There must be something better to do with that $35 million.

Free Leonard Peltier!

Native-American activist Leonard Peltier remains a political prisoner of the U.S. government.

Peltier was convicted of murder after the FBI engaged in a firefight with members of the American Indian Movement at the Pine Ridge reservation in 1975. Two FBI agents and one AIM member were killed in the firefight.

No one was ever charged with killing the AIM member, but Peltier and three others were charged in the deaths of the FBI agents. Two of the accused were acquitted on grounds of self-defense, and the charges against the third were dropped.

But the trial against Peltier proceeded, and it was a joke.

An appellate court found that witnesses lied and were coerced, evidence against Peltier was fabricated, and evidence supporting him was suppressed. Peltier has consistently maintained his innocence, and even the government concedes that there is no direct evidence against him. But still he sits behind bars.

Last December, the U.S. Parole Commission took up his latest appeal. The parole officer investigating his case actually sided with Peltier, noting his good behavior in prison, and recommending parole.

But on March 20, the Parole Board overruled that recommendation.

The reasoning was right out of a kangaroo court: "You have not given a factual, specific account of your actions at the time of the offense that is consistent with the jury's verdict of guilt," the Board wrote in its letter of denial to Peltier.

So because Peltier maintains his innocence, he can't get paroled.

By the way, the parole officer who recommended in Peltier's favor has since lost his position with the U.S Parole Commission, according to those close to the case.

And the mainstream media have all but ignored the story. The New York Times didn't cover it. The Washington Post gave it a total of forty-eight words.

Leonard Peltier's next real chance for parole is in December 2008.

Dictating Death

Enter the New York state court system these days, and you might not come out alive. Governor George Pataki wants to keep it that way even if he has to prevent elected officials from representing their constituents.

Pataki made good on his campaign promise and pushed the death penalty into law in New York in 1995.

At that time, Robert T. Johnson was running for Bronx district attorney, and he issued a statement declaring his opposition to the new law. Capital punishment was an expensive and inefficient crime deterrent, argued Johnson. And there was always the possibility that the court might sentence the wrong person to death.

Knowing his position on capital punishment, the voters in Johnson's district went ahead and elected him.

But Pataki isn't letting Johnson serve his electorate.

In late March, Pataki, who has repeatedly clashed with Johnson on the death penalty, removed him from a high-profile case against an ex-convict charged with killing a police officer.

Not only is Pataki's action unprecedented, it is undemocratic. But Pataki may have undermined his cause. His action may give the defendant, Angel Diaz, grounds to appeal, especially if Diaz receives a death sentence.

Strawberry Fields

It's strawberry season, time to eat those ruby fruits straight out of green plastic cartons, or in your cereal, or on top of vanilla ice cream, or in a shortcake or a rhubarb pie.

But the bad news is that the strawberry habit is a dangerous one. In California, the big growers spray methyl bromide onto their strawberry fields. Methyl bromide damages the brain and nervous system, and causes birth defects in animals. Sprayed as a gas, it has injured many pickers and poisoned the air in neighborhoods near treated fields.

According to a recent report, 321 California elementary schools were within one-and-a-half miles of commercial strawberry farms that used more than five tons of the stuff in 1992 alone. Some 1,600 Californians were sickened by methyl bromide that year.

Despite efforts to ban the pesticide, the strawberry growers manage to keep on using it. In 1984, California passed a law that would have banned methyl bromide in 1991, but the growers succeeded in pressuring the legislature for a five-year extension. That extension is now expiring, and guess what? The growers have persuaded the legislature to grant another extension.

At the national level, the methyl-bromide crowd has managed to prevail, with the connivance of the Clinton Administration (see "Slime Green," Page 18), so much so that the pesticide might soon be permanently exempt from the Clean Air Act.

There is an alternative to pesticide berries - and that's organically grown ones. They're more expensive, but they taste better, and they don't stain the conscience.

Crack That Whip

A letter printed in The New York Times from Peter Heimann, a quality process engineer at AT&T: "In the article about changes in management strategy at Sears ... I was especially impressed by the quotation from Anthony J. Rucci, the executive vice president for human resources and administration. A compelling place to work does not mean a nice place to work,' he said `We want people to feel some degree of anxiety, the stress of achievement-oriented people.' Mr. Rucci expresses very well the difference between a country club and an exciting, vibrant, successful organization ... such as where I am now."

Poetic Justice

From an article in The New York Times on Barbara Adams, the juror who was removed from the Whitewater case for talking to the media about her Star Trek uniform: "She wore the Star Fleet uniform on Thursday for the ninth time in nine court sessions.... The judge [removed her] for giving a TV interview about the maroon-and-black costume complete with a phaser, tricorder, and communicator badge. In the interview Wednesday with American Journal, Adams, a thirty-one-year-old print-shop supervisor, said she is a devotee of the series because it is an alternative to `mindless television.'"

Poetic Justice II

From a story in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee, on jury selection in the Whitewater case: "Risa Gayle Briggs, a fifty-four-year-old prospective juror from North Little Rock, listened intently as others in the courtroom discussed a prosecution tool and whether this tool was good for the judicial system and society as a whole. The discussion went on for several minutes before she just had to ask the question: `Are you saying "flea bargain" or "plea bargain"?' she asked the prosecutors."

Straight Home From School

An Associated Press item datelined Boston: "When a high-school teacher told her social-studies class she was a lesbian, one student was so upset she was forced to transfer to a private school, the teenager's parents claim. Jeannine and Thomas Jenei are seeking $359,571 from the town of Brookline - including $300,000 for emotional distress - saying their daughter Johanna was denied her right to a public education."

Straight Home From School II

From an Associated Press story datelined Baltimore: "Henry Holmes went to his son's day-care center thinking he'd find the boy painting or playing with blocks. Instead, he found six-year-old Gerald wearing a dress and playing house. `There he was with this long dress on that a little girl wears. One of those long white silk dresses with sequins in it,' said Holmes, who removed the boy from the day-care center. `I'm from the old school,' Holmes said. `Some six-year-old child does not need to be exposed to wearing dresses.'"

Stoners Beware

From the Statesman Journal of Salem, Oregon: "Oregon police agencies Thursday got nearly fifty tons of armor to use in their war against drugs. The Oregon National Guard rolled out two light armored vehicles ... designed to withstand attacks from almost any munitions short of missiles or rockets. They can roll through rugged, rural areas to get to marijuana fields or up to the front door of a drug house.... Deputies take advantage of infrared cameras to help detect objects in heavily forested areas during their annual marijuana-eradication expeditions."

New Vestment

Dave Phipps of Durham, North Carolina, quoted in the Chicago Tribune while attending a conference on Christian nudists: "One of the things we're trying to get across is clothes don't promote Christianity."

Sisyphus as Role Model

An Associated Press story datelined Atlanta: "Declaring that a third of the state's prisoners `ain't fit to kill,' Georgia's new prison chief said... `My goal is for the prison experience not to be a pleasant one.' ...No job is too insignificant even if it's `digging large holes or ditches, then filling them in, only to dig it up again.'"

The War at Home

An item in The Christian Science Monitor: "McDonnell Douglas Corp. repaid the Air Force $182,000 after a government audit found the defense contractor increased spare-parts prices for the huge C-17 cargo plane. For instance, the firm charged the Air Force $8,842 for a door hook the report said was worth $389. McDonnell Douglas said the increases were due to high start-up costs for the items."

Who Knew?

From an article in The New York Times quoting Robin Reed, executive director of the Museum of the Confederacy, on the museum's Confederate ball: "Reed said he was not sure why all the guests were white.... `That's the age-old question.' Martha Boltz, a fourth-generation member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said, `I don't see why pride in heritage has to be limited to one group.'"

Power to the People

A story in the Chicago Tribune datelined Trenton, New Jersey: "Angered by an animal-welfare group's attempt to prosecute a man for bashing a rat to death in his garden, the state senate unanimously voted to repeal rats' rights. It approved legislation Monday that would exclude rats and mice from protection under the state's animal-cruelty laws. `Finally, the people get a victory over the rats,' said Senator Wynona Lipman."
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Title Annotation:Pres. Clinton's stance on crime
Publication:The Progressive
Date:May 1, 1996
Previous Article:Get up, stand up.
Next Article:Nurses fight back.

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