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Suzan Mazur: It Has Happened Here

It Has Happened Here
A Book Review Of Joe Conason's "It Can Happen Here"

By Suzan Mazur

With the dismantling of security states there is generally a toppling of the symbol of the reign of terror. America’s emblem has come to be the surveillance camera, which exploded on the US landscape as the PATRIOT Act began the usurping of precious freedoms of speech, assembly, due process, legal representation, and freedom from search and seizure. Like some alien invasion cooked up by the producers of a cheap, sleazy science fiction movie, the camera suddenly allowed corporate property rights to trump an individual’s right to privacy.

So yes, not only can corporatism and a unitary presidency happen here in America, as Joe Conason argues in his book It Can Happen Here -- it has happened here -- with corporado arms merchants cheering on the Dow’s leap over 13,000 as Americans and Iraqis die in a war the people despise. Powerless so far to crush the will of that one man who hungers for victory at all costs!

Conason, a columnist for Salon, New York Observer and investigative funds director at The Nation Institute, builds his case by assembling some of the most egregious excesses of the Bush II years, among them: The war in Iraq. The arrest of anti-war protesters for failure to obey. Sneak & peek. Abu Ghraib. Gitmo. Operation TIPS. The Pentagon's domestic counterintel program, TALON.

Just prior to the one year anniversary of the PATRIOT Act, I met with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented the Guantanamo detainees. He characterized the Bush II power structure this way:
“These are not just normal Republicans. These are not just normal Democrats. These are something else. . . . We’re undergoing the most sweeping human rights violations I’ve ever seen. . . . The head of the intelligence unit of the NYPD is a former CIA guy. What does that tell you? . . . They could decide tomorrow you’re an enemy combatant and put you in a Navy brig. No lawyer. No family. Nothing. That to me is the most dangerous thing.”

What is most interesting about Conason's chronicling the process by which America's civil liberties were seized, is that he essentially also presents a blueprint in reverse for undoing the security state.

By the way, Conason defines the unitary presidency as follows:
“In a state of permanent war, according to this theory, there are virtually no limitations on a president of the United States. Whatever he does to thwart terrorism is by definition legal. There can be no effective checks on him because he and his appointees and agents determine – in absolute secrecy – whose civil rights and liberties should be abrogated.”

As part of the proof George W. Bush fancies a unitary presidency, Conason cites Executive Order 13233 signed by Bush on November 1, 2001 revoking the Presidental Records Act of 1978. Conason notes that it was US attorney general Alberto Gonzales -- now fighting for his job over the firing of eight US attorneys -- who was the drafter of that EO when he was White House counsel.

EO 13233 allows a former president or a member of their family to refuse any request for “sensitive” papers in the president’s archives. Conason says 13233 is a cover for Bush I’s “misdeeds” in Iran-Contra.

The next president should not only abolish EO 13233 but also the presidential power of Executive Order which feeds a unitary presidency.

Conason also looks at various sections of the PATRIOT Act authorizing black bag entry into a private residence and roving wiretaps. He hints that Bush's real motive in going to war may well have been to seize authoritarian control. He cites Houston Chronicle columnist and Bush family friend, Mickey Herskowitz, "summing up the Bush attitude": "Start a small war".

One of the most disturbing parts of the Conason book deals with the role of the Federalist Society, a legal group of conservatives that now rivals the American Bar Association in influence. Conason says its members are not only Bush II loyalists, they are, in fact, the “vast right-wing conspiracy”.

He describes the Society's agenda as one of “primacy of property rights” over civil liberties and human rights and the “roll back of Supreme Court precedents and government programs of the Great Society, the New Deal, and the Progressive Era”.

The Society's membership list is secret but among those Conason says have been identified as current or former members are: former independent counsel Ken Starr, former Senate Judiciary chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), former solicitor general Ted Olson, John Ashcroft’s deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo, Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

However, the bonfire of America's civil liberties cannot all be blamed on Bush II. During Bill Clinton's administration, for example, banks in Texas began thumbprinting non-account holders as if they were cattle, under an initiative by the Texas Banking Association with the full support of the FBI. This business practice was allowed to spread throughout the country, as I reported in the Financial Times in 2002.
[See… Financial Times: Suzan Mazur: THE FRONT LINE: Freedom Looks Fragile When Banks Ask For Thumbprints ]

New York Civil Liberties attorney Beth Haroules told me then she believed "fingerprinting suggests criminality" and she lamented that it had become "a national vogue".

Clinton’s teaming up with Bush I in road tours has also been unsettling, as Economics guru Catherine Austin Fitts has written: "Will the Real Economic Hitmen Please Stand Up". [See… Scoop: "Will the Real Economic Hitmen Please Stand Up" & "Tapeworm Economics: Articles & Interviews"]

And a cloud still hangs over Bill Clinton regarding the arms-for-cocaine swap in Mena, Arkansas during the Iran-Contra years when Clinton was governor. Declassification of the Bush I archives following the abolishing of EO 13233 might provide useful answers.

Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) was one of the early trackers of the Bush II presidency's seeming move to create a police state. Rep. Paul said crowd control was the government's way of dealing with the issue of fiat money, i.e., bankruptcy of the nation's treasure. Coincidentally, he wrote an article in 2004 titled: "It Can Happen Here". [ "It Can Happen Here".]

Too late for inclusion in the Conason book was the recent Supreme Court ruling banning partial birth abortion. The ruling warns us that even a women’s uterus is locked down now. Merle Hoffman, founder of Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens, New York charges:

"I consider the Supreme Court Ban on one type of abortion procedure to be an annexation of Women's Wombs by the U.S. Government and as such should be viewed by all people of conscience as an act of war against women." [ " Abortion Rights and the Roberts Court - Women Under Siege" ]

And while Conason does examine the role of Evangelical Christians in bolstering a fundamentalist and authoritarian Bush presidency, he overlooks the substantial Mormon contribution [Scoop: Suzan Mazur: "Bush and the Mormons" ]. There’s no better example of that than Utah giving George W. Bush his biggest block of votes in 2004.

With the Bush presidency now showing some signs of teetering, we will see whether the Mormon-Bush pact was made in heaven or hell, as former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bishop/Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney attempts to become the first US president with principal allegiance to the spiritual leader of the LDS church. [Scoop: Suzan Mazur: "Big Love, Romney, Bush & Mormons"]

Incidentally, it was Mitt Romney who was the point man in bringing the 2002 Olympic Games to Salt Lake City, the security arrangements for which served as a model for the Department of Homeland Security and the scourge of surveillance cameras.


Suzan Mazur's reports have appeared in the Financial Times, Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, CounterPunch, Progressive Review and Scoop, among others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Email: sznmzr @

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