Friday, February 1, 2008

Liberty in America

Liberty in America
By Jerome Grossman

President Bush incessantly describes America's mission as promoting freedom and democracy all over the world. Right now he is doing this in Iraq and Afghanistan at the point of the gun. Tomorrow he might turn his attention and military power to Iran and Pakistan.

However, for the past seven years, the Bush administration has done serious damage to American freedom and democracy here at home, violating the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights in a number of ways. This must stop-and the presidential campaign should begin the process.

Many of the violations have been done in the name of fighting terrorism. When the president tells us that the struggle will last for generations, American citizens must ask themselves if we are spreading freedom when we surrender our own rights and whether that surrender is effective in promoting appropriate foreign and military policies.

We are engaged in a national election that will decide national policy for at least the next four years. Yet the candidates for the highest office in the land ignore these basic questions, preferring to campaign in generalities rather than rousing the voters to protect their heritage of liberty. Where is the candidate who will challenge government encroachment of constitutional rights by demanding a rollback of the following violations? That would be authentic leadership for change breaking through the banal clich├ęs ordained by the media.

1. The government's assertion that it has the right to spy on Americans at will and without judicial oversight.

2. The government's policy of using torture while calling it harsh interrogation and later destroying the evidence.

3. The government's policy of kidnapping people and delivering them to “black site” prisons around the world where they are tortured and abused.

4. The government's policy on denying the right of habeas corpus to some individuals, locking them up for no reason and detaining them for an indefinite period without charges.

5. The government’s policy of funding religious institutions, violating the principle of separation of church and state.

6. The government's policy of going to war without a specific declaration as required by the Constitution, using instead an open-ended "authorization."

There are many other violations, some inherited from previous administrations, some thought up by the Bush administration to increase the powers of the president beyond those granted by the Constitution. We are in a crisis of our civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution but now threatened by semi-dictatorial powers put in place under the cover of a misbegotten war. As we impose our versions of freedom and democracy on other nations, we must protect them in America. The presidential candidates should take the lead but will do so only if the demand comes from the voters.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Revisiting John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Revisiting John Fitzgerald Kennedy
By Jerome Grossman

President John F. Kennedy has a special place in the hearts of Americans for many positive reasons but especially because he was assassinated in the middle of his term of office on November 22, 1963. A handsome and charismatic leader, he was a gifted orator whose speeches regularly focused on inspirational themes. He arrived at the White House with no executive experience, a factor that led him into serious difficulties early in his term.

In his campaign for election in 1960, Kennedy attacked the Eisenhower - Nixon administration from the right, accusing it of weakening American security by building too few planes, missiles and other military supplies. After taking power, Kennedy significantly increased U.S. military strength and began using it in Vietnam, increasing the number of US soldiers there from 665 to 16, 000, and sending them into combat in Vietnam for the first time.

Early in his term, Kennedy suffered a serious defeat when he allowed the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba that failed. Then he met in Vienna with Soviet Premier Khrushchev to negotiate rights to Berlin. That also failed, brought the two countries to the brink of war, and inaugurated a period of great tension and confrontation marked by the Soviet erection of the Berlin Wall.

Kennedy did have some minor successes in foreign-policy: establishing the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress in Latin America, and the Treaty Banning Nuclear Testing in the Atmosphere. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 received mixed reviews: some praised the result that avoided nuclear war, others criticized Kennedy for "brinkmanship."

On domestic matters, Kennedy offered programs for significant reform in many areas, but he was unable to negotiate them through the Democratic Congress. They were either killed or not acted upon. On the civil rights crisis, Kennedy initially asked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to cancel the 1963 March on Washington but acquiesced when it became inevitable. The Kennedy agenda was adopted by Congress under the leadership of his successor, Lyndon Johnson, who was an experienced manager and negotiator, who knew how to promote, threaten, swap and deal.

Now the powerful Kennedy family has endorsed Barack Obama for president because of his similarity in person, style, and the level of experience to the martyred president. Caroline Kennedy has written that "Obama would be a president like my father." Edward M. Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, and Ted Sorensen agree with her.

If Obama wins the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, we would hope for his success in managing this complicated country of 300 million people with so many competing interests and negotiating with other nations to protect U.S. interests. In so many ways, Obama does remind of Kennedy; appearance, charisma, eloquence, poise and the emphasis on inspiration, but especially in his lack of executive experience. There is no guarantee that any of the presidential candidates of either party will be able to inspire, lead and manage. Of these abilities the most important is to manage and the career of charismatic John F. Kennedy proves the point.


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