May 31, 2007

How World Trade Organization Services Negotiations Threaten to Undermine Higher Education in the United States

Higher Education:
Public Good or Global Service Industry?

While higher education was considered a public good and an essential instrument of democratization, upward mobility, and equal opportunity for much of the last century, today it is considered by many to be a lucrative business − indeed, the core business of the “new” service economy.

Major corporations see global “trade in educational services” – “transnational” or “borderless” education – as a lucrative business opportunity. While currently estimated to be a $40-$50 billion industry, the potential for increased profitability in a “global market” of higher education services is significant. For-profit educational providers and investors see the World Trade Organization (WTO) as an essential tool to dismantle “barriers to trade” in educational services and maximize their profit-making opportunities on a global scale.

However, what one party might consider to be a “barrier to trade,” another might consider a treasured educational policy. For instance, state licensing procedures that attempt to weed out fly-by-night operations might be considered sound policy domestically, but might be considered overly burdensome “trade barriers” by foreign educational providers attempting to enter the U.S. market. To create an effective “global market” in higher education services requires the dismantling of many such domestic educational policies.

Thus, at the behest of U.S. for-profit higher education providers, the Bush administration has proposed signing up the U.S. higher education sector to the free trade rules contained in the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), a global pact geared towards deregulating service sectors to the advantage of multinational firms. The GATS contains many rules which would jeopardize the following: educational subsidies for public institutions; state licensing practices for higher education institutions; U.S. accreditation practices; wages and working conditions for U.S. educators; and more.

For the most part, public and nonprofit institutions of higher education have been unaware that this march is afoot and are dangerously disengaged. They must weigh in on these matters before global trade rules are finalized in any potential new rounds of negotiations, and their profession is transformed from a “public good” to a commodity in a “global services market.”

What other services are implicated by the GATS?

Public Citizen recently developed a new Online GATS Directory (click on link to learn more) to help you understand the implications of service sectors being signed up to WTO jurisdiction under the GATS. Many of these sectors are regulated by states, but states are not being consulted before their regulatory authority is undermined.

“We have very serious reservations about whether this is in the best interest of U.S. colleges and universities. The issue was complicated by the fact that the USTR proposal went to the WTO without being seen by the major representatives of the higher education community.”

--Council of Higher Education Accreditation, 2001

“I write to request that you carve Maine out of new service offers you are proposing in the context of the current Doha Round of negotiations…Your proposal to offer higher education to the constraints of the GATS is particularly alarming…This sector is simply too important to subject to broad and poorly worded GATS rules which are subject to various interpretations by WTO tribunals.”
--John Baldacci, Governor of Maine to USTR, 2006

What Higher Education Policies are at Risk?

Domestic educational subsidies: The GATS “nondiscrimination” obligation means that public sector funding would have to be shared on an equal basis between foreign institutions and domestic institutions unless public funds are specifically exempted from the terms of the agreement. The United States has attempted to safeguard certain domestic subsidies in broadly worded exemption to its higher education proposal. It is unclear if this language is sufficient to protect subsidies for public and nonprofit institutions.

U.S. accreditation policies: Unlike many other countries interested in the higher education sector, the United States is making virtually unlimited commitments in cross-border educational services. This means U.S. accrediting bodies could be inundated with requests to accredit overseas distance-learning operations. Refusals to accredit or delays in accreditation could give rise to a trade complaint, as language purporting to protect accreditation jurisdiction is only included in a footnote, of dubious legal consequence, to the U.S. schedule.

State licensing requirements: State licensing of higher education institutions is based on a large number of factors including standards to ensure financial stability and quality of educational providers; appropriate curricula; faculty qualifications; appropriate library resources and physical plant; needs tests to weed out duplicative programming; and other matters. Under new “disciplines on domestic regulation” being proposed as part of these talks, individual policies pursued by states as well as state-by-state variation in policies could be challenged in WTO tribunals as “more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of a service.”

Efforts to police fraudulent operations: While “borderless higher education” presents new profit-making opportunities for for-profit providers, the challenges presented to regulators are extreme. At the top of the list are concerns about fraud. While policing fraudulent institutions is difficult enough domestically, it is even more difficult across borders or in the online world. Many of the policies that U.S. states maintain or may want to pursue to protect students from scam artists could be considered violations of GATS rules.

Wages and working conditions for educators: The implications of the GATS for educators are also worrisome. New technology combined with unfettered cross-border supply of educational services is likely to generate further downward pressure on wages for educators. GATS negotiations also include proposals to increase the number of educators allowed into the United States on a temporary basis to provide teaching services and proposals to harmonize qualification requirements across borders.

What happens if higher education is subject to WTO jurisdiction?

• Other nations that are party to the GATS are empowered to challenge a nonconforming federal and state policy as a violation of the agreement in a binding dispute resolution system.
• State government officials have no standing before these tribunals and thus must rely on the federal government to defend a policy.
• The tribunals are staffed by trade officials who are empowered to judge, behind closed doors, if the policy is a violation.
• Policies judged to violate the rules must be changed, or trade sanctions can be imposed.
• The federal government is obliged to use all constitutionally available powers – for instance, preemptive legislation, lawsuits and cutting off funding – to force state and local government compliance with trade tribunal rulings.


• Challenge your university, student group or education union to take a position on the U.S. proposal to place higher education under WTO jurisdiction.
• Write directly to the U.S.
Trade Representative and your congressional representatives, and request that higher education not be included under the terms of the GATS.

Click here for more information from the Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

or write

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch: Saerom Park at 202.454.5127


Click here to email the organization and be part of the solution.

May 30, 2007

Thank You, Cindy!

A Letter of Thanks to Cindy Sheehan
from Leslie Cagan of UFP&J to Cindy Sheehan
on News of Her
Withdrawal from the Anti-War Movement

Mark Your Calendars for June 22-24--It's Our Turn

May 30th, 2007

It was with great surprise that we read Cindy Sheehan’s message about her decision to pull back from her activism in the antiwar movement. Surprise, because we know how deep her commitment is to this struggle, and because we know how much of herself she has poured into this work.

At the same time, we were not surprised that she needed a break. Cindy, like many of us, has been working to end the war in Iraq for many years. But like very few, she put most of the rest of her life on hold as she tirelessly traveled the country, spoke to groups large and small, marched and rallied and lobbied and participated in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, did media interviews and so much more every single day. And we cannot forget for one moment that all of this was done not only as someone opposed to an unjust and immoral war but also as a grieving mother, a parent whose son was senselessly killed in a war that never should have happened, a war that has taken so many Iraqi and U.S. lives. Her clarity and her energy helped to inspire others to activism, people who also lost loved ones in Iraq and much wider circles of people as well.

We are saddened by Cindy's decision, even though we respect it and know she is doing what is right for her and her family.

But what is most sad is how long this deadly, costly, outrageous war has gone on. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead and their nation is in ruins. More than 3,400 U.S. servicepeople are dead, and tens of thousands will live with debilitating wounds for the rest of their lives. Our national treasury has been robbed of over $400,000,000,000 and now Congress has agreed to give Bush another $96 billion for this war and occupation. What we are most sad and angry about is how stubborn the so-called leadership in Washington is and how hard it is to end this war.

However, we are inspired when we think about Cindy's work and the journey she has been on. Her ability to turn personal grief into public action for the greater good should serve as a model for others. What Cindy did was a reminder that the actions we take as individuals do make a difference, and that the impact of those actions is amplified when we join with others. Cindy’s individual contribution has been enormous, but she was part of a much larger movement. Without that movement, her presence in Crawford, TX, would not have resonated the way it did. Without that movement, her ongoing activism would not have had its power or ability to reach so many others. And that's a critically important lesson for us all: We each must find our voice and take the action that's most appropriate for us as individuals – and inspire others to do so as well -- that is how we make the strongest contribution toward the growth of our movement.

Our movement also needs to take this moment to reflect on how we support one another. We have taken on an extremely difficult challenge: We seek to change the policies of the largest, most deadly military force in human history. We are confronting the economic, cultural and social power of the rulers of this nation, and we are demanding profound changes. Doing this work takes a toll on us, and yet we push forward. There are differences among us and there always will be. The goal shouldn’t necessarily be to eradicate those differences but rather to find new, constructive ways to deal with them. We’re going to need every ally and every tool in the toolbox -- and probably some others that haven’t been dreamed up yet -- to end this war!

We thank Cindy for all that she has done, and wish her well in regaining her strength. And we take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to the hard work ahead -- the work of building and strengthening our movement and the work of ending the war and bringing all the troops home!

We look forward to taking this mandate into our upcoming National Assembly in Chicago. Hundreds of delegates from UFPJ’s member groups around the country will gather June 22-24 to discuss the next stage of our work. Keep an eye out for updates -- together we will end this war!

Yours, for peace and justice,


Leslie Cagan, UFPJ National Coordinator

Most Americans favor changing or abolishing NCLB

Nearly two-thirds of Americans want Congress to re-write or outright abolish the federal No Child Left Behind Act that isup for reauthorization by Congress, according to a survey by the Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

The survey found that the more people know about the law, the more they don't like it. According to a survey conducted by the Scripps Howard News Service from May 6-27, 2007, "Well-educated people, especially college graduates and those who've attended post-graduate schooling, are especially likely to call for changes to the law. People who have public school children at home are somewhat more likely to want the law altered or abolished than are people who don't currently have children in school."

The survey specifics: 23 percent of the 1,010 respondents said they want the law renewed in its current form; 14 percent want it abolished; and 49 percent want it amended. When you add those numbers together, 63 percent want the law abolished or amended.

Only about a third of those surveyed said they think the law has had a positive influence on public education. Slightly less than half said it has had a negative impact, while a fifth were undecided.

May 29, 2007

Missouri high court grants bargaining rights to public employees

Independence-National Education Association v.
Independence School District, SC87980.

29 May 2007
Associated Press Newswires

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Overturning a 60-year legal precedent, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that teachers and other public employees have a constitutional right to engage in collective bargaining with their government employers.

Although governments aren't bound to reach work agreements with labor unions, once they do, they cannot simply back out of the contracts, the Supreme Court said.

Click here for background information on this historic case for our fellow NEA members from Missouri.

The court's 5-2 ruling overturned a 1947 Supreme Court decision that had construed a constitutional right to collective bargaining to apply only to private-sector employees. The court, by a unanimous decision, also overturned a 1982 decision that governments were free to disregard agreements made with employee unions.

The decision came in a labor dispute involving the Independence School District. But representatives for teachers' unions and school boards agreed it will have much broader implications.

Missouri has 68,500 teachers in 524 public school districts who could more effectively band together in unions to negotiate salaries, benefits and workplace rights with local school boards. All told, Missouri has more than 390,000 public-sector employees to whom the ruling could grant expanded collective bargaining powers, according to figures from the Department of Economic Development.

Missouri NEA President Greg Jung—5th grade teacher on leave from Ritenour School District was elated by the decision in his public statement.

"What this decision does basically is lift the ban on collective bargaining for public employees," said Greg Jung, a fifth-grade teacher on leave from the Ritenour School District to serve as president of the union. "We believe it will result in a better school environment for our children."
MNEA which represents about 33,000 teachers and school employees, praised the ruling as a "historic decision." Click on this link for the MNEA's Press Release on this victory for the state's 68,000 teachers.

Some school administrators, however, fear collective bargaining could drive up costs for salaries and benefits, potentially leaving less money for the classroom.

"This ruling has the potential to have drastic and expensive consequences for school districts and other public entities," said Brent Ghan, a spokesman for Missouri School Boards' Association.

Republican Gov. Matt Blunt decried it as "a terrible ruling" and "reckless decision" that could force cities and school districts to raise taxes and open the door to the threat of strikes by public-sector employees.

"This is yet another example of judicial activism, where a court's action oversteps the bounds of prudent constitutional interpretation," Blunt said in a written statement.

The 1945 Missouri Constitution, under a heading of "organized labor and collective bargaining," states: "That employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing."

In a 1947 case, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that provision "can only be construed to apply to employees in the private sector."

But Chief Justice Michael Wolff, writing for the majority, specifically overruled that decision Tuesday, saying it contradicted the plain language of the constitution.

"`Employees' plainly means employees," Wolff wrote. "There is no adjective; there are no words that limit `employees' to private sector employees."

Joining Wolff were judges Laura Denvir Stith, Richard Teitelman, Mary Russell and Ronnie White -- all appointed by Democratic governors.

Judges William Ray Price Jr. and Stephen Limbaugh Jr. -- both appointed by Republican governors -- dissented in overturning the 1947 precedent, though they agreed the Independence School District took inappropriate actions in 2002 in dealing with its employee associations.

They also agreed that a 1982 decision allowing governmental bodies to negate labor agreements anytime they desire to do so should be overruled.

Price cast doubt on whether the majority decision will have the far-reaching consequences envisioned by public officials and unions. He said it does not define what is meant by collective bargaining.

"The majority does not appear to have given public employees anything more than the rights public employees already enjoy to meet and confer and to choose their own representative," Price wrote.

Most school districts already meet with teachers' associations on a limited basis, primarily about salaries, said Duane Martin, an attorney for the Independence district and a part of the Doster Mickes James Ullom Benson & Guest LLC law firm, which represents 318 Missouri school districts.

The Supreme Court ruling likely will expand the scope of those negotiations, both in the topics discussed and the manner in which school officials negotiate, Martin said.

Sally Barker, a member of the Schuchat Cook & Werner law firm, which that represents the Missouri NEA, said "the decision puts the meat on meet and confer" requirements for governments.

"However, no one should leap to the conclusion that it will cost the citizens of the state of Missouri any more money in terms of salary and benefits for public employees than they are paying today," Barker said. "Because every public entity has the right to say no if a proposal is not in the public interest."

At least two-thirds of states already grant public employees collective bargaining rights, Barker said.


Case is Independence-National Education Association v. Independence School District, SC87980.


On the Net:

Supreme Court:

Student Privacy Protection Act’ Would Require Parental Permission to Release Children’s Data to Recruiters

Student Privacy Protection Act’ Would Require Parental Permission to Release Children’s Data to Recruiters H.R. 1

Washington, , – Today, Representative Michael M. Honda (CA – 15), introduced the Student Privacy Protection Act (formerly H.R. 551, 109th Congress). The measure, an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), would direct local educational agencies to release secondary school student information to military recruiters only if a student's parent provides written consent. Currently, parents wishing to keep children’s information private must opt-out of NCLB’s military recruitment provision; but many school districts have not made parents aware of this option. This measure would ensure that student information remains private unless parents proactively opt-in. The bill will be referred to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, chaired by Rep. George Miller (CA – 7), an original cosponsor of the legislation

Honda announced the bill’s introduction at a joint press conference with National Education Association (NEA) President Reg Weaver. NEA is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, school administrators, and other educational professionals.

“The right to privacy is one of The rig’s bedrock principles. No one, particularly our youth, should have to ask for this right,” Honda said. “But, as a former high school teacher and principal, I am concerned that parents’ and children’s privacy is being compromised.

“My constituents brought this matter to my attention expressing frustration that their children were persistently being contacted at home by military recruiters. They wanted to know how the military gained access to their personal contact information without their consent,” Honda added, concluding, “I have the greatest respect for Americans who choose to enter the military, as well as for those in the armed forces who engage in the recruiting process. Those efforts, however, should respect the privacy rights of children and their families.”
NEA President Weaver stated, “I want to be clear that NEA believes high school students should have open access to information about a wide variety of career opportunities—including the military. But no high school student’s records should be released for recruiting purposes against the wishes of the student and his or her family.”

The Student Privacy Protection Act has the support of the National Education Association, the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), 37 Congressional cosponsors and thousands of Americans who have signed on as citizen cosponsors.

Click here for full text of the Student Privacy Protection Act.

Cindy Sheehan Resigns as "Face" of the Anti-War Movment: from the Sheehan Diary on Memorial Day

"Good Riddance Attention Whore"
by Cindy Sheehan
from Daily Kos

Cindy Sheehan's Answers to Nora O'Donnell

Mon May 28, 2007 at 09:57:01 AM PDT

I have endured a lot of smear and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called "Face" of the American anti-war movement. Especially since I renounced any tie I have remaining with the Democratic Party, I have been further trashed on such "liberal blogs" as the Democratic Underground. Being called an "attention whore" and being told "good riddance" are some of the more milder rebukes.

CindySheehan's diary :: ::

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our "two-party" system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."

I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don’t see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person’s heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?

I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an "attention whore" then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a "grateful" country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey’s brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won’t work with that group; he won’t attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.

Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people. However, in five, ten, or fifteen years, our troops will come limping home in another abject defeat and ten or twenty years from then, our children’s children will be seeing their loved ones die for no reason, because their grandparents also bought into this corrupt system. George Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity.

I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.

Camp Casey has served its purpose. It’s for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford , Texas ? I will consider any reasonable offer. I hear George Bush will be moving out soon, too...which makes the property even more valuable.

This is my resignation letter as the "face" of the American anti-war movement. This is not my "Checkers" moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources.

Good-bye America are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.

It’s up to you now.

May 12, 2007

An Open Letter to First Lady Laura Bush

Award Winning Poet, Sharon Olds, Declines White House Invitation in Protest of the War in Iraq

Here is an open letter from the poet Sharon Olds to Laura Bush declining the invitation to read and speak at the National Book
Critics Circle Award in Washington, Sharon Olds is one of most
widely read and critically acclaimed poets living in America today.

Read to the end of the letter to experience her restrained, chilling eloquence. Following the letter is a biography of Ms. Olds.

Laura Bush First Lady, The White House

Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or
the breakfast at the White House. In one way, it's a very appealing
invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000
people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is
exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire
that poetry serve its constituents--all of us who need the pleasure,
and the inner and outer news, it delivers.

And the concept of a community of readers and writers has long
been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the
graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a
part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our
students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a
variety of settings: a women's prison, several New York City public
high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at
a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has
been running now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting
friendships between young MFA candidates and their students--long-
term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage and
wisdom, become our teachers.

When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost
nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart,
letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the
passion and essentialness of writing.

When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a
writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the
eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until
you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of
the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts
her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a
fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self- expression,
accuracy, honesty and wit--and the importance of writing, which
celebrates the value of each person's unique story and song.

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me.
I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an
outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign
some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington , DC . I
thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with
respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have
invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade
another culture and another country--with the resultant loss of life
and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their
home terrain--did not come out of our democracy but was instead a
decision made "at the top" and forced on the people by distorted
language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have
begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism--the
opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to
bear witness--as an American who loves her country and its
principles and its writing--against this undeclared and devastating
war. But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I
knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I
were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the
Bush Administration. What kept coming to the fore of my mind was
that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who
represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills
its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary
rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be
tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country
now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds
and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining
knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.


Sharon Olds


Born in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds earned a B.A. at Stanford University and a Ph.D. at Columbia University.

Her first collection of poems, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Olds's following collection, The Dead & the Living (1983), received the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1983 and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Her other collections include Strike Sparks: Selected Poems (2004, Knopf), The Unswept Room (2002), Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), The Gold Cell (1997), The Wellspring (1995), and The Father (1992), which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

About Olds's poetry, one reviewer for the New York Times said, "Her work has a robust sensuality, a delight in the physical that is almost Whitmanesque. She has made the minutiae of a woman's everyday life as valid a subject for poetry as the grand abstract themes that have preoccupied other poets."

Olds's numerous honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Ploughshares, and has been anthologized in more than a hundred collections.

Olds held the position of New York State Poet from 1998 to 2000. She currently teaches poetry workshops at New York University's Graduate Creative Writing Program as well as a workshop at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York. She was elected an Academy Chancellor in 2006. She lives in New York City.

Chiapas Summer: Alternative Travel for People-of-Conscience

Alternative travel experiences for people-of-conscience.

Join us in the misty mountains and steamy jungles of the Mexican southeast.

#57 Cultural immersions & autonomous school constructions ~ Sunday, June 3 to Saturday, June 9, 2007. Registration deadline extended to May 13, 2007.

#59. Zapatista Women's and Men's Artesian Cooperatives' Support Delegation ~ .Sunday, June 24 to Saturday, June 30, Registration deadline May 24, 2007. .

#60 Special Intergalactic Preparatory Meeting ~ Zapatista Caracol Touring Delegation ~ .#57 Cultural immersions & autonomous school constructions ~ Thursday, July 19 to Monday, July 30; Registration deadline June 1, 2007.

#63. Zapatista Health and Education: Building systems to meet everyone's needs ~ Sunday, August 5 to Saturday, August 11, 2007; Registration deadline July 5, 2007 .

#64. Zapatista ecological agriculture: Slowly saving the planet .
Sunday, August 12 to Saturday, August 18, 2007; Registration deadline July 12, 2007 .

#65 Day of the Dead Celebrations in Revolutionary Chiapas.~ .
Monday, October 29 to Friday, Nov. 2, 2007

#66 Virgin of Guadalupe Day in Chiapas, Mexico ~ Sunday, Dec. 9 - Saturday, Dec. 15, 2009

Click here for more information on upcoming trips.

Send a beautiful email postcard, today!

You can send a beautiful and original email card including this photo, a photo from our web site, or any photo from your own computer. Try it!

Click here to begin your email card.

Zapatista Corn Available for Planting

These young people from the barrio of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa are growing Zapatista corn!

You too can offer sanctuary to GE-free Zapatista corn in your community. Sow the seeds of resistance and join the growing movement against transgenic contamination of Mayan corn in Chiapas, Mexico!

By planting Zapatista corn, you become a part of a global effort to preserve a vital genetic heritage that has evolved along with the Mayan people over thousands of years. Resistance is fertile - plant Zapatista corn.

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May 7, 2007

Veto Wrong on Four Year Anniversary of Mission Accomplished

Senate Democrats React To Bush Veto

Here are some reactions from Senate Democrats to George W. Bush's veto of funding for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the mandate to begin bringing American forces home from Iraq:

Harry Reid (D-NV)

"The President may be content with keeping our troops mired in the middle of an open-ended civil war, but we are not; and neither are most Americans.

"A bipartisan majority of Congress sent the President a bill to fully fund our troops and change the mission in Iraq. The president refused to sign it. That is his right, but now he has an obligation to explain his plan to responsibly end this war.

"In the coming days we will continue to reach out to the President. And we hope Congressional Republicans who have remained silent through this debate will work with us as well.

"But if the President thinks that by vetoing this bill, he will stop us from working to change the direction of this war, he is mistaken."

John Kerry (D-MA)

“By vetoing this bill, the President is ignoring the majority in both the House and Senate who voted to end the disastrous open-ended Bush policy by setting a sensible deadline for the redeployment of troops. President Bush is unwilling to recognize reality. It’s as if he still believes the version of events pedaled by Vice President Cheney. He refuses to set firm benchmarks tied to a redeployment because he is still unwilling to force the Iraqi government to make the political compromises needed to end their civil war. President Bush asks too little of Iraqi politicians while asking for the greatest sacrifice from American troops.”

“The irony of President Bush declaring 'mission accomplished' in Iraq four years ago today was not lost on anyone in Congress. What the president doesn’t understand is that the only way to actually accomplish the mission is to change the strategy. More of the same won’t cut it."

Barack Obama (D-IL)

"With one stroke of his pen, President Bush has stubbornly ignored the will of the American people, the majority of Congress and, most disturbingly, the realities on the ground in Iraq. Now we call upon our Republican colleagues in Congress to help override this veto and acknowledge what the President will not – that there is no military solution to a political conflict that lies at the heart of this civil war. Only the Iraqi leadership can make peace, and the best way to pressure them to do so is still a phased withdrawal of American forces with the goal of removing all combat troops from Iraq by March 30th, 2008.

"It is time to end this war so we can bring our troops home and redeploy our forces to help fight the broader struggle against terrorism and other threats of this new century."

Robert Byrd (D-WV)

"President Bush has chosen to hold hostage $100 billion for our troops to his failed policies. But his choice is not the last word. Congress will get to work on a new version of the supplemental appropriations conference report. We will not delay. But we also will not stop our efforts to stand for what is right and to craft policies that reflect the true strength of America -- humility, modesty, honesty.

"We will continue to press for a strong, intelligent foreign policy that does not rely on military might alone. And we will not stop in our efforts to bring peace to Iraq and our troops home from war."

Chris Dodd (D-CT)

"It is disappointing that the President has placed a greater priority on continuing his misguided policy in Iraq over funding for our troops. The President's policy in Iraq has failed and has made America less secure. Regrettably, it is clear that the President has no intention of changing course in Iraq, making it incumbent upon Congress to force him to do so.

"I will continue to support Feingold-Reid -- the only way to hold the President accountable for his failed policy, safely redeploy our troops and bring an end to this war."

Joe Biden (D-DE)

"At a time when the country needs real leadership the most, President Bush continues to practice the politics of division. There was room to work with the Democrats and Congress to give our troops the money they need and the American people the plan they expect to end the war in Iraq.

"But the President slammed the door shut on cooperation and compromise. The fact is - Democrats sent the President every dollar he requested for our troops and then some. And we sent him a plan to bring this war to a responsible end, instead of continuing it with no end in sight. That's what the American people want.

"The President's veto demonstrates that he is totally out of touch with the needs of our troops, the hopes of our people and the interests of our country."

Ben Cardin (D-MD)

"The language included in the Iraq Supplemental spending bill was necessary because the President has failed to deal effectively with the growing violence and civil war that has consumed Iraq. I urge the President to work with Congress to find a way to bring our troops home as safely and quickly as possible. The American people do not want U.S. troops in the midst of a civil war."

Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

"With his veto today, President Bush has made it clear that he is standing in the way of ending the war in Iraq and bringing our troops home. The nation is ready for the President to stop disregarding the will of the American people and to work with Democrats on a funding bill that will enable us to begin redeploying our troops. He has a chance to do just that when he meets with the Democratic leadership tomorrow."

Tom Harkin (D-IA)

"Our troops remain mired in the midst of a civil war, with the President offering nothing but more empty rhetoric as a way forward. The American people want a change of course in Iraq. By providing legislation that outlined firm benchmarks for the Iraqi government to take responsibility for its own security, and by setting a timeline for redeployment of our troops out of Iraq, the bill passed by the Democratic Congress did just that.

"The President, though, has chosen to dig in his heels and ignore the mounting costs of this war - in real dollars, and most importantly, in the loss of American lives."

Ted Kennedy (D-MA)

“The President is wrong to veto the Iraq spending bill and reject its needed timeline for the orderly, responsible, and safe withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. He was wrong to lead us into the war, wrong to conduct it so poorly, wrong to refuse to change course.

"We cannot continue business as usual in Iraq. It is time for America to end its participation in the brutal civil war.

"The message from the American people couldn’t be louder or clearer. Instead of stubbornly defying the will of the American people, President Bush should listen to their plea and begin working with Congress to bring this tragic war to an end.”

Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

"Let it be clear, Congress has given our soldiers in the battlefield all the funding they need. It is the President who will be now blocking it. . . After four years of extensive American military involvement in Iraq, the President refuses to accept the prudent change of course . . . supported by a clear majority of the American people."

Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

“The bill the President has vetoed would end his open-ended escalation that pins our troops down in the middle of Iraq’s civil war. The bill he vetoed would counter the Bush Administration’s neglect of the National Guard’s needs by providing the extra $1 billion that I secured with Senator Bond for the Guard’s equipment backlogs, to improve their readiness for domestic emergencies.

“With this veto the President has compounded his disastrous handling of this war. Instead of telling our troops to police a widening civil war, we should begin bringing them home.”

Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

"I am deeply disappointed in the president's decision to reject this best path to success in Iraq, delay funding for our troops and deny healthcare for those who return home injured. We sent him a bill that reflects the will of the American people, and he has turned his back on it.

"I know that Democrats in Congress will not abandon the goal of getting our troops out of the civil war in Iraq and giving them the equipment to protect themselves. That is the essence of supporting the troops, and that is our position. Our future actions on this issue will continue to adhere to these principles. I urge my Republican colleagues to engage in this effort, and to help us act in the best interest of our troops and our nation."

Jim Webb (D-VA)

"Congress exercised its constitutional responsibility this week by appropriating more than $100 billion to fully support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, the President chose not to cash that check. It is up to him to explain to the American people why.

"I have always said that we need to support the troops through leadership that is equal to the sacrifices we are asking them to make. It is time for a new approach in Iraq, one that displays smart diplomatic leadership in the region. We must bring this occupation to a proper conclusion that will increase our ability to focus on international terrorism, increase the stability in the region and allow us to focus on our strategic interests elsewhere in the world."

May 6, 2007

Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

Naomi Wolf
Tuesday April 24, 2007
The Guardian

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree - domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a "war footing"; we were in a "global war" against a "global caliphate" intending to "wipe out civilisation". There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is the battlefield. "This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."

Creating a terrifying threat - hydra-like, secretive, evil - is an old trick. It can, like Hitler's invocation of a communist threat to the nation's security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the "global conspiracy of world Jewry", on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain - which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks - than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

2. Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer space") - where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, "enemies of the people" or "criminals". Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders - opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists - are arrested and sent there as well.

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA "black site" prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can't investigate adequately.

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don't generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: "First they came for the Jews." Most Americans don't understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.

By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People's Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology when making decisions.

3. Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America's security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution

Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode - but the administration's endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.

Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need for "public order" on the next election day. Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling station "to restore public order".

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini's Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China - in every closed society - secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens' phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about "national security"; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

5. Harass citizens' groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four - you infiltrate and harass citizens' groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 "suspicious incidents". The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track "potential terrorist threats" as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition.

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a "list" of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America's Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela's government - after Venezuela's president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.

Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, "because I was on the Terrorist Watch list".

"Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that," asked the airline employee.

"I explained," said Murphy, "that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution."

"That'll do it," the man said.

Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution? Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of "enemy of the people" tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.

James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who was accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times. He is still of interest.

Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on the list.

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can't get off.

7. Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don't toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile's Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not "coordinate", in Goebbels' term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically "coordinate" early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.

Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that "waterboarding is torture" was stripped of the security clearance she needed in order to do her job.

Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were "coordinated" too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.

8. Control the press

Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s - all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened "critical infrastructure" when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.

Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy - a form of retaliation that ended her career.

Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC's Kate Adie. In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN's Terry Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation. The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

You won't have a shutdown of news in modern America - it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

9. Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as "treason" and criticism as "espionage'. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of "spy" and "traitor". When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times' leaking of classified information "disgraceful", while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and news outlets kept up the "treason" drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.

Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented. It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and "beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death", according to the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.

In Stalin's Soviet Union, dissidents were "enemies of the people". National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy "November traitors".

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the power to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant". He has the power to define what "enemy combatant" means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define "enemy combatant" any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin's gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo's, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually - for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. "Enemy combatant" is a status offence - it is not even something you have to have done. "We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model - you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we're going to hold you," says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests - usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn't real dissent. There just isn't freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.

10. Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency - which the president now has enhanced powers to declare - he can send Michigan's militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state's governor and its citizens.

Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears's meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole's baby, the New York Times editorialised about this shift: "A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night ... Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any 'other condition'."

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act - which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch's soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias' power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or Hitler's roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere - while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: "dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster."

As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are "at war" in a "long war" - a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president - without US citizens realising it yet - the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.

That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all these still- free-looking institutions - and this foundation can give way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the "what ifs".

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack - say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani - because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before - and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.