Mr. President, How About Supporting Democracy in the U.S.?

Yesterday, President Obama hypocrically praised the Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrators and argued forcefully in favor of the Egyptian government listening and responding to the demands of its people.

There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place. This is one of those moments. This is one of those times. The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same.

By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change. But this is not the end of Egypt’s transition. It’s a beginning. I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers, and do so peacefully, constructively, and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks. For Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.

Back here in the U.S., President Obama listens only to the rich and powerful while ignoring a level of inequality higher than that in Egypt and an unemployment rate approximately the same as Egypt’s!

In the speech, Obama quoted a man who really stood for nonviolent protest and the fight for democracy:

As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana while trying to perfect his own, “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.” Those were the cries that came from Tahrir Square, and the entire world has taken note.

How dare you, Mr. Obama? You are a disgrace. You repeatedly imply comparisons between you and Martin Luther King, while behaving more like Mr. Mubarak.

What happens here in the U.S. when people peacefully protest the government’s policies? If it happens at Democratic or Republican party conventions, protesters are put in cages ironically called “free speech zones” that are far enough from the action to prevent the powerful from being disturbed by democracy-seeking rabble. Peace activists who identify as socialists or dare to support freedom movements in foreign countries are targeted by thuggish FBI raids and secret grand juries.

Mr. President, you and other members of your administration have repeatedly called for the Egyptian government to repeal its emergency laws. What about the emergency laws that have been in place here in the U.S. for many years?

Although most Americans would be surprised to hear it, the United States is technically experiencing more than one ongoing national emergency. In 1979, during the Iran Hostage Crisis, president Jimmy Carter declared a national emergency by executive order, which every president since has renewed. George W. Bush declared a separate state of emergency after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which Barack Obama renewed.

These emergency measures are limited rather than general in nature. The 1976 National Emergencies Act set a two-year term on emergency declarations (although it’s possible to extend a declaration indefinitely), and requires the president to specify what, exactly, the state of emergency empowers him to do. The Sept. 11-related emergency gives the president the right to call retired officers back into active duty (among other powers). The Iran emergency prevents American citizens and companies from entering into oil development contracts with the Islamic Republic.

Those states of emergency have allowed you and your mentor predecessor George W. Bush to gain authoritarian powers for the executive branch through the USA Patriot Act and other unconstitutional laws like the Military Commissions Act. The powers granted by these laws have frequently been abused by government agencies.

Free Speech Zone at Democratic Convention, 2008

The Patriot Act has been reauthorized multiple times and is currently up for renewal.

So, Mr. Obama, what is your position on the latest attempts to keep the most intrusive parts of the Patriot Act from expiring?

When the act was first signed into law, Congress put in some “sunset” provisions to quiet the concerns of civil libertarians, but they were ignored by successive extensions. Unfortunately, those concerns proved to be well founded, and a 2008 Justice Department report confirmed that the FBI regularly abused their ability to obtain personal records of Americans without a warrant.

The answer to that question is that the President wants those provisions extended for three years–two years longer than the Republicans in the House are pushing for!

The Senate is working on an extension also, and one of the leaders in support of that effort is “Democrat” Diane Feinstein (whose investment banker husband has profited handsomely from defense contracts and other government largess related to the financial crisis)

At least one mainstream journalist has called attention to the hypocrisy of your policies this morning, Mr. President–focusing on your disdain for the poor and unemployed in the U.S. In the NYT, Bob Herbert writes:

As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.

While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.

So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.

The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.

It’s noteworthy that Bob Herbert is saying such things out loud these days, but what we really need is some serious consciousness-raising among the American people as a whole. We could be joining together to fight back against encroachments on our liberties and our economic stability like the people in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. When will Americans wake up and see what is happening right here in the USA and begin to demand the restoration of our freedoms and our living standards? When will we fight back against growing government tyranny right here in the USA?