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NOW on PBS - At the same time the Bush administration is probing into your private life, it is shielding itself from all public scrutiny. It has shredded the Freedom of Information Act; it has locked away presidential records not only of the current administration but of administrations going all the way back to Reagan as well; and it has even locked up George W. Bush's gubernatorial records so that the people of Texas can't see what he did to them while serving as their governor.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is also using anti-terror legislation and executive orders to protect its corporate sponsors from scrutiny and from prosecution. The drug company Eli Lilly, for instance, was recently granted immunity from all cases brought against it--even those initiated long before the war on terrorism--related to a vaccine it manufactured that turned out to cause autism in many children. (Eli Lilly contributed over $3 million in the last two election campaigns.) The Bush administration also protected the Bayer Corporation1s patent on the antibiotic Cipro throughout the anthrax scare, whereas other countries, such as Canada, broke that patent so that other companies could make cheaper versions of the drug in case of emergency.

It is interesting to note that during WWII Bayer was part of the I.G. Farben conglomerate, the top financial contributor to the Nazi Party. I.G. Farben produced petrol and rubber for the Nazi war machine and it manufactured the Zyklon B gas that was used to exterminate millions of Jews and other "enemies of the state." In exchange for these services, the Nazis provided Farben (and Bayer) with lucrative government contracts and with slave labor from concentration camps.

Under George W. Bush's kinder, gentler fascism, U.S. corporations are now allowed to do business with the Homeland Security Department even if they cheat the government out of vast amounts of tax revenues by setting up offshore business fronts in the Caribbean Islands. It used to be that tax-evaders were tracked down and punished. Now they're rewarded with fat government contracts. Could the slave labor be far behind?

If only this were the extent of the Bush administration's ramble down the road to fascism. Way back in November of 2001, William Safire accused the Bush administration of "seizing dictatorial power." Well, Mr. Safire, you ain't seen nothing yet. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, just when you thought we can't lose any more of our liberties and still call ourselves a "free society," we learn that the Bush administration wants to take away even more of our rights. A secret document was just leaked out of John Ashcroft's Justice Department and turned over to the Center for Public Integrity. Titled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, this document turns out to be a draft of new anti-terrorism legislation, a vastly more muscular sequel to Patriot Act. If passed, it would grant the executive branch sweeping new powers of domestic surveillance, and it would eliminate most of the few remaining checks and balances that protect us from tyranny.

It's the Patriot Act on steroids. Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity shared this document with Bill Moyers, who examined it on NOW, his weekly PBS program. That episode aired Friday, February 7, yet even now no mainstream news broadcaster has picked up this incredible story. Read the NOW transcript and see the document itself online at http://www.pbs.org/now/. You can also read the Center for Public Integrity's analysis of the document at http://www.publicintegrity.org/.

Dr. David Cole, a Law professor at Georgetown University and author of Terrorism and the Constitution assessed the document, saying, "I think this is a quite radical proposal. It authorizes secret arrests. It would give the Attorney General essentially unchecked authority to deport anyone who he thought was a danger to our economic interests. It would strip citizenship from people for lawful political associations."

"Secret arrests"? Did we hear that right? It seems that the Homeland Security Department (HSD) is about to become the KGB. The first Patriot Act already allows for people to be locked up indefinitely without a lawyer and without being charged with a crime. If Patriot Act II passes, then arrests would also be secret. That means that dissenters (or anyone else, for that matter) could disappear without a trace, just as they did in Nazi Germany, in Stalinist Russia, and in Pinochet's Chile.

Patriot Act II would also grant even more immunity to Big Business. A corporation could pour toxins into your local river, for instance, and you wouldn't know about it until all the fish died and your neighbor’s kids were born with missing limbs. And then when you went to court and demanded to know what the company was dumping in your river, the company could deny you that information on the grounds that it's a national security secret. Jim Hightower put it this way: "All a company has to do to shield anything it wants to keep from the public eye--say, an embarrassing chemical spill--is give the documents to the Homeland Security Department and call them "critical infrastructure information."

Ah, but there's even more to be concerned about here. The document was created back in early January, but so far it appears that the only members of Congress who even know of its existence are House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice-president Dick Cheney. (The Vice-president presides over the Senate, which makes him a member of the legislative branch as well as the executive branch.) This raises a troubling question: Why has the White House been sitting on this bill for a month? If the CEOs down at Bush, Inc. really believe that they need these broad new powers to protect us from terrorists, why not roll out that bill and start the debate? The answer is all too plain. In all likelihood, the Bush administration was planning to avoid debate entirely by springing this bill on the American people in the midst of a perceived national crisis. Perhaps during the war with Iraq, for instance. Or perhaps in the aftermath of the next terrorist attack. Or perhaps right after the Reichstag fire.

Had some courageous soul not leaked this document out of the Justice Department, the White House might easily have succeeded in passing it through Congress without debate in the midst of our next perceived national crisis, much as it did with the first Patriot Act in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. A thorough debate of this bill right now, under fairly stable circumstances, would defuse it and prevent its passage even under more frightening circumstances later on. There's just one problem. The debate can't begin until more Americans know about this bill, but so far the Washington Post is the only major news outlet to even MENTION this story since Bill Moyers broke it on Friday night.
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