To tell the truth in the "land of the free"
It's impossible in 2006 to stand proud when “The Star Spangled Banner” is played.
Aside from the fact that it now is a jingoist anthem rather than a national anthem, I gag on the repeated line, “O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
This no longer is a country in which the majority believes in freedom for anybody who is not exactly like themselves. And it is, in fact, a nation of cowards, run by cowardly bullies.
An apparent majority of the population has bought into the fear-mongering of this country's wretched rulers and surrendered to personal, petty fears of displeasing a boss or customers or neighbors or anybody who might be critical. Nothing must be risked. Principle is a fool's word, used by the regime's enemies.
The common position is that it's better to allow torture and mass murder and the secret and long-term imprisonment of whomever the rulers choose to destroy, for whatever reason, than to risk the scorn of the ignorant jackasses who live next door or the enmity of the guy who provides your shrinking income and who is arrogantly responsible for its shrinkage.
This is a country not only willing but eager to give up the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and, in fact, the Constitution itself, in exchange for transparently false promises of safety. And, if you're of the benefiting class, it looks like a good deal to exchange a rule of law for profit and a privileged life in which the strictures that apply to the masses don't apply to you.
“Security” for oneself and one's family trumps all other considerations, and please don't let us notice that under the ministrations of the people who now control every important function in this country, we grow hourly more insecure. A subsidiary of Halliburton, the vice president's company, has been given a contract to build internment (concentration) camps at secret locations across the country, for prisoners who have yet to be identified, but pretend you didn't hear that. (And if all you hear or read of news comes from the corporate-owned mass media, you probably haven't heard it.)
The United States of America is ruled by murdering thieves, and all but a tiny minority of citizens close their eyes to that demonstrable fact. They are very rich murdering thieves, and we forgive the very rich anything.
Oh, of course, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and the rest of them have not personally murdered anyone. Too messy. But they have caused needless and illegal slaughter of many thousands of human beings, and, more specifically, ordered and approved torture that has led to the death of at least dozens of victims and protected the torturers from prosecution.
This country never has been fond of reality, nor does it like truth. Now it rejects those concepts entirely. The United States exists in a fantasy world, no more real than the universe of “Star Wars.” The rest of the world looks at us with disgust and disbelief, but Americans think they “envy what we have,” which is another delusion.
The disgust and disbelief often are thinly disguised, because some of the people who run some of the other countries do, at least, want our money and, especially, our missiles and helicopters and fragmentation bombs, the better to slaughter their own and other people. Think of Pakistan, as one of many examples: It calls itself our ally in the nonexistent “War on Terror” -- laughing openly at us while saying it – and the Bush Administration pours military aid into the stores of its butchering, terrorist-supporting military ruler.
But don't give us facts or truths. Most of the population prefers slogans, easily understood, easily absorbed and requiring no thought. Quick, let me get back to “reality TV,” which, of course, has barely a glancing relationship to reality.
If some ravening right winger looking for liberal blood happens on this essay, for example, the first accusation will be that I am “one of the hate America first crowd.” Easy concept, already understood through endless repetition in use against critics of the Bush regime. Conveys a simple idea, doesn't require even the slightest thought – in fact forbids thought – and makes me “the enemy.” No need to address the issues I present.
“Treason” probably will come into any diatribe that is longer than 10 or 15 words. That's a certain crusher among those who believe Bush is America and America is Bush and both are almost on a par with God. That is, not incidentally, a particular god with whom Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell and a few others are on such intimate terms that they know his every wish and whim.
If your god disagrees on some small point, say the rightness of torturing a human being, ripping out his fingernails or raping her with a broom handle on some small suspicion fostered by a known liar, or beating a man until his legs are, literally, pulp and he finally dies, your god is wrong. (All of those things have been proven to have happened, committed by American soldiers or “intelligence service” people.)
Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and a host of other broadcast shouters and right-wing bloggers and other disciples of the Joseph Goebbels propaganda technique live by claiming kinship with that sick and weird god of theirs while threatening and slandering others who don't share their love of brutality.
America does not allow criticism. It scares most of us. The country went nuts when Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, mocked Bush and Bush's America at the United Nations. There were demands that he not ever be allowed in our country again. Never mind that the United Nations is here at our invitation – actually, our insistence -- and part of the deal is that all member countries can be represented by whomever they choose.
No one noticed that unlike George W. Bush, Chavez was legally elected by the voters of his country and that, furthermore, much of his mocking assessment of Bush was straight-up true.
Oh...And never mind that this country, under damned near every president it has had in the past 150 years, has interfered in the workings of most Latin American countries, many times supporting the most vile dictators for the sake of America's richest families and the corporations they control, deliberately keeping the populations of those countries starving and essentially homeless. And that's hardly the worst of it.
There also have been naughty little episodes such as supporting a huge American corporation as it sponsored the butchering of whole tribes of native peoples in the jungles of South America. And, yes, that's true. No one went to prison, or got so much as a $100 fine. (So far as I know, that hasn't happened in the past decade or so, but I wouldn't bet heavily against it having been done again.)
The most pervasive myth of all, and probably the most destructive, is taught to us almost from birth. It is that whatever is done by the United State of America to other countries, other people, is the right thing. (The flip of that is no one must ever dare to criticize us or try to tell us anything.) It is the unshakable belief of most Americans that every action taken by this country is right because....if it weren't right, we or our leaders wouldn't do it.
We are right because we are us and we are by our very collective (or governmental) nature always right, not to mention pure of heart. You can't beat that. It makes us more infallible than any pope.
It almost goes without saying, then, that few people, almost no writers for corporate news operations, linked Chavez's mockery to the fact that members of the Bush crowd have been hurling insults and threats his way since he was elected and that some nodded their heads gravely when the violent super-Christian Pat Robertson called for Chavez's murder. The others just pretended they didn't hear that.
The Bush crowd maintains it is seeking to promote “democracy” in Iraq and elsewhere, yet every major move it has made in the Mideast has been anti-democratic. When Bush talks about “spreading democracy” what he is talking about is spreading corporate control to new populations.
One of a thousand available examples in Iraq: Within two or three weeks of taking over in Iraq, the U.S.-controlled government ordered Iraqi farmers to stop the practice of saving seeds from their crops for the next season's plantings. Instead, as in this country, farmers were and are required by American-written law to purchase new seeds each year – and the only available sources since we moved in are American companies that are in favor with the Bush administration.
(There is a similar law in this country, but that at least has legal justification in the claim that the companies developed the seeds now in use. In Iraq, the seeds the farmers used were developed there, by them, over a couple of thousand years. Most of the seeds Bush and Co. tried to force on them are unsuitable to the ground and climate of Iraq.)
We have the most corrupt government in the developed world, possibly barring Russia. Our health care system ranks at or near the bottom in all essential areas among countries in the so-called developed world. Countries such as Cuba and Serbia rank higher. Our education system is being choked to death. Our armaments industry feeds guns and worse to the most murderous regimes in the world and our government assists or, at least, looks the other way.
Our Congress is a shame and a farce. We all know that at least two-thirds of Congress is owned by the giant corporations. Halliburton rules supreme; it's boss is the country's vice president – or perhaps the real president -- and billions of tax dollars are being donated to its purse annually, and openly, and no one dares speak out against it.
The military is spending billions on useless high-tech crap that has absolutely no application to the kind of messes we put our military into, but the suffering troops on the ground in the world's danger spots still can't get decent equipment. Arming foot soldiers isn't nearly as profitable as building nonworking and unworkable missile defense systems costing hundreds of billions of dollars to protect us from.....uh....well, somebody.
Just days ago, as I write this, Congress formally presented the president and his murderous bunch with legal permission to “disappear” whomever they want for as long as they want and to treat them with whatever degree of butchery satisfies their lust for inflicting pain. So far as I can learn to date, the only comparable law in the western world in recent centuries is the “enabling act” which gave those same powers to Adolf Hitler in 1933. And the Bush crowd is yelling “fascist” and pointing its fingers in the direction of Islam.
Fascism. It's a system refined by Benito Mussolini in Italy in the 1920s. It means, by Mussolini's own definition, the melding of corporate and government power to rule the masses. We may not be quite there yet in this country, but we're getting there fast; we have it in the essential areas of governance, and now that der fuhrer is able to legally “disappear” people forever, and to torture at will, it shouldn't take too much longer.
Oh, but it's all necessary to fight that “War on Terror.” Most Americans apparently believe there is such a “war,” though very few can describe or define it. It exists and governs all that the administration does to this country and others because Bush and the others say it does.
The phantom “war” is orange alerts in the weeks preceding national elections, and it is all sorts of rules – which change frequently – governing what you can take aboard commercial aircraft.
Hardly anybody knows that the most effective measure that could be taken to protect this country from further terrorist attacks – and it won't stop determined terrorists – is to increase by a hundred or a thousand times the examination of shipping containers entering this country through its seaports. The Bush administration will not take that step, however, absolutely refuses to do it, and the only possible explanation is that it would cut into the profits of somebody who is in their good graces.
But, say the optimists and the “moderates,” to state such things is “counterproductive.” We will antagonize the “moderate” voter who, if we talk nice to him, will allow us to put Democrats back in control. To state that the Bush people are killers, and torturers and thieves – though the record proves those things beyond doubt – is said to be “over the top.” Why, a New York Times writer said recently that any talk of impeaching Bush and Cheney is “over the top.”
To put it politely for the last time, that is nonsense.
The “moderate” voter is watching some idiot on the tube nattering about “relationships” or bed wetting, or the latest celebrity pregnancy, or he's watching whichever movie has the most car chases. He or she, especially if living in the South or West, most often votes for the candidates who yell the loudest and run the most TV commercials in the six weeks leading up to the election, and/or the ones who most viciously attacks her or his opponent, and that usually is the Republicans because they have the money and no scruples. Karl Rove showed them that winning is the only real “value.”
Making nice also is nonsense because there is little chance that the neocons, who have learned to pervert and control the electoral system in key places, will let the Democrats “win,” even if they are favored by a solid majority of voters. Watch the exit polls vs. the official vote counts – unless and until the polls also are perverted. The Republicans have stolen two presidential elections. Who is so naive as to believe they won't do it again?
And then there are the Democrats: Cowards, pants-wetting cowards who would not stand up and fight against the torture bill nor the destruction of habeas corpus and who, with a handful of late-arriving exceptions, won't publicly denounce the Bush program in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. The people who run the Democratic Party organizations and most of its office holders are as tied to big money as the Republicans; they settle for the leavings, but they are terrified of having to do without those scraps.
Who are they afraid of? They're afraid of the guy who wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper a few days ago and said what we've all heard several thousand times, literally: “This is the best country in the world, bar none.” You could not help but see him in your mind, slapping the bar and jutting his chin aggressively and daring anyone smaller or older to challenge him.
(Ever notice that the people who are the most adamant in that pronouncement are people who've never been anywhere else? Or if they have, it was in the military, and all they ever saw of Korea, or France, or Germany or The Philippines was the bars and whorehouses catering to American soldiers and sailors. Well, OK. A few have been on guided tours which were carefully designed to keep them from having to talk to any natives of the places they toured.)
It might be possible to talk to that bar-pounding, jut-chinned guy and get him to understand some truths, but it can't be done by acting as though George W. Bush and Co. are okay. Why would such a person vote for a weak Republican calling himself or herself a Democrat when he can vote for a real Republican?
A Democratic recovery of a majority in one or even both houses of Congress won't make any real difference unless – a totally unlikely prospect – all of the new Democrats are people of integrity who have the guts to stand up to the Republicans, the Bush administration and their own entrenched leadership. You'd do better to put your money on a 45 to 1 shot in a $3,000 claiming race.
In truth, the two parties share a platform and an ownership and differ only by nuance.
We, the writers and editors and even the bloggers, aren't supposed to say such things. We know that, and more often than not we censor ourselves. We know we'll antagonize people, and sometimes we actually endanger ourselves by speaking truth in the face of our national delusions. This country is full of violent haters, and the National Rifle Association and its water carriers in Congress and the various legislatures make sure they are well armed.
The degree to which the corporate news agencies censor truth has gone to the extreme. That makes it both more dangerous and more necessary for a few people out here to speak truth, if just for the record.
Opportunities to do that will grow fewer before much longer. It's already clear that the Internet will be manipulated to control what is said here. New rules and methods of operating already in the works will make it ever more difficult for readers to find minority viewpoints.
The corporate press already is nicely under control without any need for government censorship.
When Congress passed those legal abominations on torture and habeas corpus, my local rag devoted a third to a half of the space on its front page to a lament about the shortage of good restaurants in the Twin Cities suburbs. To date, there has been no serious analysis of the bills; most readers could not tell from the obscure newspaper accounts what the new law says or does. Not that most people would bother to read even the truncated articles published to date.
Making the rounds on the Internet today is a group of four images: The covers of the Oct. 2 Newsweek magazine as distributed in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the United States.
The cover of the magazine being sold on the newsstands in other countries is a photo of a Taliban fighter with his weapon, and the headline is “Losing Afghanistan.” The American cover has a picture of famed photographer Annie Lebovitz with her three daughters and, to the right side, small prints of four of her most recognizable photos. The headline reads “My Life in Pictures.” Inside, the American edition also carries the story on the failures of the Bush war in Afghanistan, but Newsweek editors think – or, more likely, know – that American readers won't buy magazines with unpleasant information on the cover.
In trips abroad in recent years, I noticed similar disparities in Newsweek and other American news magazines. The ones I picked up in France or Germany had serious subjects on the covers, but when I got back here, the same magazines on the newsstand had photos of film or television personalities or fashion models or some such insignificant crappola. Don't tell, don't ask, and for Gawd's sake don't put anything unpleasant before my eyes.
So far, the Constitution doesn't protect that banner waving “oe'r the land of the free and the home of the brave” from burning by protesters, but it will. The amendment may replace the Bill of Rights.
Other western countries, especially Canada, should be thinking now about how they're going to deal with the U.S. citizens who will in increasing numbers be seeking asylum, or at least respite, within their borders. At least they'll get some of the best we have – people who can think.