Life in the USA
By James Rothenberg
02/09/06 "ICH" -- -- The political system has not been
corrupted. It is working effectively, like always. The backbone
is the patronage system. Politicians have wonderful memories.
They know who they owe. Prostitution is a profession,
allegorically the oldest one. Politics is a business. At one
time it was popular to think that if someone rich enough were to
get elected, he (at that time it would surely be a he) would be
immune, but who can owe as much as the rich?
We could try term limits, a single term. In and out. Make room
for the next bright face. What do politicians do during the
summer? They give college commencement speeches til hoarse, all
the same speech… “You are our country’s future leaders”.
Meanwhile 50 years pass, the college kid is gray and that
politician still has his ass on his seat. A single term would
not fundamentally change the patronage system, but it would
devalue it. You’re not worth as much.
Also sensible would be a switch to runoff elections, or at least
instant runoff elections. But as the snide commandant in Stalag
17 told the feisty boys in Barracks 4, “Curtains vud do vunders
for this barracks. You veel not get them!” Democrats and
Republicans staunchly unite in opposition to such extreme
measures. Why take poison unless you are trying to commit
There were no intelligence failures concerning Iraq. The
invasion was not a mistake. Neither was the torture. Instead,
bright, rational people acted in the best tradition of U.S.
foreign policy since the birth of our great nation, the redskins
being the first foreigners. Try telling Americans that their
country uses violent force without moral compunction in wresting
from weaker countries just what it wants from them and the air
will suddenly get chillier around you. However, there is a
record. Like Casey Stengel used to say, “You could look it up.”
It would take more than a cell block of arrests from the
president on down to make America the Beautiful’s dress pretty
enough to party again, but who will arrest the arrestors? For
the future we could require political office holders to speak
their own words, that is, write their own speeches. That
shouldn’t be too much to ask of a leader.
Americans are well trained in how to think. It occurs so
naturally from birth that we are unaware of the training. The
basic idea is that your country knows better than you do. The
most thoroughly educated Americans treat it as undying dogma
that our country is always and everywhere a force for good in
the world. Those who have been deprived of formal education rely
more on their nose, an organ of exceptional trustworthiness.
The primary writer of the Constitution, James Madison, stressed
that the government must be set up in such a way so as “to
protect the minority of the opulent from the majority”, such
protection of the rich becoming axiomatic. Good Americans seem
very comfortable with the great wealth and income divide in
their country. Another founding father, first Chief Justice John
Jay, felt that those who owned the country should run it. Good
Americans are comfortable with that also.
In election year 2000, Al Gore claimed that the greatest
beneficiaries of Bush’s proposed tax cuts would be the richest
1% of Americans, but sufficient voters, ever mindful of
longstanding tradition, protected that minority.
We are not a nation of laws, despite the priestly incantations.
There are plenty of people who are above and beyond the law. We
say we are a nation of laws but for that statement to have the
intended, hallowed effect it has to mean more than hauling some
vagrant off the street. It has to mean that the punishments
meted out to the weak and poor will in identical measure be
meted out to the rich and powerful. We could try, Stengel-like,
to look it up, but for that the record is meager.
Declaring war is a popular tactic. Thanks to modern technology
we have a handy measure of its permeability throughout our
culture. Googling the term “war on hunger” yields some 21,900
references. The “war on poverty” yields 646,000 references, and
the “war on drugs” yields 4,310,000. Then there is the “war on
terror” with 25,100,000.
We are supposed to accept the sincerity of these wars with all
the seriousness that the naming is intended to imply. Looking to
actual practice the war on hunger more closely resembles a war
on the hungry, the war on poverty a war on poor people, and the
war on drugs a war on the people who use them. Now comes the
punch line, only it isn’t funny. The war on terror more closely
resembles a war to terrorize (intimidate) we the people.
First, if we wanted to reduce terror, we could stop harboring
terrorists, stop supporting them, stop paying them, and stop
doing it ourselves. There are a couple of reasons why Americans
are slow in coming to this conclusion. One is that we only
acknowledge the terrorism of others, never our own. Ours is
always precautionary action or legitimate self-defense. The
second reason is ironclad; the State Department confines its
definition of terrorism to that which is carried out by
“subnational groups or clandestine agents”, so acts carried out
by the United States of America are conveniently exempt.
Countries, even countries with armies so mighty they encircle
the globe, cannot commit terrorism, by official decree. They do
it unofficially. But they can do a lot more. They can plan and
initiate a war of aggression, the “supreme international crime”
as adjudged at Nuremberg, “differing only from other war crimes
in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the
whole”. One of those other war crimes is Art. 6 (c) Crimes
against Humanity, meaning civilians, meaning terrorism.
Americans learn early on about the unmatched freedoms we enjoy.
What is all the fanfare about if these freedoms are only granted
on a tentative basis? What does it mean to be free from
surveillance when the government finds no pressing reason to
surveil, but subject to surveillance when the government claims
the need? Or to have the right to dissent when it does not
greatly worry the government, only to have dissent stifled when
it poses serious problems? These freedoms that our leaders boast
about to succeeding generations are surely more than
fair-weather freedoms. That would be bad enough but it goes one
step deeper. Freedom is expressly for the bad weather, or it
never really was.
The “war on terror” is our national slogan. It went into the
shop for a nomenclature change last year, but emerged intact.
For awhile we didn’t want to seem too warlike. Better to stress
promotion of freedom and democracy, freshen up the old image.
But the war on terror says it all, and it is oh so useful. The
other day the man with the worst job in America, Scott
McClellan, landed a blow for freedom with his retort to a
questioner, “Are we a nation at war?” Of course there is an
answer besides the dutiful yes but to voice it may affect your
ability to continue roaming without a straitjacket.
The President must have the war because the war makes it
possible to do all the things he could never do if there wasn’t
a war. Ask his cover, Attorney General Gonzales, who informs the
Judiciary Committee that there is no such thing as a bad
inherent power. One of the senators asked Gonzales a very
improper question. “How will we know when the war is over?”
Gonzales could only smile at the suggestion that between these
two learned men there could be any general disagreement about
the usefulness of war to a country intent on dominating the
world with military force.
War is not inevitable but there is something innate in our
species that prepares us to march to the beat of the drum. Our
primitive herd instinct makes us vulnerable to exploitation.
When everybody is taught precisely the same thing, it no longer
matters what is taught. The result is always orthodoxy. The
military teaches a valuable strategy. After being captured, the
best time to escape is as soon as you can. Of course you have to
realize you are a captive.
A million men frozen at attention waiting for the signal of
another to act as one. Is this not true ugliness? Ugliness is
not deformity but its opposite; it is any multitude of people in
War as a tool of control relies on the glorification of battle
and death. Humans are the only of earth’s creatures that cherish
life. This is because they know it will end. This is why they
invented god. But what is the historical record of the god
concept? Is it used more effectively to save or take life? We
could look it up.
James Rothenberg, dissident writer/activist -
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