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 suicide?

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 constant agreement.

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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