Friday, January 19, ended a wild news week. It's sometimes hard to keep up. What is significant and what isn't is always hard to sort out. There was this - Vet Allegedly Gave Horses Vodka Shots before Races - but we'll let the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the gamblers, straighten that out. Happy, dulled and slightly uncoordinated horses should be useless down the backstretch, but perhaps their metabolisms work differently.
Then there was this - London Hot Spot Just The Tonic For Film. We're talking the other London, of course - the one in Ontario, Canada, about halfway between Detroit and Toronto. It seems that on 12 January, Michael Moore's next film, Sicko - his rant about the healthcare system in the United States and the nasty influence of the big pharmaceutical companies - wrapped up a few segments at Jim Bob Ray's there. The film is now in post-production and will be released at the end of June, and we'll all get a chance to get a taste of this London. You might recall that in 2002's Bowling for Columbine you got to spend some time in nearby Sarnia. Why not? It's a wonderful area (and the same friend of the director set this up). And unlike the larger London, people there drive on the appropriate side of the road (yeah, the top). Vodka shots all around.
But we do have our disputes with Canada. This came out in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony in front of a Senate panel late in the week, where they expected him to explain himself - and now that the Democrats control both houses of congress, explaining what he and the administration thinks they're doing is the order of the day. This sort of thing never came up in the previous six years, of course.
So what's all this business about suspending the right of habeas corpus for anyone we think is a bad guy, citizen or not? We lock them up incommunicado for as many decades as we choose, and they get no chance to explain or defend themselves - not only are they not allowed a lawyer or access to the legal system in any way, they're "disappeared." What is the legal theory that justifies that?
Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that "the Constitution doesn't say that every individual in the United States or every citizen has or is assured the right of habeas corpus." He went on to say that, you see, there really is no such right, specifically - the constitution only says the government cannot suspend that right unless there's a rebellion or invasion. What? Senator Patrick Leahy likened this to "Alice in Wonderland" - he was ticked off. Around the web you could find people suggesting Gonzales should be impeached, and others saying he should be disbarred. Perhaps a course in remedial reading might be helpful, or that logic course he might have skipped. No one quite knew what to make of this - no one really has the specific right to defend themselves legally, really, but we know we cannot suspend that right. The vet may have given him vodka shots and he was woozy.
Then Canada came up. Leahy pressed Gonzales to explain why Canadian citizen Maher Arar was sent to Syria and why he remains on the terrorist watch list. The Syria thing was, however, the big issue - "We Knew Damn Well He'd Be Tortured." The Canadians had said the guy was not a terrorist and we grabbed him catching a connecting flight in Newark anyway, and shipped him off for a bit of "enhanced interrogation" - the kind even we are forbidden to do - and it turned out the Canadians had been right. Oops. The Canadians are not happy with all this at all. Maher Arar isn't too happy himself - he sued us, but the judge said any testimony about any of it all would reveal sensitive and secret diplomatic matters - and classified interrogation techniques - and since revealing any of that would mess up the War on Terror, Maher Arar was out of luck. Sometimes you just don't get a trial - justice for one man has to be set aside for the greater good and all that. Gonzales had little response - he couldn't discuss any of it - for the same reason there could be no trial for the guy to get something for his year in a small Syrian hole in the ground and all the beatings and such. The upshot is, of course, the Bush's Canadian Clone may be in jeopardy - Canada's hard-line Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is getting another look up there. The opposition selected a new leader, Stephane Dion, and they are expected to challenge Harper's coalition as early as February. The polls show Harper losing. Hey, it happened in Spain, and in Italy, and Tony Blair is none too popular. Luckily, we have a system where Bush-Cheney-Gonzales will run things here through early January 2009.
And it's all a minor matter. Down here our own war is all-consuming and the week ended with the Democrats warning Bush not to attack Iran - that was not what anyone signed up for five years ago when we were told that the rest of the world, and the UN inspectors, were just wrong and Saddam Hussein could and would kill us all unless we took him out. You want to attack Iran? Get separate approval for that, if you can. (The White House doesn't see it that way at all.)
As for Iraq, late Friday the new Speaker of the House got into a shouting match with these guys - as in Pelosi, White House clash over Iraq. She was not nice - she said the war should not be "an obligation of the American people in perpetuity." She doesn't like this "surge" at all - she says it does more harm than good, but the president is cynically playing them all for fools. On ABC's "Good Morning America" she said - "The president knows that because the troops are in harm's way, that we won't cut off the resources. That's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way." The White House called her comments "poisonous." Disagreement is fine, but you're supposed to rally around the president when we're at war, and agree with him, or at least support the troops who may be being sent on a deadly fools' errand that may not work but we have to try. The idea seems to be she wasn't playing fair, or something. Things are getting hot - the administration knows public support for the move is running under fifteen percent, and two thirds of us think the war itself was an awful mistake. That will make you testy. It makes the opposition feisty.
But the administration rolled out the big gun, General Casey - soon to leave Iraq to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. As Pelosi spoke so did he, saying the 'Surge' could go home by summer - as long as all the street fighting in Baghdad pretty much ended and things settled down in Anbar and elsewhere, the extra troops could go home. Yes, the same thing - we could lower the number of our troops there - was said last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, with the same caveat. But it might work this time - you never know. This of course was met with the annual skepticism. Still, he had to say it. You have to give the true believers some club with which they can hammer the realists. It was, unfortunately, the same club as all the other times.
On the other hand, as much as the current Iraqi government is pretty much just one more Shiite militia - Prime Minister Maliki holding onto power with the support of the Sadr bad guys - it was good to see that as the week ended the main aide to Muqtada al-Sadr was arrested. Something is changing there - or not. He was the PR guy - it was kind of like arresting Tony Snow, the White House spokesman. They're throwing us sops - mocking us. And Iran is still complaining about our detention of their diplomats- the ones we grabbed up near Mosul. The Kurdish faction in the Iraq government is bitching too. This is not going well.
Will we just go after Sadr and his massive militias, hoping the Maliki troops will join in - hoping that Maliki basically commits political suicide? The reports are that the Sadr militias are preparing for a siege, and our military officials are playing down expectations of any immediate confrontation. Heck, we're still trying to find ways to reconcile the number of troops actually now available with the Pentagon's own standard for force levels - the extra 21,500 don't come close to what the standard is for controlling things. The Maliki issue can wait - we're working on aligning theory to reality, and it's not working out.
Where can we get help? The end of the week brought word of Vice President Cheney's rejection of a 2003 Iranian diplomatic offer to help is stabilize Iraq - he said "we don't talk to evil" and that ended that. Was this "the neoconservative blunder of the century" - or real leadership? Now in an attempt to put the brakes on the escalating Nonwar War Against Iran, a conservative Republican - the guy from North Carolina who gave us all Freedom Fries - introduced legislation aimed at ensuring that President Bush doesn't have a blank check for any war with Iran now - and Senate Majority Leader Reid says that Bush has no authority "to launch military action in Iran without prior congressional approval." Cheney just laughs.
But wait. There's more. Methodist ministers have stared an online petition - they want Southern Methodist University (SMU - Laura Bush's school) to reject the establishment of the George W. Bush Presidential Library on its land. And no one thinks much of the proposed "think tank" at the library - to carry on his deep thinking. His own church has kind of turned on the man. It seems they have come to think he may not be doing God's work on this earth, as he claims about God working through him - "Methodists have a long history of social conscience, so questions about the conduct of this president are very concerning." Ah well, there's always Baylor University in Waco and the University of Dallas. They might not be so picky about the two hundred million dollars in private donations that will build this thing.
And that religious stuff is tricky. It needs analysis, and at the end of this particular very odd week, Chris Hedges argues that the radical Christian Right - the Bush base - is fueled not by "religiosity" but by "personal and economic despair."
It should be noted that Chris Hedges has the chops for this. He's a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and was a Pulitzer-prize winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times, and you might have seen him on television or heard him on the radio discussing his new book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. The man is worried.
The engine that drives the radical Christian Right in the United States, the most dangerous mass movement in American history, is not religiosity, but despair. It is a movement built on the growing personal and economic despair of tens of millions of Americans, who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a future.
This despair crosses economic boundaries, of course, enveloping many in the middle class who live trapped in huge, soulless exurbs where, lacking any form of community rituals or centers, they also feel deeply isolated, vulnerable and lonely. Those in despair are the most easily manipulated by demagogues, who promise a fantastic utopia, whether it is a worker's paradise, fraternite-egalite-liberte, or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Those in despair search desperately for a solution, the warm embrace of a community to replace the one they lost, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the assurance they are protected, loved and worthwhile.
One cause -
In the United States we have turned our backs on the working class, with much of the worst assaults, such as NAFTA and welfare reform, pushed though during President Clinton's Democratic administration. We stand passively and watch an equally pernicious assault on the middle class. Anything that can be put on software, from architecture to engineering to finance, will soon be handed to workers overseas who will be paid a third what their American counterparts receive and who will, like some 45 million Americans, have no access to health insurance or benefits.
There has been, along with the creation of an American oligarchy, a steady Weimarization of the American working class. The top one percent of American households have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. This figure alone should terrify all who care about our democracy. As Plutarch reminded us "an imbalance between the rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."
One result -
The real world, the world of facts and dispassionate intellectual inquiry, the world where all events, news and information were not filtered through this comforting ideological prism, the world where they were left out to dry, abandoned by a government hostage to corporations and willing to tolerate obscene corporate profits, betrayed them.
They hated this world. And they willingly walked out on this world for the mythical world offered by these radical preachers, a world of magic, a world where God had a divine plan for them and intervened on a daily basis to protect them and perform miracles in their lives. The rage many expressed to me towards those who challenge this belief system, to those of us who do not accept that everything in the world came into being during a single week 6,000 years ago because it says so in the Bible, was a rage born of fear, the fear of being plunged back into a reality-based world where these magical props would no longer exist, where they would once again be adrift, abandoned and alone.
The danger of this theology of despair is that it says that nothing in the world is worth saving. It rejoices in cataclysmic destruction. It welcomes the frightening advance of global warming, the spiraling wars and violence in the Middle East and the poverty and neglect that have blighted American urban and rural landscapes as encouraging signs that the end of the world is close at hand.
Believers, of course, clinging to this magical belief, which is a bizarre form of spiritual Darwinism, will be raptured upwards while the rest of us will be tormented with horrors by a warrior Christ and finally extinguished. This obsession with apocalyptic violence is an obsession with revenge. It is what the world, and we who still believe it is worth saving, deserve.
Those who lead the movement give their followers a moral license to direct this rage and yearning for violence against all those who refuse to submit to the movement, from liberals, to "secular humanists," to "nominal Christians," to intellectuals, to gays and lesbians, to Muslims. These radicals, from James Dobson to Pat Robertson, call for a theocratic state that will, if it comes to pass, bear within it many of the traits of classical fascism.
What we have -
Manipulating our fear and anxiety, promising to make us safe and secure, giving us the assurance that they can vanquish the forces that mean to do us harm, these radicals, many of whom have achieved powerful positions in the Executive and legislative branches of government, as well as the military, will ask us only to surrender our rights, to pass them the unlimited power they need to battle the forces of darkness.
They will have behind them tens of millions of angry, disenfranchised Americans longing for revenge and yearning for a mythical utopia, Americans who embraced a theology of despair because we offered them nothing else.
Other than that things are fine. Have a few more vodka shots.
This item posted - in its final version - January 21, 2007
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Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time
All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik